To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.
~François de La Rochefoucauld

Yes, I have written about tuna more extensively in a post entitled Ahi “Nicoise” dated May 13, 2010 — look at the search box.  But, please abstain in devouring blue fin tuna as it appears low in numbers.

Then again, earlier (February 7, 2009) there existed here a post about ubiquitous steak tartare — although sublime, but with the firm texture of this finfish, tuna tartare is sapid, damn near nympholeptic.  This does not imply that steak tartare is equally divine, as both are toe curlers.  But, it is a cooling, light, dainty often app repast with tuna diced into chunks and fluidly soothed by Asian flavors (as below) in a chilled vessel, a dish which really did not emerge until recently about 3-4 or so decades ago…perhaps in Paris by a Japanese born, yet French trained, chef by the name of Tachibe — who knows?

A chilled dry white (preferably one that is French oriented or sauvignon blanc) or rosé is essential as quaff.

1/4 C canola oil
2 t grated fresh ginger, with some small chunks retained

1 – 1 1/3 lb sashimi (perhaps sushi) grade tuna, diced into 1/4″ pieces

1 t jalapeño, minced with seeds and veins removed
1 1/2 t wasabi powder
1/2 t mirin
1/2 t saké
1 t sesame seeds
1 T scallion, finely chopped
1 1/2 T lime juice
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Non-pareil capers, rinsed
Caviar

In a bowl, add the ginger and chunks for a few hours to allow to marinate some in the frig.

In a large glass chilled bowl, add tuna to ginger oil as well as small ginger chunks, the cilantro, jalapeño, wasabi, mirin, saké, sesame seeds, scallions, lime juice, then mix well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Using fingers, very slightly strew over the tuna tartare with capers and then caviar.

Serve on chilled shallow glass salad bowl(s) over some flared avocado slices or cilantro or watercress, something like that or those kith and kin.

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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.

Za’atar (زَعْتَر‎) is an aromatic and ancient spice and herb blend found in North African, Middle Eastern and other Mediterranean rim cuisines. Since BCE days, it has been dubbed zaatar, zahatar, satar, zahtar, zatar, and za’atar. Alternatively said to be a type of wild thyme, a type of savory, a type of hyssop, or a type of oregano — it may be better stated that za’atar refers to members of the herb genus Lamiaceae (which includes each). While the history is occasionally blurred, as with many gastronomic delights, za’atar differs regionally and from kitchen to kitchen, sometimes even concealed.

Za’atar has a sunny, zesty flavor with deep nutty, woodsy, and herbal accents. The medley is not only sprinkled onto food to season but is also used in marinades with roasted or grilled meats, fish and vegetables and in recipes as a spice. A versatile soul, it is also sublime atop cheeses, flatbreads, pita, breads and pizzas or infused in olive oil or yogurt.

Sumac (from the family Anacardiaceae), which can be found at food specialty stores, has a vibrant, citrusy flavor that enlivens the other herbs.

Simply put, there is little excuse for not always having a jar of za’atar in the pantry.

ZA’ATAR

2 1/2 T sesame seeds, toasted

3 T dried sumac leaves
2 T dried thyme leaves
1 T dried oregano leaves
1 t sea salt, coarse

Add raw sesame seeds to a dry, heavy skillet over medium low heat. Shake the pan back and forth until fragrant, but not taking on color. Immediately pour the toasted sesame seeds from the pan into a bowl to prevent them from scorching.

Once the sesame seeds have cooled, add all of the ingredients to a spice blender, food processor fitted with a blade, or mortar and pestle. Pulse several times to blend and slightly break up, but not obliterate, the herbs and salt. Be able to recognize the sesame seeds in the blend. Transfer to a jar with an airtight lid and store in a cool, dark place.

Pourboire: Sometimes marjoram leaves and toasted cumin or fennel seeds are added to the mix. Just depends upon the region and personal likes.

