When a match has equal partners, then I fear not.
~Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Why have pork and cabbage always dated so swimmingly? What or who has wed this enduring union? No matter where the sod — Chinese, French, Japanese, German, Nicaraguan, Slavic, Mexican, Russian, Fillipino, Italian, Malaysian, Salvadoran, Scandavanian, Korean, Spanish and so many more — cuisines have embraced this classic, balanced pair. Perhaps at first shrouded, this later less timorous, now nearly brazen, affair between swine and this leafy green has unfolded. While they both comprehend and consent to the polyamorous nature of their bond, both free to rendezvous and nestle with others elsewhere, they are such the match when coupled.

Cabbage is a biennial, dicotyledonous flowering plant from the family Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae), related to related to kale, broccoli, collards and Brussels sprouts. It is distinguished by a short stem upon which is crowded a mass of leaves. The cultivated cabbage is derived from a leafy plant called the wild mustard plant, native to littoral regions in the Mediterranean. Others claim that that wild cabbage was first brought to Europe around 600 BCE by Celtic wanderers. The elder half, pigs were domesticated as early as 13,000 BCE in the Tigris River basin…quite the age discrepancy for a couple these days.

Pork and cabbage have natural affinities for one another. The tart, crisp cabbage accentuates the succulent, rich pork allowing the flavors to mingle and mellow. Then, on the back end the pork juices permeate the hearty cabbage until a like harmony is reached. A sort of magical choir of food between the two.

Some have even asserted that the couple just aims to seek neutrality on the plate as cabbage is somewhat alkaline (pH 7.5), while pork is more acidic (pH 5.5). Sort of a Jack Sprat, opposites attract thing. Sounds a touch numerical for a loving pair, but who ever knows what makes things click? It does seem ironic, though, that “cabbage” is slang for a fool or simpleton while pigs are considered so savvy, clever.

PORK LOIN ROAST & CABBAGE

5 lb pork loin roast, bone in, brined

Freshly ground black pepper
1 T carraway seeds, toasted
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T duck fat

Brine
8 C cold water
1 C sea salt
1 C raw sugar
1 C chicken stock
1/4 C apple cider vinegar

6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1 T black peppercorns
1 T multi-hued peppercorns (red, white, green)
1 T mustard seeds, toasted
1 T carraway seeds, toasted
2 bay leaves
4 full thyme sprigs
4 sage leaves
4 rosemary sprigs

Cabbage Mix
1 head green cabbage, halved, cored and sliced
1 fennel bulb, cored, peeled and sliced
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 fresno chile peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 jalapeno chile peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 T caraway seeds, toasted
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Juice of 4 oranges

1-2 C chicken stock

1 whole garlic clove, sliced transversely

Finish
3 T Dijon mustard
2 T apple cider vinegar
2-3 C dry Riesling or Pinot Gris, preferably Alsatian

Orange zest
Cilantro leaves

Toast mustard and carraway seeds in a small heavy skillet until just fragrant. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine all brine ingredients in a large deep pot. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure the salt, sugar and liquids are thoroughly mixed. Pour into a large bowl or deep pan and allow to cool completely. Once the brine is fully cooled, drop the trimmed pork into a container which will keep the meat fully submerged. Should the pork tend to rise to the surface, weight down with a heavy plate or lid. Allow to brine several hours, much preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Remove pork from brine, rinse thoroughly and dry well. Season with pepper and carraway seeds. Heat a large, heavy roasting pan with olive oil and duck fat over medium high and and rub cloves into the pan surface for a minute or two. Discard garlics and then, sear pork loin on all sides until nicely browned. Remove pork from pan and place onto a platter or rimmed baking sheet.

Meanwhile, in a very large bowl combine and toss the cabbage, fennel, onions, chiles, toasted caraway seeds, salt, pepper and orange juice.

Over two burners, deglaze the pan with chicken stock over medium high to high heat, using a wooden spatula to scrape the bottom. Add the cabbage mixture and with the garlic halves placed on the side, top with the seared pork. Place uncovered into the oven and roast, basting throughout, until the internal temperature (plunged in the flesh away from a bone) reads between 140-145 F, about 1 hour.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven and place onto the stovetop. Carefully remove pork from pan and set aside on a cutting board, loosely tented, and allow to rest. Turn heat to high, then reduce to medium high, add mustard and apple cider vinegar to cabbage mixture in the pan and stir to combine thoroughly. Then add wine and reduce.

