Beef, Leftover Recycling, Offal, Random Thoughts

Mother tongue.

Are we done talking about nose-to-tail cooking yet? Is everyone sick of being lectured to about eating all the parts of the animal? Then don’t consider this a lecture but just a statement of fact. The head of pretty much any mammal contains some of its most delicious meats.

Many people express reservations about eating the head of an animal, possibly for anthropomorphic reasons or just qualms about killing. Unlike a cut like the tenderloin or a boneless chicken breast, or even something a little more obviously connected to a living animal like a ham or short ribs, it’s hard to look at the head without an awareness that an animal was killed for food. Then there are the eyes and the brain, which are inevitable sources of comparison to our own brains, our own eyes. It’s not surprising the head is a little challenging.

"It's chock full of ... heady goodness."

“It’s chock full of … heady goodness.”

An easier and more accessible way to approach the head is to use the tongue and the cheeks. Beef tongue looks sort of terrifying, but once you make your peace with what it is, which is just a great big floppy cow’s tongue, you’ll find it easy to work with. It’s a tough cut that takes long, low temperature cooking, which is inherently forgiving. It’s also just basically a muscle, so unlike the organ meats some people find literally too visceral to eat (mmm, glands), it has the familiarity of cuts more usually encountered. Cheeks are even easier to work with – the muscle is more like the kind you find in shank or short rib, tough and full of connective tissue that melts to gelatin after lots of long braising.

Tongue and cheek

Tongue and cheek

Tongue and cheek

Smoking the tongue not only imparts great flavor, but helps dry it out a little, which normally seems like a bad thing – who wants dry meat? But the muscle graining on tongue is dense and fine, and interspersed with large quantities of intramuscular fat and collagen. When you slice it warm, tongue can fall apart and seem sodden. To ameliorate this tendency, smoke it, chill it, and slice it thinly while still cold. Cold smoked tongue is great with mustard and pickles on rye. It’s also great draped over a hot risotto or grain porridge, where the heat of the porridge softens and melts the fat and gelatin in the thinly sliced meat. You can warm it slightly as well; just don’t overdo.

A final note about tongue: you must remove the skin. I once went to a wedding reception at a restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown that served a cold braised tongue appetizer. The tongue meat was delicious with soy and five spice flavors but I couldn’t get past the skin. Even when the tongue is sliced paper-thin, it’s still present in a thin ring, it’s not tender, and it’s gross. So remove it.

For the tongue:

one large beef tongue
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp sugar (white or brown)
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
6 bay leaves

Combine all the dry ingredients but the bay leaves. Rub evenly all over the tongue and place in a pan just large enough for the tongue, atop three bay leaves. Place the remaining bay leaves on top. Cover tightly with clingfilm and refrigerate. You will turn the tongue every other day for ten days. Note: if you have a blade tenderizer (the kind that looks like an upside-down bed of needles), you can make tiny cuts in the tongue skin before curing. In this case, cure for four days.

Curing tongue

Curing tongue

Transfer the tongue, with its seasoning and any accumulated liquid, to a pot with just enough cold water to cover. Cover and bring to a bare simmer (180F). Place in an 180F oven. Cook for 6-8 hours (depending on size) or until the tongue is tender and a knife inserted to the center meets no resistance beyond the skin. Cool in enough liquid to cover and then refrigerate (in the liquid) at least overnight.

Peel the tongue. This should not be difficult but requires the use of a sharp knife. The tongue’s skin should come off easily. Discard the skin.

Smoke at 200F for about two to three hours (depending on the size of the tongue). Cool and then wrap in clingfilm (and then foil) and chill completely.

Smoked tongue

Smoked tongue

Use in any way you see fit. Tongue is great in hot/warm dishes but should be sliced cold, very thinly, and then rethermed in the dish.

For the cheek:

Cheek cooking times vary widely depending on size and the extent of the connective tissue. It is best to budget at least twelve hours to cook the cheeks even though it will likely take far less time. You do not have to babysit the braise in the oven.

