Basic Fish Stock

April 29, 2010

Also called fish fumet, this delicate, aromatic stock is a foundation for fine fish cookery.

Use only fresh lean, mild, white fish and avoid oily species such as salmon, tuna or mackerel. You generally want the “racks,” meaning the spine and bones. Heads are also more than welcome to the pot, but guts are verboten. With some advance warning, your fishmonger should be willing to cheaply sell you what is needed from his day’s sustainable seafood bones (emphasis supplied). Preferably use the stock that day, but if not, pour into quart jars and freeze. Allow enough space at the top to account for expansion, and it will store well for a month or so.

BASIC FISH STOCK

1 carrot, peeled and sliced coarsely
1 leek, washed, sliced coarsely
1/2 fennel bulb, well washed and sliced coarsely
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced coarsely
1 stalk celery, sliced coarsley
1/2 parsnip root, sliced coarsely
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
3 T extra virgin olive oil

4-5 lbs fresh fish bones, trimmings and heads, well rinsed
3 qts cold water

3 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 C dry white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large, heavy skillet heat the olive oil over medium high. Add and sauté the carrot, leek, fennel, celery, parsnip, and garlic until just before browned. Remove from heat and set aside.

Rinse the fish thoroughly in cold water. Put the fish parts, sautéed carrot, leek, fennel, celery, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf in a large, heavy pot. Cover with water and slowly bring to a gentle simmer. Immediately reduce the heat to low, skimming away the foam on the surface. Add the wine, salt and pepper and slowly simmer for 30 minutes.

With a skimmer, remove the bones and vegetables from the stock and discard. Pour the stock through a chinois or cheesecloth lined colander. Discard the solids.

No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.
~Oscar Wilde

Celeriac (Apium graveolens rapaceum), also known as celery root, turnip-root celery or knob celery is a bulbous root vegetable related to anise, carrots, parsley and parsnips.

With a scruffy, knotted, almost warty outer surface, celeriac is surely considered by fashionistas as too unsightly and rotund to dare deign a designer grocery bag. And overly soiled for those freshly manicured fingers. Once peeled though, celery root’s creamy, firm white flesh resembles that of a turnip and has a subtle woodsy blend of celery and parsley. Too often shunned outside Europe, celeriac is eaten raw, fried, sautéed, blanched, and in gratins and soups.  When buying, the full, globular root should be firm with no brown soft spots, and the sprouting tops should be bright green.

While I adore the local marchés en plein airboulangeries, boucheries, fromageries, pâtisseries, and épiceries in a classic French market to kitchen progression, charcuteries make me weak-kneed.  Derived from chair cuite which means “cooked flesh,” charcuteries display daily gastronomic divinities such as saucissons, merguez, boudin noirs, jambons, pâtés, terrines, rillettes, confits, white asparagus, haricots verts, and so on…just an affluence of salted, smoked, cured meats and poultry. Edenic.  Never to be overlooked at any charcuterie is the ever present céleri rémoulade, an earthy, crunchy salad composed of julienned celery root dressed in a mustardy mayonnaise. It may be old school, but céleri rémoulade still really grooves.

Because the peeled and julienned celeriac tends to discolor, it is best to prepare the dressing before you cut into the root.

CELERIAC REMOULADE

2 lbs celery root (celeriac)

1 C mayonnaise, homemade* or prepared
1/4 C crème fraîche or whole milk plain yogurt
1 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1/4 C capers, rinsed and drained (optional)

Brush excess dirt off of the roots. Cut off the bottom and top of the roots, peel and then cut into quarters. Rinse in cool water if there is any remaining dirt or debris. Slice each quarter on a mandoline or grater into thick wooden matchsticks, so they retain their crunch once dressed. You might want to julienne by hand, with a sharp knife.

Mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and capers. Toss the julienned celery root with the dressing and season further to your liking. If the salad is too thick, then add some more crème fraîche or yogurt.

