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.

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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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Salmon, Collard Greens, Roasted Beets and Smokey Orange Dressing

Dish 2 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features salmon.

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My preferred method to cook salmon fillets by far is using low temperature sous vide. It’s a process I wrote about before that includes brining the fish for a short time, bagging it with a little olive oil and cooking it at no more than 52 C for about 20 minutes. To finish I crisp the skin side in a hot pan with oil.

The salad is made from collard greens and roasted beets. It is loosely based on some ideas from Salad Samurai, a pretty useful and inspiring vegan salad-focused book. The beets are roasted wrapped in aluminum foil until fork tender. Collards are tough greens and usually are only eaten cooked. They actually work very well raw as well though. I “relaxed” the hearty greens by rubbing them with some salt, cider vinegar ad olive oil. This wilts them a bit but leaves them with plenty of snap. After that they can be left in the fridge for several days ready to toss into salads, omelettes, pastas…This works great with kale as well which is what the original recipe uses.

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The dressing is a lovely warm smokey orange vinaigrette prepared with smoked paprika and orange juice. It has a beautiful color and a robust flavor that stands up great to the strong flavors of salmon, beets and collards. It’s a great combination of flavors and textures that make for a delicious winter salad.

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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French Laundry: Braised Pork Cheek with Yellow Corn Polenta Cakes, Glazed Vegetables and Sweet Garlic

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A week before our much awaited dinner at The French Laundry (I’ll post something about that at some point…hopefully soon) I wanted to make the family a meal from one of my favorite cookbooks. I thought of it as an appetizer of sorts. Of course my meal was not a 10 course 4-hour extravaganza but only a couple of courses, a main dish and a dessert. When both come out so perfectly delicious though, it really is a treat. In the book there are several recipes for “cheap” cuts of meat, not just pricey and exotic cuts. Chef Keller uses cuts like beef cheeks, tripe, pig head and transforms them into refined three-star plates of beautiful food. This is such a recipe. I’ll post about the dessert in a subsequent post.

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In the book, the recipe is made with veal breast. That’s, more or less, the equivalent of a pork belly on a calf. It’s tough, sinewy and flavorful. It’s also very tough to find at almost any store. I was not about to mail order it so I decided to improvise and see what I have in my deep freezer. I had two excellent pork cheeks in there and I figured these would make a very nice substitute for the veal breast. The recipe, from Keller’s pre sous vide days, braises the meat traditionally (sear, cook in stock with aromatics gently). I opted to first sear the meat really well and then bagged it  with carrots, celery, leeks, herbs, stock and white wine and cooked it sous vide at 82.2 C for about 8 hours. When the meat is cooked I removed it from the bag, discarded all the herbs and vegetables and strained the liquid to make a sauce from it later on. The meat went in the fridge to rest and set.

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To complete the meat portion, I cut the cheeks into 2 inch rounds using a biscuit/cookie cutter. The cheeks are not as nice and even as a veal breast would be. See this post for an idea how the cooked cheeks look in one of the pictures. So some pieces were more even than others. Right before serving, I rubbed the meat with Dijon mustard and then rolled the flat sides in panko bread crumbs. Then I pan fried them well in grape seed oil and got them ready for plating. The meat from pork cheeks is really something special. It has a very deep almost slightly gamy flavor and unique texture. Braising the meat then pan frying it till crispy and luscious on the inside. Cutting the meat into rounds creates a good bit of extra chunks and uneven pieces that I used for the next few days in fried rice and tacos for the best ever crispy carnitas.

The rounds of pork sit on crispy corn cakes, aka polenta cakes. These are fairly classic made with polenta cooked in water and enriched with mascarpone cheese and butter. I then mixed in some chopped chives and poured the porridge in a silicone square cake pan to set. The cakes are finished similarly to these hominy cakes by rolling in flour and pan frying in some butter until browned and crisped.

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The vegetables in the book (carrots, turnips, celery root, beets) according to the recipe are supposed to be cut into different shapes. The beets into tiny pea-size marbles (parisienne), the carrots into small ovals (turned), the trunips into small fluted shapes and the celery root into small batons. So, I have no parisienne cutter and no vegetable fluter. I also opted not to use the the celery root since I did not have a kitchen brigade doing my bidding. Instead I cut the beets into small coin shapes and the turnips into small cubes. Then I turned the carrots. It really takes some time and skill to turn hard vegetables into acceptable small football shapes. It really makes one appreciate all the work that goes into creating and executing one of those dishes at a place like the French Laundry. It took me about an hour to make maybe 20 carrot ovals and they were by no means perfect.