3 lb beef cheek, large and very tough sinews trimmed
unsalted butter or beef tallow
one medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
6 garlic cloves, whole
3 c dry red wine
4 c beef stock (chicken stock acceptable)
4 branches thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and black pepper

Oven 180F.

Salt the cheek on both sides. Place a heavy saucepot over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. Brown the cheek well and set aside. Sweat the vegetables and garlic cloves in the residual fat and fond. Deglaze with red wine and reduce over medium low heat by 1/2. Add the beef stock and bring just to a simmer. Add the herbs and the browned cheek (and any juices). Cover with parchment and then the lid and place in the oven.

Cook for about 7 hours. The cheeks are done when the collagen has completely softened and the meat is fork-tender.

Remove the meat to a plate and strain the remaining liquid. Return the meat to the strained liquid and cool.

When ready to serve, bring the liquid to a simmer, uncovered, and reduce by 1/2 to 2/3 until proper glazing consistency is reached. Return the cheeks to the reduction, cover, and keep warm.

Service:

Per four plates:

two bunches spring onions (bulbed), washed and green section removed and reserved
butter
red radishes
compressed celery pickle
pickled ramps
bitter greens (arugula, nasturtium, cress)
assorted herbs, edible flowers, etc
prepared mustard

Slice the spring onion bulbs lengthwise and brown in butter.
Slice the ramp pickles lengthwise and the radishes 1/16″ thin lengthwise.
Serve the sliced tongue and braised cheek with the onion, radish, ramps, pickled celery, and garnish with herbs and flowers, the braising reduction, and a spoon of mustard. (The plating shown also includes ground chilmole.)

Coda: Other uses for tongue

Tongue is a pretty rich, densely-textured meat. Some people can eat huge quantities in a sitting (such as in a deli sandwich, with mustard and pickles), but not me. If you find yourself with 2+ pounds of smoked beef tongue and are unsure how to use it, consider these suggestions.

Tongue on rye (porridge) with pickles

Tongue on rye (porridge) with pickles

For a straightforward porridge recipe, see this earlier post. If you are using rye grain instead of farro, the cooking duration is basically the same. Other grains require more or less cooking time. I do not recommend cooking short grain rice sous vide. Garnish with pickled celery, red onion (or shallot), and Granny Smith apple, as well as herbs and buttered pumpernickel toast crumb.

Lengua tacos

Lengua tacos

Noodles with tongue (tossed in smoked beef fat)

Noodles with tongue (tossed in smoked beef fat and served with smoked beef consommé)

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Beans, East Asian, Leftover Recycling, Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Southern

Mystery of the pyramids.

Every kid who grows up in Wisconsin considers Chicago The Big Time, usually with a certain amount of contempt and possibly even undisguised hatred. Chicagoans in turn regard Wisconsin residents as ice-fishing hicks and drunks. Kermit the Frog-style man on the street interviews in both cities tell the tale pretty quickly. Mention you’re from Wisconsin anywhere in Chicagoland and you’ll get one of three loud responses, the first two with a mocking accent: “eh, dere,” “ya der hey,” or “Cheesehead,” each of which means, roughly, “go home, Sconnie.” Ask a Wisconsinite for his or her opinions on Chicagoans and you will be treated to a tirade about FIBs, particularly their incompetence behind the wheel when driving outside their home town and inexplicable support for sports franchises like the Cubs and the Bears. If you aren’t from Wisconsin and don’t know what a FIB is, try sounding it out with various swear words at the beginning and end until you get it right. Hint: the middle word is “Illinois” and there are two possible correct answers.

