Brassicas: Cauliflower, Aligot, Kohlarbi, Leaves

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A couple of months ago all kinds of local cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli were available. The different colors of cauliflower alone was very impressive from white to green to orange and purple. I started thinking about one dish that can combine lots of these varieties in various preparation. This delicious and satisfying vegetarian dish is the result of about 2 weeks worth of research, prep, cutting and dicing, pureeing, roasting and sous vide-ing. With all the various cabbages in here what else to call it but Brassicas.

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Brassicas refers to the genus to which cabbage belongs and that includes plants like cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and mustard. They are hearty veggies that stand up to various cooking methods and robust flavors. Here we have a base of cauliflower aligot, cauliflower florets with vadouvan, seared Romanesco, kohlarbi cones filled with cauliflower puree and the plate is topped with a crispy crunchy dose of onion and breadcrumb “soil”.

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Aligot is a French potato preparation from L’Aubrac region made by mashing potatoes and blending them with copious amounts of cheese. How could that be bad. Right? This dish is over all very light and I wanted the base to be substantial enough to make it more than a fancy salad. It’s a dinner plate after all. For this version, I blended 400 gr each of sous vide cooked cauliflower (bagged with butter) and boiled potatoes that were cooked with garlic cloves. I added cream to loosen it up a bit and the cheese. Certainly not traditional but I opted for a nice smoked Swiss cheese to give the mixture more of an edge that can stand up to the strong flavors of the the vegetables. It was so delicious that I could eat it all on its own with a spoon!

In the Eleven Madison Park cookbook there is a recipe that is just cauliflower in many variations and it is definitely an inspiration for this dish. I borrowed a couple of ideas from that recipe including the puree and the sous vide cauliflower florets. I cooked the cauliflower sous vide with butter and vadouvan spice until very tender. I used mostly broken up florets and stem pieces for this saving the neater florets for another part of the recipe. To finish the puree I blended the cauliflower with whole milk and very little potato to hold it together. I put that in a squeeze bottle and kept it warm.

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For the cauliflower florets, both white and orange, I left some whole and the others (an idea from EMP again) I cut into neat disks. These also were cooked sous vide with some butter and salt.  For the crunch element I cooked onions down in oil, similar to what i did for this Alinea recipe, until deep brown and almost burnt. I tossed these with salt and darkly toasted sourdough bread crumbs. This made for a fantastic sharp and crunchy element.

When I added a couple heads of cauliflower to my order from Yonder Way Farm I was thinking I’d get a purple one maybe…or one of those green ones. Instead what I got was some very cool Romanesco. These are like broccoli crossed with cauliflower and then shot through with some alien DNA. Very neat looking. I cut those into wedges, rubbed them with oil and seared them very well to get a good caramelized flavor. I roasted them until they were cooked through but retained some crunch.

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Kohlrabi is another of those weird looking plants that we usually just pass by at the store and just barely give a second thought. These guys are delicious with a texture like jicama crossed with a turnip. Sliced paper thin on a madoline they can be salted and marinated with lemon juice or vinegar. They make for an awesome quick salad like that. They also become very flexible and can be used as a cool “wrapper” of sorts. It made perfect sense to make little cones out of them and fill that with the puree.

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After all the chopping and trimming I had a decent bit of cauliflower in random pieces. To use them up I borrowed another idea from EMP and made cauliflower couscous. Cauliflower is a very sturdy vegetable that can be easily pulsed in a processor until it’s the texture of bread crumbs or…couscous. I did not season these at all for this dish or cook them, but I can see how quickly sauteing them with butter, seasoning them with a bit of vinegar and topping them with a few scallops or shrimp would make for a delicious light dinner.

Not to waste anything I wanted to use the cauliflower leaves too. These local heads of cauliflower and the Romanesco came cocooned in thick deep green leaves. I blanched those and shocked them in ice water. To serve them I warmed them in a mixture of butter and water and then seasoned them with walnut oil, salt and homemade beer vinegar.

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Under Pressure: Glazed Breast of Pork with Swiss Chard, White-Wine-Poached Granny Smith Apples, and Green Mustard Vinaigrette

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A bit more complicated to make than those delicious pork buns is this dish from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure using the second chunk of the pork belly I had. Pork and apples is a classic combination that always works well. On top of that we have strong sweet-tart flavors and sharp mustard with chard to round up a very unctuous and rich dish. As usual with these dishes I split the prep over a few days and it worked very well even if the plating was not quiet as ideal as the book picture.

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To start I soaked the pork belly in a spiced brine that has some cure #1 (Sodium Nitrite) overnight to give it a cured flavor and color (like bacon). I packaged the meat with chicken stock and some herbs then cooked it sous vide at 82 C until very tender, about 12 hours. Here the goal is to go for a very tender texture not something like a steak texture. When the meat was cooked I really should have figured out a way to lay it very flat and weigh it down to get a nice even flat block. Instead I just chilled it and kept it in the fridge until ready to serve.

