Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pied de cochon farci (as they say in the Dordogne)

My fridge is still stuffed full of all sorts of smoked meats, salted meats, bloods and animal bits leftover from a trip to Chinatown. I had to get eating that pigs trotter (with hock attached) so tonight I thought I'd flex the old culinary muscle and try to make crispy stuffed pigs feet. I had a lot of trouble finding a suitable recipe. The only one I did find was in a tatty old Gordon Ramsay book I had in the bookcase. And he makes it sounds so simple.

In fact, I decided to make it tonight, last night. It does take some time, patience and lots of fucking around with different stages. The first three laborious tasks, you must complete the day before. First I soaked the pied for 12 hours, or overnight. This gets rid of the blood. Secondly, I had to skin and debone the damn thing. This was a bit daunting. I vaguely remember watching a butchery show back in the UK where some grimy farmer had the skin off and bone out in mere minutes. OK, he's a dab hand at it, but I reckon the bastard must have cheated, or there was some great editing going on. It took me about 1 hour. I turned the foot 'palm up' on a board and cut all the way down to the second 'knuckle'.

Then, by stretching and pulling the skin away, scoring with a knife as you go, you can take the skin off to the toes. I located the joints, sliced through the cute little pig 'palms' and cut as far down into the 'wrist' as I could. (You may think I'm using terms we would associate with the human hand but in reality, pig feet and human hands, they're not much different. When I thought about my own anatomy while wielding my boning knife, it became a whole lot easier.) Now came the tricky part. I had to wiggle the knife in between what felt like two rounded pebbles in Porky's wrist and slice away as much tendon as possible. By pushing the hand as far back as it would go, I was able to expose the really chunky joints in the wrist, and there is a pesky little tendon that connect the whole hand to the wrist. Once I twisted and twisted it over and again, I just knicked at it and the foot sprang free from the bone. I now had an empty glove puppet type thing, and a huge hunk of bone and meat, both ready for the braising pot.

Ramsay recommends braising the skin and toes for 3 hours, and the hock and bone for about 2. I gathered up a large Dutch oven, my mirepoix, herbs, oilve oil, stock and got to work. Just a simple braise, you know the stages...Don't you? I removed the meat and let it cool in some of the stock. I returned the skin to the oven for another hour. I shredded the cooling meat, and chilled the ham stock to form a jelly. The skin was plucked from the heat and after some cooling, laid flat on a chopping board. Ramsay reckons you need about four sheets of pig foot skin altogether to form a proper sausage. I had only one. So it was going to be a small sausage indeed. Well fuck it, I just need one for me, right? I had all sorts of trouble getting the shredded meat to stay in the thick skinned casing. With the aid of a sushi rolling kit and some clingfilm, I was able to get something accomplished. Not quite the result I was expecting, but I didn't expect miracles first time around.

I did have a lot of meat leftover, which I was able to mix with some Dinosaur BBQ sauce. I toasted some wholemeal buns, drenched them in jellied ham stock and made one of the greatest impromptu pulled pork sarnies the World has ever seen. I loved it all - Greasy, tasty, spicy and wholly satisfying considering all the pissing about.

The resulting tiny sausage will have to wait until tomorrow before the frying as it needs to chill in the fridge in clingfilm, so it adopts a true sausage shape. It won't take much eating. It's a slighty anticlimactic moment considering all the effort I put in. I did manage two pork sarnies out of it though, some totally fabulous pork stock and the bits of skin I had leftover will make scratchings or chicharrones. All I was left with was a pile of bone and some gristly bits. Tomorrow I will know about true success or failure.

EU black pudding mountain

...And it's in my fridge.

Despite giving away a couple of sturdy nuggets to blood believers, I had to do something else to use it up. There was only one option. Could I really eat 2 portions of blood and guts in one day? Piece of piss. I had no trouble getting the second helping of pigs innards on board.

This time however, it was dinner. I riced some floury potatoes, mixed in some leftover cauli soup I had the fridge, a dash of Colman's and I had the starchy base. I made a bit of caramel, rolled some chopped Granny Smith's in it, cooked for about 5 minutes, whizzed it up in the blender with a slug of Triple Sec for some tartness and a small piece of butter, and put the whole mess together.

Christ, it was good. Dare I say it, better than Casimir's.

