Corn-Ricotta Soup, Shrimp and Brown Butter Mushrooms

Corn Soup-Shrimp-Mushroom

Corn and seafood is a classic and fantastic combination. We see a lot of shrimp and corn, corn bisque with crab, lobster tortellini with corn and off course corn chowder with cod or other seafood. This dish adapted from Sean Brock’s book Heritage is an instant classic in my home. It’s simple to make, is deliciously familiar and new at the same time.

To make the soup I sautéed chopped onions in butter with a bit of fresh thyme and then added freshly shucked corn kernels to the pot. In the meantime I prepared vegetable corn stock which is just vegetable stock with the shucked corn cobs simmered in it for 20 minutes or so. I added the stock to the corn mixtures and allowed it to simmer very briefly just until the corn is tender.

Poached Shrimp2 Shrimp

Shrimp cooks fast and Brock’s method takes advantage of that to ensure it is perfectly tender and moist. Tough and chewy shrimp is a sad thing. I prepared the cooking liquid with vegetable stock, white wine lemons and some herbs and peppercorns. When this comes to a simmer I dropped in the shrimp and turned the heat off. After 20 minutes or so the shrimp was just cooked through. I took them out, allowed them to cool and sliced them into small pieces. Just before serving I tossed the shrimp with creme fraiche, lemon juice, fresh basil and seasoned them. This makes a lovely light and delicious shrimp salad. The leftover shrimp salad worked great in sandwiches for a couple of days afterwards.

Mushrooms

The mushrooms are cooked in sizzling brown butter with thyme sprigs. Nothing more than that. In hindsight I should not have used brown mushrooms. Brock’s original recipe asks for chanterelles. They are light in color but I can never find them. The brown mushrooms got a bit too dark and look like snails! They still tasted awesome but aesthetically they bugged me in an otherwise beautiful dish.

Corn Soup-Shrimp-Mushroom1

When ready to serve, I pureed the corn soup and strained it through a sieve. I then put it back in the blender with a few ounces of homemade ricotta cheese and made a luxurious smooth mixture. I laid our the shrimp mixture and a few pieces of mushrooms in the bowls and gently poured the corn soup “table-side”. Earthy mushrooms, savory and fresh cool seafood and the warm sweet corn soup made for a great dish.

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Braised Short Ribs in Cepe-Prune Sauce and Cornmeal Cakes

Short Rib-Corn Cakes2

The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert is really one of my favorite books in my collection. It’s a book I’ve used so much over the years and have never been disappointed (like this Cassoulet). Another reason I love it is that I helped test some of the recipe in there for the revised edition and it is the book that made Paula a friend of mine who loves to discuss food over email and certainly enjoys a conversation about a new clay pot I acquired or the recipes of my grandmother. Now, this recipe was the first recipe I tested for Paula and it is a marvelous dish for this time of year where even in Houston, it is cold and a bit dreary.

Short Ribs Marinade

Short Ribs Marinade2

Sometimes I try to modernize recipes and maybe find more efficient methods to cooking certain dishes. Not this time. I love this dish and I love the process from start to finish. So, I chose to apply Paula’s meticulous instructions to the letter.

This is a classic  no frills French dish that delivers a ton of flavor. The beef short ribs (using boneless ones here) are marinated in plenty of red wine and aromatics including a good dose of dried Porcini (Cepes in French) mushrooms. After 12 hours or so, the meat is browned in duck fat. the marinated veggies; carrots, leeks,onions and celery; also get browned after meat. The meat and vegetables go in a nice clay pot and then get gently braised in stock and plenty of red wine for a few hours.

Short Ribs

When the meat is cooked it is reserved separately from the cooking liquid and the vegetables are discarded. To finish, the meat is combined with the reduced de-greased cooking liquid and sautéed mushrooms, pearl onions, glazed carrots and halved pitted prunes. The mixture is allowed to simmer for 10 -15 minutes while I prepared the cornmeal cakes.

