Category Archives: Food

Chicken, Preserved Lemon and Freekeh

Dish 3 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features chicken and some delicious grains

Chicken-Freekeh-Lemon2

Jamie Oliver likes to call this “Lebanese Chicken” for some reason. I love his recipe for this dish but it certainly it does not come off as Lebanese to me, more North African maybe. Either way it is delicious. The chicken is tossed with flour heavily spiced with cumin along with a touch of cinnamon and allspice. It is then seared in olive oil and braised in a mixture of preserved lemon, garlic, onions and white wine.

That alone makes for a nice east-west kind of braise but take it one step further and it is more special. In addition to the aromatics, the chicken is cooked on top of Freekeh in the potThis is an ancient grain used in traditional middle-eastern and some European cuisines. It is really just wheat that has been harvested while green and set on fire to remove the skin or chafe. As a result it has a sweet smoky flavor to go along with a nice toothsome texture. In the Lebanese mountains (ah! that’s where Oliver’s Lebanese name for the recipe must come from) Freekeh was considered a staple of the pantry before the introduction of rice. Thanks to the newish interest in all kinds of ancient, artisan and heirloom grains Freekeh is enjoying more popularity among chefs and home cooks. That is a good thing because it is awesome.

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The plate needed some more green in it. So I prepared a quick honey-lemon dressing that I tossed some salad greens in. To gild the lily a bit more I also drizzled a sauce of yogurt, cilantro and lime on the chicken. This went very well with the assertive and rich flavors of this dish. It was still winter-fall food but had a nice sharp and refreshing flavor while at the same time remained light.

Salmon, Collard Greens, Roasted Beets and Smokey Orange Dressing

Dish 2 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features salmon.

Salmon-Collards-Beets

My preferred method to cook salmon fillets by far is using low temperature sous vide. It’s a process I wrote about before that includes brining the fish for a short time, bagging it with a little olive oil and cooking it at no more than 52 C for about 20 minutes. To finish I crisp the skin side in a hot pan with oil.

The salad is made from collard greens and roasted beets. It is loosely based on some ideas from Salad Samurai, a pretty useful and inspiring vegan salad-focused book. The beets are roasted wrapped in aluminum foil until fork tender. Collards are tough greens and usually are only eaten cooked. They actually work very well raw as well though. I “relaxed” the hearty greens by rubbing them with some salt, cider vinegar ad olive oil. This wilts them a bit but leaves them with plenty of snap. After that they can be left in the fridge for several days ready to toss into salads, omelettes, pastas…This works great with kale as well which is what the original recipe uses.

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The dressing is a lovely warm smokey orange vinaigrette prepared with smoked paprika and orange juice. It has a beautiful color and a robust flavor that stands up great to the strong flavors of salmon, beets and collards. It’s a great combination of flavors and textures that make for a delicious winter salad.

Chicken, Butternut Squash, Carrot and White Wine-Creme Fraiche Dressing

It’s January, the month of resolutions, especially those diet-related ones. Most want to lose weight and get fit. To that end we got a variety of diets and fads that pick up. Some want to go Paleo or low-carb. Other misguided folks are still on the low or no fat bandwagon. Really ambitious dieters try their hand at a whole new lifestyle like vegetarian or vegan! In most cases it will all fade away in a few weeks and we are back to eating a lot of all the “wrong” stuff.

Well, I have no resolutions. I think they are silly and any claims of THE ONE DIET are ultimately useless and discouraging. That being said, we tried to take it easy this January since between November and December, the holidays and trips to Maine and Boston, we had a lot of rich carb-heavy food. Several nights in this month we went with a “salad” of some sort. Some were good straight-forward ones but nothing to document. Others were delicious, beautiful, satisfying and nutritious that were worth putting up here. Here is the first of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners.

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I had a few large chicken hind quarters from Yonder Way Farm. These are delicious for braising or very slow roasting on the grill or oven. In this case though I divided the drumstick from the large thighs. For this dish I de-boned the thighs and laid them flat on a cutting board as I rummaged in my fridge (I slow baked the drumsticks and slathered them in barbecue sauce if you must know).