Even so, most of us if pressed would admit to intense jealousy over Chicago’s cultural opportunities and urbanity. My own family made the pilgrimage a couple of times a year, to visit the museums down by Soldier Field – the Museum of Science and Industry was my favorite, with its giant walk-through model of a human heart – or window-shop on Michigan Avenue. We never stayed more than a day or so at a time, though, and Chicago remained a mystery to me for years, even though only 90 minutes separate it from Milwaukee. Once I got my driver’s license, I sometimes begged off Saturday night parties to drive to Chicago, alone, tossing forty cents after forty cents into each of the toll booth baskets the way down just so I could cruise up and down Lakeshore Drive, and all around the Loop (at least once forgetting to save any cash for the drive back). At the time it seemed the height of adventure to parallel park my mom’s 1977 Olds Toronado and walk around downtown at 10 pm looking for a Vienna beef dog. After graduating from school, I even took a job in Chicago, living on Clark Street right next to the infamous Wieners Circle. The Circle, as habitués like to call it, serves great char-dogs and cheese fries but I avoided it from Thursday night through Sunday evening, when it attracts the very worst people in Chicago. It all comes back to FIBs, after all.

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Now, my dad traveled to Chicago on his own from time to time, and he often returned from those trips with a plastic bag full of pyramid-shaped, bamboo leaf-wrapped bundles from Chinatown. The Taiwanese word for those bundles is bah-chàng, and they were something of a special occasion item in our home, partly because any food that comes in a wrapper seems inherently fun, like a present, but mostly because bah-chàng are damn tasty. I associate bah-chàng completely with Chicago because we only ever ate them when he brought them back from his visits, much as we only ever ate lobster when he came home from Boston, or crabs after his trips to the DC area. In any case, at such times, my mother would set a big metal steamer over a pot of boiling water to reheat the bah-chàng, filling the kitchen with the sort of green-woodsy, slightly floral scent of bamboo leaves. Cut the string, and unwind the moist parcel to release a pyramid of glutinous rice, filled with soy-marinated pork belly, black mushroom, pungent dried shrimp, and a salted duck egg yolk. I visited Chicago for work last week, and spent so much time thinking about bah-chàng that I had to make them as soon as I came home.

Smoked pig and peanut rice dumplings

Only two ingredients are really mandatory for bah-chàng: glutinous (sticky) rice and some sort of leaf for wrapping. This rice dumpling combines these two basic bah-chàng ingredients with American Southern ingredients. Using bamboo leaves to wrap the dumpling lends an unmistakably Taiwanese aura to the dish, even though nearly all of the other ingredients come straight from the South. Sautéing the glutinous rice after soaking helps the grains retain some distinctness and lends some additional flavor from the shallot and fat – skipping this step ensures the rice will stick together more, yielding an almost tamale-like texture. Both preparations are acceptable. If you want to try this out with other things you find in the freezer, know that any fatty meat (like chicken thighs, pork shoulder, etc) works well.

2 c glutinous rice (note: you may find both black and white glutinous rice. Black cooks to a deep purple and makes for a striking and unconventional presentation)
12 bamboo leaves (alternatively, you may try lotus leaves or banana leaves, each of which lends its own distinctive flavor)
1/2 lb pork belly, cured and smoked as for bacon, or 1/2 lb slab bacon
2 tbsp usukuchi soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp American corn whiskey, like Jim Beam or Jack Daniels
2 tsp sorghum syrup
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp piment d’espelette
1 c shelled boiled green peanuts (see below)
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1 1/2 tbsp bacon fat
dozen pickled ramps, sliced in half lengthwise (substitute pickled onion)
kitchen twine

Rinse the rice several times in cold water and then leave to soak in a bowl, with about an inch of water to cover, for 3 hours.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the bamboo leaves. Boil for about five minutes until soft and remove from heat. Keep the leaves in water until nearly ready to use.

Slice the smoked pork belly crosswise into six equal pieces (about 1/3″ each). Combine the soy, whiskey, sorghum, white pepper, and espelette and marinate the sliced belly for about an hour. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already shelled the boiled peanuts, do so.

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Drain the rice well and leave to sit for about 10 minutes. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the bacon fat. Add the sliced shallots and allow to brown on both sides until golden. Remove the shallots but leave behind the hot bacon fat.

