To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all.
~Oscar Wilde

So sorry for those already in the know — but for those who have yet to discern, here is a little primer, my good and yours too.  But, apologies to the unfamiliar also.  These are not nonpologies without contrition, as we so often hear. They are true sorries.

Guanciale is an Italian salted and cured (not smoked) meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks whose moniker is derived from guancia, which likewise means “cheek.”  A specialty of Umbria and Lazio, its texture is more docile than pancetta, yet it is silky and has just a slightly more rigid flavor.  It is often cured for a week, then hung to dry for about three weeks or so.  One of those nose to tail things.  Often used in egg or cream sauces with pasta, guanciale is projected below with green tomatoes, et al.

Sublimely blissful grub.

CHICKEN WITH GREEN TOMATOES, CHILES & GUANCIALE

3-4 lbs bone in chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 t or so broken oregano for the skin side

2 bay leaves

1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
8 ozs guanciale, diced

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 good quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 jar green tomatoes and chiles

8 ozs mozzarella cut into pieces
1 C high quality olives, black and green (warmed)
Lemons, quartered

Basil leaves, freshly and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

In a large oven proof, heavy skillet, heat oil over medium high until shimmering. Add guanciale and cook, stirring frequently, until just slightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer guanciale to a paper towel lined plate.

Add chicken pieces to skillet and sear, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large paper toweled plate. Pour off most all of the oil, keeping some.

Add garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes to skillet and fry 1 minute. Stir in green tomatoes and chiles and cook, breaking up green tomatoes and chiles with a wooden spatula, until the sauce thickens somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Return chicken, green tomatoes and chiles and bay leaves to skillet and transfer to oven and cook, uncovered, until chicken is no longer pink and runs somewhat yellow to a fork, about 30 minutes.

Scatter mozzarella over chicken, tomatoes and chiles and adjust oven temperature to broil along with olives. Return skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 2-3 minutes.

Garnish with cooked guanciale, olives, quartered lemons and juice, and roughly chopped basil before serving.

Soul satisfying — sort of a pizza without dough, although you could serve a flatbread or some form of cooked dough, underneath.

 

 

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Great art is horseshit, buy tacos.
~Charles Bukowski

But, don’t judge your tacos by their price.
~Hunter S. Thompson

They are both gracefully dead, in their own ways.  However, they gave tacos a good name before they left, as should be the case.

More important, both Bukowski and Thompson cast ripe books, short stories, verses, screenplays and journalism that left the imagination brimming, eloquently reeling, and sometimes in utter disarray. The lives of everyday folk, countercultures, writing as drudgery, altered minds, alcohol and drug use, prurient depravity, vivid taboos, dark binges, expressive depression, broken renewal, anguished desolation, inherent absurdity, flirtatious promiscuity, and often such unrecognizable tongues…laureates of supposed lowlifes, yet intimate and not at all shameful souls were their subjects.

Although one died more slowly of leukemia, the other passed suddenly from committing suicide with a .45 within a decade or so of one another.  Is there really a difference between how they departed?

Eye rolling rapture follows.

TACOS DE POLLO (CHICKEN TACOS)

Tomatillo Salsa
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled, and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2/3 C cilantro leaves
1/4 C chicken stock
A pinch or so of sea salt

Sauce
1 small to medium yellow onion, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 t ground cumin, toasted and ground or dried
Adobe sauce from a small can of chipotle chiles

Pollo (Chicken)
1/2 each parts of water and chicken stock to cover birds
2-3 chicken thigh/leg quarters, later shredded
Sea salt and a hint of freshly ground black pepper
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 t dried oregano, broken

Flour tortillas, warmed

Combine tomatillos, garlic, chiles and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup stock and 1 t sea salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée and then pour into a medium glass bowl.

Season the birds on each side in salt and just a little pepper and cumin on the skin side.  In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, over medium high heat, place bay leaves, thyme sprigs into the mix. Add the chicken skin side up and cover with 1/2 water and 1/2 stock, simmer for about 25-30 minutes, then shred off the bone with fingers or fingers and a fork. Strain and reserve the chicken stock.

