Saturday, April 16, 2016

Thai Oyster Omelette (Hoi Tod - หอยทอด)

People who head to Bangkok would probably be surprised that pad thai is not the most popular street food. It's something called hoi tod.

This is a crispy oyster omelette that is irresistible because it tickles all the different parts of your food longings. There is the super crispy, slightly soft, slithery continuum between the crisp edges, the eggs and the oysters. The oysters, eggs and fish sauce add an absurd umami. The scallions, garlic and cilantro are just classical tastes and the crispy bean sprouts add textural contrast once for added measure.

The recipe is clearly not Thai. It seems to be a Chinese idea ("scallion pancakes") adapted to Thai tastes. However, it's vastly more seductive than pad thai.

Hoi (หอย) refers to any shellfish really. You could use mussels but the one thing that is absolutely necessary is that you shuck them and keep them raw. This is a bigger pain for mussels than oysters (provided you know how to shuck them safely and cleanly.)

The hardest part about this recipe is that you don't have a flat iron surface with a roaring fire underneath. An iron skillet or a non-stick pan are going to come closest provided you pre-heat them and really get them going.

Remember this is street food so you'll have to keep everything ready ("mise-en-place") so that it can go in at high speed. This recipe is really going to test your classical French cooking skills even though it's so easy that it's the most popular street dish in Bangkok.

The recipe is adapted from David Thompson's book but it's so popular that there are tons of recipes all over the web. Clearly, this is a much-loved item.

David Thompson who's probably the leading authority in the world on Thai cooking calls for a mixture of mung bean flour and rice flour but it's hard to find the former. The latter works excellently. However, if you have access to an Indian grocery and bung in some urad flour, it's going to achieve the same result. The goal is crisp and it really resembles more than anything a dosa except it's not fermented and a second layer of eggs is going on top.

Coherence in the French manner of a "perfect" omelette is simply not necessary. Even though you can rather trivially make it into a perfect flipped omelette, such precision for a street dish is rather besides the point. Don't sweat this part. It's far more important that you cook it individually and serve it as quickly as possible.

The dish originated as a fast snack at seaside towns in Thailand before migrating to the rest of the country. So did Sriracha. They are match made in culinary heaven.

The CC's friend noted that while the oysters added a perfect counterpoint, you could easily envision the dish with something that supplied the umami like shiitake mushrooms and the CC would concur. It would also work with something like snails. (This heresy is probably going to make the Thai internet explode with outrage but that's par for the course for a much loved dish.)

There is a savage irony to the fact that notes for a simple street dish are so copious but what can the CC do? It's a choice between an expensive airplane ticket to Thailand or cheap local oysters and making it himself.

That's street food. You need the culture otherwise you are stuck working hard to achieve something that's both dirt-cheap and fast.

Whither, progress?

Ingredients

(per serving)

1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp salt
cold water

3 oysters (shucked)

2 tbsp peanut oil

2 eggs
1 tbsp fish sauce (nahm pla)
1 red chilli sliced fine (prik kee noo)
1 tbsp sugar
1 scallion - both white and green - sliced really fine
white pepper

2 sprigs cilantro (minced)

bean sprouts

1/2 tbsp minced garlic

Notes

[1] The Thai overwhelming prefer "white pepper" over "black pepper" for aesthetic reasons. They don't like the black flecks. Sorry but this is one of those details that the CC is simply not going to sweat. Certainly not at brunch.

[2] The traditional "choice" is between "crispy" and "extra crispy". This is trivial to achieve by increasing the proportion of rice/lentil batter and bunging it in at intervals. (Just read below the understand the process.)

[3] The oysters will have plenty of oyster liquor. Separate it, filter it -- East Coast oysters have plenty of grit -- and add it to the egg batter.

Recipe

First, make the rice flour batter by mixing the rice flour, salt and cold water. The cold water will make it go into suspension faster. It should be slightly thin, slightly salty and when tasted after 10 minutes, not taste like flour. Add some more water otherwise.

Mix the eggs, fish sauce, sugar, chilis, scallions, 1 tbsp of the minced cilantro, and white pepper as a batter in a separate bowl. You won't need salt since the fish sauce is plenty salty.

Pre-heat your skillet. It should be as hot as possible.

Add a tbsp of peanut oil. When hot, ladle the rice batter all around it. It will bubble furiously and start getting crispy right away. Let it cook for a minute or so and gently loosen the edges. Cut into four pieces and push them towards the edges of the skillet.

Add the other tbsp of the oil in the center. Add the minced garlic and let it color a bit. Add the oysters in the center and let them cook for 30 seconds.

Pour the egg batter, gently all over the pan, adding a little bit over the crispier rice batter bits so that it makes it into an omelette. Let it cook. You can flip it if you like but not necessary. The CC prefers that the outside be crisp and the inside soft.

Serve over a bed of bean sprouts with the extra minced cilantro on top. Sriracha on the side.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Japanese Five-Grain Rice (五穀米)

Every country has a healthier version of its staples in the modern world. This is a recipe that you are unlikely to find in a standard Japanese cookbook.

The number "five" (go - 五) has a special significance in Japanese cooking. Traditional Japanese cuisine — washoku (和食) — has long been characterized by the principles of  "five colors, five tastes, five ways, five senses, five outlooks".

It's really a shorthand for how to make meals more nutritious and serves as an organizing principle for daily meals. (It sounds hard but the CC assures you that it's shockingly easy in practice.)

The five grains mentioned obviously feature rice but there are other grains from the wheat family. They add both texture and nutrition.

The recipe below features -- white rice, brown rice, black rice, barley (mugi) and oats but in the modern day, you'll see everything from Job's tears (hato mugi) to farro to quinoa.

The general principles stand though. You want rice and you want a complementary set of grains for nutrition and texture.

The black rice turns everything purple and the dish is visually arresting. It also has a nutritionally complete set of amino acids and with the addition of the sesame provides a complete meal (even though that's not how it would be served.)