*Mayonnaise

4 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 T dijon mustard
2 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl. Do not use plastic.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient, because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.
~Chief Seattle

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day—a grassroots celebration of this delicate orb and a call to protect its cherished ecosystems. Since 1970, Earth Day has been an annual observance which reminds everyone of their shared responsibility as environmental stewards. The event, inspired and originally organized by environmental activist and Sen. Gaylord Nelson (WI), is meant for each of us to think globally and act locally to treat our earth with respect and tenderness.  The options for tomorrow’s eco-friendly to dos are nearly endless: go paperless, shower or bathe with friends, plant indigenous trees, calculate your carbon footprint, cook sustainable meals, green your home garden, bike to work, buy reusable bags and green lighting, recycle unusued electronics and household goods, unplug around home, attend a fair or festival, go hiking, write your representatives, talk to your children about their children’s children’s world…reassert yourself and make the changes habits.   

Local farmers’ markets have those delightful spring onions on display now, so what a better way to show your culinary support for this planet. Delicate green topped temptresses plucked from the soil that day.

GRILLED SPRING ONIONS

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t fresh lemon juice
1 pound spring onions

Prepare charcoal grill to medium high. When spreading the hot coals, allow for a low heat space under the grill  in the kettle, so that the onions my be finished off with a less intense fire.

Rinse the onions thoroughly and trim away any wilted parts and the root tips. Slice the onions in half lengthwise.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Using a basting brush, lightly coat both sides of the onions with the oil mixture.

Put the onions cut side-down on the hotter section of the grill. While basting with the olive oil mixture, cook 3-4 minutes. Then turn the onions and cook until they start to become tender and the sides darken, another 3-4 minutes.

Move the onions to the “cooler” side of the grill and cook until the onions are tender and browned. Cook them for less time to preserve their fresh flavor, or a little longer for more sweetness. Cooking time varies depending on onion size.

PIZZA WITH SPRING ONIONS, MUSHROOMS & BACON

For the Dough:

Extra virgin olive oil to coat bowl

1 C warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast packet
1 T organic honey

3+ C all purpose flour
1 t sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Pour warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast and honey until it dissolves. Let stand until yeast activates and forms foam or bubbles on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Rub large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix flour and salt in stand up, heavy duty mixer equipped with flat paddle. Add yeast mixture, flour, salt and olive oil; mix on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Refit mixer with dough hook and process at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic—or transfer to lightly floured surface and knead dough by hand until smooth. Kneading helps develop strength and elasticity in the dough. During this step, add more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is too sticky. Work dough with hands into a smooth ball.

Transfer to large oiled bowl, turning dough until fully coated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a dishtowel and let dough rise in warm draft free area until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes for quick rising yeast and about twice that for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls.

Place dough on well floured board or large work surface and roll out, starting in center and working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. Roll the dough to roughly 12 inches in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim. Transfer to a pizza paddle which is either covered in cornmeal or heavily floured so it can slide off easily into the oven. Lightly brush with olive oil. Then add the toppings below.

For the Topping:

2 bunches spring onions, wilted tops trimmed off, well cleaned and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter

3/4 lb assorted mushrooms, such as porcini, shiitakes, chanterelles or morels, sliced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
Pinch of dried thyme

1 C high quality slab bacon, cut into lardons, 1/2″ or so

8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high. Add the sliced onions, and reduce heat to low. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until cooked down and nicely caramelized, 35 to 40 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or so more. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Set aside.

Wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Then, in the same skillet over medium high, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms, cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, pepper and thyme early during the cooking process. Set aside.

Cook bacon in just a drizzle of olive oil until crisp and lightly browned. Set aside, draining on paper towels.

Roll out pizza dough.  Brush dough with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread mozzarella over dough, leaving the border uncovered. Evenly strew onions, bacon and mushrooms over the mozzarella. Bake the pizza, until browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, immediately garnish with a light drizzle of olive oil and a nice dose of grated parmigiano reggiano.

La lengua es la piel del alma (Language is the skin of the soul)
~Fernando Lázaro Carreter

“Yes, we want!”

Intended to parallel the campaign motto of president Obama, this slogan has appeared on buses and billboards and in television and radio commercials across Madrid promoting a bilingual school initiative.  Unfortunately, the phrase used to encourage English fluency is improper because “Yes, we want!” should have a direct object following the verb. Linguists and educators are dismayed that promoters have abandoned the grammatically correct for the impact that the publicity slogan might have on voters. The advertising campaign, which was launched this month at a cost of 1.8M euros, is aimed at showing that children are keen to join the bilingual program at primary and secondary state schools across the region.   

