Posted in Book Recipes, Food, Fruits, Game, Sous Vide, tagged Apple Cider Gel, Burnt Oak, Fall Dishes, Grant Achatz, Wild Boar on October 24, 2011 |
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Fall is finally here -more or less I suppose- and changing the way I cook is natural. Even if I can find tomatoes and peppers well into November and December I still prefer to cook more “orange” and “brown” stuff. It makes me and Diana happy to pick up some winter squashes or sweet potatoes and start cooking with them. This dish has neither but it just smells and tastes like fall.
The biggest pain in the neck in this dish was finding a suitable oak twig. It’s supposed to be fall leaves, nice and orange-brown. Well in Houston you can typically only find green or dead brown. So I had to settle for somewhere in between. So I got a few twigs from one of the oaks that line a street close to work, the leaves are half brown half green, but overall not too bad. The recipe is pretty simple, a cube of meat (in the book he uses pheasant), a cube of apple cider gel and a piece of roasted shallot are skewered together on the sharpened oak twig. These are then dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried.
The cider gel is made with granny smith apples, some sugar and apple cider all cooked together with agar and pureed. It’s basically apple sauce until it is poured in a pan and allowed to cool. Then the agar turns it into a firm block. I cut it up into cubes and stored them in the fridge. The shallot confit is just shallots roasted with grape seed oil, salt and pepper. Then the shallots are peeled and cut into rough cubes. Last piece is the meat. I do not currently have pheasant, but I do have some wild boar still. So, I used a small loin. I cooked it sous vide bagged with butter and thyme. This was also cut up into cubes until serving time.
For the batter I deviated from the recipe and used the procedure from Modernist Cuisine. It’s the same process I used before to make Heston Blumenthal’s extra crispy fish and chips. The Blumenthal batter is a mixture of rice flour, all-purpose flour and vodka. You put that in an iSi whipping siphon and charge it with CO2. Right before using it to coat the meat, you dispense some batter into a small bowl and dip the meat in it. The batter will have so much air bubbles that it makes for an extra crispy-crunchy product. It’s important to point out here that frying the boar-cider-shallot skewer without dropping the whole twig in the hot oil is also tricky. I basically could only fry two at a time since I had to hold the oak twigs while the stuff on its tip fried. I wrapped the leaf end with aluminum foil to make them easier to handle while frying and to catch the splatter and this batter sure does splatter!
Last challenge in this “simple” recipe was plating. At Alinea they use a piece called the “octopus” to plate items like this one that has no base and need to stand upright. You can see it here in Allen’s Alinea book blog (he’s very dedicated and it sure shows). I was not going to buy or make anything like that. So, I made a thick sauce for the food thinking it will help it stay upright. It was a mixture of pickled mustard seeds, mayonnaise, mustard and maple vinegar. The sauce with the crunchy bite of food worked very well, but I cannot say that it made the plating that much easier.
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I’ve been so enjoying Yonder Way Farm’s pork chops that I had to post something about it. All the pork from them is delicious, but these prime thick cuts are just heavenly and worth every penny. I’ve taken to salting/flavoring them 24 hours before cooking them. I usually use a mixture of thyme, sage and pepper to flavor them along with kosher salt. I then cook them sous vide to an internal temperature of about 140F. Right before serving I sear them in a blazing hot cast iron skillet filmed with a little grapeseed oil (making sure the fat edge gets some pan-time) until they develop a browned crust – maybe 2 minutes total. The result is one of the most delicious juicy chops anywhere. This one here is served alongside roasted sweet potatoes and drizzled with a little maple vinegar.