Short Ribs 2

The cornmeal cakes are what Wolfert recommends to serve with this. My kids love those ever since I made similar ones to accompany the pork cheek recipe from The French Laundry. So it was a no brainer that I would make them. Just cooked and set polenta, cut into rounds and coated in flour before being pan-fried in duck fat.

This really is a sublime dish that is rich but not cloying. It is perfectly balanced with meaty flavors and jolts of sweetness from the prunes and acid from the large quantity of wine in the braising liquid.  The polenta cakes are the ideal accompaniment. they are mild, a bit crispy and fluffy enough to sop up the cooking juices. This recipe is but one of many superb recipes in this classic of a book.

Short Rib-Corn Cakes

Yogurt Flatbreads with Barley and Mushrooms

This delicious vegetarian dish comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty. The chef is much better known in the UK where he runs a chain of “deli” shops that serve a huge variety of creative dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. He also has a weekly column in the Guardian newspaper. The website has a lot of his recipes and the book is actually a collection of these recipes. Plenty has quickly become one of my favorite books for recipes and inspiration. All recipes are vegetarian, very creative and full of Mediterranean (mostly) and exotic flavors.

This dish combines a rich stew of barley and mushrooms with quick flatbreads made with yogurt. The dish is topped with Greek yogurt and -my addition- sour plum paste. The barley mushroom stew is done by separately cooking the barley in plenty of water until tender but still a little chewy. Then I cooked a bunch of fresh mushrooms (brown, white button) with a handful of soaked porcini mushrooms and their soaking water. To that we add thyme and white wine and let the whole mixture cook and meld. Then the barley is tossed in along with chopped parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice.

The flat breads are done from start to finish in about an hour. The dough is a quick bread, meaning it is not a proofed bread dough with yeast. Instead it uses a chemical leavening agent, specifically baking powder. The dough consists of whole wheat and white flour and is flavored with a little chopped cilantro. After leaving it to “rest” for 30-40 minutes, I divided it up into 6 pieces and rolled them into rough circles. I cooked those on my cast iron griddle using a little clarified butter.

After plating the bread and the barley-mushroom stew I topped it with a heaping spoon of Greek yogurt and that aforementioned plum paste. The paste is such a unique and delicious condiment from Barbara Massaad’s book about Lebanese traditional Mouneh. I bought her book when I was in Lebanon a month ago and it is really an amazing piece of work filled with Lebanese pantry items, preserves, pickles, fermented and dried items. It’s the type of regional food that all grandmothers used to put up for winter and some still do. It’s great that Barbara went through the painstaking trouble of recording these procedures and recipes. This is the first recipe I’ve tried from it just because it looked interesting and new to me and because there are a bunch of plums in the market now. It’s really the equivalent of tomato paste but made with plums that are cooked down with nothing more than salt. The taste is tart, fruity and deep. It was great on top of this dish and I’m sure it will add an excellent dimension to meat stews and vegetable dishes.

The Fat Duck: Pot-Roast Loin of Pork, Braised Belly, Gratin of Truffled Macaroni

I will kick this off by saying that this is every bit as delicious and as satisfying as it looks. It’s a great comforting combination of a cured piece of pork belly, a perfect impeccably cooked portion of loin, tart cabbage cooked with onions and bacon, seared marinated mushrooms and a rich flavor-packed pork sauce to round it all off. Did I mention that all of this goes with a side casserole of truffle-flavored cheesy macaroni? There is nothing here that does not hit a perfect note. The inspiration of this dish according to the recipe intro is Heston Blumenthal’s love of the cast iron pan called cocotte  that he uses to cook meat over an open fire while camping. Now, at a fine dining establishment like the Fat Duck where consistency and efficiency are paramount using a cast iron pan is not the most efficient way of cooking the “Pot-Roasted” loin of pork. The title of the recipe is meant to invoke a nostalgia of the cast iron pot-roasting even though the meat is perfectly cooked sous vide.

