Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pork with Lentils

 It escapes me why a pork chop, in all its glory, is considered less than a steak. When it comes to cost, I have no complaints but the recognition is lacking. I'm not riding the pork shoulder/belly band wagon of a few years ago that nearly drove us all insane. I'm just saying, as chefs, we eat pork constantly. We cook it for staff meal, we prepare it in our restaurants and we order it when we go out to eat. Its the most versatile food animal, yet marginally valued past bacon, sausage and the occassional spare rib.

A long stint of research into classic bistro menus (ongoing) has kept a number of humble ingredients in the back of my mind. I might add how difficult it is to read for hours on end about rich, cheesy gratin dauphinois, oysters with crisp muscadet, sausage with warm potato salad, chicken livers sauteed with bacon and bitter greens, briny mussels with white wine and crusty bread to mop it up, and cinnamony apple tarts and not become incredibly hungry.  It is a minimally exciting type of food, but often regarded as the most delicious. When I make dinner for friends and family the courses are closer to the aforementioned than something from a high restaurant (that will remain nameless).

I had actually cooked the pork chops awhile ago for a visiting relative that finds the slightest shade of pink in pork or poultry less than appetizing. They were seasoned and cooked at 60C for 1.5 hours. Then seared in the pan. Being as I discuss cooking lentils ad nauseum it should suffice to say they are cooked via the standard method and served as is.

While the chop is resting, the pan is deglazed with vermouth and reduced au sec. Cream and thyme are then added to reduce and finished with a spoon of dijon mustard.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

2 large butternut squash
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
2 knobs ginger
1 large clove garlic
3 allspice berries
12 black peppercorns
1/2 lb unsalted butter

Split the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Seperate seeds from pulp. Toss seeds with canola oil, and salt. toast in oven at 350F until light brown and fragrant. Season again with salt if necessary and sprinkle with cayenne pepper. Set aside

Juice enough of the squash too yield 1000g of juice. Bring it to a simmer and allow it to cool. Bring it to a simmer again and skim any impurities from surface. Strain through chinois and cool the squash juice. At this point it should be naturally clarified. This is the base for the soup. If a creamy soup is desired, the squash juice can be replaced with milk or half and half in part or whole for the remainder of the recipe.

Rub half of the remaining squash with canola oil and roast at 350 until it begins to brown and is cooked through. Let the squash cool with the skins on. In a large pot, combine the squash juice, roasted squash, spices (except cinnamon) and bring to a simmer slowly over medium heat. Cook for 1 hour. Remove from heat. Once mixture is cool, add cinnamon. Refrigerate overnight. Strain through chinois and reserve.

Heat the butter in a small pot. Cook until all moisture has evaporated and it begins to smell nutty and brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Slice the remaining squash into slices 1 inch thick. Season liberally with salt and sugar. Put the squash and reserved brown butter into vacuum bags and seal on high setting. Cook at 85C for 3-4 hours until very soft. Remove and submerge in ice water until cold.

To finish the soup, remove the squash from the bags and small dice some for garnish. Reheat the squash stock with the squash confit. Puree and add cream if desired. Garnish with the toasted seeds and diced squash.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Between the wide angle and the natural yellows, this candid shot reminded me of Andrzej Dragan. When in Rome...

Friday, January 01, 2010

Camera Upgrade

I am selling my Rebel Xti with 17-55mm kit lens, charger and an extra battery. If anyone is interested email me with an offer. This is an incredible camera, responsible for the majority of my photographs to date, including all of the mosaic and food photography. Nothing comes close in the price range. Perfect camera for someone looking to move up to DSLR.

I am in the process of upgrading my camera system to a 5D Mark ii.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sous Vide for Home Cooks

This method has become increasingly popular over the years for both restaurants and now home cooks. This fall, the first device ever, designed for the home kitchen was introduced for cooking sous vide. It is called Sous Vide Supreme and retails for around $500.

I mentioned this to a sous chef. His response was a little confused - "why would you need that, why not just put a pot of water on the stove?" While this may seem laughable to and primitive - it is the most practical and simple method of cooking sous vide, which we employ at the restaurant where I work. It is accessible to the home cook with nothing but a kitchen, a stockpot and a clean water supply. I cooked this way for years before even upgrading to a vacuum seal setup. Still, the comment raises an interesting question - why would a home cook want/need something like this? For me, this has been a gradual process of upgrading.

The one greatest disadvantages, is most the sensual gratification of the cooking process is removed. The sounds of meat searing, or pasta simmering, the smell of a chicken roasting and filling the house with the warm oven air are all lost, traded for precision and control. While this is beneficial for restaurants and commercial operations that need to produce large amounts of food consistently, the sociological value of home-cooking and family-togetherness are removed. The process is very sterile and unrewarding up until the point that food is eaten, which on top of that, add potentially hazardous.

However, there a number of great advantages. Cleanup is much easier in general because the plastic bag is later discarded. The only leftover dishes are the ones used for serving and eating. You can heat up a spaghetti sauce in the same water you used to cook the pasta. It won't burn or splatter as in a microwave or require stirring and attention.

The heat levels are relatively low. If you live in a hot climate, or if your home is not air conditioned this can be a great advantage. It does not heat up the house. It requires no attention. You can leave, go to sleep, do your taxes, watch youtube, etc. There is no safety risk in leaving the appliance unattended.

Safety: Sous vide cooking requires more knowledge and care than conventional methods. An unskilled cook could easily create health hazards with perfectly functioning equipment. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding this technique and requires a rigorous bureaucratic process before food prepared in this way can be sold to the public.

That said, this is an examination of the benefits and drawbacks of various methods of preparing food sous vide. The focus is only on the device used to cook and not the sealing method.

