Paella with Halibut, Shrimp and Chorizo

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All kinds of delicious stuff happens we you have awesome seafood stock in the freezer. I’ve been cooking sous vide for years. In the early days I’d find any reason to use my immersion circulator to cook anything. It was new to me and very cool. Now, I still use it a lot (and it is still cool) but not everything goes in the water container to be precision cooked. Sometimes it makes more sense to pan fry or roast or simmer a dish. One of the preparations that might seem ill-suited for sous vide is making stock. I agree that making beef, pork or poultry stock sous vide is not a great idea, a good pressure cooker (the opposite of the lower heat sous vide!) is best for that.

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For seafood stock though, using my immersion circulator makes a fantastic brew. The idea to use sous vide for seafood stock is from Modernist Cuisine and it makes sense. Seafood and fish stocks need a gentle lower heat than other types of stock. So, bagging the protein (I routinely freeze shrimp shells and fish bones and save them up to make the stock) with a bunch of vegetables, a vermouth or white wine reduction and some herbs results in a deeply flavored, concentrated and clear stock of amazing quality. Another stock that benefits from this treatment? Vegetable stock also from the good folks of Modernist Cuisine. After straining, I package the stock in FoodSaver bags and freeze flat until ready to use in soup, risotto or paella.

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Apparently chorizo is not supposed to be in a proper Spanish Paella as I recently read in a Saveur article. It’s too strong. It overpowers the rest of the dish. You lose the delicate notes of Saffron, paprika and seafood…I do not give a crap says I. I actually made this paella because I had a link of homemade dry-cured Spanish chorizo that needed to be used up and a good stash of the aforementioned seafood stock.

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I’m also betting that the articles author might not like me using halibut much in this dish. It’s what looked best at the store when it came to white firm fleshed fish. Since the halibut is in nice thick pieces it held its shape very well, remained juice and ended up with a nice flavor and excellent texture. The first step is to sear the fish on the Paella pan to get some good color on the fish. After that I sautee chopped garlic and grated tomatoes along with smoked paprika in a good helping of olive oil.

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Meanwhile, I added saffron threads to the seafood stock and let it infuse. When the garlic-tomato base was ready I added the chorizo and the rice. This got tossed really well and then I added the stock. A Paella is not risotto. The goal is not a creamy soupy rice dish. It’s not a pilaf either where you get a drier but still “steamy” rice dish. Paella is a dry rice dish, it is cooked with no stirring as the stock gently simmers away and the bottom browns and forms the much sought-after Socarrat.

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When the rice is 90 percent cooked through I added garlic-marinated shrimp, roasted peppers and the seared fish for everything to finish cooking. That takes a few minutes and then I covered the whole pan up with aluminum foil to make sure the rice is fully cooked and the stock is all absorbed. A good aïoli is very strongly recommended with this. The easiest way to make this garlic flavored mayonnaise? A stick blender and narrow container, I make mayonnaise no other way and I’ve posted about it before here.

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This was delicious and beautiful. Paella is another one of those dishes that I always wonder why I do not make it more often every time I cook a batch up.

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Pierre Herme’s Awesome Rich Chocolate Cake

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Pierre Hermè makes desserts with flavors that really pop. If it is a fruit dessert then it sure tastes like that fruit. If it’s a rose litchi macaron then it is the essence of the flower and the tropical fruit.  His book on chocolate desserts with Dorie Greenspan is a classic and I’ve been cooking from it for years. This one is pure chocolate, deep rich cocoa flavored moist cake for real chocolate lovers.

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The original recipe is for what is called a Pavè. This literally means a paving stone or large brick. It refers to the shape of the smallish cakes. Instead of making two cakes I went with one round cake. It’s more convenient and less labor intensive and it was to be taken to a friend’s house for a dinner. So it made more sense and it worked out great.

The cake layers are made with whipped egg whites, egg yolks, all purpose flour, cocoa powder and potato starch. The potato starch is not essential but it is that extra layer of precision I mention with Hermes recipes. It has no gluten and no real flavor. So it helps make the cocoa flavor pop and contributes to a lighter more tender cakes. I think it also helps the cakes suck up more of the caramel syrup.