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Posted in Book Recipes, charcuterie, Food, Mushrooms, Pork, Sous Vide, tagged Cep, Hay, Homemade Bacon, Mushroom Bouillon, Pork Belly, Purple Potatoes, Rene Redzepi, Wood Chips on October 4, 2011 |
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Cooking with woodchips and hay (yeah, hay) might seem way weird at first glance. My 8-year old was beyond shocked when I told him that I am buying hay at the pet store (all natural packaged and never used hay that is) to use in cooking at home. He kept asking and double checking that I am not messing with him. He finally believed me when I covered a baking dish filled with small potatoes with hay and stuck it in the oven. If we really pause and think about this though, it makes sense. Usually stuff like hay or, more commonly, wood chips (oak, charred oak) are used as flavorings in many products. The wood barrels, charred or not, are exactly how products like Bourbon, Scotch and wine are aged and get their distinctive look and taste. Brewers add charred wood chips to stouts and porters all the time for their unique flavor. So why not use some wood chips to flavor a sauce that will be served with a rich piece of pork belly? Hay has been used to cook ham in it for a few centuries as well. I believe this is a classic British preparation where ham is fully covered in hay and baked/boiled. Ryan at “Nose to Tail at Home” prepared a version of that from Fergus Henderson’s book. The process gently steams the meat and flavors it with its unique aroma. All these flavors match perfectly with pork, mushrooms and potatoes to create a lovely and comforting dish.
The chef at Noma in Copenhagen uses all kinds of interesting ingredients in his flavor profiles including oak chips, spruce, hay and ash (as in burnt and powdered vegetable matter). His cooking is fiercely local and when your locale is cold northern Denmark you really do not have access to so many of the ingredients we take for granted these days like tomatoes, olive oil, chocolate…Still Chef Redzepi manages to coax flavor from products, both wild and cultivated. He obviously knows what he is doing because he produces beautiful thoughtful food and Noma is named the “Best Restaurant in The World” for the second year in a row. In this dish he combines braised de-boned pork tails with hay-steamed small potatoes and a sauce made from stock, cep mushrooms (porcinis) and flavored with applewood chips.
I did not have any pig tails for this, but I did just make some smoked bacon (two versions this time: maple and brown sugar) and I had a few pieces of thin pork belly that did not get cured. Speaking of bacon, here are a couple of nice shots of said cured bellies. You can also see some of the Canadian bacon I smoked along with the regular bacon
I bagged the pork -I pretty much buy all my pork from Yonder Way Farm these days, it really is great stuff- with some home-brewed stout, thyme, butter-sauteed vegetables and stock then cooked them sous vide for a few hours. The cooking liquid is then strained and reduced to a glaze to finish the pork.
Redzepi uses two kinds of small potatoes, a purple one and a yellow one. These are baked gently under a few handfuls of hay. When done, I cut each in half and scooped most of the flesh out. Right before serving the potatoes are heated up in a water and butter emulsion and plated. The water had some toasted wood chips soaked in it to flavor it before whisking in the butter. The sauce for the dish is a clear mushroom bouillon made by simmering sautéed mushrooms and vegetables in chicken stock. The resulting stock is then clarified using the traditional method for making consomme (i:e using egg whites). The clear liquid is then reduced to about a cup. To further flavor the already very tasty bouillon, a few applewood chips are toasted and then soaked in it for 10 minutes. Lastly, birch wine is supposed to be added in as well. I had none and could not find any at local stores. So, I decided to just go by my own taste and seasoned the bouillon with my homemade maple vinegar. It worked very nicely.
Another two items emphasize the cep flavor, an oil and powdered ceps. Redzepi uses fresh porcini trimmings to make the oil. These are very hard to find and expensive. The dried version though is available everywhere and makes a great substitute in an application like this one. The oil is just heated up and the dried mushrooms are steeped in it. The cep powder is just dried mushrooms pulverized in my spice grinder. That would be the dust-like substance all over the plate. All in all this was a delicious dish to welcome Autumn. It’s rich, full of roasted umami tastes, mushrooms and rustic flavors. The wood chips do add a nice mild flavor. The hay…not too sure honestly. I think that might be more noticeable if the dish they are cooked in includes a lot of liquid, like the ham in hay dish I linked to above. As a cooking medium for the potatoes, I do not think they contributed much.