Lest this sound some like some "austere" dish from the land of peace, love and granola, the CC will tell you that you will be chowing this dish down faster than you can say "roast pork".

It's herushi (= healthy), it's visually appealing, it's delicious, it's nutritious, and it's addictive!

It's a modern-day classic of Japanese cooking.

Ingredients

1/2 cup white rice
1/4 cup brown rice
1/4 cup black rice
1/4 cup barley
1/4 cup rolled oats

2 1/2 cups dashi

1 tbsp sesame seeds
salt

Notes

[1] The proportions are 2:1:1:1:1 with the white rice being 2. That adds up to 6 units so you want about 10 units of the dashi. You can always add more water later.

[2] The various soaking times are different because the stuff is cooked together. If you don't follow this, the softer stuff will be mush while the harder grains have barely softened.

[3] The sesame seeds act as a white counterpoint to the purple. They are also necessary for nutritional reasons. The fat is needed for the absorption of the amino acids. The CC also sometimes sprinkles gomashio (= sesame and salt roasted and powdered into a fine white powder.)

[4] The purpose of letting the dish to sit for a few minutes afterwards is that the starches bind the dish together. It makes it easier to eat with chopsticks. If you're not a chopsticks person, ignore this point. Also, this dish is made for bento boxes. It's awesome at room temperature.

[5] The dish is a game of texture. It's chewy and each bite is different because of all the various grains. This is one of the reasons it's "addictive".

Recipe

Soak the black rice in a bowl for at least 4 hours.

Soak the brown rice in a bowl for at least 2 hours.

Soak the barley in a bowl for at least 2 hours.

Wash the white rice in copious water until it runs clear. Wash the oats too. Let them drain together in a colander. (This level of "soaking" is sufficient to get the right texture. You don't want them too soft.)

Drain the water from the other three components and mix together.

Combine the five grains, the dashi with some salt and bring it to a boil. Let it cook in an open pot till the liquid has been absorbed, roughly 10-12 minutes. Check that the grains are cooked. If not, add some water and let cook further. They should still have a chewy bite (= al dente).

Turn off the heat and let it sit for 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly roast the sesame seeds in a skillet till they are golden. Set aside.

Sprinkle the rice with the sesame seeds and serve.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Controlling Texture

One of the biggest blunders in the CC's life is not realizing that for certain dishes, if you wish to control the texture precisely, you must soak ingredients for variable amounts before you cook them together.

DOH!!!

Make that:

Double-DOH!!!

The CC certainly knew the general principle but failed to apply it in specific cases mostly in the case of rice where the CC is not really in his natural element. This is just sad and this public shaming is his mea culpa.

To put a positive spin on it, we're always learning and will continue to do so - hopefully! - till the day we die.

What's the recipe? Oh there's one but the CC hasn't quite nailed it perfectly yet so you'll just have to wait. Gotta learn a few tricks from the marketing guys. Keep 'em waiting.

In the interim, may all your food have awesome texture!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

An Apology to Mexico

Every once in a while the CC needs to get off his high horse. It's never a particularly pleasant process but honesty and scientific accuracy demands that one do so.

The claim has been made that Mexican dried shrimp were the "best" and the CC argued that best is, at best, subjective. Here's the original recipe where he argued that it doesn't matter.

The CC takes it back. It does matter.

The CC walked past a sign at a known store which said "Tenemos camaron seco (+ pescado seco)" and the CC instinctively knew what that meant. Awesome stuff with, at best, a quasi-legal status.

Rocking!!!

So he walked in and asked for it. It was lunch hour and the Mexicans just had a conniption about the
CC asking for it. Some crap was offered and the CC just said, "No."

Common sense prevailed and a bag was produced.  After about two minutes, the salesmanship element kicked in and a second bag was pushed onto the CC at a "discount."

The CC recognizes that the price was more than a touch speculative but that's the way the commercial markets work. It's not the end of the world.

The excellence comes from a singular point. It's just shrimp and salt dried in the sun. Nothing else.

Well, these babies kick ass and the Chinese stuff is crap. This is the real deal and CC will bow down to true excellence when he sees it.

Now the CC is one with the sign.

Tenemos camaron seco -- We have dried shrimp!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Getting Medieval on the World's Tastes

The format of medieval cuisine has waned over the centuries but if you squint hard enough, you can still see its antecedents reflected in modern food.

Medieval cuisine — at least in the European sense — was characterized by its use of exotic spices and ingredients. Meat was expensive with game being even more so. There's heavy use of black pepper, saffron, cardamom and ginger and a reliance on a sweet-sour taste. Nuts make their way into most dishes either in the native form or as a thickener – almond milk is practically a cliché.

Most cooking was hard not just from the point of the expense of ingredients and firewood but labor as well. There were no modern conveniences. Everything was done by hand. When we talk about "medieval cuisine", we end up inevitably talking about the nobility because that's what's documented and they're the only ones who could afford to do so.

The modern conception finds some of these dishes to be strange. Meat cooked in sugar syrup or honey is relatively alien to the modern palate – even though it tastes terrific. Our tongues are still the same but our trained response seems to be a little off-center. (You can still see it in dishes like pork chops with apple sauce except the sauce is now served separately.)

Even the format of the meal is a little strange. The stomach needed to be "opened" with an apéritif (literally from Latin: aperire - "to open"), then followed by vegetables, then "heavy meats", then "closed" with aged cheese and a digestif.

If you recognize the above as the slightly modified format of a classic French meal then you will understand the medieval roots of modern eating. (The placement of the salad has been moved around a few times by the French and Italians – and the Americans – but that's fodder for another post.)

Medieval cuisine in its traditional sense but with New World enhancements is most clearly seen today in Persian and Indian cooking. Indian is not that surprising because most spices originally came from India and classical Indian cooking borrows heavily from the Persian format so they are joined at the hip. In fact, most cooking styles borrow heavily from the Persian format given that they were the original Empire spread over vast swathes of modern-day Asia, Africa and Europe. You can see the same formats spread with the medieval Arabic Empire over Northern Africa into Spain and all the way to Sicily.