In a small heavy saucepan, heat olive oil and/or canola oil, yellow onion, sea salt, garlic cloves, cumin and adobe sauce. Sauté, then add the chicken stock derived from cooked chicken and cook until thickened.  Add chicken and sauté a bit longer, until the meat glistens some.

Wrap 6 or so flour or corn tortillas  in foil and place in a preheated 325 F oven for 15-20 minutes, so they become soft and warm.

Serve chicken in warmed tortillas with the tomatillo salsa forming a base and quickly add the following to your liking to each taco, many of which should be in bowls on the table or counter (but, please do not overload tacos — just choose a few fillings, at most):

Radishes, sliced
White or red onion, peeled and chopped
Green cabbage (Brussels sprouts, possibly), cored and thinly sliced
Black beans (frijoles negros) , drained
Refried beans (frijoles refritos), slightly cooked
Salsa roja and/or salsa verde (red and/or green salsas), warmed
Gochujang (hot pepper paste) and/or (soybean paste) ssamjang (both at Korean markets)
Fried eggs
Queso fresco, crumbled
Crema, just a few dollops
Fresh chiles of any variety, sliced thinly
Lime wedges
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″slices
Cilantro leaves (not stems)

Pourboire:  many advocate the use of 2-ply tortillas by placing one tortilla centered directly upon the other, then filling the inside one.  Both warmed, of course.

Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.
~Sir Winston Churchill

Admittedly, my ancestry is prodigally open minded (or should the word “mindless” be used) — Scottish as well as other genetic variants.  A mutt, of sorts.  So, perhaps a native dish were posted here, at least one that swaddles an egg in meat and then is topped with this heavenly “mole.”  This proves to be a slight twist on a gastropub meal, one that appears disparate with both Scot and Mexican fare.  Not really.

The eggs seem self evident to someone Scottish, but the pipián verde sauce may be unknown or elusive to some home cooks.   Sometimes called pumpkin seed mole, the finished sauce is often spooned over fish, chicken, enchiladas, or rice and the like, but when used judiciously the sauce can be sublime with eggs (especially with sausage). Chiles de árbol are those smaller, potent red chiles occasionally known as a bird beak or rat’s tail chiles. They can be found in most groceries, so there is little need to pull any trades.

One has to adore giddy caresses which are not merely iconic, but ageless — heart theft food.

SCOTCH EGGS

6 large local, pastured or free range eggs

1 C hearty, good quality, artisanal sausage

1 C all purpose flour
1 C  fresh breadcrumbs
3 beaten local eggs

Extra virgin olive + canola oils in equal parts, several inches deep, for frying
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Place eggs in a saucepan and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover for some 6-7 minutes, and remove from heat, so they are sort of medium boiled, somewhat soft and not hard at all. Carefully drain, then place in a bowl with ice water to cool. Gently crack shells and carefully peel under cold running water. Place eggs to dry on a tea towel or paper towels.

Place flour in a wide glass bowl, beat eggs in another and then place crushed breadcrumbs in another wide shallow glass bowl. Divide sausage into 6 equal portions. Pat a portion of sausage into a thin patty over the length of the palm. Lay a boiled egg on top of sausage and gently wrap the sausage around egg, sealing to envelop.  Gently shape and coddle the meat around the eggs with your fingers. Repeat with remaining sausage and eggs.  Season with salt and pepper.

Then, roll the sausage encased eggs first in flour, shaking off any excess, then carefully drop into the beaten eggs and finally the breadcrumbs to batter them lightly and set aside to rest for a moment before frying.

Carefully fry in olive and canola oils which are heated to about 300 F for just a few minutes (about 4), to get the sausage lightly golden and crispy. Cool the sausage & egg mix on paper towels.

Serve with pipián verde sauce which could be prepared a day or two ahead of time (see below).

