Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Cook and Eat a Whole Fish (Video)

I made it half way!  This is video 25 of the 50 videos project.  Thank you so much for all your enthusiastic support, video suggestions, and curious questions.

In this video, I am cooking a branzino (a.k.a. Mediterranean bass).  It's a small fish (about 1 Lb) that serves 1 person. I cook it for 5 minutes on each side.  For obvious reasons, not all whole fish will cook in exactly 10 minutes.  The estimated cooking time for whole fish is 10 minutes per inch of thickness +/- 2.  In other words, start checking your fish for doneness after 8 minutes per inch of thickness.  If the fish is brown on both sides (after the broiling part), but not cooked through, continue cooking it at 400F until it's done.

Here are tips on broiling and testing fish for doneness.

YouTube Link: Cooking and Deboning a Whole Fish

25 down / 25 more to go

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Seared Duck Breasts Video

If you enjoy crispy medium-rare duck breasts in restaurants, you should give them a shot at home.  No, it's not hard.  In my opinion, dicing a carrot takes way more practice and skill than searing a duck breast.  You do need a sharp knife, and a decent skillet, but that's pretty much it.  If you want a sauce, the skillet has to be stainless steel.  Otherwise, choose any skillet you want and get cooking.

YouTube Link: Seared Duck Breasts

Types of Duck
The breasts I am using in the video are from Long Island ducks (also known as Pekin).  They are the most widely available in the stores.  These ducks are small and very tender.  Their breasts weigh 6-8 oz each and serve one person.  Other varieties you might encounter are Muscovy and Moulard.  Both are much larger than Long Island with one breast weighing about 1 Lb and serving 2 people.  They are also a lot tougher.  While all duck types benefit from pre-salting a day before cooking, it's particularly helpful with Muscovy and Moulard varieties to help them stay juicy and tender.  

Doneness for Different Duck Types
I believe that you should never cook duck breasts past medium-rare (take off the heat around 120F and they'll rise to 130F during rest).  If you want to make it more done, stick to Long Island duck.  At higher temperatures, it will be drier, but still tender.  Muscovy and Moulard have fabulous flavor, but the texture will be as pleasant as shoe leather if they go much above 130F.  I usually take them off the heat at 115F to be on the safe side.  They are so large that they need to rest for 7-10 minutes and will easily get to 125F-130F.  

Additional Cooking Time for Muscovy and Moulard Duck Breasts
Before you get started, preheat the oven to 350F (so that it's ready by the time you finish rendering fat and searing the outside of the duck).  The skin is so thick on these larger ducks that it will take around 15 minutes of cooking in the skillet on low heat to render most of its fat.  You want the skin to be about 1/4 of an inch before you proceed to the step of pouring off the fat and browning the skin.  After you flip the duck onto the flesh side, give it a couple of minutes on the stove top and check internal temperature.  Most likely, you won't be at 115F yet, so finish cooking the breasts in the middle of the oven until you get there.  It will take 5-10 minutes.  

What does medium-rare look like?
Keep in mind that medium-rare is a temperature, not a color.  Internal color of medium-rare duck depends on many factors.  Long Island duck will be pink-beige.  Muscovy and Moulard will look more red-purple (more like beef).  If the duck was previously frozen, it might look more gray than red.  

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Salt: Interview with Tony Maws from Craigie on Main

Last time I wrote about salt was in 2006, so it's time to revisit the subject.  I'll kick off a series about this favorite topic of mine with an interview with Tony Maws -- the chef from Craigie on Main.  If you are from the Boston area, Tony hardly needs an introduction (2 hands aren't enough to count the awards he's won).  I am not big on awards, but it is the only restaurant I found in Boston that seasons food just the way I like it.

I want to say a huge thank you to Tony for taking time to talk to me.

*   *   *

Do you think there is a correct amount of salt for each dish or is it completely a matter of taste?
Of course it’s a matter of taste.  And even the same person will taste salt differently in different parts of the day or based on different conditions.  When you are dehydrated, you crave salt.  The cooks are hot and sweaty, so they’ll want more salt than other people.  You get addicted to salt.  The more you eat it, the more you want it.  Sometimes young cooks start over-salting. 

Given that the right amount of salt is completely subjective, how do you decide how much salt to put in food?
Your body begins to taste salinity at about 0.7- 0.75% of the weight.  That can be skewed by fat because it coats your palette differently, or by acid.  Some of our recipes are based on that.  Some are based on 1%.  It all depends.  If I am seasoning a pork belly, I might treat it one way for one dish and a different way for another dish. 

