Sunday, April 3, 2016

Take a Wok on the Wild Side (a kickass recipe from a kickass book)





Today's Specials:  Hard Rock and Hot Woks.

Set to the tune of Electric Eel Shock's "Japanese Meets Chinese in USA"


I love me some Asian food.

I mean I love it.

Sushi, Kung Pao, Pho, Kimchi, duck with the darkest glazed skin you'd swear it was simply painted with lacquer, tiny dried out things in bags you can't identify.....you name it....it's all going in my face hole.  And this week I had a hankerin' for some home-cooked fare of my own.  I wanted it simple, light and easy....like my women.  Kidding.  Maybe.  Anyway, I wanted some damn Chinese food!  Which got me thinking about some of the recipes in the library of cookbooks that I'd yet to make.  One of those would probably do the trick.  I looked at a few and I came across a gem that, frankly (and embarrassingly) I'd forgotten all about.  It was a recipe out of one of my favorite books.  Stir-Fried Chicken Szechuan Peppercorns as adapted from Grace Young and Alan Richardson's wonderful book, The Breath of a Wok.  We'll get to the recipe in a second, but I wanna tell you, my dear Braisers, why this book kicks so much unholy ass.

From the get go, Grace tells us about her father who ritualistically made the family sit at the table closest to the kitchen (notoriously the worst seat in the house) whenever they went out to eat at their favorite Chinese restaurants.  This was to ensure that the dishes would still contain 'wok hay'; the elusive and seemingly mystical essence of authentic wok cooking.  Her father knew that wok hay only lasted a few moments, so the seat nearest the kitchen would garner a few extra seconds of the fleeting, intoxicating aromas and flavors.  And so with that childhood education about Chinatown, she embarks on a journey through the streets and rice pattys of China to convey to us the essence of real wok cooking.  Along the way she talks to wok-makers, street chefs who's food is half culinary, half performance,.  She teaches us how to select and season what may be to many of us our very first wok, and how to restore a neglected wok back to it's intended luster.  She explains why it's so difficult to achieve wok hay in the home because of the extreme heat used abroad and in US Chinese restaurants (she also teaches us how to overcome some of these obstacles and how some immigrant cooks in the US have done so).  Not only does she cull some of the most celebrated Asian wok chefs (Susanna Foo, Kevin Chuk, and Martin Yan among many others) for the compilation of the recipes and detailed cooking instructions, but also members of her own family and the nostalgic significance of the dishes prepared.  Great recipes, great stories and all of it artfully illustrated by the photographs of Alan Richardson.  If I had any complaint about the book, it's that a few of the recipes call for some exotic (duh) ingredients which some people here in the US (esp in Kansas) would have some trouble finding easily. While most can be procured at the local Asian market, it's very disappointing to not be able to find a giant hunk of Lotus Root, am I right, ladies?  However an extensive glossary and a list of substitution suggestions minimizes the hassle.

Which brings me to why I chose this particular recipe.  When I first got the book, I was determined to work my way through it starting with the first recipe and progressing until I'd cooked the entire book.  So I opened it up, found the first recipe (Stir-Fried Chicken w/ Szechuan Peppercorns) and immediately ran into trouble.  What the hell are Szechuan Peppercorns?  Turns out, they're not related to peppercorns at all, but are in fact a seed hull and a member of the citrus family.  Oh, and also they were banned in the US up until 2005.  So, naturally, I wasn't able to find them and wasn't able to make the dish properly (as no substitute exists).  They've subsequently been un-banned (that's a real word), and available at Penzey's among other retailers and are becoming more common by the hour.  So I figured I'd grab a container and head to work.

After I opened the little glass jar and sniffed the contents I was immediately flooded with all the possibilities!  It had a definite 'peppery' aroma going on and an earthy richness punctuated by almost floral tones.  I could see it being pared easily with all kinds of meat, the more flavorful and bitter greens, all sorts of root veggies, and you could do worse for a sweet/savory dessert sauce.  This was gonna be fun....

Stir-Fried Chicken w/ Szechuan Peppercorns
*adapted from Chef Kevin Chuk, instructor at the Chinese Cuisine Training Institute, Hong Kong*

yer gonna need:
12 oz Skinless, boneless Chicken Thighs, cut into 1/2 in cubes
3 Tsp Rice Wine
1 Tsp Corn Starch
3/4 Tsp Salt
1/4 Tsp White Pepper
1 Tsp Black Soy Sauce
1 Tbl Chinkiang (use Balsamic Vinegar if you can't find Chinkiang)
2 Tsp Sesame Oil
1 Tsp Sugar
1/4 Chili Oil
2 Tbl Chicken Stock
1 Tbl Vegetable Oil (may substitute peanut oil, if preference dictates)
8 small Dried Red Chilies
1 Tsp Ginger, thinly sliced
1/4 Tsp roasted, ground Szechuan Peppercorns
1 Scallion, chopped

1, In a medium bowl, combine chicken 1 tsp of the rice wine, the cornstarch, 1/4 tsp each of the salt and white pepper.  In another bowl combine the black soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, chili oil, broth, the remaining 2 tsp rice wine, and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt.



