Paella with Halibut, Shrimp and Chorizo

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All kinds of delicious stuff happens we you have awesome seafood stock in the freezer. I’ve been cooking sous vide for years. In the early days I’d find any reason to use my immersion circulator to cook anything. It was new to me and very cool. Now, I still use it a lot (and it is still cool) but not everything goes in the water container to be precision cooked. Sometimes it makes more sense to pan fry or roast or simmer a dish. One of the preparations that might seem ill-suited for sous vide is making stock. I agree that making beef, pork or poultry stock sous vide is not a great idea, a good pressure cooker (the opposite of the lower heat sous vide!) is best for that.

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Rice-Stock

For seafood stock though, using my immersion circulator makes a fantastic brew. The idea to use sous vide for seafood stock is from Modernist Cuisine and it makes sense. Seafood and fish stocks need a gentle lower heat than other types of stock. So, bagging the protein (I routinely freeze shrimp shells and fish bones and save them up to make the stock) with a bunch of vegetables, a vermouth or white wine reduction and some herbs results in a deeply flavored, concentrated and clear stock of amazing quality. Another stock that benefits from this treatment? Vegetable stock also from the good folks of Modernist Cuisine. After straining, I package the stock in FoodSaver bags and freeze flat until ready to use in soup, risotto or paella.

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Paella-Vegetables

Apparently chorizo is not supposed to be in a proper Spanish Paella as I recently read in a Saveur article. It’s too strong. It overpowers the rest of the dish. You lose the delicate notes of Saffron, paprika and seafood…I do not give a crap says I. I actually made this paella because I had a link of homemade dry-cured Spanish chorizo that needed to be used up and a good stash of the aforementioned seafood stock.

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Paella

I’m also betting that the articles author might not like me using halibut much in this dish. It’s what looked best at the store when it came to white firm fleshed fish. Since the halibut is in nice thick pieces it held its shape very well, remained juice and ended up with a nice flavor and excellent texture. The first step is to sear the fish on the Paella pan to get some good color on the fish. After that I sautee chopped garlic and grated tomatoes along with smoked paprika in a good helping of olive oil.

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Meanwhile, I added saffron threads to the seafood stock and let it infuse. When the garlic-tomato base was ready I added the chorizo and the rice. This got tossed really well and then I added the stock. A Paella is not risotto. The goal is not a creamy soupy rice dish. It’s not a pilaf either where you get a drier but still “steamy” rice dish. Paella is a dry rice dish, it is cooked with no stirring as the stock gently simmers away and the bottom browns and forms the much sought-after Socarrat.

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When the rice is 90 percent cooked through I added garlic-marinated shrimp, roasted peppers and the seared fish for everything to finish cooking. That takes a few minutes and then I covered the whole pan up with aluminum foil to make sure the rice is fully cooked and the stock is all absorbed. A good aïoli is very strongly recommended with this. The easiest way to make this garlic flavored mayonnaise? A stick blender and narrow container, I make mayonnaise no other way and I’ve posted about it before here.

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This was delicious and beautiful. Paella is another one of those dishes that I always wonder why I do not make it more often every time I cook a batch up.

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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.

Roast Onions Roulade-Tomato Gravy

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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Moose Spanish Meatballs and Vegetable Paella

 

A good friend of mine (same one who was generous with the pheasants), was nice enough to also give me a 2 lb. piece of moose meat. I was not even sure what cut of the huge animal it was, but seemed like a round roast. It felt tough and possibly not suitable for a quick cooking method. Not exactly sure what to do with it, I emailed Hank from honest-food and asked him what he would do. He immediately pointed me to the Swedish moose meatballs recipe he had. Meatballs. That sounded good, but another meatball recipe came to mind. It’s a delicious Spanish recipe from Penelope Casas’ book “Tapas”. Last time I made this recipe was for the World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands and it was a big hit.

Since we had friends coming over for dinner, I decided to make a meal out of the meatballs and accompany them with another Spanish dish (more on that in a minute). The meatballs are fairly standard. Mix the meat with garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley and form them into balls. These then get browned in olive oil and the sauce gets made in the same pan. That’s what takes this dish to the next level, that sauce. It’s made from a base of onions, carrots, green onions and a handful of whole garlic cloves. To that I add a mixture beef broth, white wine and almonds all blended to a semi-smooth liquid. The meatballs and some frozen peas simmer in that lovely sauce for a good while until the sauce gets thick and creamy.

Another Penelope Casas recipe that I love, this one from “La Cocina de Mama“, is the vegetable paella. Is it still a paella if it does not have saffrom? Casas does use saffron in this dish, but I think it works better without it. I love the saffron in meat or seafood paellas, but in this one it just takes over the mild vegetable flavors. So, I usually omit it and up the smoked paprika amount plus adding a small pinch of turmeric  for color. It’s a delicious dish on it’s own or as a fodder for those fantastic meatballs.

For dessert, we had a version of Thomas Keller’s shortcakes from “The French Laundry Cookbook” with my version of a mixed berry ice cream, vanilla creme fraiche sauce and chopped strawberries.

VDP: Classic Gazpacho

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One of the few cold “soups” I enjoy a lot is Gazpacho. I put quotes around the word soup because this refreshing summer treat is more like a beverage. It is best poured in a tall glass and chugged. On the other hand, Gazpacho is quiet filling and makes for a more than decent meal, probably because of the bread in the mix.

It is of course very simple to make. Some stale bread soaked in water, tomatoes, cucumber, a bell pepper, garlic and oregano. It is all a matter of taste when it comes to this primarily Spanish dish. Some recipes include onions in there (not to my taste at all), neither is cumin, others include basil (makes it taste like marinara sauce if you ask me). I like some fresh oregano and I like to finish it off with sherry vinegar and a good dose of black pepper. The whole lot is pureed in a blender or a stick blender. The last step, while it might seem unnecessary is to pass the Gazpacho through a sieve to obtain a smooth uniform soup. This really makes a difference.

To serve it, you can go the fancy way and pour the Gazpacho in a bowl and top it with tiny dice of cucumber, minced hard-boiled eggs, slivers of Jamon Serrano, tomato cubes, finely chopped herbs, very very small croutons, a drizzle of olive oil, herb oil…the variations are endless. On the other hand, more often than not, I keep the pitcher in the fridge, pour me a glass and call it dinner or lunch.

Sorry, no pic of the final result. I forgot. Really though, it is nothing more than tomato soup in a tall glass.