Carve pork into separate rib servings, arrange each on plates over a nest of cabbage. Spoon the sauce over and around the pork and then garnish first with a hint of orange zest then cilantro leaves.

Calzone is comely, yet divinely rustic. A turnover of pizza dough…stuffed with differing fillings and supple cheeses, folded over and shaped like a half moon before being baked or fried. Squisito!

Not surprisingly, the word is of Italian ancestry — from calzone (the singular for calzoni, “pants”), which is augmentative of calza (“stocking”), from the Medieval Latin word calcea taken from the Latin for “shoe” calceus. The etymology apparently alludes to the folded shape of the dish. The first known use of the word calzone in culinary circles was post WW II (circa 1947). Post modernist fare? Did kitchens, suspicious and tiring of authoritative definitions and singular narratives, create calzones as an antithetical reaction to traditional flat pizza reality?

By the bye, in Italian the word calzone has three syllables, [kalˈtsoːne]. Excuse the inconsolable pander, but please peruse other calzone (or pizza) entries here.

OLIVE & FENNEL CALZONE

Extra virgin olive oil to coat bowl

1 C warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast packet
1 T 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 (or some of both). Kneading does help 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 1 1/2 hours for regular yeast. Punch down dough and work with hands into a smooth ball. Cut and divide into two rounded equal balls.

Preheat oven to 500 F (with pizza stone in oven on lowest rung for no less that 45 minutes before cooking)

3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 large fennel bulb, cleaned, stemmed, cored and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, peeled, halved vertically and thinly sliced
1 t fennel seed, toasted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ozs mozzarella, grated
3 T fresh oregano leaves, peeled off stem minced
3 sprigs thyme leaves, peeled off stem, chopped

3 T choice imported black olives, pitted and thinly sliced
4-6 ozs tallegio, thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

Briefly toast the fennel seeds in a dry pan.

Heat olive oil and garlic in a heavy, large skillet over medium high heat. Remove and discard garlic. Add sliced fennel bulb, sliced onion and fennel seed. Season with salt and pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, 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″ in diameter, but always feel free to create any shape to your liking or whim — so long as it can fold in half for a calzone. Transfer to a pizza paddle which is either covered in cornmeal or heavily floured so it can slide off easily into the oven.

Combine mozzarella, oregano and thyme. Arrange the filling on one half of the dough, leaving a 1″ margin on the edge. Arrange fennel and onion mixture, then olives and finally tallegio slices over the top of the filling. Brush the edges of the dough with water, and fold the dough over to seal, pinching together with fingers.

Bake the calzone, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Calzones tend to take a few more minutes to cook than open pizza. Brush with olive oil immediately after removing from oven. Let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Aperçu of An Egg

April 18, 2012

No clever arrangement of bad eggs ever made a good omelet.
~C.S. Lewis

My abiding love for these smooth, sumptuous ovals known as eggs has been well chronicled here. I am unabashedly smitten.

Recently, from small farmers to urbanites and in between, there has been a marked upsurge in local egg coops. Backyard hatcheries are sprouting up across the country. Home-raised fresh eggs from well fed and exercised hens with rich, dark yolks and intense flavors and textures are in vogue. Some of this movement is cuisine based, others find pleasure in raising their own stock, but still others are drawn to home coops due to concerns about the health and welfare of egg layers shoved into cramped quarters on fetid farms. Cries of cruelty and abuse in the egg industry have been heard. Admittedly, the thought of a dozen lifer hens crammed into a cage the size of an oven does make me cringe. Then again, this is a nation that takes perverse pride in lengthy, overcrowded incarcerations–at shameful rates that dwarf other societies. Not exactly the land of the free range.

But what of a glimpse at a hen egg’s oological self? Its anatomy and architecture?

The hard outer shell, composed mainly of calcium carbonate, has several thousand pores which allow moisture and gases to permeate in and out of the egg. This porous structure also can leech foul fridge odors, so store eggs in their cartons. Directly inside the exterior shell are two other protective membranes, the testa and mammilary layers.

Chicken eggs emerge in varying shades because of pigments which are deposited as the eggs travel through the hen’s oviduct. The pigment depositions are determined by the bird’s genetics, with eggs ranging from deep brown to pale blue to pink to green to cream to white. Although not always consistent, chickens with white ear lobes tend to produce white eggs, while those with red ear lobes lay brown eggs. Classic white egg laying breeds include Andalusians, Faverolles, Dorkings, Leghorns, and Lakenvelders. Barnevelders, Rhode Island Reds, Jersey Giants, Delawares, and Orpingtons are known more for brown eggs, which vary in hue from light cream to dark brown.

