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.

Lardo3

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.

Lardo2

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

Lardo Pizza2

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.

Lardo-Chicken3

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

Green Curry-Chicken3

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.

Green Curry2

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.

Green Curry3

Green Curry-Chicken

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.

Green Curry

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.

Thai Cabbage Salad

Thai Cabbage Salad2

Green Curry-Chicken2

Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings with Black Bean Sauce

Stuffed Chicken Wings-Black Bean Sauce3

Superbowl and wings are perfect party companions. I made wings this Superbowl Sunday but I did not just fry some wings and toss them in hot sauce (as delicious as that is). These are boneless wings stuffed with zippy pork dumpling filling and tossed in a fermented black bean sauce. Boneless chicken “wings” have been a  popular item at various fats food restaurants in the U.S. over the past few years. The problem is they are not wings! They are just boneless chicken chunks, fried and tossed with the same sauce as regular wings. I know my kids love them and could not care one bit when i complain that “These.Are.NOT.Wings!” Ah, the power of marketing.

Chicken Wings

Chicken Wings-Marinade

I had been thinking of making true boneless wings for a while but only got the motivation i needed when I saw this recipe in the modern Chinese book, A. Wong The Cookbook by Andrew Wong. The combination just sounded delicious. As expected, getting those two pesky bones out of the wing is the most time consuming part of this recipe, but after a couple of them the rest get a bit easier.

I briefly marinated the wings in a mixture of maltose, sugar, rice wine and vinegar. The marinade is poured hot over the wings to tighten them. They are then removed, dried and set on a rack in the fridge uncovered. This will thoroughly dry the skin and aid in crisping them in the hot oil.

Chicken Wings-Stuffing

Stuffed Chicken Wings

Removing the bones from the wings will obviously make them lose their structure and they will be…well..floppy. So, stuffing them becomes obvious. It adds a ton of flavor, additional texture and helps them retain their shape. The filling is a classic dumpling filling made from ground pork, ginger, potato starch, chives, soy and sesame oil. I used a small piping bag to fill the boneless wings.

Stuffed Chicken Wings-Black Bean Sauce

In the meantime I prepared the sauce from sauteed red peppers, fermented black soy beans, garlic, ginger, scallions, rice wine and chicken stock. I reduced the mixture by half and adjusted the seasoning. To serve, I fried the wings in plenty of oil till crispy and the filling is cooked through (I used a thermometer to make sure of that). We made a meal of these delicious, crispy juice delicacies with a bit of steamed rice and topped them with plenty of the sauce.

Stuffed Chicken Wings-Black Bean Sauce4

Chicken, Preserved Lemon and Freekeh

Dish 3 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features chicken and some delicious grains

Chicken-Freekeh-Lemon2

Jamie Oliver likes to call this “Lebanese Chicken” for some reason. I love his recipe for this dish but it certainly it does not come off as Lebanese to me, more North African maybe. Either way it is delicious. The chicken is tossed with flour heavily spiced with cumin along with a touch of cinnamon and allspice. It is then seared in olive oil and braised in a mixture of preserved lemon, garlic, onions and white wine.

That alone makes for a nice east-west kind of braise but take it one step further and it is more special. In addition to the aromatics, the chicken is cooked on top of Freekeh in the potThis is an ancient grain used in traditional middle-eastern and some European cuisines. It is really just wheat that has been harvested while green and set on fire to remove the skin or chafe. As a result it has a sweet smoky flavor to go along with a nice toothsome texture. In the Lebanese mountains (ah! that’s where Oliver’s Lebanese name for the recipe must come from) Freekeh was considered a staple of the pantry before the introduction of rice. Thanks to the newish interest in all kinds of ancient, artisan and heirloom grains Freekeh is enjoying more popularity among chefs and home cooks. That is a good thing because it is awesome.

Chicken-Freekeh-Lemon

The plate needed some more green in it. So I prepared a quick honey-lemon dressing that I tossed some salad greens in. To gild the lily a bit more I also drizzled a sauce of yogurt, cilantro and lime on the chicken. This went very well with the assertive and rich flavors of this dish. It was still winter-fall food but had a nice sharp and refreshing flavor while at the same time remained light.

Chicken, White Wine and Porcini Fricassee, Simple Risotto with Verjus

Chicken-Risotto

I cooked this when mom mom was visiting recently. I’m glad she loves Italian food as much as I do and especially risotto, pesto sauces and any form of pasta. Really, who doesn’t? I have a nice pasta dish coming up soon but for now it’s a soul satisfying dish from one of my go-to Italian food resources, the late Marcella Hazan. I flipped through to her chicken section in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and settled on this homey fricassee.  Since mom loves risotto I chose to make a simple one to accompany our chicken dinner.

