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Dinner in London: Fish and Chips

To quote Constance (Lady Trentham) from Gosford Park "yummy yummy yummy."

Although it’s been the better part of a decade since I was in London I can vividly remember the first time I had really authentic fish and chips. It was one of those light-filled 9-at-nights peculiar to London in July. It was balmy, the sky was white, and I was having the time of my life. We had just left Madame Tussads and were walking along the Thames and the smell of hot, fresh french fries wofted from little stands that seemed straight out of Dickens. It was a magical moment as I handed my pound over to the woman and was handed back a newspaper cone (yes, mine actually came in newspaper) filled with hot and fresh fried fish and chips. The savory aroma coupled with the tart smell of the sauce and the sourness of the malt vinegar was somehow much different than the smell of the fish and chips I had been accustomed to at home.

I grew up eating beer-battered fish almost every weekend on the northern California coast. The fish was fresh, it woke up in the sea and was on my plate by dinner, but it was nothing like what I got in that newspaper cone that lovely evening. The fish I bit into in London was insanely good. The crisp breadcrumb exterior crunched apart to let loose brilliantly white cod, moist and succulent. The chips were so hot they nearly burned my mouth but provided the perfect contrast to the sea-salt sweetness of the fish. It was one of those rare moments when the cliché cuisine of a place is actually as good as everyone claims it is. As I gazed at parliament and the grotesquely beautiful streetlamps that line the river slowly replaced the evening light of the sky the chimes of Big Ben rang out and I was eating fish and chips in London and the scene was complete. I can’t imagine a more cliché moment but would trade this memory for nothing in the world.

My homemade rendition is just as good as the version I ate that night, though there’s something to be said for eating it in an apartment in Los Angeles rather than under the lights of the London night. Well, until I return again this recipe will certainly hold me over. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

For the Chips

4 large russet potatoes

Sunflower or corn oil for frying

Fine sea salt

For the Fish

2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups dried white breadcrumbs

1 large egg

about 20 weighted ounces of cod, skin removed

sunflower or corn oil for deep frying

Tartar sauce and malt vinegar

Directions:

1. Prepare the French Fries following the directions found in my Back to Basics post: http://reclaimingthegoodnameoftheepicurean.com/2011/10/03/back-to-basics-the-batonnet/

2. Prepare the fish for frying

Lay out two small plates and one shallow bowl.

Pour the breadcrumbs onto one of the plates, pour the flour onto the other and season with salt and pepper. Crack the egg into the bowl and break up by whipping it lightly with a fork.

Your cod fillets will look like this when you bring them home from the market.

Cut the cod fillets into 4-5 even pieces.

Add a dinner plate to your breading workstation and bring the fish over to the station.

Begin by dredging each fillet in the seasoned flour taking care to completely cover each side with the flour mixture.

Coat the floured cod with the egg making sure the entire piece is covered

Dip the cod egg-covered cod fillet in the breadcrumbs making sure to evenly coat all the surfaces of the fillet. Move the breaded fillet to the dinner plate and repeat the process for all of the cod fillets.

Your breaded cod fillets will look like this when they are done. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

3. Fry the chips the first time.

Drain the batonnet of potato in a colander

Heat the oil in your pan until it is very hot, just barely smoking. Add the batonnets of potato one small batch at a time and fry for about 4 minutes. Take care not to overcrowd the pan, if you put too many batonnets in the oil it will reduce the temperature of the oil and they will not fry properly. Note: I use a wok for frying because it is a rapid and even conductor of heat, however any like-sized pan in your cupboard will work...the key is to get the oil very hot and keep it very hot.

The fries are not finished after this round of frying so don't be alarmed, after 5 minutes they will be limp and barely colored. This batch pre-cooks them, you will give them a final fry just before serving. As the batches finish transfer them to a pan lined with paper towels in a 200-degree oven.

4. Fry the fish

Heat enough oil to generously cover the bottom of a frying pan to just barely smoking over high heat.

Fry the cod fillets a couple at a time. Fry over high heat about 2-3 minutes per side or just until they are golden brown.

Turn with a pair of cooking tongs to make sure the fillets don't break apart.

Transfer each batch to a paper-towl-lined pan as they finish

5. Give the chips their final fry

Get the oil very hot over high heat again, just barely smoking. Add the pre-fried chips and dry for a minute or two until they are colored the way you like them. I like my chips dark so I fry them longer, but if you like yours lighter you'll only need to fry them for about 30 seconds to a minute.

