What’s done cannot be undone.
~William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Eggs “up, sunny side up, with a skirt, basted, over easy, over light, flipped, dippy, runny, broken, over medium, stepped on, medium well, over hard, hard, done, over well, over cooked, nuked, dead“…an expectant diner’s heaven, but often a server’s and line cook’s hell. So many chefs and home cooks have dabbled with, have pondered and toiled over, have been bewildered and bullied by, and have sometimes finally mastered the divine fried egg.

The lipid of choice tends to set the stage whether unsalted butter, olive oil, canola oil, chicken fat, duck fat, goose fat, bacon fat or some other shared friend(s). But, the chosen mixes and methods for eggs, fat, heat, and timing tend to rule in the end.

While some consider them prosaic, when done right and softly savored, fried eggs are flat deific.

For me? Try frying one or two eggs at a time so your attention is focused on those brief moments that it takes to transform the critters. Melt a couple tablespoons of “fat” in a heavy, medium skillet over medium heat until it is gently foaming or just lightly shimmering. While the fat melts, crack fresh, local eggs into a glass cup or saucer then slide them into the foaming butter or shimmering oil. Cover with a clear domed lid and adjust the heat so that the butter does not brown, but is just hot enough that the white begins to set. Begin spooning the hot butter or oil over the eggs until the runny whites turn opaque and the yolks begin to set ever so slightly, but remain rather runny. (The white no longer clear and the yolk still loose.) Remove to a plate by simply sliding them out of the pan or use a slotted spatula. Season promptly with salt and pepper, and dine barefooted with a knowing smile.

Still, some disagree on the perfect technique. So because a fried eggs are rather personal by nature, a loosely wound decet (in no order of preference) follows.

FRIED EGG

1 fine egg, fresh and locally raised with a robust orangish yolk, at room temperature
Fat (unsalted butter, extra virgin olive or canola oil, poultry or pork fat)
Sea/kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbs, if desired

(1) In a small, nonstick skillet, melt unsalted butter over moderate heat. Add the egg and fry, turning once, until crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes total. The yolk should just begin to set, but still be in a runny state. Cook longer should you so desire. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(2) Bring 1/4 cup of olive oil to medium high heat in a heavy, sided, smaller sauté pan. Tip the pan at a steep angle, so that the oil collects in a small bath, and slide the egg into the hot oil from a glass cup. Spoon the oil over the egg. After about 30 seconds or so of cooking, the egg white forms a protective coating around the yolk without becoming attached to it. Once the egg develops a golden hue from the oil, remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and season with salt only.

(3) In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium low heat. Meanwhile, crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer, and then add the egg and cook gently in the heated oil. Even consider cracking the egg into a cool pan, and allowing it to heat with the oil until soft and silky. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(4) Crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Gently slip the egg into a well buttered medium, heavy pan which is on low heat. Fry the egg over low heat, with the butter allowed to foam rather than simply melt. Cover the pan for the duration of the cooking process, which results in a soft, but firm white, and a runny yolk. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(5) Place a smaller, heavy nonstick frying pan over the lowest possible heat. Add unsalted butter and allow to slowly melt. When all the butter has melted but has yet to foam, swirl the pan to coat the skillet and then crack the egg into a small glass bowl or saucer. Gently slide the egg off the dish into the frying pan and cover with a lid. Continue cooking approximately 4-5 minutes until the egg white solidifies from transparency into snow white cream; the yolk will thicken slightly as it heats.

(6) Crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer and set aside. Heat unsalted butter in a heavy, smaller skillet over low heat. Once the butter has melted, but has yet begun to foam, swirl it around the pan to coat, then slide in the egg. Cover with a domed lid and cook until the white is set, about 3 1/2 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(7) Heat unsalted butter in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. When foam subsides, reduce heat to low and break the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Slip in the egg and then add a sprinkling of water to the pan (not the eggs themselves). Cover and cook slowly until done. The steam will cook the whites over and around the yolks.

(8) Break the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Meanwhile, heat poultry fat (chicken, duck, or goose) in a heavy skillet over low heat. Once melted and before shimmering, slide in the egg. Cover with a lid and cook until the white is set, occasionally basting with the melted fat, about 3-4 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon or spatula and season with salt and pepper.

(9) Heat canola oil in a heavy, smaller skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Once the oil is hot, slide in the egg. As it cooks, spoon hot oil over the egg whites. Towards the end of cooking, carefully pour a couple of spoonfuls of oil over the yolks. Cook to desired doneness. Remove to a plate and serve.

