Category Archives: Food

Halibut en Paupiette, Leek Royale, Red Wine Sauce

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One thing off the top here: Leek royale is awesome velvety delicious stuff. Ok, now that I’m done with that, the rest of this dish is very good too even if my execution is not as ideal or refined as I would’ve liked.

Chef Daniel Bouloud made this, a version of it actually, popular when when he was working at Le Cirque. At his restaurant, Daniel, he kept the popular dish in spirit but updated it a lot. In this version here I am doing a hybrid of sorts. The classic original is a fish, usually sea bass, wrapped in thin slices of potato and pan fried in butter. It is then served on top of sauteed leeks with a rich red wine sauce.

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In his book, Daniel: My French Cuisine, we get the updated version of the classic. It’s a steamed bass fillet with potato lyonnaise “rolls”, a rich leek custard (the aforementioned royale) and the classic red wine sauce, a Bordelaise. I started working on the recipe with the leek custard because that takes the most amount of work and needs to set in the fridge. I simmered the green part of the leeks along with Italian parsley until tender. I then cooked the drained greens in some cream and blended the whole thing, strained it through a fine sieve, seasoned it and blended in eggs and more cream.

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To cook it, I lined a small loaf pan with plastic wrap for easy removal later. I wrapped it with aluminum foil and cooked in a bain marie in the oven until set. This took a bit longer than the recipe recommends. I let the royale cool and popped it in the fridge until dinner time. Before plating, I gently unmolded the royale and cut it into neat 1 inch cubes and let them temper and come to room temperature. I tasted a few on their own. It’s rich with a lovely flavor of leek and has such a great smooth and comforting texture. For a few days after serving it with this dish we enjoyed the leek custard leftovers as a random side dish with dinner. It also goes great spread on crispy bread for a snack.

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Next I prepared the red wine sauce by reducing stock, plenty of red wine and some port along with shallots and thyme. Then I whisked in a crap load of butter until we had a glossy rich sauce. Chef Bouloud uses a vegetable sheeter to make long perfect sheets of potato which he uses to make strips to wrap the fish. I don’t have one of those contraptions so I bought the longest potatoes I could get my hand on and used the mandolin to make long paper thin sheets. This worked pretty well. I seasoned the halibut fillets with salt and pepper and some thyme. Then I brushed the potato sheets with clarified butter and used them to wrap the fish.

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The mistake I made here is to let the wrapped fish sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. The salt drew some moisture out of the fish in the meantime. So, it was a bit of a pain to get the fish to brown in clarified butter when I was cooking it for dinner. With some careful gentle heat I got the potato/fish packets cooked well, but next time I will wrap and fry the fish right away.

To plate, I poured some sauce on the plate and topped it with the fish. I put a couple of royale cubes on the side. I dressed a small salad made primarily of parsley leaves with lemon and olive oil. The salad went between the leek custard cubes. The flavors were awesome and the whole thing worked. With a bit of care with cooking the fish the dish could be quiet spectacular.

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Atelier Crenn: Kir Breton

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A Kir Breton is a simple cocktail made from apple cider with creme de cassis. Another “Kir” that is popular is the Kir Royal wich uses Champagne instead of apple cider. The Kir Breton as the name suggests is a specialty of Brittany, the French region famous for great seafood, salted butter and apples.

That’s where chef Dominique Crenn comes from. She is a proud Breton and chooses to serve all her diners this one bite “cocktail” as soon as they settle for dinner at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. The recipe is from her book, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste and like dinner at her restaurant it is the first recipe in the book.

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I chose it as part of a three course dinner I prepared for Diana and I. It’s neat looking, delicious and really not terribly difficult.  The orbs are filled with liquid hard apple cider, encased in a thin shell of cocoa butter and topped with a gel of creme de cassis (black currant liqueur). Sounds daunting? It does, but really it is not difficult to make and requires mostly time in the freezer.

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First step is to prepare frozen spheres of the base liquid – the apple cider in this case. I cooked the hard cider down a bit to remove some of the alcohol or it will never freeze. I froze them in half-sphere molds. When totally solid I removed them and “glued” them together by gently melting the flat sides and attaching them to each other. Now I had frozen apple cider orbs. For the cassis part, I blended creme de cassis with Ultratex-3. This very quickly gives us a thick gel that is not heated at all so it retains the delicious taste and all the alcohol.

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A few hours before service, I made the shell mixture. This is mostly comprised of melted cocoa butter and very little white chocolate. The cocoa butter is relatively tasteless and not sweet. It also hardens very fast if anything cold touches it. So, I used a toothpick to pick up the frozen cider spheres and dip them in the melted cocoa butter. This instantly created a shell around them. With some practice I got some nice smooth ones. I let those rest in the fridge until service. This allows the cider to melt creating the liquid in the shell. To serve it I put the cider filled spheres on spoons and piped a good dollop of the cassis gel on top.

