Beef, Potatoes, Quick Meals


McDonald’s used to cook its french fries in beef tallow. Back then, McDonald’s french fries were insanely delicious and, as a kid, I was addicted to them and would do anything to get my paws on a little paper envelope of those tallowy, salty, crunchy potato sticks. Back in the early 70s, my dad would pick me up from Montessori every day and, if I was lucky, we would stop by the McDonald’s in Waukesha, pull into the Drive-Thru, and he would hand me a small paper bag. This is my favorite childhood memory.

They’re still tasty now, and all, but it’s just not the same. Sometime around 1990, McD’s switched to vegetable oil. That move caused them a load of trouble, as it turned out that a) they added beef tallow flavoring – of animal origin – to the oil in an effort to retain that savory goodness, angering a lot of vegetarians who felt duped by the “100% vegetable oil” claim and causing numerous people to violate their own religious beliefs unwittingly, and b) as it turned out, all that hydrogenated vegetable oil contained trans fats, which might be even worse for our health than the saturated fat in the beef tallow.

Tonight, I told my husband that I planned to fry the potatoes for our steak frites dinner in beef tallow. I have both beef tallow and duck fat in the reach-in, you see. The confit-making operation has yielded quarts of creamy white duck fat, and several rounds of beef rib roasting provided nearly a quart of pure tallow. He did not object. “I wouldn’t say no,” were his exact words, I believe. Those are always his exact words.

You don’t need to use the 93% tallow/7% vegetable oil blend that McDonald’s used to use to enjoy ridiculously good french fries. Enough tallow to perfume the oil with beefy goodness will do the trick. Also, as a committed twice-fryer, I was skeptical of this cooking method (from Joël Robuchon) until I tried it a few years ago and was amazed – you cannot use it with russets or other high-starch potatoes, which will break, but it produces a perfectly crispy fry with a fluffy interior. It also eliminates a step, and yields a less greasy fry. Even my brother, who was sure that once-fried frites would be soggy, withdrew his objection upon tasting these over New Year.

What do frites accompany? Steak. Hanger steak, to be exact. Time was when you could buy hanger steak for next to nothing as it – along with such other flavorful but chewy cuts as skirt steak, tri-tip, and flatiron – once was considered a garbage cut, suitable for nothing better than the meat grinder. Times have changed. Now the hanger, also called onglet in bistro argot, is coveted for its rich, beefy flavor and solid texture.

A large, tough piece of sinew runs lengthwise down the center of the hanger. Unless you are cooking the hanger sous vide for several of hours – which may turn the hanger to mush if you’re not careful – you must remove the sinew and any silverskin from the meat. Don’t be tempted to eat this cut blue-rare, even if you like your other steaks that way – it tends to be a bit gelatinous when undercooked. Cook it to medium rare. 130-135F/55-57C is the way to go if you’re cooking sous vide, but even then you should remove the sinew and cook not more than an hour.

Dinner of champions.


Allumettes – “matchsticks” – of 3/8″ are the right size cut for these frites. A little smaller is fine – 1/4″ is good – but if you cut them too small, the potatoes may disintegrate during frying.

4 large yellow (medium starch) potatoes, allumettes (3/8″)
6 cups grapeseed or canola oil (peanut is good also and yields an interesting taste)
2 cups beef tallow
sea salt

Place potatoes and both fats in heavy pan deep enough for oil to cover potatoes and leave at least 4″ at top. Bring to a full boil and cook, moving potatoes gently so they do not stick, from time to time, until deep golden and crisp – about 20-25 mins.

Remove to a rack over a pan to drain. Season and serve immediately (or hold in 200F oven up to 20 mins for service).


Hanger Steak, Weekday Pan Sauce

I call this the “weekday pan sauce” because it’s so simple, you can make this on a weekday. Once you take the steaks out of the pan to rest, the sauce comes together in about 5 minutes. Since you’re making the sauce while the steaks rest, the whole thing is pretty efficient.

Four trimmed hanger steaks
3 tbsp butter
2 thyme branches
2 tbsp cognac
1/4 c dry white wine
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (especially green peppercorn mustard)
Up to 3 tbsp beef stock or water
2 tbsp glace de viande (optional)

225F oven.

Before cooking, season steaks with salt. If you season in advance and they shed any liquid, dry with a clean towel before proceeding.

Place heavy pan over high heat. When hot, add oil and then steaks. Reduce heat to medium and add the butter and thyme branches. Baste with butter. Turn over after 4 minutes and baste 2 minutes. Place in oven. Baste and turn over after 8-10 minutes and roast another 8-10 minutes more (depending on size), basting once. Test for doneness.