On to grub. Spanish cheeses are commonly made from sheep’s milk because much of the cheese producing region is rocky and arid—inhospitable to bovines yet suitable for goats and sheep.

Spain’s most notable cheese, Manchego, is made of sheep’s milk from the dry, elevated La Mancha plateau in the central region of the country. Firm but not dry, it has a black, gray or buff colored rind with a zigzag pattern, and the interior ranges from stark white to yellowish, depending on age. Manchego has an even distribution of a few small holes and a zesty and exuberant, nutty flavor which quietly lingers on your palate.

Murcia al Vino, sometimes known as “Drunken Goat” is a wine-washed cheese crafted from goat’s milk. The Murcia region in southeast Spain has a an abundant variety of grasses, shrubs, and wild herbs on which the goat’s graze which imparts distinctive flavors and aromas. The immersion in local wines gives the rind its characteristic burgundy color, imparting a slightly floral bouquet. Murcia’s distinctive yet subtle lemony-peppery flavor and supple satiny body are divinely rewarding.

A slight Spanish spin on the frittata theme with its Italian provenance…

FRITTATA SPAGNOLO

3/4 C serrano ham, cut into small juliennes (matchsticks)
1 C wild mushrooms (e.g., porcinis, chanterelles, morels), roughly chopped

1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil

8 large organic, free range eggs
Dollop of heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1/3 C manchego, freshly grated
3/4 C murcia al vino, freshly grated and divided into two equal parts

Preheat the broiler.

In a heavy, large skillet, briefly sauté the ham in a small amount of olive oil and set aside until it reaches room temperature. Add some more olive oil and sauté mushrooms until lightly browned and softened some. Set mushrooms aside, so they may reach room temperature as well.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl, add the cream, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper; then beat lightly with a wire whisk. Add the herbs, ham, mushrooms and half the murcia al vino, then whisk some further to combine those ingredients.

In a heavy 9″ ovenproof non-stick omelet pan or skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat, swirling to coat the bottom and sides evenly. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the frittata mixture. Reduce the heat to low and cook slowly, stirring the top part of the mixture, but allowing the bottom to set until the egg mixture has begun to form small curds and the frittata is browning on the bottom (4-5 minutes). With a spatula, gently loosen the the frittata from the edges of the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining murcia al vino and the fontina.

Transfer the skillet to the broiler, placing it about 5″-6″ from the heating element, and broil until the frittata browns lightly on top. It will puff up and become firm in about 3-4 minutes, but watch carefully as ovens differ. However, take care to not open the oven too often during the process as the resulting drop in temperature affects the cooking process.

Remove the pan from the broiler, and let it cool for at least couple of minutes, allowing it to set. Next, either slide or preferably invert the frittata onto a large flat plate.

 It is a hard matter, my fellow citizens, to argue with the belly since it has no ears.
~Plutarch

A uniquely human quandry (luxury) in pampered modern civilization.  Subdued by what to eat, what to eat?  What sounds good tonight?  What are you in the mood for? Perhaps this will help some.

So often, indecision reigns with side dishes, particularly “starches”…searching for a bingo! in that seemingly endless cerebral scroll of rices, potatoes, tubers, squashes, couscous, polentas, risottos, noodles, pastas, and the like.  When in doubt, braised lentils are a favored plate guest sidled up to, spooning next to, or submissively underneath roasted, grilled or braised meats, poultry or fish.  These often untapped legumes are damn facile and as well as superlatively healthy.  Once on board, it’s hard not to obssess about blissful, earthy lentils.