I started working on the dish by preparing the pork belly and the pork sauce. The belly was cured in a brine of salt, nitrite salt, water, lots of herbs, lemons zest, juniper berries, allspice, cloves, coriander and star anise. After sitting in the brine for 48 hours, I soaked the belly in several changes of fresh water. Then I bagged it with some water and cooked it sous vide for 36 hours. After it is cooked and cooled I skinned it and trimmed all but a thin layer of surface fat and divided it into several perfect cubes that got bagged individually in FoodSaver pouches. The pork belly pieces were frozen until service day. At that time, I warmed up the pouches in water to loosen the pork belly and then removed them from the bags and seared them gently on the fat layer until they got brown and crispy.

For the sauce, I sautéed pork bones, pork meat, onions and carrots  in a mixture of oil and butter. These then went into a pressure cooker along with chicken stock, water and some herbs and cooked at full pressure for a couple of hours. The stock is then cooled, strained and reduced to a sauce consistency. Right before service, I heated it with a few sage leaves and whisked in a little butter.

Preparing the pork loin was a bit similar to the belly process. The loin, on the bone, is poked at several places and stuffed with sage and garlic. It is then salted heavily and left to cure with lemon zest and a lot of thyme for 48 hours. Then I washed the salt off and soaked it in a few changes of water. I removed the bone and wrapped the meat into a tight cylinder in plastic wrap. That went into a FoodSaver bag and was cooked at 60 C before serving.

Two other items actually go on the plate with the pork: sautéed cabbage and mushrooms. To make the cabbage, I first made the “Choucroute Onions”. That’s basically a very flavorful mixture of onions, bacon, juniper, allspice, white wine and vinegar. At dinner time, I cooked thinly sliced Savoy cabbage in some butter. When the cabbage was tender, I tossed in the Choucroute Onions. The mixture of cabbage and tart bacon-y onions is delicious. It’s kind of like a mild buttery sauerkraut and is a very good use of cabbage. It’s a classic that goes perfectly well with the rich pork meat.

The recipe specifically asks for Porcini (or Cep) mushrooms to serve with the meat. I can never find those tasty but expensive mushrooms fresh anywhere, but I can find them dried and use them all the time. Instead of Porcini, I opted to use king trumpet mushrooms and large white button mushrooms. I marinated those by vacuum packing them with olive oil, thyme and a few pinches of pulverized dried Porcini  mushrooms. They marinated for several hours and then I patted them dry and cooked them with butter to a nice golden brown.

As opposed to most fine dining recipes where every dish is self-contained typically with all components on one plate or bowl, several recipes in The Fat Duck book include “side dishes”. A lamb dish is served with a sweetbread hot pot, a venison saddle has a beaker of clarified stock with it, sole is served with triple-cooked chips, and this pork dish gets a luscious side of truffled macaroni. Originally, Blumenthal instructs the cook to boil zita macaroni (long tubes) and then cut them into 1 cm cylinders. Instead, I decided to make my own pasta. So, following the Marc Vetri process that I posted about recently, using semolina and water I made the dough and extruded it using the rigatoni plate on the machine. I cut the pasta much shorter than typical rigatoni as it was being extruded to mimic the short zita that the recipe asks for. After the pasta is cooked it gets tossed in a mixture of cream, stock, and Parmesan cheese. The recipe asks for truffle juice to be added in as well, but I skipped that pricey item and seasoned the mixture with excellent Italian white truffle salt. To finish the pasta, I plated it in small individual casseroles and topped it each one with a few tablespoon of an egg and cream mixture. The casseroles then get broiled to brown the surface a bit and are good to go.

To plate, I put a small pile of the cabbage and flanked it with both types of meat. A couple of mushrooms go in the center and the sauce is poured gently around and over the meat. We each got a small casserole of the macaroni on the side and enjoyed this complex and tasty plate of food.