Rest steaks. Discard thyme branches and pour off excess fat. Pour in cognac and flame off alcohol. Add white wine and reduce. Add Dijon mustard and juices from rested meat and whisk. Loosen with beef stock or water, if necessary. If using, finish with glace de viande. Taste and season with salt (may not be necessary). Add chives. Return meat to the pan and coat well with sauce. Slice, spoon additional sauce on plate.

Hanger steak, weekday sauce.


Enjoying the so-called ice cream.

From a dessert standpoint, we’re kind of a strange household. I don’t really care about sugar. If it were up to me, the dessert menu in restaurants would include pommes soufflés, pommes gaufrettes, frico, and other savory potato- and cheese-based delights. My husband has simple tastes in dessert and would choose ice cream above any other creation, much to the chagrin of pastry chefs everywhere.

Luckily, ice cream is amenable to all kinds of flavoring, including bitter and smoke aromas. The parlor favorite, coffee ice cream, is a classic example – bitter coffee turned smooth and mellow with the addition of cold cream. I wanted to achieve the same effect with burnt sugar – not the milky sweet caramel of dulce de leche or the sticky caramel ribbons of supermarket pints, but an ice cream in which I could detect a bitter edge beneath the custard and vanilla. Enough bitterness to keep things interesting.

This burnt sugar ice cream is the result. Sugar caramelizes in a pan, and just before the point of no return, the caramelization process stops with the addition of cold cream. The mixture sputters and seizes; it seems nothing delicious possibly could result. Keep whisking – the stiff lump of caramel will dissolve into the warm cream.

Burnt Sugar Ice Cream

Chemically speaking, caramelization is the oxidation of sugar. Culinarily speaking, caramelization is remarkable because sugar – normally sucrose, a one-dimensional, bland, purely sweet substance – gains complex, nutty, toasty flavors and aromas, merely through the application of heat.

The process, once it starts, happens in an instant. Sugar melts and bubbles, turns golden, and, if unattended, dehydrates to carbon and smoke, beyond redemption, inedible. So when you make this ice cream, watch the sugar carefully and never leave the pan. Have your chilled cream ready – once the sugar turns to gold, and then to mahogany, it can blacken in the time it takes to measure the right amount.

1 1/4 c superfine sugar
1/4 c water
2 c milk
1 1/4 c heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 tbsp superfine sugar
5 egg yolks
large pinch salt
Halen Môn smoked salt

Combine milk and cream. In stand mixer, beat yolks, 1 tbsp sugar, and salt until thick and lemony ribbons form.

Combine sugar and water in heavy 3qt pan; bring to a boil over low heat. Brush edges of pan to avoid crystallization as needed. Once sugar syrup boils, reduce heat and whisk occasionally until syrup turns golden. Monitor closely.

As syrup turns dark brown, add milk and cream all in one, whisking continuously. Caramel will dissolve. Add vanilla seeds and pod; bring to a simmer.

Temper about 1 c milk/ with yolk/sugar mixture and whisk slowly back into the milk. Return to simmer. Cook custard to 180F until mixture coats back of spoon.

Cool in bain marie. Strain through fine chinois into ice cream maker. Process and freeze hard. Garnish scoops or quenelles of ice cream with smoked salt.

Burnt sugar ice cream

Single Malt Scotch Ice Cream

Bitterness adds interest to sweet ice cream, and so does smoke. Try something peaty and smoky, like Laphroiag, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, or Macallan. And if you want to pair a drink with your dessert, consider a complementary Scotch.

The quality of the vanilla you choose does make a difference. Don’t use vanilla extract. You may think that, because this ice cream already contains alcohol, no one’s going to notice, but you’ll know, and you’ll be sorry. You’re already going to the trouble to use fresh heavy cream, top quality eggs, and single malt Scotch. Why skimp on the vanilla? I recommend the top quality vanilla beans from Madagascar or Tahiti, available from The Spice House.

1 c + 2 tbsp superfine sugar
2 c milk
1 1/4 c heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, scraped
5 egg yolks
large pinch salt
1/4 c single malt scotch

Combine milk and cream. In stand mixer, beat yolks, sugar, and salt until thick and lemony ribbons form.

Heat milk and cream with vanilla seeds and pod; bring to 180F and steep 10 mins. Strain.

Temper about 1 c milk/ with yolk/sugar mixture and whisk slowly back into the milk. Return to simmer. Cook custard to 180F until mixture coats back of spoon.