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Thomas Keller’s recipe asks for a specific kind of mustard, green apple mustard. It is something you can find online. However, I figured why not make something on my own. It is most likely not the same thing but will be delicious never the less and is all mine! I’ve made mustard condiment before and I like a simple recipe from John Currence’s book Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey. So I used that recipe as a guideline and started by poaching Granny Smith apple slices in Apfelwein (homemade apple wine) until the apples were tender and most of the wine evaporated. More apple wine (Currence’s recipe uses Guinness; also an excellent version) and apple cider vinegar are also used to soak a bunch of mustard seeds overnight.

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The next day, I simmered a mixture of mustard powder, honey, turmeric, salt and pepper in more apple wine and apple cider vinegar. I added the soaked mustard seeds and allowed them to simmer for a few minutes. To finish it up, I pureed most of the seeds along with the cooked apples and left the remainder of the seeds whole to mix in and add some texture. I ended up with a delicious mustard that is great on anything from vinaigrettes to sandwiches.

Using a melon baller, I prepared several spheres from Granny Smith apples. I packaged those along with a poaching syrup (sugar, apple wine, water…) and cooked them sous vide at 85 C for 30 minutes until tender but keeping their shape. After cooling they went in the fridge as well.

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I was really hoping for three different chard colors but of course the one time I go to Whole Foods to buy some they only had red and green. So two colors it is. I separated the leaved from the stems and trimmed the stems. The leaves get coarsely chopped. I cooked the stems packaged with herbs and oil at 85 C for 1.5 hours. Then I trimmed them into 2 inch long batons. These get seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper and warmed up right before serving.

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The chard leaves get turned into an intense side for the pork. I cooked them with aromatics, butter, a chunk of bacon and vegetable stock. After the greens cook in the oven for about 30 minutes or so I cooled them a bit then finely chopped them.

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Last item to prepare is the green mustard vinaigrette. It’s just a mixture of the apple mustard, Dijon mustard, honey, olive  oil and a touch of vinegar. To serve, I reheated the pork in the pouch at 55 C, removed the meat from the bag and patted it dry. I crisped and browned the pork in a skillet but I did have a few issues keeping the pieces flat and even. Turning them frequently alleviated some of the issues. I used a mixture of the pork cooking juices from the bag along with butter, wine and some stock to make a quick pan sauce for the pork. I added the pork pieces to the pan with the sauce and got them nicely glazed.

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To serve, on a plate goes a few drizzles of the vinaigrette and the pork pan sauce. Top that with a piece of meat and line up three apple balls along the side. The marinated chard stems go on the apple and a neat Swiss chard oval goes next to the pork. It’s delicious, a refined dish with a lot of rustic flavors going on from France to the American South with all those earthy bacon-y greens.

 

Pork Belly Buns

Pork Belly-Cucumber-OnionsWhen Jason from Yonder Way Farm asked me if I want the pork belly pieces he had on hand as I was picking up some meat from him my instant response was “well, of course I do!” These are nice slabs of about 5 lbs each and around 2 inches thick. I only wish they came skin on. I cooked a few things with the first slab and the other one is still sitting in the freezer.

This first dish is the simplest and straight from Momofuku cookbook. I cured a piece of the pork in a mixture of salt and sugar overnight. Then I cooked sous vide at 75 C for about 12 hours. It got chilled and sat in the fridge until dinner time a couple of days later.

Pork Belly-Cure

I was thinking of making my own buns for this but timing just did not work out. Besides I was at the Asian grocery store that day and they had a good selection of these things in a couple of different sizes. So all I had to do was steam them and they were good to go. Last thing to prepare, while steaming the buns, is the instant “pickles”. These are really more like marinated cucumbers. Thin sliced cucumbers are tossed in some sugar and salt. They sit for 15 to 30 minutes are good to go.

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Get the pork sliced and crisped a bit and tuck into a soft steamed bun along with hoisin sauce, sriracha (or sliced jalapenos or both!), sliced green onions and some of those marinated cucumbers.

Chicken, Butternut Squash, Carrot and White Wine-Creme Fraiche Dressing

It’s January, the month of resolutions, especially those diet-related ones. Most want to lose weight and get fit. To that end we got a variety of diets and fads that pick up. Some want to go Paleo or low-carb. Other misguided folks are still on the low or no fat bandwagon. Really ambitious dieters try their hand at a whole new lifestyle like vegetarian or vegan! In most cases it will all fade away in a few weeks and we are back to eating a lot of all the “wrong” stuff.