When the egg is freshly laid, the shell is completely filled. An air cell is formed at the wide end by contraction of the contents during cooling and by the loss of moisture. The smaller the air pocket, the better the egg.

The white, or albumen, is composed of 90% water with the remainder protein. The outer white is the thin edge of the white which cooks more quickly than the center. The inner white is thick and firmer than its cousin on the edge. The white’s ability to form a relatively stable foam is crucial to the development of structure in dishes such as angel food cakes, soufflés, and meringues. It also serves as a clarifier and binder.

Chalazae
are a pair of spiralled cords that anchor the yolk in the center of the thick albumen. Chalazae may vary in size and density, but do not affect either cooking or nutritional value.

The clear yolk membrane (vitelline membrane) surrounds and cushions the yolk. An egg’s yolk delivers vitamins, calories and nutrients, including protein and essential fatty acids along with a natural emulsifier called lecithin. Yolk color ranges from light yellow to deep orange usually depending on diet. The germinal disc, or nucleus, appears on the surface of the yolk as a white dot. Yolks are critical to sauces such as mayonnaise, hollandaise and some vinaigrettes, even pastas and soups.

As with scrambled, soft boiled, fried, poached, and countless others the recipes below use the whole egg. Just a couple of additions to other deviled egg ideas on the site. See A Devil’s Eggs.

DEVILED EGGS WITH DUCK RILLETTE

6 large eggs

3 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1 T crème fraîche
1/2 T dijon mustard
1 scallions, white and light green part only, finely chopped
1/4 C duck rillette
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Capers, rinsed and drained

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the white.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then crème fraîche, mustard, scallions, duck rillette, salt and pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag snipped on one corner, pipe mixed filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill eggs in an airtight container for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with a few capers.

DEVILED EGGS WITH PROSCUITTO

6 large eggs

4 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1/2 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 C proscuitto, chopped
2 T parmigiano-reggiano, grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the whites.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then the mustard, lemon juice, proscuitto, parmigiano-reggiano, salt and pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag snipped one corner, pipe mixed filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill eggs in an airtight container for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with some ribboned basil.

Filial Wings

April 13, 2012

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
~Unknown

This quote was first attributed to the revered, occasionally ornery, Mark Twain. But that credit now seems apocryphal as apparently Twain did not utter it. There is no evidence that links Twain to the adage, and the first version that appeared was in 1915–five years after his death. The son’s age in the quote has varied over time, and while it does not rule out a fictional biographical nexus, it should be remembered that Twain’s father died when he was eleven years old.

Scholars have not found this saying in Twain’s literary works, writings, notebooks or letters and relating this quote to him are skeptical at best. No version of this same passage has been ascribed to any other significant figure either.

Did Twain inherit the quote as a vestige from earlier mots justes? A subliminal post mortem tribute? Twain or not, I still love the quote (and the man).

This is game grub. The NCAA Tourney may be history, but the London Olympics, NBA Playoffs, French Open, UEFA Euro Championship, Tour de France, Wimbledon, World Cup Qualifying, MLB season, US Open, NFL season, to name a few, all await this year. The wings beckon too, most wondrous “children”–you know who you are.

CHICKEN WINGS

3 lbs chicken wings, wingettes and drumettes intact

1 T sea salt
1 T sugar
1 T light brown sugar
1 T smoked paprika
Juice of 2 limes
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1/2 C sriracha
1/4 C chile garlic sauce
2 T apple cider vinegar
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 C honey
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Zest + juice of 1 lime
2 t sea salt

2 C duck fat
2 C canola oil
Sea salt

Scallions, green part only, chopped
Jalapeños, stemmed, and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves

Combine the salt, sugars, paprika, lime juice, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl. Place the wings in a large ziploc bag, pour in the marinade and toss to thoroughly coat. Marinate for 2 hours or even overnight, then remove from fridge and allow to reach room temperature. Discard smashed garlics.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by adding sriracha, chile garlic sauce, apple cider vinegar, garlic, jalapeño, honey, butter, lime and salt in a heavy medium saucepan. Place over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and whisk occasionally until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. The sauce can be adjusted by adding more chile sauce for spice or more honey for sweetness. Season with salt to taste and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Spread marinated wings out on a foil covered, rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with any remaining marinade, and roast until almost but not fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Place a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat and add duck fat and canola oil. With a deep fry thermometer, allow the fat to reach 360 F, add the wings and fry until golden and crispy. Using a large spider, remove onto paper towels to drain and promptly season with salt.