(10) Put a few bacon strips in a skillet. Start with the heat at medium high, but as the bacon begins to cook, reduce it to medium so the bacon does not burn. Cook the bacon slowly until it is slightly crisped on one side and then turn to cook slowly on the other side. When the bacon is done, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate and tent loosely with foil. Allow the skillet to cool for several minutes before cooking the eggs. Pour off any excess bacon fat.

Break each egg into a small glass cup or saucer and then slip the egg into the warm bacon grease. Place the pan back over low heat and allow the eggs to cook slowly. When the egg whites begin to set, tip the pan and baste with some hot bacon fat to cook the yolks. Remove to a plate and serve.

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Dew Evaporates
And all our world is dew…so dear,
So fresh, so fleeting.

~Issa

Ukiyo-e 浮世絵 is a stunning art form that conceives an evanescent world, a fleeting beauty divorced from the mundane — a genre of Japanese mass produced woodblock prints for commoners in the seclusive Edo period. The polychromatic images depict romantic vistas, transient tales, street scenes, kabuki motifs, comely courtesans, bawdy brothels and even shun-ga (erotica). Life’s momentary insights from shadows and dreams.

Each ukiyo-e image was a collaborative effort: a publisher who coordinated the artisans and marketed the works; an artist who plotted and inked the design on paper; a carver who meticulously chiseled the images, now pasted to a series of woodblocks; and a printer who applied pigments to the woodblocks and printed each color on exquisite handmade paper. Reproductions, sometimes numbering in the thousands, could be made until the carvings on the woodblocks became overly worn.

While a rambling discourse on beloved sushi or sashimi in earlier Japanese culture may seem in order, it is hanukkah so…

POTATO AND TURNIP LATKES

2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 large turnip, peeled, quartered and shredded
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled, quartered and shredded

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 T all-purpose flour
1/2 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 T fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C duck fat, plus more as needed

Place the vegetables in a strainer over a large bowl and allow liquid to drain. Set reserved liquid aside and allow starch to sink to the bottom. Gingerly pour liquid from the bowl, reserving the milky residue (potato starch) and discard the clearer, watery stuff. Transfer potatoes back to bowl with the starch.

Beat together the eggs, flour, thyme, sage, salt and pepper in another bowl until well combined. Add the egg mixture to the vegetables and mix until evenly combined.

Heat duck fat in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat until shimmering.

Form some “silver dollar pancakes” and carefully place one in the hot fat to test for temperature — the fat should immediately bubble around the edges. Cook until golden brown, turning once, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove them from the pan and taste, adjusting the seasoning as needed.

Form more potato patties and place them in the hot fat without overcrowding. Fry (undisturbed) until the latkes hold together and become golden brown, again about 3-4 minutes per side. Adjust seasoning to your taste. Remove to a paper towel lined platter and continue frying more latkes until done.

Nosh on them semi-hot or preferably closing in on room temp. If you are even a touch unfamiliar, you will wonder where in the hell these divine spuds have been for all these years.

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
~Edgar Degas

Several months after the fall of France in 1940, four teenagers and a dog, Robot, stumbled upon the now renowned Upper Paleolithic wall paintings in the Lascaux valley. With that chance find brought a wondrous era of knowing prehistoric art, touching our origins and realizing the awe of humanity and nature. The timing seemed ironic.

This complex of decorated limestone caves, La Grotte de Lascaux, is located in the Vézère river drainage basin in the département of the Dordogne. Magical messages from the depths of prehistory are encoded on these walls. Stunningly, there are nearly 2,000 painted figures, which can be grouped into three basic images: animals (bulls, bison, equines, stags, felines, et al.), human figures and abstract signs. Rooms include The Hall of the Bulls, the Passageway, the Shaft of the Dead Man, the Nave, the Apse, and the Chamber of Felines.

Many of the painted animals are depicted with multiple heads, legs or tails, which according to Marc Azéma of the University of Toulouse–Le Mirail and Florent Rivère, an artist based in Foix, intended to give life to and show beasts in action. Flickering torches and flames which passed over painted scenes would have heightened onlookers’ sense of seeing animated stories. The Lascaux cave has the greatest number of cases of split-action movement by the superimposition of successive images. These Stone Age images were likely the precursors to comic strips, motion picture cartoons, and modern animation — even cinema — according to their research which was published in the most recent issue of the journal, Antiquity. News of these findings has taken the art history world by storm. “Prehistoric man foreshadowed one of the fundamental characteristics of visual perception, retinal persistence,” noted Azéma and Rivère.

This is a canonical French potato dish originating in the gastronomically flush southwest (Le Sud-Ouest). Duck fat, a pantry staple in the Dordogne, imparts silkiness inside and golden crisp edges to the spuds.