BRAISED LENTILS

1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 C quality slab bacon, diced
1/2 C shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 C carrot, peeled and minced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 C green lentils, picked through for stones, etc.
1 1/2 C water
2 C chicken stock
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil, and then add the bacon, onion, carrot and garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils, water, stock, thyme and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper and bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 20-30 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously…
~Henri Cartier-Bresson

Laden with an inborn visual/spatial nature (a decided southpaw), I have an admitted obsession with photography. This love may seem incongruous given the lack of food images on A Lay Cook’s Musings. The inconsistency was again brought to mind by a conversation with a friend and then more recently with the opening of an exhibition of the revered 20th century photographer: Henri Cartier-Bresson. Currently at New York’s MoMA is an exhibit entitled The Modern Century which is the first retrospective of Cartier-Bresson in the states for three decades. The exhibition later travels to the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

To pretend to canvas the artistic life of this complicated and intensely private pioneer would be futile in this limited space. Formally trained as an oil painter and devotee of literature and philsophy, Cartier-Bresson was influenced by the surrealist movement which had a rapacious appetite for photography. He ultimately switched from brush to camera and captured searing images across continents and countries for decades.  Around the beginning of World War II, Cartier-Bresson was captured and held in a German prisoner of war camp for three years before he escaped in 1943. To the chagrin of the outside world Cartier-Bresson was presumed dead, and ironically MOMA was preparing a memorial exhibition for him. Thankfully, he emerged. After the war, along with the venerable Robert Capa and others he founded Magnum, a photographers’ cooperative which enabled photojournalists to reach a broad audience through periodicals such as Life magazine while still retaining some control over their work. To name a few, Cartier-Bresson photographed wars, civil unrest, urban landscapes, couples, overs, children, life…and was an accomplished portrait artist. His body of work included candids of Henri Matisse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gandhi, Albert Camus, Truman Capote, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Jeanne Moreau, and Susan Sontag. He formally stopped shooting in the ’70s to devote his efforts to drawing, but still quietly continued to take photographs until the end of his life.

Cartier-Bresson reputedly refused to crop or manipulate his photographs, instead printing the whole negative. There were even two rubber stamps used on his press prints with Magnum. One warned that the photo should not be altered by cropping while the other cautioned that the image should not be used in a way that violated his craft’s context. His instinctive sense of proportion meant that he rarely, if ever, would even need to crop or alter a print. In order to assess shape and composition, he would even eye proofs upside down. How each Cartier-Bresson photograph is a full frame just as it originally emerged from one of his beloved 35mm rangefinder Leicas just stuns.

Cartier-Bresson possessed an uncanny lucid eye, capturing vital moments which were framed with exquisite visual architecture. His subject was culture and about how the landscape of human theater was shaped. He had an innate sense of composition, gained through his training as a two dimensional artist coupled with acute interpersonal insight. Sometimes Cartier-Bresson’s work is intensely penetrating, while in other pieces he is more subtle, charming, playful. No matter the genre though, sensibility, humanity and candor coalesce in his arresting images.

Now, you would think that this retrospect of the maestro’s work would entice me to start posting cuisine photographs on the site. To the contrary, it furthers my leaning that overly interlarding often banal step-by-steps on food sites is not always comme il faut as some may assume or assert. Their overuse sometimes results in a manicured, lustrous, primped food fashion look—preset and preordained in a picture book way. Sort of the lust of the eyes — glossy food porn. Do your favored fine dining establishments, whether opulent or informal, present menus portraying shiny images of the prep or the finished product?

By no means is this some indictment of all food site photos as they often are enticing and do serve culinary purposes. But, as was touched upon in a post here earlier last year, there seem to be unrecognized limitations to food show and advantages to food tell. Apparently, I remain steadfastly irresolute and forever irrevelant on this one.

I never could ascertain Cartier-Bresson’s favored meals, but seem to recall a spirited interview with Charlie Rose years ago where they shared some cognac and another chat where they split a bottle of wine. So, please pardon my assumptions in choosing this appropriately iconic French fare. (For all I know, he detested garlic and found chicken unpalatable).

POULET MISTRAL (CHICKEN WITH FORTY GARLICS)

1 3 to 4 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed

1/4 C or so cognac or brandy

40 or so plump, fresh garlic cloves
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1/2 C dry white wine
1/2 C chicken stock or canned broth

Sliced baguette, toasted or grilled

Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Add olive oil, butter and garlic cloves a deep, heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat. When fats are hot but not smoking, add chicken pieces skin side down and cook until skin turns an even, golden brown, about 5 minutes. If necessary, work in batches to achieve spacing. Turn pieces and brown them on other side for an additional 5 minutes, then remove to a tented platter or baking dish. Carefully add cognac, promptly light and allow to flame until it extinguishes in the pan.