You always remember your first time

Lobster and crab bisque with little crab cake souffl├ęs - Courgette, sage and bacon salad with chickpea fritters and tomato fondant - Beef in red wine with mushrooms, parsnip cream - Mature English stilton with homemade blackcurrant conserve

I didn’t know what to expect as I made my long trek downstairs from my apartment two floors above Teddy’s bustling kitchen but judging from what I had read on the blog I was in for a treat. Our gracious host started the evening off properly with a brandy an
d champagne cocktail. We each had two and at some point I think all of us felt…”Whoa, I should slow down. It’s only eight o’clock.” Wise advice that was woefully abandoned.We began the meal with a bowl of lobster and crab bisque. Sometimes bisques can be too filling. They leave you feeling like one of those lucky geese that get fed all the free corn mash they can possibly eat---and then some (mmmmm…torture never tasted so decadent). But Teddy’s delightful lobster and crab was a light affair and the perfect opening for the meal. But it was the cutting board full of crab cake souffl├ęs that were the real hit…crunchy with big morsels of the sea in every bite. It may be a faux pas at finer French restaurants but I loved dipping my crab cake in the bisque so that it could kiss its spiny undersea cousin, the lobster, one last time.Next up was the sort of delicate, little trifle that usually causes me to say “uh-oh…isn’t this precious?” It doesn’t help that it was called a courgette instead of a zucchini and it had a foamy pink puff of whipped tomato on top. Oh, there’s no way I’m going to like this, I erroneously believed. Naturally, I was wrong on more levels than this tasty second course was high. Usually, I’m not really a fan of courgettes (See? He’s got me saying it) but the fresh crisp of the vegetable along with the crunchy/chewy of the fritter worked great together…and did I mention the bacon? What isn’t better with bacon? (Milk and bacon? Nyquil and bacon?) Whenever I talk to vegetarians (those misguided souls) they always tell me that the one meat they miss is bacon. As for the fondant? I could have put that between Oreos it tasted so good. Well done, old boy.At this point we may have been opening the fourth bottle of wine and maybe that explains the wide-eyed glow in our eyes when the beef in red wine with mushrooms and parsnip cream magically appeared underneath our noses. This was just simply amazing. The generous chunks of beef were as tender as a good night kiss from a loved one and the parsnip cream was so light and perfectly seasoned it was the highlight of the meal. It practically ran into my mouth it was so good. Teddy has definitively proven that mashed potatoes are for suckers.But before it was all to sadly come to an end there was one last surprise: A handmade jam. Who makes their own preserves nowadays you might ask? I mean if this was 1872, somewhere in the Montana territories, and wife #2 (wife #1 died of consumption) was looking for something to take her mind off of the impending Indian raid I could understand it but, apparently, the British are also big fans of homemade jellies so Teddy topped off our splendid meal with an equally splendid blackcurrant marmalade. The jam’s sweet and sour bite went perfect with the smelly, smooth Stilton. We all applied it liberally to some baguettes in the vain hope that the bread would soak up some of the alcohol. I, for one, was way off base in this belief as many people informed me the next day when I started to move again.

Mike Phillips, ovely neighbour

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Black Pudding - King of Breakfast

After finding black gold in Chinatown, I scoured my cookbook collection for suitable black pud recipes. My first stop was obviously Fergus Henderson's incredible 'The Whole Beast - Nose To Tail Eating'. He calls it blood cake and dishes up the pudding with fried eggs. I did look at two others for further inspiration. The Bible contained countless variations for black pudding/boudin noir and I also thumbed through porn-heavy Boulevard and found a sound variation by an Irish chap called John Desmond. His BP recipe used a 7 cup dish for the final baking. I did have a 7-cup terrine dish by Pyrex so it seemed that my weights and measures should match the Boulevard recipe roughly, but I did make a few substitutions.

You will need, for a large pud able to serve about 6-8 dudes for breakfast or dinner:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp port
1/2 tsp each of mustard, fennel and cumin seeds
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 crumbled bay leaf
1lb in total of pork meat and fat - I used 1/4 lb of chilled streaky bacon and 3/4 lb of ground pork
1 1/4 cups of fresh pigs blood
1 1/4 cup of cereal(s) - I used a cup of cooked rice and 1/4 cup of corn meal
1/2 cup of mixed fresh herbs - I used sage, tarragon, parsley, thyme, oregano.
1 tbsp Maldon sea salt
1 tsp smoked paprika pepper
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large beaten egg

Sweat the onion in the oil for a few minutes until soft and add the port. Cover, and cook for about 20 mins on low heat, taking care not to brown the onions. Allow to cool and reserve. Take the fennel mustard and cumin seeds, bay leaf and red pepper flakes and warm in a skillet over a low flame until they release some of their oils into the air. Allow to cool, whizz in a spice blender with the bay leaf until powdery and reserve. Chop the bacon into the smallest pieces you can , and add to the ground pork in a bowl. Combine with all the other ingredients and mix very well for a few minutes with a spoon or your hands if you're brave. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Put the mixture into the terrine dish, cover tightly with foil and then into a large hotel pan. Add boiling water until it come 2/3 of the way up the terrine dish, and back for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the ban marie, and allow to cool for 2 hours, before refrigerating overnight.