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Posted in Baking, Book Recipes, Bread, charcuterie, Food, Pork, Sausage, Sous Vide, tagged Bockwurst, Bratwurst, Charcuterie, Homebaked Buns, Homemade Sausage on September 6, 2011 |
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We were in San Antonio this past weekend, so I did not have much time to prepare a full-fledged barbecue spread. San Antonio was a fun close getaway with the family and as usual we had a great meal at Dough Pizzeria Napolitana (might be one of the best of it’s kind in the country) and way too much ice cream at Justin’s and Amy’s. Anyways, back at home by Monday Labor Day, what I did have is some good homemade sausage. So I took out a pack of Bratwurst and the last couple of Bockwurst packs I had. Both sausages are made with a mixture of pork and veal. They also both include dairy and eggs. The Bockwurst includes more onions and more pepper, the brats have a more uniform emulsified texture not unlike that of a hot dog. The Bockwurst were cooked (poached) before freezing so they needed nothing more than grilling to heat up and crisp the casing. The brats were raw, so they were cooked sous vide at 61 C for about an hour before grilling and crisping.
I did go through the trouble of making some proper buns that will stand up to the wieners and not fall apart. I used a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. A few of these were topped with poppy seeds and the rest baked plain. The buns turned out perfect for the substantial sausages. To serve them, I made a some sautéed onions, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. Other accompaniments included a few different mustards and some pickled pepperoncini peppers. That was such a fantastic meal for so little work.
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Posted in Eggs, Food, Green Vegetables, Pork, Root Vegetables, Sous Vide, tagged Barbecue, Barbecue Sauce, Cole Slaw, Fourth of July, Modernist Cuisine, Pickled Onions, Potato Salad, Pulled Pork, Spare Ribs on July 19, 2011 |
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Most probably assume that Modernist Cuisine only makes food that looks like foam or spheres or something extra fancy. Well, sure it has all those things, but that is not the point. It’s just modern food, using all the information that was learned over the past few decades. The point is not to make “weird food” but to make delicious food and to make the most out of every ingredient. Sometimes it follows fairly traditional recipes, other times it completely dumps those processes in favor of better and/or more efficient ones. There are few things as humble and that trigger as much debate as barbecue. Barbecue is simple, really the polar opposite of fancy food. I am talking not about quickly grilled foods, but about slow smoking meat for hours until it is infused with flavor and perfectly tender. I’ve been doing this for years on my Chargriller BBQ and smoker. It works great, but I wanted to see how the modernist approach works. So for the 4th of July this year I made a whole menu from the Modernist Cuisine books.
The meats I made were two classics, pulled pork (using the butt) and spare ribs. First I lightly salted and seasoned the meat and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Then it was smoked for 7 hours in my smoker using pretty low heat. This step separates the cooking from the smoking. The low smoke and the moist environment deeply flavor the meat with sweet smoke (you can see the awesome smoke ring on the ribs) but they keep it essentially raw. Next the meat goes into FoodSaver bags and is cooked sous vide at 65C for hours, specifically 72 hours for the pork butt and 48 hours for the ribs. That cooking process preserves all the flavor and ensures that the meat is cooked in a moist environment at a proper temperature. The meat will not dry out or burn and will end up wonderfully moist. The end result is delicious and perfect barbecue, especially those ribs. They are not so overcooked that they peel off the bones at the merest touch (“fall off the bone” is not a plus in bbq ribs BTW), but are just tender with the perfect texture.
I made two barbecue sauces, a thin Lexington style one that got tossed in with the pulled pork and a thicker, spicy tomato-based Kansas City sauce for the ribs. Neither one has any specialty ingredients and both can be done in less than 15 minutes. The potato salad was just a little more involved than a typical potato salad but it was so good that I could easily eat it by itself. The salad included fingerling and small red potatoes that were cooked sous vide. It also had “petals” of pickled red and pearl onions (I had made those a couple of days before) and egg yolks cooked to 65C. The yolks are really a brilliant touch. They add lovely yellow accent to the mix, a rich creamy mouthful and a subtle unique flavor. To make them I just cooked eggs with the immersion circulator at 65C. The whites were discarded and the yolks gently cut into 2 or 3 pieces each before getting tossed into the salad. The dressing here is not mayonnaise based, but instead it uses creme fraiche, mustard and walnut oil. The creme fraiche gives it just enough richness and a welcome tang. Lastly I made the White Cole Slaw. That’s just thinly sliced savoy cabbage tossed with green apples dice and an emulsified dressing consisting of another of those 65C yolks, grapeseed oil, buttermilk, vinegar and celery seeds. The slaw is very light and crisp. It worked wonderfully on top of a pile of pulled pork on a bun.
