Dress That Salad

13 12 2009

I’ve already talked about how much I love emulsions. The easiest salad dressing in the world is oil and vinegar… but is it possible to make oil and vinegar a little better? Fo sho. Usually when you pour it on you get a big pool of oil soaking your lettuce and then the vinegar just kinda slides off to the bottom of the bowl… if you actually care about what your salad tastes like, this is pretty frustrating. For me it’s especially frustrating because half the time I “make” salad the only thing I use is mixed greens. By emulsifying the oil and vinegar your dressing actually hangs around long enough for you to taste it.

I’ve never been a fan of bottled salad dressing… it’s always too sweet or fruity or too thick and creamy. So a while back I started making a super simple emulsified vinaigrette with a little bit of dijon, oil and vinegar. It’s really simple, versatile and I can add or remove anything I want to assuming there is, at the very least, oil, dijon mustard and some acidic liquid involved. You can use another kind of mustard – it’s just something to kick start the emulsion. I prefer dijon because I like how intense the flavor is.

So you start with the mustard and add a little bit of vinegar (or whatever you’re using) and then add the oil very very very slowly. Literally a drop* at a time at first for maybe the first 5-10 drops until it’s starting to thicken up. After that you can pour the oil in a thin stream as long as you keep stirring quickly to incorporate it a little at a time. As your dressing grows in volume you can add more oil incrementally.

 

If you’re making a lot of dressing you’ll have to add a little more vinegar as your dressing grows to make sure there are enough water molecules for the oil to cling to or your emulsion will break. This isn’t the most stable emulsion in the world so I like to make it right before I’m ready to dress the salad.

Making your own vinaigrette is so easy it’s almost stupid to use anything else… you can do whatever you want to it to make it match your salad. Some combinations/ingredients I’ve used or you could use:

Oils:
olive oil
sesame oil (just a few drops for flavor)
vegetable oil
grapeseed oil

Vinegar or other acidic liquid:
balsamic vinegar
rice wine vinegar
lemon juice
lime juice
kimchi juice
pickle juice
yuzu
caper juice

Additions:
salt
pepper
sugar
soy sauce
– fresh herbs
capers
olives

Ratio:
Approximately 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar to .5 part dijon

Think about what’s in the salad and what else you’re eating it with. My standard is usually just olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. If I’m having something Asian for dinner, I’ll add a few drops of seasame oil and use rice wine vinegar instead of balsamic. Bottom line – there are no rules. I say it all the time but the possibilities really are endless.

 
*A tip about adding the oil slow enough in the beginning – I like to pour a little oil onto the spoon i’m using to stir the dressing and let it slide down to the tip of the spoon and it kindof incorporates itself naturally a little at a time as i’m stirring. This way I avoid accidentally adding too much at once.





Momopickles

12 12 2009

Last weekend while I was in New York, we somehow got ahold of impossible-to-get reservations at Momofuku Ko. It was amazing. One of the best meals I’ve ever had. It wasn’t blow-me-away quality in every course but the combination of the food, the atmosphere and the few that did blow me away… it was pretty awesome. One thing there wasn’t much of there, but there is a lot of at the noodle bar, is pickles.

I’ve had mixed success with pickles in the past – both vinegar and naturally fermented. I decided to try out Chang’s recipe from Momofuku Noodle Bar to see how it would stand up to my past experiments. They’re pretty sweet and not quite as sour as I’d like but I think they may still need a couple of days. For as quick and easy as they are, it’s a nice way to use up extra vegetables instead of letting them go bad in the bottom drawer of your fridge… you can just just about anything.

I found the recipe in the book to be a little less vinegary than I wanted to I upped it a little bit. I also just use plain white vingear but rice wine or cider vinegar work great.

Adapted from Momofuku:

- 1 cup hot water
– 3/4 cup vinegar
– 6 tablespoons sugar
– 2.25 teaspoons kosher salt

You can eat them right away but they definitely benefit from sitting around in the brine for a bit. At least a day or two.

I used Persian cucumbers, serrano chilies, baby carrots, radishes and cauliflower.