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Seems odd to have caramel syrup in the cake. Wha??? Well, again, it’s a building block. The cake does not taste of caramel. The sugar in the syrup is cooked to almost burnt and then loosened with water and enriched with a bit of butter. When brushed over the cakes and allowed to soak they add bitterness and richness that makes the chocolate more “chocolate-y”.

Apricots are not the first fruit that I think would go with chocolate, black pepper though makes sense. Turns out combined together they both work with chocolate. I simmered dried apricots in water for a few minutes then diced them up. Then I tossed them with ground black pepper and lemon juice.

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Last component to make is the rich chocolate ganache. This one is made with a mix of bittersweet and milk chocolates and whipped with a good bit of softened salted butter. Now the cake is ready to assemble.

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I sliced the two round cakes in half to get four layers and brushed them generously with caramel, then a layer of soft ganache. I sprinkled some of the apricots over the frosting topped it with a layer of cake and kept going.

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The frosting is very rich and gets trickier to apply if it warms up. So before frosting the outside I put the cake in the fridge to let the ganache set very well then I spread the remainder on the outside. After another rest in the fridge I used a fork to “decorate” the edges of the cake with some neat striations. One apricot that I saved after poaching got glazed with a touch of syrup and sat on top of the cake. The cake is best served at room temperature when the ganache is at the perfect creamy texture.  So, we let it rest for a bit and dug in.

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Pork Shoulder, Grits, Roasted Carrots and Garlic

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Work has been really crazy these last couple months or so. I’ve had several posts I wanted to get up here but have not had the time. So, it’s really nice to take a short break and get this posted. It’s a very nice and great looking dish of pork cooked slow and portioned into various pieces. It’s served with grits, roasted carrots and green garlic carrot-top sauce.

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What to do with a head of garlic that starts sprouting? Well, let is sprout some more. I put it in a shallow bowl of water and left it by the window sill for a week. I got nice very sharp tasting green garlic. I figured it will make a nice garnish and maybe a good component in a sauce.

Yonder Way Farm pork is stellar and one of my favorite cuts that I get is the pork shoulder roast. Every so often the pork shoulder cut is from lower on the primal, closer to the back and the chops. This piece is amazing and has various different muscles from the tender eye/chop on one end to the slightly tougher shoulder end. I wanted to cook the whole thing and portion it out.

It’s a long process I took to cook this one but pretty simple. The talented couple from Ideas in Food frequently post about seasoning and salting meat and letting it dry uncovered in the fridge for days before roasting or CVaping. So, I followed one of their processes, salted the pork and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. I then added seasoning to it, a basic rub of paprika (smoked and sweet), pepper, a touch of garlic powder, dried thyme,.. and sent it back to the fridge for another 24 hours or so.

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To cook the pork I packaged it with garlic and spring onion greens. I cooked it sous vide at 59 C for about 6 hours until dinner time. When it was done I divided the roast up into tender inside loin, the ribs and the outside skin side. I got each one of those pieces properly crisped and browned as needed to get some awesome varying textures for service.

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Grits can be one of the most insipid foods if you are unlucky enough to eat the instant glop. Using good quality coarsely ground grits like the ones from Anson Mills makes a dish that is light years apart from the instant stuff. I cooked them in water and stirred in a healthy dose of butter towards the end plus a handful of chopped chives. Other than the grits I picked up a couple of bunches of colorful carrots. I roasted these with a  bit of honey, salt and pepper.

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The carrot greens were very nice and i did not want to waste them. So, along with some spring onion and garlic greens they got blanched in boiling water and shocked in ice water. Then I blended them with a bit of water, maple vinegar and butter. It was a bit on the thin side so i blended in a bit of Ultratex-3 to give it some body and texture. It’s a product that thickens at cool temperatures, does not mask any flavors and does not produce the snotty mouth-feel that too much Xanthan gum would impart.

I love using spring onion bulbs as i do here and I frequently do that. I cut them in half through the root and bag them with butter and salt. After cooking them sous vide at 85 C for about 45 minutes they are good to go. All I do to them is give them a good sear in a hot pan before plating.