Add the drained rice and sauté until each grain is well coated with fat, about 3 minutes. You may skip this frying step for a more compact, tamale-like texture.

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Assemble the dumplings. Drain the bamboo leaves and overlap two, with the leaves slightly off-center as to form a long and narrow “X.” Fold in the middle to make a cone.

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Divide the rice into six portions and add half of a portion inside the cone, making an indent in the bottom to contain fillings; press the rice up around the insides of the cone. Add a spoonful of the boiled peanuts, a slice of smoked pork belly, some fried shallot and slices of ramp. Fold the pork over if necessary to fit and top with some more peanuts and the remaining portion of the rice.

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Drizzle with about 1 1/2 tsp of the pork marinade. Fold the tops of the leaves over the cone to close securely, and tie well with kitchen twine. You should have essentially a pyramid (tetrahedron) shape.

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Set in a steamer over boiling water and steam for about 3 hours (a little more won’t hurt). At this point, you can serve immediately or allow to cool and chill for up to four days. They also freeze well. Reheat in a steamer over boiling water to serve. For enhanced Southern-style deliciousness, serve with some pickled peaches.

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Boiled green peanuts

Green peanuts are fresh young peanuts still in the shell. The kind of peanuts you find in cocktail mix or even ostensibly raw in bulk have been cured through air-drying once they reach maturity, and do not taste the same. These are only generally available in-season (typically summer), and even then only where there exists sufficient demand, as they are perishable.

There are few exercises more frustrating than shelling freshly boiled peanuts. The shell sticks to the papery skin, and the peanut within tends to mush somewhat under the pressure of peeling. When making these dumplings, I discovered serendipitously that frozen boiled peanuts shell easily – probably something about the water freezing between the shell and the skin, expanding it just enough to prevent sticking. If you are lucky enough to find fresh green peanuts and boil your own as directed below, do yourself a solid and freeze them in a single layer on a sheet pan overnight before thawing and shelling. As a bonus, any you aren’t ready to use right then you can freeze, sealed tightly in a plastic bag.

For the very simplest preparation, you can simply boil in salted water (about 1/4 c per gallon), but the vinegar and spices lend a very slightly pickled character that tastes great with the fatty, sweet nut. If you don’t feel like dealing with boiling your own, or green peanuts aren’t available in your area (likely in most parts of the country, especially out of season), you can buy them canned in the soul food/Southern section of your supermarket, or by mail order. You’ll probably still have to shell them yourself.

1 lb fresh green peanuts
3 tbsp salt
2 tbsp seafood boil spices + 1 tsp celery salt, or 1 tbsp Old Bay + 1/2 tsp allspice berries and 1/2 tsp black peppercorn
1/4 c cider vinegar
1 gallon water

Bring everything to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 6 hours, stirring from the bottom occasionally to ensure even cooking. Test a peanut to see if it is cooked through to the center and if not, continue cooking a while longer until it is cooked through.

Drain and chill immediately. I recommend freezing and thawing before shelling, but once they cool, you can attempt to shell them right away.

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Note: This post was brought to you by the Creative Cooking Crew:
8315301157_f09f205562

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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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Confectionery, Duck, Frenchy Things, Leftover Recycling

Holiday Food Project 2010

Remember when we were kids, and we had endless wish lists of holiday gifts? Barbie Styling Head, Easy Bake Oven, Snoopy Sno Cone Machine, that sort of thing. I probably shouldn’t say any more, because I’m starting to sound like quite the retrograde feminine traditionalist, but you get the idea. Kids love stuff, and the winter holiday is primo stuff-buying season for kids. Adults too, as it turns out. When I first met my husband, I discovered that every holiday season, he and his mother engaged in the wholly pragmatic ritual of exchanging dog-eared catalogues with the desired merchandise circled within. I scoffed at this practice, of course, tarring it as an unromantic concession to the materialism of Christmas. We’re adults, I protested, and if you’re still buying holiday gifts for other adults, you should make an effort to know their tastes and interests. Really try to understand them as people, and buy them carefully chosen, meaningful gifts, not just turtlenecks from L.L. Bean and Borders gift cards.

