The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.
~Julia Child

Shall the talk be about food or something else? I am torn now.

Peut être, since my youngest son is now in France, it is time for me to talk about Julia. Each day I am graced with awakening early and each night bedding late to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II, and times in between with each one bearing the name on top of Julia Child. Each tome stares me in the face close to my laptop screen and always smilingly so — thank you, Anastasia. By her writings and intervening WGBH television appearances, the 6’2″ Julia Child, with her warbly tongue and sometimes maladroit gestures was ever tactful and frolicsome. Julia and her cohorts Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, Paul Child (whom Julia met at the OSS and married) and always had a couth palette (and Jacques Pépin) simply changed cooking in America. They forever altered my mother and others and somehow randomly permeated me.

Thank you to all and others.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WINGS (AILES DE POULET MAROCAIN)

4 lbs chicken wings, wingettes and drumettes intact

1 T coriander seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T mustard seeds,slightly heated and ground
1 T cardamom seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T cumin seeds, slightly heated and ground

1 T sea salt, finely grated
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T turbinado or raw sugar
1 T light brown sugar
1 T pimenton
1 T turmeric
1 T cinnamon powder
A touch of vanilla extract
1/2 T cayenne
2 limes, juiced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

2 T apple cider vinegar
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 C fresh jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 C honey
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Preserved lemons, at least 2 or 3, insides spooned out gutted), sliced

Heat the coriander, mustard, cardamom and cumin seeds in a dry medium heavy skillet over low medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder devoted to the task. Transfer to a small glass bowl and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Then, put those 4 (coriander through cumin seeds) and the following 12 ingredients (sea salt through extra virgin olive oil) on the wings in a large ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight, turning a few times.

Then, add the 6 next ingredients (apple cider vinegar through preserved lemons) to a heavy sauce pan and allow to very slowly work to a simmer reducing to 1/2 or so and, after cooling to room temperature, allow this to marinate with the wings for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F at the lower part of the oven and prepare a well foiled pan.

Pour off most of excess marinade. Cook the entirety — the chicken wings + marinades — turning a couple of times, with the exception of the yogurt sauce, scallions, jalapenos,and cilantro (see below), of course, for about 30-40 minutes or so, until nicely yet slightly browned.

Scallions, cleaned and chopped
Jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, stemmed and chopped

Sauce
1 1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 T honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Then, top the wings with chopped scallions, jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced, and cilantro leaves, chopped.  Drizzle very lightly with, then dip in yogurt sauce.

Now feed (with toppings and yogurt sauce in a bowl) to les enfants and the elders — in the proper wing way, whatever that may be.

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Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.
~Kurt Vonnegut

Ursa major is a visible “constellation” (actually, an asterism — a prominent pattern of stars often having a title yet a tad smaller than actual constellations) which is seen in the northern hemisphere.  Fairly linear roads lead to Polaris, a yellow-white super giant and the brightest cephied variable star that pulsates radially and forms the very tail of ursa minor. Take a gander at the Alaska state flag to get a general feeling of how to envisage Polaris.

Both ursa major and ursa minor resemble ladles, pans, cups or bowls even though they tend to be translated as the “larger and smaller she-bear(s)” likely due to their northern latitude locations or some zany look at the Big Dipper picture.

On spring and summer evenings, ursa major and minor shine high on in the sky while in autumn and winter evenings, the asterism lurks closer to the horizon.  If one travels from lines of the Merck (β) to the Dubhe (α) stars of ursa major (from the outer base to the outer tip of the pan) and then go about 5x that distance and, Polaris, the north star, will be notably recognized. Polaris, and other pole stars, are relatively steady and stable.

Ursa Major was catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Polaris has often been used as a navigational tool having guided sailors, ancient mariners, even escaping slaves on underground railroads.  It is circumpolar, meaning that it never sets in the north or never disappears below the horizon.  However, given that the Earth’s axis moves slowly, and completes a circular path at some 26,000 years or less — so, several stars take turns becoming the pole star over eons.

FLANK STEAK VIETNAMESE

½ C nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
2 T nước măn chay pha sản (chili soy sauce)
1 lime, zested
1/2 C fresh lime juice
3 T light brown sugar
2 T fresh, local honey
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, minced
1/2 C ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced

1 flank steak (about 2 lbs)

Rice noodles, just cooked al dente

Sesame seeds, for serving
Mint leaves & cilantro leaves, chopped, for serving

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, chili soy sauce, lime zest, lime juice, honey, brown sugar, garlic, jalapeños and ginger. Pour the mixture over the flank steak in a ziploc bag in the frig and let marinate overnight.

Light the grill to medium high, and wipe the steak with a paper towel.  Cook until done, about 3-4 minutes per side for rare to medium rare. Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10-15 minutes tented in foil while simmering the leftover marinade.

Thinly slice steak across the grain on a bias (perpendicular to the grain) and serve over al dente cooked rice noodles gently drenched with reheated marinade. Garnish meat with sesame seeds and mint leaves and cilantro leaves.