As the batches finish drain off the oil by setting the fries over paper towels. When all the chips are refried transfer to a bowl and toss with sea salt to season.

6. Plate and serve

Enjoy with tarter sauce, lemon wedges, and malt vinegar. Play 'Hail Britannia,' 'God Save the Queen,' or 'Zadok the Priest' if you feel so inclined

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Back to Basics: The Batonnet

Today I’ve decided to explore, in depth, the classical cutting technique known as the “batonnet.” The batonnet is used almost exclusively as the “French fry” cut and can be used to prepare any number of vegetables for the purpose of seasoning, deep frying, and indulging in.

Begin by peeling your potatoes. I like to set down a brown paper bag so that the dirty peels can be quickly discarded when done.Tonight I'm going to be frying batonnets of Russet potato, however the batonnet is ideal for any type of starchy vegetable including Yukon Gold potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Once all of your potatoes are peeled begin squaring them lengthwise. Set the broad side down, secure safely by pressing down with your knuckles taking care to tuck away fingertips and thumb. Slice just enough off to get one generally flat surface lengthwise on one side.

Turn the potato onto the now flat surface of the one face and square the next side in the same fashion. Tight 90-degree angles are key here.

Turn the potato again and cut a third flat face keeping a tight 90-degree angle on each corner as you cut.

Turn the potato one final time and make the fourth face of the potato flat. You will end up with a perfect rectangular potato with rounded ends.

Begin carefully slicing 1/4-inch slices of potato lengthwise taking care to turn each slice into it's own 1/4-inch thick rectangular potato piece with tight 80-degree angles at each corner.

Continue slicing off 1/4-inch thick potato rectangles keeping tight 90-degree angles on each piece. Discard any trim (I trimmed the final piece to the left of my knife)

The batonnet is 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch by approximately 3-3 1/2-inch. To the upper right of this picture are some finished examples. Take each of the 1/4-inch thick potato rectangles, place fat face down on thecutting board and slice off 1/4-inch lengthwise batonnets.

Cut all the potatoes in this fashion. Your batonnets should be uniform, 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch strips featuring tight 90-degree angles at each corner.

Between he time of slicing and the time of frying completely submerge the batonnets of potato in cool water. This process will extract and remove excess starch from the potato thereby making betters French fries and will also prevent the potato from coloring as it sits. Batonnets of potato can be kept in the water anywhere from 20 minutes up to 2 days until you are ready to use them.

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Friday Night Indulgences: Peanut Butter Honeycomb Tartelettes

No caption necessary.

Friday evening has brought Autumn to Los Angeles in a rush of cool wind, muggy weather, warm rain, and skies ranging from custard to robin’s egg to deep auburn. The days grow shorter and as I grow into the transition the distance between here and San Francisco, the home I loved for half a decade, becomes evident to me. It’s not that I miss San Francisco, per se, in fact I’ve never been happier in my life. It’s more that I miss the knowledge that the forthcoming weeks will bring bitter wind, hail, gray skies, and the promise of a season of cozy evenings inside. As I rode my bike this morning and experienced the signs of the fall in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt I realized with an equal measure of excitement and wistfulness that I have no idea what this season will feel like.

It’s this uncertainty, I think, that made me reach for something that reminds me of what Autumn was like slightly north of here. Peanut butter and honeycomb pie feels to me the perfect balance of sweetness and warm spices that remind me of San Francisco and cool creaminess which I know will make this dessert more palatable on this muggy fall night in Los Angeles. As I prepared the custard, crust, sauce, and honeycomb I was moved to hunt through my dusty collection of CDs. I was yearning to hear Schubert’s mass in G which is, for me, a harbinger of the fall. It’s sumptuousness is the perfect match to this decadent dessert and as I cooked and listened I felt a certainty that although the seasons will feel differently here all that was good in them before will continue here and wherever my life takes me. So take this recipe and prepare it yourself, take comfort in that which tastes good and feels right.

Ingredients

For the Crust

9 graham crackers

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

a pinch of kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

6 tablespoons of butter

Peanut Butter Custard Filling

8 large egg yolks

12 tablespoons of sugar

1 1/2 cups of whole milk

1 vanilla bean

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

Honeycomb 

1 1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons of lite corn syrup

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon of baking soda, sifted

For Topping

1/4 cup dry roasted, salted peanuts

Directions for Preparation

1. Prepare and pre-bake the graham cracker crusts

Begin by measuring out your brown sugar, scoop using your measuring cup then...

...using your palm pack the brown sugar into the measuring cup.

