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Battle Hymn of The Goat Father, Part 2

5 Dec

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Drowning in Crawfish

4 Jun

We hosted a memorial day crawfish (crayfish?  i’m going with crawfish, but go crazy if you need to) boil.  I had not had crawfish for a very long time and figured it was a good time to eat some.  (figured is a southern term for “I thought it was a good idea” just like “fixin to” means getting ready or going to do something)  Anyway, I called up some friends with New Orleans ties and surfed some sites for info on getting crawfish.  The local fishmongers all said the same thing, that gas prices where to high to justify running small batches of crawfish.  I decided on LACrawfish Company. (check the spelling!)  I did some more research on appropriate quantities for a party and got all sorts of conflicting reports from 2 lb per person to 7 lb per person.  My wife and I came up with a list of people to invite and I ordered 50 lb of crawfish, as looking at the website it looks like one big sack of crawfish.  I ordered early in the week with saturday delivery, airport pickup was cheaper so I went with that.   I had to have them delivered on Saturday as FedEx wouldn’t be available on Sunday or Monday (Memorial Day).  Turns out that airport pickup means at the FedEx facility that is 5 minutes from my house so bonus!  I drove down Saturday 9:30 am and strolled into the facility.  Once I told them what I was picking up they mentioned the “huge seafood package.”  They wheeled out the foam casket that was my shipment and let me use the dolly to get into the car.   I brought the casket home and opened it up to reveal two large sacks of very pissed off crawfish.

Angry Crawfish
Crawfish

Angry Crawfish

Healthy and Alive, and yes angry.  From this point on It was a matter of keeping them alive till Memorial day.  I put each sack in it’s own cooler, (I left one sack in the original foam casket) and rotated ice and cold packs for the next two days.  I panicked a couple of times as the crawfish where silent when the cooler was opened, but upon stimulating then (easy now… just poking them a bit… seriously grow up) they sprang to activity, apparently just too cold.  We had several cancellations for the party as the date approached and it became clear (to my wife) that we where going to have too much food.  I had bought some sausages from Belmont Butchery which I had planned on grilling with some clams, but as I prepared to go out the door to the seafood shop for clams my wife stoped me cold and pretty much kiboshed the idea of more food.  I admit I was a bit put out, but begrudgingly agreed to not have more food.  (Grilled clams and sausage is going to happen this summer at some point though)  Monday came around and what do you know, hottest day in the new summer, I think it got up to 98 deg Farenheit.  I went out and cleaned up the pool and grill area, gathered wood to, of all hairbrained things, light a fire.  I planned to cook the crawfish in my Cowboy Cauldron.   I rinsed and flushed the mud out of the crawfish.

I cleaned and chopped some corn.

Once I got the fire going beneath the cauldron I noticed I wasn’t feeling so great.  I had breakfast but not lunch as the party was schedulled to begin at 3 pm.  I went in and told my wife I was a dehydrated, my daughter made me drink some water and some electrolyte water (smart water and gatorade), and I started to feel a bit better.  People started to arrive and I fired up the grill and two extra pots of water to boil the crawfish.  I divided the potato, corn, andoui sausage and seasoning amongst the three cooking areas, cauldron and grill.  I also made some spicy dip from a jar of rocotto pepper puree, queso fresco and lime, all pureed in a blender.  Went great with the potato and the crawfish tails.

And ran back and forth between the crawfish, cauldron and grill… with occasional dips in the pool.  I nearly burned the grilling sausage,  as I tried to keep an eye on multiple cooking sites, and then really began to feel poorly.  I was drinking water and my daughter asked me why the water was shaking… I couldn’t stop trembling… I doubled up on the water intake and took a break in the pool.  My wife worriedly looked me over and asked me if I was OK.  I probably wasn’t but I didn’t want to disappoint the guests.  Who by the way where devouring crawfish.  I had a pair of leather gloves on so I could scoop the bastards into a colander and the into the boiling seasoned water.  I stayed away from the beer and alcohol and tried to stay alive as I continued to cook… it soon became apparent to me that 50lb of crawfish is a shitload of mudbugs, there was no way in hell that 1. I could cook all of them in one afternoon, 2. that they would all be eaten in one afternoon with the number of people present. and  3. this shit might kill me.

I decided to stop cooking, get away from heat sources and spent the remainder of the gig, eating crawfish in the pool.  I had to rally to cleanup,  feeling rather shaky I didn’t chase the escaping crawfish in the yard… maybe they have set up a renegade clan in our creek.  I put away a ton of crawfish to clean and reserve for another day, along with leftover potato and corn.