Noma: Pig Belly and Potato Skins, Cep Oil and Wood Chips

Cooking with woodchips and hay (yeah, hay) might seem way weird at first glance. My 8-year old was beyond shocked when I told him that I am buying hay at the pet store (all natural packaged and never used hay that is) to use in cooking  at home. He kept asking and double checking that I am not messing with him. He finally believed me when I covered a baking dish filled with small potatoes with hay and stuck it in the oven. If we really pause and think about this though, it makes sense. Usually stuff like hay or, more commonly, wood chips (oak, charred oak) are used as flavorings in many products. The wood barrels, charred or not, are exactly how products like Bourbon, Scotch and wine are aged and get their distinctive look and taste. Brewers add charred wood chips to stouts and porters all the time for their unique flavor. So why not use some wood chips to flavor a sauce that will be served with a rich piece of pork belly? Hay has been used to cook ham in it for a few centuries as well. I believe this is a classic British preparation where ham is fully covered in hay and baked/boiled. Ryan at “Nose to Tail at Home” prepared a version of that from Fergus Henderson’s book. The process gently steams the meat and flavors it with its unique aroma. All these flavors match perfectly with pork, mushrooms and potatoes to create a lovely and comforting dish.

The chef at Noma in Copenhagen uses all kinds of interesting ingredients in his flavor profiles including oak chips, spruce, hay and ash (as in burnt and powdered vegetable matter). His cooking is fiercely local and when your locale is cold northern Denmark you really do not have access to so many of the ingredients we take for granted these days like tomatoes, olive oil, chocolate…Still Chef Redzepi manages to coax flavor from products, both wild and cultivated. He obviously knows what he is doing because he produces beautiful thoughtful food and Noma is named the “Best Restaurant in The World” for the second year in a row. In this dish he combines braised de-boned pork tails with hay-steamed small potatoes and a sauce made from stock, cep mushrooms (porcinis) and flavored with applewood chips.

I did not have any pig tails for this, but I did just make some smoked bacon (two versions this time: maple and brown sugar) and I had a few pieces of thin pork belly that did not get cured. Speaking of bacon, here are a couple of nice shots of said cured bellies. You can also see some of the Canadian bacon I smoked along with the regular bacon

I bagged the pork -I pretty much buy all my pork from Yonder Way Farm these days, it really is great stuff- with some home-brewed stout, thyme, butter-sauteed vegetables and stock then cooked them sous vide for a few hours. The cooking liquid is then strained and reduced to a glaze to finish the pork.

Redzepi uses two kinds of small potatoes, a purple one and a yellow one. These are baked gently under a few handfuls of hay. When done, I cut each in half and scooped most of the flesh out. Right before serving the potatoes are heated up in a water and butter emulsion and plated. The water had some toasted wood chips soaked in it to flavor it before whisking in the butter. The sauce for the dish is a clear mushroom bouillon made by simmering sautéed mushrooms and vegetables in chicken stock. The resulting stock is then clarified using the traditional method for making consomme (i:e using egg whites). The clear liquid is then reduced to about a cup. To further flavor the already very tasty bouillon, a few applewood chips are toasted and then soaked in it for 10 minutes. Lastly, birch wine is supposed to be added in as well. I had none and could not find any at local stores. So, I decided to just go by my own taste and seasoned the bouillon with my homemade maple vinegar. It worked very nicely.

Another two items emphasize the cep flavor, an oil and powdered ceps. Redzepi uses fresh porcini trimmings to make the oil. These are very hard to find and expensive. The dried version though is available everywhere and makes a great substitute in an application like this one. The oil is just heated up and the dried mushrooms are steeped in it. The cep powder is just dried mushrooms pulverized in my spice grinder. That would be the dust-like substance all over the plate. All in all this was a delicious dish to welcome Autumn. It’s rich, full of roasted umami tastes, mushrooms and rustic flavors. The wood chips do add a nice mild flavor. The hay…not too sure honestly. I think that might be more noticeable if the dish they are cooked in includes a lot of liquid, like the ham in hay dish I linked to above. As a cooking medium for the potatoes, I do not think they contributed much.

Pumpkin Flan, Purple Carrots and Truffled Mushrooms

Autumn is here and so are the wonderful winter hard squashes. I still have a few packages of frozen pumpking puree from last year and now is definitely the time to use them. For this dish I used a package of pureed Hubbard squash. I used a recipe from Batali’s “Babbo” cookbook for the flan, or sformato. It’s a basic custard made with eggs whipped egg whites and flavored with mascarpone cheese, parmesan and nutmeg.