Add the brown sugar, graham crackers, kosher salt, and nutmeg to the food processor

Purée until the mass resembles fine meal

Meanwhile melt the butter over medium heat until slightly browned and giving off a slight nutty aroma. This is called "brown butter" and by taking the time to slowly brown the butter you add an unexpected degree of flavor which will lend itself well to the graham crackers and warm spices in the rest of the crust.

Combine the brown butter and the graham-cracker-and-sugar in a bowl until evenly combined

Spoon the crust mixture generously into the tartelette pans

take a glass (I stole this one from Air France on my way home from Paris)

Press the glass evenly in the center of the mold compacting the crust mixture down

Begin pressing the crust on the sides around the cup down evenly, adding crust mixture as necessary so the crust comes to the top of the mold and forms an even, compact crust all around...

...like so.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees farenheit. Your crust-filled tartelette pans will look like this going in...

...and after baking for about 15 minutes they will look like this. Set aside and let cool completely while you prepare the custard.

2. Prepare the Peanut Butter Custard

Pour your egg yolks into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment

Add six tablespoons of sugar

Whip on high for about two minutes. It will start out looking like this...

...and end up looking like this: light, fluffy, white, and ribbony when you dip a spoon in and pull it out.

With a small paring knife split your vanilla bean in half and...

...scrape the seeds into a small saucepan with the milk and remaining six tablespoons of sugar over medium heat. Bring to a simmer stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Once the sugar is dissolved remove the bean and turn off the heat.

With the mixer's whip moving at medium-low speed slowly (and I mean slowly) pour the hot milk mixture into the yolk-and-sugar mixture.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and turn the heat to medium

Slowly bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. The mixture will thicken considerably.

Pour the simmering mixture back into the mixing bowl

Turn the mixer to medium-high and whip for a couple of minutes to cool

With the mixer moving at medium add the butter one tablespoon at a time, allowing the butter to melt completely after each addition

With the mixer still moving at medium add the peanut butter by heaping spoonful

Scrape down the sides, add the salt, and whip again at medium until the mixture is cooled to room temperature and is evenly combined.

3. Pour the custard into the prepared graham cracker crusts and chill to set

Pour the custard into the pre-baked graham cracker crust shells in your tartelette pans just to the top.

Move to the refrigerator and chill completely.

4. While the tartelettes set prepare the honeycomb

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and ¼ tablespoon of water in a large saucepan

Over medium heat dissolve the sugar

Once sugar is dissolved turn heat to high. DO NOT STIR WITH A SPOON. Stir occasionally over high heat by twirling the pan in a clockwise motion. If you use a spoon you will never, ever get the burnt sugar off of it.

Occasionally use a pastry brush dripped in water and brush the insides of the pan. This gets the sugar off of the sides and prevents it from burning, thus lending a burned flavor to the entire batch

Just as the molten sugar turns a light amber color (mine is a bit dark here, due in part to the black pan I'm using) ...

...working very quickly (the mixture is about to increase in size about 50-fold) sift in the baking soda

Whisk quickly just until the baking soda is combined, then...

Pour out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper

Allow the honeycomb to cool for at least 20 minutes. It is ready when it is cool and brittle.

5. Prepare the Sauce

Over medium heat melt together the butter and chocolate (complicated...I know) and keep warm for pouring over the tartelettes.

6. Decorate and serve the tartelettes

Break the honeycomb apart with the edge of a flat metal spatula. The key is to get medium-sized bits while not turning the mass to powder

Arrange an odd number of honeycomb pieces over the custard like so

Arrange the peanut pieces over the honeycomb so it looks like they fell all over.

Drizzle the warm chocolate sauce over the tartelettes.

Serve with hot chocolate or coffee...or do like me and have some Kahlua and coffee with yours (if you have any leftover after last week's White Russian Cupcakes). Enjoy!

You’ll have leftover honeycomb. The honeycomb makes a perfectly delicious candy as-is or if you’re feeling adventurous melt some bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler and dip the pieces in it. Let set and enjoy as a fabulously decadent treat for yourself or throw it in a cellophane bag and impress your friends with a home-made gift. They don’t need to know you gave them some rather inexpensive leftovers 😉

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The News From France: Gratin de Quennelles de Poisson

Fish quenelles, or more specifically quenelles gratinéed in white wine sauce is a standard luncheon dish served across France, but most notably at the cafes and bistros of Paris. The delicate, saline quality of the white fish (traditionally Pike) is extracted and extrapolated upon with the influence of black truffles, pepper, butter, cream, and gruyere.