Math + KFC (Yangnyeom Dak)

November 15, 2012

You know, you really can’t beat a household commodity — the ketchup bottle on the kitchen table.
~Adlai E. Stevenson

Now that the electorate has spoken, it seemed timely to remind some readers that the days of Ike, Adlai and the Cleavers were from a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Times of yore which best be forgotten, but still remembered some. For example, extensive tax cuts coupled with “just” wars and an expanded military complex were commonly known then to drastically reduce needed revenues, create deficits, and were proven inimical to the greater good of society. Surely some old white men recall those self evident truths (I do).

Gochujang (고추장) is a savory, subtly pungent, deep crimson Korean paste in which the essence of red chiles is balanced with the sweetness of glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. It is believed to have been first served in Korea in the late 18th century, after chiles were earlier introduced there by European traders. In my humble, this mother condiment prevails hands down over commercial ketchup and should be embraced as a home staple. Salty and sweet, with an earthy finish and umami hints, beloved gochujang is sublime on the front end, in the middle or as a finish for many dishes. Perhaps the demographics on the table need to be reshuffled some to reflect the changing landscape.

This versatile, now nearly indispensable, paste can be stored for several months in the refrigerator. Simply bring to room temperature before using. Often, it is diluted with a touch of wine vinegar or some other coddler.

KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN (YANGNYEOM DAK)

8 chicken thighs
Sea salt

Canola oil, for frying

6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 ginger, 1 1/2″ slice, peeled and minced
1 T light brown sugar
3 T soy sauce
3 T gojujang
1 1/2 T rice wine vinegar
1 T sesame oil
1 T honey

2 C all purpose flour
1/4 C cornstarch
1 C cold water

8-10 chicken thighs

Sesame seeds, toasted
Scallions, sliced thinly, lengthwise

Lightly sprinkle salt over the chicken in a large glass casserole, cover with plastic wrap, (or place in a sealable plastic bag) and leave them in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight. Remove the chicken from the fridge and use paper towels to remove as much moisture from the surface of the chicken as possible. Allow chicken to reach room temperature before frying.

Lightly toast sesame seeds in the broiler.

Pour oil into large, heavy Dutch oven to a 2″ depth, and heat over medium high heat until a thermometer reads 350 F. Meanwhile in a medium bowl, whisk together garlic, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, gojujang, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and honey. Set aside.


Whisk flour, cornstarch, and water together in another bowl until smooth and fairly thick. Add chicken and gently toss well. (Consider a dry batter as well.) Working in batches, and first holding each piece for a few seconds with tongs in the oil, fry chicken until lightly golden, about 6–8 minutes. Remove with a spider and drain on paper towels. Then return oil to 350 F and fry until crisp, about 2-3 minutes more. Remove and drain again.

Toss chicken in sauce to coat, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve with sliced scallions, sauces, kimchi and pickled radishes.

Pourboire: of course, being the mistress or master of your domain, you can use other chicken parts, such as wings or leg-thigh quarters — which does affect frying times some.

Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.
~Cicero

Store bought hummus begone.

Hummus comes from comes from the Arabic word (حمّص‎) for “chickpeas,” and is alternatively spelled hamos, houmous, hommos, hommus, hummos, hummous or humus. Chickpeas are the most consumed legumes in the world.

The chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is a versatile, edible legume of the Fabaceae family. Chickpeas have a long culinary history—they graced tables in ancient Egypt, were savored in old Palestine, and were cultivated in Mesopotamia as a food crop. The English word chickpea traces from the French chiche which was derived from the Latin cicer from which the renowned Roman orater, linguist and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), received his personal surname. Authorities differ on the origin of Cicero’s chickpea cognomen…some suggest that it came from his oft maligned rural heritage, bereft of ancestors, breeding, or background; others opine that he bore a rather obtrusive wart on his nose which resembled a chickpea; and another school hypothesizes that he was born with an imperfect nose with a likeness of the curled up bean.

In Spain, chickpeas are called garbanzos, in Italy, ceci, in Portugal, grao-di-bico, in Greece, revithia, and in India, gram.

Chickpeas are a nutritional blockbuster, providing hefty doses of dietary fiber that help lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and magnesium and folate that protect against heart disease. Much like other legumes, they are rich in carbohydrates and protein.

