Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Recipe #13: 'Cock-a-Leekie Soup' (page 14-15)

Not explained within the text, this soup is Scottish and quite simple in preparation.It is for the most part, a barren chicken soup accompanied by only leeks.This is a laughable variant, grand in scale which not only adds another meat but a brined one at that.The adjunct takes the center stage.

I brined my meat for 10 of the maximum 12 days recommended by the recipe; this is outlined in my previous post.I eagerly decanted it from its brine and inspected, it had turned an expected shade of grey without the help of additions to control that variable.

I cooked it for over two hours with the aromatic veg recommended and scoffed at the absence of celery - which is included in the next stock making exercise below - but followed it none the less.

When completed I moved the hot pot to my fridge to cool (beef still in its bath) on a trivet of wooden spoons so as not to melt or damage my fridge's shelf.My chicken stock was already on going with a procedure followed just a couple of posts earlier.

As this was Sunday after all, I took a deserved nap.When I awoke, everything had cooled and removed the meats from their liquids and did away with bones and skin (of the chicken) and portioned both.

I strained all the garbage out of the stocks and laid their used veg to rest in the bin.I set aside a good portion of beef stock and bottled up the rest for my freezer as I knew I would not require it here.

Already having used a leek each in the two stocks, I added another pair to the pan with some oil.When I felt they had concentrated their flavors and sweat off enough water, I added the whole of my chicken stock and carefully blended in the beef stock while tasting.This was followed with the volume of meat and cooked just to heat and complete the cooking of the leeks.

I decided to forgo the prunes entirely as while they may be traditional I was disgusted with the application.I have had qualms about a few ingredients used in applications like this, through out the book thus far and never balked completely.

Fergus closes the recipe with 'Serve in big bowls with much bread at hand.'Indeed, what use is soup without bread? I baked a loaf of whole wheat.Shown here ready to be baked and freshly bench-proofed, it deflated a bit as I removed it from its proofer box to be photographed.It hardly suffered.

I wonder in the end how well my ratio of stock-to-meat added up but I was pleased with the final result and have a large helping left for myself.I also had plenty of extra chicken and brisket and have been eating them on sandwiches for lunch this week and that should continue for the remainder.

I gave away three large portions as well as some un-souped brisket and bread to friends and family.It was an ordeal creating this in my small kitchen but I relish the mania of it all.An excellent catalyst into a long running interest in brining meat, another brisket shall be underfoot soon.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Recipe #12: 'Making a Brine' (page 76)

For my next recipe a brined piece of beef brisket was necessary.This is an endevour I had been interested for sometime, outside of the cookbook and this blog.More related to my own fascination and catnip like attraction to corned beef, I had in the past dipped my feet into the berth of knowledge on the subject but never did attempt the full on swan-dive.

This book and its recipe - which shall remain a surprise - were the catalyst.When this side of meat has completed its cycle I plan to immediately begin another with the addition of Instacure/Prague Powder #1 and make some legitimate corned beef.

That being said, the experiment outlined below in photographs could also be called corned beef.I began by trying to determine what size container I would need for a large brisket.I decided the best material would be polycarbonate and purchased this container and it's lid.The seal is excellent and worthy of note.At approximately 12" x 10" it is not entirely large enough for the dimensions of an extra large brisket (as this one is) but its 6" depth makes up for it.It holds a gallon of brine and the meat with ease and also fits snugly in a corner of my fridge.

I started with about 15 cups of water from the tap in my Lodge dutch oven.As it began to simmer I put in approximately 2 cups of packed brown sugar.Fergus recommends what I determine is confectioner's sugar though he is obviously aware of the molasses based sweetener as an alternative as he comments "many suggest brown sugar, but not me".

The massive 2 1/4 cups of kosher salt followed.He recommends sea salt as always which I do not use and refuse to purchase in bulk for this recipe.I do wonder at the level of salinity between the two causing issue but we shall see.

As for the spices, he recommends juniper berries, cloves, peppercorns and bay leaves.I decided on Penzey's Corned Beef mix, I purchase all my herbs/spices from them and highly recommend.I bought a full pound of the stuff for only $12 and it contains all of the above spices and many more.Penzey's recommends 3-5 tablespoons per 5 lbs of meat...my brisket is 5 lbs just about on the head and I went full force with 5 units.I decided to use the Penzey's mix for a few reasons: 1) I did not want to purchase a bunch of separate items (though I already have two, bay and peppercorns); 2) it seemed overly subtle and I am brash and bold; 3) as I already referenced I am interested in making real (read: pink) corned beef next so I shall be prepared for that.I recently brined a chicken for roasting and used simple McCormick's Pickling spice which also shows considerable overlap with the cookbooks spice list for the brine and the Penzey's mix.