I woke up with a start and all I could think about was carving my creation up and serving it as part of the traditional Full English breakfast. OK, it wasn't the FULL English, a few items were not present - sausage, mushrooms, maybe some beans. I sliced some of the loaf and cut some small rounds from it. I popped them under the grill for a few minutes with tomatoes, bacon and fried an egg and hey presto. I reached for the HP, made some tea and toast and got stuck in. Tremendous.

Surprising Chinatown

What to with a long Memorial Day weekend? I fancied taking the opportunity to chain myself to the kitchen in front of a large AC unit and whirring fan for 3 days, rolling up my sleeves and really getting down to some serious cooking. But what would I cook? I considered something unusual seeing as I had plenty of time on my hands. A trip to Chinatown might be cool, they are well known for selling 'weird' shit. As I jumped on the F train north to East Broadway I was imagining some crisply cooked goose, maybe something big and bloody to throw on the barbie, or perhaps a medley of seafood, shellfish and lots of sauce Vierge or tarragon butter. In the blistering heat, I headed from the subway west along Canal, enjoying the bustle of one of NY's busiest streets.

What was once part of a thriving Italian community, Mott Street, north off Canal, is now festooned with Chinese markets, most of them selling green produce or fresh fish. I did poke around in a few shops, eyeing the bored looking fish in tanks and oggling feisty lobsters in glass cages vying for space. One shop had a bucket outside full of live frogs, and I thought at one moment I might make some golden fried grenouille. But I just wasn't feeling the fish or amphibia, and I stumbled back south across Canal to Bayard Street, home of some solid butcher shops. I headed straight for Bayard Meat Market, a first rate and incredibly low cost meat vendor. I saw some pork loin, which I thought could be a great thing to barbecue, but it looked a bit 'wet' and that turned me off. They had some virtuous beef fillets also, but I denied their presence in the shopping trolley as I'd been eating a lot of cow as of late. I couldn't resist purchasing some of those splendid little red sausages called lop cheung, and piled high next to these were some salted duck legs. I'd never even seen these things before so they went in the bag too, for consumption at a later date or raw on the subway home. I was also tempted by the dried quail, but I had no idea what I would do with that. I paid the nice lady at the till a dn headed out again into the hot sun. I was very tempted to duck into one of the many noodle shops for a chilled beer and some pig knuckles to chew on, but I remained focused and I promised myslef suitable rewards when my main task was completed.

When I hit the junction of Bayard and Elizabeth, I spotted a butcher I hadn't seen before. The plastic sign was peeling off the brick, but I could make out the words 'Han May Meat'. An old Chinese woman manned the counter and bid me good day in Chinese (I think) as I entered. My eyes flicked down to the counter to see if here I could buy anything worthy of a long weekend's attentions. And holy shit, did I find it. Resting near the back, in 2 quart containers, I found pig's blood! Finding this had been a personal quest of mine. Numerous Google searches had produced nothing and pleading calls to my local Brooklyn meat emporiums had yielded nothing to date. I couldn't get my wallet out fast enough.

The bucket of blood had a pink stained label on it reading $2. What a fucking bargain. As I paid, I also saw a sign in Chinese and English, thankfully, advertising caul fat. Now that can be tough to locate too, so I had a bag of that, for something a la crepinette. There was no doubt, I was in the zone now and feeling a swell of bravado I also asked her for one of the large plump-looking rear pigs trotters. My mind was racing with the possibilities. Black pudding! Crispy stuffed pig's feet! meaty stuff wrapped in fat! YES! I think all in all I spent about $8. Incredible, no?

My reward came in the form of two hastily quaffed Kronenbourgs, from the cold beaded bar taps at Les Enfants Terribles on Canal Street, where Chinatown turns into the LES, and right next to my F train stop. It was a welcome break from the heat and I now know 2 placed in NYC that have my favourite beer on tap. The music was prety good too, and a brief glance at the menu looked interesting. Perhaps a visit to sample to the food would be a good idea.