Reduce heat to medium. Bury the garlic cloves under, around and between the chicken which has now been re-added to the mix to assure the cloves settle in one layer in the bottom of skillet. Strew the thyme sprigs and bay leaves in the pan as well. Sauté, shaking or stirring pan frequently, until garlic is lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add wine and stock, scraping bottom of skillet to deglaze.

Cover and continue cooking until juices run clear when a thigh is pierced by a fork, about 12-15 minutes more. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves.

Serve chicken with garlic and pan juices. Squeeze the root end of the garlics’ papery husks and spread like butter onto the bread slices.

Pourboire: Should I repeat Julia Child’s mantra about browning? —
(1) The meat should be thoroughly dried
(2) The oil in the pan should be quite hot
(3) Do not crowd the meat in the pan

I feel the end approaching. Quick, bring me my dessert, coffee and liqueur.
~Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin’s
great aunt Pierette

No, this is not a delusion…just another ladleful of ignorance added to the broth.

As the nation’s second largest textbook market, Texas has enormous leverage over publishers, who often craft their standard textbooks based on buyers’ specs. So, when it comes to the very books which teach the basics to our children, what happens in Texas rarely stays in Texas…to the chagrin of genuine academia and our children’s children. Driven by a paranoid, chauvinistic mindset that has been advanced as gospel truth, in three short days of turbulent yet less than intellectually honest meetings, the Texas Board of Education simply removed Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum. Off the bench, they replaced him in the lineup with a couple of religious icons: a Siclian, St. Thomas Aquinas and a Frenchman, John Calvin. How quickly theological tenets can become widely peddled as ipse dixit school books.

Summarily guillotining the scrivener of the Declaration of Independence from the horizons of our history? According to these pious Texans, Jefferson’s heinous sin was that (along with other Founding Fathers) he was committed to a purely secular government. Even his onetime adversary, and later pen pal, John Adams is twisting in his grave at such wretched illiteracy. Hopefully, the board members comprehend this severe blow to students across the land—inevitably leading to a lack of a common notion of reality among youth. Shame to those zealots who added to the stoning of President Jefferson.

Something sweet is needed to assuage such bitterness.

Translated as “pick me up” or “pull me up,” tiramisù has recent culinary origins, i.e., during my children’s generation. This only makes sense as my daughter is openly smittten by this creamy-coffee-liqueur-chocolate-finger caked ambrosia. Heaven in a spoon — or in a darker calvinist vein, a sinful indulgence demanding redemption, salvation, absolution and all that brimstony blah-blah-blah.

Buon appetito, mia figlia

TIRAMISU

1/2 C strong espresso
1/4 C coffee liqueur
3.5 ozs bittersweet chocolate, grated
3 T cocoa powder
1/2 C light brown sugar

3 large egg whites

3 large egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
1 t high quality vanilla extract
3 C mascarpone

30 small savoiardi (Italian ladyfingers)

Bittersweet chocolate, shaved (for topping)

Mix the coffee, coffee liqueur, bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder and light brown sugar together and set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff and glossy peaks with a hand whisk or an electric mixer fitted with a whisk and set aside.

With a whisk or in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat egg yolks, sugar and vanilla until mixture is pale and thick and forms ribbons. Slowly fold the mascarpone into the egg yolk mixture. Then, with a spatula fold in the egg whites into the marscarpone mixture, and set aside.

In a long, shallow bowl, quickly dip the savoiardi in the espresso, coffee liqueur, bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder and brown sugar mixture. Do not drench the ladyfingers, or they will self destruct as you arrange them. Arrange them on the bottom in one layer in a 9″ x 9″ x 3″ rectangular or oval dish and sprinkle with grated chocolate. Stand the savoiardi standing on end around the dish. As necessary, shorten the ladyfingers to fill the spaces. Pour half the mascarpone mixture over and spread evenly. Repeat the layers of dipped ladyfingers, mascarpone mixture and grated chocolate.

Lightly smooth the top with mascarpone mixture and strew with shaved bittersweet chocolate.

Serve immediately at room temperature or refrigerate and serve chilled.