Lardo Tipico

Lardo

Man is this good. Like very very good. It’s another one of those posts here that did not start as a planned blog post, hence the no preparation pictures. I wish I had taken some. Oh well, maybe next time since I am sure there will be a next time. After months in the cure, I sliced and tasted the Lardo and it was so amazing I had to post about it. What was once just a chunk of pork fat became -with the application of salt, herbs and time- a luscious, nutty, savory piece of Salumi.

Let me back up a bit. I’ve mentioned a few times that I buy most of my awesome pork from a local farmer who really raises some tasty pigs at Yonder Way Farm. A while back some of the shoulder pieces I bought had a thicker than normal layer of perfect white fat on them. Usually I save that up, freeze it and use it for sausage. These were too nice and perfect though. So, I decided to keep them whole and invest some time to make Lardo. This preparation is a classic method of preserving and enjoying pork back fat from the Lombardy region of Italy, especially the town of Colonnata. The “real” Lardo from there is labeled as the only authentic “Lardo di Colonnata“. It is salted and kept in beautiful boxes made from marble harvested in those same Lombardy hills. I have never had this real thing and truth be told I did not have a ton of expectation for my humble cured fat back.

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Still, I figured what do I have to lose. I already have a good bit of frozen fat for sausage, so I gave Lardo a shot. I used the recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s Salumi book as a template but it really is more of a process than a recipe. I chopped up fresh rosemary leaves, crushed some juniper and a good bit of black pepper and mixed that with kosher salt. Since this is pretty much 99% fat and has little to no muscle fibers the salt percentage is not that important to measure out. Usually when I make Coppa, Bresaola or Lomo or any other cured whole muscle the salt should be about 3% of the weight of the meat. Too little and the meat might spoil or not taste well-seasoned. Too much and it will be way too salty and not pleasant.

The fatback on the other hand does not absorb the salt nearly as readily as the muscle fibers and has very little water content. So, what we do here is just pack the fat in the salt and spice mixture and ensure there is a thick layer of salt all around. The best way to do this is to just put it in a Foodsaver bag and vacuum seal it. The real enemy of this process is light. Keep it away from light while it cures and to store it after it is cured (I wrapped mine well in parchment paper to store in the fridge). After vacuum packing in the salt cure I put it in the back of a fridge drawer for about 4 months to cure. Yes, four months. This is easy Salumi but it is S…L…O..W. When time is up, I took it out of the salt, rinsed it well and patted it dry very well. I sliced a few very thin sliced right away and tasted. It was just awesome. The flavor was nutty, seasoned perfectly with salt and all those herbs and spices. Everything came through but the flavor of the pork was all there and shone through. It’s tough to describe how good this damn stuff is and how surprised I was by that. The texture also was not greasy or soft but had a delightful firm “crunch”. Even visually it is arresting, just look at that lovely pink hue.

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How to serve this? Well, I ate a good bit as described above. Sliced razor thin. It is really good if allowed to sit for a moment on a good piece of warm toasted bread, drizzled with a bit of grassy olive oil and topped with a piece of arugula. Next level up? Pizza “Bianca”. This is my homemade pizza dough, baked naked and then as soon as it comes out of the oven covered with those thin thin slices of goodness. This one is especially good with a few dollops of ricotta, perhaps not “traditional” but taste in my house always wins over tradition!

Lardo Pizza

…Or just on a pizza with other awesome toppings

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Still, I wanted to make a dish that uses more of the Lardo.

Lardo-Chicken

I recalled a recipe I had seen in Zachary Pelaccio’s book Eat with Your Hands that combines Lardo with chicken thighs and cape gooseberries. That was a good idea! It starts of by chopping the Lardo pieces into small cubes and cooking them down until crispy. I took those out of the pan and used the fat to sear the chicken, then braising it with my local version of gooseberries, aka tomatillos. I added the crisped Lardo pieces and let the chicken cook until tender and the tomatillos are burst making a thick sauce. A simple and delicious dish that we served with pasta and a glass of wine.

