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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kale and Pork

Today was the day to use up a couple of things in the refrigerator, namely some leftover smoked pork loin and some kale salad. I also had some red fingerling potatoes that needed to be used. I also found some chicken wings that had been smoked. These would make a great base for the stock I wanted to incorporate.

Aromatics and chicken wings

So, into a pot went some onions, celery, garlic, mandarin peels and the chicken wings. Covered with water and seasoned with a couple of pinches of sea salt, a piece of konbu, a star anise, 6 peppercorns and 4 whole cloves. These were covered with water and simmered for 2 hours. Then the broth the was strained of the solids, then filtered to clear the broth. I use coffee filters for this. The stock was then reduced from roughly 1.5 cups of stock, a splash of white port and black currant Balsamic vinegar, which was reduced to 1/2 cup. This would be the glaze.

The potatoes were roasted with onions, celery and garlic until tender. The potatoes were cooled and sliced, then tossed into a hot pan to sear. Then the kale was tossed on top to wilt. A little kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to season. It is important to remove some of the larger stalks of the kale, as they remain a little tough when you are just wilting the kale.

Plated and Drizzled

The pork was left over from earlier, on the weekend. It was smoked at Phat Matts. It originally had bacon in it, but, that was not going to work. So, I removed the bacon, seared the outside in the hot pan with a little oil from the potatoes. Then I sliced it, and seared the slices. From there, everything was tossed onto the plate and the meat was drizzled with the reduction.

Meat Texture

And the texture of the meat held up well to reheating, it remained tender. The reduction nicely complemented the smoked pork as well as the kale. It was lightly sweet with a bitter counter-point from the mandarin peels.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gumbo, Quickish-style

With the onset of cooler weather, the desire for warming comfort food really kicks into gear. I happen to love gumbo, the traditional stew of the southern United States. Most often associated with Louisiana, it is actually a common dish in a lot of the southern coastal area. With as many variations as there are cooks. The most common characteristics associated with gumbo are roux, okra and filé. I decided, largely due to the okra looking bad at the market and being out of filé, to do a simplified version.

The Veggies

First step was to prepare the aromatics for the building of the stock. I went with a medium yellow onion, a small red bell pepper and three stalks of celery, along with a bunch of green onions. This is a fair amount of vegetables, but, it will all cook down and integrate into the stock. I prefer a dice on the small side for this dish.

Fried Chicken

Borrowing a technique from an old friend, I had the chance to befriend a cook that had worked at several restaurants in the Louisiana area and later in Oakland, she had a theory that roux is the fundamental carrier of color and flavor in a gumbo, and that the fat should reflect that philosophy. I learned from her, that by giving the chicken a very flavorful coating and frying it, you can jumpstart your roux. These chicken thighs were given a coating of 'red flour', a blend of salt, chile powder (I make my own, very similar to Harissa) and cayenne. Once fried to color, the oil will have a deep red color. I used a couple of strips of bacon to build the oil to fry the chicken. Yes, it is not healthy.

The Roux

For the roux, I used 1/2 cup of the 'red oil' and 1/2 cup of AP flour, and started toasting it up. Now, roux can be a lot of different things, depending on the technique and style of cooking you are doing. This is not about thickening the stock. It is about building the color and creating a toasted flavor to the stock base. The picture above is about halfway to where I wanted it to be. You can do this in the oven, but, I like to smell the roux as it is cooking. I took the color about to a brick red, but, what I really wanted was to get to the point that the roux becomes aromatic. There is a point where the roux smell will change from fat and flour to a very aromatic aroma that jumps from the pan, and yes, this is moments before it burns. I have the vegetables and 3 cups of stock, or water, ready to dump in. Just in case.

Veggies in the pool

The shot above shows the vegetables dumped into the roux, this effectively stops the cooking of the roux and allows you to control that very moment when the color is right. I was a little light on the color, no matter, the flavor was there. I also topped up with a couple of pinches of salt. I used fine sea salt for this, it just helps with the vegetables sweat a little better. After a few minutes, dump in the stock or water and let it cook for an hour or so. At this stage, as simple as it seems, there are amazing flavors that have developed, the red bells contribute sweet notes, the green onions and celery add vegetal flavors and aroma, the onion is, well, onion. The roux aroma and flavor really come through at this point, the toast adding a nice bottom note to the dish. As crazy as it might sound, water is a reasonable addition, it has solvent properties that pull the flavors together very well. After the first hour, I added the chicken thighs in and cooked them until tender, then the sausage was added, in this case a nice smoked linguica. Moments before serving, some shrimp were added.

Look at that color

The color worked out fine, and the choice of steamed Basmati rice was a sound decision. A note about the meat and ingredients. All of the vegetables were organic, I have taken to using organics for root and stem vegetables. I feel they seem to cook better and I like that I can feel comfortable about the food I am eating. The meat was pastured chicken, locally made sausage and wild caught USA shrimp, as I feel the texture and flavor is just a lot better than the farmed stuff. It does cost more, I just eat a little less.

This did not suck

Yes, this type of cooking required that I pay attention for short periods of time over a three hour length of time, and it is nice to be able to work at home to pull off a cook like this. However, there is no way you can find something like this in the store. And three hours or so, not so bad for a pot full of wonderful complex eating. The okra and File were not missed.