Sunday, January 29, 2012

Trimming a Rack of Lamb (Video)

There is no reason why chewiness should be part of the meat eating experience.  If you need to serve dental floss with your roast, it might be time to get out that boning knife and do a little trimming.  This video uses a rack of lamb as an example, but the same technique applies to trimming beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin, skirt steak, the back of a duck breast, and even a monkfish tail.

YouTube link: Trimming a Rack of Lamb

Here are some questions I frequently get in class about trimming meat:

Can't you remove the chewy bits while eating?  Why bother to do this before cooking?
If the outside of the roast is trimmed after cooking, the browning will be trimmed off too, and that's the most flavorful part.  When you brown meat, it goes through a chemical change known as Maillard reaction.  During this reaction hundreds of different flavor compounds are created.  I want to make sure that I am browning the meat, and not the silver skin that will be partially chewed, spit out, and left on the side of the plate.  

Aren't you removing the flavor by trimming the fat from the outside of the roast?
The fat cap on the outside of the roast does have good flavor, but unpleasantly chewy texture.  It also tends to cause flare-ups on the grill making your meat burnt and bitter tasting.  On a rack of pork (bone-in pork rib roast), the fat cap is not very chewy, and pork fat tastes outrageously good.  Unless I am grilling, I often leave the fat cap in place, but I am not as fond of lamb fat, so I don't see any benefit to keeping it on.

What do you do with that rack of lamb after trimming?  Slow roast in the oven, finish with a sear, and enjoy!

21 down / 29 more to go

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tomato Onion Soup from Zuni via Sally Pasley Vargas

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think French Onion soup?  Melted cheese, right?  I am the last person to object to melted cheese, but this onion soup is so bright and delicious it would be a shame to obscure it with anything.  I got the idea from the Cooking Lessons blog written by a fellow Bostonian, Sally Pasley Vargas.  The original recipe was from the Zuni Cafe cookbook, but since Sally's beautiful writing and photography were my inspiration for this dish, I decided to follow instruction from her post.  She even provides excellent step by step pictures.

Of course, I had to improvise just a bit.  What is a soup without a little improvisation?  I used all olive oil (no butter).  I added a little dry white wine to tomato onion mixture and simmered it for 5 minutes before adding stock.  I substituted rosemary with thyme.  I poached eggs in the soup on the stove top for about 4 minutes and poured into bowls over toasts.  This was sublime.  Sunny side eggs over caramelized onions and tomatoes is one of my favorite breakfasts, but the addition of the broth makes it 10 times more dunkable.

Since my kids have issues with seeing pieces of onions (they do like them, they just don't know it yet), I pureed some of the soup for them.  If you are looking for a great creamy tomato soup without any cream or butter, this is it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Deglazing a Pan and Making a Sauce (Video)

Remember all those brown bits we had left in the skillet in the end of the meat searing video?  Why don't we turn them into a sauce.

Here are some questions I frequently get in class about pan sauces.

Can you recommend a cheap (but good) stainless steel skillet?
Yes, Tramontina.

Is there some way to buy stock that is usable for a pan sauce?
I can finally say YES!  This week, I tried veal demi-glace made by Bonewerks Culinarte'.  It was great -- good flavor, good body, and a list of ingredients that included veal bones and vegetables instead of yeasts and enzymes.  It was a tad heavy on the tomato paste, but not nearly as bad as most store bought demi-glace products.  I bought it at John Dewar's in Wellesley, MA.  It was a very reasonable price of $8 for a 1 cup container.  Keep in mind that demi-glace is a very reduced stock.  To turn it back into stock, add 3-4 parts water.  So it's really like buying 4 cups of stock.  If you don't want to use the whole container at once, set it in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to loosen it from the box.  Invert onto a cutting board and cut into pieces.  I cut my container into 4 pieces.  1 piece plus 2/3 cups water worked well to deglaze a 10 inch skillet.  You can freeze the rest for future use.  

In the video, I say that you have to make your own stock.  There are a few reasons for that.  I made the video before I had a chance to try Bonewerks' demi-glace and their products don't seem to be widely available to home cooks.  You can order from their website, but a minimum order is $80.  If you can get to John Dewar's easily, call them first to check if they have the Bonewerks' product.

