Sous Vide Corned Beef and Great Colcannon

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

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

Red Potatoes

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

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

Beef-Colcannon

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

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Pork Chops with Sage Salt, Purple Potatoes and Cracklings

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Recently I needed to cook some pork chops for dinner. These are delicious thick ones from free-range pigs courtesy of the local Yonder Way Farm. It was mid-week on a school night and I needed them to be cooked pretty quickly for dinner along with some fried rice. No time for sous vide-ing for an hour and searing and such. I seasoned them, heated up my wok outdoors with an inch or so of oil and shallow fried them for a few minutes on each side until perfectly cooked at 140 F in the center. Boy were they delicious! I’ve been cooking them with this method that ever since whenever I can.

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This particular dish and combination is from a Jamie Oliver recipe, a simple meat and potato dish. What makes it a bit more special is the sage salt rub, the cool potatoes and -if I may toot my own horn a bit- my method of wok cooking the chops. Oliver uses fresh bay leaves for the rub, but I had none and dried ones work very well. I ground up the bay leaves along with fennel seeds and salt in my spice grinder and rubbed that all over the chops.

As the chops sat getting all seasoned up, I prepared the purple potatoes. These are really cool looking tubers. They honestly do not taste much different than your average Russet potato, maybe a tad sweeter. They do have a great color and pattern when raw and make for a purplish blue mash.

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I first boiled them until soft along with some garlic. Judging by the color of the water at the end,  I’m thinking next time I will steam them and see if I can retain more of the color. In the meantime, I rendered several pieces of pork fat taken from the edges of the chops. I used a cast iron skillet in the oven to do that. There was a good 3 tablespoons or so of rendered pork fat at the end along with crispy pork cracklings. When the potatoes where done, I tossed them in the hot pan with the fat along with a pinch of salt and roasted them until browned and crispy. Towards the end I gently smashed them up to get soft potato mixed in with the crispy surfaces.

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Cooking the chops in the wok takes maybe 10 minutes or so. I heat up the wok over a medium-high heat. I use my outdoor propane burner (turkey fryer kit) for all frying, deep frying and stir frying. I add about an inch of oil in the wok bottom and add the chops with one in the center and the remaining around it and up the wok “wall”. After a couple minutes I move them around so that another chop is in the middle and so on. I flip them over and do the same thing. After resting for a few minutes, the chops are good to go.

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For the sauce, I sauteed a little chopped shallots and added hard apple cider. After the mixture reduced I added a spoon of grainy mustard and chicken stock. I allowed that to reduce and stirred in chunks of butter. I plated the chops over the potatoes, added a few pieces of the crispy cracklings and a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Szechuan Broth with Duck and Goose Dumplings

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Duck season is almost here and I still had a few teal in the freezer. The kids have been asking me to make some dumplings at home. They love steamed dumplings at Chinese restaurants and wanted to see if I can make a version at home. Not one to shy away from a started looking through a few of my books to see what I want to make. I have made traditional Chinese dumplings at home from Barbara Tropp recipes and was going down the same path but then thought why not make a version that is not easy to find at every good Chinese restaurant in Houston. This recipe from Heston Blumenthal at Home fit the bill. It’s light and refined while still remaining authentically Chinese in flavor, shape and ingredients.

First ting I made was the broth. It’s a pork based broth made from roasted pork ribs and chicken along with onions, ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns to give it that distinctive fragrant zing. The meat and vegetables get de-glazed with Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine). The stock is cooked as usual in a pressure cooker and strained. This makes a delicious stock but taking it one step further towards refinement it gets clarified into a crystal clear consomme.

Szechuan Broth

Blumenthal uses his ice-filtration method to clarify the stock. The liquid is set with gelatin and frozen then allowed to slowly defrost in the fridge in a colander with cheese cloth. The clear liquid drips into the bowl under the colander. This works great but is very slow compared to the agar filtration method I talked about here. The two methods basically work the same way but agar sets at a much higher temperature than gelatin, so it can be easily broken up and allowed to leak clear liquid with no need for the freezing step. So, I went with the agar method and got my nice consomme.

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The filling for the dumplings has three components: the meat, the cabbage and the Shaoxing jelly. I made the jelly first. This is nothing more than the rice wine simmered and the alcohol flamed off then it is set hard in a thin (about 1/4 inch) layer with leaf gelatin. When fully set I cut it into small cubes and reserved them in the fridge.

Rice Wine Gelatin

The cabbage is Savoy cabbage that is shredded and gently cooked in a good bit of very un-Chinese butter. The meat as I mentioned before is wild duck and some wild goose. I ground it up and mixed it with the cooled cabbage, skim milk powder, egg, soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil. I actually made double the recipe and made the other half with pork filling instead of the duck. For each wonton wrapper I put a teaspoon of filling and a cube or two of the rice wine gelatin.

Pork Filling-Duck Filling

Duck Dumplings

To distinguish the pork filled ones from the duck/goose ones I shaped them differently. The duck ones were shaped similar to those in the book, sort of like a bundle or parcel. The pork ones had more of an angular shape. At service time I got the clarified broth nice and hot. I adjusted the seasoning and put it to the side.

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At the same time I got my steamer going and started steaming the dumplings a few at a time. They need about 6 minutes or so to cook through. During that time the wine jelly inside melts and each dumpling just bursts with delicious flavor when you bite into it. They were similar to Chinese soup dumplings. When the kids where ready to eat, I plated a few dumplings in a plate on top of finely shredded  green onions. The I poured the hot savory broth all around. The kiddos expectations were very high so I was glad they went for seconds and thirds. They might not think this is better than their favorite dumplings at Jade Garden restaurant but they definitely will do in a pinch.