The point is that these cooking styles have still maintained their "medieval nature" — there's heavy use of spices, saffron, black pepper, ginger, nuts, and a marked preference for sweet-sour tastes.

A slight detour must be made at this point about why spices lost their use in Europe as opposed to modern-day Iran and India where they are still as popular as they were a millenia ago.

Most spices were imported from India to imperial Europe. The spices were a province of the nobility and both Constantinople and Venice were founded on the basis of taxation of the spice trade. In modern economic terms, the middlemen made the spices expensive. This was the whole basis of trying to find a new sea route to India – disintermediation – a way to bypass the taxation. Once these routes were found, and the New World accidentally discovered, the price of spices went down precipitously because of the lack of taxation and the fact that alternatives were found to grow spices in the newly discovered Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and Dominican Republic), various islands in Indonesia, etc.

After that we come to a cliché of human nature. Anything that the hoi-polloi discovers is anathema to the upper-classes just like the old money on Fifth Ave. would disdain the Brooklyn hipsters. And so, spices fell out of favor with the upper-classes in Europe in favor of a "purer cleaner taste" — reverse snobbery at its very finest.

The critical point is that these ideas never did fall out of favor in the places where the spices were grown where the distinction between "expensive" v/s "cheap" simply didn't exist. Spices were always cheap across the growing areas and the swathe populated by traders traversing routes that were not subject to taxation. Places like Sicily are more like the lands that "time forgot" — they had no strategic value and they kept the formats even though their neighbors did not.

This is what explains meats cooked in cashewnut milk with heavy spices in classical Awadhi cuisine even though the cashews are New World – they would've been almonds originally — or the love of almond granita in Sicily. Sicilian dishes like sardines cooked in a sweet-sour sauce or the very Persian "Jeweled Rice" (javaher polow) are all modern-day embodiments of medieval cooking.

The past bleeds into the present — and in a very aggressive format. It's just hard to see until you squint just right.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Petrified Bacon

The title is a reference to an absolutely brilliant piece by the sculptor Isamu Noguchi and part of a series of "petrified" works which also feature petrified rye bread, cheese, sugar and ice cream!

The reference, of course, is to the famous meat-shaped stone (肉形石) in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

While the CC understands the need not to touch art, never before has he seen sculpture which has such an overwhelming tactile quality. You just want to reach out and touch it. It positively screams for it.

What's clear is the artist's unerring eye in identifying natural rock samples and then sculpting them minimally to perfection.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Roasted Marrow Bones with Parsley Salad

The CC has been craving to make this recipe ever since he ate it at a restaurant a few years ago. It took a while to source the marrow bones and a little longer for the weather to get cold enough to make it.

The recipe is based on one that Fergus Henderson re-popularized. It's a complete classic and deserves to be so. It's also completely straightforward and will make your cooking seem fancier than it is if you serve it at a dinner party. (If you scarf it down by yourself, which you very well might, this blog is a judgment-free zone.)

The killer step is the combination of the French way of serving (with fleur de sel) and the English way of serving (with a tart parsley salad) both on toasted crusty bread. The English and the French ways are fairly related since La Manche is not very wide and the Norman Invasion is now more than a millenium old.

Ingredients

(serves 4)

Marrow Bones

8 marrow bones

Parsley Salad

3 cups parsley leaves
1 large shallot (sliced into paper-thin quarter-rings)
2 tbsp salt-preserved capers (de-salted, chopped)

1 tbsp champagne vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mustard

black pepper (lots!)

fleur de sel (to serve)
toasted crusty bread (4-6 per serving)

Notes

[1] It's very rich so a little goes a long way. Two bones each per serving works very well although three each with some extra toast would make a nutritious complete meal.

[2] The salad is best assembled at the last minute and it needs to be tarter than the usual salad so go with a 1:2 ratio of vinegar to olive oil rather than the traditional 1:3.

[3] The capers need to be preserved in salt not vinegar.

[4] The tiniest dab of mustard actually gives a faint background taste that is really great.

[5] The CC rebelled against the original recipe which finely dices the shallots. Extremely fine quarter-rings give it a much more refined texture which contrasts the salad against the rich creamy marrow.

[6] The first step in the recipe is entirely optional. It's very chef-y and it is aesthetic in nature not functional. Skip it if necessary.

[7] The timing of this recipe crucially depends on whether you start with thawed bones prepped or frozen bones. The times and the size of the bones matter greatly. Chez CC, we serve as they get ready, the sizzling bones are always coming out on time. Sharing works wonders.

Recipe

If you are going to prep the bones, dump them with ice into a bowl with two tablespoons of salt and cover with cold water. Every three hours, drain the water which will be bloody and repeat the process. Four times and you will have immaculate white bones and there will be no more blood in the water. This step is really aesthetic. You can roast the frozen bones directly. The blood will turn black when roasted. (Chefs are control-freaks about precision so this step really helps because the bones are now thawed and can be controlled precisely.)

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Make the toast and set aside. Slice a baguette on the bias and let it toast in the oven. Depending on the slice size, it should be 4-5 minutes.

Clean the bones and make sure they are absolutely dry. If they are short you can put them vertically, with the flat sized down. Otherwise lay them horizontally. Don't sweat this.

Roast in the oven for 25 minutes. It will take 45 minutes if they are frozen. The marrow will be quivering like jelly and slightly puffy when it's done.

Meanwhile, assemble the parsley salad. Make the vinaigrette. Toss the salad.

Serve the roasted marrow bones with the parsley salad, toast and fleur de sel on the side. Eating is a matter of topping the toast with whatever combination your heart desires.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Scotch Woodcock

The CC has long maintained that if one wants to have an appreciation for English food, one must look to the period before the Great War (World War I) which destroyed the aristocracy.

Here's a very old recipe with a strange name. However, it's perfectly at ease today in the age of umami even if the 19th century lords wouldn't have heard of the word or the concept.

