Lowcountry Hoppin’ John and Cotechino

hoppin-john-cotechino4

Cotechino with lentils is the classic, but in the American south eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is the tradition. So, here the Hoppin’ John stands in for the lentils and a mighty fine stand-in it is too.

Making Hoppin’ John is not difficult but it does pay to have a solid recipe to follow and a good set of ingredients, namely the peas and rice. Ever since seeing chef Sean Brock on the excellent PBS show “The Mind of A Chef” and then reading through his book, Heritage, I have been ordering various grains and legumes from Anson Mills. The Sea Island Red Peas from them are as delicious as they are beautiful and they are great in Brock’s recipe for Lowcountry  Hoppin’ John.

hoppin-john

I soaked the peas overnight in water before cooking them in homemade ham stock along with chopped carrots, onions, celery, a jalapeno, thyme and bay leaves. They simmer until tender and really hold on to their shape. A cup or so is removed and blended with butter to make a red pea gravy. This gravy stays separate and gets seasoned with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. At service time the Hoppin’ John is dolled out into bowls with rice and the gravy gets added to each bowl as needed. It’s a very comforting and delicious bowl of food and just feels very nutritious. Yeah, I know, “feels nutritious” is a pretty silly term…but well, not sure how else to describe it. It just does….and I can describe it any damn way I want on my little blog anyways.

hoppin-john2

Now, onto the rice. It’s Carolina Gold rice also from Anson Mills. It has a lovely nutty flavor and good texture. I followed Brock’s instructions to cook it as well. First I boiled it in plenty of water like pasta until barely cooked. I drained it, spread it in a small baking sheet and put it in the oven at 300 F. I dried it for about 10 minutes, dotted it with butter and gave it a stir. After another 5 minutes or so the excess moisture was gone and the rice was perfectly cooked. The grains were cooked through with a slight toothsome texture and separate.

cotechino

cotechino2

I made the sausages the day before. I rarely make them the exact same way every year. This time I based them on a recipe from the Napa butcher shop called The Fatted Calf and their book, In the Charcuterie. I’ve been cooking them sous vide for a while as well. I did a side by side this year though just to see if anything is gained by cooking the sausage in a pot of water in the oven at a low temp. Well, sous vide wins. The one that went in the oven lost a whole lot more volume and was not as evenly cooked as the sous vide ones. It was not bad by any means but I will be sticking with using my precision cooker for upcoming Cotechino cooks. 

hoppin-john-cotechino2

 

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.

Cotechino, Lentils, Polenta and Salsa Verde

Cotechino-Lentils-Verde

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.

Cotechino-Lentils-Polenta-Verde2

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.

Polenta Polenta2

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.

Cotechino-Lentils-Polenta-Verde

A Terrine of Teal

Teal Terrine5We shot a limit of teal (small ducks) this year on one of our trips. It was two of us and my buddy did not want to take his share and deal with the clean-up. I was happy to take his share of the hunt (even if I am never happy about the cleanup of about 12 ducks). In any case I had a good mess of birds in my freezer, mostly plucked clean but with several skinned and portioned out into small legs and breasts. It’s also been a while since I made a terrine of any sort and it really is the season for that kind of stuff. So a terrine of teal (and one bigger bird from last season) it was.

wild duck

I have tons of recipes for terrines and pates, but for this one I looked to a little book that I love reading and cooking from, Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. The late Olney is also the author of the many of the Good Cook series of books including one I’ve mentioned before and own called Terrines, Pates and Galantines. His writing in Simple French Food and The French Menu Cookbook is clear and passionate. These are really classics with no frills, no pictures, great opinionated essays and recipes that teach and work. Either one is a great addition to any foodie’s bookshelf.