Pipián Verde 
8 chiles de árbol (“tree chili” tr. from Spanish), fresh

3 fresh smaller heirloom or plum tomatoes
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 C raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/3 C unsalted peanuts
1/3 C sesame seeds
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground allspice

1 small canned chipotle peppers
1-2 bay leaves
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1 T sea salt
1 T light brown sugar
1 T apple cider vinegar

Cilantro leaves, fresh

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles de árbol, and set a naked skillet over high heat for 5 minutes, then toast the chiles until they are fragrant, approximately 4-5 minutes.

Return the skillet to medium high heat. Add the tomatoes, onion and garlic, and cook, turning occasionally, until slightly charred. Set aside the mix to cool.

Again, return the skillet to medium low heat. Place the pumpkin seeds, peanuts and sesame seeds in a heavy skillet, and sear until they are toasted and fragrant, approximately 2-3 minutes. Put the seeds and nuts in a bowl, and stir in the cinnamon, cloves and allspice.

Put the chiles and some liquid in a blender with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, the nut seed mixture and the chipotle.  Purée until smooth.

Add the extra virgin olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed skillet, and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the purée and lower the heat, and stir, cooking the mixture down to a thick paste. Add the broth and bay leaf to the paste, and stir, then season with the salt, sugar and vinegar, and reduce for another 15 minutes or so, until it becomes creamy. Lower heat to a bare simmer and discard bay leaf.

Slather the sauce in a very distinct moderation over halved eggs + sausages, top with fresh cilantro, and serve with tequila drinks.

Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Deceptively simple yet complex, aromatic gàgà heaven in a bowl. Phở Nạm Bò (beef pho) was the talk earlier here, but it should be remembered that before the French incursion, cattle were cherished beasts of burden in Vietnam. They tilled rice fields and were not usually slaughtered for fodder. More of a pollo-pescatarian society except for the divine sus. So, the Việts have also embraced the less extravagant, more native, and still luscious chicken kin, Phở Gà — which is embellished with more or less depending on the region. While each kitchen ladles its own brand of phở, the further north, the focus is on intense, clear broth and far fewer garnishes. Less bling in Hà Nội than in Hồ Chí Minh City bowls.

Was phở born of feu? Some opine that the word phở is a corruption of the French feu (“fire”). So, maybe phở is a local adaptation of the French pot au feu or beef stew. As with pot au feu, cartilaginous, marrow rich bones and roasted vegs are simmered for hours to make a broth with the scum skimmed and discarded. Not a stretch really.

CHICKEN PHO (PHO GA)

1 – 4 lb chicken or leg thigh quarters, excess fat removed
Chicken back, necks, or other bony chicken parts
2 qts chicken broth
1 qt water

2 onions, peeled & quartered
3 – 1 1/2″ slices ginger, also sliced lengthwise
2 T coriander seeds, toasted
6 cardamom pods, toasted
6 star anise, toasted
2 cinnamon sticks, toasted
4 whole black peppercorns, toasted
4 whole red or pink peppercorns, toasted
4 whole green peppercorns, toasted
1 lime, quartered
4 stalks lemon grass, crushed and sliced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, stalks bound
6 sprigs fresh cilantro, stalks bound
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Pinch of sea salt

1 T fish sauce (nước mắm nhi)
2 T raw sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lb flat rice noodles (bánh phở)
Sea salt

Garnishes
Hoisin sauce
Hot chile sauce (e.g., Sriracha)
Lime wedges
Bean sprouts
Scallions cut in half, then lengthwise into tendrils
Thai or small Italian basil leaves
Thai or serrano chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, roughly cut
Mint leaves, roughly cut

Preheat oven to 350 F

Arrange onion quarters, rounded side down, and ginger pieces on baking sheet. Roast until onions begin to soften, about 20-25 minutes. Cut off dark, charred edges if any. In a heavy, medium pan over medium heat, carefully toast coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns until fragrant.

Leave whole or cut chicken into 6-8 pieces or so. To make the broth, put the chicken, back, neck or other bony parts in a large, heavy stockpot. Add the remaining ingredients (onions, ginger, coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, lime, lemongrass, garlic, mint, cilantro, red pepper flakes, salt) and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Throughout the process, use a ladle or large, shallow spoon to skim off any scum that rises to the top. Cook until the flesh feels firm yet still yields a bit to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Carefully lift the chicken out of the broth and place into a large bowl or on a deep platter. Keep the broth at a quiet simmer.