Lardo-Garlic

Lardo as is the case with most whole muscle (or fat) salumi is really about the pig. I have no doubt that if this was done with commercial factory pork it would not be anywhere as good and most likely the Lardo especially would be shitty. Now that I know how amazing this salted, seasoned pork back fat can be I will be looking forward to the next piece of free range pork with a thick layer of snow white fat.

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A Salad of Radicchio, Lardons, Green Goddess Dressing and 6-Minute Egg

Radicchio Salad

I crave this salad so much. Finally I managed to replicate it at home. Let me back out a bit. I travel a bit for my work and a few years ago I had a project in Portland, Oregon. A lovely city with amazing food scene and tons of restaurants. One of my regular places was a place called Tasty and Alder. I loved sitting at the bar, getting a cocktail or beer and try something new. I almost always ordered their Radicchio salad. It’s a delightful combination of flavors and textures that I never got tired of. When i figured out that the guys from the Tasty restaurants have a book out, I immediately got a copy.

This puppy is definitely inspired by the classic French bistro salad of chicory and thick bacon pieces (Frisee au lardons). Yet, it is very different. It takes the bitter green and uses red radicchio instead, switches the dressing from a vinaigrette to a rich green goddess dressing and adds some grated Manchego for more salty savory punch. With chunks of soft cooked eggs it is damn near perfection in my book.

Green Goddess

Green goddess dressing is an emulsified dressing that is rich and pungent with herbs. This one is based on a whole raw egg, a couple of hard-cooked egg yolks, avocados, vinegar, green onions and tarragon. These get blended well. Then, as if making a mayonnaise, oil (canola in this case) is added slowly until the whole thing is a creamy thick luxurious sauce. The recipe in the book, Hello! My Name is Tasty makes more than I would need for one or two salad bowls. Good thing too. I used it for all kinds of stuff over the next few days. It’s delicious as a dip for raw vegetables, mixed into a chicken salad instead of mayo or as a sandwich spread.

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I always have homemade bacon on in the freezer. If you do not, a good quality store-bought thick cut smoked bacon would work. For this one I actually used home-cured smoked pork jowl bacon.  I sliced it slightly thick, cut it into 1 inch pieces and slowly crisped it on the outside and kept it a bit chewy.

Soft cooked eggs are the best but peeling them always was a pain. That was until I learned the method of pricking a tiny hole in the “rounded” end of the egg before cooking it. I don’t much care what the science is (I think it has to do with the air pocket the egg has there or something) but this works pretty much all the time. I do not remember mangling an egg since I started doing that. It’s very easy. I use a thumbtack or small pin and gently poke a hole in the bottom rounded end of the egg and then gently drop it into simmering water. 6 minutes will give you nice soft-runny yolks, 8 minutes are more like a hard cooked yolks. These times are for large size eggs. Then chill the eggs in an ice bath and peel. For this salad, I cooked up 6-minute eggs.

Radicchio

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To prepare the radicchio I cut it into bite size pieces. Then I soaked it in ice water for a bit. It helps it retain a lot of crispness and removes some of the bitterness. Still, it remains plenty sharp and bitter as it should be. So, if you do not like the taste of radicchio, this is not going to help much.

To serve it I tossed the leaves with some of the dressing, black pepper and added shredded Manchego cheese (I also tried it with Parmesan and that works great too). Towards the end of the tossing I added pieces of the tender eggs, the lardons and a handful of more cheese on top. This can make for a wonderful hearty side to steak or chop, but I enjoyed a large bowl as a dinner on its own and satisfied my craving. The rest of the book has a ton of amazing sounding recipe as well. I would love to dig into some more dishes.

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Milk Bar’s Birthday (or Mother’s Day or Any Day) Cake

Birthday Layer Cake7Christina Tosi from Milk Bar loves classic, sweet, indulgent and at times industrial (oh no!) desserts. At least that is what she claims. I really have my doubts about that. You know, about her actually enjoying the shitty cake that comes out of a mix box tasting of chemicals and sugar. I digress, regardless of her inspiration, Tosi produces fantastic sugary treats that are playful, beautiful and delicious. She seems like a delightful person as well judging by her appearances on Chef’s Table and Mind of a Chef TV shows.