2, Heat a 14in flat bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water dropped into it evaporates within 1 to 2 seconds.  Why a flat bottomed wok?  Because they make the rockin' world go round.  Swirl in the vegetable oil, add the dried chilies, and carefully add the chicken, spreading it evenly in the wok.  Cook undisturbed 1 minute (DON'T FUCKING TOUCH IT), letting the chicken begin to brown.  Then using a metal spatula, stir fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the chicken is browned on all sides but NOT cooked through.  Transfer to plate and set aside.



3, Add the ginger, garlic, ground szechuan peppercorns, and scallion, stir frying in the dry wok for only about 15 seconds at most.  Don't burn that garlic, y'all. Return the chicken to the wok.  Stir the sauce mixture and swirl it into the wok.  Stir fry 30 seconds or until the chicken is just cooked through. Discard the chilies.  


______________________________________________
Photo courtesy of Jenn Grace
And I was right.  It WAS fun.  

Simple...elegant....just enough spice to raise a few beads of sweat and a very interesting infusing of flavor from the peppercorns.





Notes:

I like to garnish this with Thai basil.  But you do you.  Also this is a medium hot dish.  You can increase the heat by increasing the chili oil...or you can decrease the heat by reducing or even omitting it entirely if you wanna be a sissy about it.







I highly recommend it and recommend Grace's book.  I know, I know, I know....fuckin sellout right?  Sure, kid, whatever you want.

 But seriously....get this book.

Friday, July 31, 2015

An Open Letter to the Bitch at Table 15


There’s no congenial way of saying this so I’ll just come out with it.....but I hope you die of dehydration brought about by venereal disease.  I know, I know, I know.  You’re probably saying, “Oh, you don’t REALLY mean that.  You’re being hyperbolic and exaggerating so that you can put this on your food blog that you haven’t touched in three years.” 


But no, I really do mean it.  Your visit to my normally delightful little restaurant has been nothing short of a mini-holocaust for the soul....but without the satisfaction of a History Channel documentary. 

First, you paraded in waving a coupon around (it expires today) which historically has been a ‘get out of tipping free’ card.  But I explained to the staff that this was a cynical way of viewing a first time customer, and so we got down to the business of pleasing you. 

And that’s when the trouble started. 

Next, you complained loudly to your server that the wine list didn’t include your favorite Costco swill in a cardboard box (I googled it).  Luckily, for all of us, you managed to find a bottle - the cheapest bottle - which would pair nicely with the food you had no idea you were going to order and have never tasted before. But more on that later. 

***********************DISCLAIMER**************************Now at this point, ladies and germs- I’d like to point out that I, in no way shape or form, have an issue with Costco swill.  I love that shit.  Gallons of sub-par booze for rock bottom prices.  It’s really the only way that a human man of my....oh lets call it grandeur (although I think we can all agree ‘fatassery’ is probably a more apt term for my lapse in judgement) can get shit-faced for $.06 a brain cell.  Most other alcohols of repute do the job for $.09 and who can afford that in THIS economy?
*********************END DISCLAIMER******************



 After gazing at the menu you made a face.  Not a nasty face...more like the face that a dog makes when you decide to teach it algebra. 

“What’s ‘Aioli’?” you asked like a dog who’s being taught algebra.
“It’s basically another word for mayonnaise” your server responded.
“Mmmm.  Sounds weird.  I don’t think I’ll have that.” 


Good to know. You won’t be having MOST of the menu this evening. The question I think we’re all chomping at the bit to hear is what you WILL be having tonight. 

“Where’s the kid’s menu?”

Oh fuck....that’s right. I forgot. You brought your fucking kid. I cannot compliment enough the logic of bringing a child to a restaurant (where actual people are trying to eat and gain a moment of respite THEIR horrible children) where food is served and bringing along your own food.  And the logic of why that food is Cheerios.  WHY IS IT ALWAYS FUCKING CHEERIOS?!?!?!  Is little Timmy not equally entertained and nourished by a food that doesn’t come in a million pieces?  Why not give little Rosilyyn (yes, it’s spelled that way because people don’t think properly) a giant bowl of rice or orzo (shit, I forgot you don’t know what food is. Orzo is a little pasta that kinda looks like rice....ah, forget it).  Cheerios are the legos of the food world. Everyone is having a great time until they step on one.  But your horrible progeny aside, let’s get back to why you suck.

Where was I?

Oh yes.  The kid’s menu.   We don’t have one.  I’m sorry, but we simply don’t have one.  Why not?  Because we have kids in here about as often as often as Michael J Fox has really good penmanship.  But here’s a little industry secret: almost all restaurants have a bag of chicken fingers in the freezer for exactly this occasion.  And no, it’s not because they care about your little fuck trophy.  It’s because we don’t want to hear you bitch about how little Jayden can’t go a single meal in public without having something you’ve never served them at home once ever.  And no, we don’t have mac and cheese.  Unless we do...but it’s not the kind little Michaelangelina will enjoy because it doesn’t come out of a box, glow in the dark, is shaped like their favorite cartoon character, and has ingredients one can find in nature. 

Finally....you've ordered your food.  You ordered the house specialty.  Awesome!  You’re gonna LOVE it.  It’s dish we’ve really worked and focused on to iron out all the kinks in flavor and service.  It makes money, it tastes great, it’s reasonably priced and really shows off the talents of the kitchen and what we can do with the raw materials presented to us. We’re so excited to serve it to you and maybe when you’re done you can tell us....