This is the first time I felt that my health was in jeopardy from prepping for a party, despite that the gig went great (probably with the exception of my wife saying “if you go down who is going to pick you up?”  Despite the risk on life and limb,  we are considering doing it again next year just with half the amount of crawfish and hopefully less heat.

Cooking With Cobblestones, The Stone Soup of the New Millenium

30 Mar
Rooster in grass.

Rooster in grass.

It’s been going around town that a brick is no longer necessary if you intend to smother a chicken. Now, I’m a big fan of The Broke and Chic Project, but even colleagues who share a deep respect for one another have to disagree occasionally. Most any kind of orthodoxy makes me itch. I don’t believe this because fathers and mothers of the tradition say you must (here, thinking Prudhomme and Claiborne) you can’t smother a chicken (or pork chops, for that matter) without pressing the meat to the bottom of the skillet thereby maximizing thermal contact.

It is my considered belief that the entire recipe starts with brick selection. I have been heard to declare that each chicken smothered ha an ideal brick.  To much brick and all the desired moisture is pressed from the bird and evaporates from the pan in the early stages of cooking, if your brick’s too little?…

potholes are almost as good as municipal building sites for sourcing your smothering brick.Destined to be hastily smothered by sticky blacktop, liberation is a duty, not a crime. I have used clay bricks, but prefer granite cobbles. The best smothering cobbles are found art. This morning I passed this pothole, yanked the car to the side of the road, slapped on the hazards and poked around the crater

until I found a perfect cobble for a 2 lb. bird. The cobble was 2/3 the size of industry standard, giving it just enough heft to press the dark meat to the bottom of the cast iron skillet, without being a burden on the tender white flesh.

All that’s left is to get it into the house and scrubbed clean and stacked in its proper place before Lisa notices that I’ve added to the collection.

At its most elements, beyond the skillet and the cobble the smothered chicken recipe calls for little more than one whole fresh chicken, salt, pepper, chicken stock, and Wondra. Flourishes such as coarsely chopped onion, poblano peppers, maybe some ground nutmeg. The following photo essay lays it out as easy as I know how to do it.

C

That 2 lb. yardbird on the set at Stunt Foodways headquarters

Cut the back out of the bird and, along with the wing tips (cut the tips off with kitchen scissors) and liver, neck, heart any other marginal bits and toss all on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven to brown them. As you’re preheating the oven put 16 oz. of chicken stock on very low simmer. When the nasty bits brown add them to the stock and simmer the lot.

Cutting the back out of the bird allows you to unfold it so that more bird makes contact with skillet

Cutting the back out of the bird allows you to unfold it so that more bird makes contact with skillet, this helps assure that the meat cooks evenly. The trick to a smothered yard bird is evenly cooked dark and white meat.

place bird skin-side down in heavy skillet

Season both sides of the carcass and place skin-side down in the skillet. With the back cut out almost all the skin is touching the bottom or side of the pan. Cast iron conducts heat amazingly evenly.

I use a diner plate I rescued from an estate sale

Cover the bird with a plate that fits inside the skillet. If you don’t, it won’t matter how big or small that cobble is, it’s not going to transfer any weight to the bird.

all important application of the brick

Cook on a very low heat. With the brick on it, the bird is absorbing all the heat the skillet is giving up. Often times I have to take the pan of even the lowest heat or apply one of those cast iron buffers that lift the pan off the burner an inch or so. Cook 30-40 minutes until skin is golden brown and outer edge of visible meat is starting to turn white.

Gear alert: Polka dot shirtwaist dress smart, sheer apron? What the hell.

Gear alert: butcher's apron smart, flipflops stupid.

Flip the bird. When you do, take care not tear the crisp skin as you lift it from the pan.Replace the plate. Replace the brick.Cook on same low heat for about 10 minutes longer. Reserve cooked chicken on the plate used to cover skillet. scrape the biggest chunks of remnant chicken from the bottom of the skillet using metal spatula. Add scrapings to simmering stock.

Chicken and stock for gravy cook together

Chop onions and peppers and will them in the fat in the skillet (5-8 minutes), then reserve them. Remove some chicken grease from the pan and reserve in a heat-proof container (if you have a heavy hand with the Wondra, you’ll have some fat a fallback).

You’re making a roux now, so you’re gonna have to gut this out a bit, you need to leave enough fat in the pan to toast the Wondra, but not so much that you end up with brown plaster of paris hardening in the pan. In Dubiss Constans!

Sprinkle Wondra in the pan and begin blending it into the fat. It should absorb the fat without drying it out, after a while it should turn golden brown, stay the course! You’re looking for a brown two shades darker than a Cheerio. The minute you hit that color start ladling in your hot stock. It’s gonna bubble. Don’t sweat it. Switch tools. Grab a stiff metal whisk and get to work, blend the magical flower in with the stock until you have half a skillet full of gravy. Now scatter the onions and peppers evenly into the gravy and put the chicken back in the pan skin side up and let cook for 5-10 minutes more, spooning the gravy over the chicken.