Do you ever weigh salt when you are seasoning?
We weigh salt when we are brining or curing because there is more of a process to it, but normally we don’t weigh salt when seasoning. 

How do you ensure the right level of salt is used for every dish when you have many line cooks producing the dishes?
I am always cooking with them.  I always taste what they make.  Even if one of my cooks has made the same soup 20 times, he always brings me a taste of it. 

What about proteins?  You can’t exactly take a bite of a fish fillet or a steak.
I spend time seasoning with the line cooks.  I cook the product with them and have them taste it with me so that they understand what we are after.  Then they cook it in front of me and we taste it together.  Sometimes you do need to swipe a finger on a steak and see what you taste.  Then you can adjust.*

Which proteins do you season right before cooking and which ones in advance?
I believe strongly in seasoning all meat, poultry, and fish ahead.  I want to get as much flavor into a dish as possible.  That doesn’t mean I want it to be over-salted, but if you season something ahead of time it will reach equilibrium. 

How far in advance do you season?
It all depends.  Fish is more fragile, so we season right before service.  About 30 minutes in advance is good.  But we don’t season it a day ahead unless we are curing.  Meats and poultry need a lot longer (at least several hours). 

How do you decide which proteins to brine and which ones to salt?
There are no hard and fast rules with this.  I don’t generally brine steak.  I brine some of our veal and lamb.  Not all.  I don’t brine fish with high water content (like cod) because I don’t need to introduce any more water into them.  I salt them ahead.  But I do brine salmon, arctic char, and swordfish to make them more juicy.  5% solution for 10 minutes [this means the salt amount is 5% of the water amount by weight]. 

Do you adjust the amount of salt based on the cooking method?
Yes.  For example, I season braises differently than I season roast meats.  I season the meat liberally when it’s going to be roasted.  When I braise, I season the meat itself, but I don’t season braising liquid because it might be reduced later.  But you can’t just add salt in the end because then it will just taste salty.  That’s the bottom line.  A lot of our food is building layers of flavor.  We sweat the onions and shallots, then we deglaze with wine, then we add mushrooms, then we add stock.  If you only add salt in the end of this process, it’s amazing what happens.  It’s not in harmony.  You taste salt.  But if you season at every step of the way, it’s much more harmonious.  You actually end up using maybe a bit less salt because it brings out the flavor. 

Which salt do you use?
Fine gray sea salt from France, course gray sea salt, coarse pickling salt, kosher salt, fleur de sel, malden.  They do taste different.  Salinity comes across in different ways.  Malden salt is delicious.  It has a really large flake.  That doesn’t mean you can’t grind it and make it fine. 

Many of those sound like finishing salts.  What if you are seasoning a fish fillet before cooking, what would you use?
Gray sea salt.  I love the natural minerality of it.  It tastes like the sea and goes great with fish. 

If you had to live with one salt at home, what would you use? 
Probably gray sea salt.  Standard kosher is fine too. 

*   *   *

In the end of the interview, Tony recommended that I read Mark Kurlansky's book on Salt.

* Yes, restaurant cooks (at least the good ones) will taste everything they send out to you as much as possible.  Many people find this shocking.  Keep in mind that they have a sanitizing solution sitting on every station and they sanitize the finger before they stick it into food and after they put it into their mouth.  If you don't like it, you don't have to eat out :)  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Searing Fish Video

Few fish cooking methods are more delightful than searing a fillet in the skillet to produce a perfectly crispy skin and juicy flesh.  No wonder this technique became the darling of restaurant chefs.  But when you try to do it at home, here is what often happens: the fish sticks to the pan, refuses to brown, and some species curl up leaving you with rubbery skin and unevenly cooked flesh.  Here is a video that will solve all of your fish searing problems so that you can sear like a pro.

YouTube link: Searing Fish

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Oysters with Meyer Lemon and Herbs

Can someone please explain to me how steak and gooey chocolate cake became the staples of Valentine's Day dinner?  Sure, it's February, and foods that are better eaten after the cholesterol test are de rigueur.  But I am guessing that lighter fair might be more conducive to post dinner activities.

How about oysters?  If you've never shucked them before, don't worry.  That's part of the adventure.  You can do it together and turn it into a little sex game -- either manage to get that oyster opened and feed it to your partner or perform a sexual favor of their choice.  Even if you don't open a single oyster, I promise that no one will complain.