How do you make brown chicken stock?
I cheat and make it out of store bought rotisserie chicken to save time and dishes.  Whole Foods often sells salt free roasted chickens, which are great for the stock.  Here is the recipe.

What wine can I use?
Your wine doesn’t need to be anything special or expensive.  When you start boiling it, all the interesting aromas will evaporate anyway.  For whites, I use sauvignon blank from Trader Joe’s.  You can use whatever you want as long as it’s not too oaky.  For reds, I like Pinot Noir or syrah blends like Cote-du-Rhone.  You can use whatever you want as long as you avoid tannic wines like Cabernet since they give sauces a metallic aftertaste.  

Do I need to open a new bottle of wine?
No.  You can use leftovers.  Keep them in the fridge, and they'll serve you well for about 1 month (maybe even longer, but I haven't tired).  This is not my advice for drinking, just cooking.

What happens if my sauce congeals before I serve it?
This happened to me 3 times while I was trying to shoot this little video!  Just couldn't get the lighting right for the finished steak.  Don't panic.  Add 1/4 cup water to the skillet with solidified sauce.  Set it over moderate heat and beat the heck out of it with a whisk.  

What can I use instead of wine?
You can use apple cider or add a few drops of vinegar in the end.  Balsamic and apple cider vinegar are particularly good in pan sauces.  Another option is to add a squirt of lemon or lime (works great for deglazing a pan after roast chicken).

Can I enrich with cream instead of butter?
Cream is great, particularly for sauces that use white wine or apple cider.  Stir in the cream after your liquids are reduced.  Keep the pan over medium-low heat and whisk until the sauce returns to a simmer.  

20 down / 30 more to go

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Zuni Short Ribs Braised in Chimay Ale

What better way to celebrate the first day of snow in Boston than with a braise?  I had a tray of Costco Short Ribs in my fridge and decided that I should branch out from my usual red wine braise or balsamic soy braise and try the beer braise from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

If you hate beer, don't let this scare you away from this recipe.  It won't taste like beer when it's done.  The sauce is sweet and mellow.  By the way, does anyone love Costco Short Ribs as much as I do?  Have you tried them?  They are boneless, but I actually prefer them this way.  Short ribs have so much flavor and fat that they turn out fine without the bone.  It's also a steal at $6/Lb.  Most of the butchers in the area sell bone-in short ribs for $9/Lb.  Considering the fact that almost half the weight is the bone, you are talking $16/Lb.  For a braising cut, that's rather steep.

I made a few trivial modifications to the original recipe.  I add more liquid to avoid flipping the meat during cooking and then reduce the sauce in the end to concentrate the flavor.  I also cooked the short ribs a lot longer.  About 2 hours that the recipe suggested is never enough to turn the braising cuts of beef fork tender in my opinion.  I braised for 3 hours at 300F.

As with all braises, make this 1-4 days before serving.  The short ribs will only taste better and de-greasing the sauce will be a breeze once the fat solidifies in the fridge.

Short Ribs Braised in Chimay Ale 
Adopted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

For 6-8 servings

3 Lb boneless short ribs (bone-in is fine, but you'll have fewer servings)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Lb yellow onions (about 5 medium), sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 bay leaves
Up to 2 cups beef or brown chicken stock
Up to 2 cups Chimay ale or similar Belgian-style ale or mellow porter or stout
About 1/4 cup Dijon mustard