I’m just going to tell this story about what a total load of bullshit my whole position on gifts turned out to be. Our protagonist doesn’t read this blog, so just let me have this, ok? Here’s what happened. Ever since my “thoughtful gifts” putsch of 2001, my mother in law and I exchanged gifts without any sort of holiday wish lists as a guide, with varying degrees of success or failure. Over the years, she bought me a series of mysteries – never registering that I hate mysteries and almost never read fiction. In 2005, I bought her a first edition of The World is Flat based on my knowledge that she reads the Times assiduously and admires everyone who writes in their pages (regardless of viewpoint, apparently), but totally ignorant of the fact that she already owned two copies. It kind of went like this every year. And then it was 2006. Right around Thanksgiving that year, my husband and I were sitting in his mother’s living room in suburban Philadelphia when my eye wandered over to a pair of two-dimensional copper cats in the window. The idea with these unbearably awful cats was that you could pose them in different ways so they could be attacking each other, frolicking, or just hanging out together. It’s possible she saw me looking at them. Does this seem like a nonsequitur? It’s not.

For a few years I had become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that my mother in law was spending so much money on the holidays since, as an adult, it’s not as though I really need any of this stuff, and she was headed toward retirement. Anything I really need (a new slate roof, second floor bathroom refurbishment) or want (rotovap, chamber sealer, lyophilizer) is way out of the range of reasonable gift expectations, and nearly everything else I can buy myself. So that Christmas, when I opened the square white box and unfolded several layers of tissue paper to find a pair of two-dimensional copper cats – expensive, two-dimensional copper cats – you can imagine how excited I felt. “Oh,” I said. “Just like yours.”

I since have conceded to my husband that the wish list method is superior to my idealized conception of gift-giving. Sometimes coups-d’états end with the restoration of the establishment, after all. As a matter of fact, I have adopted the wish list with the zealotry of the convert, making Amazon wishlists, evangelizing to my husband about their use, and publicly humiliating myself (as now) by repeating the story of my conversion at every available holiday opportunity. Actually, it doesn’t come up all that often. The moral of the story, though, is that you should make lists and exchange them to avoid being given unaesthetic “works of art” for the holidays, which you may have to trot out on future family visits to avoid uncomfortable questioning. But when list-exchanging would be awkward or socially inappropriate, the gift of food is never wrong.

Most people love either sugar or fat (admit it or not). Things have become more complicated over the years, as meat eatership is down, and so is sugar consumption. But your odds of making one or the other of these items work as a gift are pretty good. And to know which one to give your intended target, or whether to go back to the drawing board, you really have to make an effort to know their tastes and interests. See? You really can have it all. Happy holidays.

Figs with brandied ganache

Full disclosure: I did not conceptualize these figs in the first instance. Nat and I were killing time at a farmer’s market in Swarthmore (where my mother in law lives) when we encountered a vendor selling figs stuffed with ganache in boxes from Williams-Sonoma. We bought a small wooden box holding six figs and they were gone almost immediately. I thought, how hard could these be to make at home? Not hard. I mean, I’m not a pastry chef or confiseur by any means, and I worked it out on my first try.

The most difficult part of this exercise is dipping in the chocolate coating If you don’t already know, chocolate must be tempered to achieve that glossy snap at room temperature. This means that, once you melt the chocolate, you need to bring the temperature back down to 88F/31C and keep it there while you use it to coat your bonbons or whatever. There exist a couple of methods to temper chocolate, but in my opinion, the easiest is to melt chocolate in a double boiler until it reaches roughly 110F/43C, and then stir in cold chocolate (couverture chocolate works best because it has been pre-tempered) until the mixture reaches 88F. Because you must not rush the tempering process, this process may take a surprisingly long time. Keep the chocolate at 88F (up to 90F is fine) and work as quickly as you can. Don’t worry; because chocolate is relatively thick, it won’t lose heat immediately.