I think this brine might be even better on sweet stuff. Chang suggests asian pears in the book and I think I might have to try that next…





Chicken Enchiladas

10 12 2009

I realize that there is a theme developing here… lots of bird-related meals. I don’t know how that happened because honestly until the last few weeks I hadn’t cooked chicken in a long time. On the average I don’t eat nearly as much of it as I do pork… but somehow, here it is again. I made enchiladas last night and they turned out pretty damn good. These are their stories

They can be as simple or involved as you want… they’re good, cheap and easy to make. I’ve had a lot of enchiladas in my life, but until the last year or so I had never actually made them. Turns out they’re super easy to prepare and actually a really economical meal. I used cheap chicken for these but I’d recommend getting a decent bird… I used to claim that I couldn’t tell the difference with organic, free-range meat… but I can definitely tell. It looks different, tastes different, smells different. It tastes cleaner – probably because it is cleaner.

 

I used leg/thigh quarters because I prefer dark meat, generally… I used the whole quarters because I get extra flavor from the bones and all the other goodies and I get some more skin to play with. First step again – skin off, skin in oven. More chicken chips.

 

After that I saute the vegetables, toss in the chicken (which I broke down a little bit to fit in the pan better), season the whole lot and crank up the heat a bit. I toss in enough chicken stock to almost cover it and once it’s simmering, cover it and forget about it for a while.

 

After about 30 to 45 minutes of simmering, the chicken is ready to pull apart. I separate the juice from the filling and set the chicken aside. Now time to make the sauce. I use a little tequila to pull up some of the good stuff that collected on the bottom of the pan, burn off the alcohol, toss the stewing liquid back in the pan and start reducing. I also added a little tomato paste to give it some extra body.

 

While the sauce is reducing, time to shred the chicken and mix the filling. I added a little bit of the reducing sauce to moisten the filling. I had a big block of mild feta hanging around so I tossed some of that in for flavor.

 

I spread a handful of the mix on each tortilla, roll them up and pack em in a baking pan. When the sauce is reduced and starting to thicken, I add a little bit of canned Mexican tomato sauce. Now, time to top them.

 

After the sauce is on, I scatter a little more feta on top and toss the pan in the oven for about 15 minutes to warm them through.

 

Back up to the top for the final plate. I topped the enchilada with a little more of the tomato sauce and some crispy chicken skin.

Ingredients:

Essential:

– 2 chicken leg/thigh quarters, but could be any cut
– 1-2 cups of stock, broth, water, beer… whatever you have around
– corn tortillas

What makes it better:
oregano
garlic salt
celery seed
mustard seed
– Some paprika would have been good too, although I didn’t use any

- 1-2oz tequila (a healthy shot)
– 1 small can of “Salsa de Chile Fresco” or any similar tomato sauce

- cheese – I prefer cotija, feta, etc. but mozzarella is good too

This made about 8-10 good size enchiladas.





Big Bird Curry

2 12 2009

And now another word about bird.

Chances are there are still somewhere between 12 and 20 pounds of turkey still left in your fridge. Chances are also that it’s pretty dry by now… it’s old, you overcooked it, you didn’t feel like brining it again… bla bla. Anyway, you can only eat so many turkey sandwiches before you move on to any other dish you can think of to stew your leftover turkey in. I turned to curry…

I decided I wanted to cook the turkey into the curry – I wanted to stew it instead of having big, still dry chunks of meat. I also decided that I wanted a sort-of winter-ish, holiday season-y curry with lots of spice flavors and a little bit of sweetness.

I also needed rice. Stef recently got me hip to mixing different types of rice together, which I had never even thought of before… I like brown rice alright and I know it’s healthier but I just can’t get into eating whole bowls of it – the texture just doesn’t do it for me. At the same time, sometimes a ton of sticky white rice is a little bit overwhelming too… so I’ve taken to mixing about half and half, brown jasmine rice and white short-grained Japanese or Korean rice. I would have thought the cooking times and water needs wouldn’t work out but somehow it just does. I don’t ask questions – I just pop the rice cooker shut and let it do its thing – magic.

So I made my half and half rice and to go along with the seasonally spiced curry, I tossed half a cinnamon stick and a couple of smashed cardamom pods in with the rice and set it to do its thing.

 

Brief interlude – after dicing my vegetables and preparing my ingredients, I took the skin from the giant turkey breast I was planning to use, spread it on a piece of foil and tossed it under the broiler on the low setting. We’ll come back to that later…

I started with butter, simmered it for a bit and skimmed the foam a couple of times (the lazy man’s ghee). I tossed in a cinnamon stick, a couple of cardamom pods and some red pepper flakes. Then I threw in finely diced red onion, also fairly finely diced celery (because there’s always a ton of that leftover too) and some grated ginger. Sauteed that until it was all soft, tossed in the roughly chopped turkey, sprinkled it all liberally with garam masala and a little bit of turmeric, and tossed it all around a bit.