When it neared boil I removed from the heat and stored in the fridge across two wooden spoons until it was nearly cool.I added to my brisket and it has now been percolating for about 72 hours, I will go 10 days and remove and cook in one week from now, he recommends 10-12 days for the recipe this brine is intended for.Stay tuned....

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Recipe #11: 'Aioli' (page 162)

I prepared this classic sauce for the previous post of boiled chicken and leeks.

I was initially concerned that it did not need a sauce, especially since Fergus recommended serving that meal with a 'splash of stock', the liquid it was cooked in.  An already very moist dish, then served with further liquid...I could not compute this decision, but I carried on.

Fergus made his regular push for immense amounts of garlic, in this case 20 cloves.I scaled this down to about 8-10 as that was all I had to spare and furthermore all I decided was necessary.I did not necessarily need to create the same amount of condiment as required by the recipe and I already know of its indifference to mammoth loads of the stuff.

I also adjusted the amount of oil as I did not require a final yield of two cups but I did keep 2 full egg yolks.In the end, as he mentions: "Aioli is aioli...it is strong, but that is its role in life".I grew to accept that after a few tastings, the acid in the lemon juice seems to have eventually dulled the overwhelming garlic.

Like so many things in the recipe this condiment was intended for, in time I grew to appreciate it.

Recipe #10: 'Boiled Chicken, Leeks, and Aioli' (page 113)

A recipe simple in ingredients and largely in technique but one which produces questions before anything has been undertaken.

Poaching chicken with aromatic vegetables is a standard practice for producing stock, or soup/broth.  It is the 'twice-cooked' way of approach which sets it apart, and creates enough intrigue for the chef to make the attempt.

Starting with cold water and bringing to a boil is in itself interesting and manifests in a massive exhaustion of grease from the bird which must be skimmed and even then coats everything.  I initally intended to complete the eat the dish in a single night; I was short for time but realized that even if I had not been this was too intense a procedure for a single evening's dinner.

I covered my bird with its veg and then withheld the urge for self-abuse when I realized my dutch oven was far too small for this large piece of poultry.  The small fryers were on sale but were quite tiny, I opted for this big one (also on sale, $13) and should have known better.

Upon transfer I let the bird come to a simmer, all the while carefully monitoring.  When it reached a dull bubble I removed it from the heat and let it sit, lid on, for about an hour before moving it to the fridge.  It stayed there nearly 18 hours until the next day when I was famished and ready to complete the process.

I have made tanker trucks and swimming pools worth of stock but have never seen such a gasoline sheen on the liquid like this one.  I am convinced that the process was not fully to credit but perhaps also this bird was especially in need of liposuction while still mortal.  Either way, having left this in the fridge and well chilled made removal quite easy.

It is not clear how long Fergus intended the reader to leave the bird before its second cook but this makes sense for many reasons.  Besides fat removal ease, I imagined the bird cooling in its flavorful liquid and reaborbing flavor.  Besides that of the vegetable stock surrounding it, its own lost chicken essense might be reaborbed by osmosis.  More on that note later.

I removed the deadened vegetables and strained the liquid.  Having nearly a gallon yield I reserved a full quart for my leeks and relegated myself to dilution (about a quart) for my chicken.  Seemed casual as the stock produced appeared to be of a very intense rank.  Quite gelatinous and tasty as well, I knew it would not suffer from some addition of H2O.

In my lightly clarified stock + water I submerged my fowl and began the cooking process again.  Fergus thoughts are:

"...Immerse your chicken for 30 minutes to heat through thoroughly; you will now have a moist bird without its falling apart or being toughened from hard boiling."

This logic appeals to me and I can attest that the product was of such quality.

As it cooked, I prepared my leeks.  They were of an especially filthy breed even for their own ilk.  I closed the sink drain and submerged them, and scrubbed wildly.

There is something primal in the appeal of chopping leeks.  They are substantial enough that a chef's knife held properly on a sturdy cutting board (all of which I have attained, along with the correct skills) that drives me manic.  I transformed them into small half curls, I have before fried these in my cast iron skillet with some grease, today would be a different preperation.
Jumping forward to the tasting stage I would say that leeks when steamed or cooked in a flavorful liquid such as this truly retain their taste, that is the taste of earth.  It is the breeze of memories from snacking in gardens as a child, of the real organic carbon based earth, the dirt, in which all plants grow.

The leeks piled in my pot to a level exceeding the liquid but I was satisfied with this and convinced this is what Fergus intended.  With lid on and such even, excellent heat retention they were nearly overcooked in short order.  On first sampling I was convinced I overcooked them but after eating them twice more as leftovers I have reneged on that arrangement and decisively countered that I was correct as their essence is intact.
Having reached its end in heating, I removed my chicken from its bath (reserving the double-dipped liquid, of course).  I promptly ate one wing (my standard practice when roasting a bird) then carved off a breast and a hindquarter.

