My mother never breast fed me. She told me she liked me as a friend.
~Rodney Dangerfield

Please consider that these words are uttered by an avowed chicken addict. While lamb, pork, beef, offal and friends often beckon in this kitchen, chicken invariably rules. However, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be the bane of a cook’s existence. They are insipidly dry, tough, tasteless, often stringy and uninspiring — often sapping the very passion to cook. Yawners on a good day, a cook’s torment on others. One renowned chef questions whether these bland and skinned boring bosoms should even be considered a valid part of a chicken’s anatomy. So, a word to the wise: nestle up to succulent, dark meat like thighs, legs, backs, as they are ever sublime.

POLLO AL PIMENTON

4 chicken leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 T pimentón agridulce
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T duck fat
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 red pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 medium fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1 T pimentón agridulce
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 C Spanish fino sherry
1/2 C chicken stock
2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Splash of high quality sherry vinegar
1/4 C crème fraîche

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and pimentón. Heat the olive oil and duck fat with the smashed garlic cloves in a large, heavy sauté pan to medium high and brown the chicken, skin side down until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and brown the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Remove chicken, tent with foil in a dish and drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan.

Lower the heat and add the red pepper, onion, fennel and pimentón. Cook until soft, but not browned, about 10-12 minutes, adding the garlic for the final minute. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and then add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and return the chicken to the skillet. Cover the pan, and cook, turning the chicken once or twice, until tender, about 25 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil. Turn up the heat and boil liquids down to a sauce consistency, adding the sherry vinegar toward the end. Cook further for a couple of minutes, then reduce the heat to low, whisk in the crème fraîche until the sauce thickens, adjusting the seasonings to your liking. Plate, then ladle the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Advertisements

How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?
~Charles de Gaulle

A kitchen syllogism (with even a third premise): 1) Champagne pairs well with oysters. 2) Champagne couples splendidly with brie. 3) Champagne is simply sublime solo. Ergo

Christened the “Queen of Cheeses,” brie is an elegant, creamy, buttery soft French cow’s milk cheese. The cheese tooks its name from the area once called “Brie” which roughly corresponds to the modern département of Seine-et-Marne which is located in the Île-de-France region of France, often called the Région Parisienne or RP (the Paris Region).

To make brie, the curd is made by adding rennet—an enzyme that aids in separating curds from whey—to raw milk and then heating it at low temperatures. The separated curds are spread out in thin layers in molds and drained for almost a day, about 18 hours. The cheese rounds are removed from the molds, salted, and bacteria is introduced. Finally, the cheese is aged in caves for at least four to five weeks.

French brie differs significantly from that exported to the states. Real brie is unstabilized being made from unpasteurized raw cow’s milk, a practice prohibitied by the USDA. Our imported brie is made from pasteurized milk, remains alabaster white, has not developed properly and is simply not ripe or mature. Therefore, it is much milder and decidely less complex in aroma and flavor.

Brie should be served at room temperature, almost gooey, and the delicious rind is intended to be eaten. Because I tend to love brie au naturel with a crusty baguette, the liberal use of the cheese in this soup recipe occasionally makes me wince. The champagne finish is not optional, especially since the remainder of the bottle beckons.

OYSTER & BRIE SOUP

3 dozen medium oysters in their liquor
4 C cold water

1/2 lb unsalted butter
1/2 C all purpose flour
1 C onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 C celery, chopped
1/2 C carrots, chopped
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t Cayenne pepper
1/2 t dried thyme

Pinch of sea salt
1 bay leaf

1 lb Brie cheese, rind on, cut in small wedges
3 C heavy cream
3/4 C champagne

Chives, for garnish

Combine oysters, oyster liquor and water together and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Strain and reserve the oysters and water separately.

In a large heavy skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth but not browned. Increase the heat to medium, add the onions, celery and carrots and sauté until onions are translucent, about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the white and Cayenne peppers and thyme and sauté about 2 minutes more, then set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, bring the reserved oyster water along with the salt and bay leaf to a boil. Stir in the sautéed vegetable mixture until well mixed. Turn heat to high. Add brie and cook until cheese starts to melt, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Lower heat to a simmer and continue cooking for about 5 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat, strain soup and return to pot. Turn heat to medium high and cook about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in cream and cook until the soup reaches a gentle simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the champagne.

Turn heat to low, add the oysters and allow them to plump for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately in shallow soup bowls, garnished with chives.

I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.
~James Beard

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a small, shrubby perennial herb in the family Asteraceae native to a broad area of the northern hemisphere. It has a slightly bittersweet flavor and an aroma vaguely similar to anise.