I bought the purple carrots because I knew the color would just look excellent with the yellow/orange flans. The favor is pretty much the same as a regular sweet carrot. I cooked them simply with olive oil, salt and pepper. The mushrooms are done confit style. They are cooked in lots of olive oil in addition to garlic and sage. The olive oil is then reserved and used to make a vinaigrette for the finished dish. I tossed in some truffle oil to the mushrooms to make them even more heady and delicious. For garnish I used a few fried sage leaves. Since this was our dinner, I wanted to make it more substantial, so I added cubes of olive oil fried bread cubes.

Boeuf Bourguignon, Bouchon Style

Boeuf Bourguignon is a rustic beef stew. At least it is supposed to be. The typical method involves marinating the beef in red wine, mirepoix and herbs. Then braising the beef in the marinade with the addition of chunks of carrot, pearl onions and possibly potatoes. Done like that it is delicious and I often make one variation on it or another, but sometimes everything just tastes like everything else. Cooking everything in one pot also risks overcooking the vegetables before the meat is done. Sometimes a comforting stew with soft vegetables is what I want and it has its own charm including the convenience of letting it simmer gently while I sip some red wine.

This time I decided to try Thomas Keller’s method from “Bouchon” for a much more refined take on this stew. In typical Keller fashion, there are a multitude of steps and several strainings, but the end result is like no other Boeuf Bourguignon. While the end result is truly spectacular, I am not saying it is necessarily better than a more homey version. The main difference between Keller’s recipe and others is that he uses a very reduced (in hindsight I should’ve reduced mine more) red wine base to flavor the stew and he cooks each vegetable separately to get the most perfect texture for each one before combining the whole dish in the end.

 First order of business is the red wine reduction. I was doubling the recipe so I cooked wine from two bottles with carrots, onions, shallots, parsley, thyme, garlic, bay leaves and leeks. I was supposed to reduce the wine to a glaze, but the recipe was not specific as to how much red wine reduction I should end up with. I think from the two bottles I ended up with maybe a a cup and half of reduction. I think that was too much and I should’ve reduced to about 3/4 of cup.

The beef (I used chuck, Keller used boneless short ribs) is seared on all sides. In a clay pot I put a layer of chopped vegetables (again carrots, leeks, onions, thyme, bay…) and mixed that with the reduced wine sauce. On top I put a dampened cheesecloth and used it to make a “nest” for the seared beef. This is done to separate the beef from the vegetable bits and to keep it “clean”. Basically the chopped vegetables are now a part of a huge herb sachet and their only purpose is to flavor the braising liquid and the meat. Does that cheesecloth really make much of a difference? Who knows. The devil is in the details. Would I do that again? Probably not. On top goes a few cups of stock. Keller recommends veal or beef. I used a combination of venison stock, chicken stock and the Fat Duck red wine sauce base (I still had a few non-reduced vacuum packed packages from this dish..and this). I figured the Fat Duck sauce will work great because it is basically beef stock with red wine. This cooks in the oven for a good three hours. After that the meat is removed and the cooking liquid is strained over it. The cooking vegetables are discarded. At this point I really should’ve reduced the cooking liquid by about a third maybe since in the end, there was a bit more liquid than I like in the dish.

Keller cooks all the vegetables separately. The carrots and pearl onions are glazed, the fingerling potatoes boiled and sautéed and the mushrooms are cooked down with bacon lardons. I cooked the mushrooms traditionally in a pan, but the rest of the vegetables were bagged in FoodSaver bags and cooked sous vide at 85C for various periods of time with the carrots taking the longest.

When ready to serve more or less everything is combined and heated through gently. It’s a wonderful comforting dish with deep savory flavors. The vegetables were bright and perfectly cooked. Too bad the sauce was not as reduced as it should’ve been or it would’ve made this perfect.