Bouchon: Salmon Tartar

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Glandoulat: Red Beans and Pork with Carrots from the Southwest of France

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Cool name but really this is a delicious classic combination of pork and beans made all the more refined and nuanced because it’s another recipe from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France.  It’s perfect for the cool weather months and simpler to prepare than a Cassoulet or Garbure (It’s been a while since I made a good Cassoulet now that I think about it. I should change that.)

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Like almost any bean dish, first we soak the red beans in plenty of water overnight. Next day I put the beans in a clay pot with an onion stuck with a couple cloves and a cinnamon stick. I do love cooking these dishes in clay pot and let them take their sweet time and simmer slowly. To flavor the dish we reach out to Pancetta, garlic, parsley, thyme and bay. I pureed all that in a food processor to a smooth paste. This stuff just smells great.

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In a separate pan, I seared pork shoulder chunks in fat. What fat? I’m sure one would wonder. Well, this is southwestern French cooking so traditionally we are using duck or goose fat. As it happens I have duck fat in my freezer….and pork fat…and bacon fat…and chicken fat. Nice fat collection that I use for different dishes. I usually save any fat from the surface of stock and add it to the appropriate jar. This is delicious stuff that lasts forever in the freezer and makes good dishes great.

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seared pork

When the pork, seared in a mixture of duck and pork fat, was well colored I added chopped onions and carrots and sauteed that until they barely got some color on them. The entire contents of the pan then gets added to the beans in the clay pot plus the pancetta/garlic paste. Now we let the whole thing gently simmer and bubble away until the beans are very tender. The aroma as this happens is one of those most memorable comforting smells ever.

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This is a beans, pork and carrots dish. So now on to the carrots. Easy task this one. I peeled some nice organic carrots and sliced them crosswise. I then sauteed them in butter with a pinch of sugar until barely done. On another note these are some cool carrot pictures.

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I do love a good baguette with these types of French bean dishes. I have upped my game a bit since I last posted about a bean/baguette meal. Using my sourdough starter and a recipe based on the one from the Tartine book I made some delightful baguettes. They were definitely one of the best I’ve made so far. Deeply browned, crispy crackly and with a tender flavorful crumb and perfect for sopping up the awesome juices.

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To bring it all together I scraped any solidified fat from the beans and brought them to a gentle simmer again. Then I added the glazed carrots to the clay pot of beans and put them in the oven, uncovered. This melds the flavors together and starts developing a “crust” on the surface. I stirred the crust in and returned them back to the oven. I did this a few times until service time. The last flourish is to sprinkle the dish with a mixture of minced garlic and parsley, a couple of tablespoons of cognac and some sherry vinegar.

Tartine Baguettes

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Time for another gratuitous bread post with mostly picture. Well, these are more than just gratuitous I suppose. This is, after all, a journal for me and a record that I go back to if I want to verify something and try not to repeat mistakes. These beauties are the most delicious and damn near perfect baguettes I’ve made so far. The flavor is delightful and almost nutty. The crust and crumb are in perfect crispy/tender harmony.

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Like most of Tartine bread recipes these make use of natural leaven for the fermentation and flavor. I have posted before about how I maintain my rye sourdough starter and make the leaven in more detail here. Baguette recipe also uses a Poolish as well. Poolish is made by mixing equal parts of flour and water with a very tiny amount of instant yeast. This sits for several hours until bubbly.

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Shaping baguettes is a bit tricky because you need to handle the dough more than a boule shape for example. Too much handling can deflate the dough instead of maintaining all the flavorful bubbles in there. The Tartine book directions are pretty clear though and I got some decent baguette shapes, a total of 4 from the recipe that fit neatly on my baking stone (2 at a time).

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Good bread crust depends on steam that helps develop a thin crackly crust with lots of tiny bubble on the surface. Using the “bake in the Dutch oven” method takes care of that by trapping the steam in the pot. With long shapes like a baguette that is not a possible baking method. To trap some steam in I used a large disposable aluminum baking pan, like the one you use to bake a turkey in. This fit neatly on top of the baguettes covering them and the baking stone for the first 15 minutes of the bake time. The result was very good and simulated steam injected professional ovens well.

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I mainly baked those to go with a French bean and pork dish (next post). That’s an excellent combination of course, but these baguettes were so good with some butter and salt. They are by far better than the vast majority of baguettes you can find in town.

Panforte di Siena with Chocolate and Rum Raisins

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As I type this I am still munching on more of this goodness that i baked about two weeks ago now. This Holiday pastry is a “bread” in as much as “short bread” is bread. It’s a delicious, nutty, spicy and chewy candy almost more reminiscent of Spanish turron than a bread or cookie. Whatever we call it, it is a wonderful and addictive Christmas time treat. It’s origin is Italian, more specifically from Tuscany and the town of Siena. It’s even usually referred to as Panforte di Siena or “strong bread of Siena”.

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As the name indicates this one is a strongly flavored preparation and is best served in thin wedges. So what’s in it this stuff? Nuts; plenty of them; dried fruit; usually including a lot of candied citrus peel; spices, sugar and honey. This recipe is courtesy of the always reliable David Lebovitz and it includes cocoa powder and dark chocolate as well.

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I opted for a combination of hazelnuts and almonds with the balance tilted more towards the hazelnuts. That was a very good choice because of the cocoa and chocolate in the recipe. The combination is a delicious classic. I toasted the hazelnuts and rubbed them in a kitchen towel while they are still warm to get rid of most of the skins.