Meanwhile, reheat the sauce to almost a simmer. Place fried wings in a large glass ovenproof bowl, pour the hot sauce over, then mix well to coat evenly so the wings are nicely glazed.

Garnish with scallions, sliced jalapeños and cilantro. Serve with yogurt-blue cheese, barbeque, and chipotle sauces.

Pourboire: some prefer the wingettes and drumettes separated for more even frying and easier eats. Others favor lightly dusting the wings in all-purpose or rice flour before frying. Also consider a sauce with a Thai bend mixing sriracha, chile garlic sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, dry sherry, soy sauce, garlic, bird chiles, peanut oil, lime and salt. Serve with red curry, gai yang, and peanut sauces.

Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
~James Beard

Paninis, tacos, burgers, croque-monsieurs, BLTs, lobster rolls, empanadas, and gyros, all sandwich fodder, have been exalted earlier here. Each have their unique crust, mantles and cores. Bánh Mì is just another ambrosial meal settled between or under dough slices, all united in mouth. A Vietnamese sub, of sorts, and yet another food born of a sordid imperialistic affair…a tale of conquest, occupation and social inequity. Later, America entered the fray and matters may have worsened. Someday, while mistrust will linger, we will heal some, and breaking bread never hurts.

Bánh Mì, while generally a Vietnamese term for all breads, now implies a sandwich chocked with meats and friends. The French baguette was first force fed to Indochine during turbulent, often overtly rebellious, colonial days (1887-1954). Việt baguettes, though, now differ some and have retained their culinary autonomy. Often made with a combination of rice and wheat flour, these demi-baguettes tend to possess a lighter, golden crust and an airier not so overly dense interior. Again, fresh bread is the star — yeasty, thin-skinned with a delicate crackle but sturdy enough to handle the usual suspects. The rest is about balance with the innards.

Traditionally, bánh mì are made with chả lụa, a pork roll made with finely ground pork wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. The pork belly or butt are just a variation, but no less savory. As with most other fare, to assume there is some purist version of bánh mì is mistaken, even myopic. A little spread of black bean sauce, grilled pork, head cheese, fried eggs, aïoli, fried oysters, even the layering sequence are a few improprieties that come to mind — so, smite me, O mighty smiter!

BANH MI (VIETNAMESE BAGUETTE SANDWICH)

Việt baguette
Mayonnaise*
Fresh cilantro leaves
Pâté de campagne
Duck rillette

Braised pork belly, sliced or slow roasted pork butt, pulled
Tương Ớt Tỏi (chile sauce) or bird chiles or jalapeños, thinly sliced
Cured cold cuts (thịt nguội or đặc biệt), thinly sliced

Pickled carrots and daikon radish (do chua)*
English cucumber, thinly sliced
Nước chấm or nước mắm Phú Quốc (optional)

Slice the baguette lengthwise and hollow out the insides some, making a trough in both halves. Slather with mayonnaise on both insides. Lay cilantro on the top half of the bread with judicious smears or slices of pâté de campagne and rillette on each half. Arrange the pork belly slices on the top half along with the Tương Ớt Tỏi or chiles. Put cold cuts (thịt nguội or đặc biệt) on the bottom half, topped by the pickled carrots and daikon radish (do chua), and then the cucumber slices. If you so desire, drizzle ever so lightly with nước chấm. Close the hood and indulge.

MAYONNAISE*

4 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t white wine or champagne vinegar
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.

Whisk together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

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.

PICKLED CARROTS & DAIKON RADISH (DO CHUA)*

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 lb daikon radishes, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 t sea salt
2 t sugar

1/2 C sugar
1 C distilled white vinegar
1 C lukewarm water

Place the carrot and daikon radishes in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Knead the vegetables for a few minutes, expelling the water from them. They will soften and liquid will pool at the bottom of the bowl. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently to exude extra liquid. Transfer the vegetables to a pickling jar.

In a medium glass bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar, vinegar, and water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature and pour over the vegetables. The brine should cover the vegetables. Allow the vegetables to marinate for at least two hours, preferable overnight. Keep in the fridge for a month or so.

