Chiles, Q&A, Science, Vegetables

Cooking with gas.

A reader asks whether peppers can be roasted in an electric oven and how to go about it. Learn why green bell peppers are so gross and bone up on your roasting technique on the Cooking with Gas page.

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Frenchy Things, Leftover Recycling, Offal, Pork Products, preserving, Random Thoughts

Big Hungry Boy.

Recently, the New York Times ran a ridiculous Opinionator column by Virginia Heffernan dividing American women into two categories – “foodies” and “techies” – and bashing the “foodies” while touting the virtues of “life-hacking techies.” I still don’t really know what “life-hacking” means, but the distinction between people who spend their time thinking about food and people who glorify progress and technology struck me as total bullshit. What about, say, Wylie Dufresne? Or Ferran Adrià? What about me?

Heffernan’s piece illustrates the danger in categorizing people. That said, I feel fairly confident saying that some men are Big Hungry Boys – guys who just like to eat, and to eat as much as they can – and others are not. Unlike an ex-boyfriend in Minnesota who once lived for months on almost nothing but bagged coleslaw without complaint, my husband appreciates copiousness and variety. One evening in 2009, during our summer visit to a friend’s home in the south of France, we stopped after a sweaty day in Nîmes for dinner in Andùze, arriving before the rest of our friends at “La Rocaille,” an old stone-faced restaurant in the town square, opposite the site of the ancient covered market. Sitting down to cold Heinekens, we scanned the menu while waiting for our party. La Rocaille’s advantages for a big hungry boy soon became clear. For under 9€, you could get a three course meal of salad or terrine, steak, merguez, or poulet frites, pasta or pizza, and to finish, fromage or ice cream. It was low-budget, of course – the tables were set with paper napkins and mustard packets, which anticipated foil-wrapped wedges of camembert and ice cream in waxed paper cups (complete with the little wooden spoon). Even so, the frites were thin and crispy, and flecked with exactly the right amount of salt. When Nat and our friend Kem both ordered terrine de pâté to start; the waiter brought a knife and pan the size of a loaf of bread to the table. The two of them (by which I mean mostly Nat, in case you wondered) ate more than half the contents – a rustic and surprisingly delicious pâté de campagne – right out of the pan before it occurred to anyone that maybe that whole thing wasn’t just for them.

La Rocaille on the left; weekly market square on the right.

Last summer, on our last night in the same home in France, Nat requested a return visit to La Rocaille. “They have that giant terrine!” he appealed, laying a hand on my elbow.

“You know that whole thing wasn’t all for you, right?” I reminded him uncertainly.

“You don’t know that for sure,” he shrugged. All the same, I agreed that dinner at La Rocaille was a great idea. I wanted to find out if they still had the same mustard packets. Randomness comes in many forms, and on our first visit, it took the shape of a yellow plastic packet inexplicably bearing the name of a former law school classmate. It was a little like that episode of the Simpsons where Homer stumbles upon an empty Japanese detergent box bearing his visage in a landfill.

Coincidental mustard.

Nat was less interested in the mustard than in the potential for unlimited pâté de campagne. It wasn’t the first time Nat’s appetite has conflicted with local practice. On our first trip to Taipei after my parents moved there, we visited Din Tai Fung for their famous xiaolongbao, soup dumplings served with black vinegar and fine shreds of ginger. I placed our order out on the sidewalk with one of the uniformed attendants, who promptly crossed out more than half the items we’d checked off on the paper slip. “Too much!” she exclaimed, shaking her head. In a panic driven partly by my inability to speak Chinese and partly by a concern that we were about to get shortchanged on Juicy Pork Dumplings, I pointed to Nat, a little further down the sidewalk, perusing the window display at Mister Donut. The attendant nodded knowingly and re-checked the items without further comment. On subsequent visits, I learned to bring Nat along when handing off the order form. Big Hungry Boy.

Anyway, when the terrine arrived at La Rocaille, Nat cut a single slice – a thick slice, but still – and slid the pan to the edge of the table for the waiter. I did feel a little bad for him. It seemed to me, after all, that one of the dangers inherent in providing self-serve communal terrine is that any one of your customers will eat far more than his share, up to and including the whole thing. In the law, we call that “assumption of risk.” So at home, Nat can eat all the terrine he likes, sliced up or straight out of the pan. If you have a meat grinder, so can you.