I have eaten chicken from farms only a couple times and while a non-factory, unbrined bird can be tough, the elemental flavors are second to none.  Nothing tastes so much like chicken then a bird of this sort.  I believe it was this process that reserved and even emphasized this aspect and indeed no cut of the bird was anywhere near dry - promise kept by Fergus.

I do not know if this serves as any kind of alternative to the browned, crispy skinned bird produced by a hot oven but after a few days of thought and continued consumption I have begun to view it as seperate but equal.  I also produced an aioli as instructed but as this is a separate reciept I have outlined it in its own post after this.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Recipe #9: 'Smoked Haddock, Mustard and Saffron'

'A version of a medieval dish, very yellow and delicious'

So says Fergus' simple heading for this seemingly simple recipe. It begins with a basic steeping bowl of liquids, the least active being a healthy dose of water.  I did not quite understand why one would choose to use flavorless liquid in the place of flavorful liquid (especially when they are even on hand as in this dish) but I trudged on.  Vinegar, mustard and saffron are all called for in minuscule amounts and I immediately amped up the levels of the trio instinctively.

As previous, I substituted for the smoked haddock.  This time I used a local smoked lake trout.  Like in the Kedgeree recipe the already cured fish is briefly poached in the oven using the above outlined medium.  However pure water is used in the Kedgeree recipe so that it can become 'infected' with fish/smoke flavor for addition to already thirsty rice.  Here, the ingredients meld under heat and loosen the fish, and infect it with the flavors present.

The end comes quickly: the now heated fish is removed from its liquid and the already heated pan and its contents are referred to more direct heating on the range where they can further reduce and be mounted with butter.

I checked for seasoning after a few moments and found....nothing.  Somehow the combination of similarly subtle flavors amounted to something quite bland.  At that time I blamed a lack of salt and fresh pepper and added both in spades.  I reduced as well as I could and buttered well.

I plated it with the fish and quickly cooked off some trimmed and frenched green beans I had blanched the day previous.  Fergus' recommendation of mashed potatoes (again) seemed inappropriate to such a delicately flavored sauce.  But in the end this recipe is a failure and I am secure enough to blame myself if I felt I was at fault.  This is a bland dish with bland flavors and was quite disappointing.  When the fish was gone I went so far as I drink a bit of the sauce from my dish.  The sauce is yellow; it tastes...yellow.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Recipe #8: "Kedgeree" (page 131)

A hybrid Anglo-East Indian dish that poses the question if the stronger Indian spicing should be included as an influence.Typically subtle British flavors make Fergus' rendition essentially rice with smoked fish and an afterthought of hardboiled eggs.I was deeply troubled with whether or not I should dare to add my own Indian spices at hand to perk this dish up; I decided against it for this first attempt.

Again having sourced my fish from Hagen's I substituted for the nearly impossible to source smoked haddock, my choice being cisco.Two whole fish weighed in at over a pound, I briefly steamed them with minimum water and maximum butter.After cooling them I removed and discarded skeleton and skin.

Rice followed.I smiled at Fergus method for rice ratio discovery ('Place the rice in a pan.Lay your hand flat on the rice, and add water until your hand is covered').I used an even simpler and more accurate method, my well worn Pyrex measuring cup and the standard 2:1.I used Jasmine rice because it was what I had on hand, it has been my rice of the moment for a good span now.I never understood draining rice either...sounds like evidence that you used too much water, more evidence that Fergus 'hand' system of measurement is not fitting for this application.

Red onion did prove to be a great selection for this recipe.I jumped at the chance as it is one of my favorite of the onion family (though certainly not appropriate for many situations).They did in fact go quite sweet as directed, careful cooking on medium heat with butter rather then my usual higher heat and oil succeeded here.Their sweetness remained as tasty pockets throughout the masses of rice down to the final leftover days later.While I halved the onion yield (two) I doubled the lemon juice and parsley measurements as I saw that as my only chance to add flavor to the dish.It was a well advised idea.

The softness of the eggs was a great texture contrast and showed them to be much more then a buried garnish.The cisco was not nearly as strong in smoke flavor as the lake trout I used in my fish pie but perhaps I did use too much rice for their weight.I am not totally disappointed however and in many ways feel that perhaps it was fitting for this demure dish.

As a footnote, when this was completed and even consumed I remembered seeing this prepared on 'Two Fat Ladies'.Their only improvisation from this recipe? The use of Garam Masala, which I already had on hand.I did come across many other recipes with far greater use of Indian spice which may have proved to be overwhelming, but a single tablespoon of Garam Masala would have been fitting I think.Next time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Recipe #7: "Fish Pie" (page 134-135)

This is the first of three consecutive recipes involving smoked fish which I will be working through.All three call for smoked haddock, after a cursory search of the area for places of procurement I decided to do what I already knew to be true and substitute.As I said in the introduction to this blog, I refuse to get hung up on a single ingredient and avoid a recipe as a result.That being said I do make my choices of substitution with substantial thought and shall not blindly reach for anything with semblance of similarity.