I am…a mushroom on whom the dew of heaven drops now and then.
~John Ford, The Broken Heart (1633)

A subtle tryst…seductively nutty, meaty, sponge-like fungi coupled with naughtily rich, creamy and velvety offal. Not much could be finer on earth. Spring rapture.

When shopping, make sure the sweetbreads are still virginal white, fleshy, plump and firm to the touch. As they are perishable, prep them that day and cook no later than the next. The elusive morel? Well, if you cannot precisely hunt and identify these mysterious foresty morsels–who inhabit logged and decaying elms, poplar, white ash, cherry and maple trees and tend to grow in heavy leaf cover, dried creek bottoms and heavy foliage, even clinging to river banks and mossy areas with rich black, humic soil–then know someone willing to discreetly reveal their caches (you will be sworn to secrecy) or attend the farmer’s market with wallet agape.

SWEETBREADS & MORELS

1 1/2 to 2 lbs sweetbreads, preferably veal
Whole milk

Sea salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
8 peppercorns
8 pink peppercorns
Cold water

All-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 T unsalted butter
2 garlics, peeled and smashed

3 T unsalted butter
3-4 C morel mushrooms, cleaned and halved lengthwise

2 T unsalted butter
Duck fat
3/4 C yellow Vidalia onion, peeled and finely chopped

3 T calvados or cognac
3/4 C dry red wine, such as a Rhône or Burgundy
1 1/2 C chicken stock
3 thyme sprigs, bound in twine
1 bay leaf

2 T apple cider vinegar
1-2 T Dijon mustard
3/4 C crème fraîche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

The Prep
Briefly rinse sweetbreads under cold water. Place them in a glass bowl, cover with milk, and allow to soak several hours. Remove the sweetbreads, discarding the milk. Using a sharp paring knife and fingers, remove excess membrane or fat. Do not be intimidated by the peeling process, and do not fret if the sweetbreads separate some into sections. Rinse, pat dry and set aside.

Fill a heavy large saucepan or pot about three-quarters full of water, add a generous pinch of salt, lemon juice, bay leaf, shallot and peppercorns. Bring the water to a boil, add the sweetbreads, and poach for about 8-10 minutes. Remove the sweetbreads and briefly plunge them into an ice bath, then drain promptly and dry thoroughly.

Line a medium sheet pan with a kitchen towel and place the poached sweetbreads on the towel in a single layer. Fold the towel over them to cover, then place a same-sized sheet pan on top. Weigh the top pan down with whatever, e.g., a brick, tomato cans, a hand weight. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight. Remove from towel, place on a platter or dish, cover with plastic wrap and allow to reach room temperature before cooking.

The Cook
Season sweetbreads first with salt and pepper and then dust with flour in a large glass bowl. Melt butter with garlic in a heavy, large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Discard garlic then lightly brown sweetbreads, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove sweetbreads to a dish, loosely tent, and set aside for later.

In a medium heavy skillet, heat butter over medium to medium high and add morels. Sauté until they release their liquid and are just slightly softened, then remove to a glass bowl and set aside.

Over medium high heat, add butter and a small spoonful of duck fat in the same heavy large skillet or sauté pan used for the sweetbreads earlier. Add the onions and cook until translucent and then just slightly golden. Deglaze the pan with calvados or brandy and allow to mostly evaporate. Then, add red wine and stock, increase heat to a boil and then reduce to a lively simmer.

Add sweetbreads, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, cover and gently simmer, until cooked yet still quite tender, about 8-10 minutes. Toward the end, add the sautéed morels and the juices from them. Then, carefully remove sweetbreads and morels to a dish, loosely tented. Also remove and discard the thyme sprig bouquet and bay leaf. Add the apple cider vinegar, mustard and crème fraîche and, stirring, reduce the sauce further over a higher heat until it thickens and nicely coats the back of a spoon. If necessary, season with salt and pepper to your liking. Add the sweetbreads and morels back into the pan to heat and briefly bathe in the sauce before plating.

Serve over a mound of lentils (lentilles) du Puy, puréed potatoes or turnips, fresh cappellini, or risotto. Plate sweetbreads and drizzle all with sauce, then garnish with chopped tarragon leaves.

Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.
~Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
, The Mistress of Spices

Somehow, this became a three headed post.

Derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان) which means “fried” or “roasted,” biryani is a rice dish crafted from a sensuously transcendent spice medley and basmati rice layered with curried meats (often lamb, mutton or chicken), fish, eggs or vegetables. Biryani was born in the kitchens of ancient Persia, and was later transported by merchants to the Indian subcontinent where the dish developed even further. Whether made in India, South Asia or the Middle East, regional variants are abundant and often without boundaries, such as hyderabadi biryani, ambur biryani, bhatkali biryani, kacchi biryani, awadhi biryani, mughlai biryani, berian biryani, sindhi biryani, khan biryani, memoni biryani, pakistani biryani, sri lankan biryani and the like. That is a short list.

Yes, I have admittedly been cheating on biryani. The farmers’ market spice merchant has been effusively loyal and ever helpful. Yet, I have been shamefully, almost covertly, buying his superb admix which is damned good. So, it only seemed fair to concoct my own biryani blend (with a little help from my friends). Much like curry or ras al hanout, dry roasting and then grinding your own spice brew at home tends to create a more spellbinding and blissful union.

BIRYANI SPICE BLEND

1 T cardamom seeds
1 T coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
1 medium cinnamon stick, cut into pieces
6 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1/2 T black peppercorns
2 t fennel seeds
2 t caraway seeds
2 star anise
1/2 t grated nutmeg
1/2 t turmeric

Dry roast spices over moderate heat until fragrant. Discard bay leaves. Cool and reduce to a powder in a spice grinder by pulses or by using a mortar and pestle. Store in an air tight container in a cool, dark place.

Now, on to the main course. Guests will be grateful for the effusive, almost contemplative, scents…

LAMB BIRYANI

Dry roast and grind anise seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds.

1 t anise seeds, toasted and ground
2 T black peppercorns, toasted and ground
3 T green cardamom pods, cracked, toasted and ground
2 T coriander seeds, toasted and ground
2 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 t freshly grated nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks

3 T unsalted butter
1 T canola oil
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

3 T unsalted butter
1 T canola oil
2 T garam masala
1 t crushed red chile flakes
1⁄2 T turmeric
1 t paprika

6 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
4 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 1 1⁄2″ piece ginger, peeled and minced

2 1/2 lbs trimmed boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
Sea salt
3/4 C plain yogurt

2 1⁄2 C basmati rice
3 T unsalted butter
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1⁄2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
4 whole cloves
2 dried bay leaves
Sea salt
2 C water
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

1 C whole milk
1 t saffron threads

Mint leaves, roughly chopped
Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Cashews, lightly sautéed in butter and chopped (optional)

Heat butter and canola oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and then just turning golden. Transfer to a bowl and set aside for later use.

Heat butter and canola oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat until shimmering. Add garam masala, chile flakes, turmeric, paprika, anise, pepper, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, and 1 cinnamon stick, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then add garlic, tomatoes, chiles, and ginger and sauté, stirring, another 2–3 minutes more.

Add lamb, season with salt, and cook until lightly browned, turning, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked onions and yogurt, cover and reduce heat to medium and cook until lamb is tender, about 25 minutes. Place lamb in a glass bowl or dish, tent and set aside. Keep the empty Dutch oven available for the layering step below.

Meanwhile, melt butter over moderately high heat. Add the minced garlic cloves and sauté briefly but do not burn. Add the basmati rice, stirring well to coat. Add cinnamon stick, along with the cumin, cloves, and bay leaves, and season with salt. Add the water and stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low to medium low. Cover and cook until the rice is firm and the liquid reduced, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside off of the heat.

Warm the milk with the saffron threads in a small saucepan.

Transfer half the curried lamb back into the Dutch oven, then top with half the rice. Clothe with layers of the remaining lamb and then rice and finally add the warmed milk with saffron. (Lamb–>rice–>lamb–>rice–>saffron.) Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is tender, about 10 more minutes.

Plate and garnish with mint, cilantro and cashews. Consider serving biryani with coconut curry gravy, daal (lentils), regional vegetable dishes, and/or naan bread.

Pourboire: instead of sautéing in unsalted butter and canola, ghee or ghi–a traditional Indian clarified butter–is often used due to its high smoking point and toasted flavor. A recipe follows:

GHEE

1 lb unsalted butter, roughly cut into pieces

Place butter in medium saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a lively simmer or quiet boil, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and the butter will form a first foam which will disappear. Ghee is done when a second foam forms on top of butter, and the butter turns slightly golden, about 7 minutes. Brown milk solids will naturally fall to the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool for several minutes. Slowly pour into ovenproof container through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth layers. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container and keep free from moisture.