  1. Season: Trim most of the fat and connective tissue from the short ribs.  Season them liberally with salt.  Judy Rodgers suggests that you do this 1-2 days in advance, cover loosely and refrigerate.  If you are not going to do this step in advance, I suggest that you brown the short ribs first (see the next step) and then season them.
  2. Brown: Preheat the oven to 300F.  Dry the meat thoroughly on paper towels.  Pour olive oil into a large saute pan (I used a 12 inch pan with straight sides) and warm it up over high heat.  When the oil shimmers, add the meat in a single layer without crowding and turn down the heat to medium.  Cook until the first side is brown, about 4 minutes.  Flip and brown on all the other sides.  Note that the first side will take the longest.  If using bone-in short ribs, you only need to brown the 3 meaty sides.  If the meat wasn't seasoned in advance, sprinkle with salt on all sides.
  3. Braise: If using bone-in short ribs arrange them bone side down.  Toss the onions with a little salt and spread on top of the short ribs.  Add bay leaves, and equal parts stock and ale until the liquid comes slightly more than half way up the short ribs.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the middle of the oven until the short ribs are fork tender (I would even call it spoon tender :), about 3 hours.  
  4. Chill overnight: Let the short ribs cool in their braising liquid for 2 hours.  Then remove the meat from the sauce, and pour the sauce into a tall container.  Cool both to room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Next day the fat will solidify on top of the sauce.  Lift it off with a spoon and discard.
  5. Rewarm: Pour the sauce into a large saute pan and bring to a boil.  Boil down over moderately-high heat until it thickens slightly and becomes intensely flavorful, about 5 minutes.  Taste and add salt if needed.  Add the short ribs in a single layer and cover the pan.  Turn down the heat to very low and cook until heated through flipping once, about 15 minutes total.  
  6. Broil: Preheat the broiler.  If using bone-in short ribs, place them bone side down.  Smear the top with mustard.  Set the pan under the broiler (about 5 inches from the top) to brown the mustard, 2-5 minutes depending on the strength of the broiler.  Serve with noodles, spaetzle, potatoes, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Roasted Swiss Chard

Remember how I promised you something fun to do with Swiss Chard in the Washing and Storing video?  Here it is:

YouTube link: Roasted Swiss Chard

Here is the recipe for this Swiss Chard dish.

19 down / 31 more to go

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Oyster Notes

Nothing works to cheer you up on this deplorably rainy day like having oysters for lunch.  To add to the excitement, I decided to shuck them myself for the first time in my life. I can now proudly say that I can shuck oysters. It was a bit tricky at first, but on my third oyster, I finally got a hang of it (at least I thought I did until I switched oyster types). Here are the oysters that I tried:

Duxbury -- sweet and briny, very easy to open
Wellfleet -- very briny, a bit harder to open
Blue Point -- moderately briny, very hard to open

I splurged on an oyster knife from Captain Marden's in Wellesley (where I picked up the oysters). They had some for $9 and some for $15. I asked the fishmonger about the difference. He said that the $15 one is harder and won't bend (he opens 300 oysters a week and he only broke it once). After trying to open a dozen oysters, I am glad I got the better knife. Oysters a freaking hard and stubborn!

To rinse or not to rinse
Oyster purists think it's criminal to rinse an oyster to get rid of grit. I am in no rinse camp for almost everything (chicken, beef, pork, fish, etc), but I really hate grit.  As it turns out, the oyster is a bottomless pit of briny liquor, so if you since it and let it sit for 5 minutes, the shell will fill back up with all that yummy brininess.  I am not sure if what I did was "correct," but it seemed to work without any negative side effects.

Very little grit -- try wiping it off with your finger.
Moderate amount of grit  -- pull the oyster to the side of the shell and pour off the liquor.  It will refill itself in 5 minutes.
Lots of grit -- rinse the oyster and shell (it seems easier to do before cutting the oyster off the bottom shell to avoid dropping it into the sink).  Put the oyster back in the shell.  It will refill itself in 5 minutes.

Here is a video of Rich Vellante from Legal Seafoods showing you how to open an oyster.  I must have watched at least 5 and found this one to be the most useful.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Smoky Cauliflower Almond Salad

Normally, I roast cauliflower in large wedges with as many flat sides as possible.  The more contact with the pan,  the more browning and flavor.  But a tasty little salad at Area Four in Cambridge gave me another idea.  Their cauliflower is cut into small florets.  It has occasional charred edges, but retains a bit of its raw crunchiness.  It would be lacking in flavor if it wasn't for the smoky paprika vinaigrette.  It gives this technically vegan dish such husky depth and intensity, that I find it as satisfying as chorizo on a cold winter day.