A Devil’s Eggs

March 14, 2010

Boiled eggs. Are seasoned with broth, oil, pure wine, or are served with broth, pepper and lovage.
~Apicius, Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome

Demonic fingerlings. Seems enigmatic given that Lucifer’s ova not only pose as Easter fare but are served at so many under-the-nave-in-the-basement-low-ceilinged-linoleum-floored church functions.

As is often the case, the possibilities are boundless with eggs. But, consider they do embody the essence of life and epitomize fertility. Just let your culinary mind wander. Think chopped or minced crab, shrimp, proscuitto, serrano, chiles, mustards, horseradish, wasabi, celery, fennel, caviar, smoked salmon, cured olives, cornichons, sun dried tomatoes, kimchi, peanuts, pistachios, shallots, crème fraîche, and herbs galore—to name just a few.

CURRY

6 large eggs

3 1/2 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade, but prepared works too)
1 T scallion or green onion, minced
1 T jalapeño chile, seeded and finely minced
2 t minced mango or chile chutney, finely minced
1/2 T curry powder
1/4 t ground cumin seed
Pinch of garam masala
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Red radishes, finely chopped (garnish)

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.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then scallions, jalapeño chile, chutney, curry, garam masala, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag, pipe filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover and chill eggs for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with some chopped radishes.

CAPERS & TARRAGON

6 large eggs

3 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade, but prepared works too)
1/2 T dijon mustard
4 t fresh tarragon, chopped
2 T capers, drained well
2 t shallot, peeled and minced

Pinches of paprika (garnish)
English cucumber, peeled and finely chopped (garnish)

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.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, mustard, tarragon, capers, shallot, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag, pipe filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover and chill eggs for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with a small pinch of paprika and some chopped cucumber.

CHIPOTLE

6 large eggs

3 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade, but prepared works too)
1/2 T dijon mustard
2-3 t canned chipotle chiles, finely chopped
Sea salt

Cilantro leaves (garnish)

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.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then chopped chipotle chiles and salt to taste. Using pastry bag or heavy plastic bag, pipe filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover and chill eggs for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, gently lay 1 or 2 cilantro leaves onto the filling on each egg.

Deep Blue Tacos

January 4, 2010

In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.
~Albert Camus

Gazing out the window at shivering naked trees, grey skies, white blanketed roofs and frigid readings, I cannot help but pine for warmer climes, gentle ocean breezes, radiant sun, scimpier attire and sand between my toes. Food is my ferry…and who needs clothes with central heating?

Many gastronomes posit that the fish taco emerged when Asians introduced Baja natives to the practice of deep frying fish. When this battered fried fish was combined with tortillas and traditional Mexican toppings, the fish taco was born. Damn brilliant. Rumor has it that modern fish tacos emerged in the 1950s in one of two Bajan fishing villages, Ensenada (on the Pacific) or San Felipe (on the Sea of Cortez). An ongoing rivalry has ensued, with both cities claiming to be the true “home” of the fish taco…sold from quaint stands by street vendors who produce simple, venerated comida rápida.

The hottest chile grown in central America or the Caribbean (10 on a scale of 10), the habanero is named after Havana, where it is believed to have originated. Later introduced to the Yucatan peninsula, the habanero is the most intensely spicy chile of the Capsicum genus. Unripe habaneros are green, but the color at maturity varies varies from orange to red—with white, brown, and pink ones occasionally seen.

Most habaneros rate 200,000 to 300,000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units), which is some 30 to 50 times hotter than its cousin, the jalapeño. In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacologist, developed the first systematic laboratory approach used to measure a chile’s pungency. Named the Scoville Organoleptic Test, human subjects taste a chile sample and evaluate how many parts of sugar water it takes to neutralize the heat of the chile so that its pungency is no longer noticeable.

Flat with a shiny green color, the jalapeño is a small to medium sized chile that is prized for the hot, burning sensation that it produces on the back end. It is a sweet, medium heat (5 on a scale of 10), so the chile is used in sweet dishes such as well as savory ones. Jalapeños can be found fresh, roasted, pickled or smoked (when it is called a chipotle). The heat level varies from mild to somewhat hot depending on the methods of growth and preparation. It is named after Jalapa, the capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Please use a sustainable fish species to help restore our oceans.

FISH TACOS

Juice from two freshly squeezed limes
1/2 C yogurt
1/2 C crema (Mexican sour cream)
1 habanero chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Alaskan Pacific cod or halibut fillets, cut into 1 1/2″ strips
Canola oil, for frying

1 C all purpose flour
2 t salt
1 lager beer

10-12 flour tortillas

Red cabbage, thinly sliced
Radishes, thinly sliced

Cilantro leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped, for garnish
Salsa verde (see Red, White & Green Flautas, November 14, 2009)

Make a white sauce by mixing the first nine ingredients, aiming for a slightly runny consistency. Set aside.

Make a batter by combining flour and salt, and then whisking in beer.