You can substitute another liquor for the brandy, but I chose a Spanish brandy (a Torres Jaime I solera) because it was a great pairing with the figs and the Spanish chocolate. Bourbon and some types of scotch whisky (particularly those aged in solera casks) would make excellent choices. Rum is a little cloying with the figs, in my opinion, unless you use something like Gosling’s Old or Santa Teresa 1792.

One thing: if choosing the second (injection) method below to fill the figs, you will need a syringe to fill the figs with ganache. This is not as deviant as it sounds. You can order an appropriately large syringe from L’Epicerie for about $4 or you can try to hit up your friendly neighborhood pharmacy. When I had my wisdom teeth out, years ago, I was told to keep my mouth clean with a syringe of warm water (there’s no needle). If you go the pharmacy route, the only difference is that you’ll have to refill the syringe more often, as it doesn’t hold as much.

One to two dozen dried figs, depending on size (I believe I used calimyrna, but see what you can find)
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Blanxart 80%), chopped
8 ounces (1 cup) heavy cream
1 tbsp corn syrup
2 tbsp brandy

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Blanxart dark), divided

Make the ganache:

Bring the cream to a boil. Allow to cool to about 120F; bring to a second boil and cool again. Bring to a third boil and add the corn syrup. Immediately pour through a fine sieve over the chopped chocolate. Stir well with a silicone spatula; do not overwork or beat in air. When cool (at room temperature), stir in the brandy and incorporate completely. You must wait to room temperature or the addition of cool liquid to warm chocolate may cause the mixture to seize.

Lay a sheet of wax paper in a sheet pan. Fill the figs. Full disclosure: I only ever have used the second method to fill the figs; the first one is a guess but I know it will work.

First method: place plastic wrap on the surface of the ganache to prevent a skin from forming, and allow the ganache to solidify somewhat. Slice the bottom off each fig and, using a small spoon, hollow out some of the flesh. Fill with ganache (using a spoon or butter knife) and place, bottom side down, on the wax paper to solidify further.

Second method: Fit an iSi ProfiWhip canister with an injector needle. Charge with nitrous. Blow out each fig with just a puff (not too hard!) until each one just puffs up. This pushes the fig flesh toward the walls and makes it easier to fill each one with ganache while leaving the fig intact. See before/after shots below.

Before.

After.

Fill the syringe with ganache while still warm. It helps to use the smallest possible spoon. Working quickly (because once you push the plunger, the ganache will come out quickly), fill each fig from the center of the flat, plump bottom. Inject from the blowout point and push until the fig is full. Set injection-side down on the wax paper.

Injecting with ganache.

Prepare the dipping chocolate:

Melt 5 ounces of the dark chocolate in a double boiler until it reaches 110F/43C, and then turn off the heat. Remove the top pot from the boiler but do not take the water off the stove. Stir in cold chocolate small piece by small piece until the mixture reaches 88F. Because you must not rush the tempering process, this process may take a surprisingly long time. Set the double boiler back on top of the water and keep the chocolate at 88F (up to 90F is fine). Working as quickly as you can, dip the bottom of each fig into the couverture. Don’t worry; because chocolate is relatively thick, it will not lose heat immediately. If it begins to set up, return to the double boiler and bring back to 88F. Place the dipped figs on the wax paper after dipping. Leave about an inch between figs.

Figs, brandied ganache.


Duck rillettes

Looking for something for the meat glutton in your life? Duck rillettes ought to do it.

Here’s the thing. Rillettes are the easiest of the pâté-like meat preparations to make, and yet anyone who receives a little jar of duck rillettes from you will act as though you flew to the Loire River valley and picked it up specially. They should – as easy as rillettes are to make, they taste like a million bucks. Traditionally, in the Loire départements, the rillettes were made from pork belly and shoulder. You can and should do that as well, but all I had handy was duck confit, so that’s what you’re getting this time. I do have a nine pound belly in the reach in, though, and if I get around to it this weekend, I’ll make some pork rillettes.