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On each dish I centered a dollop of the grits and a small pile of the carrots. I put a rib on one end followed by the “skin” and the tender loin. I garnished with the spring onions, the carrot top sauce and garlic greens

The final dish turned out really well and met my expectations. Recently we had dinner at a high-end Spanish restaurant in Houston and, while it was good, it was not at the same level as the prices they were charging. One specific dish we got was an Iberico pork plate that cost a pretty penny and sounded awesome on the menu. Again, it tasted fine but it looked like there was very little effort to “make it nice”. A slab of pork, some potatoes and a little else. What I would’ve expected is something more like this dish that I am very proud of. It is elegant, delicious, involved thought and work and everything in it works to make a great whole.

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Thai Green Curry with Apple Eggplants, Tofu and Chicken – Cucumber and Cabbage Salad

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It’s Thai dinner night again and I love it. The rest of the family, especially the kiddos, not so much. No matter, I’m craving a rich spicy coconut based curry with tons of flavor and that’s what I made. A refreshing crunchy tart Thai salad is always a must to balance the meal.

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Making the curry paste using a pestle and mortar is cool, almost therapeutic but also time consuming. This was a weekday meal at our household though. So, as I frequently do, I reached out for my blender and used that to make a smooth green curry paste. I used a recipe in David Thompson’s Thai Food as a base and made this one with cilantro, stems and leaves, galangal, chilies, lemongrass, fresh turmeric, ginger along with a few spices.

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I heated up some coconut cream (I’ve been using Arroy-D brand recently) and used that to cook the paste  for a few minutes. I added coconut milk and tossed in chicken thigh pieces and cubed tofu. Thai apple eggplant are cool looking fruit. They are about the size of a golf ball and have a wild green striped color. They are also, as far as I know, the only eggplant that is good to eat raw or under-cooked. They have a nice crunchy texture and mild taste with no bitterness. I added the quartered eggplants in the last 10 minutes or so of cooking to get them heated and slightly cooked. Lastly I put in a bunch of Thai basil and finished seasoning the delicious stew with fish sauce and lime juice.

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I made the Thai-style cabbage salad in the granite mortar by pounding some garlic with salt, peanuts, lime and fish sauce. I added the cabbage and bruised the whole thing together. Lastly went in the cucumbers pieces and using a spoon and the pestle everything came together with some fish sauce, lime and cilantro.

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Campechana: A Shrimp and Crab Cocktail

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Every Mexican, Text-Mex, Taqueria or gulf coast seafood joint in Houston has a version of a seafood “cocktail”. The cheap versions are little more than boiled shrimp with some onions, spices in a Tabasco-spiced ketchup sauce. They can be ok. However, one of the best versions in town is at Goode Co. Seafood. It’s something Diana and I order everytime we go there for lunch. They call it a Campechana after the Mexican coastal city of Campeche where presumably you find such seafood dishes.

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When we had a craving for Goode Co. Campechana recently, instead of going out, I decided to make a batch at home. It is just as good and certainly more economical. I knew The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain had a recipe that she based on Goode Co.’s. Lisa is a fan as well it seems.  I picked up some good large gulf coast shrimp and a package of lump crab meat (no way was i going to boil and pick a half pound of crab meat) and put the dish together in less than 30 minutes.

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I used good quality canned fire roasted tomatoes for the sauce and pureed them with a couple of chipotle in adobo peppers. That got tossed with the chunks of seafood, onions, cilantro, lime juice, cumin, minced garlic and minced serrano pepper. I let the mixture sit in the fridge for half an hour or so to chill it well and allow the flavors to meld.

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Meanwhile, I toasted a few corn tortillas, chopped up some more peppers and prepared cubes of avocado. To serve it, I tossed in the avocado cubes, adjusted the seasoning and dished out generous portions garnished with the chiles. It was fantastic with perfect balance of fresh seafood, tart sauce and just the right amount of heat.

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The French Laundry: Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips

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Back to that endless well of inspiration and technique, The French Laundry Cookbook. It’s like a small mini cooking course for every…course. I refine, learn and always end up with an awesome dish or two. This dessert was from a couple months back when pears were at their most abundant. I had some of the fruit and wanted to make some kind of pastry with them. A quick search against my cookbook database using -the very useful- Eatyourbooks.com resulted in several recipes using pears in a pastry including this lovely and refined version of a strudel.