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Hay-Roasted Pork with Yucatan Achiote Marinade

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Pork shoulder or pork butt is  one versatile piece of porcine goodness. It is infinitely flexible and can be at home in any cuisine. It can be roasted, braised, cut up and stewed, barbecued or smoked and of course it is the main ingredient in sausage. On top of all that I love how it can feed a crowd and everyone loves it. I use it often and this time it was Mexican cuisine I turned to, specifically that of the Yucatan peninsula.

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I’ve been reading through David Sterling’s awesome book, Yucatan. It is an amazing piece of work about the lovely food of that region, many of which we enjoy but maybe do not know that it is from the Yucatan specifically. One of the most well known Yucatecan (I love that word!) dishes is the Cochinita Pibil. Piib is an oven/pit that is dug in the ground. Foods cooked in it acquire the acronym Pibil. The food cooked in it is usually covered with banana leaves so they slowly tenderize, smoke and steam as well as acquire a lovely herbal aroma.

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Since I did not have any banana leaves lying around and no Piib dug in my yard I am not calling this Cochinita (pork) Pibil but that does not mean it is any less delicious or special.  The main flavor in this preparation is from the marinade. It’s called Recado Rojo and consists of plenty of ground Achiote (aka Annatto), allspice, black pepper, white vinegar, seville orange juice (I used a mix of lemon, lime and grapefruit juices since seville oranges are not in season now), charred garlic and Mexican oregano. I marinated the pork with this mixture overnight before cooking.

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I put the pork in my large clay baking dish. At first I was simply going to cover and bake gently for a few hours. As I mentioned before Pibil foods are usually covered in banana leaves to gently steam. I had none but I did have clean organic hay that I use for cooking sometimes. It works great to add flavor and aroma to all kinds of dishes like these potatoes. So, I soaked a large handful in water and added it on top of the pork. It would be a pain to pick a bunch of hay from the meat after cooking, so I laid a thin cheesecloth between the meat and hay.  I covered the baking dish with heavy duty aluminum foil and cooked it in the oven at roughly 300 F for several hours until the meat is tender and flakes easily. This process  worked great and I will certainly be baking with hay again with one small change.

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While the aroma from the cooked meat, marinade and hay was spectacular I think next time I will put most of the hay in the bottom under the meat. This will ensure more flavor in the sauce and permeating the meat. Traditionally, lightly pickled red onions go with a Cochinita Pibil. This is very easy to make. I  blanched red onions in boiling water for a few seconds and tossed them with lemon/lime juice along with a bit of white wine vinegar, orange juice and dried oregano. I had small sweet peppers on hand so I added those in with the onions as well. A few slices of habanero added a good spicy kick. I served the flaked meat on fresh corn tortillas with avocados, sour cream, the pickled onions and crumbled queso fresco.

Coppa e Cavatelli: Pork Collar in Whey, Ricotta Cavatelli, Onions and Peas

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Pork collar is normally cured and dried and is the delicious coppa that I’ve posted about before. Chefs figured out that this cut can be more versatile than just a salted and cured coppa. I’ve seen several recipes in books and restaurant menus recently that treat this marbled cut like an awesome pork loin. It has a great meat to fat ratio making it ideal for slow roasting or even braising. In this recipe I cooked it sous vide in whey, sliced it and pan-seared it.

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I prepared some good ricotta a day or so before using Jenn Lewis’ recipe from her Pasta by Hand book. It’s a really great book for all things pasta that require no machines or rolling. They are mostly referred to as “dumplings” in her book and she has a fascinating collection of pasta shapes and recipes from all over Italy with ingredients ranging from potato gnocchi to grated “pasta” and 100% semolina pasta.

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I had pasta in mind to go with the pork and the ricotta became the main ingredient in ricotta cavatelli. The dough is comprised of the homemade ricotta, eggs, flour and a little milk. It comes together quickly in the Kitchenaid mixer and is pretty simple -if a bit time consuming- to roll and form into ridged cavatelli on the little gnocchi wood board I have.

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I hate wasting when it comes to food, I try to use as much of my odds, ends and trimmings as possible. The whey produced by the ricotta making process (I also use Lewis’ recipe from the same book made with half and half, milk and buttermilk) is really tasty stuff and there’s quiet a bit of it. Typically, I mix it with about 1% salt by weight and put it in the fridge to use for cooking, baking or drinking. It lasts a couple of weeks with no problem. Lewis recommends using the whey to slow cook pork in the style of maiale al latte (pork in milk), a classic Italian recipe from Emilia-Romagna. I’ve done that before to cook a chunk of pork shoulder and it was delicious. I refined the same process for the coppa and bagged it with salted whey, thyme, lemon slices and garlic cloves. I cooked that sous vide for [[TEMP/TIME]] and allowed it to cool in the bag.