Hummus with tahini (sesame seed paste) is buttery and creamy, with a nutty flavor that offers hints of lemon and fresh grassy notes from the parsley oil.

HUMMUS

1 16 oz can chick peas or garbanzos, drained and rinsed
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, minced and smashed to a paste
1/2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 t sea salt
1 T tahini, well stirred
Juice of one lemon
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

Parsley oil
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves

Pinch of paprika
2 T pine nuts, toasted lightly

Smash the minced garlic to a paste with the salt. In a food processor, purée the chick peas with the garlic paste, cumin, tahini, lemon juice, cayenne and olive oil, scraping down the sides, until the hummus is smooth; add salt to taste. If necessary, add water to thin the hummus to the desired consistency and then transfer to a bowl.

Clean the food processor, then purée olive oil with the parsley until the oil is bright green and the parsley is minced. Transfer the parsley oil to a small jar.

Drizzle hummus with the parsley oil and then sprinkle it with paprika and pine nuts.

Pourboire: the longer (and more authentic) version of hummus entails 1 cup dried chick peas soaked overnight.

Rinse the soaked chickpeas well and drain them before putting them in a saucepan and covering them with ample cold water. Bring to a boil, skim off foam, adding 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook over medium heat until the chickpeas are very soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain the chickpeas, reserving their cooking liquid. Follow the remainder of the recipe above except increase the portions of tahini paste to 1/2 cup and fresh lemon juice to 1/4 cup.

Seared Tuna

January 28, 2009

Ruling a large kingdom, is like cooking a small fish…handle gently and never overdo.
~Lao-tse

The two crucial issues that I wanted to wag on about—buying fish & sustainable seafood—will need be addressed in a later post. With this now public affirmation there is little choice but to revisit those topics soon.

Apparently deferring thought is one of the blissful liberties associated with this laisser-aller format. Wouldn’t the unrestrained, self conscious 18th Century authors/essayists, Laurence Sterne and Samuel Johnson, have been the stylistic masters of the English speaking blogging universe? Sterne called his spontaneous writings “progressive digressions,” which seems an apt description for a blog. Then again, imagine a Samuel Beckett blog with his playful, pestilent, multilingual pennings.

SEARED TUNA WITH WASABI & SESAME SEEDS

2-3 T wasabi powder
1/3 C soy sauce
3 T peanut or canola oil
1 T dry sherry
2 t sesame oil
2 t peeled, minced fresh ginger
Pinch of dried pepper flakes
1 T rice wine vinegar
4 green onions, thinly sliced

4 6-oz ahi tuna steaks (Hawaii or U.S. Atlantic)—each about 2 inches thick
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Sesame seeds—white and black

1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced

In medium bowl, thoroughly whisk together wasabi powder, soy sauce, 2 tablespoons peanut oil, sherry, sesame oil, ginger, dried pepper flakes and rice wine vinegar. Taste and then vary quantities to suit your palate. Stir in green onions. Set aside.

Season tuna with salt and pepper and then coat liberally with sesame seeds. Firmly press seeds into the flesh with the palm of your hand. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add tuna and sear briefly until rare but slightly translucent in the center, about 1-2 minutes per side. Take care just to sear quickly and not overcook, but do not turn the tuna over repeatedly—just one turn. Slice tuna across the grain on the bias.

Serve sliced tuna around a molded cup of white rice tossed with roasted almond slices and green onions; then arrange the roasted asparagus spears to your artisitic liking on the plate. Strew jalapenos here and there over the tuna, then drizzle wasabi sauce over.

Pourboire: The tuna can also be served over a variety of greens, such as arugula, frisée, etc.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS

2 1/2 pound medium asparagus, trimmed
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 400

Roast asparagus are best with spears that are a touch on the thicker side…more rubenesque. Snap a single spear toward the end so it breaks off naturally. Cut the remaining spears to match so they are of uniform length.

Toss asparagus with oil, salt, and pepper in a large shallow baking pan and arrange in 1 layer. Roast in bottom third of oven, shaking pan once about halfway through roasting, until asparagus is just tender when pierced with a fork, 8 to 12 minutes total.