While some people are purists when it comes to oysters and serve them unadorned.  I prefer to put something sweet and tart on them since they tend to be salty.  The topping in the picture has scallions, tarragon, meyer lemon (both the zest and juice), honey, black pepper, and a pinch of salt.  You can play around with the proportions.  There is no right or wrong here.

Here is a video by Cook's Illustrated to get you started:

If you don't have an oyster knife, pick one up at your fishmonger.  It is worth getting the more expensive one - they tend to be sturdier and safer.  Traditionally, you'd set the shucked oysters on shaved ice to prevent them from tipping over, but bunched up pieces of foil work well too.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Deboning a Chicken (Video)

Few topics are more popular in American food media than chicken; and few chicken preparations are more glorious than completely deboning and stuffing a whole chicken (particularly when Jacques Pepin does it).

What I want to show you in this video is a similar concept that is a lot easier to execute and it can even be done with store bought parts. I turn a chicken into 2 roasts -- boneless breast roast and bone-in leg roast. If you are doing it with store bought parts, here is what to buy:
  • whole bone-in, skin-on chicken legs
  • whole chicken breast (not split -- it should have all the breast meat from 1 chicken), bone-in, skin-on
The legs are easy -- you can buy them anywhere.  The bone-in whole breast is sold at Whole Foods (at least it is in the Metro Boston area).  It doesn't have the wings, but that's fine.  You can make the breast roast without the wings.  Ask the butcher at Whole Foods to take the center bone out for you, but keep the two breasts attached with the skin.  Then your job becomes really easy.  But it does help to be familiar with how to make these roasts from scratch so that you can instruct your butcher on what you want them to do.

YouTube link: Deboning a Chicken

Just to set your expectations.  Although my video is about 7 minutes long, it actually took me longer than that (the beauty of video editing).  It normally takes me around 10-15 minutes.  The first time I did it, it took around 30.  I find that videos often set unrealistic expectations, and people feel bad when it takes them 3 times as long to do something in real life.  Just remember that practice makes perfect!

Another suggestion is to let the chicken sit in the fridge after salting for 24 hours before you tie it up.  This way you can dry it and make it way less slippery before you try to tie it.  Salting in advance has another benefit of making it more succulent and evenly seasoned.

What do you do with these roast after trussing?  You roast them (I use a variation on the Zuni roast chicken).

Syndicated on
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cannellini, Fennel, Radish Salad

As I was sending the recipes to this weekend's Cool Beans and Grains class, it occurred to me that I didn't have a blog post or explicit recipe for the Cannellini, Fennel, Radish salad.  I have mentioned it in the salads that won't wilt post, but it's so simple that I never bothered writing it down.  Since I had it for lunch today, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to take a picture and turn it into an official recipe.

About beans: You can cook your own beans or simply open a can (365 brand from Whole Foods is good).  If using canned beans, it's a good idea to rinse them in a colander since the liquid can be rather starchy.
About the fear of mandolines:  They don't need to be scary.  Follow instructions in this video and wear a cut resistant glove.

Serves 6-8

For the dressing:
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil

For the salad:
4 cups cooked and drained cannellini beans
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced 1mm thin on a mandoline (video)
10 radishes, sliced 1mm thin on a mandoline
1/2 medium red onion, sliced 1mm thin on a mandoline
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro (dill, mint, parsley, basil, tarragon all work too) (video)
Salt and Pepper

Dressing Procedure:

  1. You need to turn garlic into a completely smooth paste.  You can either grate it on a Microplane zester, or mince it with a chef's knife, sprinkle with salt, and rub with the flat side of your knife until it becomes a paste.  
  2. In a small bowl, combine mashed garlic, lime juice, and mustard.  Mix well with a fork.  Slowly pour in the oil mixing constantly.  
Salad Procedure:
  1. In a large bowl, combine beans, fennel, radishes, onion, cilantro (or whatever herb you are using).  Pour in the dressing, season with salt and pepper.  Mix well and taste.
  2. Adjust seasoning as needed (you might need more lime juice, salt, or oil).  I like the veggies to taste almost pickled, so my dressing for this dish is very astringent.  If you like it more mellow, add more olive oil.  Don't be dainty with salt either.  There needs to be a good balance of saltiness and acidity.  
Ideally, you want to serve it right away, but it's one of those salads whose leftovers will live happily in your fridge for a day.