The recipe is truly spectacular at many many different levels. It's umami-laden which makes it irresistible; it's nutritious and attractive to look it, it has a variety of textures that makes eating it a sheer delight and it's breakfast!

Like all aristocratic recipes, it's a little bit time-consuming (although not as much as you think thanks to modern-day devices and conveniences.)

What is it?

It's excellent bread (or sometimes toast) that's lavishly spread with anchovy butter on which are piled soft scrambled eggs (made with cream) on which are piled more anchovies and assorted herbs.

It's relatively free-form when it comes to the herbs. English cooking was fairly easy-going with the herbs even back in the day. It could be chives or parsley or even salted capers. Seasonality and all that.

What really makes the clock tick, as they say, is the anchovies. The umami is the rock star and for that you must make the anchovy butter but it's straightforward with a mortar and pestle and a refrigerator — spare some pity for the poor sod that had to churn the mixture with ice to get it "to set" before refrigeration.

The CC's favorite part is that the anchovy butter is called "Gentleman's Relish". Now there's a term the CC could get behind.

Ingredients

Anchovy Butter

4 anchovies
8 tbsp butter

Scrambled Eggs (per serving)

2 eggs
2 tbsp cream
salt
pepper

Misc (per serving)

1 slice rye bread
1 anchovy (neatly separated into two fillets)
minced herbs (parsley OR chives OR capers)

Recipe

Note: This recipe is quite salty from the anchovies. Don't add too much salt in the eggs.

Anchovy Butter

First, make the butter. This is best done ahead of time. Pull the butter out of the fridge and let it soften. Fillet the anchovies, wash to get rid of the extra salt and pound to a paste. When the butter is softened, whip it with a fork till soft (called: "creaming the butter") and fold the anchovy paste in to make a compound butter.

You can take this and make a torchon with some plastic wrap if you want to get fancy, or just put it in a ramekin, cover it with some wrap and place it in the fridge.

This is best done ahead of time. This stuff lasts a long time even though the CC will personally assure you that you will plow through it in no time.

Scrambled Eggs

For the scrambled eggs, mix the eggs with the cream, salt and pepper. Scramble them over high heat so that the curds are relatively large and dry. (This is in distinct difference to the French-style of scrambling eggs which is over low heat where the eggs are soft and creamy and have almost no curds.)

Set aside.

Assembly

Spread anchovy butter over the bread. Pile some of the scrambled eggs on top of it. Put two of the half-anchovy fillets in an X over them. Sprinkle with the herbs and serve.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Innocence of Lamb's Lettuce & Parsley

It used be a well-known fact that herbs have "other" properties than just the ability to enhance and garnish food.

Much of this information is narrated in folk songs and folk tales and has made its way down to us in extraordinarily encoded form. Decoding this is, of course, the raison d'être of an academic.

Perhaps you have heard of a classic tale called Rapunzel?

The Brothers Grimm are responsible for its transmission to us. There are two version of their tales — one in 1814 and a revised and annotated version in 1857. As the brothers grew older, they systematically bowdlerized the tales they had collected themselves, stripping them of their sexual content and violence. The earlier versions are unambiguously more interesting.

Let's recap the tale of Rapunzel — a pregnant woman craves "rapunzel" and goes into the neighboring garden to get it. When caught, she agrees to give over the child to the witch. The witch imprisons the female child in a tower. One day, a prince hears her singing and climbs into the tower using her hair. The witch finds out, and she pushes the prince off the tower blinding him. Love prevails and the prince's vision is restored.

Rapunzel is a weed also known as lamb's lettuce. This is a total substitution on the part of the Brothers Grimm and the association with lamb and "innocence" should be noted. Even they weren't above keeping some of the resonance in the story even though it gives it a totally different feel.

The original story is called Persinette and "persil" is French for parsley. Persinette could loosely be translated as "Little Miss Parsley".

The pregnant woman was craving parsley. Most adult readers here would know that pregnant women don't really crave green herbs. Salt, sugar, sour stuff, sure but herbs?

The tale is coded.

She wanted the parsley to concoct a brew because parsley is an abortifacient. The child is not wanted. The "witch" is a woman with a garden who knows the properties of herbs and grows them. Her taking the child away could easily be seen as an act of generosity not of cruelty.

Additionally, the Grimm Brothers change another key component of the tale. In the classic tale, the witch finds out the existence of the prince because she is heavier than the prince. However, the original tale has Persinette ask the witch why her dress doesn't fit any more and feels tighter and tighter.

She's pregnant and Persinette and the Prince have been doing plenty of the ol' in-an'-out rumpy-pumpy.

Now the tale comes full circle. Like mother, like daughter.

Note that the girl is innocent before she is born and still innocent in the sense that she has no clue about sex. This only makes sense in a deeply Christian world of "original sin" as would be typical of an European folk tale.

Also note that the witch's motivations make more sense in the original version. You could easily write a version from her point of view making her the heroine not the villainess.

The tale has so much more resonance when seen in the correct light.

To bring a more modern feeling to the same idea, have you heard of the Simon & Garfunkel's classic "Scarborough Fair"? The song is an old English folk song and the lyrics are coded.

The opening lyrics go as:
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.
What on earth are parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme doing there?

"Going to Scarborough Fair" refers to the act of "making the beast with two backs". Bumping uglies, hooking up, doing the dirty in modern parlance.

A concoction made of parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme was a well-known abortifacient. The parsley, in particular as pointed above, is an important component.

The song was written in 1966 when abortion was illegal in the US. It's not clear whether Simon & Garfunkel knew but it seems extraordinarily hard to believe that two talented intelligent men didn't know what they were singing even if their audience was clueless.

A cursory search on the web suggests these ideas are still well-known and prevalent in countries that ban abortion. Parsley is far more easily available that RU-486. Less effective perhaps but definitely easier to find.