Heat canola oil in a heavy high edged skillet or Dutch oven 2″ deep over medium high. Using a thermometer, heat oil to 375 F. Dip fish pieces in the beer batter and carefully slip into hot oil. Fry unto fish turns golden, turning once so it browns evenly. Then remove to paper towels to drain.

Before filling the tacos, heat the griddle or large, heavy skillet to medium low heat and cook for about a minute until bubbles start to form and they become pliable. Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.

Place the freshly fried fish, cabbage and radishes inside the tortillas and drizzle with white sauce. Top with a light drizzling of salsa verde and chopped cilantro. Fold and devour.

The Whole Enchilada

October 5, 2009

If God dwells inside us like some people say, I sure hope He likes enchiladas, because that’s what He’s getting.
~Jack Handy

Keeping in line with the Mexican theme—a cuisine seemingly and sometimes sadly overlooked. To outrightly dismiss, bastardize or usurp a sacrosanct ethnic gastronomy is troubling and almost a form of cultural cleansing. Entiende, comprende Taco Bell?

The word enchilada which loosely comes from the Spanish enchilar meaning “donned in chile.” Do not be fooled by the unadorned nomenclature as it belies this beloved, piquant fare, so despite misconceptions, one classic fine dining experience awaits me.

CHICKEN ENCHILADAS

2 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes, drained
2 poblano chiles, stemmed
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed

2 T canola oil
1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped
2 C chicken broth
Sea salt
3/4 C crema or crème fraîche*
2-3 C grilled or roasted chicken dark meat, coarsely shredded
1 C asadero, chihuahua and/or monterey jack cheese, grated

12 corn tortillas
Canola oil, for brushing

Radishes, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Queso fresco, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 F

In a heavy skillet, dry roast the chiles over medium heat, turning occasionally, until soft and blackened, about 5-7 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor along with the drained canned tomatoes. Blend to a smooth purée.

In a heavy bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until translucent but before fully caramelized, about 7-9 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high, and stir in the tomato purée. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened to a smooth paste, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the broth, and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Taste and season with a pinch or so of salt. The sauce should be like a thick cream soup in consistency.

Stir the crema or crème fraiche into the sauce. Put the chicken in a bowl and stir 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce mixture into it. Season to taste with salt.

Lay the tortillas out on a baking sheet or two, and lightly brush both sides of the tortillas with oil. Bake just to warm through and soften, about 3 minutes. Stack the tortillas and cover with a towel to keep warm.

Spread about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Lay some chicken filling into each tortilla, and then quickly yet gently roll each one up with your fingers. Arrange them in the baking dish in line, seam side down. Ladle evenly with more sauce, then sprinkle with the melting cheese. Allow the ends of the tortillas to be free of sauce. Slip in the oven and bake until the enchiladas are hot and the cheese just browned, about 10-15 minutes. Garnish with radish slices, cilantro, and queso fresco.

Serve promptly as enchiladas tend to turn mushy with time.

*Crème Fraîche

2 C heavy whipping cream
1/4 C buttermilk

In a medium heavy saucepan over low heat, warm the cream, but do not simmer or boil. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Transfer the to a medium bowl and allow to stand covered with plastic wrap until thickened but still of pouring consistency. Stir every 6 hours for one day. The crème fraîche is ready when it is thick with a slightly nutty sour taste. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours before using. Crème fraîche may be made and stored in a jar the refrigerator for up to one week.

Ceviche: Debated Ancestry

March 27, 2009

Ceviche, seviche or cebiche is a technique of marinating raw seafood in citrus, traditionally fresh lime juice. As with all great food…exalted simplicity. The fish is slightly “cooked” by the citric acid, which does not involve heat, but does impart subtle flavor. The citric acid denatures the proteins in the fish, unraveling the molecules and altering their chemical and physical properties. Bathing the fish in citrus juices turns the flesh firm and opaque.

As with sashimi, ceviche should be reserved for the absolutely freshest your fishmonger has to offer…and sustainable, less toxin-risky species should always be the goal (see Sustainable Seafood).

While many espouse that ceviche originated in Peru, there seem to be so many varied claims and theories on which country or historical era gave birth to this dish that landing on a solid postulate seems nearly impossible. Suffice it to say, ceviche appears to be native to Central and South America (but, stories persist about ceviche being the fancied, imported stepchild of Moorish women who immigrated to the Viceroyalty of Peru beginning in the 16th century). Such are the culinary conundrums created when civilizations merge, expand, disperse and vanish over time.

GINGER CEVICHE

1/2 lb fresh white fish, such as red snapper, sea bass, sole, flounder, grouper
1/2 lb scallops
Sea salt
3/4 C fresh lime juice
2 T fresh grapefruit juice
1-2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely diced
2 T fresh ginger, grated
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Chill several small serving plates in the freezer.

Carefully cut the fish horizontally into 1/8″ thick slices with a well sharpened and newly honed knife. Salt fish on both sides and place in a large flat bowl. Spoon the lime and grapefruit juice over the fish and toss with the chili, ginger and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably more. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to the chilled plates and serve.