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Posted in Beef, Book Recipes, Food, Fruits, Green Vegetables, Root Vegetables, Sous Vide, tagged Beef Heart, Offal, Pecans, Red Wine Cherries, Thomas Keller, Yellow Beets on July 6, 2011 |
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If we are going to kill and eat animals, we really should try to utilize as much of the carcass as possible. Only eating the “good parts” is very wasteful and disrespectful to the critter that died so we can eat. I do believe that, but I have to admit that offal cuts can be challenging. Most of these alternative cuts need some work to make them tasty or to render them tender enough to chew. Some cuts I absolutely love, like the sweetbreads, pig tails and liver if done properly and with care. Other pieces I am not crazy about but I still would eat them (kidneys?) and to this day I still have never prepared tripe at home due to the smell, but I really enjoy it when my grandmother prepares it. Heart falls somewhere in that middle category, I do not like it that much.
That’s a bit odd since one would think that since heart is one big muscle it should be less challenging. However, to me it tastes too minerally and has a strong “organ” taste. I suppose since all it does is pump blood 24/7 that should not be that surprising. That strong taste is also why heart goes so well with sharp flavors like a garlic lemon sauce for chicken or lamb heart or a tart vinegar sauce for beef or pork.
When I saw my local meat vendor has calf heart I figured I’ll order one and try this Thomas Keller recipe. It’s a very good and substantial salad of sorts. The heart is thoroughly cleaned, brined and cooked sous vide after being packaged with a generous dose of duck fat. It is then sliced thinly and reheated in some of the rendered fat right before serving. Keller uses baby turnips in the salad. I rarely see those at the market, but small yellow beets are usually available. These get cooked sous vide as well and then glazed in a little butter and chicken stock. The cherries are pitted and get marinated/pickled in a spiced red wine. The last garnish is the glazed pecans. These are blanched in boiling water, dried and then sautéed in butter and seasoned with smoked salt. To serve, the plate gets a drizzle of balsamic vinegar first, and the meat is arranged on top along with the rest of the garnishes. A lightly dressed arugula salad finishes it off.
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Posted in Book Recipes, Food, Fruits, Game, Grains, Green Vegetables, Pork, Sous Vide, tagged Alinea, Corn Bread Pudding, Grant Achatz, Grapefruit, Puffed Pork Shoulder on April 18, 2011 |
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This Alinea dish combines some classic combinations in a more or less classic presentation. It’s basically a pork with polenta dish with a few twists…and grapefruit. Why not though? The grapefruit is tart, sweet and a little bitter. That makes for a great counterpoint to the pork, rich cornbread pudding and the honey that is drizzled on the plated food.
I made the sage pudding first, a week or so before I actually needed it. It’s a typical Alinea ”pudding” made with Agar, where the sage leaves are steeped in hot water with a little sugar and then the mixture is set with Agar and then pureed in the blender for a pudding-like texture. I had made a mental note a while back to make the next such pudding with Gellan instead of Agar for a change, but I suppose I must’ve lost that “note”. Next time I will try it with Gellan. As it stands this was a good sauce for the dish, it was slightly sweet with a big sage flavor and a good smooth texture.
For the cornbread puree, I first made the cornbread. I’m pretty sure any cornbread recipe will do in this component, but I went ahead and did the book’s recipe. On it’s own it is not such a great cornbread, probably because it uses a lot of white wheat flour in it. the texture is a bit firm and the taste slightly bland. However, to finish it up, the bread gets crumbled and pureed in a good dose of butter and cream and seasoned with salt and pepper. That makes for a rich polenta-like product that is quiet delicious. I chose not to make the puree in my blender (I hate washing it) and instead used the stick blender. That worked ok, but I did not get the good emulsion and smooth puree I would’ve achieved with a powerful blender.