If you’re following along in the kitchen, duck down low now and flip that skin that’s starting to burn in the broiler… and back to the curry.

Now comes the good stuff – turkey stock that I made Thanksgiving night after dinner with my leftover turkey carcass (you could easily substitute canned stock or whatever you have – I just love the idea of using one more thing from that same turkey to tie it all together) and roasted cashews that I ground into a paste to thicken the curry. Nuts are a really great way to thicken sauces and add some extra depth at the same time.

 

And then comes the seasoning – salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, a little bit of sugar, and some molasses. Yes, molasses. I don’t know why, it just seemed right. I have no good explanation at all except it was in the cabinet and seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed to go with the spices I was using and the holiday theme, so I went for it. This all simmered for around 5-10 minutes while it cooked down a bit and got to the thickness I wanted it.

Shit! Grab that burning skin in the broiler!

At the last minute I decided to toss in some bok choy that I also had leftover from last week. That also turned out to be a good call because the curry needed some green and it needed some crunch – the bok choy brought it. Simmered this for a few minutes more and then it was ready to go.

Rice. Curry. Top with crispy skin. Eat.

 
Very loose recipe/list of ingredients in order of appearance:

- 1/2 cup brown rice
– 1/2 cup white rice

- 2 table spoons butter
– half of a cinnamon stick
– 2 cardamom pods

- 1 small red onion
– 1 decent size stalk of celery
– 1/2″ nub of ginger, finely grated

- turkey skin!

- 1-2 cups or so of cooked turkey, roughly chopped

- 1 table spoon or so garam masala
– 1 tea spoon ground turmeric
– 1/2 cup cashews ground to a paste
salt, pepper, cayenne
– 1 tea spoon molasses

- 1 cup chopped bok choy

Follow steps above to create delicious turkey curry. Don’t burn the skin. Don’t forget to stir. Omit whatever you don’t have. Add whatever you do. Freestyle like you’re Eminem in 8 Mile.





Roast Chicken

1 12 2009

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with roast chicken ever since the first time back in high school when I had dinner at my friend Neil’s house and his mom made it for dinner. For whatever reason, maybe because of my absolute awe at this amazing feat on any normal day of the week, it became tradition for his mom to pop a fowl in the oven any time she heard I was coming over for dinner.

So a few weeks ago I came back again to what is probably my favorite roast chicken recipe. If you’re into food and you’ve eaten in San Francisco chances are you’ve eaten at Zuni Cafe. If you’ve eaten at Zuni Cafe aaand you aren’t an idiot… chances are you’ve had the roast chicken. It’s one of those things that doesn’t sound like it could be that good… but really is. It takes an hour but the ambiance in Zuni is so great that the hour feels like 15 minutes and you end up wishing it was longer.

At home, this roast chicken takes a little more advanced preparation, but not really much more than an hour total time involved from hands on chicken to chicken in mouth. They serve it with “bread salad” at the restaurant but you can eat it with whatever sides or salad you want – truth is, all you need is a good beer or a glass of wine and you can eat this bird all by itself.

We had it with a pretty cool new(?) brew from Brooklyn Brewery called Local 2. There’s a Local 1 as well, but we opted for the 2. Dark but dry, sweet, slightly fruity but also a little bit chocolatey… good stuff.

 

Back to the bird. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about brining. But this salting is just too easy and too good. It’s so simple – the only thing you have to do to make sure it works out is get a small chicken. Otherwise, it’s foolproof.

*It takes at least one day of letting the bird soak up the salt before you can cook.

The secrets are salting ahead of time, and really high heat but shorter cooking time than you would usually use because of the small size of the chicken.

 
Steps:

- get a small bird: 2.5-3.5 pounds
– dry it off really well with a paper towel, your shirt, handkerchief… whatever you have
– salt it with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of bird
– refrigerate the bird for at least a day, up to 3

- when you’re ready to cook, crank the oven somewhere in the neighborhood of 475f
– pop the bird in and roast breast side up for about 30 minutes until it’s nice and brown and sizzling like hell (you may have to cut the heat down a little bit if it’s getting too crazy in there and starting to smoke or burn)
– flip and roast for another 10 or so minutes
– flip again and roast for a final 5-10 minutes – in total about 45 minutes or so

*tuck the wings behind the body and you won’t need to worry about tying or trussing or any of that
**you can also shove a little bit of thyme under the skin of the bird if you’re into that sort of thing… it’s good.

 








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