The deeper one penetrates into the art of cooking, the more one is confronted with the more elemental and universal aspects of humanity.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Huevos Rotos

After the insane tapas party, the CC needed to make something basic and elemental. He did some searching and, lo and behold, he had all the ingredients necessary for a nutritious and tasty breakfast.

This is not a "fast" dish. However, you don't need to do much. Set the timer and get away.

Best eggs ever. They combine the magic of "home fries" and poached eggs in one easy dish.

You need to serve them with jamon serrano, of course.

Ingredients

(serves 2)

1 large onion (chopped coarsely)
1 green pepper (chopped into matchsticks)
3 fingerling potatoes (chopped into thin rounds)
4 cloves garlic (minced fine)

4 eggs

1/4 cup parsley
1 tsp paprika (agridolce)

olive oil
salt
pepper

Recipe

You need a frying pan that has a lid.

Heat up some olive oil in a pan. When it shimmers, toss in the onion and the garlic. Fry for a bit. Add the peppers and let them fry for a bit. Add the potatoes, turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting and let them cook. Add the paprika, salt and pepper. Let the potatoes cook for at least 25 minutes. Add the parsley and let cook for an additional 5 minutes. (Total of 30 minutes.)

Keep stirring while the potatoes cook. Every 10 minutes is sufficient. No need to break them up.

You will be able to smell the potatoes being done. It's unmistakable.

Spread the mixture evenly over the pan. Crack the four eggs in the four corners. Cover the pan and let cook for 4 minutes. You may need an extra minute but take the pan off the heat once the whites are set.

Serve the poached eggs - two per person with the potatoes below. The yolk will be barely set but that's perfect when you crack it and it coats the potatoes. Enjoy with the jamon in tow.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Power of Positive Drinking

After all this time, the CC decided to throw a serious tapas party.

The goal is drinking but the little nibbles do help the drinks go down. There was amontillado (of course!), cava and assorted Spanish wines. The stars are the little tidbits naturally.

The idea was to have a Spanish party but with nods to the Japanese izakaya tradition (same idea, different country!) and some inflections to the CC's heritage.

Since it's summer and the produce is mind-blowingly amazing, the CC kept it local so the ideas are inspired by analogous tapas dishes that the CC has sampled rather than recreating them literally.

Experienced readers (and eaters) should be able to recognize the thematic patterns of the five sections below.


Banderillas (assorted)
Salted Almonds
Pickled Cauliflower
Sautéed Shishito Peppers

Zucchini Carpaccio w/ Arbequina olive oil & pine nuts
Ensalada de "Cristianos y Moros"
(White & Black Bean Salad)
Karasumi with chives (Bottarga)
Zebra tomatoes w/ fior di sale
Gazpacho
Pan con tomate (with Jamon Iberico)

Chickpeas & Spinach
Clams in Green Sauce
Patatas Bravas

Bitter Orange & Olive Oil Cake

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Israeli White Bean Soup

There's an Israeli hole-in-the-wall restaurant that the CC has patronized for more than a decade now.

The owner is a curmudgeon who knows exactly how amazing his food is.

(For US readers: think Soup Nazi from Seinfeld and yes! the CC is perfectly aware of the idiocy and offensiveness of using the term "Israeli Nazi" but that is the only characterization that fits.)

Only two things soften him up — an appreciation for his cooking, and cute chicks, and the latter sometimes doesn't cut any mustard. He once tossed out out two clueless cute giggling girls. Then he turned to the CC and said, "They don't know anything about food."

The CC has always been on the good side but it took time and patience to become an insider. One fine day, the maestro said in a mocking and ironic way, "So you like my soup, eh?"

And that was that. The gates of paradise had been thrown open.

A decade later (yes! it's a slow burn), the CC asked him why his soup was so good and the answer was as blunt as the man, "Everyone knows the recipe. It takes time, and people don't want to spend the time."

The ingredients are humble, the technique is straightforward and there's nothing difficult about it.

People just don't want to take the time.

Ingredients

1 cup white beans

1 large red onion (diced fine)
4 cloves garlic (diced fine)

4 tbsp tomato paste
8 tomatoes (passed through a food mill)

4 tbsp olive oil

salt
pepper (lots!)

Recipe

Note 1: You can't hurry this recipe up. Don't even try. In fact, this is ideal for a slow cooker kind of situation except that since it involves two steps, it doesn't fit the mold of the slow cooker recipes.

Note 2: For most of the recipe, you are doing nothing. It's eminently week-day friendly. Set the timer and forget about it.

Note 3: It is very important to use fresh tomatoes. If you don't have any double down on the tomato paste. Do not use canned tomatoes. The final color of the soup should be a pale orange not a deep red characteristic of tomatoes. The beans are the star not the tomatoes.

Note 4: You may be tempted to add herbs — the dish is very Mediterranean and Israel is part of that Mediterranean culture but be judicious. Less is more here.

Heat up the olive oil in a pot. When it shimmers, add the onions and garlic. Let them cook at a medium heat until they are translucent. Do not let them caramelize. You want the color to be this sublimely clear white.

Add the beans and stir them around. Add 3 cups of water, salt and black pepper. Turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting. Let them cook for an hour. Sample to see if the beans are barely done.

When they still not cooked, add the tomato paste and the tomatoes. Cook for another 20 minutes. The acid in the tomatoes will slow down the cooking of the beans.

Check again that the beans are done. More salt and pepper if necessary. Add more water if necessary. It's a soup after all.

Serve with some pita.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Life's Ceviche, and Then You Die!

The empire of raw fish eating encompasses many realms but the basic idea is very clear. The freshness of the fish is paramount.

Even in older times, people were intuitively aware of the need to "sterilize" the surface of the flesh. They may not have not known about bacteria and clean workspaces but they had empirically figured out that the surfaces of the fish get contaminated quickly in a hot climate.

The solution was a quick bath of the fish in an acidic medium — lime, lemon or calamansi juice, various vinegars, etc.

Different cultures produced variants that lie along a spectrum —  sashimi and sushi (Japanese), kinilaw (Filipino) and ceviche (South America and then transmitted further via the Spanish Empire.)