Chicken Porcini Fricasse Risotto

The chicken dish is based on dried porcini mushrooms and white wine. I soaked the dried mushrooms in very hot water while I got the chicken pieces browned in a hot pan. That pan gets deglazed with white wine and then I add the mushrooms along with their strained soaking liquid and some chopped canned San Marzano tomatoes. The chicken pieces cooked in this mixture while I worked on finishing the risotto.

Risotto3

Butter-Verjus

The risotto is a traditional and very straight-forward preparation. I cooked onions, carrots and celery in a mixture of butter and oil before adding the rice and cooking it for a few minutes. I add wine to that and then gradually add good flavorful chicken stock. I wanted to give the risotto a bit of tartness. So, all the way at the end after adding butter and Parmesan cheese I flavored the risotto with a few splashes of verjus.

Risotto6

Rich, flavorful chicken and a perfect risotto made for a delicious meal. More importantly earned mom’s seal of approval.

Chicken Roulade, Tomato Gravy and Crispy Roast Potatoes

Roulade-Tomato Gravy5

Free range chicken like the ones I get from Yonder Way are delicious. These are birds that were never caged and are free to roam around and be as active as they like. The result is tasty chicken but not one as tender as the fryers you can get from the grocery store. These are a bit leaner too. All that means that I cannot just plonk a chicken in the oven and roast it high and fast and it’s good to go. I usually have to cook them a bit longer or use them for fricassees or stews and such. In this instance I had some time to play around a bit, so on spur of the moment while getting ready to joint the bird I ended up just deboning the whole chicken.

Chicken Roulade Chicken Roulade2

I had not planned on this dish so I was not sure what the end result will look like. I figured I’ll just choose the flavor profile as I go along. Since the chicken was not going to be “stuffed” with anything like this awesome duck I needed to make sure that the final result is completely encased in skin. So I could not just roll it like a jelly-roll or else I would end up with skin rolled up with the meat where it will never crisp and render. In this case after the bones are removed we end up with more skin that we need. So, what I did was leave the skin attached to one side of the chicken after it was deboned. After seasoning the meat side I rolled it tightly with the skin and cut off the extra flaps. What I had was a nicely rolled chicken with a perfect encasement of skin.

Looking in the fridge and spice cabinet for flavors I ended up with a Spanish profile. I had chopped garlic (of course), smoked and unsmoked paprika, parsley and last but not least home-cured Spanish chorizo. I had cured the chorizo a couple months back from the book Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain by Jeffrey Weiss and still had a 4 inch piece left. I sliced the sausage thin and laid it in two rows down the length of the chicken.

Chicken Roulade4Chicken Roulade11

Cooking the chicken sous vide was the was to go here. It will make sure the chicken is perfectly juice all the way through. I used the Sous Vide Dash app to know for sure when the center of the chicken roll is cooked and pasteurized based on the diameter of the meat in a 150 F/65 C water bath. Before serving I patted the chicken dry very well and cooked it on all sides in a mixture of oil and butter until the skin is crisped and golden brown. This last step would be even more awesome if I had deep fried the chicken roll for a few minutes. I might try that next time around.

Chicken Roulade8 Chicken Roulade9

While the chicken was happily cooking I had to think about what to serve it with. Recently I have been very interested in the new Southern cuisine of chefs like Sean Brock and John Currence. Their focus on ingredients, tradition and flavors that pop has been an eye-opener as to how amazing this type of cooking can be beyond fried chicken and okra (although these are awesome too!). Sean Brock’s episodes on Mind of A Chef  are some of the best food television I had ever seen and learned from. In his book (one with the most striking cover BTW), Heritage, Brock has a recipe for tomato gravy that is served with roasted pork, creamed corn and roasted onions. I love that sauce and have made it several times already. So, that’s what went with my chicken.

Roast Onions Roulade-Tomato Gravy

The tomato gravy starts like all gravies, with a starch cooked in a fat – a.k.a roux. In this case cornmeal cooked in bacon fat. Then good quality canned tomatoes are added and the mixture simmers and thickens. The only seasoning here is the bacon fat and some salt and pepper  but the gravy gains a lot from the cooking of the cornmeal and the excellent acidic San Marzano tomatoes. It is so good I could really eat it by itself with a spoon or on some rice. I also made the onions from the same recipe. I prefer to use smaller spring onions for these but I had none on hand. I quartered yellow onions and baked them in foil along with butter and thyme until tender. Before serving I charred the onions in a very hot pan to add some color and caramelized flavor.