POMMES DE TERRE SARLADAISES (POTATOES IN DUCK FAT)

1 lb fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise or Yukon Golds, sliced about 1/4″ thick

1/2 C rendered duck fat
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Fresh parsley leaves, chopped (optional)

Rinse potatoes whole under cold water, then dry thoroughly and slice. Heat a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven (une cocotte) over medium high heat add the duck fat until just melted. Then add potatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary. Toss together to coat well over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and gently sauté, stirring occasionally, until fork tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove and discard thyme and rosemary sprigs. Finish with optional chopped parsley.

Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices filled with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes.
~James Joyce, Ulysses

The gizzard, also referred to as the ventriculus, gastric mill, or gigerium, is a digestive organ comprised of a tough inner membrane, surrounded by a muscular pouch which provides grinding action for food. While fowl are the focus here, gizzards are also found in the stomach tracts of other critters such as reptiles, fish, mollusks, and insects. Some, but not all birds use swallowed gravel, called gastroliths, as grist to masticate and help with digestion. These stones usually become round and smooth from the polishing process in the belly.

A much revered food in so many of the world’s regions, gizzards are sautéed, poached, braised, roasted, grilled, boiled, stewed, pickled, deep fried or even used to flavor stocks. I adore these burgundy hued nuggets, and they are seductively cheap.

The English word “gizzard” comes from the Middle English giser which derived from the Old French word gisier (Mod.Fr. gésier) “a bird’s entrails,” from the Latin gigeria. The Latin term was likely drawn from the Persian word for liver, jigar.

While most gizzards are sold partially cleaned, the importance of diligently prepping the gizzards cannot be understated. (Although many prefer the chewy textured ones.) Simply rinse off any grit and trim off and discard any of the connective cartilage and silverskin membrane before using. A very sharp blade is imperative.

DUCK GIZZARD CONFIT

12 duck gizzards, cleaned and trimmed
1/4 C sea salt
1 T dried thyme

4-5 T duck fat

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 lbs fresh chanterelles and/or crimini, sliced
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Fresh thyme sprigs

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh tarragon and/or parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Mix salt with dried thyme and toss in the gizzards to coat well. Put the seasoned gizzards in a covered container in the refrigerator overnight. The following day, rinse the cured gizzards thoroughly and dry with paper towels.

Heat a large pot of water until almost simmering. Put the gizzards into a ziploc bag, and spoon in the duck fat with them. Seal tightly pressing the air out of the bag. Submerge the bag in a colander and then into the hot water, carefully positioning so that water does not seep into the bag. Maintain the water over a very low heat and slowly poach for about 4 hours.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat and add olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms and shake the pan or stir with a spatula to cook. Add the shallots and toss to combine. Cook just until the shallots are lightly brown. Add the garlic and fresh thyme and cook until the garlic softens but does not burn, about 2-3 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper.

Carefully remove the gizzards and duck fat from the bag, slice them and add to the mushrooms, shallots and garlic over medium high heat. Shortly remove from from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary, then sprinkle with tarragon or parsley. Serve in a bowl with grilled artisanal bread nearby.

BRAISED CHICKEN GIZZARDS WITH CURRY

1 1/2 lbs. chicken gizzards, cleaned and trimmed

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced into very thin half moons
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
1″ ginger root, peeled and chopped finely

1 T cumin seeds, dry roasted then ground
1 T coriander seeds, dry roasted then ground
2 dried red chiles, dry roasted then ground
1/2 t mustard seeds, dry roasted then ground

1 t fenugreek seeds, ground

1 t turmeric
1 t red chile powder
Sea salt

3 T grapeseed oil
1 T unsalted butter
3/4 C chicken stock
3/4 C water
1 cinnamon stick

Roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)
Cilantro leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped

In a bowl, combine ground cumin, coriander, red chiles, mustard seeds and fenugreek with turmeric, red chile, and salt. In a heavy large sauté pan, heat grapeseed oil and butter over medium high. Stir in the onions for a couple of minutes, then the ginger and garlic and cook until until just light golden. Stir in the spice mixture and cook another 2-3 minutes or so.

Then, add the gizzards, stirring until well coated. Stir in the stock, water and cinnamon stick, cover and simmer slowly until gizzards are tender, about 1 hour or more. Assess liquid from time to time to assure a fairly constant level. Feel free to add hot water instead of additional broth. You will need adequate curry sauce to smother the gizzards and ooze into the rice. While braising, stir occasionally and add sea salt to taste.

Serve in shallow soup bowls over Basmati rice topped with peanuts and cilantro.

