Whatever is in the heart will come up to the tongue.
~Persian proverb

Unlike politics or religion, food allows us to set aside preconceived notions in kinder, gentler ways. In this way, tongue could be considered a poster child.

It befuddles me how many carnivore cultures find the hips, flanks and chest of a bloody butchered animal to be much more appealing than the tongue, a part of the creature which even provokes a truculent reaction in some—much like the revulsant ewws! from deep fried tarantulas or raw grubs. These are the same offended folks who regale in processed franks which happen to be crammed with unknown mechanically separated meat,* sodium phosphates, dextrose, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, and other “if-you-can’t-say-it-don’t-eat-it” ingredients. So there is no confusion, I do share their passion for a good dog.

Thankfully, Mom introduced me to this exquisitely mild and tender flesh while I was young so as not to bear the usual prejudices. Whether in a sandwich with horseradish cream, in a frisée salad with a Dijon vinaigrette and chopped olives, on a taco with salsa verde, tongue is not only vastly underrated, it is a royal treat. No challenge to cook, economical, versatile, tender, delectable. What else can you demand from a food?

Regardless of the animal (whether beef, calf, lamb or pork), do hold the truth to be self-evident that the smaller the tongue the better. When purchasing, fresh tongue should be pink or pale red in color.

BRAISED TONGUE

1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)

8 C+ chicken broth
1 C+ red wine
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 plump, fresh garlic head, divided into cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves

Cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water) and wine. Bring just to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off the froth on the surface after a few minutes. Simmer, covered, until tender for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove tongue, and briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain, then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle.

To carve, place the tongue on its side and, starting at the tip, cut slices on the diagonal.

Mechanically separated meat is a paste, batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.

Pourboire: If desired, sauté the onions, carrot and garlic until the onions are translucent before adding the broth and wine.

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Salsa Verde

March 30, 2009

The fond for tacos and enchiladas, salsa verde is premised upon the native Mexican fruit called the tomatillo, a berry which has both earthy and tart qualities. Referred to as the green tomato (tomate verde, among other descriptors), tomatillos are a staple in Mexico…a sophisticated, yet much underestimated, culinary world.

Tacos will soon follow.

SALSA VERDE

12 medium fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
3 jalapeño chilies, stemmed, not seeded
8 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T canola oil
2 C chicken broth
Sea salt

Boil the tomatillos and chilies in salted water for 15 minutes; drain. Place the cooked tomatillos and chilies, cilantro, onion, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until roughly smooth, slightly textural.

Heat the oil in medium heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Pour the tomatillo mixture into the pan and stir for 5 minutes or so, until it thickens. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it reduces and thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Salt to your preference.

Refrigerated, it keeps 3-4 days.

Pourboire: if in a time pinch, you can omit the cooking step for the tomatillos or used canned tomatillos, drained.

Macaroni & Cheese

March 29, 2009

Sunday funday — few clothes and definitely comfort food.

MACARONI & CHEESE

1 C pancetta or bacon, roughly chopped, cooked until crisp, and drained well on paper towels

Sea salt
1 lb penne or elbow macaroni

3 C whole milk
1 C heavy cream
8 T unsalted butter, divided (6/2)
1/2 C all purpose flour

4 C gruyère, grated
2 C white cheddar, grated
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 C fresh sourdough bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Boil water in large heavy pot, adding salt generously. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk and cream in a small saucepan, to only a gentle simmer (do not boil).

Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large heavy deep saucepan and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, whisking vigorously until a light yellow roux is formed. While whisking, add the hot milk and cream, and cook for 1-2 more minutes, until smooth and thick enough to coat a spoon. Off the heat, add the gruyère, cheddar, pancetta or bacon, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta, stir well, and pour into a baking dish.

In a sauté pan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine add the fresh bread crumbs and coat well; sprinkle on top of macaroni and cheese mixture. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni and cheese is browned on top.

Pourboire:  in lieu of pancetta or bacon consider substituting lobster or mushrooms.

Grilled Sardines

March 29, 2009

Never judge a creature by size alone.

Named after the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia, the name sardine is broadly applied to many small fish species of the herring family. Sardines reproduce rapidly and swim in immense sea-darkening schools, making them a proper sustainable choice for your table. As with all oceanic life, though, they still demand and deserve a favorable marine environment.

Sardines are chocked with nutritional value — they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and also a good source of vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese, and protein — while extremely low in contaminants such as mercury.

Little, thin planks of sea-heaven extolled around the world.

GRILLED SARDINES WITH LEMON & WINE VINEGAR

12-18 fresh sardines, scaled and gutted but heads and tails left intact
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

1 C extra virgin olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1/2 t sugar
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 T grated fresh lemon peel
Chopped flat leaf parsley

Vigorously whisk all ingredients in bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, then set aside. This can easily be done the day before grilling.

Heat grill to medium high. Consider placing some fresh rosemary sprigs in the fire just before grilling.