As is my habit most times, I ended up with an Italian flavor profile for the chicken thighs. After seasoning them with salt I rolled them with garlic, shallots, rosemary, oregano and lemon zest into neat cylinders. These chicken thighs are from free range birds and they benefit from longer cooking. So, I cooked them sous vide at 66 C for about 4 hours. They were tender and perfectly juicy.

Chicken-Squash-Carrots

While the chicken cooked I roasted a cubed butternut squash along with a few cut up carrots. When the chicken was done, I patted them dry and browned the skin in the pan with olive oil till crispy. I made a nice warm sauce/dressing for the dish using reduced white wine with shallots. I added Dijon mustard and enriched it with creme fraiche and some of the reserved cooking juices from the bag.

Coming up next, Salmon, more chicken and an ancient grain…

 

Lomo al Trapo – Beef Tederloin Wrapped in Cloth, Salted Potatoes, Chimichurri

Lomo al Trapo-Potatoes

I have cooked meat -usually fish- and vegetables in a salt crust before, but not like this. I saw this Colombian dish on Kenji’s Food Lab and it immediately caught my attention. It is too cool, too old and new at the same time and just plain wild. Christmas dinner seemed like an excellent occasion for this. It is a luxurious cut of beef but also most of the attendees -Diana’s family- would be Colombian. So curious to try it out but not wanting to screw up Christmas eve dinner I made a trial run first to make sure. It was a good idea and made the second time I cooked it for a crowd much easier. The concept is pretty simple; wrap beef tenderloin in a salt crust encased in a towel (that’s the Trapo), throw it on a pile of hot coals until done, remove, crack the crust away, slice and enjoy. A few details are important to note though.

Beef Tenderloin

The middle of the tenderloin is the best part to use here. I bought whole tenderloins and trimmed them myself. I managed to get three semi-even cylindrical pieces and the rest of the meat went in the freezer for other uses. To wrap each one, I laid a cotton kitchen towel and covered it with about 1/2 inch of kosher salt and a scattering of herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary). This carefully gets wrapped around the trimmed beef tenderloin. It’s a bit tricky to do and needs some practice to make sure the salt does not clump in one area or falls off the sides. A quick confident roll is key. I tied he rolls with twine and they were ready to go on the charcoal.

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Lomo al Trapo

When I say “on the charcoal” I literally mean that. Directly on hot fully ashed-up coals. It is impossible to tell how done the meat is in the salt cocoon. That salt gets hard very fast and that is what you want. It just makes it tricky to figure out when the meat is rare and to account for carry-over cooking. So, of course you need to use a thermometer. After 10 minutes on one side, I flip the meat over and started taking the temperature. I over shot a bit the first time and the meat that came up beautiful off the coals, but a little overcooked by the time it was sliced. To get the nice medium-rare final serving temperature, you need to shoot for about 92 F when you take it off the grill. Let the meat rest until it reaches 125 – 130 F and crack the salt crust open.

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By now the towel is mostly burnt away and a few taps with the back of a knife is enough to reveal the amazing burnished and very savory beef. The smell is really phenomenal at this point and the whole spectacle is too much for any of the guests not to stand, stare and “oooh”.

Lomo al Trapo-Potatoes2

I served this very simply and triditionally with boiled salted marble potatoes and a sharp chimichurri sauce (parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar). The potatoes were boiled with lots of salt until the water evaporates and the salt remains. This was another recipe from Kenji (and also a traditional Colombian preparation) but they did turn out a bit too salty so they need some work. By contrast the salt encrusted beef was delicious, perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. It really is a show-stopper of a roast.