Pack your product in these lidded jars, complete with rubber gaskets. Not only do they look incredible, but they really keep the air out (in combination with the layer of fat on the rillettes). If you’re really motivated, you even can make labels. Once packed, they will keep, unopened, for a couple of months in the refrigerator, longer in the freezer. Once opened, consume within ten days. Best with toast points, excellent with pickled onions and cornichons.

One recipe (six legs) duck confit, from this recipe, fat and all, chilled solid
½ cup Dijon mustard (I like to use a green peppercorn Dijon by Maille or Edmund Fallot but you don’t have to do that)
About 1 tsp freshly ground black peppercorn

Lift the duck from the fat and measure out about 1 ½ c fat. Keep cold. Remove the duck meat from the bones and skin. In a bowl, combine all the duck meat, 2 tbsp mustard, a little black pepper (about ¼ tsp), and about ¼ c cold duck fat. Stir using a fork, incorporating the fat. Add another ¼ tsp pepper, another 2 tbsp mustard, and another ¼ c duck fat. Continue stirring. Taste at this point for texture, which should be rich and neither lean-meaty nor greasy. If it is too lean, add another 2 tbsp to ¼ c duck fat (or more) and 2 tbsp mustard. Otherwise, just taste for mustard and pepper.

Allow the remaining duck fat to melt until just liquid.

Pack into sterilized lidded jars and top with ¼ inch liquid duck fat. Insert rubber gasket into jar and close. Keep refrigerated and do not open until ready to serve.

All packed up.

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Beef, Leftover Recycling, preserving, Sandwich, Science

Brined.

Thanksgiving came and went without a hitch. I know this because my mother in law came to stay for two nights and my husband’s efforts to fix a whole bunch of little things around the house paid off in the form of a relatively pleasant visit.

I get a lot of questions about cooking technique in the weeks leading up to the holiday. This isn’t all that surprising – most people think about food more during the holidays, and cook more during the holidays. Food anxiety apparently plays a much greater role on television as well. We don’t have TV at home – a long story involving a severe, folie à deux-type addiction to late night reality television and a bitter argument with DirecTV seven years ago – but a couple of weeks back, while in Kansas City on business, I took the opportunity to check out the Food Network programming in the hotel room. Let’s just say that holiday cooking doesn’t make me anxious, but if I had been at all worried about achieving a crispy brown skin on a moist turkey, avoiding dry dressing, or producing the dreaded leaden pumpkin pie, I wouldn’t have felt any better after watching Food Network in the two weeks before Thanksgiving. I suspect that’s how they like it, too.

Anyway, as always, I received a lot of questions about brining this year. My answer, again as always, was the same. If you’re going to roast your turkey whole (and there are many, many reasons not to do so), you should consider a short brine. Honestly, though – who really likes turkey all that much, other than my husband? He’s still eating it, by the way, with gusto. We had the leftovers for dinner the other night – and I must admit that they were good, especially the chestnut and sausage stuffing, which tasted even better after the flavors had a few more days to meld – but I really don’t need to eat more than one turkey meal a year, brined or no. Now, the brined food I do like to eat … that’s salt beef, or corned beef.

Corning refers to “corn,” the archaic English term for a hard, coarse, granular substance, like those big grains of salt formerly used for preservation. While in times past one might have preserved meat by packing it in salt corns for a dry cure, today corned or salt beef generally is cured in a wet brine. As much as salt beef is a pretty lowbrow food, enjoyed between slabs of rustic caraway rye and accented with fiery English mustard, the best hot salt beef sandwich I’ve ever enjoyed comes from a distinctly posh venue. The Fifth Floor food hall at Harvey Nichols department store in London has a hot salt beef carving station where you can get a great fatty piece of salt brisket on rye. If you’re tired out from buying expensive clothes downstairs, go sit in the Fifth Floor Bar and order a salt beef sandwich. It comes with pickles, hot mustard, and beautiful plate presentation. Some people say Selfridge’s is best, but those people are nuts.