Birthday Cake

The cake batter has not one but three different fats: butter, canola oil and shortening. That must be what helps give it an excellent texture and a very good “fridge life”. It is flavored with vanilla and has a bunch of sprinkles mixed in. I baked it in a quarter sheet pan and let it cool there. Then I used a 6 inch cake ring to cut 2 circles and large “scraps”. The scraps will make the bottom layer. This process is pretty typical of all the cakes in Milk Bar cookbook recipes.

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I love some textural variation in cakes. A big part of why I think most cakes are boring is the uniform texture and lack of crunch. Tosi uses a “crumb” between the layers to add that much needed texture and boosts of flavor. Crumb is very much what it sounds like, made from sugar, fat (canola oil in this birthday cake crumb), flour, salt, baking powder and flavoring. Since this is birthday cake crumb it also has sprinkles mixed in. The mixtures is combined in a stand mixer then baked at 300 F for about 20 minutes. Once it is completely cool it is crunchy, crumbly delicious stuff. I used the extras to mix into a homemade ice cream I made. Very proud of that idea. The ice cream was excellent.

Birthday Layer Cake

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Frosting is what brings it all together, holds the layers in place and of course it…well it’s frosting. This one is butter, shortening and cream cheese whipped very well. Then you add glucose, corn syrup, vanilla, powdered sugar a pinch of baking powder and a pinch of citric acid. Why those last 2 ingredients? I’m guessing Tosi again is trying to get it sort of close to what a “store frosting” tastes like. Don’t know, but this stuff tastes 100 times better than any crappy store bought frosting.

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To assemble, the fun part, using the 6 inch ring mold and acetate sheets we start layering. The “scraps” in 3 or 4 pieces go in the bottom. The cake gets brushed with a birthday cake soak (really it’s just milk and vanilla). Then goes the frosting, then goes a layer of crumb. Then a layer of cake and the same sequence again. When that is done the cake gets frozen until 3 hours or so before cutting into it. Slip it out of the ring, remove the acetate and place on a cake stand. Let it defrost and come to proper temperature. Slice and serve.

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A distinctive feature of Milk Bar cake is that they are “naked”, no frosting covering the whole thing and sides. Why? Tosi explains it best. Why go through all that hard work with cake and crumb and frosting and then cover the whole thing up! I agree. It is really beautiful, rich and so delicious.  Below is a gratuitous picture of a recent cake I also made based on Tosi’s formulations; chocolate cake with milk crumb and strawberry frosting. This one stayed delicious even after being in the fridge for a week.

Layer Cake-Chocolate-Strawberry

The Nomad: Scallop Seared with Parsnips and Grapes

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Parsnips and scallops are a delicious match. The coolest thing about this recipe from The Nomad Cookbook is the various ways it uses parsnips. I am especially fond of the cooking method and result of the “pressed parsnip planks” (say that ten time real fast!). I will be using that again for sure. Other than sweet nutty parsnips and shellfish we also have grapes for acidity, freshness and texture. It’s a winning combination fit for a nice quiet dinner.

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So let’s start with those pressed parsnips planks I liked so much. They are very easy to make. I just tossed 4 parsnips with salt and oil and put them side by side on a parchment lined baking sheet. I topped them with another parchment piece and another baking sheet then weighed them down with a heavy cast iron skillet. After baking them at 350 F for 1.5 hours they are tender, caramelized and flattened. Their texture after the pressed-bake is dense and soft. I cut those into even rectangular planks and before serving I seared them on the skin sides to crisp the skin and add more texture and flavor.

Parsnip Grape Puree

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The base for the scallops and vegetables is more parsnip. This one is a puree made from parsnips, sliced and sauteed in butter and cooked in milk until soft. The parsnips are strained and blended with more butter, green gapes and a splash of the cooking milk to get a smooth puree. The mixture is seasoned with white verjus (tart grape juice basically). To get a very smooth puree I passed it through a strainer and kept it warm.

