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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You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
~Mae West

Homo naledi whose feet and teeth mimic homo genus but still bear human lineage were unearthed last month. These hominids with smaller than current brains and intracranial space have been dubbed a mosaic species due to their varied anatomical features. They are ancestors from some 2.5-2.8 million years ago, from the same genus which includes the famed Lucy. An average Homo naledi was about 5′ tall and weighed some 100 lbs.

Lithe, petite ladies — slender and agile enough to wriggle through the proverbial crack in the wall — snakily, shimmied and crawled down narrow limestone shafts and lightless tunnels in South Africa to gather fossils and skeletal remains bones and the like from the burial vault. It was breathtaking to watch how they adroitly slid down the scant walls and so carefully culled these bony artifacts from the dirt.

Paleoanthropology professor Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg was seated on the ground above poised before his laptop watching them dive and eagerly awaiting their safe return with their trove. They did not disappoint, even though some expressed concerns about trampling on such delicacies. As Dr. Berger remarked, “…there is no substitute for exploration.”

In the Rising Star Cave, these underground astronauts encountered tombs where many of the Homo naledi were interred by rituals which perhaps avoided scavengers.

Bok choy which translates to “white vegetable” in Chinese is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family which also includes broccoli, kale, collard greens, cabbage, mustard greens, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Not surprisingly, they are rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A (carotenoids), potassium, folate, vitamin B-6, calcium, and manganese. Bok choy have smooth, glossy, spoon shaped leaves that cluster with a small base.

In some realms, smaller is better.

BABY BOK CHOY

1 T soy sauce
3-4 T oyster sauce
2 T rice vinegar (unseasoned)
Pinch of raw sugar

1-2 T peanut oil
2 T plump fresh garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t ginger root, peeled and minced
4-6 bunches of baby bok choy, with ends trimmed
3 T chicken stock

Combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, raw sugar and rice vinegar in a glass bowl and set aside.

Heat peanut oil in a heavy skillet (non-stick or not) placed over medium high heat until oil shimmers. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and ginger, then bok choy, and stir fry for about 2 or so minutes. Add stock to the skillet, then cover and allow to cook for a couple minutes more, until bok choy has softened some at the base. Toward the end, drizzle with the soy-oyster-sugar-vinegar sauce.

Remove bok choy and friends from the skillet and turn onto a platter or separate plates/bowls. We tend to serve bok choy sidled up to lemon grass chicken and jasmine rice or noodles (September 5, 2010), but it can be paired with a host of wokked, sautéed, roasted, or grilled main dishes, Asian or otherwise.

Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.
~Edward R. Murrow

Clustered around the banks of the Sông Hương (Perfume) River, Huế is a quaint city in the Thừa Thiên–Huế province and the imperial capital of Vietnam held by Nguyễn feudal lords during the 18th to the mid 20th centuries. Well, until the French, then later the Japanese and then the French again and finally the Americans, interceded. No doubt, for typically myopic home politicians, this was way too much dominion for locals but bred sublime cuisine.

Huế, sometimes referred to as the City of Ghosts, is centrally located on the Indochina peninsula, a few miles inland from the South China Sea with verdant mountains nestled behind…and vast palaces, pagodas, colored tiles, rice paddies, tombs. A culture where ancestors never die. Huế was the royal capital until 1945, when then emperor Bảo Đại abdicated, and a government now convened in Hà Nội (Hanoi).

Huế was the site of perhaps the most ruthless battle of the Vietnam (or American) War. At the height of this costly and equivocal conflict, there were some 500,000 American troops in the country. Only a rather small percentage of the US public even knew where Vietnam was located.

In preparation, Vietcong troops launched a series of attacks on isolated garrisons in the highlands of central Vietnam and along the Laotian and Cambodian frontiers. Then, one early morning in late January, 1968, Vietcong forces emerged from their dark tunnels and holes to launch the Tet holiday offensive. In coordinated attacks throughout South Vietnam, they assaulted major urban areas and military bases in an attempt to foment rebellion against the Saigon regime and their American backers. Callous fighting ensued for several weeks, some of the most brutal at Hué — much of which was house to house with US Marines facing overwhelming odds, and the North Vietnamese suffering heavy casualties. Eventually, artillery and air support was brought to the forefront, and then nightmarish civilian massacres occurred. No burials, no altars.

But, as a result of the words and images from Saigon, the homeland press and public began to challenge the administration’s increasingly costly war. In the wake of the Tet offensive, the respected journalist Walter Cronkite, who had been a moderate observer of the war’s progress, noted that it seemed “more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”

Oh, the sublime scents, flavors, sights, sounds of this evocative city. So many ambrosial even balmy and slurpy dishes in the Vietnamese repertoire originated in the Thừa Thiên–Huế region.

BUN BO HUE

2 lbs oxtail, cut into 2″-3″ pieces or pigs’ feet cut into chunks
2 lbs beef shanks, cut into 2″-3″pieces
2 lbs pork necks
2 lbs beef marrow bones, cut into 2″-3″ pieces
1 lb beef brisket

8 lemongrass stalks, leafy tops discarded and fleshy part retained
1 bunch scallions, white parts only, halved lengthwise
2 T paprika
1/2 C fish sauce

1 1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t annatto seeds and/or saffron, ground

1/4 C+ canola oil
1 C shallots, peeled and sliced
1 t fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 C lemon grass, minced
2 t shrimp paste
2 t sea salt
2 t local honey

1 package dried rice (bún) noodles

Thai basil sprigs, chopped
Cilantro leaves, chopped
Mint leaves, chopped
Green or red cabbage, thinly sliced
Lemon wedges
Lime wedges
Yellow onion, thinly sliced

Bring some water or broth to a rolling boil, and then add the oxtails, beef shank, and pork bones. Return the water to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Drain the bones into a colander and rinse under cold running water. Rinse the pot and return the rinsed oxtails, neck bones, and shanks to the pot. Add the marrow bones and brisket.

Crush the lemongrass with the end of a heavy chef’s knofe and add it to the pot along with the scallions, paprika and fish sauce. Add 8 quarts fresh water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the liquid is at a simmer and skim off any scum that rises to the surface.

After 45 minutes, ready an ice water bath, then check the brisket for doneness to ascertain whether the juices run clear. When the brisket is done, remove it from the pot (reserving the cooking liquid) and immediately submerge it in the ice water bath to cease the cooking process and give the meat a firmer texture. When the brisket is completely cool, remove from the water and pat dry. Also set aside the oxtails, beef shanks, pork shanks and beef marrow bones.

Continue to simmer the stock for another 2 hours, skimming as needed to remove any scum that forms on the surface. Remove from the heat and remove and discard the large solids. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large saucepan. Skim most of the fat from the surface of the stock. Return the stock to a simmer over medium heat.

In a spice grinder, grind the red pepper flakes and annatto seeds into a coarse powder. In a frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the ground red pepper flakes and annatto seeds and cook, stirring, for 10 seconds. Add the shallots, garlic, lemon grass, and shrimp paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more, until the mixture is aromatic and the shallots are just beginning to soften.

Add the contents of the frying pan to the simmering stock along with the salt and honey and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and more honey, if necessary.

Arrange the basil, cilantro, mint, cabbage, lemon and lime wedges, and onion slices on a platter and place on the table. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain. Divide the cooked noodles among warmed soup bowls, then divide the brisket slices evenly among the bowls, placing them on top of the noodles. Ladle the hot stock over the noodles and beef and serve promptly, accompanied with the platter of garnishes.