The richness of the dish sheds light on why the French are notorious for their small portions, but the richness of the dish sheds absolutely no light on their small proportions (which they are equally notorious for). How a culture can turn heavy cream, decadent amounts of butter, and every form of fat and sugar available into something consistently light and refreshing is beyond the scope of science to explain. All I can say is this dish will make you sublimely happy and will transform a few sad little cans of tuna sitting in the back of your cupboard into an entrée worthy of ironing a tablecloth for. Chill your most mineral-rich dry white wine and loosen your belt just a notch. Bon appétit!

Ingredients

For the quenelles:

Coarse kosher salt

Ground white pepper

4 tablespoons of butter

3/4 cup flour

2 large eggs

1 1/4 pounds well-chilled skinless lean white fish, drained well if taken from a can

1-8 tablespoons of heavy cream

2 tablespoons of chopped black truffle

For the sauce and the Gratiné

5 tablespoons of butter

7 tablespoons of flour

1 1/2 cups simmering whole milk

1 1/2 cup simmering white wine fish stock, or a combination of equal parts white wine, dry vermouth, and the juice from tuna cans, clam juice, or something of the like combined with a clove of garlic, two slices of lemon, chopped shallot or white onion, salt, pepper, and butter

Kosher salt

ground white pepper

Approximately 1 cup of heavy whipping cream

the juice of two lemons

Approximately 3 tablespoons of grated Gruyère cheese

1 tablespoon of butter cut into pea-sized dots

Preparation

1. Prepare the pâte à choux

Measure out 4 tablespoons of butter. I am using this very nice French butter as a sort of experiment to see if using a local butter relative to the dish I'm preparing has any effect on the final product...here's a clue: it totally does.

Measure out the flour by scooping the flour into the measuring cup then...

...Level off with the flat surface of a butter knife

Bring the butter to a simmer with one cup of water over medium heat

remove the pan from the heat

Add the flour all at once...

...mix thoroughly off the heat. Add the eggs one at a time and...

...continue to beat vigorously until well combined off the heat.

place the saucepan into a bowl of ice water and continue to stir for about four minutes until well-chilled.

Chill the pâte à choux in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2. Prepare the fish to be puréed

Thoroughly drain the juice from each can of tuna into a receptacle and reserve for use as a substitute for white wine fish stock

Place the very dry white fish in a food processor

Add the cream, truffles, white pepper, and kosher salt. If you don't have whole black truffles on hand (if you do I'll be surprised, impressed, and will probably want to be your friend) Whole Foods has a nice, relatively inexpensive alternative in the form of black truffle shavings in cream. It's $13.00 per can but when you compare it to the hundreds you would spend on whole truffles it's a steal and since the recipe calls for cream as it is your can replace a portion of the cream called for with the cream in the container and supplement it with extra cream as necessary.

Add the chilled pâte à choux to the ingredients in the food processor and...

Process for about a minute or until smooth

test a spoonful in a pot of lightly simmering water. Simmer for a minute or two, taste, and take note of what is missing texture and flavor-wise.

If the mixture feels too dense add a little more cream, but it is far better to have too little cream versus having too much cream when it comes time to form your quenelles. Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt or white pepper. The key is to have the spices extract the flavor of the truffles without overpowering them.

Transfer to a metal bowl and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

3. Prepare the sauce

Crush the clove of garlic with the flat side of your standard 10-12-inch French knife

Combine equal parts white wine, dry vermouth, and drained tuna water with the crushed clove of garlic, two slices of lemon, white pepper and salt to taste, and about three tablespoons of butter. Transfer to a medium saucepan over high heat

Bring to a high simmer and reduce demi sec (by half)

Meanwhile juice 2-3 lemons...

...strain through a fine mesh seive

Prepare a blonde roux by combining the butter and flour over medium heat. Take care not to color the roux. My example is dark brown because in a feeble attempt to make this dish "healthy" I used whole-grain whole-wheat flour.

Off the heat add 1 1/2 cups of the reduced white wine fish stock replacement. Mix until combined.

Add the simmering milk

Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until thickened

Thin out with the heavy cream (oxymoron, I know)

Season to taste with lemon juice, white pepper, and kosher salt. Set aside.

4. Prepare the quenelles

Over low/medium-low heat bring half fish stock replacement and half salted water to a very, very low simmer

Fill and oven-safe and fire-proof dish with 1.4 inch of the sauce, set aside

To prepare the fish quenelles take two teaspoons in your hands and fill one slightly with the fish purée

To prepare the fish quenelles take two teaspoons in your hands and fill one slightly with the fish purée

Turn the mixture over forming one clean side, then...