Tarragon is closely related to wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) which is the primary herb used to create the potent and infamous anise flavored liqueur, absinthe. Fearmongers portrayed absinthe as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug due to the finding of slight traces of the chemical thujone—misleading evidence which led to absinthe’s ban in several countries. The paranoia was stoked by social conservatives and religious zealots who disapproved of the bohemian lives led by absinthe loving artists such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Modigliani, Wilde, and Verlaine…some of the enfants terribles of their time. It must be the mysterious absinthe, they reasoned, that led them to live unconventional (God forbid!) existences and openly discuss such lofty artistic and metaphysical ideals. In a narrow cosmos, anti-absinthe fanaticism was a remainder of prejudices past, and proved a grim precusor to the unfounded intolerances of Prohibition and Reefer Madness. Such a streak of bigotry that has run through the Anglo-Saxon collective psyche over the ages…even up to the pervasive “we” vs. “they” and “good” vs. “evil” neocon chauvinisms of this century.

Fortunately, real science and clearer heads prevailed which has led to a revival of absinthe and the resumption of commercial production in the European Union and United States.

Tarragon, unlike many other herbs, was not used by ancient civilizations. While it was mentioned briefly in medieval texts as a pharmaceutical, it did not come into culinary use until the 16th century.

French tarragon, whose leaves are glossy and pungent, is considered the most prized variety in kitchens. It marries well with salad greens, chilled vegetables, fish, poultry, meats, soups, and is commonly used in tomato and egg dishes…and adds distinctive flavor to sauces, such as Bearnaise.

SHERRY TARRAGON VINAIGRETTE

2 T good quality Sherry vinegar
3 t shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 t Dijon mustard
Generous pinch sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6-8 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T fresh tarragon, finely chopped

Whisk together vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and add oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Finally, whisk in tarragon.

Marsala is a fortified wine produced in the region surrounding the its namesake city on the coast of Sicily. The wine is made using a process called in perpetuum, which is similar to the solera system used to produce Spanish sherry. In this continual technique, wine is drawn for bottling from sets of barrels which have been topped off with wine from the next set in the rack. Each barrel is subsequently fininshed with wine from the next set of barrels along the solera. When the last set of barrels is reached, new wine that is just entering the solera is added. So, years into the life of a solera, a complex and mature sherry results which combines the best of both worlds—the mature depth and strata from the older wines with the fresh crispness from the youthful ones. Not unlike most generational processes.

There are a number of varieties of Marsala wines which are classified in accordance with their age. This ranges from Fine, which is aged for less than one year, to varieties like Vergine e/o Soleras Stravecchio e Vergine e/o Soleras Riserva that are aged for at least 10 years.

Marsala is a seaport located in the Trapani province which features a low coastline, and is situated is the westernmost point of the island. Formerly called Lilybaeum, Marsala was the principal stronghold of the Carthaginians in Sicily, and was founded in 396 BC by the survivors of the nearby Phonecian island of Motya, whose city had been destroyed by the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse.

The Saracens, who ruled Sicily during the tenth century, gave Marsala its current moniker which is derived from the Arab Marsa Allah “port of Allah” or perhaps Marsa Ali “port of Ali” as the ancient harbor of Lylibaeum was immense.

The English trader John Woodhouse is often attributed with introducing local Marsala wine to an even wider audience. In 1773, Woodhouse landed at the port of Marsala and sampled this regional fortified wine, which was aged in wooden casks and tasted similar to Spanish and Portuguese fortified wines which were then the rage in England. He risked dispatching a considerable consignment of wine to England to sound out the market. Given the positive response, the merchant set up his own company in Marsala.

A more cost conscious but equally delectable version of this recipe can be made by substituting boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

SCALOPINI AL MARSALA (VEAL MARSALA)

2 C chicken broth
3 T finely chopped shallot
6 T unsalted butter
12 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
2 t fresh sage, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 C all purpose flour
6 veal cutlets
1/2 T dried sage
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 C dry Marsala wine

1 C heavy cream
2 T fresh lemon juice

Fresh sage, chopped
1/4 C capers, drained (optional)

Bring broth to a boil in a 2 quart saucepan over high heat, then boil, uncovered, until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20 minutes.

Cook shallots in 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until shallot begins to turn golden, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms, 2 teaspoon sage, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown. Set aside, tented.

Pound veal until thin but not torn, season with dried sage, salt and pepper; then dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Sauté veal in 3 tablespoons butter and olive oil until browned but not entirely done, then set aside. Do not overcook as you will return the veal to the pan later.

To deglaze, add Marsala to skillet and boil over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add reduced broth, mushrooms, and cream, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened. Return veal to pan and complete the thickening process. Add lemon juice and a couple more tablespoons Marsala. Serve with chopped fresh sage sprinkled over the veal. The capers are just a reflection of my addiction to these pungent little berries.

Serve with linguine or toasted orzo (see Toasted Orzo post).

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