RumRaisins

To the chopped up nuts, I added the spices (lots of cinnamon in this one, but again, it works great), chopped up candied citron, flour, a decent pinch of salt. I’m not sure why the recipe does not include salt but I think it makes sense to add it. I wanted to include some other dried fruit in the Panforte. I also figured some booze would be nice. So, I soaked about 50 gr of golden raisins in rum for a few hours and subbed those for 50 gr of the candied citron. The instruction to work the dry mixture well with your fingers is a good one. It ensures that the ingredients, especially the candied fruit, do not clump and stick together.

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Lastly, I made the syrup by heating up honey and sugar to 240 F and poured that along with melted dark chocolate on the dry ingredients. You really need a good stiff spatula or wooden spoon to mix the stuff. It is heavy and needs a strong arm to get everything incorporated. I put the mixture into a spring form pan that I had sprayed with non-stick spray and lined the bottom with a round piece of parchment.

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Since the mixture is very dark already, judging baking doneness is tricky. I went by the recipe instruction to judge it “…the center will feel soft, like just-baked custard; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done“. That took about 40 minutes in my oven. Once it is cooled, I sprinkled it with powdered sugar and sliced it with a heavy knife. It really is great with deep rich bittersweet and spice flavors all topped off with great crispy chewy nutty textures. We ate several wedges with hot cups of coffee and stored the rest for later snacking. Along with Alton Brown’s fruitcake and Michael Ruhlman’s Aged Eggnog (although I’ve tinkered with this one a touch), this will now be another Holiday must have. Cheers!

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Lasagna al Forno: Two Excellent Versions

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We are a house divided. We are a house divided when it comes to Lasagna that is. My wife and youngest prefer the one common in the south of Italy while my oldest and I prefer the luxurious northern version. Recently I figured why not please everyone? Why not make both and let peace and awesome Italian pasta casseroles reign? So, what is the difference? Well, they are both properly called “Lasagna al Forno” meaning oven-baked Lasagna. So they both have lasagna (the actual flat noodle) and both are baked in the oven. They both have cheese and a sauce (and I am simplifying and generalizing quiet a bit here because really any dish of Lasagna noodles baked in the oven is a Lasagna al Forno).

Lasagna-Bolognese

Lasagna

The southern version has a sauce of tomatoes and meat. Most often the meats (sausage, meatballs, beef chunks, or ground beef or maybe a combo) are cooked in the tomato sauce to make a Neapolitan ragu before getting layered in the casserole with the noodles, ricotta cheese and mozzarella. First an foremost though, for me, what distinguishes this type of Lasagna from the northern version is the emphasis on the tomato sauce.

Now, the northern version is that of Bologna, the region (Emilia-Romagna) rich with dairy, pork and fat. It’s where so many delicious foods come from like Prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and true balsamic vinegar. The Lasagna Bolognese is richer with a thick meaty Ragu Bolognese. It does not use ricotta and instead gets its creamy component from Balsamella, aka Bechamel sauce made from flour, butter, milk and seasoned with a pinch of nutmeg.

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To make the Bolognese meat sauce I follow a basic template I learned from Mario Batali that includes starting with finely minced pancetta, garlic, onions, carrots, garlic and celery. I like using a food processor for that to get them very fine so that they can almost melt into the sauce. For the meat I use at least two types (usually veal and pork). I get the vegetable mixture cooking very gently in olive oil and butter before stirring the meats in.

Tomato Paste

The only tomato in this sauce is a few spoons of tomato paste that gets added in with fresh thyme, white wine, a Parmesan cheese rind (yes, just like it sounds. I save those hard ends from the cheese I buy) and whole milk. The ragu simmers very gently for a couple of hours or more until everything is tender and the flavors are well melded. The end result is a thick meat sauce that is definitely on the drier side when compared with a typical tomato pasta sauce.

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Bolognese

The sauce for the Neapolitan style lasagna contains a couple of cans of San Marzano tomato, onions, basil, oregano, garlic and -this time around for the sake of time saving- ground beef. It is a delicious sauce and tastes lighter and fresher because of all the tomato, aromatics and herbs.

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To assemble the process is similar for both casseroles. A bit of sauce on the bottom followed by noodles, sauce, ricotta or balsamella, cheese (a mix of mozzarella and Parmesan), noodles,….I like to finish with a thin layer of sauce (or blasamella in case of the Bolognese) and some more cheese. I bake the dishes covered at first to get everything bubbly and cooked through then I uncover for the last 20 minutes or so to get the cheese and top browned. As for the noodles themselves, unless I made fresh egg pasta for the dish, I never boil them anymore. For dry pasta I just let them soak in water for about an hour. They hydrate and get soft and pliable. I make sure the built lasagna is slightly on the “juicy” side so the noodles cook perfectly as the dish bakes.

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Lasagna-Napoletana

Now the hardest part is to…wait. After the dishes are baked they need to rest for a good 20 minutes. They need to settle down, cool slightly and set a bit. This will, not only make them easier to eat, but also much easier to portion and cut out cleanly without the layers falling apart. Yes, two of those are a lot of baked noodles for the four of us, but Lasagna are excellent leftovers. So we enjoyed these for a couple of more days and everyone was happy.

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