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The first component I prepared was the fruit. I cut the neck from the pears and peeled the remaining rounded part. I used two different round cutters to make even cylinders and to hollow them out. These got poached in a syrup of white wine, vanilla, sugar and water. Once cool they went in the fridge until baking time.

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With another large pear I made the crystallized pear chips. Using a mandolin, I sliced it into paper thin slices. I poached these in a syrup of sugar and water, heavy on the sugar, until translucent. I laid them carefully on a Silpat and dried them in a 275 F oven until perfectly crispy. I reserved these in a container with a pack of silica to keep them crispy.

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This is by and large a classic recipe with classic components like the crème anglaise. It is really one of my favorite sweet treats. It’s just egg yolks, sugar, vanilla seeds made into a velvety custard with hot milk. I have made this using my sous vide precision cooker many times but this time i went old school and made it in an old fashioned pot and whisk. It is so delicious that I can eat it by the spoonful.

Chestnuts are not as beloved in the US as they are elsewhere and that’s a shame. They have a rich nutty and sweet flavor with a great buttery texture. Here roasted chestnuts get cooked with heavy cream and vanilla for an hour or so. Then they get pureed along with a bit of the pear poaching liquid and strained to make a luscious smooth puree.

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To complete the strudel I brushed 4 layers of filo with clarified butter and sprinkled each with sugar. I stacked them and cut them into strips a bit wider than the pear cylinders. I laid the cylinders on the filo and rolled them up to make neat packages. I baked these at 350 F until golden brown and let them cool slightly before serving.

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I plated the pear strudel and dusted it with a bit of powdered sugar. I poured some dollops of the custard next to it and each got a bit of reduced pear poaching liquid in the center. Then a scoop or thick smear of the chestnut puree went next to the strudel. This is a delicious dessert with contrasting textures, temperatures and flavors. I was a bit skeptical about how the chestnut puree would work with the rest of the dish other than that it has the perfect texture to hold the pear chips. However, it was delicious and added a great almost-savory accent to the dish along with a rich creamy texture.

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Sous Vide Corned Beef and Great Colcannon

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For St. Patrick’s Day we had corned beef and cabbage. Not the stinky slow cooker pot of meat and mushy vegetables, but some awesome home-cured perfectly cooked beef with “The Best” Colcannon. making corned beef from scratch is time consuming but pretty easy to do. I used the recipe and process from ChefSteps.com and it all starts with the brisket. I trimmed it a bit and left about a 1/4 inch fat on the beef. The process is very similar to pastrami, really identical except for the smoke part.

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I made a brine with water, sugar, salt and a boat load of spices (coriander, mace, bay, star anise…) The cure also has pink salt or cure #1 which is Sodium Nitrite. This is essential for the proper color and flavor of cured products like corned beef. The brisket sat in the brine for about a week. Really 9 days would have been better since it had a very small dime size center piece that the cure did not get to in time, but I wanted to cook it for St. Patrick’s weekend so it got rubbed with more spices and into a vacuum bag it went.

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I cooked it at 63 C for 48 hours. The brisket, roughly half of a full one actually, was too big. So, I had it bagged in two bags and cooked them both. That was a good idea because now I have a nice ready to eat corned beef chunk in the freezer. I had two options for serving the beef, a classic Reuben sandwich with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on homemade rye bread. The other option was with a nice helping of Colcannon.

Colcannon is a traditional humble Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. I like most versions, even those that have the whole thing mixed together into a lovely mess. This time I tried Letie’s Culinaria Best Colcannon recipe, adapted from the book, Victuals by Ronni Lundy. Judging by this recipe I might have to get me a copy of Lundy’s book.

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The red potatoes are cooked separately and mashed skin on with butter and cream. Where the recipe shines is with the cabbage and the addition of kale. They are cooked with plenty of onions, butter, spices, beer and broth until perfectly cooked. To serve, I mounded the potatoes in a bowl and topped it with the cabbage mixture. Thick slices of moist corned beef went on top and a pint of Guinness stout on the side. A perfect and comforting dinner.

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