Eh?
What’s that? 


You don’t want any of that stuff on it?

Oh....and you want us to make sure it’s well done.
No pink.
Opaque.
WELL done.
Dry.
Burned.
Ruined.

Dead.

Gotcha.


Look, lady....I wasn’t gonna tell you this, but I had to physically restrain Jose from coming out there with a knife and asking you what the fuck your problem is.  You see, Jose is the one who created the pineapple chutney that is kinda the binder of the whole dish you just ordered.  He makes each batch lovingly, babysitting the pot which slowly renders astringent pineapple, abrasive peppers, sulphuric onions and a melange of spices and seasonings into a rich, velvety, sweet but not cloying, spicy but balanced, smooth but with texture....sauce that, frankly, ties the whole thing together.  

You ordered it on the side.  Where you can taste it with zero context and decide it doesn’t fit your expectation of what this thing that you’ve never heard of before should taste like.  Your server tells me you took a little bite of it and decided it was ‘too ethnic‘ for your tastes and didn’t touch it after that.

Not only that, but you had a couple of suggestions about what we COULD put on it to make a bit more palatable to you. 

“ I think this would be good with some Ranch!....Ooooh!  Or Dorothy Lynch!!” you said like a dog who's failed his algebra test but doesn't realize it.

“I just LOVE Asparagus spears!  Why don’t you guys serve Asparagus spears!?!”

Your server told you it was just the chef’s choice.  But the real reason is because it’s January and only an idiot would ask for Asparagus.

     

Now where’s your date in all this?  Where IS that guy?  What’s HE doing?  He’s sitting there.  Having ordered his food exactly as it comes, enjoying it with the same abandon as he enjoys a night to himself when you’ve decided to leave town.  So overwhelmed with the ecstasy of his food that he’s having a hard time keeping his hand from shaking while he simultaneously wipes his sweat from his brow, Instagrams the shit out of this meal, and hides his ever growing erection.  That’s who you should be.  You should be the person who....for lack of a better word.....TRUSTS. 

Who hurt you?  Why do you have to hurt others with your fuckery?

In all honesty, I’ve stopped caring.  I’m already outside having a cigarette and joking with Jose.  It’s only been 8 minutes since you got your entree and we’ve already written half the jokes for this blog.

We’re now moving on to what happened in your childhood to make you behave in the manner you have tonight. 

In conclusion, I would invite you to disappear.  Disappear in the same way that the only black person in a horror movie disappears.  Disappear in the same way that a parent in a Disney film disappears.  Disappear in the same way that a minor female character disappears in American Psycho.

Just disappear. 

Hugs and Kisses,
Chef Rob

The Planned Parenthood to Your Self-Inflicted Culinary Abortion



Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Confit and Loathing in Omaha (the conclusion to the Duck Confit Chronicles as told in the style of Hunter S. Thompson)















3am.  Omaha.

The effects of the evening's festivities are beginning to recede and reality is slowly encroaching.  Once upon a time (a lifetime ago it seems) they flocked to me like motorists on a stretch of highway where a horrific accident has taken place.  Necks cranked to gaze at the heaping wreckage of their own sobriety.  Goddamn vultures choking down huge wet clumps of their own willpower, squawking at me like Tea Partiers at a Glenn Beck rally.  Where once there were my comrades, there is just strewn-about carnage.  Casualties of a night of substance abuse, and too much time between visitations.  The dizzying highs now replaced by a sinking feeling that I've been neglecting something for far too long....and the blog reaper has come to collect his due.  Once filled with the warmth of kinship and home, I look at the collection of empty bottles and vials perched precariously on the counter top and can't bring myself to make the cliched metaphor. Where there was once the sound of laughter and bawdy jokes spat out at the tops of lungs at a machine gun pace, there is only the sound of cicadas outside in the god-forsaken heat.  The heat....God is playing some sort of joke on us, I just know it.

No, it's 3am and my mind is beginning to clear.  I hate this.  Nothing to do now, I thought, but write as the lines and edges become steadily and irrepressibly more contrasted.  No....nothing to do now but write.


And eat.

My god, I'm hungry.  I was able to stave off the dreaded beast while in the throes of debauchery.  But now that the hedonistic fires of excess have smoldered into ash, it returns like a vengeful shark with the scent of human blood hibernating in it's nostrils.  I look in the fridge.  It's a barren wasteland of derelict to-go boxes and condiments.  But there, beyond the 3-day-old Lo Mein and and cardboard box of pizza crust I see it.  Shimmering like a mirage to a man dying of thirst.  My duck confit.

"You magnificent bastard" I couldn't help but mutter.

I pulled it forward and looked at the label.  Scrawled in primitive caveman writing: 'Open on 3-17.'  My god.  Had it been that long? Had I forgotten?  Was it still even good?  I pried off the lid to expose a landscape of pillowy fat, as unblemished as an airbrushed 50's centerfold.  The smell conjured up a million sleepless nights in Paris and the hint of sweet and sour decadence was enough to make my head reel.  They say war is hell.  But there's nothing worse than a man in the throes of a confit addiction with nothing to knock that horrid monkey off his back.  Luckily for me, that wasn't a concern of mine.  Here it was.  My prize.  My desire.  My duck.