Once adequately cooled and the chicken can be handled, remove the chicken skin, pull the chicken off the bones and set the meat aside in a foil tented bowl. Do not cut into smaller pieces yet.

Return the leftover carcass and bones to the broth in the pot, add fish sauce (nước mắm nhi) and raw sugar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat to simmer the broth gently for another 1 hour. Then, strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve or a coarse mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a saucepan. Discard the solids and again use a ladle to skim fat from the top of the broth. Leave some fat for flavor.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Cut the cooked chicken into slices about 1/4″ thick and bring the broth to a gentle simmer in the saucepan. Now build…nest noodles in bowls, arrange the chicken slices over, and ladle the broth on top. Then, serve promptly with whatever garnishes suit your palate (hoisin, sriracha, lime, bean sprouts, scallions, basil, cilantro, chiles, mint and friends).

Ad Hominy

October 6, 2011

Nunca falta un pelo en la sopa (There’s always a fly in the soup).
~Mexican proverb

Served both whole and ground, hominy is simply corn kernels without the germ. In a process called nixtamalización, dried field corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution (often slaked lime) until the outer layers can be hulled. This yields slightly altered flavor and a different texture with enhanced aromas and tenderness. With Mesoamerican roots dating to circa 1500-1200 BCE, hominy is just another culinary extension of the maize culture that was birthed and flourished there.

The English “hominy” is derived from the word maize in the now extinct Powhatan tongue, a subgroup of Algonquin languages. A confederation of tribes, Powhatans lived in tidewater Virginia during pre-colonial days. As became the habit, white colonists rendered the native dialect dormant as well as nearly eradicating the tributary peoples. Eugenics at work.

When whole, hominy can be found in heavenly menudo (hominy and tripe soup) or pozole. It can also be ground coarsely to make hominy grits, or even finer into a dough to make masa for tortillas, tamales, empanadas, arepas y amigos.

Pozole is a classic pork stew with hominy and dried red chiles. A hearty, rich feast which bathes the senses. This recipe has an admitted shortcut. While using canned hominy may not be preferable—the time and effort that need be allotted to preparing the lime mixture, then cooking, cleaning, hulling, washing and deflowering the corn can be a touch daunting. My apologies to purists.

POZOLE ROJO

6 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
8 C water
3 C chicken broth
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
3 lbs pork neck bones
1/2 t dried cumin seed, toasted, then ground
1 t dried oregano, crumbled

2 1/2 qts canned white hominy, well rinsed and drained

4 large dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and deveined
4 large dried guajillo chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined
2 C water

1 T sea salt

Corn tortillas
Canola or vegetable oil

Garnishes
Cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
White onion, finely chopped
Radishes, thinly sliced
Lime wedges

Corn tortillas
Canola or vegetable oil

In a large heavy kettle or Dutch oven bring water and broth just to a boil with sliced garlic and pork shoulder and neck bones. Skim surface and add oregano. Gently simmer pork, uncovered, until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the hominy during the last 45 minutes.

While the pork is simmering, tear the chiles into larger pieces and toast in a heavy large skillet over medium heat, pressing them against the surface some. Once they blister turn and repeat. Boil in water, then soak for about 30 minutes. Drain, place in a blender or food processor and puree, slowly adding some water, until a paste forms. Strain and add to the simmering soup, stirring for awhile until incorporated. Season with salt.

Now while the pozole is simmering, work on the tortillas. First, stack and cut into wedges. Then, spread into a single layer, and cover lightly with a dry towel to keep from curling. Allow to dry or they will be greasy. In a heavy medium non-stick skillet heat 3/4″ oil until hot but not smoking and fry in batches, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer tortilla wedges with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Once drained, carefully place in a bowl.

Remove the neck bones and shoulder from the broth. When cool enough, remove the meat from the neck bones and roughly shred all the meat from the shoulder. Return the meat to the pot. Again season with salt to taste.