Olney does not have a recipe for teal terrine in his book but he does have one that caught my eye for Terrine de Lapin, rabbit terrine. I could have used one of several other recipes from other books including Terrines, Pates and Galantines, but as I mentioned before I just love reading and cooking from Simple French Food. It’s that kind of book that makes you want to get in the kitchen and make something. I basically used the duck in place of the rabbit. Some other changes I made was to make the seasoning a bit more aggressive since duck, especially wild duck, is more gamy than rabbit. Instead of marinating and grinding all the duck, I followed Olney’s instruction to marinate the meat in a mixture of white wine and herbs but I reserved the breasts after marinating and seared them to use them an inlay in the center of the terrine. The remaining duck meat was ground up with some pork shoulder to start making the forcemeat.

Marinating duck

Terrine Meats

The terrine usually needs a small amount of a liquid-ish component. This can be composed of milk, cream, stock or even water mixed in with seasoning and bread to make a paste (known as panade). For this recipe I used the duck carcasses to make a stock in my pressure cooker. I first roasted them and then deglazed with Madeira and a bit of Sherry vinegar before cooking with mirepoix and thyme on high pressure for about an hour. This made about 4 cups of stock. I then reduced it to about half a cup of concentrated meaty goodness. This got mixed with a mashed a garlic clove and chopped up bread to make the panade.

Forcemeat

Teal Terrine Teal Terrine3

I ground up the mixture into both fine and coarse portions that got mixed together along with pork fat, pate spices, panade and pistachios. I used the KitchenAid mixer to get the forcemeat really emulsified and bound together well. Half of that went in a plastic wrap-lined terrine pan and then in went the seared duck breasts and then the remaining forcemeat mixture.

Teal Terrine4

Traditionally a terrine is cooked in a bain marie (basically a water bath in the oven). The idea, just like cooking a flan or custard, is to gently heat the mixture and not allow it to break with all the fat and juices running all over the place. Well that is really sous vide cooking old-style. So for the past couple of years I’ve been using my immersion circulator for that. I wrapped the terrine with plastic wrap and then vacuum packed the whole thing using a FoodSaver. The package cooked at 63.5 degrees C for about 3.5 hours. The other plus with this method is that the finished terrine is already wrapped and pasteurized. It can be cooled in an ice bath and go into the fridge. It also needs no pressing with a weight to compress the meat and remove any air bubbles.

Teal Terrine7

We ate this over a period of a week or so with good bread and various accompaniments like mustard, ale chutney and cornichons. I also loved it served up with pickled prunes, homemade coarse mustard and fermented pickled okra. The strong pickle flavors worked very well with the mildly gamy meat. I do want to add some curing salt (Sodium Nitrite, Cure 1,…) next time around to give it a more attractive pinkish hue and cured flavor. I forgot to do that this time around.

 

Modernist Cuisine: Pastrami and Bresaola

Much has been written in the blogsphere about the MC pastrami made from short rib or even better, beef cheek. Just Google it and you’ll get a lot of hits and pictures. The attention is rightfully deserved since their process produces one delicious tasting piece of cured and smoked beef. When done right, Pastrami is one of the tastiest cured meat products at American delis. The idea is to take a tough and a little fatty piece of beef (usually a brisket) and first soak it in a curing brine of salt, sugar, curing salt and a host of pickling spices. Up to this point it is not much different from corned beef. Just take it out of the brine and simmer it for a few hours and you got exactly that – corned beef. For Pastrami though, the next step is to roll the meat in a lot of spices (black pepper, coriander, celery seeds, juniper,..) and then smoking it for hours until cooked tender but not falling apart. We are still not ready to slice it though. The meat still has to go into the steamer to get an amazing unctuous and juicy texture. Now it’s sliced thinly and served piled high on rye bread.

For the modernist version, the essential steps are still there, but the bulk of the actual cooking and softening the meat is done by cooking it sous vide. After the meat, brisket in my case, is brine-cured I rolled it in the spice mixture and then cold-smoked it for a few hours. To cook the meat I put it in a FoodSaver bag with some of the brine liquid (that was boiled and cooled) and then it went into the water with the immersion circulator set to 60 C for 72 hours. This cooking process is pretty much the same one that the MC team uses for their barbecue recipes: season/brine, cold smoke and then cook SV (I posted about this a while back here).