Mugaritz: Dried Tomato Salad, a Bunch of Garlic Cloves and Herbs

Mugaritz Dried Tomato Salad6

Soaking a fruit or a vegetable in pickling lime or Calcium Hydroxide is a theme in the Mugaritz book. Soaking any vegetable in a mixture of water and pickling lime binds the cellulose and makes the fruit firm. The longer it is soaked the harder a shell it forms. The reason pickling lime is sold is -as the name suggest- keep those bread and butter pickles from getting mushy in the pickling liquid. Vegetables soaked in lime can withstand a good bit of cooking while remaining firm and never turning mushy. Chef Aduriz uses it in many recipes from making “calcified” branches of salsify to the traditional candied pumpkin cubes. The flavors here are very familiar. We have tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and herbs but the texture and look are certainly not what your typical tomato salad is like.

Tomatoes-Soaking

I blanched the tomatoes and peeled them first. I then soaked them in a mixture of water and pickling lime for several hours. The lime has a tendency to settle, so I needed to stir it every so often. By the end of the soaking time you could feel how firm and rough the tomatoes are on the outside. Next step is to cook them in a mixture of sugar and water.

After the tomatoes are cooked they get hollowed out from and all the soft pulp is removed. It’s pretty cool to see how the inside is still all soft and pulpy but the entire outside is basically a tomato shell with the texture of a soft-ish apple. It really could be battered and fried at this point and it would not fall apart. We do not fry it though. Instead the tomato shells go in a very low oven to dry for several hours. By the end of the drying time the tomatoes are like giant hollow deep red raisins!

Tomatoes-Soaked
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While the tomatoes were dehydrating I worked on the filling and the garlic. The filling is made from large beefsteak tomatoes. The recipe had some slightly vague instructions to roast the tomatoes over fresh coals. I decided to broil them and roast them instead to get some char on them and also get them very soft. When fully cooked I got rid of the seeds and mixed the tomato pulp with olive oil, salt, minced garlic to form a good emulsion.

Mugaritz Dried Tomato Salad-Mise
To go with the tomato salad we have a whole boatload of slow roasted garlic cloves. This is just like it sounds. Gently roast garlic heads wrapped in foil in the oven until soft and deliciously sweet. I peeled them and tossed them with a good amount of olive oil.

Roasted Garlic
To plate, I stuffed the tomato shells with the tomato emulsion mixture and “closed” each one with a reserved tomato stem. a bunch of garlic cloves go on the side along with a few small herbs. I whipped the dressing from olive oil, cider vinegar, white miso and parsley and drizzled it all over the salad. It goes without saying that the flavors are excellent together. The texture was terrific and new. The tomatoes were not like sun-dried tomatoes but had a nice soft chew to them that was very nice. I was worried that the syrup the tomatoes are cooked in would make them too sweet but that was not the case. The flavors were perfectly balanced with mild sweetness, acidity, very deep tomato flavor (from all the roasting, drying and concentrating) and fragrant garlic and herbs.

Mugaritz Dried Tomato Salad5

Terrine de Tête de Cochon

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A pig’s head, or half of one as I have here, is not a pretty thing. No matter what the great Fergus Henderson says a whole roasted half of a pig head is not a romantic meal for two. Most find it unappetizing and gnarly. I get it. It is however delicious. To get to that deliciousness and remove the ugliness we make a lovely terrine with it and if I was serving this at a restaurant, I’d give it a cool French-y name like the title of this post, Terrine de Tete de Cochon as opposed to jellied pig head (or worse, Headcheese!). Everyone ate this at my house from Diana to the kids and enjoyed it.

PigHead-Spices

I have several recipes for a pig head terrine in my books. It also goes by Brawn in the UK and Headcheese. The process is similar no matter what the recipe is. The main variation is in the spicing and flavoring. The process involves boiling the head in flavored liquid, removing and chopping the meat/skin and packing the seasoned mixture into a loaf or terrine pan to set. I decided to follow the instructions in Jennifer McLagan’s book Odd Bits. She includes two recipes in the book, one she calls for the uninitiated and includes carrots in it with very little “challenging bits” like skin and snout. The other is the more hardcore, or “advanced”, one with those bits and no carrots.

