Chicken, Preserved Lemon and Freekeh

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

Chicken-Freekeh-Lemon2

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

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

Chicken-Freekeh-Lemon

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

Advertisements

Monkfish Piccata


Monk Piccata

Recently I cooked a nice fish dinner for Diana and I. The first course/appetizer was supposed to be some sort of shellfish (oysters maybe) and the main is a lovely halibut recipe from Le Bernardin  taken from Eric Ripert’s book On the Line (post about that is coming up soon). However, as soon as I walked past the fish counter at Whole Foods and saw the brilliantly fresh monkfish that they had just gotten in, the oysters went out the window. I had no idea what I would do with the fillet I bought at the time and certainly was not planning on posting about it. When all was said and done and this first course was plated, it looked so nice and was so tasty that I knew it would get its own post.

The only other item I had bought with the monkfish is a bunch of watercress. When I got home, I flipped through On The Line since I was already cooking the halibut from it to see if there is anything that would be quick and work for monkfish. Unfortunately the recipe in there, while sounding fantastic, was pretty complicated. I would love to make it some other time with its red wine sauce and truffled potato foam but for an impromptu first course it was not going to happen. I did borrow the cooking technique he uses though. More on that in a minute.

Monk Piccata3

Mario Batali in his The Babbo Cookbook has a recipe for monkfish where he treats it like chicken or veal and makes a piccata. The fish is cut into scaloppine and pan-fried. The dish is finished like a traditional piccata with white wine, lemon and caper berries. That sounded like a perfect first course for our dinner especially served with a nice bunch of light watercress.

Monkfish

Even though the recipe is based on the Batali version, I really liked how the version in Ripert’s book treats the fish – almost like a pork or beef loin. Like no other fish, monkfish can take some longer cooking without drying out. The texture is firm and very pleasant which explains why it is sometimes called “poor man’s lobster”. That’s why Ripert served his with accompaniments normally reserved for red meat (red wine sauce, potatoes, mushrooms,…). So instead of cutting the fish fillet into medallions I left the “loin” whole and rolled it in lightly seasoned Wondra flour (both Ripert and Batali use that). I love using Wondra to get perfectly crispy thin crusts on all kinds of meat, especially fish.  Then I cooked the fish in a pan in some olive oil and butter basting it all the time. After that, just like a small roast, it went into a hot oven to finish cooking through.

Monk Piccata2

For the sauce, I deglazed the pan with white wine while the fish rested. Then I added turmeric, parsley, chopped preserved lemon, lemon juice, parsley and a good healthy dose of olive oil. This made for a delicious dressing of sorts. I would’ve liked some caper berries in there or small capers, but Diana hates those. So, no capers. The fish was then sliced into medallions. Any other fish would’ve flaked apart. This was juicy and perfectly firm, really very much like lobster tail. I dressed the cress with some of the pan sauce and put a handful on top of the fanned monkfish medallions. More of the sauce was drizzled on and around the fish to finish it up. I really loved the non-traditional addition of the preserved lemon in the sauce as opposed to just lemon juice. It gave the dish a unique and slightly exotic flavor and some more texture.

Yellow: Tomatoes, Saffron, Corn, Virtual Egg

A while back I was making a chicken stew that included saffron, a Tagine really. The saffron needed to soak and flavor a portion of chicken stock that I had put in a white bowl. The color was so pretty with the deep rich yellow of the saffron threads slowly diffusing and swirling into the clear liquid. I decided then to make a plate of yellow food. Usually I go for the opposite and try to get a contrast of colors on a dish. This time yellow it will be and if it works out I might try my hand at different colors. I’m thinking blue might never make the cut though. As opposed to the many wonderful yellow foods, you just don’t see a ton of blue edibles. Anyways, yellow worked out perfectly.

I started by making a list of whatever yellow foods I could think of and started thinking of combinations that could work. Pretty soon I was sure that yellow tomatoes would be the centerpiece. Since saffron was what got me thinking about this whole theme, that was certainly going to be included. Corn was also a no brainer and to garnish it all I was using the virtual egg I made recently.

The tomato tart, like the virtual egg, is another recipe from Happy in the Kitchen, by Michel Richard. I did not follow the instructions exactly. My main deviation was to cook the tomato custard and the crust separately. I did that mainly to keep the crust crunchy and fresh, since the tomato filling might make the tart crust soggy if it was baked some time in advance. I made the filling from pureed yellow tomatoes and eggs with a few seasonings. The taste is pretty much pure tomato. I cooked the custard in a small loaf pan lined with plastic wrap to make it easier to remove later on. The crust is a straight forward 3-2-1 pie dough with the addition of yellow corn meal for part of the flour. I rolled it and baked it between two baking sheets. At service time, both the crust and the fragile tomato filling were layered, cut to shape and plated.

The corn was quickly cooked with butter and thyme. The combination of corn, butter and thyme works amazingly well, even in corn bread. Lemon also was part of the dish. I made a quick preserved lemon sauce of sorts. The sauce was quick, not the preserved lemon. These guys had been curing in the freezer for a few months. Curing in the freezer might sound odd, but with the amount of salt (and a bit of sugar) used, the lemons never freeze and they remain a brilliant yellow color. The recipe for the preserved lemons is from the Alinea cookbook. To make the thick sauce, I just pureed some of the lemon quarters with a touch of water and put it in a squeeze bottle.