Potatoes Potatoes7

Potatoes would go good with this dish, specifically Heston Blumenthal’s amazing crispy fluffy roast potatoes. The trick here is to boil the potato chunks till they are almost falling apart. This obviously cooks them but also creates a lot of crevices, nooks and crannies that will get very crispy later on. After a cooling period, the potatoes are cooked in a baking pan with a good bit of oil in a hot oven. The process results in amazing crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside golden brown potatoes and they worked great with the lovely chicken and robust tomato gravy.

Roulade-Tomato Gravy2

Historic Heston: The Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait6I hesitate to call anything perfect or the ultimate or the best, but really this chicken liver parfait is it…at least for now. I have made rich and decadent chicken liver mousse before but this recipe (itself part of another recipe) uses a couple of techniques that result in the most luxurious pink hued chicken liver parfait ever. The flavor is superb with the strong liver minerality working in perfect harmony with the wine, butter, shallots and herbs.

The main problem with chicken liver dishes is the texture – well, at least for me it is. That grainy sometimes chalky chopped liver texture is loved by some but I find it very off-putting. This is usually due to the liver being overcooked at too high of a heat. When making chicken liver mousse or parfait it’s very important to cook the meat properly. Most recipes will just have us puree the liver with the rest of the ingredients and cook in a ramekin or maybe saute the liver and then puree it with aromatics and such. Blumenthal goes through an extra step or two that are very much worth their effort.

Chicken Liver Parfait-Wine

The primary ingredients of the parfait are cleaned and de-veined chicken livers (free range ones from Yonder Way Farm), eggs mixed with a flavorful liquid reduction (port, wine, brandy along with shallots and herbs) and a whole lot of butter. The butter weight is actually almost equal to the meat weight! The livers (seasoned with salt and curing salt), egg mixture and butter all go in separate bags and are placed in a water bath heated to 50 C with an immersion circulator. The bags stay in the water for about 20 minutes. This temperature and time are obviously not long enough to cook anything. The purpose is to bring everything to the same warm temperature. This helps insure that when I blend the three mixtures together the parfait mix does not split. Mixing cold butter with cool chicken livers and room temperature eggs can really end up hurting the texture.

Chicken Liver Parfait

This is where top level chefs separate themselves from the rest. Attention to the crazy minute details. Maybe making sure that the components of the chicken liver parfait are at the same warm 50 C temperature is a little thing. Maybe it does not make THAT much of a difference. These little things though do add up and make something that is very good great. The other step to really get that texture just right is to pass the blended liver mixture through a very fine sieve. Now the parfait is ready to cook. The mixture goes into a terrine pan that sits in a pan of very hot water (a bain marie ). The parfait is a custard that needs to cook gently like any flan or creme caramel. This one cooks for about 35 minutes in a 212 F oven until the center registers about 147 F on a thermometer.

Chicken Liver Parfait2 Chicken Liver Parfait3

Another issue with preparations like this is that the cooked parfait gets an unattractive greenish dark layer on the surface due to oxidation. Even with the Sodium Nitrite (the curing salt added to the livers) this discoloration will still happen). This only gets worse after the parfait sits in the fridge for 24 hours to set. That ugly layer also has a strong flavor. So it messes up all the hard work we’ve been through so far to make a beautiful creamy dark pink chicken liver parfait. The solution? Well, very easy really. Just scrape it off before transferring the cooled parfait into another container.

 

Chicken Liver Parfait4

I put the parfait into a piping bag and piped most of it into small silicon half sphere molds (more about that in the next post) and the rest went into a couple of small ramekins. If I leave the the ramekins like that with the surface of the parfait exposed the will develop the oxidized nasty top layer again. So, I quickly made a vinegar gelèe with apple cider vinegar and little sugar and gelatin. It’s the same idea as the one I made before  for the “Faux Gras” but this time I left the vinegar mixture totally clear instead of mixing it with parsley. The gelèe both protects the parfait and makes a delicious tart condiment for the liver. The parfait topped with the gelèe like that can sit covered in the fridge for a couple weeks with no problem. We ate the contents of the two small ramekins smeared on toasted brioche with a glass of crisp white wine. This really is the best chicken liver parfait we’ve ever had. It is luxurious, rich, creamy, smooth and has a marvelous flavor.