Alinea uses two cuts of pork here and cooks them in very different ways. The pork shoulder gets bagged with oil and cooked SV for 5 hours at about 180F until it’s very tender. I used a small piece of boar shoulder instead that I salted a day beforehand and bagged it with some bacon fat. I needed to cook it for more like 6 hours to get it to the proper texture and I still think it needed a bit more time. The meat gets shredded into strings then deep fried in loose disks right before it is served.
The other cut of pork is a pork tenderloin. This one I also salted ahead of time then rolled into a cylinder and cooked sous vide at 137F for about 30 minutes. The pork gets cooked to a perfect pink medium. I went ahead and quick seared it in clarified butter to give it a bit more flavor and variation before slicing. It came out perfectly cooked and looked as good as it tasted.
The last few components of the dish were caramelized fennel strips (fennel rounds browned in butter and then cut into strips), grapefruit segments, fennel fronds and small sage leaves. Right before serving it, the dish gets a small drizzle of honey. That honey goes especially well with the crispy boar shoulder pieces and the corn bread puree. The dish as a whole makes for a refreshing and, at the same time, comforting plate of food. We tried getting a variety of tastes and textures in each forkful, that always makes us appreciate the level of detail involved in these Alinea compositions.
I was having a very nice grapefruit-sage margarita while finishing up the cooking for this dish.
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Posted in Book Recipes, Food, Green Vegetables, Root Vegetables, Sous Vide, tagged Beets, Cauliflower, Edible Soil, Rene Redzepi, Sunchokes on March 8, 2011 |
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This was a first attempt to cook a recipe from Noma as closely as possible to how it’s written in the book. I made a sort-of Noma recipe before and loved the focus on the vegetables. They are cooked perfectly and presented simply. This particular recipe caught my attention from the first time I flipped through the book. It’s little more than a selection of vegetables and a base of mashed potatoes (and soil). Nothing too weird or difficult, except the final dish looks like a small vegetable garden complete with soil and all. I would love to serve this dish with small rabbit chops along side the vegetables…bunnies in the garden.
Redzepi uses a selection of root and green vegetables for his dish including celery root, leeks, sunchokes, baby zucchini and parsley root. I did not stick to that listing verbatim, but picked what seemed nice and fresh at the store. My list consisted of:
- Beets – Roasted with salt and butter in foil, then peeled and cut into small segments
- Thin carrots (with tops) – Cooked sous vide with salt at 85 C for about 45 minutes, tops reserved for garnish
- Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem Artichokes) – Cooked sous vide with butter at 85 C for about 1.5 hours. They retained a nice firm texture while fully cooked.
- Leeks - Used the smaller inner portion and blanched in salted water
- Asparagus – blanched in salted water
- Cauliflower – Florets cooked sous vide with salt at 85 C for about 45 minutes
The soil component of the dish is made from ground hazelnuts, flour, beer, malt flour and butter. It is seasoned with salt and sugar. The soil is made in two “installments” over a period of two days. Ingredients are mixed in, dried in the oven for hours and crumbled. The next day another set of ingredients goes through the same treatment before the two get combined. The idea is that the end result should look like dark rich soil and have a nice crunchy texture to complement the soft vegetables and the mashed potatoes. My soil did have that nice texture and very deep and rich taste, but unlike the recipe picture in the book it is much lighter in color. It looks more like sand than soil I guess. That malt flour might be the reason why the color was off. I could not find it anywhere and resorted to using a mixture of flour and malt powder.
The last component is a straightforward potato puree flavored with horseradish and enriched with butter and cream. The quantity in the book for the potato puree is a bit too small so I just tripled it. To plate, the mashed potatoes go in first as a base. After heating the vegetables in a butter-water emulsion, they get “planted” in the potatoes and the soil covers the whole thing up. For a garnish, I used carrot-top leaves, garlic shoots and parsley leaves. This was a delicious, satisfying and beautiful plate of food.
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