I knew my huge trotter would need bathing for 24 hours, so I chucked it in a big pail of water when I got home and, sweating, I rounded up the ingredients for a full-bodied, rich and devillishly porky black pudding. I scoured my cookbook collection for suitable recipes. My first stop was Fergus Henderson's incredible 'The Whole Beast - Nose To Tail Eating'. He calls it blood cake and dishes up the pudding with fried eggs. I did look at two others also for further inspiration. The Bible contained countless variations for black pudding/boudin noir and I also thumbed through porn-heavy Boulevard and found a sound variation by an Irish chap called John Desmond. His BP recipe used a 7 cup dish for the final baking. I did have a 7-cup terrine dish by Pyrex so it seemed that my weights and measures should match the Boulevard recipe roughly, but I did make lots of substitutions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A trip to Japan

With Uncle Boogie as our Asian grub correspondent, we've recently been to Korea, Vietnam. This last week he introduced us to Japan, a country with simple, fresh cuisines. Perhaps it was the simplicity in their preparations that Boogie wanted to demonstrate this week.

Miso soup - Fried tofu with dipping sauces - Wonton-wrapped shrimp with dipping sauce - Eel donburi - Green tea ice cream.

Miso soup is an easy peasy broth made by dissolving miso (fermented soy bean paste) in 'dashi', a stock made from dried fish (sardine or tuna) kelp or mushroom. It's a traditional Japanese soup eaten mainly for breakfast with some rice in it, although everybody in Japan eats miso soup at least once a day at some point. I suspect our boy used instant miso soup which is only sold outside Japan. It has all the elements in powder form and one simply adds hot water to form the soup. We gulped ours from his posh Japanese bowls, chewing on the nori garnish. A traditional start to the meal then.

The tofu was rolled in panko and it hit the hot oil with a splatter. Jason did have serious issues keeping the breadcrumbs on the tofu. We discussed the possibility of rolling it in seasoned flour, whipped egg and then the panko, but he took a short cut. It came out OK, but the lack of seasoning made it bland. About as bland as tofu can get. Personally, unless it gets some proper treatment, I hate the stuff. Luckily, he had an industrial size jar of duck sauce on hand and we swiped each silky nugget through it to add some much needed flavour.

Next up, and for me the best course, were his handmade shrimp wontons. He blitzed the shrimp with green onion and seasonings and then spooned the mixture into a moist wonton wrapper. The edges are dotted with egg to make a seal. These hit the hot oil too. Perhaps it was too hot, and the little triangles crisped up faster than you can say Tonkatsu. I don't mind a good black or golden brown surface on anything, the Maillard reaction adds flavour. I will willingly eat burned toast. These wontons were great, black at the edges with morsels of moist shrimp and onion inside. Good job.

Next up, the eel donburi. I like this stuff a lot. Donburi means 'rice bowl dish' in Japanese. This one consisted of eel grilled with a sweet sauce. The eels had already been 'spatchcocked' or halved and spread flat. With a paintbrush and a Tony Hart glint in his eye, he painted the fishy canvas with sweet sauce. A dab here. A dab there. Et voila! Under the grill they went for some heat treatment. He made some rice and sliced some cucumber and we were good to go. I knew what to expect. Eel donburi features regularly in my lunch options. I work near 'Little Japan' on Manhattan's 41st Street and the mighty Zaiya do a great version. Boogie's was pretty good too.

Green tea ice cream? You're having a laugh. Well first off, why put something 'healthy' with something so 'unhealthy'. I know balance is important, but this is getting silly. Secondly, he just bought a tub of it. I'd have been impressed had he made some from scratch and no doubt I'd have pretended to enjoy it. I think it's quite possibly the worst flavour in the world. Ice cream should be fruity or sweet, surely? I do have a certain respect for those Japanese pioneers on FujiTV's 'Iron Chef', who make ice cream out of practically anything. Wasabi. Fish. And I'm sure you've seen Food Network's 'Iron Chef America' advert, where using the secret ingredient, trout, Morimoto suggests he can make "trout ice cream, with eyeball." A fucking eyeball. Testament to the brave Japanese palate. Mine is just not ready for these exotic variations yet. Gimme time. I'm certain I'll come round.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Death & Company (443 East 6th Street)

With a stomach full of tasty burgers swimming in Porkslap (see post below), we headed off to Death & Company (443 East 6th Street) for some fine beverages. D&C is yet another of Community Board 3's (CB3) victims, but I'm happy to say that it's now re-opened & serving up some of the best drinks in the city.

The bar is named for a Prohibition-era art movement which produced seemingly anti-alcohol propaganda posters--which were actually encrypted maps to local speakeasies.

The decor is 'speakeasy', much like Little Branch - very nice. Our bartender, Brian, was amazing. Stupidly, I ordered a Duvel to start (anyone can pour a bottle of beer), but I wised up for the 2nd round & got an Americana.