Pâté de campagne

Pâté de campagne is inherently rustic and thrifty – hence “de campagne.” You don’t make it by grinding up carefully trimmed pork loin – to the contrary, pâté de campagne is a way to use up scraps, trimmings, and offal – anything from the nose to the tail of the pig. So don’t worry too much about the ratio of meats. If you’re not really a meat-trimmer and aren’t in the habit of keeping large quantities of scraps, just be sure of two things – a good amount of fatty pork (and perhaps also veal or duck), and liver. The fat is necessary to keep the pâté out of the cat food realm, and the liver provides flavor ranging from subtle to pronounced, depending how much you use. Your only concern should be proper seasoning. Use 1 tsp salt and a little more than 1/4 tsp quatre épices per pound/450g meat.

You can chop the meat by hand for a very rustic pâté, which provides some textural variety, but realistically, it’s far easier to pass the meat through a grinder fitted with a coarse die. I don’t recommend using store-ground meat. You can dispense with lining the pan with foil/clingfilm (especially if you intend to serve straight from the terrine), but it does make it far easier to remove, and definitely makes it easier to weight after cooking.

About 4 1/4 lbs fatty pork trimmings and offal, including liver, in a 3:1 ratio, or:
2 1/4 lb / 1 kg pork shoulder or butt, preferably a really fatty slab
1 lb / 450 g fatback or pork belly
1 lb / 450 g pork liver
2 large shallots, diced
3 bay leaves
8 sprigs fresh thyme
4 juniper berries
1/4 c dry sherry or cognac (sherry will be drier, cognac sweeter)
1/4 c dry white wine
1 1/2 tsp quatre épices or a mixture of 3/4 tsp white pepper and 1/4 tsp each ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
scant 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
one large egg
optional: caul fat
optional: whole black truffle
optional: lobe foie gras, trimmed of all veins and connective tissue, cut into strips about 1″ x 1″
optional: 2/3 c lightly toasted pistachio nuts

Dice the meats and offal (1″ or slightly less is good) and combine with the shallots, bay, thyme, juniper and the liquids. Combine in a shallow pan and cover the surface with clingfilm. Cover the pan tightly and refrigerate for 1-2 days.

Chill the worm, blade, and coarse die of your meat grinder (freezing is best). Remove the bay and thyme from the marinade and run the rest of the contents through the grinder into a chilled metal bowl. Combine with the egg, salt, and quatre épices. If using pistachios, add to the mixture as well.

Mixture with egg and salt.

Oven 225F/107C.

Line each of two terrine or loaf pans with aluminum foil and then with clingfilm. If using caul fat, line the pan with caul, overhanging the edges by about 3″ (you will trim it later). Fill the pans with the mixture. If using truffle, fill the pan halfway, shave the truffle, and layer the shavings across that layer; finish with another layer of meat. If using foie, fill the pan halfway, lay the foie in the center lengthwise, and finish with meat. If using, fold the caul over the top of the terrine and trim. Fold the clingfilm tightly over the top, and then the foil.

Caul.

Wrapped.

Slide the terrine lid in place. If using a loaf pan, cut a piece of cardboard to fit and wrap in two thicknesses of foil; place on top. Place the terrines in a large roasting pan (with about 2″ between them) and fill with boiling water to a level halfway up the sides of the pans. Place in the oven and cook until the mixture reaches 160F in the center, which depends on the looseness of your mixture and whether or not you are using convection. At the convection setting, you should be done in about 1 1/2 hours; up to three if not using convection.

Remove the pans from the water bath and, when just cool enough to handle, weight down with heavy cans. Place in the refrigerator weights and all and chill for at least a day and up to three. When ready to serve, turn out onto a board and unwrap. Brush cold fat and jellied meat juices from the surface of the pâté and slice. Serve with cornichons and mustard.

Pâté de campagne, cornichons

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Dessert, Fruit, Leftover Recycling

Pure guava.

[note to subscribers: an earlier version of this entry was posted in error]

We just returned from the Bahamas, which, despite their favorable tropical location, import over eighty percent of their food. The deep Caribbean waters surrounding the archipelago are stocked with grouper, snapper, crayfish, conch, and lobster, but nearly all the catch is frozen immediately and shipped elsewhere – principally to the United States – with only a small amount of the frozen product and an even smaller amount of the fesh catch reserved for consumption across the islands. A number of fruits are widely available – tangerines, coconut, guava – but the arid, sandy environment and perennial water shortages mean that most vegetables besides bell peppers are grown elsewhere. Local beer, however, is plentiful. On the way to the supermarket, when we stopped at Smithy’s Liquor Store for a mixed case of Kalik and Sands bottles, the proprietor mixed in a few cold ones and offered to crack open a couple “for the road.” No thanks, we demurred, apologizing that we had to drive another twenty miles on an unfamiliar road toward Wemyss. “It’s not like America, you know,” she chuckled. “Around here a lot of people like to drink a beer when they drive.”