I like the process that Chef Humm uses in Eleven Madison Park books and in the Nomad book to make seafood stocks. He sautees aromatics (fennel, shallots, celery,..) in oil till soft, adds white wine and allows it to reduce well. This is pretty traditional. Then he covers the seafood and aromatics with ice instead of water. I had never seen this before. The ice gently melts, extracts the flavor from the seafood and simmers for no more than 30 minutes. Done. For this recipe I am supposed to use lobster stock to make lobster nage.

Fish Stock

Not sure how to exactly define the French sauce category of nage. It really sounds cool and smooth and classy. Best way to think of it is an enriched stock made creamy with butter. In this case, I made fish stock (no lobster shells lying around) with red snapper carcasses using the Humm method. I strained it and “nage-ed” it by reducing it and emulsifying it with butter. Then I blended it with green grapes, a little lemon juice, and Xanthan gum. It got strained and resulted in a lovely rich seafood nage.

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Grapes feature yet again here. This time demi-dehydrated grapes. Green and red grapes are steeped in hot simple syrup for 5 minutes. They are then dehydrated in a 175 F oven until “wrinkled on the outside but still juicy”.  This took much longer than the 2 hours the recipe recommends, more like 4 hours.

Grapes-Syrup

Grapes-Dehydrated

What the hell is parsnip bark and why do we want it here? Well, first roast yet more parsnips -not pressed this time-  until very soft. Then carefully remove the skin in big chunks. That skin is the “bark” and after frying in oil and seasoning with salt it is crispy delicious stuff perfect for adding another dimension of texture to the dish. The problem is we kept snacking on them until we had almost none to actually put on the damn plate!

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Parsnip Skin

The scallops are probably the easiest part here, brined (I posted about this a couple times), sliced and seared in oil. A couple of more components include sliced raw red and green grapes tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and paper thin slices of raw parsnip. The parsnip sliced are soaked in ice water until they curl up and look pretty.

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To serve it, I put a thick smear of the parsnip puree on the plate and arrange a couple of parsnip planks on top. Next go the scallops, grapes, parsnip slices and the warm nage.

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Bouchon: Salmon Tartar

Salmon Tartar7

A process more than a recipe.

I bought some really lovely salmon and decided to make tartar with some of it and had no intention of posting about it, but then I took some nice pictures and here we are recorded for posterity.

Salmon Fillet

Salmon Tartar

It’s based on the recipe from Thomas Kellers’ Bouchon cookbook, my reference for most things “French Bistro”. I have not tried a disappointing preparation from this book yet and I’ve tried many (quiche, Parisian gnocchi, Boeuf bourguignon, soups …)

Salmon-Chopped

The first step, chopping the fish is the most important and most time consuming of this whole simple dish. Chill the salmon, really well and then using a very sharp knife mince it by hand. This results in the best texture. Mincing it in a food processor is really not an option and will only make for a salmon paste. Not good for tartar.

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I seasoned the fish with salt and pepper. Then tossed in some minced shallots, chives and mixed in a few drizzles of olive oil. I used a ring mold to plate the salmon in the middle of the plate.

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Garnishes are strewn around made from hard-cooked eggs chopped very small, chives, red onions and capers.

Egg-Onion

A lightly whipped scoop of creme fraiche goes on top for a luxurious texture and a little acidic freshness. Lastly I squeezed a few drops of lemon juice all over the fish. We enjoyed it with toasted home-baked bread and a glass of white wine for a light satisfying lunch.

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Aviary Cocktail: Another Caucasian, Gary

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The Dude might not recognize this lovely complex drink as his favorite indulgence but the folks at Aviary, the Chicago and NYC cocktail bar, created this in his honor. It is a refined take on the White Russian and named after one of thousands of memorable Dude quotes from the Coens’ The Big Lebowski.

