Life loves the liver of it.
~Maya Angelou

‘Tis the season of faith and piety, right? You know, the three magi bowing before baby Jesus, the supplicant Dickensian Tim Cratchit with his tiny crutch and papa Claus. Nah, probably more like the days of buying, indulgence, inebrity, gluttony, and more consumption. Then repeat. The seven deadlies run amok. So agnostics and atheists alike, during the holidays perhaps you should shelve your skepticism and come forward to become a liver believer. I joined that sacred sect long ago.

Sidled up to silky scrambled eggs, perched atop tomato rubbed bruschetta, over polenta, nestled with capellini alfredo, rice pilaf or hearty and hued lentils, the much maligned but ever versatile chicken liver is flat heavenly–and that was just a short list. Savor these divine orbs, and you will be genuflecting, even tebowing (god forbid), in no time. Praise be to them.

SAUTEED CHICKEN LIVERS

2 lbs chicken livers, halved and trimmed

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 C shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
2 C chicken stock, reduced by half

1 T unsalted butter, softened
1 T all purpose flour

Fresh tarragon or parsley leaves, chopped

With your fingers, knead together the softened butter and flour in order to create a beurre manié

In a small saucepan, reduce the chicken stock by half to 1 cup.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Drop the chicken livers into a sieve and carefully lower them into the boiling water. Stirring some, allow to blanche for about 20 seconds. Remove and allow to drain.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high until foaming but not browning. Add the livers in one layer, salt and pepper, and sauté for about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towels.

Add the sliced shallots to the same skillet and sauté over medium heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar bring to a gentle boil, and reduce to a glaze. Add the reduced stock and bring to a lively simmer. With a whisk, add the beurre manié a dollop at a time until the sauce thickens. Add the livers and warm.

Serve strewn with chopped tarragon leaves.

Scrambled Eggs — An Art?

February 14, 2009

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
~Samuel Butler

So often we see abused plates of scrambled eggs—overcooked, hard, lumpy, devoid of life. Mastering simple scrambled eggs is more difficult than it may seem. I have even heard some chefs remark that they occasionally test new cooks by watching them prepare a plate of scrambled eggs. The perfect scrambled egg is a rare dish demanding a gentle, slow and low cooking process. The end product is all about texture.

Do not overwhip, but you must impart air to the eggs so they will be fluffy. The air bubbles in the liquid become coated with protein and the molecules uncoil (denature). When whisking, tilt the bowl so the whisk moves diagonally across the plane—the eggs should be well mixed, but not overly frothy. Overwhipping can unravel the protein molecules in the eggs.

According the venerable James Beard, using liberal amounts of butter is crucial. Also lodged somewhere in the recesses of my hippocampus is a chef’s hint that a very, very small pinch of cayenne pepper can “wake up” the eggs. As with such obscured memories, I do not remember the source of that truc.

It is essential to use low, gentle heat when cooking eggs, as egg protein begins to thicken at only 144°F, which allows them to toughen rapidly.  So, create tiny curds.

When the eggs are soft and shiny, remove from heat before they are too set as they will continue cooking. Remember the adage…“when eggs are done in the pan, they are overdone on the plate.”

SCRAMBLED EGGS

3-4 T butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, organic, free range eggs, meaning the hens are raised on pastureland
1 T crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper, dried
Small pinch of white pepper, dried
Small pinches of herbes de provence and thyme, dried

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy non-stick skillet. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and thyme and a dollop of crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream in a glass bowl and whisk briskly — just until the yolks and whites are combined.

Pour into the non-stick skillet, with the heat on low. With a wooden spatula, gently stir the egg mixture, lifting it up and over from the bottom as it thickens. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture—they will continue to cook after being removed from both the stovetop and the pan.

Pourboires:
Also known as the egg white, albumen accounts for about 2/3 of an egg’s liquid weight. It contains more than half the egg’s total protein, niacin, riboflavin, chlorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur. The albumen consists of 4 alternating layers of differing consistencies. Egg white tends to thin out as an egg ages because its protein changes in character which is why fresh eggs sit up tall and firm in the pan while older ones tend to spread out.

Scrambled eggs have many faces, allowing for a variety of permutations and combinations with other ingredients. Consider adding cooked proscuitto, serrano ham or pancetta, chives, sliced sauteed mushrooms, diced sauteed chicken livers, ricotta cheese, goat cheese, barely wilted spinach, fresh tarragon or other herbs…the possibilities seem endless.