Surely the oldest retailer of its kind in Chicago, Hagen's Fish Market immediately came to mind when I knew I needed fish.I had never actually been there and was shocked to find they are the only hardwood smokehouse of its kind in the city: they will gladly smoke any fish or fowl you will bring them for a fee.I visited on a Sunday afternoon and decided on two whole 'smoked fish' (which I later idenfified as cisco) and two large steaks of smoked lake trout.

Both packages weighed approximately 1 1/4 lbs.I wasn't yet sure of how I would portion the fish between the three recipes but thought these types seemed appropriate for substitution and I headed off, still brainstorming in preparation for my fish pie.

That night I started out by hard boiling eggs for both the fish pie and the kedgeree (8 in total).Not to devote too much time to such simple cookery but I was quite pleased with the result.Bright yellow yolks came from a carefully timed period of boiling/simmering and most importantly extreme cooling afterward.Simple running water won't do it, use a large vessel and pack it with ice water.While this went on I peeled and began to boil the remainder of my russets from my failed 'Pressed Potatoes' recipe chronicled in my previous blog entry.It turned out to be a perfect amount of tubers for their need here.

I took a swift bike ride to the grocery to acquire a number of dairy products: milk, butter and the aforementioned eggs.I always keep butter at hand but had run out recently and milk I despise for uses besides cooking.With my potatoes mashed and eggs peeled and chopped, it was time to wrangle my fish.

My trout steaks were not fillets as requested in the recipe but I decided they would break down more easily once poached.First I had to cut off and pull out the twine apparently used for hanging purposes in the smokehouse.An endearing reminder from whence my fish came; the string was golden as the fish from its exposure to the smoke.I 'broke' them at their backbone so they lie flat in my Pyrex pan.

I used whole peppercorns as requested (but adamantly refused to count exactly 10 as quantified there).I also used bay leaf, while not a part of this recipe I did find things to be a bit demure again with the use of herbs/spices as typical of the book and its style.I had come across the use of bay in poaching smoked fish in a number of recipes for kedgeree which was being researched in parallel to the pie at hand.

I did not measure the amount of milk and the sole reason for that lie in the fact that my Pyrex (another component of my flame-proof glass collection) measuring cup was filled with chicken grease in my fridge from the night's previous dinner.I eyeballed 1/4th of the half gallon container I purchased which shallowly covered the meat of the fish.Looking back I should have more carefully measured.The reason why is evidenced best in a hardly related recipe: the decidedly un-British Southern American fare, biscuits and gravy.

Biscuits and gravy is an excellent lesson in the quantification of roux making and more.Your gravy begins with sausage, which renders grease.The amount of grease in the pan dictates the amount of flour needed to temper it into a proper roux.The amount of roux dictates the amount of liquid needed to create an adequate gravy.If you are making 10 biscuits you do not want a 1/2 cup of finished gravy, nor do you want a 1/2 gallon.The same holds true for this recipes creation of bechamel, which intelligently is made from your fish-infected milk.An ingenious reuse of previously used components adding untold flavor as well as simple logic.

I believe that either I did not use a full two cups (though I swore I had to have used extra, even) or too much was lost to evaporation (even though I followed the dictated temperature and time, and my milk was barely simmering when it was removed from the oven).At any rate, I began with the nearly full stick (7 tablespoons) to an exacting measurement, already aware of the careful balance of fat/roux/bechamel's mathematics.

3/4 cup of flour followed and my roux looked well balanced.However the milk added left me with something closer to batter then white sauce, even before it reduced or cooked at all.I ran to my fridge - even two steps away I was worried that I would color or scald what was in my pan - and began whisking in additional 'raw' milk which was of course sans fish flavor.This bothered me to no limit, as I knew I was diluting the well seasoned flavor of milk that commiserated with peppercorn, bay and smoke.

But I did what I had to and when my bechamel looked appropriate I began to decant it into my cleaned and reused Pyrex which was already filled with my de-boned and broken down trout as well as the hard cooked eggs.

My mash was at the ready and it followed immediately afterward.The 'plowing' technique Fergus recommends went into motion.Proof positive it did indeed assist greatly in browning but I also found it quite useful for removing excess potatoes from the top of my pie.Like the poaching solution in this recipe, the mash was neither wasted and it went straight into my mouth.

As I neared two entire sticks used for this recipe, my dotted pie entered the box of blazes for another half hour.

Peas were boiled and my beer supply for the night was exhausted.Two slices were gone quickly and another this morning.And still I cannot rid my mind of its existence in my icebox, nor the vivid campfire aroma created from the wondrous trout supplied by Hagen's.