After a few minutes in a hot water bath it was ready to go into the pan.  With a great sputtering of duck fat like a radio set to a channel that doesn't exist,  like a madman's thoughts, I set about my work. Meticulously browning one side and then the next; a mad scientist scurrying about with the creation of life stopping only to bellow at the top of his lungs "It's ALIVE!!"

Botulinum Clostridium is the little beastie responsible for what's commonly known as Botulism poisoning.  This tenacious little bastard loves airless environments where it waits, poised to infect the first hapless fucker who comes along.  Exactly the environment created by the production of duck confit.  Botulism is a neurotoxin, the first effects of which are a dryness in the mouth.  Followed by a difficulty in swallowing and speaking....often accompanied by a characteristic drooping of the eyelids indicating the toxin has done it's nasty work destroying the inner musculature. Next the extremities become paralyzed until finally the victim finds the muscles responsible for breathing becoming infected.  When caught early, months of recovery are needed often requiring physical therapy.  Death is the result in most untreated cases.  So why would anyone subject themselves to this sort of risk for the simple act of eating duck legs?  

That's a question only asked by those who have never had duck confit.


I wolfed down every morsel while my knife looked on, useless.  With nothing left but a pile of bones and a guilty conscience (mostly because of how little guilt I felt over the death of several ducks for my own carnal delight), I retired to bed.  Full.  Sober.  Unrepentant.

That night I 
 dreamt of large insects terrorizing small villages.  I awoke to the green light of morning pouring into my bedroom windows.  Head pounding I surveyed the damage.  It was for lack of a better word extensive.  But nothing a good wrecking crew and paper towel or two couldn't fix.  As I cleaned up the glasses and not-so-vivid memories of the previous night's events I caught a glance of the derelict jar where my duck confit once lived.  Empty.  I'd almost forgotten I'd had it.  Or had I?  Had it been a dream?  Was I dead?

No time for that, I thought as I poured myself a glass of scotch.



Monday, April 2, 2012

Pudding for a Day, King for a Lifetime (a word on friendship)

Set to the tune of Primus' "Pudding Time"


As the calendar slowly and methodically creeps towards a day that will mark the 32nd year of my presence on this planet, I ponder the vast intricacies of life.  I search for conclusion....I test my meddle against unfounded fears and to the heights of gorgeousness and gorgeosity.  I've come to a conclusion...and there's no possible way to deny it at this point, so why put up the pretense?  The conclusion is this:

A lot of my friends are kinda douchebags.

I know what you're thinking. Wait, YOU'RE calling someone a douchebag?  Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?

Yeah, I know, right?  but here's the thing: we can spot our own...also, you're a racist (it's like the pot calling the kettle African American).  But that's why I like em, I 'spose.  Anyway, when my foul-mouthed, abrasive, and especially douchey semi-acquaintance Clint sent the public request to contribute to his pudding review blog (coincidentally called Puddingreviews.com), well....I knew I had to lend a hand.  If for no other reason than I would get a chance to call him a douchebag publicly and, more than likely, he'd probably publish it.

Now, I've never really been a pudding connoisseur, so I was gonna have to take a crash course.  To the supermarket!!

Mercy Christmas! There were a lot of fuckin' puddings there.  Spanning the flavor rainbow like a promiscuous Skittle.  Apple Custard Pie, Pumpkin Spice, Flan, Creme Brulee, Dulce De Leche, Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Double Chocolate, Double Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Swirl, Cinnamon Roll, Ice Cream, Strawberry Cheesecake, and even one that changed colors as you made it!

Ho.
Lee.
Shit.

This man does not love you
But there was a problem.  As I pulled one box of Gell-Oh (fuck em, if they ain't paying me, I ain't saying their name) after another, I noticed that there were a lot of ingredients listed that weren't real food.  Do YOU have any idea what Adipic Acid is?  What about Xylitol, Acesulfame Potassium, Disodium Phosphate, Fumaric Acid, Phenylan, or Maltodextrine? Not to mention Red #40, Blues #1 & 2, and Yellows #5 & 6.  And just to make sure there's no question about it, something called "Artificial Flavors."  

I've been looking after my health a little bit lately in an effort to shed some unwanted poundage, and one of the rules I made for myself was that I wouldn't put anything but actual food in my mouth....and unpronounceable pudding chemicals didn't really qualify.  I suppose I could have gone with an organic pudding mix from Whole Foods, but who needs to spend $30 bucks on pudding and have to deal with the hipsters with neck tattoos and an affinity for the Indigo Girls?

THE SITUATION:
No.  I was gonna have to make my own pudding.  Here's the problem, though....I'd never done it before.  Custard, sure, pudding no.  So, time to hit the books.  No, this isn't necessary, but I wanted a good sample group of various puddings.  Turns out, in the average pudding....there's only about 5 ingredients, all recognizable.  The most direct and (seeming to me) versatile recipe came from my good ol dogeared and stained copy of "The Joy Of Cooking."  It read thusly:

THE RECIPE:
Vanilla Pudding
makes 4 servings

1/4 C sugar
3 Tbl Cornstarch
1/8 Tsp salt
1/4 C Milk, reserved
1 3/4 C Milk
1 Large Egg, beaten in separate bowl
1/2 Tsp Vanilla

1. Mix sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy sauce pan (not over heat).  Whisk in 1/4 Cup milk, making a smooth, runny paste.  Then add the rest of the milk.