Well, I have no resolutions. I think they are silly and any claims of THE ONE DIET are ultimately useless and discouraging. That being said, we tried to take it easy this January since between November and December, the holidays and trips to Maine and Boston, we had a lot of rich carb-heavy food. Several nights in this month we went with a “salad” of some sort. Some were good straight-forward ones but nothing to document. Others were delicious, beautiful, satisfying and nutritious that were worth putting up here. Here is the first of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners.

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I had a few large chicken hind quarters from Yonder Way Farm. These are delicious for braising or very slow roasting on the grill or oven. In this case though I divided the drumstick from the large thighs. For this dish I de-boned the thighs and laid them flat on a cutting board as I rummaged in my fridge (I slow baked the drumsticks and slathered them in barbecue sauce if you must know).

As is my habit most times, I ended up with an Italian flavor profile for the chicken thighs. After seasoning them with salt I rolled them with garlic, shallots, rosemary, oregano and lemon zest into neat cylinders. These chicken thighs are from free range birds and they benefit from longer cooking. So, I cooked them sous vide at 66 C for about 4 hours. They were tender and perfectly juicy.

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While the chicken cooked I roasted a cubed butternut squash along with a few cut up carrots. When the chicken was done, I patted them dry and browned the skin in the pan with olive oil till crispy. I made a nice warm sauce/dressing for the dish using reduced white wine with shallots. I added Dijon mustard and enriched it with creme fraiche and some of the reserved cooking juices from the bag.

Coming up next, Salmon, more chicken and an ancient grain…

 

Chicken Roulade, Tomato Gravy and Crispy Roast Potatoes

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

Cotechino, Lentils, Polenta and Salsa Verde

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Every year for New Year’s Day I usually have a Cotechino served with lentils on the table for dinner. I posted about this Italian sausage before here. It incorporates a good proportion of pig skin into the meat mixture and ends up with the most amazing unctuous rich texture. It’s all offset by balanced spicing and sharp flavors that accompany it.

Cotechino is great with lentils, potatoes or polenta. I was going back and forth between serving it with the lentils or the polenta. Eventually I decided why not do both while at the same time dress the dish up a bit and sharpen the plating and the flavor. I also tried some new methods to take my pictures this time around going mostly manual as opposed to allowing the camera to pick the settings. There is a lot of room for improvement but I like the end result and am hoping to keep playing with that.

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On prior occasions when I made lentils to accompany the sausage, I primarily relied on a recipe that added tomatoes, stock, rosemary…That was a bit much. The sausage alone has a ton of flavor and does not need a heavy-handed side dish to clash with it. So, this time around I made a basic lentil stew. I used, as always, Puy lentils and just cooked them in sautéed onions, celery and garlic before stewing them gently in water with some fresh thyme thrown in. A final dash of salt and vinegar as well as a helping of salsa verde (more about this in a minute) rounded the lentils out very nicely.

I prepared the polenta in the oven (about 4:1 water to polenta ratio, cooked uncovered at 350 F for about an hour). I allow it to set spread about 1/2 inch thick and then cut it into circles. These get a quick dusting of flour and then pan-fried in olive oil to crisp them up.

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I wanted another layer of flavor to the dish and a salsa verde is it. This is one of my go-to sauces for everything from salmon to steak. It’s not the Mexican one that incorporates tomatillos in it. This Italian salsa verde is a herb sauce composed mostly of parsley. It’s basically chimichurri’s  much better sister (sorry Argentinean sauce lovers!) I try to incorporate some portion of basil in there as well and even a few mint leaves if I have them. These get chopped up (as fine or coarse as you like – I like it on the fine side) with capers, a garlic clove or two, sour pickles and a couple of anchovies. To bring it all together a very healthy dose of olive oil is stirred in along with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once you make it a couple of times you’ll get the hang of how you like it and can adjust the quantities of the ingredients accordingly. I first heard of it many years ago in Jamie Oliver’s first book and I still like to prepare it like he does, just start chopping the parsley and add more ingredients to the cutting board…chop chop…add a few more ingredients…chop chop…as you go. It’s a marvelous sauce with great flavors and textures.

I tried a new time and temperature to cook the Cotechino sous vide this time as well. Per a suggestion from Jason Molinari  I reduced the temp to 68.3 C and cooked it for longer, 24 hours. I like the result a lot but I think there is still room for improvement. Dropping the temperature to around 65 or 62 C and cooking it for anywhere between 24 and 36 hours might be even better next time around to preserve more moisture and flavor. I sliced the sausage and topped a few of the slices with grated Parmesan cheese before searing all the slices on both sides. The final dish was exceptionally good. Not too heavy, cloying or greasy at all. The flavors worked great and the green sauce looked awesome and was a spot-on complement to everything.

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