...form a second clean side...

...then ...finish by forming a football-like-shaped three-sided quenelle.

invert one of the spoons and gently drop the quenelles into the lightly simmering poaching liquid.

Poach the quenelles for about 20 minutes, take care that the poaching liquid remains just below a simmer. If the simmer gets too vigorous the quenelles will break apart and dissolve

Gently remove the quenelles from the poaching pan with a slotted spoon and...

...lay in a fanned-out circular design on top of the 1/4-inch of sauce in your prepared dish

The layout of the quenelles should be tight and visually appealing, in a design appropriate to the relative shape of your pan. THis dish will be served in-pan at the table.

Brush the rest of the sauce over the quenelles in the pan

grate a generous amount of gruyère over the entire dish

Move the pan into a pre-heated broiler and gratin for 15-20 minutes or until the dish is a deep golden brown...

...like so. The top will be crispy and the mass will be bubbling, hot, and highly aromatic

Serve with a tasty, complimentary contrasting vegetable, a starch like rice pilaf, a nice, crusty French baguette if you have one, and a dry, mineraly French white wine

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Dinner in Havana: Colombo (Shrimp and Coconut Curry with Sweet Potato Fries)

Dig in!

It’s a hot night, very hot. The balmy air is heavy and the sweat seeps through your linen suit. A music somehow hotter than the night emmenates from a little restaurant and the rhythms make you feel suddenly cooler. You settle in and the pretty woman behind the bar sets a little bowl of shrimp in front of you accompanied by some sweet potato fries. The aroma is musky like curry and smells sweet like coconut. The fries smell savory and substantial. You take a bite and the sharp bite of the pepper and the sublimely cool shrimps circulate in your mouth as the warm spices soften the edges. You take a bite of the fries and its like curling your toes into the rich soil. The endorphins rush and suddenly you’re one with the music, the night, the island.

Colombo summons up something dark and ancient. Something which came about through the confluence of the spices on traders’ ships, the bounty of the crystal-blue waters, and the produce of the islands themselves. It is unlike anything you’ve ever had, and on a night just hot enough to conjur up whatever means Havana to you the combination of this simple curry, the crisp sweet potato fries, and a perfectly chilled mojito has magically transformative properties. You’ve been warned. Enjoy.

Ingredients

2 sweet potatoes

canola oil

2 pounds of shrimp

2 cloves of garlic

1 red bell pepper

1 scotch bonnet chile, or one habanero chile if a scotch bonnet is unavailable

1 tablespoon of mild curry powder

2 cups of coconut milk

1 small bunch of cilantro

salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1. Begin by peeling and deveining the shrimps

First take the whole shrimp, in-peel, into both hands

gently pull the tail off

then pull off the rest of the peel

check the shrimp to make sure all of the peel has been removed

with a paring knife (or a bird's beak knife as I'm using here, if you have one) cut a slit along the length of the back of the shrimp

pull the vein out with the tip of your knife. For those unfamiliar with this process the "vein" is actually the shrimp's digestive track and the vein itself actually contains the shrimp's feces. An empty vein is an indicator that the shrimp was not fed properly before being harvested, a full vein is a sign of the good health and good farming practices of the shrimp producer.

Clean your knife off on a paper towel. You don't want shrimp refuse on your porous cutting surface.

Turn the shrimp over and cut another slit along the length of the inside of the shrimp. There is another major vein in this side to remove.

Pull the second vein out and discard on your paper towel as you did with the first vein.

As you work retain your shrimps in a bowl and keep chilled in the refrigerator (you'll need to serve the curry immediately after cooking). Reserve the shrimp peels in a storage container and keep in the freezer for a later use. Shrimp tails are used in an infinite number of dishes, namely shrimp bisque, which I will demonstrate in a later post.

2. Prepare the sweet potatoes for frying.

Peel both sweet potatoes, taking care to remove all signs of peel

True the edge of your knife with a steel by holding the knife at a 10-12 degree angle and running the edge of the knife against the steel alternately about 5 times each side for a total of 10 strokes. This process does not sharpen the knife but removes small inconsistencies in the sharpened edge and makes for safer, more accurate cutting. For the purpose of cutting starchy vegetables a Santoku knife is the ideal took, the thin, very sharp blade lends greater accuracy in cutting. If you do not own one a standard 10-12 inch French knife works perfectly well.

Begin by cutting the sweet potato into 3 to 3 1/2-inch segments

Taking care to tuck your fingertips and thumb in begin trimming the edges of the 3 to 3 1/2 inch segments into rectangles with sharp 90-degree angles

From your larger rectangles cut smaller, 1/4-inch thick rectangles. Be vigilant about keeping all angles at a tight 90-degree angle. This will be difficult at first but in time you will gain easy precision and easy precision is the hallmark of any good cook and definitely any professional chef.

From the 1/4-inch thick rectangles cut 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch by 3 - 3 1/2-inch sticks. This is a classical cut known as the "batonnet" and it is typically used to make pommes frites (french fried potatoes)

Fabricate all of your sweet potato into perfect batonnets, like so, and set aside.

3. Prepare the rest of the vegetables

Mince the garlic by first crushing each clove with the face of your knife and your fist

Remove and discard the garlic peel from the crushed garlic cloves

Chop the garlic finely by first slicing the crushed cloves, regathering the sliced crushed garlic, and running the knife rapidly over the garlic over and over again until...

...it looks like this. Set aside.

Slice the top and bottom of the red bell pepper off and remove the pulpy inside and seeds. Discard the tip and tail as well as the pulpy interior and seeds, reserve the rest.

Slice the bell pepper into 1/8-inch thick slices as for the julienne (see back to basics post)

Cut the 1/8-inch slices into 1/8-inch by 1/8-inch by 1/8-inch cubes, the "brunoise" from my back-to-basics post. Brunoise all of the bell pepper and set aside.

Fabricate the Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper in the same fashion as the bell pepper. Wear latex gloves while doing this, the pepper's oil will burn you badly and will hurt for hours if you have any little nicks or cuts in your skin.

Rinse and dry your cilantro with paper towels. Begin by slicing the mass into thin slices, regather the mass and run your knife over it rapidly until...

...the entire mass of cilantro is finely diced like so. Set aside with the rest of the vegetables.

4. When you’re ready to eat begin by preparing the Sweet Potato Fries.

Toss the batonnet of sweet potato with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees farenheit, heat a few cups of oil in a pan over high heat. I use a wok on account of its effective conduction of heat, but any sort of pan will work. The key is to get the oil very, very hot (just barely under smoking) before adding the batonnet of sweet potato. Very hot oil will seal in the moisture and make a crisp outside while under-heater oil will quickly absorb into the sweet potato and make a limp, sad, little monstrosity out of what should be a crisp and tasty fry.

When the oil is hot enough add the batonnet of sweet potato a little at a time.

Fry each batch until golden, about 2-3 minutes depending upon the size of the batch

As each batch of fries finishes transfer to a large pan in the 200-degree oven outfitted with several paper towels to absorb the extra oil. The fries will only stay crisp if there are paper towels to absorb the extra oil and moisture in the dry, hot oven. Repeat process until all the batonnet of sweet potato are turned into delicious sweet potato fries

5. Prepare the curry

Over medium-high heat heat the olive oil to just under smoking

Add the prepared shrimps

Add the habanero, bell pepper, and garlic

Saute together for about 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat

Add the curry powder and saute for another minute

Turn the heat up to high and add the coconut milk. Stir constantly over the course of about 10 minutes or until the sauce has reduced to a thickened, sauce-like consistency

After 5 minutes it should look like this...

After 10 minutes it should look like this. It is ready to serve at this point.

6. Plate and serve

After the curry is ready toss the hot french fries with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

I plated the curry in bowls set on top of a dinner plate with the sweet potato fries served on it.

Sprinkle a generous amount of the chopped cilantro on top. Mix yourself a third mojito and you're in business! Enjoy!

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A Night in Roma: Petti Di Pollo in Padella

It’s Tuesday night, and that means I’m reaching out for the foods of the world. For dinner tonight I prepared panfried chicken breasts with herbs in the Roman fashion. Characteristic of Roman cuisine in general this dish is light, simple, and earnest. As my partner and I sat down to dinner and took our first bites I remarked on the chicken’s flavorful quality yet overall understatement. Nonplussed by the simplicity I was at first unsure how I felt about the dish. There is a hint of the musky rosemary, a wiff of bay leaf, and the succulent freshness of chicken breast itself. Upon further rumination it occurs to me that this dish is representative of not just the cooking in Rome but of the architecture of the city itself. The forum was never flamboyant and the pantheon doesn’t overwhelm the senses with Rococo curls. The structure of Rome is simple, orderly, dignified, and beyond all else refined. The eternal city’s residents reflect that same air. It stands to reason the cuisine, a symbol of the soul of Roman culture, would embody those same understated virtues of balance, order, and refinement.

Ingredients:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenders removed and reserved for another use

2 chicken wings

1 carrot

1 small celery stalk

1 small yellow onion

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 cut extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf, crumpled

Preperation

1. Fabricate and marinate the chicken breast

Take the chicken breasts and cut them in half lengthwise so that from one plump chicken breast you yield two thin chicken breast pieces

Place the 8 chicken breast pieces in a shallow glass dish

Chop the rosemary and mix it in a bowl with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a healthy pinch on salt, and a few grinds of black pepper

Drizzle the marinade over the chicken breast

Toss the chicken breasts around in the pan and ensure all surfaces of the chicken breast pieces are coated with marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for about two hours, turning the breasts over every fifteen minutes or so.

2. While the chicken marinates, prepare a quick chicken stock

Clean the carrot and cut into rough, inch-sized pieces

Clean the celery stalk and cut into rough inch-sized pieces

Peel the onion and chop it into rough, inch-sized pieces

Put the two chicken wings, chopped vegetables, 2 cups of water, a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper into a medium saucepan

Bring to a boil over high heat and skim the scum off the top of the stock.

Reduce heat to medium and reduce the stock demi sec (by half). It's ready when it looks like this.

Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve and chill in the refrigertor

3. Sauté the chicken breasts

Put about a tablespoon of the marinade in a large sauté pan and heat to just under smoking over medium-high heat

Sauté the first side until dark and golden, about 5 minutes

With kitchen tongs turn the breasts over carefully and sauté the other side of the breast pieces until dark and golden...about five minutes

When finished remove the chicken breast pieces to a cutting board and let rest at least 5 minutes before cutting. If you cut too soon the hot juices in the chicken will all run out and your chicken will be left bone dry. By letting the chicken rest the juices cool and settle in the fibers of the chicken and when cut they remain in the pieces.

4. Prepare the sauce

Keeping the juices in the pan leftover from the sauté still hot over medium-high heat, deglaze the pan by pouring the cold chicken stock over the sautéing juices. There will be furious boiling and steam at first but this will soon subside.

Over medium-high heat simmer the sauce and scrape the flavorful dark pieces from the bottom of the pan. The sauce is finished when it has reduced demi sec (by half).

5. Cut the chicken, plate, and sauce

After the breasts have rested on the board for at least 5 minutes, slice them cross-wise into about 1-inch by 2-inch pieces

Carefully place the sliced chicken breast pieces on the plate retaining the general shape of the chicken pre-slicing. Generously drizzle the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Since my partner and I are currently abstaining from wheat, sugar, and alcohol I served the chicken with a simple Italian-inspired salad of greens (red and green oak, red and green romaine, Lollo Rosa, red and green chard, tatsoi, mizuna, red mustard, redina, frise), fresh Buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, green onions, toasted pine nuts, and black pepper with a simple balsamic vinaigrette. Under normal circumstances I would have served this chicken with a truffled risotto and sauteed asparagus. Enjoy!

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The News from France: Preparing a Classical Ratatouille

The completed Ratatouille ready to be served is silky without being fatty and incredibly good served hot and fresh or served chilled the next day once the flavors have fully infused.

A Ratatouille is a simple Provençal vegetable stew made of eggplant, tomatoes, and bell peppers. It is hearty, extremely good for you, and what’s more important the stew is very, very good to eat. My preparation is based upon the classic recipe I learned at Le Cordon Bleu with some modern adaptations taken from The Gourmet Cookbook. This version of Ratatouille is light and fresh while retaining the deep, complex flavor of heavier versions. I achieve this balance by taking the time to sauté each of the vegetables individually before finally stewing them together with the rich, earthy tomato base. The result is a tapestry of flavor, with the individual character of all of the different vegetables respected while they come together to achieve a higher purpose.

Special Equipment:

A standard 10 or 12-inch French knife

A standard paring knife

A large, fireproof enamel pot or a cast-iron dutch oven.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes

1 large head of garlic

20 fresh basil leaves

1 cup of fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley

1 1/2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

coarse kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper

2 large yellow onions

3 assorted bell peppers

4 medium zucchini

Preparation:

1. I start by peeling and chopping the tomatoes, mincing the garlic, chopping the parsley, tearing the basil leaves in half.

a.) How to properly peel tomatoes:

The following is a classical French technique for peeling tomatoes called tomato concassé. The process is fast and incredibly easy. You will need a small pot of boiling water, a stainless steel bowl of ice water, a pair of cooking tongs, and a small paring knife.

Begin by cutting a small plus sign into the non-stem end of the tomatoes with your paring knife. The cut will be approximately 1/4 inch deep and 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch.

Repeat the process for all of the tomatoes.

Using a pair of tongs submerge each of the tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds.

Shock the tomatoes by moving them directly from the boiling water into an ice water bath. This stops them from cooking and loosens the skin.

The tomato skins fall off easily. Completely peel each tomato in this fashion and discard the skins.

Chop the tomatoes like so and set aside.

b.) Properly mincing garlic:

A properly trained cook has no need for an expensive garlic press or any such gadget. All that is needed is a basic 10 or 12-inch French (or Chef) knife and a cutting board. Garlic presses are cumbersome, time-wasting contraptions waste much of the garlic in each clove and worse yet rob you of much of the flavorful garlic oil this technique retains.

We begin by breaking the bead apart with our hands and throwing away as much of the papery skin as possible, retaining the cloves.Smash the garlic cloves one by one with the flat side of your knife, pull the garlic meat out of the peel and discard the peels.

Pull all of the smashed garlic into a tight mound and begin mincing. The mincing technique is done by holding your knife like so and running it rapidly of the the garlic in an up-and-down motion until the mound is reduced to a uniform mass of very finely minced garlic.

The garlic is ready when it looks like this, set aside with the tomatoes.

c.) Chopping the parsley

Cut away roughly one cup of the parsley and discard the stems.Chop the parsley in the same fashion as your minced the garlic, leaving the finished product slightly more coarse than the garlic. Set aside with the tomatoes and garlic.

d.) Tear the basil leaves in half

Select the largest, cleanest basil leaves from your bunch.Tear in half lengthwise, like so, and add to the tomatoes, parsley, and garlic.

2. Combine the prepared tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil, and about 1/2 cup of olive oil in your enamel pot or dutch oven , bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes or as long as it takes for your to prepare the rest of the ingredients in the following steps.

The fresh ingredients at the start of cooking.The tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and basil after cooking down at a low simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering prepare the rest of the ingredients.

3. Begin by preparing the eggplant

Start by cutting the eggplant into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces.Toss the pieces of eggplant with kosher salt and set in a colander in the sink. This process extracts extra moisture from the vegetable and prepares it for sautéing later on.

4. While the eggplant sits in the colander prepare the onions.

Peel the onions and cut them into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces, like so.Put about 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet and get it searing hot over a high flame. A proper sauté is done at very high heat, the purpose is to quickly caramelize the outside of the onion to lock in the moisture. A proper sauté is actually a relatively healthy technique because the high heat does not allow the onion to absorb the oil in the pan. Sauté the onions for about 10 minutes or until they are golden, like this. Set aside in a large bowl.

5. Prepare the bell peppers

Cut the bell peppers into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces and sauté in the same fashion as the onions. Season with kosher salt and sauté for about 10 minutes or until the bell peppers are browning slightly at the edges. Pull out with a slotted spoon and put in the bowl with the onions.

6. Prepare the zucchini

Cut the zucchini into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces, like so.

.Add another 3 tablespoons of oil to your pan and sauté the zucchini in the same fashion as the bell peppers and onions, seasoning with kosher salt. Removed with a slotted spoon to the bowl of onions and bell peppers after about 10 minutes or once the zucchini turns golden brown.

7. Prepare the eggplant

Remove the eggplant from the colander and blot off any excess moisture with paper towels. The eggplant will not sauté properly if it is too moist.

Add another 3 tablespoons to your pan and sauté in the same fashion as the onion, bell pepper, and zucchini. Sauté for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant turns slightly brown around the edges, as pictured, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl with your other vegetables.

8. Add the bowl of prepared vegetables to the simmering tomato base.

Using a mortar and pestle grind your peppercorns and kosher salt together, set aside.

Add the prepared vegetables from the bowl to the pot with the simmering tomato mixture, season with the freshly ground peppercorns and salt, and stir thoroughly to combine.

9. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are very tender, about an hour.

After about an hour of slowly cooking at a low simmer your ratatouille will look like this. Taste for seasoning and season with salt as necessary.

Bon Appétit! This recipe yields about 8 to 10 servings and is very good when served immediately but can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. As the stew rests in the refrigerator the flavors have more of a chance to infuse and on a hot day there is nothing nearly as refreshing to serve as this perfect, chilled  ratatouille.

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