First a quick definition. This is not a new method of cooking, but a refinement. The product is sealed under vacuum in a plastic bag and poached in water at a precisely controlled temperature for a specific length of time.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

More Pheasant Sausage

1520g pheasant breast
1844g pork belly
1356g pheasant legs, skin removed
840g smoked bacon
120g jack daniels whiskey
120g sauvignon blanc
200g dark raisins
20g sage leaves
15g thyme leaves
4ea cloves garlic
50g apple cider molasses
12g ground black pepper
45g kosher salt

I strive for transparency as much as possible because I believe it leads to progress. So I am disclosing a few of our recipes from the current tasting. Also, its easier to look it up here than sorting through hundreds of pages of notes, prep lists, orders etc.

A recipe from a great chef is like discovering the holy grail. The guinea hen terrine recipe from Jean-Francois Bruel at Daniel Restaurant was one of my first great treasures. The pheasant sausage recipe was based on the ratios for the guinea hen terrine. We changed it further for the Lagunitas event. Since we had no use for 20# of chicken/pheasant livers, we omitted 200g from the recipe. The foie gras went as well for a number of reasons. Sel rose was omitted because we were afraid the pinkish color of a poultry based sausage might be perceived negatively. We cook small test batches of the sausage to fine tune the seasoning, so salt levels vary. This is what we did.

Tiny Lounge does not have a proper meat grinder. We used the attachment for the small kitchenaid stand mixer. In an effort to create a sausage without using it, we first robot couped the meat, all separately. The pork belly we chopped finer and we left the pheasant breast fairly course. The result was a texture more like a burger than a sausage. When we tried to stuff it into casings using the machine, it didn't go through. We ended up having to grind it all anyway which created an incredible texture. This recipe makes about 40 links in the standard size of a bratwurst or italian sausage you would buy in a store.

The cure for the pork belly we cured with a simple 1:1 ratio of salt and sugar for three days. The mixture contains 5% robot couped spices. We don't use a circulator or controlled bath to cook it - its not that necessary or delicate. We keep the pot of water on the stove just under a simmer for 4 hours.

The cider gel recipe was a stroke of luck - we nailed it on the first try. It would otherwise not have appeared on the plate as we had no time to develop a recipe. We used the apple cider at whole foods. The texture is creamy without being too elastic.

500g apple cider
60g sugar
5.5g malic acid
2g agar agar
1.6g gellan gum LT-100

Combine everything is the pot. Rain the agar and lt100 over the top and let them bloom for 5 minutes. Stick blend 30 seconds. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Simmer for about 10 seconds and strain through chinois into prepared container.

We were not as successful when it came to the whiskey glass. The recipe did not retain the whiskey flavor through the process and kept overdrying. Pure-Cote is not an ingredient I particularly like. Tara wanted to make glass so we did. The recipe was:

200g water
300g whiskey, alcohol burned off
77g pure-cote B790
50g sugar

We blended the water sugar and pure-cote in a blender for 10 minutes until it had dissovled by boiling. We stirred in the flamed whiskey later to preserve the flavor without cooking it.

This was a very ambitious menu considering the facility, budget and time frame. One dish that was admittedly unsuccessful was the scallop with white chocolate and chicory. The idea was to highlight the sweetness of the scallop with a rich scallop jus with white chocolate and contrast it with a lean, bitter sorbet made from chicory. The chicory we were using had a bad flavor when infused into the sorbet base. It was not bitter either. Also, the ice cream maker malfunctioned. This was 11PM the night before and we were not about to buy a new machine the next day. We ran to store and picked up a few bunches of young watercress, great peppery bitter flavor. We heated heavy cream over the stove until boiling and added it to a blender for 5 minutes, until it was boiling inside the carafe. We added the raw watercress to puree and blanch simultaneously. We then strain it directly into an icebath. The color was great but somehow most of the bitterness had dissapeared. The next day we whipped the cream and served it over the scallop tartare. Perhaps another herb would have shown through the cream.

The halibut course was neutral. Well conceived and executed but nothing spectacular. We portioned the fish to 60g pieces and lined them a few inches apart in the 2 inch hotel pan. about 45 minutes before serving we poured hot beurre monte over the fish and covered it in plastic wrap. We set the pans in a warm spot over the stove to poach the fish. We made an orange beurre blanc by reducing fresh orange juice and white wine with a little zest. After we mounted it, we spiked it a little gran mariner. The fish was served resting on a creamy endive fondue and garnished with candied orange zest, partially dehydrated orange supreme, fresh orange supreme, mint, cilantro and crispy parsley.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lagunitas Tasting

We realized during our last tasting - while trying to break down and isolate flavors and aromas in each beer - that we completely overlooked the basic foods that go great with beer, tacos, chili, spicy foods...sausage. The idea of pheasant
"choucroute garni" has been in my head for awhile.

For the sauerkraut, we cured the cabbage with 1% salt for 5 weeks in the wine room. The result was all we could have hoped for. We cooked the fermented cabbage in butter with onions, ham hock jus and spices until tender.

The pheasant sausage recipe was derived from a guinea hen terrine from a former chef. It contains pheasant breast and leg meat, pork belly, smoked bacon, thyme, raisins and sage. We grilled it for service.

The garnishes made the dish a logistical challenge from the small, ill-equiped kitchen. From left to right apple cider gel with sage tip, celeriac braised in butter with celery leaf, apple cube braised in butter with apple slice, pheasant breast with cracklin', pork belly with whole grain mustard.

The apple cider gel is set with agar and gellan gum and heated for service. The pheasant breast was cooked at 58C for 1.5 hours. We fried the skin, dehydrated it overnight and then robot couped it. The pork belly was cured for three days with the choucroute spices and cooked sous vide at 85C for 4 hours. We seared it for service.