The place is swanky, the drinks are excellent, although not cheap - but worth it for the experience. If you're in the 'hood, check Death & Company out!

Royale (157 Avenue C)

I had a chance to check out the swanky Burger Bar, Royale (157 Avenue C @ 10th Street) this weekend with some friends that were visiting from out of town.

I've been meaning to go there for quite some time, so I was very excited to finally get a chance to taste their food. It was pretty quiet as it was a Sunday night & we were seated immediately. The decor is cool, TVs beamed out sports & the staff were very friendly. I ordered a cheeseburger (medium-rare obviously) with Cheddar cheese. I was somewhat surprised by the lack of cheese selection (Cheddar or American), but I wasn't going to let that get in the way. I also ordered my new favorite beer, Porkslap, which was a jaw-dropping (& probably liver-failing) bargain at $3.

The burger arrived in a no-frills basket, cooked to perfection. I literally might have found the perfect burger. Needless to say, the thing was dispatched with haste.

At $6 a pop for an amazing burger & with $3 Porkslaps, it looks like I won't be going to Corner Bistro any more.

Inspirational Chefs II: Jacques Pepin

I have a big soft spot for Pepin. He can make any classical dish look simple as he coaxes you step-by-step through anything he prepares. I tune in as often as I can to WLIW, the public network, on sundays and mondays to catch any episode, even if it is a repeat.

From impoverished beginnings in Bourg-en-Bresse in France, his first tate of the culinary world was in the family restaurant. His mother spared nothing, nada, not a morsel. A true 'chef' in the original French fashion wasting nothing. I admire that, and I think these thrifty roots have dictated JP's philosophy to a certain extent. He will find uses for anything. Even the water he's boiled meat or vegetables in. A man after my own heart. I got a clip 'round the ear if I wasted any food.

Pepin spent a long time in his family restaurant in Bourg-en-Bresse, Le Pelican, and it was at Pelican that he found a passion for cooking and bringing out the best in any ingredient. From here, where he spent an informative childhood, he trained under Lucien Diat at Plaza Athenee in Paris where he learned the workings of a tremedously busy kitchen and the importance of consistency and perfection. Pepin was becoming famous and recognised as a brilliant young chef, and President Gaillard made him his personal chef, when he was found in the French navy cooking for officers during the Algerian War of the late 1950s and early 60s. He cooked wonderfully extravagant dishes for the French premier at Matignon, and then in 1958, during France's darkest hour in postwar history, the present government toppled and one General Charles De Gaulle took power. He was fond of lamb and hake, and Pepin spend many long hours preparing lamb and fruit coupe for the General and his guests.

He longed to come to the New World though, and America beckoned. In 1959, when Pepin's green card had arrived and his English was up to scratch, he set sail aboard the Ascania from Le Havre, destined for New York. He found a job at the famous Le Pavillion where he toiled under oppressive heat with fellow Frenchman, and it was here that Pepin started to mingle with high society. Businessmen, and the Kennedys. He was offered the job as the Kennedy's personal chef at the White House, but Pepin was entered in a college course at Columbia and he enjoyed his life in NYC too much and turned down the job (he was slightly concerned about the publicity also.) He plumped for a job with Howard Johnson's empire where he and other colleagues were destined to develop ways to keep food consistent, for large restaurant chains. He developed methods to keep clam chowder and fried chicken - national staples - consistently delicious no matter where you eat them.

Pepin was becoming a favourite of the nation, and along with Julia Child, possibly America's most well known cook, he embarked on a TV career. In the 70s and 80s, Pepin was rarely out of the limelight and forever the archetypal TV chef to a nation discovering European cuisines and unusual ingredients. Indeed in that repsect, Japcques Pepin and Julia Child have much to be praised for. To an audience hungry for more, they delivered the World on a plate.

A few years older and wiser in the modern day, and unlike any other TV chef, especially Mr Lagasse who looks SO disjointed and awkward in front of the camera, Jacques is so smooth, slick, and he doesn't waste a single second. In the brief moments that he's not demonstrating techniques on dressing mushrooms, breaking down lobster or the correct way to present something in the Borgeoise fashion, he's giving away valuable information or timeless tips on the best way to prepare an unusual ingredient or keeping your knives sharper than a surgeon's scalpel.

"And that's it." Jacques' final words after preparing any dish on the telly. He makes it looks so easy, and isn't that always the sign of a true prfoessional? My wife loves to watch him also, though I doubt it is for the dishes he prepaes in front of the camera. I often find her marvelling at his cute French accent, as if my English one wasn't enough.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin