Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Smoky Bean & Ham Hock Soup

Meat, A Kitchen Education is a comprehensive book on everything from pork, beef and veal, to lamb, game, sausages, pâtés, and terrines.  You will learn which cooking techniques are appropriate for any given type of meat.  You will learn the differences between international flavor profiles so you can enable yourself to be creative.  Each chapter is dedicated to a specific category and there is a wealth of information and beautiful photography around every corner.
Ham hocks are smoked pork shanks.  Shanks are the “shin” portion of an animal’s leg and are an extremely tough cut of meat.  In order to enjoy this delicious piece of meat, we need to use a moist cooking method.  This recipe stews the meat for 2 ½ hours until it literally falls off the bone.  Make sure you are buying some good, perhaps some organic, ham hocks for this recipe.  During my shopping I saw some very small and dried out looking ham hocks at one store.  I made a trek to Whole Foods and found some organic shanks for roughly $7 a piece—not exactly the cheap solution for a good meal I was hoping for, but definitely worth it. 
Dried Beans are seldom the dinner solution for the typical American home cook…and that is a shame.  There are innumerable reasons as to why I want you to become a dried bean-loving freak, but I will just let you know my top three. 
1.     They are cheap.  Do the math in price per pound compared to canned.
2.     You control the amount of sodium (salt) that goes into those beans.
3.     FLAVOR, TEXTURE, and the many applications of this versatile food.
All you have to keep in mind when it comes to cooking legumes is that it takes time.  So plan ahead.  Can you remember to soak a portion of beans overnight for use the following day?  Can you boil a pot of water or stock and pour your drained beans into the pot for an hour or two and walk away?  Can you taste and season your own beans to your preference?  If you answered yes to all three, then you are well on your way to dried bean-loving freakdom.
Also keep in mind that different beans generally take longer times than others for cooking time, and some don’t require a presoak.  In all actuality, you don’t have to soak any beans; but it sure does cut down the cooking time dramatically.  If you think you will be cooking dried beans indefinitely, then I suggest you look into a pressure cooker for use over the years.
One more thing to keep in mind, do not skip the step of sorting through your legumes.  I have seen rocks and pebbles mixed in with beans and it doesn’t matter what source you are getting them from because all beans are dried on the ground in various countries…so wash/rinse them too.   

Smoky Bean and Ham Hock Soup 
2 cups dried beans, picked over for grit and stones and rinsed
2 quarts chicken broth or water
Bouquet garni
2 ham hocks, ½ to 1 lb. each
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup dry sherry (Don’t use bottles labeled “cooking sherry” go to the wine department for this)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce for serving
Sour cream for serving

James Peterson
I have to write largely on James Peterson because I think his background is fascinating.  I normally don’t write this much on the bio section, but I think you will enjoy his story just as much as I did. 
James Peterson is not the owner of a three star restaurant in New York.  He is not the host of a cooking show on the Food Network.  He doesn’t even have a product line of specialty foods bearing his name.  So why do I consider him to be a part of the stratosphere?  Maybe because he is the winner of, count them; six (6) James Beard Awards.  Peterson didn’t earn these prestigious awards for his food at restaurants under his tenure; they’re for his passionately written books that carefully document every nook and cranny of cooking.  To date, Peterson’s work comprises fourteen books all organized by a specific category of the culinary arts.  For example, if you want to learn everything you need to know about sauces, take a look at one of his three editions of the book, Sauces.  Or if you wish to reinforce your skills in baking and pastry, you will flip through Baking.  I think you get the point.  Over the years, Peterson learned photography and now does all of the photography for his books.  Each of Peterson’s books is written in a step-by-step nature that I find to be cognitively useful and aids the reader through a successful learning process.  I own three of Peterson’s books and I’ve selected Smoky Bean & Ham Hock Soup from the book Meat for this video recipe. 
So how does a guy like James Peterson become James Peterson?  After studying chemistry at Berkley in California, Peterson went through a short spiritual growth phase in India and eventually found himself in France working for a family-owned vineyard.  Under the hospitality of this family near Carcassone, Peterson realized his passion for food and wine and decided to return to France two years later.  With a few classes from Le Cordon Bleu under his belt he slipped right into the kitchen of the then 3 star restaurant Vivarois.  Peterson also did a stint at George Blanc (then called Chez La Mere Blanc).  It was his time in France that taught him the basics of very refined cuisine and the renowned cooking of Burgundy and Bresse.  Peterson made his way back to America in 1979 and started making the rounds in New York French restaurants reinforcing his education in France. 
In 1980, Peterson started to operate his own restaurant, Le Petit Robert, in Greenwich Village.  It would be short lived as the lease ran out four years later in 1984.  However, the restaurant allowed him to develop his own style as a chef and he certainly did not go unnoticed.  One quote from Gourmet magazine describing Le Petit Robert, “what may be the most creative restaurant in New York.” is representative of the fact that Peterson’s time as a restaurateur did not go to waste.  As one door closed, another opened and James began teaching at culinary schools, one of them being The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan in which he wrote most of the curriculum. 
James wrote his first book Sauces while he was teaching.  The following is an excerpt taken from James Peterson’s website, www.jimcooks.com.  The book (Sauces) was much acclaimed—one reviewer called it “one of the best books in English of the [then 20th] century.” Richard Olney, Jim's mentor, compared it with Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire.  I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a modern day writer whose work is compared to Escoffier and declared an American classic…just amazing.
James Peterson now lives in Brooklyn, New York and is a writer, teacher, and photographer. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chicken Wings

What do you mean you haven’t heard of David Chang or Momofuku!  This is the kind of hype that the young successful Chef David Chang has brewed up for himself almost seemingly overnight.  Let me just say now that this post inherently contains offensive language due to our subject.

David Chang’s restaurants are located in NYC and have been known for unexpected flavor combinations all revolving around his ancestral Korean cuisine.  While this book is called Momofuku, it examines some of his other endeavors such as Ssäm Bar, Noodle Bar, and Ko.  Since the writing of this book in 2009, David Chang has opened up Má Pêche and Milk Bar to further expand his empire.   

Chef Chang speaks frank and is often acting his bawdy self as he tells us about the rough road to success.  Chang's language doesn’t take a detour toward normalcy just because he has to explain recipes.  Pan-roasted dry-aged rib eye is a perfect example.  Chang says, “it’s not easy, because cooking a piece of meat that costs maybe $40 or $50 takes balls.  If you f**k up, you f****d up a piece of meat that cost a lot of money.  That somebody took care to raise and slaughter and dry-age and butcher.  That makes you an a**hole, especially at Momofuku.”

Don’t let the strong language deter or compel you to read this book.  This guy has an uncanny ability to meld classic cuisine with comfort food and it would be a shame for you to pass up this book.  The recipe I have chosen to take on is lengthy, but I chose it because I wanted to get a recipe on this site that explored a lot of cooking methods.  It took me three days (four if you count the time to prep Pickled Chiles ) to prepare this amazing recipe.  Here are some of the methods we will be exploring:

Brining – using a salt, sugar and water solution to impart flavor and moisture into meats.  This is generally a prior step to smoking most kinds of meat.  Your brining time will depend on the type of protein you're using.  For example, if we want to brine some trout for stove-top smoking, we would probably not want to go any longer than 2 hours. 

Cold-smoking (indoors) – we used our conventional oven as a smoker box for this.  You can use your outdoor grill though.  I would prepare everything you see in this video and just put it all into your grill.  Place the smoke source and the tray of ice on the bottom grate, put the top grate on and place your brined chicken on top.  Cover with the lid and after a few minutes, slide an electric thermometer in through the vent holes.  Keep in mind, you don't need heat, hence cold-smoking.  Cold smoking takes place at a temperature between 80 and 120 degrees FThis does not cook the food!

Confit – this is an old method originally used to preserve meats during winter months.  We use this to gently poach our chicken wings in fat for flavor and texture.  Be sure to start your confit process on the stovetop first.  As I show in the video, you will turn your flame off once you start to see tiny bubbles making their way to the surface.  By doing this step, the oven won't have to struggle in recovery time to bring that pot of wings up to the desired temperature of 180 degrees F. 

Sauté – The beauty of this recipe is that once everything is prepped through to the confit step, we can serve these wings at any time within a week.  When we want to eat, we will sauté the confited chicken wings over medium-high heat with some of the confit fat or rendered pork fat to brown them and heat through.  We will also make our pan sauce from the pan fond that is left behind.

Chicken Wings
20 chicken wings, with wing tips attached (about 4 ½ pounds)
For the brine:
8 cups lukewarm water
1 cup sugar
1 cup salt
For the confit:
5 cups rendered pork or duck fat or grapeseed or other neutral oil, or more if needed
For the taré sauce:
All of the reserved wing tips
1 tbs unsalted butter or other neutral oil with a high smoke-point
1 cup mirin
1cup sake
1 cup usukuchi (light soy sauce) I used high quality shoyu
Freshly ground black pepper
*The taré sauce that I cooked reduced from 3 cups down to 1.5 cups
Prep for the pan sauce after browning the wings:
6 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
5 to 6 Pickled Chiles, seeded and ribs removed – I sliced them thin afterwards
One bunch of scallions sliced, green parts and white parts--I sliced them on a slight bias
*About a 1/2 cup of the prepared taré sauce

Monday, November 8, 2010

Momofuku Pickled Thai Chiles

Did you know that you can pickle just about anything?  Here are some of the pickling recipes from David Chang's cookbook, Momofuku:

Pickled apples; pickled Asian pears; pickled beets; pickled cantaloupe, watermelon, or other melon; pickled carrots; pickled cauliflower; pickled celery; pickled cherries; pickled crosnes; pickled fennel; pickled napa cabbage; pickled ramps; pickled sunchokes; pickled Tokyo turnips; just to name a few.