2. Place pan over medium heat and stir constantly until the mixture just comes to a simmer.  Remove from heat and stir 1/2 Cup of the milk mixture slowly into the bowl with the beaten egg.  Stir this mixture back into the pan and bring to a boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.




3. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour the pudding into your serving bowl and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.  To keep a skin from forming, take a piece of plastic wrap, cover, and press it into the pudding before refrigerating.
THE REVIEW:
Ok...so it's not as easy as going to the store and buying colored chemical goop in a non-biodegradable coffin.  But here's the thing, you can actually make MORE of the above and put them in little cups.  Reusable ones....hell, bowls full of the stuff can easily be made.  Then you get all of the joy of opening up pudding (let's face it, it's like a mini-Christmas) but you actually KNOW what's in it and can pronounce most of the ingredients properly on the first try.

So how did it taste?

Well....like vanilla pudding.  Like damn fine vanilla pudding.  The vanilla is the star here, so I would def go with as high quality vanilla as you can find.  This may be the time to pull out the fancy stuff you bought for big bucks and were "saving for a special occasion." I added an extra element also:  Meringue.  And then I torched it to give it a nice toasted marshmallow overtone to the whole thing.  After all this is Puddingreviews.com....not rateyourdessert.net, or puddingratings.com, or even Reviewsofpudding.org.  No, no....this is PUDDINGREVIEWS.COM and as such, the dish demanded class!  Meringue it was.  Also I discovered that you can sprinkle some sugar on top of the thing and torch it to make a very no fuss Creme Brulee.  Classy as shit, right here.

So give it a go.  Make big ol' batch of pudding and share it with your douchebag friends.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Humorous And Witty Title (for an overdue conclusion of a Corned Beef blog entry)

Set to the tune of:  The Zutons' "Pressure Point"

Alrighty roo (or roux if you prefer), this one is gonna be a little different and I'll tell you why.   Right now you should have your brisket brining or dry rubbed and you should be waiting patiently for your corning guide and humble narrator to give you further instruction.  I went with the dry rub (including the TCM).  Now I want to give you the next steps (i.e. the fun part: cooking) but since my brisket won't be ready for a couple of days, I'll have no pictures.  Hopefully I can describe it all well enough and I'll post the pics afterwards. That's ok, isn't it?

Good.

The first thing you're going to want to do is give your meat a little rinse.  Then wash off your brisket.  All you're looking for is to get the big particles off of it.  We're gonna be braising this guy, so were gonna need a single pot that can hold the meat.  If you cut it into two pieces for the curing process, that's ok, just make sure your pot can hold both pieces simultaneously.  Actually, a word on your cooking vessel.  It should be sturdy, big enough to accommodate your meat, but not overly large....this will cut down on the liquid needed to braise.  It should be oven safe and have a nicely fitting lid.  Now since we're braising in Guinness and not wine, you can even go with a cast iron pot (if we were using wine, the acidity would impart a metallic taste).  

Now lemme ask ya: Don't you hate it when someone makes corned beef and all of the veggies and cabbage and stuff are mushy as hell? Yeah...me too.  And we're going to avoid it, dammit!  We're going to do it by cooking our flavoring ingredients first, straining all that shit out, and then adding the veggies we're actually going to eat and cooking them till they're perfect (perfection being in the eye of the beholder of course). It's gonna cost you a little more in veggie expense, but it'll be worth it.  Carrots, celery, and onions are typically things most folks have at all times anyway.  If not...they're cheap and easy to put into just about anything.  So....ready?  Here we go!


ROUND1
Yer gonna need:
Your rinsed brisket, patted dry
Pepper to taste
3 Tbl Vegetable Oil
3-4 Carrots, coarsely chopped
5-6 Celery ribs, coarsely chopped
2 Medium Onions, coarsely chopped
2 Heads of Garlic, halved
2 Tbl Thyme, dried
2 Tbl Oregano, dried
1 Tbl Chicken Base
1 Tbl Beef Base
A six pack of Guinness 

That's pretty much the basics.  What's great about the braising process and this recipe in particular is that there's a lot of room for substitutions and alternate flavors.  Want Rosemary?  Put in some Rosemary.  Want some Turnips, Parsnips or Rutabagas?  You got it.  Some other options: Mushrooms, some more of the pickling spice, bay leaves.....the list goes on and on.  And remember, we're straining out this first round, so you don't need to worry about cutting too finely, or having stems or all that jazz in there.  It's all coming out.  

1. Heat your stockpot, dutch oven or whatever you're using over a medium flame.  Season your beef with the pepper (you shouldn't have to add more salt as it's been sitting in a salt solution for several days).  Add the oil and heat until it sorta shimmers a little.  Then carefully add the meat and brown on all sides.  If it smokes or spatters excessively, lower your heat.  By the end, you should have some little browned bits (called fond in cooking circles).  That's a good thing.  Add your vegetables and garlic and let it sautee for just a little bit to soften and maybe take a little color.  If it's too dry, add a little more oil.  