Finally, for an even creamier version, try 5 whole eggs coupled with 2 egg yolks.

Paella

February 13, 2009

A morsel eaten selfishly does not gain a friend.
~Spanish proverb

Too long overlooked by a broader audience, Spanish gastronomy is at the forefront of the Western food cosmos. With its broad range of dishes, flavors and ingredients from the simple and rustic to the refined, artful and elegant, Spain is becoming the food destination. This “newly discovered” and somewhat overdue appreciation is likely due to the influx of tapas and paella restaurants as well as the famed chefs such as Ferran Adrià at El Bulli with his outside the box techniques. Like maestro Adrià, several of his countrymen also covet the prestigious three star designation awarded by the Michelin Guide.

Historically, paella was born from the fusion of Roman and Arab culinary heritages. Despite systematic, and often brutal, efforts by Christian clergy to systematically quash Moorish history and identity, much of the Iberian cuisine and culture has been heavily influenced by the Muslim conquest and a several century rule of Spain. Beginning in the 8th Century, the Moors developed a highly civilized land they called Al Andalus.

Outside some of the more obvious Moorish contributions—magnificent architecture, spendid landscaping and fountains, the introduction of paper, music, advanced academics, mathematics and sophisticated astronomy—the marked influence on cuisine is also indisputable. The Moors cultivated olives and oranges and also brought rice, cumin, saffron, almonds, peppers and other spices to Spain.

Now perhaps the most widely known dish in traditional Spanish cuisine, paella is often cooked over an open wood and vine fire in a broad round two handed paella pan. Paella pans of several sizes are available at cooking stores (one of my favored haunts), but it also can also be made in a large sauté pan. The dish is served right out of the pan at the table, family style, sharing the bounty with all.

Controlling the fire—the heat intensity—is paramount. The dish should not be disturbed during the process or you will cause the rice to cook unevenly. The idea is to cook the rice underneath to form the classic crust called soccorat on the bottom.

Several versions of paella exist often depending on region and available meat, game, fish and seasonal produce. The one constant, the leading lady, is the rice which should be the short grain variety, preferably Valencia, Bomba or Calasparra…even Arborio. Long grain rice simply is a “no no”.

PAELLA

4 chicken leg thighs, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons pimenton or sweet paprika
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced

4 jumbo shrimp, peeled, but with heads and tails on
2 lobster tails, cut into medallions
Several squid, cleaned and rinsed
12 mussels, cleaned and scrubbed

4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, diced
1 (16-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand crushed
1 t sea salt
1 t sugar

1 cup valencia or arborio rice
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 bay leafs
1/4 C dry white wine
3 cups stock
1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed
Fresh cilantro

Rinse the chicken pieces and pat them dry. Mix the oregano and paprika with some salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the pieces of chicken and marinate for 30 minutes or more.

Heat the olive oil in a paella pan or wide shallow skillet over medium high heat. Place the chicken in the pan, until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add the chorizo and continue to cook until the oil is a vibrant red color. Temporarily remove the chicken and sausage to a platter.

Sear the lobster tails and shrimp for one minute over high heat. Add the squid to the pan and sear for 15-20 seconds. Set aside.

Make a sofrito—saute the garlic, onion, and tomatoes sprinkled with some salt, pepper and sugar; cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld. Remove and set aside.

Return the chicken and sausage to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Pour in the white wine and cook until it is reduced by half, about 1-2 minutes. Add the sofrito and cook 3 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Crush the saffron and add to the pan along with the bay leaf. Season with salt.

Fold in the rice, carefully spreading it evenly around the pan. Cook for 5 minutes on high, stirring and gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. The rice will float about in the pan.

Nestle in the reserved shrimp, lobster, and mussels. Reduce the heat to low and cook at a slow boil for 10 minutes. Near the last couple of minutes of this cooking process, scatter the squid and peas on top. During this entire stage, do not cover, disturb or stir or the rice will cook unevenly.

The stock should be absorbed by the now fluffy rice and there should be a nice shimmer to the top of the paella. Remember, the ideal paella has a toasted, caramelized rice “bottom crust” called socarrat. Allow to rest off the heat for 3-5 minutes, garnish with cilantro, then serve.

Pourboires: mix it up with other ingredients to change the character of the paella, including green beans, broad beans, zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, mushrooms, serrano ham, chicken livers, rabbit, clams, snails