PigHead-Aromatics PigHead

The picture for the one with carrots looked very cool and I figured the vegetables will make this rich terrine even more appealing. So, I went somewhere in the middle and used a combination of both recipes. I included plenty of skin and such but also made sure to cut up the carrots from the cooking stock and include them.

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The first step here is to brine the pig’s head in a spiced brine for three of days. It is then cooked it in a big pot of water along with split pork trotters, herbs, spices, lemon, aromatics and peeled carrots. The stock is saved for the next step and the meat gets picked off the bone. I cut up all the meat, skin, ear and set it aside.

I clarified the reserved stock the traditional way following McLagan’s instructions as opposed to using Agar. It’s good to practice the classic techniques every so often and I believe the classic method reserves more of the gelatin in the stock and that’s essential to ensuring the dish sets properly. So I stirred the stock with egg whites and minced vegetables and brought the mixture to a gentle simmer. As the protein in the egg white coagulate it glues together all the minced vegetables and forms a raft on the surface that filters any impurities from the liquid and clarifies it. The liquid is then gently strained through cheesecloth. It is pretty much crystal clear and has an awesome full flavor.

PigHead2

I mixed the meat with the carrots, tarragon, chives, parsley, red wine vinegar and the clear bouillon. After adjusting the seasoning with salt and pepper I packed the meat in a plastic wrap lined terrine pan.After an overnight rest in the fridge, the terrine is ready to go. It is set and very firm.

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I sliced it up and plated it with mustard, pickled okra and cornichons. The bright carrots really are a nice touch for both color and flavor. The meat was balanced and had a terrific texture. I will cut the the meat into much smaller pieces next time around to get better and more compact slices from the terrine. We snacked on this for several days and I vacuum packed and froze a piece. I’m curious how it holds up, especially if I am to bread it and pan fry it.

 

Corn-Ricotta Soup, Shrimp and Brown Butter Mushrooms

Corn Soup-Shrimp-Mushroom

Corn and seafood is a classic and fantastic combination. We see a lot of shrimp and corn, corn bisque with crab, lobster tortellini with corn and off course corn chowder with cod or other seafood. This dish adapted from Sean Brock’s book Heritage is an instant classic in my home. It’s simple to make, is deliciously familiar and new at the same time.

To make the soup I sautéed chopped onions in butter with a bit of fresh thyme and then added freshly shucked corn kernels to the pot. In the meantime I prepared vegetable corn stock which is just vegetable stock with the shucked corn cobs simmered in it for 20 minutes or so. I added the stock to the corn mixtures and allowed it to simmer very briefly just until the corn is tender.

Poached Shrimp2 Shrimp

Shrimp cooks fast and Brock’s method takes advantage of that to ensure it is perfectly tender and moist. Tough and chewy shrimp is a sad thing. I prepared the cooking liquid with vegetable stock, white wine lemons and some herbs and peppercorns. When this comes to a simmer I dropped in the shrimp and turned the heat off. After 20 minutes or so the shrimp was just cooked through. I took them out, allowed them to cool and sliced them into small pieces. Just before serving I tossed the shrimp with creme fraiche, lemon juice, fresh basil and seasoned them. This makes a lovely light and delicious shrimp salad. The leftover shrimp salad worked great in sandwiches for a couple of days afterwards.

Mushrooms

The mushrooms are cooked in sizzling brown butter with thyme sprigs. Nothing more than that. In hindsight I should not have used brown mushrooms. Brock’s original recipe asks for chanterelles. They are light in color but I can never find them. The brown mushrooms got a bit too dark and look like snails! They still tasted awesome but aesthetically they bugged me in an otherwise beautiful dish.

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When ready to serve, I pureed the corn soup and strained it through a sieve. I then put it back in the blender with a few ounces of homemade ricotta cheese and made a luxurious smooth mixture. I laid our the shrimp mixture and a few pieces of mushrooms in the bowls and gently poured the corn soup “table-side”. Earthy mushrooms, savory and fresh cool seafood and the warm sweet corn soup made for a great dish.

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