2.  Deglaze the pot with one of the Guinness.  Guinnesses?  I don't know....just use one bottle.  Stir the pot, scraping up on the fond to dislodge it from the bottom.  Add your herbs, your chicken and beef bases to dissolve and incorporate.  Then add your beef back into the pot, using the aromatics as a sort of base.  Add the rest of the Guinness so that it half-way covers the meat.  If there's some leftover, good work!  Drink it and say the famous Gaelic phrase:  "That Braised In Captivity guy is a freakin genius!" Yeah...look it up.  If there ISN'T any left over, I'm sorry....although I am still a genius.  If there isn't enough AND you don't have your meat covered to the appropriate level...top off with water and use a smaller pot next time (still a genius).  Now bump your heat up to high and get this potion up to a nice simmer.  You don't want to go full boil as it'll cause the meat to toughen up.  Once it starts to simmer, you can either leave it on the stove to do it's thing (which makes checking on it, and adjusting easier) or you can put it into a 350 degree oven (this clears range space and ensures that gentle heat is what's cooking your beef).  Either method will work.  

How long are you gonna cook it for?  If you said 'till it's done' you're absolutely right and you win nothing.  Except my admiration....which is similar to nothing.  Basically we're on a sliding scale here.  Right now were at Tough as Hell and at the end of the scale is Mushy as Fuck.  We don't want to be at either end, but rather in the middle where slicing, tender beef, and corned beef sandwiches lie.  So start with 2 hours.  Stick a fork in it.  You know how you like it.  If it's not there yet, keep going.  By the 6 hour mark, you just leaving pull apart tender and starting your journey towards Mushy...so watch it.  


ROUND 2
Yer gonna need:
2 Heads Green Cabbage, cut to your liking
3-5 Medium-sized, waxy potatoes (like Yukon Gold), cut to your liking
2 Carrots, cut to your liking
3-4 Celery Ribs, cut to your liking
1 Small Onion, cut to your liking

Again, there are some options here.  Some people like to add some caraway, mustard seed, mushrooms or what have you.  If you want it there, do it.  Just remember to add it to the pot in order of cooking times.  

1. Pull the meat out of the pot and allow to rest on a cutting board.  Cover with a layer of tin foil.  









2.
 Strain your braising liquid through a fine mesh strainer.  REMEMBER: IT'S THE OPPOSITE OF PASTA!!  We're saving the LIQUID, discarding the solids.  So make sure you have a bowl or another pot to catch all that goodness (and it will be delicious at this point....and only gonna get better).  Give the original pot a rinse to get rid of any leaves or cooking scum.  Add the braising liquid back into the pot and turn up the heat to medium-high or high.  We're looking to reduce this a little.  If the amount and the flavor are already to your liking....skip it.  But if not, we want to get this down to a nice, flavorful broth.  Not too strong...not too salty...and in enough quantity to cover and cook all of our round 2 veggies.  Once you've got it where you want it, it's time for the veggies!

3. With the liquid still boiling, add your potatoes, cook until about half-way done.  Then add your carrots, celery, and onion.  This would also be the point at which you add any other herbs or flavorings.        Continue to cook until the mixture is back to a simmer or boil.  Then hit it with your cabbage.  Cook until the cabbage, veggies, and potatoes are to the doneness level you like.

4. While that's all going on, slice up your corned beef however you want.  Or pull it apart...whatever you've decided.  By the time you're done (or shortly after), your veggies should be nice and tender, but still toothsome.  Your potatoes should have a nice buttery texture.  Your cabbage should be soft but not stinking....and your broth should be like sex:  Hot and flavorful and tasting distinctly of fine booze.









Thats, it, gang!  You've got yourself a bangin' corned beef and now that you're done eating, time to put on some silly green glasses and head out to the bars to watch scantily-clad college girls throw up on their high heels while their dates get the car.


Till next time, brasiers!  Now where did I put that duck confit....















Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Like My Beef Like I Like My Women (full of Guinness and in my mouth)



Set to the tune of:  Flogging Molly's Salty Dog

Twenty bucks says you didn't know Corned Beef was invented by the Babylonians thousands of years before the birth of Christ in an attempt to ward off evil spirits from the rice crops.

That's because it isn't true.

But it IS horrible segue into what I really want to point out.  St. Patrick's Day is coming up and what would a St. Patrick's Day be without copious amounts of booze and meat?  The same could be said for Independence Day, Christmas, Presidents' Day, and Tuesday mornings.

A couple years ago I had the best corned beef and cabbage I'd ever had in my life.  Imagine my surprise when it was me who'd made it!  Let's take a look:

MEAT:
Most, if not all, corned beef starts as a simple, humble beef brisket.  It gets cured slightly (either by dry or wet means - we'll get into that a little later), braised in a liquid and sliced.

LIQUID:
You could just use water.  But why add anything to your dish that isn't gonna bring any flavor?  No...for our purposes, we're gonna need better stuff.  Guinness spiked with a little beef and chicken stock should do the trick.

OTHER STUFF:
Basically we're talking aromatics, here.  Carrots, celery, onions, garlic, peppercorns, & bay leaves.  This is to flavor the braising liquid and thus the meat.  The stuff we're actually going to eat (carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, and of course the ubiquitous cabbage) will come at the second stage of cooking.