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For a tasty garnish I went with whey-cooked shallots. This is just whole peeled shallots and an onion simmered slowly in a mixture of whey and butter along with some thyme. The mixture cooks until all the liquid evaporates and the onions are golden meltingly soft and a bit caramelized. To serve, I sliced the pork and used a biscuit cutter to make neat disks. I browned them in a hot pan till crispy on the outside. The cavatelli were tossed with peas and butter. I plated the meat with the pasta around it and topped with the shallots.

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Cod, Green Bouillabaisse and Aïoli

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It’s very much a stretch calling this mixture of spring vegetables a Bouillabaisse, but it gives you an idea at least about the flavor profile. In Happy in the Kitchen chef Michel Richard serves this “Bouillabaisse” with nothing more than the Aïoli and croutons (like a real Bouillabaisse). I’ve always loved the idea of this vegetable stew that is emblematic of spring but also wanted to make it more substantial. So, why not add a seafood element? While we are at it, a few pieces of ultra crispy roast potatoes a la Heston Blumenthal (really the best roast potatoes ever!) stand in for the crouton and are a natural with the garlicky aïoli.

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It’s really a more labor heavy project to make a good vegetable dish than what people might assume. There is a lot of washing, trimming, peeling, drying, chopping, slicing and dicing…far more than searing a piece of meat and serving it with rice. Making vegetarian food -good vegetarian food- with nuance, balance and variety is an admirable task. Here I trimmed and quartered large globe artichokes first and let them sit in a mixture of water and lemon juice.

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Other vegetables that went in here in a specific order so that they will cook perfectly include fennel, leeks, onions, tomatoes (pureed), minced garlic, zucchini, squash and leafy greens. The mixture, just like a traditional Bouillabaisse, is flavored with white wine, saffron and an anise flavored spirit; Pernod in this case.

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I wanted a mild light fish to go with the vegetable Bouillabaisse. Fresh halibut or turbot would have been great, but no luck this time. What they had at the fish counter are some good thick cod fillets. I bagged the fish with olive oil and cooked them sous vide. Cod has very little connective tissue, even for a white fish, that’s why it is great in fish and chips. Cooked sous vide though, we really have to be very careful to move the fish gently so as not to break apart.

Bouillabaisse is often served with a garlicky olive oil emulsion called rouille. This sauce does not contain eggs and relies on the gradual addition of oil to garlic and bread crumbs to maintain some stability. For this dish though, I went with a garlic aïoli. Homemade mayonnaise is ridiculously easy to make with a hand (stick) blender and a tall narrow container. It’s a trick I first saw Spanish chef Jose Andres do by dumping all the ingredients in the container, the oil floats to the top and the egg sinks. The blender goes all the way to the bottom and as it is whirring away you slowly start lifting it up as the mixture emulsifies into a perfect mayonnaise. Here is a video showing this method (go to about minute 3:00). This time I added extra lemon juice and a few cloves of minced garlic. It is awesome with the fish, the vegetable stew and the crispy potatoes.

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Classic Île Flottante

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Oh those classic French dishes (or Italian or Spanish). I love them and every so often one wants nothing more than a classic. While on the topic of European food, it’s a bit of pet peeve of mine when I hear something like “France (or Spain or whatever) is over, everyone is looking to blah blah, Nordic or Eastern European…or…who knows.” Before you know it we hear “Oh! France is back go check it out!” It’s really a ridiculous concept. Spain or Italy or France never went anywhere. These places have always made amazing food to one degree or another and have always produced great chefs and iconic dishes. It’s silly to trumpet the food of the Nordic countries (great as well and producing some fantastic movements now) at the expense of the rest. It’s the what’s-hot-now mentality where people put blinders on without any regard to everything else as if the exacting chefs of Denmark (10 years ago it was all Spain Spain Spain…) came out of nowhere and invented fine dining.

Ok, quick rant over and on to the delicious French dessert that is Île Flottante. It’s as awesome now as it was 100 years ago. It contains most of my favorite dessert components; custard, meringue, vanilla and a bit of crunchy caramel to top it all off.  The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My home to Yours with almost no modifications. Afterall, why mess -well why mess too much- with a tried and true classic?

Ile Flotante Meringues

I prepared the creme Anglaise for the dish a few days ahead of time. This is the only modernist change I used for this recipe. The loose vanilla flavored custard is usually cooked on the stove top gently so as not to curdle the egg yolks. For all these types of preparations, from ice cream base to creme Anglaise, I use my immersion circulator. This is easier, more precise, fail-proof and so convenient. I bag the well-blended mixture in FoodSaver bag and drop it in the precisely controlled water tub (around 83 C) for 20 minutes. After a quick chill in some ice water the custard is ready to be stored in the fridge for hours or days until I need it.