I incorporated the saffron into a classic beurre blanc. Maybe in this case it’s a beurre jaune? The process is classic and involved simmering some shallots in wine and/or vinegar. In this case the white wine had a good pinch of saffron steeped in it. When the wine, white wine and shallots mixture was reduced to a glaze, I whisked in several generous knobs of butter. The sauce was seasoned and strained and was ready for plating. I garnished the plate with charred yellow tomatoes (I used a blowtorch…), inner leaves of celery, the virtual egg, saffron threads and a sprinkle of black lava salt for some crunch and a color accent. The garnish that looks like caviar is actually mustard. Pickled mustard seeds to be exact, from a recipe by David Chang. I’ve never had those before, but they are very nice. They have a soft but firm texture and the cooking/pickling dissipated their harsh bite leaving just a hint of bitterness and a mild mustard taste. Not to toot my own horn too much, but Yellow was pretty darn amazing. The dish looked beautiful and the flavors worked perfectly. There was just enough acidity, creaminess and crunch to make the dish a success.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Lemon and Eggs

One of the most lovely looking dishes I made from a Paula Wolfert recipe. This amazing stew was the first time I use an actual clay tagine. This specific Tagine (which is the name of the pot and the dish made in it) is an inexpensive glazed clay one I bought from Sur La Table. It’s made in Portugal and as far as I can tell it worked great. In the future I would love to spring out some more cash and get one of those neat-looking ones from Clay Coyote, but for now, the Portuguese one will have to do. Maybe when Paula’s new updated edition of “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco” book comes out will be the right time for that.

This recipe is from her latest book, “Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking“. It immediately caught my eye when looking for a recipe to try in my tagine in my books. I do admit that I was a bit apprehensive as to how it will all turn out since I was not sure what to exactly expect. In the intro, Paula refers to another tricky Moroccan  recipe that “encases” chicken in a cooked egg mixture and then discusses this one as similar but different in that it uses eggs but they form more of a custardy sauce for the chicken. That sounded good, but the eggs get cooked in butter in the tagine alone before adding any sauce and that concerned me. I was worried that the end result would resemble cooked chicken in an eggy scrambled sauce. If the Diana and the kids hate it, then all the work would be in vain. I really needn’t have worried because it far exceeded my expectations.

I salted the chicken (local, free-range from Yonder Way Farm) and seasoned it with paprika, cumin  and a very small pinch of cinnamon several hours ahead of time. I almost always pre-salt meat if I have the time. The base for the dish is a mixture of butter, grated onions, garlic, saffron, dry ground ginger and cinnamon (a tiny pinch of that). With water, that base makes for an aromatic liquid in which the chicken pieces gently stew. The chicken pieces get finished under the broiler for a crispy skin right before nestling back in the sauce for service. For the sauce, the cooking liquid is mixed with caramelized grated onions, olives, sliced preserved lemon peels, parsley and cilantro. Eggs get cooked very gently in the tagine in butter and mixed with lemon juice. To bring it all together, the onion-olive mixture gets mixed in to the eggs. The mixture turns to a wonderful velvety a very deeply flavored sauce. Add the chicken pieces back in and it is ready to serve.

For some starch to sop up all that amazing sauce, I made couscous and simple tangy chickpeas. The dish was a hit with everyone, the sauce was rich and very flavorful, but certainly not heavy or “eggy”. The last step of broiling the chicken pieces really takes the dish to the next level by giving it a deeply burnished and crispy skin as opposed to the soft flabby one we normally get in chicken tagines. I will be making this again and am already thinking how the sauce would work with lamb instead of chicken.

Crab and “Crab”: King Crab, Crab Apple, Basil and Olive Oil Jam

I so need to work on my presentation skills. Funny thing is I had a much better “scheme” for this plate on paper, but not sure why I did not follow it last-minute. Oh well, next time around. One thing I can say is that flavor-wise this worked wonderfully and it really does not look too horrible…just not as nice as I intended.

The dish started when I bought a few crab apples and made a sorbet from them. I used a recipe from the “Alinea Cookbook” for that sorbet. At Alinea they serve the sorbet as part of a cheese course of sorts, along with an olive oil jam, cheddar, onions, eucalyptus and pepper tuile. I wanted to use some of those components but wanted to make a dish with king crab legs, admittedly being able to name the dish Crab and Crab was part of the attraction. However, I knew the combination would also taste good. Sort of a substantial salad course, made with lovely chunks of king crab legs.

The sorbet is made with crab apple that were cooked sous vide until tender and then passed through a sieve. The apple puree was mixed with sugar and a little salt. The end result is a bit more savory than a regular sorbet and, because it is made with crab apples, a little high on tannins giving the mixture a bit of a puckery mouth feel if that makes any sense. The sorbet was delicious but I cannot see it standing on it’s own, it’s definitely designed to be part of a multi-component dish.

The pepper tuile is made with isomalt, glucose and fondant. The mixture comes up to 320F temp, is poured into a sheet and allowed to cool. Then I ground it up in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. From this point on the tuile can be flavored in any number of ways with spices and sieved in an even layer and baked for a few minutes until it’s melted. It can be shaped, broken into shards or used to encase ingredients (like the pork belly here for example). As far as I know this process was pioneered by the crack team at elBulli in Spain. In this case the tuile was flavored with lots of black pepper and broken into irregular shards. It looked like glass and had a nice pepper kick. The olive oil jam, also from Alinea, is sort of a sweet cross between a custard and mayonnaise! Sounds gross, I know, but absolutely addictive. It’s made with olive oil, trimoline (invert sugar), eggs and meyer lemon juice.

Other than peeling the crab legs, I barely did anything to them. I just heated them briefly in olive oil and dressed them with a little meyer lemon juice. The basil spheres were made by mixing basil puree with calcium lactate and sugar and then freezing the mixture in ice cube trays. Before service the cubes go into a sodium alginate mixture until the outside sets and encases the sweet basil mixture. The plates were garnished with preserved meyer lemon, cut into a dice.

Needless to say I had a good bit of bits and pieces of crab other than what was served in this dish. These were sauteed with shallots, garlic and smoked paprika. Delicious on toast with a squeeze of lemon.