The first step is to actually get the brisket.  A brisket is actually two muscle groups and as such has two different cuts.  The first is the 'point' cut and is big and thick, and layered with delicious fat...just like your humble narrator.  The second is the 'flat' cut and is thinner, leaner, and pretty damn good, too.  You can go two different ways with it.  You can cook one or the other....or you can do both simultaneously.  Your call.  Your butcher will be able to direct you further.  And don't be afraid to ask those nice fellas in the meat section of the supermarket to cut one for you...that's what they're there for.



Another option is get a commercially cured brisket (they come in either point, flat cuts, or both).  This is one of those (rare) times when a store-bought product is just as good as something you can make yourself (the other is ketchup).  They usually come with an array of spices and curing medium. Note, do NOT get the presliced, pre-cooked, or canned stuff.  All you want is just the pre-cured meat.  If you're interested in buying already 'corned' beef, just wait till the next Braised in Captivity installment.  If you want to cure it yourself, read on.


Ok, so you've gone to your supermarket or butcher and you've gotten either the point or the flat cut or both.   Now what?  Now you cure that sumbitch!

You have a couple options, here:  A wet or a dry cure.  Both are ridiculously easy and both require a few days (from 5-10 depending on your cut).  I'm gonna treat this like a choose your own adventure-type recipe, so:

IF YOU'VE CHOSEN THE WET CURE (BRINE):
(note:  This should be plenty for one cut or the other.  If you're doing both, you may need to adjust accordingly)

Yer gonna need:
1 Gallon/4 liters Water
2 Cups/450g Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup/100g Sugar
1oz/ 25g/ 5 tsp TCM*
3 Garlic Cloves, smashed
2 Tbl/ 20g Pickling Spice Mix**

5lb Beef Brisket

*Also known as pink salt, curing salt, insta-cure and under number of brand names. 
**A mixture of mustard seeds, peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves and some other spices. Readily available in most supermarkets.


1. Combine all the brine ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the brisket comfortably.  Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Then refrigerate the brine until it's completely chilled.


2. Place the brisket in the brine using a weight until it is completely submerged.  Refrigerate for 5 days. Note:  If your meat is able to fit in a sealable bag, this method is also acceptable.  But put it in another container, too, just in case it springs a leak.













IF YOU'VE CHOSEN THE DRY CURE:

Yer gonna need:
3 Garlic Cloves, minces or smashed into a paste
5 tsp TCM
1/2 to 1 Cup Kosher Salt (depending on the size of your meat)
2-3 Tbl Pickling Spice Mix

1. Pat Brisket dry.  Excluding the garlic, mix all the dry ingredients in a little bowl.  

2. Spear the meat about 30 times per side with meat fork or metal skewer (have as much fun as possible with this).  Then rub the garlic all over the surface of the meat.  Then rub the meat with the salt/spice mixture.  Place in a 2-gallon zipper-lock bag (try to squeeze out as much air as possible) and place in a container to catch any leaked juices.  Place a weight (a brick or some cans will do) on the bag and refrigerate for 5-7 days.  Don't be afraid to cut the meat down further if it won't fit into the bag as is.


A NOTE ABOUT THE CURING PROCESS:
The TCM in both procedures are there for one purpose:  To keep the meat pink.  If color isn't important to you, just replace it with salt.  The meat will taste the same, it just won't be that nice pink color.  Also, there are some studies that may suggest that nitrates and nitrites (of which TCM is one) which suggest that excessive consumption of cured meats (cured with TCM) may be damaging to ones health.  So don't be afraid to omit it....just realize that your meat will look fully cooked or 'gray' at the end of it all.  I'm going with the TCM-cured beef since I like the pink color and I have some TCM laying around from our bacon adventure


Ok, Braisers.  We'll meet back here in a few days for the actual cooking process.  







Monday, March 5, 2012

Remember Kids, Try This at Home (or even better try this at Rome: a recipe)

I have a confession to make, dear Braisers.  I haven't been making desserts lately.  I don't know why....maybe it's my decision to be a little healthier that has steered my subconscious away from sugar (and towards duckfat, bacon, and cream soups), maybe there's some insecurity in the face of some of the wonderful desserts presented by my friends.....or maybe it's just that I have a penis.  Who can say?  But I recently had the opportunity, nay privilege of making one.  And not just any dessert....one of those fancy ones with the foreign names.  Of course I'm referring to....Tiramisu. 

 Here's how it all went down. 

I don't know how many of you remember, but a little while ago, I wrote a little story.  It was about how, while traveling in Europe, my traveling companion and I, in a star-crossed attempt at walking to the Catacombs accidentally stumbled across a gorgeous and unique restaurant.  One of the oldest working restaurants in Rome, actually...Hostaria Antica Roma, and it's chef/server/owner/all around friendly guy, Paolo.  You can read all about it here, if you'd like.

In doing some of the research for the entry, I sought out their website and Facebook pages (the story took place many years ago, so I had to drain some of the scotch from the old memory bank).  When I was finished with the whole thing, I sent a copy to Paolo.  Thought he might get a kick out of it.  That was all...

...and then about a week or so later I got an Email.

It was Paolo.

He was giving me his Tiramisu recipe to use in the blog!

Fuck.  Yes.