They range between raw and "cooked" via acid. There's also some form in pickling in the mix.

Sashimi for all its vaunted "heritage" is only possible thanks to modern-day fish processing. It's only modern freezers that allow fish to be consumed safely.

Sushi is an older idea where fish were placed with vinegared rice and allowed to partially ferment to develop intense umami flavors. This older style of sushi is seldom found any more. In fact, even slightly recent forms of sushi (Edo-sushi) are rarely found today. The modern-style involves raw fish placed over mildly vinegared rice. (A full treatment of all the sushi styles would take up a book not a blog post!)

Ceviche is widely known these days. Raw fish is mixed with lime juice, spices, peppers, cilantro and sometimes all kinds of incongruous ingredients (avocado?) — this idea from South America spread across the globe with the Spanish Empire. The idea is that the intense acid "cooks" the muscles of the fish. It's easy to prepare to keeps easy with modern refrigeration. No wonder it's a hit at restaurants since it can be made ahead of time.

Kinilaw (or kilawin sometimes) is an ancient style of  Filipino cooking. Even though it's tempting to assume that the idea came with the Spanish Empire, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests it was an original ancient indigenous idea that the Spaniards encountered and recognized as being analogous to something they already knew.

In fact, for an ancient idea, kinilaw comes closest to the modern-day ideal of sashimi. The fish are bathed in an intensely acidic broth but they are consumed right away within seconds. Kinilaw connoisseurs can feel the toughening of the fish fibers as the minutes tick away.

It's served with rice. Rice is everywhere in the Philippines even for breakfast! The CC's passion for food has limits. More rice? Again?!? SIGH.

There are also added vegetables — radishes are classic but the CC bets that halved summer cherry tomatoes would be killer too from the umami. There is also lato but you can't find that outside the Philippines. SIGH.

As would the dried anchovies known as dilis in the Philippines although the idea of pairing dried and fresh fish would be looked upon as total heresy. The same idea with dried fish is a "separate" dish. SIGH.

A word about calamansi — these intensely flavored citrus limes the size of a small marble are unique. If you can't find them, the next best bet are the yuzu you find in the Japanese markets. If you can't find those, use a mixture of orange and lime juice but you will not reproduce the intensity and uniqueness of calamansi.

Kilawin is also made with cooked pork and goat. It's a pretty general idea and the general etymological difference between kilawin and kinilaw seems to be whether it's cooked meat or fresh fish. (This is a bit unresearched and sorta folksy, and the CC might be wrong.)

Given the sashimi nature of the dish, if you want great kinilaw, you must make it yourself. There is no other choice. At the CC's farmers' market, there is a local fisherman supplying two kinds of sashimi-grade seafood — tuna and scallops. Hence, the CC makes tuna and scallop kinilaw since that is what is possible outside of the absurdly magnificent "wet markets" of the Philippines.

Ingredients

1 shallot (diced fine)
1" ginger (cut into fine slivers)
2 garlic cloves (diced fine)
2 Thai bird-eye chillies (diced into very thin rounds — add more for spice)

1/2 cup coconut vinegar
6-8 calamansi (squeezed fresh)

salt (read below)
fresh black pepper

2 red radishes (cut into thin half-moons)

1/2 lb sashimi-grade tuna (diced)
6 scallops (cut into 4 half-moons each)

Recipe

Mix all the ingredients except the fish together. Taste. It should have an intensely sour taste but it should also be "rounded". This is hard to explain but easy to taste. You typically won't need salt but you might need a pinch. It should sit together for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to "blend".

Store the mixture and the diced fish in the fridge separately. Mix right before serving.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. The clock is ticking. Eat right away if you want magic.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Three-fold Way with Tomato Broth

Let us first be clear what tomato broth is not. It's not a tomato sauce and it's not a tomato soup.

A soup is a full-bodied dish that could be a meal. A broth is a light flavored memory of the original and is watery and thin but full of flavor. The lines are blurred in the middle but seldom has one been mistaken for the other.

Also since we are all friends here, you can't get from one to the other. A broth is definitely not a diluted soup although you can make an intense soup using a broth because it will, no surprises here, intensify the flavor.

Perhaps the best way is to think of broth is intensely-flavored water that has both nutrients and taste.

Now that the CC has gotten that mini-rant off his chest, it's time to proceed.

Tomato Broth

Ingredients

1 medium red onion (diced very fine)
4 cloves garlic (crushed)

1 lb tomatoes (passed through a food mill)
"seasonings" (rosemary, sage, oregano, etc.)

olive oil
sea salt
black pepper

Recipe

Fry the onion and the garlic at very low heat for at least 10 minutes. Add the tomato purée, salt and pepper and fry for a bit. Let it reduce at a low heat for the better part of 20-25 mins. All the taste comes out of this extreme reduction so deal.

Add the water to dilute it to the required consistency, and let it come to a boil.

This is the point in time you can add "seasonings". Let it simmer on a low heat for 20 mins.

You need to pass the stuff through a strainer to get the broth. Dilute further if necessary.

Tortellini en Brodo

Ingredients

1 package tortellini

2 cups tomato broth

"herbs"
salt
pepper

grated parmigiano-reggiano

Recipe

If you are going to make your own tortellini, more power to you. The CC gets his from Raffetto's. There are limits to his ambition.

Cook the tortellini as per the instructions. Undercook by a minute or so. They will get heated up in the broth.

Meanwhile, bring the broth to a boil. Add additional herbs if needed, salt and pepper to taste. Drop the cooked tortellini and let it cook for a minute. Serve with plenty of grated parmesan and black pepper.

Poached Cod in Tomato-Tarragon Broth

Ingredients

2 cod fillets

2 cups tomato broth
1/4 cup chopped tarragon

salt
pepper

Recipe

Note 1: This is the lazy person's approach to dinner. Of course, you would've needed to have made the broth ahead of time but you do have a freezer, don't you?