Smothered, sure, but by what?

That’s thing, you need a brick to make smothered chicken, but it’s not the brick that smothers the chicken it is the gravy.

Giada’s Cipollini Onion and Fennel Pot Roast (via I Like the Cut of Your Jib!!!)

28 Mar
Fenouil

Image via Wikipedia

I made this yesterday for the second time, and it was just as good as the first time.  A few notes, you can substitute fennel bulbs for celery and fennel seed which is easier to find.  You can choose to leave the vegetables alone and not blend them, but I highly recommend it, they make such a nice gravy.  Oh and remember to PULLLLLLLL the bay leaves out.  I forgot last night. Ingredients Herb rub: 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves 1 tabl … Read More

via I Like the Cut of Your Jib!!!

THREE MONSTER FISH HEADS IN A BROKEDOWN COOLER MAKE A DAMN FINE CURRY

24 Mar

My cooking philosophy is rooted in a couple of principles.  First of all I love to recreate dishes I enjoy either from my childhood or from new experiences.  Second I like to learn something new from a new dish whether it’s a new technique or a new ingredient.  And finally the “cooking for Tricia” factor, that is cooking for my wife.  For the strangers out there when I married my wife, I joked that she only ate white things… chicken breast, white rice, pasta, parmesan cheese, and cereal.  Now to be fair she has always been a fan of cuban food but this was never her every day meals.  Over the years I have managed to slowly introduce new foods into her arsenal, dishes that are tasty and add variety to her diet.  This is not one of them.

Fish head curry

I grew up in Puerto Rico and love seafood,  I have no problem with head on fish, and will eagerly gnaw on a fish head.  Living in Richmond, VA I have been shocked at the lack of accessible whole fish, and particularly fish with heads on.  I’ve wanted fish heads for stock, head on fish for frying, baking, grilling and finally for a curry dish.  I’m not sure where this came from, probably from surfing the internet on sites like friedchilies.com seeing food from exotic places and imagining what it will taste like.

The opportunity to prepare this dish came together as I whined at work about the lack of fish heads in Richmond,  one of my coworkers chimed in that her husband and son where going fishing and if I wanted I could have the heads of whatever they caught.  I eagerly signed up.  What she delivered where human size rockfish heads, fresh and bloody in a beat up cooler with a broken stick as a plug on the drain hole.

So I showed up at home with three enormous fish heads, and I can’t exaggerate how big they where, all bloody with collar intact, and what I imagine is the thymus hanging out.  My wife was less than accommodating, as the fish head filled the sink.  So from this point on preparation began.  These monster heads required someone to eat them and it was clear that this is not cooking for Tricia material.  My first thought was my Korean friend Steve Kim, who signed up immediately, I invited Manny mostly from a religious standpoint, but just like the three kings I didn’t expect him to necessarily show up… but he might.  I had to freeze the heads as nobody’s schedule matched up, but this allowed me time to scout out some indian markets.  It just happens that one of my partners at work is from India and had a ready list of his favorite Indian markets.  I hit the market and bought some curry mixes as well as the base ingredients, potato, okra, onion, shallot, tomato, and jasmine rice.  Once we decided on a date for the event  I defrosted the heads 2 days in advance and to my horror realized I had not scaled them!  What the hell to do.  I figured I would grill the scales off which worked remarkably well.

So first disaster averted, I prepared what I would describe as the sofrito, shallots, onions, garlic, lemon grass, curry powder and tomato.  I sautéed them till they were well combined

Once the curry was nice and fragrant, I added the grilled fish heads

I ended up using only two heads as the third wouldn’t fit in my stock pot.  I added water to cover and corrected for seasoning, both curry and salt and pepper and added a large bunch of cilantro at the end.  I cooked it for about 45 minutes.  I served it with Jasmine rice cooked with a piece of pork belly

I blanched and roasted fingerling potato and okra

I also prepared some grilled shrimp… for Tricia as she was very clear she wasn’t going for the fish heads, marinated in garlic and tamarind juice.

Steve brought some garlic naan bread, and some korean marinated beef, which he sautéed.

We feasted, and the fish head curry was spectacular.  the collars and cheeks where superb, I could have jacked up the spice on the curry some more, but it was pleasant and comforting just shy of being a fish stew.

We had a great evening, had a ton of leftovers (now deboned and frozen)  we really had food for around 15 and we only sat 7.  I think I have moved my wife slightly off of her current taste setting as everyone enjoyed the food.  Maybe next time she will try the fish heads.