I HAD to make it!  There was just no way around it....people don't just give up their money-making recipes to some douchebag online everyday, do they?  No, really.  DO they??   Lemme tell ya gang, this is the real deal and it is bangin'  I'm just gonna give you the straight text from Paolo himself (any procedural notes I have will be made in red...and any dick or fart jokes I have will be in blue).  So without further ado:

Paolo's Tiramisu


Yer gonna need:
500g Mascarpone Cheese (approx 1 lb)
6 Pasteurized Eggs
2 Pkgs Savoiardi Lady Fingers
3 Tbl Sugar
8 Espresso-sized cups of coffe (approx 14 oz)
4 Tbl Powdered Unsweetened Cocoa


**Couple of notes on your ingredients before we get started:  There are a couple different kinds of lady fingers to choose from, they range from long slender LADY fingers, to thick, flabby, spongy PLUMMERS fingers.  Get as close to you can to the slender ones.  They'll look more like crisp cookies than spongecake.  Also, I took a look at there's about 20 different ingredients (mostly unpronounceable chemicals) in the spongy fingers compared to 5 (all of which easily recognizable) in the cookie fingers.


Also it may be interesting to note that this is absent of the brandy, rum, or coffee liqueur often found in Tiramisu recipes.**

Primary Steps:
1. Bring all ingredients to room temperature.  [This cannot be stressed enough.  Mascarpone is similar in texture to cream cheese and should be pretty soft before trying to incorporate anything into it.  Overnight is perfect (don't worry the packages are sealed, so it won't go bad or anything) but a minimum of a couple hours is required.  DO NOT SKIP THIS]

2. Make and pour espresso into a shallow, flat-bottomed container.    Add one Tsp cocoa and allow to cool to room temperature.  [At this point Paolo points out that if you've decided instead to use regular coffee; take it and put it into a cup.  Then drink it and make some real espresso, so don't skimp out.  ]

3. Separate Egg Yolks and Whites.







air incorporated into yolks


Mixing:
 1. In the first mixing bowl, beat yolks and sugar until cream and lightened in color.  Add Mascarpone & mix until blended.  
mascarpone added


mixture fully incorporated

2. In a second mixing bowl, beat egg whites until fluffy.  If you use pasteurized eggs, this may take a while.  [Boy he's not kidding.  Pasteurized eggs are eggs that have been heated to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time in order to kill any harmful bacteria inside.  Since we're using raw eggs and we're not gonna be cooking them, it's important to have them.  But if you trust your egg source and haven't had any problems or anything, go with regular.  The pasteurized egg typically behaves and tastes like a regular egg, but it DOES take a lot longer to whip.  I enlisted the aid of my trusty stand mixer.]  

2. Fold beaten egg whites into Mascarpone mixture.  Mix only enough to blend.  Over mixing will deflate the egg whites.





3. Quickly dip Savoiardi in the espresso bowl.  To get the right amount of espresso on the Savoiardi, lay the finger flat in the bottom of the container with the espresso sugar side UP.  Immediately pull it out.  Then place each finger in your serving dish sugar side DOWN.  The finger will quickly soak up the espresso, so if you soak the Savoiardi, you'll end up with a soggy mess instead of moist fingers. [heh....moist fingers].

Assembly:

1.  Build a layer of Savoiardi across the bottom of the pan.  If some of the Savoiardi do not look 'dark' from the espresso, spoon a few more drops of espresso to darken.  Any excess espresso in the bottom of the pan will be absorbed by the Savoiardi, but too much will turn the fingers into a soggy mess.  

2. Spoon a layer of the Mascarpone mixture across the layer of Savoiardi.  Use about 1/2 of the Mascarpone mix.  The layer should be about 1cm (3/8 in) thick.

3. Dip and lay another layer of Savoiardi on the Mascarpone layer as before, sugar side down.  Drip more espresso over the fingers if they're not dark enough.  

4. Spoon a second layer of Mascarpone/egg mixture across the second layer of Savoiardi.  Use the remaining Mascarpone mixture.  The layer should be about 1cm (3/8in) thick.  [I still had the materials; lady fingers, mixture, and espresso, as well as the headroom in the dish to do a third layer.  My dish was a 2qt, 8 1/2 x 10 or so.]


5. Sift cocoa on the final mascarpone layer.  Do this evenly by spooning the cocoa into a fine mesh sieve.  Hold the sieve over the Tiramisu and tap with your finger.  Cocoa should sprinkle down in an even layer.  Use this technique to cover the Tiramiso with a very thin layer of cocoa.  

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.  The Tiramisu will taste quite good for several days if refrigerated.  [This might be true.  It hasn't lasted that long.]

So how does it taste?  Brilliant.  Make no mistake, though...this is not the Tiramisu you'll find at the Macaroni Grill or...(shudder)....Applebee's, with it's cloying sweetness and sterile coffee flavor.  This is a completely different animal: the coffee is forward and vibrant with it's many nuances coming through (which is why it's important not to skimp on the real espresso), and the texture luxurious without being heavy, moist without being soggy with just a hint of chocolate.  I didn't even miss the booze, though I'd be curious to see what it would be like with it....next time.

Thanks, Paolo!  And thanks to you all for reading.  See ya next time.  I'm feeling like some corned beef....