For the salad:
1 head of cauliflower, broken down into small florets
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions
1/3 cup roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins, plumped up in not water for 5 min and drained
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove grated on a microplane zester
1 tsp smoky Spanish paprika (Pimentón de la Vera)

Salad procedure:
  1. Preheat the oven to 500F and set the oven rack on the lowest setting.
  2. Spread cauliflower florets in a single layer on a large baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Toss to distribute oil and seasoning evenly and spread in an even layer.
  3. Place the baking dish in the oven and cook until slightly charred, 10-15 minutes.  Let cool to warm.
  4. Place cauliflower in a large bowl and add onions, almonds, raisins, and parsley.
Dressing procedure:
  1. In a small bowl combine vinegar and mustard.  Whisk with a fork until combined.  Gradually add oil whisking constantly.  Whisk in garlic and paprika.
  2. Pour dressing oven the salad, season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt, vinegar, and paprika as necessary.  Can be served warm or cold.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Washing Swiss Chard, Kale, and other Leafy Greens

The New Year resolution to eat more leafy greens is an admirable one. But the path to leafy greens bliss is not without obstacles. How do you get rid of the grit? How do you prevent the leaves from wilting in the fridge? Which part do you eat -- the leaf, the stem, both? Here is a video that can answer those questions.

YouTube link: Washing Swiss Chard, Kale, and Other Leafy Greens

18 down / 32 more to go

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Beet, Fennel, Kumquat Salad

When people ask us what to get us for the holidays, Jason and I say in unison -- baby-sitting.  But when we were visiting my parents for the holidays in Baltimore, we got much more than that.  Not only did they watch the kids while we went out, they gave us a gift certificate to Demi, and even made us a reservation.   20 years ago, when we came to the US, they didn't know what "medium-rare" meant.  Now they know the hottest spots to eat out all over the country.  I never thought it would come to this, but they are more obsessed with restaurants than we are (or even than we were before kids).

Demi was indeed fabulous.  One of the best meals I've had in a long time, and definitely the best meal I've ever had in Baltimore.  See -- you should always listen to your mother.  The standouts were tuna with vanilla soy broth, braised pork belly with lentils, and a beet salad.  The first two will take a little work to recreate at home, but the beet salad is simplicity itself.  Mine is a bit different.  I replaced orange sections with kumquat slices, and used pickled beets instead of raw as a topping, but the basic idea is the same.  It's colorful, layered, and festive -- a nice change from brown winter food.  

Beet, Fennel, Kumquat Salad
Serves 4-6 as the first course

For pickled beets:
1/4 Lb beets of any color (I used candy striped)
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (or 1/2 Tbsp table salt)
2 tsp sugar

For baked beets:
3/4 Lb beets of any color (I used candy striped)

For the salad:
1/4 cup soft goat cheese
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin on a mandoline
5 kumquats, sliced thin
1 Tbsp lime juice
Mint for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Pickled beets procedure (at least 24 hours in advance)
  1. In a small non-reactive container, combine boiling water, vinegar, salt, and sugar.  Mix well to make a brine.
  2. Shave beet on a mandoline and add to the brine.  Cool to room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to a week.
Baked beets procedure (at least 24 hours in advance)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Wrap each beet tightly in foil and place on a baking dish.  Bake until tender when pierced with a knife or toothpick, 1.25-2.5 hours depending on the beet size.  Note that beet don't get as soft as potatoes, but you shouldn't feel more resistance in the center than you do near the skin.
  2. Cool beets, rub the skin off with your hands and trim top and bottom.
  3. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.
Assembling the salad procedure
  1. Remove pickled beets from the brine, dry off on paper towels and slice into matchsticks.  Set aside.
  2. Slice baked beets 1/8 inch thick using a mandoline and arrange on plates.  Sprinkle with salt.
  3. Top each beet slice with a small dollop of goat cheese, and a slice of kumquat.  
  4. Mix fennel with lime juice and a pinch of salt.  Arrange on top of beet slices.
  5. Sprinkle with pickled beet matchsticks and remaining kumquat slices.  Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with mint.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Testing Fish for Doneness (Video)

If your fish comes out tough and dry, let me assure you that it's not your fault.  It's all those recipes that tell you to cook fish until it flakes and is opaque.  First of all, some fish don't flake.  Have you ever seen a flaking swordfish?  And if the fish is opaque all the way through when you check it, then I have bad news for you, my friends -- it's overcooked.  Here is how it's really done.

YouTube link: Testing Fish for Doneness

17 down / 33 more to go