Cool in bain marie. Strain through fine chinois into ice cream maker. Process, adding scotch halfway through. Freeze hard.

Lagavulin ice cream

Random Thoughts

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Beef, Mushrooms, Random Thoughts

Oranges and beef.

The inimitable Nathalie Dupree, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, chef, and host of numerous television shows, posted today to praise the caramelized orange tart in James Peterson’s Baking book. “It might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” she wrote.

Lawyers, journalists, and others who are paid to assess the credibility of others are familiar with the mantra: “Consider the source.” I don’t even particularly like sweet foods and I almost never eat dessert, but Dupree’s endorsement got me thinking…could these syrupy, glazed oranges work as part of a savory dish? Some suggested pork, but I went right to the beef.

Orange and beef form a classic pairing. Consider the Provencal daube de boeuf, in which orange peel brightens beef braised in red wine with olives. Travel around the world to China’s Hunan Province, and find thinly sliced beef dry-fried with hot dried chile peppers, orange peel, and ginger. Perhaps a little bit of caramelized orange to accompany a beef dish isn’t such a crazy idea.

If I were going to incorporate caramelized oranges into a savory dish, this is the one to try. The complex spices and bright tangerine notes complement the rich beefiness of the hanger steak. And I suspect a small quantity of tart and sweet caramelized orange would work well. I’ll post an update once I have a chance to try it out. For now, enjoy the dish as I’ve made it before.

Onglet (hanger steak) with licorice, star anise, and tangerine reduction; maitake

Onglet, licorice, star anise, and tangerine reduction, maitake

If you can’t find hanger steak – a shame, but there’s only one per cow – try the tri-tip (bottom sirloin). That’s an undervalued cut, delivering beefy flavor and meaty texture at a low price. Skirt is an excellent choice as well.

Licorice root is available at health food stores that sell herbs and spices for infusions. If you can’t find it, don’t sweat it. Double the amount of fennel seed.

Glace de viande provides body and deep savoriness to the reduction but it is not strictly necessary. If you don’t have it, be sure your wine, stock, and juice mixture is well-reduced before straining. You may want to mount slightly more cold butter into the sauce at the end to achieve a glossy sheen.

Four 1 1/4 inch hanger steaks, trimmed
2 shallots, minced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 c dry red wine
1/3 c tangerine juice
2″ fresh tangerine peel (remove any white pith before using)
2″ piece licorice
2 star anise
1/4 tsp fennel seed
large pinch five spice
3 thyme branches
1 bay leaf
2″ cinnamon stick (preferably true cinnamon)
1/2 c veal stock or beef stock
1/4 c glace de viande
4 tbsp cold butter, divided

250F oven.

Prepare the sauce:

Place the shallots and half the wine in a small pan on the stove, and bring to a simmer; reduce to au sec (until the wine has reduced almost to a sticky glaze on the bottom of the pan – do not burn). Given the volume of wine this may take about 20 minutes. Add the rest of the wine and reduce again to au sec.

Add the stock, orange juice, spices, bay leaf, thyme, and orange peel; simmer until reduced by 3/4. This will take at least 20 minutes. Strain through a chinois. Discard solids.

Return to a clean small pan and bring back to a simmer, stirring well. Add the glace de viande and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the cold chunks of butter, swirling the pan to incorporate and taking care that the butter does not separate. Set aside off heat. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

15-20 minutes before cooking if possible, season steaks with salt.
Place heavy pan over high heat. When hot, add oil and then steaks. Reduce heat to medium and add several knobs butter and thyme branches. Baste with butter. Turn over after 4 minutes and baste 2 minutes. Place in oven. Baste and turn over after 10 minutes and roast 10 minutes more, basting once. Test for doneness.

Maitake mushroom

1/2 lb maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms, washed well and sliced 1/2″
2 tbsp butter

1/4 c dry white wine

1 tbsp sherry or grappa
1 tsp usukuchi (white soy)
juice of 1/2 lemon

several sprigs thyme, leaves only

small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
salt (black truffle salt is great) and pepper

Place a deep, heavy pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter to the pan. When the butter foams, add the mushrooms, browning well.

Add the white wine and sherry to the pan and cook until the mushrooms absorb the wine; add the soy and cook, stirring once or twice, until the mushrooms are glazed with soy. Finish with lemon juice, parsley, and thyme and season.

Slice the steak. Sauce the plate with the reduction. Plate the steak and the mushrooms.

Italian, Pork Products

Big fat belly.

If you read this blog, you know that I am no stranger to the pork belly. I’ve heard people say they’re “over pork belly” – fellow food blogger and Vietnamese/dumpling expert Andrea Nguyen noted just the other day that some of her friends made the same peculiar observation – but I’m not, and I never will be. Pork belly, properly prepared, isn’t a fad. It’s a worthy cut of meat, just like loin or shoulder. Why? Because the belly, like other fatty cuts of the pig, tastes like pork. It’s not “the other white meat.” It’s bacon, before it becomes bacon.

I usually like to braise the belly in seasoned stock to reduce its fattiness. Again, belly is, after all, bacon – streaks of meat between layers of fat, and you can achieve a leaner product by braising. Recently, however, I’ve been roasting the belly, which allows the pure flavor of pork to shine. After a few experiments with roast pork belly, I’ve decided that the bone-in, skin-on belly is the way to go when roasting. Unlike the braised product, where the skin becomes unpleasantly rubbery and should be removed before cooking, a roasted belly with the skin yields crispy golden crackling. And unlike braised bellies, which retain moisture through slow, moist cooking in seasoned stock, roasted bellies require the bone. Boneless bellies can become dry on the bottom side, which touches the hot cooking vessel.

Two things about the crackling. One, you need to plan ahead because the secret to golden crisp crackling is a combination of dry pork skin and high heat. Second, to remove as much moisture as possible from the skin, score it or at least perforate the skin with a sharp knife, and rub kosher or sea salt into the skin, working it into the perforations or scorings. Then refrigerate uncovered. Don’t worry about drying out the meat – the amount of fat in the belly will ensure that it stays moist despite its short air drying.

Save the fat that renders from the belly in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for a month or so, or indefinitely in the freezer. It’s excellent for confit, for sautéing vegetables, to lend depth to pasta dishes.

Roast pork belly with fennel and braised bunashimeiji mushroom

If you can’t find a bone-in or skin-on belly, don’t worry. The dish will be fine but the belly may become slightly firm on the bottom side. In that case, double the amount of sugar and rub the cure over the entirety of the belly, including the fat on the top side where the skin used to be.

The anise scent of fennel dressed in lemon juice, and pungent fennel pollen, lend a modern Italian character to this dish.

2 lb slab of pork belly, skin on and bone-in
1 tbsp kosher salt, divided
2 tsp superfine sugar
4 sprigs thyme

450F/220C oven.

24 hours before roasting, score the pork skin on the diagonal at 1-cm intervals. Rub 1 tsp of the salt into the scorings. Combine the remaining 2 tsp of the salt and the sugar and coat the pork belly meat evenly. Place the belly in a pan atop 4 sprigs of thyme and refrigerate, uncovered, until 1 hour before roasting time.

After 24 hours, remove the belly and, using a clean kitchen towel, remove as much salt as possible from the skin (most will have been absorbed and the skin should seem quite dry). Oven 450F/230C.

Place the belly in the smallest possible roasting pan. Do not cover and do not place on a rack.
Roast in the 450F oven for 45m( 35m convection). Reduce the heat to 225F/105C and roast for another 1h 45 mins.

Five minutes before removing the belly, turn on the broiler and monitor the belly to ensure that the skin crackles without burning.

Before slicing.

Turn off the oven, remove the belly and let it rest about 10 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, slice off the bone and set aside, probably for a snack. The belly will be fall-apart tender. Slice into 1.5″ chunks.

Delicious pork belly, with crackling

Braised mushrooms

1 lb bunashimeiji and oyster mushrooms, washed well
3 tbsp butter
1/4 c grappa or dry sherry
1/2 c white wine
juice of 1/2 lemon
several sprigs thyme, leaves only
chives, minced
salt (black truffle salt is great) and pepper

Place a deep, heavy pan over medium heat and, when hot, add 2 tbsp butter to the pan. When the butter foams, add the mushrooms, browning well.

Add the grappa to the pan and cook until the mushrooms absorb the liquid; repeat with white wine. Finish with lemon juice, thyme, and stir in the remaining tbsp of butter. Season with salt and black pepper.

Fennel salad

Fennel bulb, shaved with mandoline or benriner
juice of one lemon, strained
pinch fennel pollen, or crushed fennel seeds
salt and pepper

Dress the shaved fennel with a little lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and fennel pollen.

To plate:

Plate the mushrooms, top partially with fennel salad, and then a chunk of braised pork belly. Garnish with chives and fennel pollen.

Roasted belly, bunashimeiji, fennel salad, fennel pollen.