Salt beef

Use a kitchen scale when making the brine. From chemistry class (and all those metrics lessons in the 70s) you should recall that water weighs one gram per milliliter, so a liter of water weighs one kg. You want a 10% salt solution with adequate sugar, and it is essential that you not include too much curing salt. A note about that curing salt, by the way. Many of you may eschew nitrites, having read about their potential negative health consequences. Since we rarely brine meat these days for preservation, you can omit the curing salt from the brine if you like, without any ill effect. The salt beef will, however, cook to a grayish-brown if you cook it conventionally, since curing salt preserves color. (If you are interested in cooking the salt beef sous vide to preserve color, I do provide instructions.)

1.5 kg (3 lbs) brisket
2 liters (2000 ml) cold water
200g salt
75g sugar
10g curing salt (Prague Powder #1)
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, peeled
several branches thyme
10g black peppercorn
10g pickling spice [combine whole allspice, cloves, mace, celery seed, juniper]

Bring 200g of the water, and the rest of the brine ingredients, to a simmer until dissolved. Combine with the rest of the water. Trim the brisket of extraneous gristle and place in a large, thick, sealable plastic bag (a gallon bag should do if you have a slightly smaller brisket than specified, but otherwise use a two gallon bag). I strongly recommend double bagging.

Brisket.

Add the brine and seal the bags. To be really safe against leaks or bursting, place the bag in a deep bowl (such as a steel prep bowl). Place in the refrigerator, in the coldest part. Every day for about a week, rotate the bag to ensure that all parts of the brisket are cured consistently. You can cure for up to two weeks but it does become progressively more salty. If you intend to cook sous vide (especially if not using curing salt), pull from the brine after five days and rinse well before proceeding.

After two weeks.

After a week to ten days (or up to two weeks), remove the brisket from the bag and rinse in cold water. Discard the brine.

1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, scraped and chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped

Place the brisket in a large stockpot or Dutch oven with the onion, carrot, and celery. Add water to cover. Bring just to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer for about 4-5 hours, depending on the size of your brisket. When the brisket is ready, it will be fork-tender. During cooking, the brisket will become quite tough for a period of time. This is normal – keep simmering and do not at any time allow the water to boil. Remove the brisket from the cooking liquid. Slice across the grain.

To prepare sous vide, rinse well to be sure that none of the pickling spices adhere to the meat because spices will become unbearably strong otherwise. Bag the brisket and vacuum seal. Cook in the SVS or in an immersion circulator at 136F/58C for medium rare meat, or 140F/60C for medium, about 42-48 hours depending on meat thickness and composition.

Serve on sliced rye bread, with house-made pickles and hot English mustard. As pictured, the sandwich comes with potato chips made by slicing a russet on a mandoline directly into hot oil.

Salt beef on rye


Corned beef hash

What do you do with leftover corned beef? Hash, of course – the blandness of the potato is the perfect foil to the salty meat.

I specify 1/4″ dice because I like it small. Don’t knock yourself out. It’s hash, it’s a rustic dish; if you like larger dice or even a rough chop, suit yourself.

Corned beef hash.

Leftover salt beef, from above, diced about 1/4″
one russet potato, diced 1/4″
one small yellow onion, diced 1/4″
vegetable oil or clarified butter
thyme leaves
chives
black pepper
optional: poached egg

Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat and, when hot, add a little oil. Add the potato to the pan and toss once to coat on all sides; then cook, undisturbed, until golden on one side. Flip the potatoes to turn and add the onion. Brown on the other side and add the corned beef and thyme leaves. Redistribute in the pan and continue to brown until golden. Season with salt if necessary (the beef is quite salty, so you should not need much salt). Season with black pepper and chives. Turn out onto a plate.

If you like, top with a poached or fried egg. Ketchup is not verboten.

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