A Cupboard Not Bare

January 19, 2009

Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry.
~Chinese proverb

Before traipsing into the kitchen or addressing the grill, some thought needs to be given to the provisions on hand. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect all ingredients to be locally fresh throughout the year, but the time constraints of daily life often demand an impromptu table. Having a well supplied (and periodically restocked) pantry is simply essential for home cooks to produce remarkable meals without a last minute forage at the neighborhood market. Some cupboard items can even prove superior to the fresh versions in certain seasons or preparations while others only come in pantry form.

The list below is not exhaustive, but is intended to be fairly comprehensive for the lay cook. Of course, you will tailor your pantry to suit your palate and home cuisine. However, before you reject this list due to storage size restrictions alone, please keep in mind that almost all of these items are carefully housed in the cabinets of our minimalist urban kitchen with a small frig.

Oils –- extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, grapeseed, vegetable, white truffle, avocado, walnut, sesame

Vinegars — red wine, balsamic, champagne, apple cider, sherry, port, rice wine

Spices & Herbs — black peppercorns, white pepper, green peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mixed peppercorns, cayenne pepper, salt (sea, gray, kosher), herbes de provence, fine herbes, ras el hanout, za’atar, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, tarragon, fennel seeds, fennel pollen, savory, celery seed, mustard, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, pimentón, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, curry powder (homemade) & curry paste, fenugreek leaves, garam masala, caraway seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon (sticks/ground), chipotle chile powder, ancho chile powder, star anise, sesame seeds (black, white), allspice, anise seeds, saffron threads, wasabi powder, rubs (i.e., asian, ancho chili, dried mushroom, rosemary & pepper, tandoori, basic barbeque), local hot sauce(s), barbeque (preferably near home) sauces

Grains & Pastas — rice (white long grained, wild, brown, jasmine, basmati), polenta, risotto, pastas (potentials: taglilatelle, linguini, spaghetti, penne, lasagne, orzo, tortellini, orcchietta, capellini, farfalle, capaletti, cavatappi, cavatelli, fusilli, gnocchi, macaroni, papparadelle, ravioli, vermicelli), couscous, Israeli couscous, rice (cellophane) noodles (vermicelli–bun & sticks–banh pho)

Asian –- soy sauce, shoyu, white shoyu, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce/paste, sriracha, nuoc mam nhi(fish sauce), nuoc mam chay pha san, hoisin sauce, red, yellow & green curry pastes, mirin, sake, coconut milk, miso pastes (white, red), oyster sauce, wasabi paste/powder, five spice, tamarind paste, mirin, rice flour, panko bread crumbs, kochujang, gochu garu, konbu

Garlic, shallots, ginger, potatoes, yellow & red onions, dried chiles

Mustards, chutneys, capers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, tomato paste, harissa, tahini, creme fraiche, pickles

Canned tomatoes (san marzano + homemade), stock (homemade/canned)

Legumes –- lentils (several colors + lentils du puy), garbanzos, cannellinis, white beans, black beans, navy beans

Booze — red & white wine, cognac (brandy), port wine, Madeira, sherry, eau de vie

Baking — flour, sugars (white granulated, raw cane, light brown, confectioner’s), baking powder, cornstarch, cornmeal, yeast, cocoa, dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)

Flavorings –- almond extract, vanilla beans, vanilla extract, Tabasco, Worcestershire

Dried fruits — currants, apricots, figs, prunes, currants

Nuts –- pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, unsalted peanuts

Honeys (local, raw, unprocessed), mi-figue mi-raisin, raspberry and strawberry preserves, apricot jam, pure maple syrup, peanut butter

Dairy –- whole milk, unsalted butter, eggs, buttermilk, heavy whipping cream

Fruits –- lemons, oranges, grapefruit, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes

Cheeses –- parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyère, marscarpone, roquefort or gorgonzola, feta, fontina, manchego

Meats proscuitto, serrano

Spreads tapenades, caponata, hummus