Szechuan Broth-Duck Dumplings

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Mom’s Cooking

Stuffed Chard

It’s been longer than I normally would like to wait before posting a food related item here. However, I do have an excuse. My mom was visiting from Lebanon. We were busy, had a good time and really enjoyed some fantastic Lebanese cooking from her. I do have a couple of posts that I will be putting up soon but wanted to put up this blurb to highlight some of her food.

Atayif

My mom enjoys her time in the kitchen. That’s very good for us as we enjoyed some of the dishes that I rarely make or if I do make them they never seem to come out as good as hers.

In an attempt to recreate some of them, I actually sat with her and took some notes about the recipes including her kibbeh with yogurt sauce, mujadarra, stuffed chard leaves (siliq) and even her very simple but damn delicious braised green beans with onions.

Fatayir Jibn (cheese pies)

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Kibbeh done in three variations, fried, baked and simmered in yogurt (after frying)

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Siyadiyeh, the name vaguely translates as “fishermen’s fish”. This one has fried and flaked fish, spiced rice cooked in fish stock and the dish is topped with fried nuts and served with tahini sauce.

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She also ventured into the sweet side of things and prepared a couple of her specialties. She made the Atayif (yeast-risen pancakes stuffed with cream) and the decadent Chocolate Cake with Whiskey.

chocolate whiskey cake

Red Wine Pappardelle with Oxtails and Carrots

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It’s been a while since I posted about a homemade pasta on these pages. Not because I have not made any but the majority is stuff I’ve posted about before or similar to what I’ve posted about before. Well, here comes something I made recently and was so sublime that I had to post about.

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The blue print is really a traditional dish of fresh pasta and braised meat. The emphasis is on bold flavors with a recipe courtesy of the book Collards and Carbonara from Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. It’s a perfect title for a book where the authors put their American south spin on Italian flavors. This is a hearty dish with lots of red wine. It is everywhere. The pasta is actually made from eggs with a good helping of red wine – almost half egg and half red wine. The end result is not so much red as brownish. What I really loved about the pasta is the thickness. Instead of rolling them relatively thin as usual, the authors instruct us to roll them to the 4 setting on the pasta machine. This results in noodles that are relatively thick. I honestly had my doubts here but I figured I’ll give them a go and see what happens.

Pappardelle

I should not have worried. The cooked noodles were the perfect foil to the rich hearty oxtail stew.  They had a lovely texture to them that is equally soft, substantial and chewy. I started the oxtails basically a week before by making a beef demi glace. I prepared a big batch of beef stock in my pressure cooker and allowed it to sit in the fridge until the fat solidified. I removed that and reduced the stock with more aromatics (shallots, thyme, black pepper) and red wine until I got about a pint of the most amazing beef reduction.

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The stew is pretty straightforward. Brown the meat and cook it for a long time with some garlic, mirepoix, a whole bottle of red wine, the demi glace and water. When the meat is fall off the bone tender it is removed and picked from the bone. The cooking liquid is reduced and strained. The meat and cooking liquid are stored separately. Again, this is an important detail that I think makes the recipe much better during the finishing steps. Meanwhile I prepared a mix of small purple and orange carrots by cooking them sous vide bagged with butter at 85 C. They were cooked till tender but remained firm and retained a nice color.

Pappardelle-Oxtail

To bring it all together while the water came to a boil for the pasta, I sautéed the halved carrots in oil until slightly charred. To that I added the oxtail meat and browned slightly, then a whole lot  of chopped herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme) and more red wine and allowed that to reduce. In went the reserved braising liquid and the whole thing reduced slightly to get a nice consistency. I tossed in the freshly cooked pasta and some splashes of the boiling water and served. It was a really comforting, rich and beautiful bowl of pasta. The handfuls of fresh herbs in there brought a fresh and bright note to the bold flavors. That whole was perfect for the cold weather we had been getting and the leftovers were just as good.

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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.

Split Pea Soup with Ham, Fresh Peas and Mint

I cured my own ham to serve for Thanksgiving this year. This was one huge piece of pork from Yonder Way Farm. It was cured for a couple of weeks before being smoked, braised, glazed and baked. The ham made for a fantastic meal or more like ten meals including breakfasts and work lunch sandwiches. After a couple of weeks of that I still had a large ham bone with a good bit of meat stuck on it. What else to do with it other than a rich split pea soup.

I remembered that Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home has a recipe for split pea soup so I went to review it and found that, of course, it was not your straightforward typical split pea soup. The typical version usually entails boiling a bunch of dried split peas with a ham hock or ham bone and aromatics. The soup is usually very rustic with chunks of pork from the ham and whole split peas. It’s a tasty warming winter dish. Thomas Keller takes those elements and makes a wonderful version that is at once refined, rich and satisfying on all levels. I stuck fairly close to the recipe, but instead of the ham hock I used the ham bone I had. I used the pressure cooker to make a very tasty ham bone broth with onions, leeks and carrots. Then I simmered  split peas in the strained broth until they were soft and almost falling apart. Now, instead of leaving the peas whole Keller has you pureeing the whole thing to make a perfectly smooth soup that has a creamy mouthfeel but has no cream.

To finish, I blanched a bunch of frozen green peas in boiling water until barely done and still retained their freshness. Half of these went into the pureed soup. In each bowl I put some of the remaining green peas and some shredded reserved meat from the ham (I reserved the meat before I used the bone for stock). Then I poured in the soup and garnished it with mint leaves and a few dollops of creme fraiche. It was amazing, comfort food at its best and a great example of a split pea soup. Keller often talks about “finesse” and refinement, the details that make a good dish great. In this case it’s not just pureeing the soup, but the addition of those fresh green peas and mint leaves. They add so much pop and freshness to a bowl of soup that could be otherwise a bit monotonous. Of course that meant I probably ate way more of it that I should’ve.