Note 2: If you have never poached fish before, add 1/2 cup of white wine. The wine and the water will form an azeotrope and lower the boiling point to about 80°C from 100°C which is where water boils. It's a lot more forgiving if you're a "poached fish" newbie.

Heat up the broth with the tarragon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Poach the cod fillets until they are done. (This depends on the size. They are done when you can pierce them with a knife cleanly.)

Poached Eggs in Tomato Broth

Ingredients

4 eggs
dried out crusty bread

3 cups tomato broth

"herbs"
salt
pepper

Note 1:  This is the greatest "hangover" recipe in the CC's repertoire. After a night of carousing, this is both easy on the stomach and wonderfully nutritive (not to mention it provides the much-needed water element.)

This works the same way as the cod recipe above except you poach the eggs rather than the cod.

You serve it over the crusty bread on which you place the poached eggs and gently pour the broth around it. It's amazing to eat the yolk when it breaks over the bread and the broth.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Rrrruff!! Guide to Eating

The CC is a big fan of the author James Hamilton-Paterson who has probably led one of the most picturesque lives among writers. He spent the 80's living on a remote fishing island in the Philippines — not some picturesque romantic "desert island" but one with real dog-shit on the beach which the "pigs ate for breakfast."

This amazing article was published in the Guardian on May 18th, 1996. The Philippines banned "eating Fido" in 1998 but of course, you can make all the laws in the world but you can't so easily change eating patterns as the Japanese might tell you.



I first woke up to how rigidly one’s own culture defines the edible when I spent a year in Libya back in the mid-sixties. I was interested by my initial revulsion to eating a live locust. Tripoli then was something of a hick town, many of whose older inhabitants were true sons of the desert. In the locust season these people could be seen sitting outside their houses, gossiping and idly eating the insects alive. As though shelling peanuts, they would strip off the wings and legs and pop the body into their mouths.

The day inevitably came when I was hospitably offered a locust. It was partly a tribute to public school food that I was able to eat it with stoical panache, but only partly. I was curious, and that helped. The taste was faintly greenish and suety, and I remember being anxious to chew it all at once before my tongue could detect any tiny movements of protesting mandible or pulsing abdomen.

The tradition of eating in a spirit of curiosity exists even in Britain. Eminent Victorian naturalists such as Frank Buckland and Vincent Holt did it all the time. Buckland ate anything, including exotic zoological specimens, and was the one who wrote “A roast field mouse – not a house mouse – is a splendid bonne bouche for a hungry boy. It eats like a lark.” Holt’s excellent book Why Not Eat Insects? (London, 1885) was full of satisfying dishes which any Briton with access to a garden could prepare, such as Boiled Neck of Mutton with Wireworm Sauce and Moths on Toast. Some years ago a reception was held at, I think, the Royal Geographical Society, at which cocktail sandwiches spread with Holt’s woodlouse paste recipe were served. “Better than shrimp” was the widespread verdict, and one might think a taste for it would catch on if only woodlice were conveniently available by the pint, like winkles. Wake up, Sainsbury’s.

I thought about all this on my most recent spell in the Philippines, which remains my favorite country bar none partly because it offers novel experiences of every conceivable kind with high good humour. Among these are gastronomic pleasures and challenges which leave one lost in admiration at human ingenuity and discrimination. Discrimination, because the recipes often rely on a palate tuned to fine shades of flavour that elude the untrained.

The supremacist reputation of French gastronomy and oenophily have tended to bludgeon us into thinking that tastes become cruder the further one gets from Europe. Yet it is not just Basque chefs who can identify from a beef stew the exact pasture where the animal grazed. Tea experts from Darjeeling to Japan will often identify a source of water from taste alone. Similarly, I discovered, a feaster in the mountain provinces of the northern Philippines can tell to the nearest day how long a piece of salted pork was packed in its earthenware crock simply by its flavour.

I had long since tried all the old party favorites in the village where I live: bayawak (a large, iguana-like lizard); dog in one guise or another; fruit bat; and, of course, that ubiquitous national favourite, balutBalut are hawked in the streets of almost any town: hard-boiled duck eggs which have been fertilized and in which the embryonic chick’s tiny beak and little folded wings are well defined but still soft. Eaten warm with salt they are superb as well as nutritious.

This time, though, my travels took me some hundred of miles to the north, to the late Ferdinand Marcos’s home territory of Ilocos Norte. I remembered Libya as soon as I encountered pinaluksong hipon or “jumping salad”. The hipon are tiny live shrimp which leap and squirm on the plate. I was told they could be subdued with a squeeze of lime juice, but this seemed only to provoke mine. Maybe the juice stung their eyes.

The taste is wonderful, quite unknown to people who have never eaten seafood which has not been locked in ice since it died. They do twitch a little in the mouth: the effect is not unlike the crackling sherbet (Space Dust and Moon Rocks) British children could buy a few years ago.
When you eat jumping salad it is easy to believe in sympathetic magic, which claims that the soul or essence of the victim passes into the devourer – the theory which once gave us larks’ tongue pate. It made me feel sprightly for hours afterwards. Don’t be tempted to dust the shrimp, however lightly, with black pepper: it overpowers them. A judicious drop or two of fresh ginger juice adds bite. 
Like any other civilized people, Filipinos make a firm distinction between pet and pot. Times would have to be hard indeed before old Rover made the supreme sacrifice. Dog dishes are often referred to generically as asosena. This is a felicitous pun on the Spanish word lily (azucena), that deathly plant introduced for their cemeteries by the Philippines’ first colonisers. But in Tagalog aso is dog, while cena is Spanish for supper; so with a small triumphal act of semantics, an indigenous eastern dish flowers to outrage the European invader.

Up in northern Luzon one can eat a satisfactory array of dog recipes, though in the town of Baguio the meat is often sold from door to door already butchered, and gastronomes will tell you it’s important to know the breed you’re cooking, as well as its age, and vary your recipe accordingly. This is where a discriminating palate pays off, since true dog lovers will know whether the dish’s lead character was a dog or a bitch, especially one on heat. Of course puppies, like veal, need bland and delicate cooking.