Ladle the stew into large bowls and top with the garnishes of choice. Serve with the tortillas.

Chicken With Thai Basil

August 20, 2011

A sweet basil cultivar native to subtopical southeast Asia, thai basil is a member of the family Lamiaceae—kin to such garden staples as rosemary, sage, mint, lavender, oregano, marjoram, savory, and thyme. Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum) features a square purple stem and slightly downy, densely aromatic, purple flushed leaves that grow in spear-like pairs opposite to one another. It tends to be more stable and less flimsy under high cooking heat than standard Genovese sweet basil.

To keep basil vibrant, trim the stems on the bias as you would hothouse flowers, then plunge the bunch in a tall glass of water. Loosely cover the basil with a plastic bag and store on the counter. This keeps moisture in, while allowing the naturally produced and leaf browning ethylene gas to escape. Alternatively but often not as effectively, you can wrap the trimmed stems in a slightly wet paper towel and store the basil in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Although basil’s celebrity could lead to smugness, this dish is without conceit.

CHICKEN WITH THAI BASIL

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 T fish sauce
2 T oyster sauce
1 T raw sugar
1/2 T honey
40 leaves Thai basil

2 T peanut or canola oil
4 cloves fresh, plump garlic, peeled and crushed

4 Thai bird chiles, stemmed and minced

In a small bowl, marinate chicken with the fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, honey and 10 basil leaves.

Heat wok over medium high heat and add oil. Once heated, add the garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant but not browned, remove and discard. Then, add the marinated chicken and stir fry until the chicken is just no longer pink. Add remaining basil leaves and chilies and cook until chicken is cooked through, about another 2 minutes.

Serve over jasmine rice, white rice or rice noodles.

I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth.
~Chico Marx

As a late teen first visiting Paris, I was struck (even smitten) by the provocative public displays of affection on the streets, in parks and cafés. Passionate and intimate — open mouthed, deep kisses, with cuddles and caresses. Face dwellers. Blissfully awesome came to mind then and now. In the puritanical States though, you are ridiculed, derided for such shameless ardor. Frowned upon here, public kissers are brusquely advised to “get a room.” I mean, God forbid you be so deeply enamored with each other that you really do not give a damn about those leering, envious “get a life” voyeurs. Just that kind of “refulgent” act that no doubt makes Sarah Palin feel “squirmish” (sp?). Maybe she should stick to more basic, monosyllabic words, like “dolt.”

Thankfully, face whiffing and canoodling in public venues have now become national pasttimes in Mexico. In 2009, nearly 40,000 people gathered at Zocalo Square in Mexico City to break the tally for the most people kissing at one moment. This Valentine’s Day simultaneous smooching was dubbed Besame Mucho or “Kiss Me A Lot”. The intense, overt sensuality of young and old has continued forward with lovers inveterately kissing and ardently embracing in and near squares and promenades in Mexico’s most populus city.

Ah, to create a culture of sweet, tender mercies with those ever expressive, soft yet hot kisses…panochitas.

While my preference would be fresh tomatoes or tomatillos or both, the earthy sundried ones are a luscious substitute in the off season. Then, fast forward to late summer and replace the sundried ones with home grown or farmers’ market beauties—even heirlooms. A third option is to boil about a half dozen fresh, husked and washed, medium tomatillos in salted water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and zip in a blender or food processor.

GUACAMOLE & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

1/2 medium white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 C sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 C loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro leaves

4 medium large ripe avocados
Sea salt
Fresh lime juice

Queso fresco crumbled, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Radishes, halved and thinly sliced, for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix the onion, garlic and chiles with the sundried tomatoes and cilantro.

Close to when you are going to serve, halve the avocados lengthwise by cutting from stem to stern and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Dislodge the pit with the blade and scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl with a spoon. Roughly mash the avocados into a coarsely textured, thick mash. You probably want some chunk.

Taste and season with salt and lime juice to suit your personal preferences.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate until ready to serve. Mound the guacamole in a serving dish, and serve with queso fresco, cilantro and radishes.