Anyone who has seen Woody Allen’s great film Annie Hall knows that proper pastrami needs no add-ons. Poor Alvy (Allen’s character) almost has a seizure when Annie ordered her pastrami on white bread with mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomatoes! So, I served our delicious tender pastrami on homemade rye with a little mustard and sauerkraut. However, I can only have so many pastrami on rye sandwiches. So, traditional or not, I served more of the smoked meat on top 0f rye bread topped with avocado and pickled mustard seeds. Either way, it was delicious.

As opposed to the cooked pastrami, Bresaola is beef that is not cooked at all. I’ve mentioned this cured meat a couple of times before (here for example). This one from the MC books uses a cure with lots of ground coffee in it. They serve it sliced thinly with a sauce made from fermented black garlic (I used pressure cooked garlic confit instead) and balsamic vinegar. I was intrigued by the coffee in the cure…lots of it too. So I gave it a shot to see how it works out. When all said and done, I am not sure I love the coffee in there, especially if I am serving the cured meat by itself. On the other hand it really works well in the plated dish with the sauce, the sliced celery and some sharp greens.

Beet and Citrus Cured Salmon

Salmon was the first meat I ever salt cured back when I got Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie. It’s one of the easiest of the cured meats because it requires little investment and very little time compared to a Bresaola or a cured fermented sausage like salami. Basically all you do is rub a salmon fillet with a mixture of salt, some sugar, aromatics and maybe a few tablespoons of vodka or another alcohol. You let it sit for 24 to 48 hours in the fridge and then wipe away all the cure ingredients and pat it dry. Now it is ready to go as is, basically a gravadlax, sliced thin on a bagel or some rye bread. Another option is to maybe smoke it (cold or hot) after it is cured. Diana loves it hot smoked quickly till cooked (I use my wok for that) and served with a simple slaw, crostini and a sour cream/mayo sauce. Yet another way to take the cured salmon to the next level is to brush it with a glaze of molasses and sprinkle it with a mixture of caraway, pepper and coriander. This makes a unique pastrami salmon!

This time around, I borrowed an idea from Jamie Oliver where he cures salmon using a mixture that includes beets and horseradish. The fish had that crazy funky red color from the beets when he prepared it and it just sounded like a good idea. To actually prepare it though I used the proportions from a Grapefruit-Cured Salmon in the Modernist Cuisine books. They use grapefruit zest, lemon zest and juniper. I just eliminated the grapefruit and kept the lemon and juniper. The copper river salmon I used had an amazing color when done curing and all the flavors worked great. I could taste everything, from the citrus zest to the earthy beets.

We ate it for dinner and/or work lunch over about a week period. One way I served it was with some quick lemon-marinated zucchini and red onions. For this dish I made a sauce from pureed chives, cucumbers, yogurt and sour cream.

For another quick dinner I topped home-baked rye bread with the salmon, added some pickled pearl onions and drizzled with whatever was left of that cucumber-chive-yogurt sauce.

Labor Day Bocks and Brats

We were in San Antonio this past weekend, so I did not have much time to prepare a full-fledged barbecue spread. San Antonio was a fun close getaway with the family and as usual we had a great meal at Dough Pizzeria Napolitana (might be one of the best of it’s kind in the country) and way too much ice cream at Justin’s and Amy’s. Anyways, back at home by Monday Labor Day, what I did have is some good homemade sausage. So I took out a pack of Bratwurst and the last couple of Bockwurst packs I had. Both sausages are made with a mixture of pork and veal. They also both include dairy and eggs. The Bockwurst includes more onions and more pepper, the brats have a more uniform emulsified texture not unlike that of a hot dog. The Bockwurst were cooked (poached) before freezing so they needed nothing more than grilling to heat up and crisp the casing. The brats were raw, so they were cooked sous vide at 61 C for about an hour before grilling and crisping.

I did go through the trouble of making some proper buns that will stand up to the wieners and not fall apart. I used a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. A few of these were topped with poppy seeds and the rest baked plain. The buns turned out perfect for the substantial sausages. To serve them, I made a some sautéed onions, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. Other accompaniments included a few different mustards and some pickled pepperoncini peppers. That was such a fantastic meal for so little work.