Milk Ice2

The classic white Russian cocktail is vodka, coffee flavored liqueur (like Kahlua), and cream or milk. The Aviary cocktail book is a beautiful piece of work that gives us a look into what it means to take modern cocktails to the next level. Have I mentioned that it is an absolutely beautiful book? It really is and the story of how it was put together is really fascinating too. The Aviary, from the same team as the three star Alinea restaurant, treats drinks as complex dishes. The recipes employ all kinds of techniques, hydrocolloids, equipment and service pieces.

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While time consuming, this is not a difficult recipe and requires no specialized tools or ingredients (unless you consider a large ice cube mold specialized in which case you can probably use smaller ice cube molds). The four major components in the “Another Caucasian, Gary” – I do love saying that- are: large milk ice cubes, chicory syrup, rum and Galliano L’Autentico. 

Caucasian

Obviously, I did not have to do much to the booze beyond buy it. I got a bottle of Appleton Estate rum, one that I am fond of actually and is usually in my bar. The Galliano on the other hand is new to me. It’s in a class of Italian liqueurs that are considered Aperitifs or Amaros. Typically one of a kind recipes whose exact ingredients are very well-guarded and ranging in alcohol content all across the board from slightly more than wine’s ABV to stronger proofs. Galliano L’Autentico is around 30% ABV and has dominant notes of vanilla and anise. It makes a lovely Old Fashioned cocktail as well used instead of the sugar in that recipe.

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Milk ice cubes make up the dairy portion of the cocktail. Why not? They look cool, dissolve slowly and change the flavor, texture and dilution of the drink making it enjoyable till the last sip. So, just pour some whole milk into large ice cube molds and freeze. That’s all.

Chicory, for those here in the US and especially in the states close to Louisiana, might best know it as an additive to the famed New Orleans coffee. It’s a root that is bitter with notes of coffee, cocoa and some funk. It is usually sold dried and coarsely ground. To make the syrup it is first toasted and mixed with sugar and water, vacuum packed and “cooked” sous vide at 90 C for an hour. I then strained it and reserved the liquid in the fridge.

Chicory Syrup

Chicory Syrup2

With the syrup done and the milk ice ready, the cocktail can be easily put together. The syrup, rum and Galliano are shaken with ice and poured over the milk ice cube. It makes for a complex drink that initially is bracing and has a lot of bitter boozy tones. As the ice melts we start getting more floral and herbal flavors from the liqueur, the dairy and coffee meld more and the drink starts to echo a White Russian. I doubt The Dude would love this version, but i sure did. It’s a much better cocktail than his beloved “Caucasian”.

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Salmon, Cauliflower and Citronette

Salmon-Cauliflower

This is a rare post for me. I cooked this for dinner tonight. Typically it takes me weeks or even months before getting back to something I want to blog about. This dish was simple, delicious and looked great that I figured I’ll get off my lazy behind and post it here.

I picked up some lovely Alaskan Sockeye salmon and treated it to a salty brine for 15 minutes. This is my go-to method for treating most fish before cooking. A 10% salt solution seasons, firms up and rinses off any impurities on the fish. The fish went into Ziploc bags with olive oil ready to cook sous vide. I use these bags and the water displacement method to bag meats for sous vide a lot. It is simple and works very well removing almost all air from the bags. The fish cooks for about 20 minutes at 50 C then the skin gets seared till crispy.

Salmon-SV

For the cauliflower, I tossed it with olive oil and pepper and heated my oven to 400 F. I put the sliced cauliflower cut side down on a baking sheet and cooked on top of the baking steel for about 25 minutes while the salmon cooked in the water. I love the dark almost-burnt sides so I did not bother turning them over giving me a nice contrast.

Cauliflower

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The citronette is a cute name for a vinaigrette made with citrus juice instead of vinegar. So, this one is nothing more than lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard and salt. I added a few minced celery leaves for flavor. To get some freshness and crunch, I very very thinly sliced celery and cauliflower stem. Not bad as far as knife skills go! I tossed those in the sauce and used them to garnish the fish.

Celery-Cauliflower

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