Brush sardines with oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until just cooked through.

Drizzle with vinaigrette and top with grated lemon peel and chopped parsley. Serve over grilled bread which has been brushed with olive oil and rubbed with an open head of garlic or fresh tomato before placing on the grill.

SARDINHAS ASSADAS (Portuguese Grilled Sardines)

1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, cut into eighths
1 lb fresh tomatoes, seeded and sliced 1/4″ thick
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, sliced about 1/4″ thick

12-18 fresh sardines, scaled and gutted but heads and tails left intact
Sea salt, ample amounts
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

Sprinkle sardines liberally with sea salt and let rest for at least 1 hour, preferably more.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Season the peppers with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking dish lined with aluminum foil and roast until the skin blisters and darkens, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool in a paper bag, then remove the skin and seeds. Slice the peppers into strips, about 1/2-inch thick.

Place the potatoes into a saucepan, over medium heat and cover with water. Season liberally with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain. Toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, toss and set aside. Drizzle the onions with olive oil, salt and pepper, and set aside.

Heat grill to medium high.

Rinse the sardines under cold water and then dry with paper towels. Brush the sardines with olive oil and then grill for several minutes on each side, 3 to 4 minutes, depending on size.

Platter grilled sardines surrounded by the arranged potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and onions. Drizzle olive oil over the top, with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Pourboire: if grilling is not an option, simply use the broiler. Prepare sardines as above. Heat the broiler until hot. Move the oven rack as close to the heat source, and preheat until hot. Heat a jelly roll pan for a few minutes in the broiler, then carefully remove and place the sardines in the pan. Broil for 4-5 minutes, then check for doneness. The fish should be opaque, the tip of a knife should flake the thickest part easily, and the outside should be lightly browned.

Chimichurri

March 29, 2009

This gift from Argentina is delectable spooned over grilled fare (meat, poultry, fish) or even used as a marinade. Chimichurri adds flavor dimension and color to your dish, is almost embarrassingly simple to prepare, and stores well—hitting for the kitchen trifecta.

CHIMICHURRI

1 C fresh Italian parsley
1/2 C fresh cilantro
1/4 C fresh oregano leaves
6-8 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

1/3 C red wine vinegar
1 t paprika
1 t dried crushed red pepper
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Put the parsley, cilantro, oregano, garlic, onion and olive oil into the food processor and pulse until the leaves are coarsely ground.

Add the red wine vinegar, paprika, red pepper, cumin, salt, and pepper and pulse some more. Then, continue to pulse while drizzling in the olive oil until desired consistency is reached. It should have the consistency of sauce and not paste, so just adjust to your liking.

Transfer to covered bowl. Ideally, chimichurri should be made several hours ahead (even overnight) to allow the flavors to marry.

Store in a lidded jar for up to one month in the refrigerator. If the olive oil thickens up, just allow the chimichurri to come to room temperature before using.

Blogging affords me an opening to share one of my most revered delicacies—a source of rapture since childhood. These opulent nuggets have a soft, delicate texture and an incomparable subtle flavor which borders on creamy.

Sweetbreads do not deserve the miscreant label often bestowed upon other carrion simply because they were originally poor man’s food retrieved from the butcher’s floor. Rather, sweetbreads have attained a lofty station in the world of fine cuisine (as if caste really counts). Anyway, consider how we so heedlessly discard choice innards and reserve only the loin, ribs, etc. It is not only openly wasteful, it dishonors the noble animal—we need to butcher and eat nose to tail.

Sweetbreads are glands located in the chest, throat and stomach area of young calves, lambs or pigs. There are two differing glands which fall under the overall rubric of sweetbreads—the thymus and the pancreas. The thymus gland is located in the young animal’s neck and is primarily responsible for excreting protective t-cells as part of the immune system. Thymus sweetbreads are more irregular in shape than pancreas sweetbreads, and are also considered to be less complex in flavor.

The pancreas variety of sweetbreads is located near the stomach, producing insulin and other digestive enzymes. Pancreas sweetbreads are generally larger and rounder in shape than their thymus brothers. Of the two, the pancreas sweetbreads of young calves (the classic ris de veau) are more heavily prized.

When buying, sweetbreads should be white or slightly pink in color, as the redder the hue, the older the animal.

Why is this victual delicacy called “sweetbreads?” Some linguists date the term back to the late 1500s, suggesting that the word “bread” was used interchangeably with the word “morsel”…and what incomparable sweet morsels they are.

“STANDARD” SWEETBREAD PREP

Sweetbreads
Sea salt
Water (or whole milk) to cover
Bay leaf
5 peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
3/4 C white wine vinegar

Rinse sweetbreads well. Soak them for a couple of hours in the fridge in a covered bowl of cold water, changing the water at least once; drain. Bring a heavy pot of salted water (or milk), bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme and wine vinegar to a boil, and add the sweetbreads. Reduce heat and simmer gently 5 minutes. Drain sweetbreads in a colander discarding aromatics, then transfer to a bowl of ice and cold water to cool and halt the cooking process. Remove and pat dry with paper towels. Remove any excess fat, membrane and cartilage (often not much) and compress them between two towel lined plates or baking sheets. With a brick or light dumbbell, weight down the sweetbreads and put them in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours, covered.

Remove sweetbreads and proceed with your recipe of choice.

SWEETBREADS WITH MADEIRA & MUSHROOMS

1 1/2 lbs sweetbreads
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 t dried thyme
6 T olive oil (divided)
4 T unsalted butter (divided)
1/4 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1/4 lb fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 shallots, peeled & thinly sliced

1 C Madeira
1 1/2 C chicken stock
1 C heavy whipping cream

Prep sweetbreads (see above)

Season sweetbreads with salt and pepper; set aside

In a large, heavy skillet, heat oil and butter over medium high heat.

Add mushrooms, season with salt, pepper and thyme and cook until slightly browned but still firm; set aside. Clean out skillet some with paper towels, and add more olive oil and butter. Add sweetbreads and saute until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Remove and set aside, loosely tented.

Add sliced shallots and cook about 2 minutes to sweat.

Deglaze skillet with a little Madeira, then add remainder of Madeira and reduce by half. Add stock, bring to a boil and reduce to 1 cup. Add cream, bring to a boil and cook sauce 3 minutes or until almost thickened; then add sweetbreads and mushrooms to finish the dish and thicken the sauce.

GRILLED SWEETBREADS

1 1/2 lb sweetbreads
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Prep sweetbreads (see above).

Soak woooden skewers in water for one or more hours.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count to 3 seconds before the pain demands you retract (see On Grilling).

Separate sweetbreads into roughly 2″ pieces (about 20) using your fingers. Season with salt and pepper and then toss sweetbread pieces with oil in a bowl; thread onto skewers (about 5 pieces on each).

Grill sweetbreads, turning once, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes total. Transfer to a platter and let stand, loosely covered with foil, for 5 minutes.

BREADED SWEETBREADS WITH BACON & BEURRE NOISETTE

1 1/2 lbs sweetbreads
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

1/2 lb bacon or pancetta

2 organic, free range eggs, room temperature
2 T water
1 C flour
2 C fine fresh bread crumbs

1 C canola oil

6 T butter

Prep sweetbreads (see above)

Cut slices of bacon or pancetta into small pieces about 1 inch by 1/2 inch; saute in heavy skillet until crispy, then drain on paper towels; set aside.

Put the egg in a flat dish and add the water; beat to blend. Put the flour and bread crumbs in separate flat dishes or soup bowls.

Dip the sweetbread pieces first in flour, then in egg, then in bread crumbs. The sweetbreads should be thoroughly coated, but shake off excess. Pat the pieces all over to make the crumbs adhere.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet large enough to hold the pieces in one layer, but do not crowd. Cook on one side until golden. Turn and cook until golden on the other side. Cook, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Heat the butter in a large, heavy skillet and cook, swirling it around, until foamy and starting to turn hazelnut brown. Remove from heat immediately and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over sweetbreads and top with bacon or pancetta lardons.

Ceviche: Debated Ancestry

March 27, 2009

Ceviche, seviche or cebiche is a technique of marinating raw seafood in citrus, traditionally fresh lime juice. As with all great food…exalted simplicity. The fish is slightly “cooked” by the citric acid, which does not involve heat, but does impart subtle flavor. The citric acid denatures the proteins in the fish, unraveling the molecules and altering their chemical and physical properties. Bathing the fish in citrus juices turns the flesh firm and opaque.

As with sashimi, ceviche should be reserved for the absolutely freshest your fishmonger has to offer…and sustainable, less toxin-risky species should always be the goal (see Sustainable Seafood).

While many espouse that ceviche originated in Peru, there seem to be so many varied claims and theories on which country or historical era gave birth to this dish that landing on a solid postulate seems nearly impossible. Suffice it to say, ceviche appears to be native to Central and South America (but, stories persist about ceviche being the fancied, imported stepchild of Moorish women who immigrated to the Viceroyalty of Peru beginning in the 16th century). Such are the culinary conundrums created when civilizations merge, expand, disperse and vanish over time.

GINGER CEVICHE

1/2 lb fresh white fish, such as red snapper, sea bass, sole, flounder, grouper
1/2 lb scallops
Sea salt
3/4 C fresh lime juice
2 T fresh grapefruit juice
1-2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely diced
2 T fresh ginger, grated
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Chill several small serving plates in the freezer.

Carefully cut the fish horizontally into 1/8″ thick slices with a well sharpened and newly honed knife. Salt fish on both sides and place in a large flat bowl. Spoon the lime and grapefruit juice over the fish and toss with the chili, ginger and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably more. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to the chilled plates and serve.