Cold brews, in the refrigerator and not the car

Beer-drinking Bahamian drivers notwithstanding, we made it to our rented vacation home in one piece. It’s a really beautiful country, the Bahamas, and our remote island location – Long Island – is renowned for spectacular scenery. My husband had warned me, however, that our Bahamian destination was long on beachy natural beauty but short on fresh food. This did not come as a surprise – years ago, in a couple of essays about Caribbean foodways, Calvin Trillin described the disappointing and ironic absence of fresh meat and fish on that side of the Commonwealth. Having prepared myself to visit the Land of the Frozen Fish Filet, I wasn’t all that disturbed when our trip to the island’s largest supermarket presented mostly canned vegetables, Spam, and a freezer case of something called “aged mutton” that appeared to have been cut into squarish chunks with a circular saw and was as maroon-dark as venison. We took a pass on the frozen mutton but stocked up on frozen pork chops, local guava and pineapple jams, and citrus fruit, most of it imported from Florida.

Fine Bahamian jams

By the last night, we had eaten everything we brought or bought, except for the dregs of a couple jars of jam and a stick of butter. I hate wasting food, even on holiday. A few years ago, after a week in Guadeloupe, I was determined not to waste a pound of good French butter and brought it back to the States, frozen and wrapped it in several layers of foil and ziploc bags. OK, not exactly. It was frozen when we left the hotel. After an hour-long flight to San Juan and an extended mechanical delay – during which our bags sat on the tarmac in the August heat and we sat in the airport bar drinking Carib – the demi-sel from Bretagne took on the consistency of mayonnaise. Lesson learned: butter doesn’t travel and it is foolish to try.

This time, faced with the choice between a ruptured ziploc bag of melted butter and a forsaken stick of butter, I selected a third way – the way of the jam tart. In addition to the leftover butter, we also had a half-jar each of the guava jam and pineapple jam. I found whole wheat flour and sugar in the pantry at our rented house; after making a quick pâte brisée and pressing it into muffin tins (you have to improvise on holiday), I blind baked the shells and filled them with jam. Lesson learned: it pays to know how to make pastry.

Long Island, Bahamas

Our beach, between Wemyss and Simms

Bahamian jam tart

The inspiration for these tarts was the distinctively non-Bahamian linzertorte, a classic Austrian jam-filled pastry. Of course, linzertorte normally is filled with raspberry jam and I used tropical fruit jams. And I didn’t lattice the pastry because I didn’t feel like it. And I used whole wheat flour, because that’s what was in the pantry. OK, so it’s nothing like linzertorte, but the wheat flour added the same kind of nuttiness that hazelnuts usually contribute.

Feel free to substitute unbleached white flour or pastry flour for the whole wheat, although the wheaty flavor provides a savory, nutty counterpoint to the sweet jam. And use whatever jam you’re trying to use up.

1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
4 oz (1 stick or 1/2 c) cold unsalted butter
ice water

1 c guava jam, pineapple jam, or any other tropical fruit jam

Sift together the dry ingredients. Cut in the cold butter using a pastry cutter or knives. When the mixture resembles large peas in flour, turn it out onto a clean surface and sprinkle a little ice water over all (start with about 1 tbsp, depending on humidity). Gather the dough together and incorporate the butter and water by pushing out onto the surface with the heel of your hand, gathering the dough, and repeating until it holds together (fraisage). If you don’t feel like doing this by hand, pulse the dry ingredients, butter, and a small amount of water in a food processor. Wrap in plastic and rest, refrigerated, for half an hour.

375F oven.

Divide dough into about a dozen equal pieces, roll out, and press into muffin tins. In lieu of rolling out, if you feel lazy, press each piece into a muffin tin cup. Prick the bottom of each tart shell with a fork and blind bake for about 12 minutes, until light golden.

Remove from the oven and add a heaping tablespoon of jam to each shell. Take care to keep the jam in the center of the shells and not at the edges so the tarts don’t stick to the pan. Return to the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown. Cool on a rack.

Rustic Bahamian guava tart

Rustic pineapple jam tart

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