1 cup water, piping hot from the tap - I used filtered water that I heated up in my electric kettle
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar - I only use UNSEASONED, sodium-free, sugar-free rice vinegar 
6 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups Thai Bird's-Eye chiles or other small (no longer than 2 inches) fresh hot chiles.

I had to make more brine to cover the chiles completely.  Be sure to wash your hands after handling these little devils!

You can use these chiles in a lot of applications.  Here are a few of my suggestions: 

Sambals or salsas
Hot dogs, in place of those sport peppers you love
Compound butters
To add zing to a sauce
Roasted veggies - sliced thin and sprinkled in after roasting

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

Few cookbooks strike a balance between gracefully written prose and a depth of culinary knowledge such as Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone” has done.  It truly is a capstone of vegetarian cookery and remains a constant reference for me when I am faced with the challenge of preparing a delicious and wholesome vegetarian meal.  I like this cookbook because it helps the reader with basic cooking skills in the beginning few chapters and it is in no way a "diet" book.  Pages 1 through 48 contain information suitable for the curious beginner to become a confident home cook.  She takes the time to discuss basic cooking methods, foundations of flavor, and standard ingredients to complete your pantry at home.  Many of the recipes in this book are a fantastic source of side dish ideas.  Try Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Butter and Caraway for a simple and satisfying side dish.  Simply put, there is an exorbitant amount of information in this book, but all of it is accessible and lacks pretensions.  This 1997 hardcover book is a mere 750 pages long and includes a scant amount of pictures.  The low priority placed upon photography doesn't bother me though.  My opinion on pictures in cookbooks are two-sided and prove somewhat of an inevitable irony.  On one hand, pictures act as a source of inspiration and pull the reader's interest into attempting a recipe...especially really good pictures like the shots found in Thomas Keller's books.  On the other, pictures stifle imagination and may deter some readers from attempting recipes or coming up with their own plating style.  Rest assured, there is no need to fear the lack of photography because Madison's descriptive text will boost your motivation and lead you to success.    

Deborah Madison
Madison started her culinary experience at Chez Panisse under the chef-owner Alice Waters—an adamant pioneer of buying local and cooking with the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients.  Madison is also the author of “The Greens Cookbook" a recipe collection depicting the menu at her restaurant which shares the same name.  Later in Madison's career, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to take over operations of the Santa Fe Farmers Market.  She has served on its board for a number of years.  Aside from the practice of buying local as a cornerstone of Madison's philosophy, she has also been active in the Slow Food movement and founded the Santa Fe Chapter.  Following are just a few of her awards and recognitions that illustrate how profound her imprint has been on the industry:

Awards and Recognition
1987: André Simon Memorial Prize
1994: M. F. K. Fisher Mid-Career Award
2005: inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America"
She has received at least three James Beard Foundation Awards.  Madison's books have received awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and Les Dames d'Escoffie.  Her first two books both were named the Julia Child Cookbook of the Year by the IACP, Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone being one of them.

Potato & Leek Soup
3 large, or 6 medium leeks, white parts only, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds boiling or Yellow Finn potatoes, scrubbed well (I used Yukon Golds, reserve some of these for the garnish)
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly milled pepper
7 cups of water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Milk or water to thin the soup, if needed (I used about a 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream)

My Variations
I opted to slice, not finely chop my leeks.  I also included more of the green parts of the stalks, rather than white only.  I cut a medium dice on my potatoes so that they would cook faster.  I also added some garnish and heavy whipping cream to this soup at the end.

The garnish for this soup is roasted potatoes and leeks.  In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of diced Yukon Golds (unpeeled), 1 1/2 cups sliced leeks, two tablespoons of canola oil, kosher salt and pepper to taste, and toss.  Roast on a preheated sheet pan large enough to accommodate all of the garnish without over crowding.  I also added heavy whipping cream at the end to enrich this soup.

Cooking Methods Used
Sweating - lightly cooking vegetables in a small amount of fat in a pot under medium to medium-low heat.
Boiling - allowing liquids to reach 212 degrees.
Simmering - bringing boiling liquids quickly down to roughly 190 to 200 degrees (always simmer your soups...do not boil!)
Roasting - A dry heat cooking method usually pertaining to savory foods being cooked in an oven.  Hot air surrounds the food and promotes caramelization.