Omelet aux Cèpes

June 1, 2009

I confess, that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town.
~Alexandre Dumas

The deep south of France. Once mistakenly considered a land bereft of culinary refinement, Languedoc is a land so special that even two seemingly disparate culinary darlings, olive oil and duck fat, coexist. The dishes tend to vary upon respective geographical regions of origin (Haut-Languedoc, Bas Languedoc, or Côte Languedoc) and range from cassoulet to brandade de Nîmes (a puree of salt cod, olive oil and milk) to bourride de Sète (fish stew) to the Catalan grilled snail, pork sausage, blood pudding and lamb chop repast known as cargolade, to name just a few.

The cuisine of the rugged, mountainous Haut-Languedoc and Cévennes is soulful and rustic, deeply anchored in its terroir…characterized by hearty flavors of wild mushrooms and pork and game, chestnuts and walnuts, beans and root vegetables, including the famed black turnip of Pardailhan—a turnip which uniquely merits an Appellation d’Origine Controllée (A.O.C.)

Long a favorite in French gastronomy, cèpes are prized edible mushrooms which bear the Latin name boletus edulis . Cèpes get their common name from the old Gascon word cep which means trunk, due to its girthy stalk. Their Latin name means “superior mushroom,” but cèpes have inspired many other monikers, including “poor man’s steak” and “king of mushrooms.”

The forests of the Cévennes Mountains, covering much of the departments of Gard and the Lozère in Languedoc, are well known for their wild cèpes. They have hints of hazelnuts and are slightly meaty, with a smooth, creamy texture.

Simple as it may sound, one of my more memorable meals in France was an omelette aux cèpes served eons ago at a cozy family cafe in Perigueux, in the Périgord region. The lengthy walk to and from was worth each pace.

OMELETTE AUX CEPES

3 ozs cèpes, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 T duck fat or unsalted butter
1/2 t dried thyme

2-3 large organic, free range eggs
1 1/2 T unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper

Sea salt, to taste

Heat duck fat over medium high heat. Add sliced cèpes, season with salt, pepper and thyme then sauté them in duck fat till cooked. Drain on paper towels if need be, then set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Break the eggs on the edge of your cutting board and into a glass bowl, then season with pepper. In a heavy omelet pan, melt the butter over medium high heat until just a foam appears, tilting the pan in all directions to film the bottom and sides. When the foam begins to subside and the butter and before the it begins to color, pour in the eggs. Shake and swirl the pan to distribute the eggs over the surface until the bottom coagulates.

Before folding the omelet, add the sautéed cèpes. Start by jerking the pan toward you several times so the eggs are thrown against the far edge until the omelet just begins to roll over on itself. Then, with a rubber spatula, roll the extra egg onto the the larger mass. Tilt the pan and turn the omelet onto a plate so that it folds onto the dish. So as to avoid altering the texture of the eggs, some chefs espouse adding salt after coooking.

Pourboire: Repeat this with morels, chanterelles, black trumpets or any other mushroom species of your liking as well as your herb(s) du jour. Omelet mixtures are nearly endless.

Garlic Soup

May 22, 2009

GARLIC SOUP

Duck fat, long a staple of the kitchens in Gascony, imparts deeply opulent flavors to any dish. Many chefs revere the use of duck fat with potatoes in so many preparations.

(Gascony is a historical and cultural region of southwest France—east and south of Bordeaux—that was formerly part of the province of Guyenne and Gascony…a keenly gastronomic domain)

3 T duck, goose or chicken fat
6 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, rinsed, green tops discarded, whites finely chopped
30 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled

7 C chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Bouquet garni: several sprigs of fresh parsley and tarragon and several bay leaves, twined
Nutmeg, grated

5 organic, free range egg yolks
4 T olive oil

Baguette slices, toasted
Chives, for garnish

Over low heat in a large stock pot, melt the fat over low heat, then add the garlic. Cook while stirring occasionally, without browning, until the garlic has become very soft, about 30 minutes or so. During the last 15 minutes of this step, add the leeks so they sweat and soften too.

Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper, bouquet garni, and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 20 minutes. Discard bouquet garni.

Blend the soup either with an hand immersion blender or by allowing the soup to cool slightly and pouring it into a blender or food processor. Blend until the soup is completely puréed.

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl while drizzling in the olive oil. Very slowly and cautiously add hot soup to the yolks a small amount at a time while still beating the eggs. When you have added a cup or so to the eggs, slowly pour the remainder of the egg mixture into the soup vigorously whisking while you do so. Heat the mixture gingerly being careful not to allow the soup come to a boil which would curdle the eggs.

Place a toasted baguette slice in the bottom of each bowl and pour the soup over top. Serve, garnished with chives.