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Chef Keller in the recipe blanches the vegetables separately to cook them. Instead I bagged the carrots and turnips together and separate from the beets (to avoid discoloration since beets really stain)  and then cooked the two packages sous vide at 85C until perfectly tender. To finish the vegetables and plate them they get sauteed in some butter and sugar to glaze them (again the beets are glazed separately) and then they are warmed in a small pot of beurre monte, Keller’s ubiquitous butter-water emulsion. The last vegetable in the mix is the sweet garlic. These are garlic cloves blanched in several changes of boiling water and then slowly poached until very soft and then sauteed in butter to brown them and further flavor them. The garlic and the rest of the vegetables get tossed together at the last minute, right before serving. If I could change one thing about this recipe, it would be that last step of tossing in the beets. Even with all the care and even though the beet coins were mixed in at the last second, they still managed to slightly stain the turnips and garlic a shade of pink. Really I should’ve plated the beets without tossing with everything else.  

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To make the sauce for the dish, the braising liquid is reduced and flavored with chopped shallots and fresh parsley. At the last minute is is enriched with more of the beurre monte. For plating I put a spoonful of the sauce on the plate first and topped it with a corn cake. On top goes a round piece of crispy pork cheek and that gets topped with the glazed vegetables and the sweet garlic cloves. Is it good? Damn right it is. It is a delicious dish that combines comfort with Michelin – star cuisine. The flavors are deep and rich and the textures are amazing. Everyone loved it including the kiddos. It was a bit funny when my 9 year old asked for seconds and requested that the meat be cut into a circle again for plating and my 6 year old now routinely asks if we are cooking more food from “French Laundry”! That’s a lot of pressure. Next is dessert, another French Laundry classic…

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Fried Chicken with Red Potato and Green Bean Salad

The last few weeks at work have been (and continue to be) stressful and frustrating. I barely had time to cook proper meals, let alone take pictures and post about them. It seems like I am finally seeing a light at the end of this particular tunnel. What better dish to bring some normalcy back into the kitchen than fried chicken? Well, several actually (including a nice sirloin with chimichurri sauce that I cooked up recently) but for now it is fried chicken time.

While not exactly last minute, I had not really planned on making fried chicken. The chicken was pretty good but with more planning the dish would’ve been superb. Most likely I would have brined the chicken and given it a buttermilk soak. Another version I’ve been wanting to try is the smoked fried chicken from Aki and Alex at Ideas in Food. Just like it sounds, that recipe applies  some smoke time to the poultry before frying it. It really sounds awesome. In my impromptu fried chicken dinner I had a couple of pouches of chicken thighs and legs that were cooked sous vide with nothing more than a little butter and salt. I soaked them in a mixture of seasoned buttermilk before shaking them in seasoned flour. Since they are technically already cooked, I just needed to focus on getting that nice crispy crust. So, I fried them at a higher temperature for a shorter time (400F for about 3-4 minutes) than your typical fried chicken.

This was the first time I use my brand new propane burner outdoors right on the backyard grass. I bought it from Academy to use for brewing beer, frying and wok stir-frying. It’s fantastic to fry a bunch of chicken and some onion rings (for garnish) with no worries about oil splatters gunking the stove or the frying oil smell lingering in the kitchen and living room for hours. The chicken was good with a perfect crust but tasted a little bit flat. Brining and soaking the chicken raw in buttermilk would certainly have helped with juicyness and tenderness. Maybe next time.

Now, the potato salad was pretty spectacular and would almost make a nice meal on its own. It’s from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book. It contains boiled red potatoes and blanched green beans in addition to shredded Bib lettuce. The vegetables are tossed in creamy pepper dressing. That dressing is absolutely amazing and I’ve used the rest of it for days just to dip vegetables in and dress a chicken salad a couple of days ago. It’s a bit more involved than your typical dressing but not complicated. First, you make a sweet-sour reduction (a gastrique) from mixture of Banyuls vinegar, black pepper and honey. Once it is cooled it gets whisked with freshly made garlic aioli, creme fraiche, buttermilk and mustard. It’s got a wonderful combination of sharp, tart and sweet flavors and a lovely creamy texture.

Pork Shoulder Sous Vide – Asian Flavors

Cooking pork shoulder (butt) sous vide makes this most delicious and versatile of cuts even more convenient and easy to use. The pork is cooked in two or more packages, depending on its original size and then used as needed. In this case, I decided to go with Asian flavors.

I brined the pork shoulder in a salt, sugar, garlic and ginger solution for 24 hours. After brining I divided it into two 2-inch thick pieces and bagged those with a few tablespoons of ginger pickling liquid, mirin and  a little lard. These were then cooked at 158F  for about 20 hours. The packages were thoroughly chilled in an ice water bath. At that point, these were then either ready to use right away, can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for like…forever.

The first of the packages was used in a Japanese inspired preparation. I sliced the cooked pork into rectangles and pan seared those in a mixture of grape seed oil and a little lard for flavor. I served them with flavored sushi rice, glazed carrots (cooked with ginger and sake) and plum sauce. The plum sauce is an old favorite from a Jamie Oliver recipe. It goes great with pork and is flavored with ginger, cloves and star anise.

About a month or so later I made a Chinese dish with the other package. I cubed the meat and fried it in a wok. Then I made a stir fry with typical Chinese ingredients (ginger, garlic, scallions, water chestnuts, carrots, red bell peppers,…) and a sauce of chicken stock, soy, rice vinegar and shaoxing wine.