One cool thing about dishes like this one is that you do not end up with a ton of spare egg whites or egg yolks. The custard uses the yolks and the meringue islands use up the whites. Nice and efficient. The meringue is whipped firm with the addition of sugar and cream of tartar. To finish it, I brought milk to a gentle simmer and used two large spoons to drop ovals of meringue into it. These poach very gently on both sides, allowed to dry on parchment paper and stored in the fridge for a few hours. Contrary to the creme Anglaise, these do not hold in the fridge for days, maybe 12 hours at the most. after that they loose the pillowy texture and start to seep.

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To serve it, I whisked the custard to smooth it out and poured a good dose into a bowl. An “island” (or Île) of the poached meringue sits on top as if floating. A simple garnish of deep dark caramel that hardens on contact adds some sharp flavors and crunch. I also sprinkled in a few toasted almonds on some of the servings. That worked very well too.

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Alinea: Pork Belly, Pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, Grits

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How does barbecue done in a three star restaurant look like? Like this dish that I made using the last third of pork belly I had. It’s a one bite of porky smoky spicy and pickle-y goodness! In more detailed terms we have a cube of cured and spiced pork belly, topped with pickled vegetables and encased in a crunchy glaze of barbecue flavor.

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The trickiest component of this entire dish is that crunchy glaze that coats each bite. It requires some practice and a light touch to get it thick enough to coat the meat and vegetables with a translucent film. Make it too thick and you’ll be fighting to bite through it and picking candy out of your teeth. If it is too thin it will slough off the pickled vegetables and not cover the whole bite. The glaze starts off with isomalt, a product that is not as sweet as sugar but behaves very much like sugar so it is very good for savory applications. I mixed the isomalt with fondant and brought up to about 325 F (NOT the 160 F the book specifies which I am sure they intended it to be 160 C).

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I poured it on a Silpat and allowed the mixture to harden. The isomalt-fondant mixture hardened into very clean and clear glass. I broke it into shards and pulverized it in a food processor with a smoked paprika and cayenne. This mixture is what gives the pork bites the “barbecue” smoke and spice flavor. but we are not there quiet yet…

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The Isomalt mixture is made into thin wafers or tuiles. To do that I sifted the powdered mixture into a Silpat using stencils to get even 2 inch squares that are about 1/8 inch thick.We need to work fast here because the powedered mixture sucks up the humidity very fast from the room and gets difficult to work with.  After a few minutes in a hot oven the powdered spiced sugar squares melted but kept their shape. When fully cooled they were nice thin crunchy squares. I stored them in a box with a pack of silica to wick away humidity and keep them crispy. These can easily last a week or more like that if needed.

Carrot Pickle

Like any good barbecue plate this one needs a tart crunchy element, like pickles and fresh veggies. The pickles here are tiny spheres of carrots made with a parisienne scoop, the tiniest melon baller you can imagine. Just like any other vinegar pickle the vegetables are soaked in a hot mixture of vinegar, water and sugar and allowed to cool and chill for a couple of days. The other vegetable topping are also tiny cucumber balls and small cubes of red bell pepper.

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Pork Belly-Pickles

Corn and barbecue is a delicious combo, maybe on the cob, creamed or corn bread. Here we have creamy rich grits that combines almost all three. Maybe a few charred corn kernels would have been nice too. Chef Achatz actually uses yellow polenta but I had some good South Carolina stone-ground grits. So I cooked those in water and stirred in butter and mascarpone.

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For the pork, I made a mixture of sugar, salt and a healthy dose of smoked paprika and chipotle powder. The paprika along with chipotle gives the meat a good smoky-spicy flavor. After several hours in the fridge I washed the meat off and then cooked it sous vide for 4 hours at 85C. To finish I cut the meat into even  2 inch squares and seared them gently . I topped them with 4 tiny balls of the vegetables and 2 squares of the bell pepper. Balancing a square of the tuile on top of the vegetables is a tricky thing but I managed to get most on there and under the broiler. The broiler quickly melts the squares of barbecue sugar and coats the meat and vegetable cubes.

Pork Belly

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To serve I put in a dollop on the grits and topped it with a cube of the glazed pork. A few leaves of fresh oregano and it is done. The flavor is rich, spicy and sweet with lots of crunch. the grits work great to tone down the sharp flavors and for that great creamy element. It is labor-intensive but it’s one hell of an impressive looking and tasting bite. It went perfectly with a home-brewed red rye ale. Cheers!

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