Filipinos, like the people of many other nations, generally kill their animals by cutting their throats and keeping the blood as a separate ingredient. One reason for this may be that bloodless meat tastes less malansa – an impossible word to translate since English doesn’t recognise what it defines. Dictionaries usually give something like “the smell of fresh fish”; but that’s not precisely it, and both fish and meat may be described as tasting malansa. It’s interesting to discover a sensory perception that is simply not recognised by one’s own culture. Bearing this in mind (for Filipinos consider malansa unpleasant), there are half a dozen common ways of cooking dog – other than straight roasting over an open fire – and plenty of regional variations. It should be remembered that most rural Filipino cookery is of the “open fire” rather than the “oven” type, which gives a distinctive flavour.

Kalderetang aso (caldera, of course, is Spanish for cauldron): A classic dog dish. Garlic and onions are fried in coconut oil until brown, and reserved. The meat (chopped Chinese style, with the bones) is fried in the same oil until tender, then the onions and garlic are put back in and a cupful of soy sauce added. When that has bubbled and seethed enough, any or all of the following can be added: tomato ketchup, peanut butter, margarine, peppercorns, chili, pickles, potatoes, carrots. The ketchup and margarine give a debased and over-sweet taste and may safely be omitted. The peanut butter imparts a slightly Indonesian flavour. To this is added a bottle of San Miguel beer – one bottle per dog – and the whole thing allowed to stew gently for an hour. A fancy asosena might even include pineapple chunks. Adobong aso (adobo being Spanish for pickling sauce): This gets rid of any malansa flavour by a different method.

Here the meat is boiled first in coconut vinegar and soy sauce. It can be embellished into adobong aso sa gata by adding turmeric and fresh ginger and then coconut milk at the end. Depending on the quality of the dog, the flavour emerges rich and clear and muttony. 
Bulacan dog: In Bulacan Province they have a method of boiling the meat with tamarind, onions and garlic to achieve a good, sour, sinigang flavour. Then the meat is patted dry and fried in plenty of oil. It is served with a dip made of soy sauce, chili and ketchup. This is delicious, though I can’t recommend it for cat, which is a dry meat and easily becomes stringy and floury if fried as well as boiled.

I am now in a position to promote dog done alla Toscana, which I tried out in Italy last autumn after a huntsman foolishly shot his own hound. I roasted a haunch in the oven with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. My house guest considered it a great success. Sadly, owing to the lack of rosemary and olive oil in the Philippines provinces it would be hard to introduce this taste sensation there. I feel something very good might also be done with a stuffing of basil, prunes and lemon, held together with mustard flour. Certain Italian friends affect horror – as do some of my Filipino friends – but this is a received response and not based on experience. (Hypocritical, too, since dog meat is still occasionally smoked in the Italian Alps). It’s the old argument of the ayatollahs who hadn’t read a line of Rushdie. “Oh, taste and see,” is the reasonable response.

In any case, cane alla Toscana suggests a whole range of possibilities using exotic ingredients but in a European style. I am familiar with adobong sawa, which is python, and am eager to invent python steaks in Trieste fashion, with white wine and anchovy fillets. They would be fabulous. But alas, it is an idle dream. The most one could hope for here in Europe would be an occasional adder stew with shallots.

The Philippine provinces also have some unusual culinary specialities which, for sheer inventiveness, are a tribute to the human spirit. There is a dish from the mountain provinces that requires a chicken to be plucked before it is beaten slowly to death with spoons. The theory runs that the beating mobilizes subcutaneous fat as well as breaking the capillaries, and produces a flushed, creamy texture.

I have to report – regretfully, in view of the bird’s protracted demise – that in my case it was all for nothing since it tasted to me like roast chicken by any other name. Evidently my palate is still poorly educated. I gather the Ewondo of Cameroon use a similar method on plump dogs, which are tied up and tenderized for a day with small canes before they are cooked in a complicated nine-hour procedure. In any case, readers wishing to try for themselves this method of preparing a chicken are urged to use nothing heavier than one of those light wooden spoons from Habitat. The point is not to break any bones.

Also, the sensitive are advised that even in the cheerful outdoor context of tribal cookery the scene is not without its pitiful aspects. I suppose the bird might be given an anaesthetic; yet this would violate the no-chemicals rule.

Also from the north is pinik-pilkan, which I have yet to try. It, too, starts with a chicken being beaten to death, this time with its clothes on. Once dead it is briefly roasted in its feathers before being cut up and cooked in the normal fashion. A tasty combination is for it to be mixed with itag, which is belly of pork dried and packed in salt in earthenware crocks until it becomes maggoty. This, when cooked with the chastised hen, yields a greeny-greyish sauce described as “hearty”. The sum of its parts is apparently far greater than their individual promise.

Buro dishes, a Pangasinan speciality, are also something I have never eaten. Buro refers to a way of pickling in brine. One celebrated version starts with a stew of pickled vegetables which is allowed to cool before being fed to a dog that has been starved for a couple of days. The dog wolfs it down and after an interval, someone gives the animal a special blow behind the ribs with the edge of the hand which induces immediate vomiting. The regurgitated stew is caught in a bowl, re-cooked with additional herbs and eaten. The dog, which is more cross than injured, is rewarded with a meal which this time it is allowed to digest completely.

A friend who has tried this dish, as well as another version involves fermenting fish and rice in a crock for several weeks, says buro is something you need to acquire a taste for, like kimchi, the Koreans’ pickled vegetables. Yet another Pangasinan dish involves a goat being fed as much grass as it will eat before it is killed and cooked with the grass still inside. The grass-filled stomach is allegedly delicious.

There is a range of papaitan dishes from Ilocos (pait means bitter) which have percolated south to the extent that one can find workers’ restaurants in Manila specialising in them.

A good papaitan will present an interesting taste to a European who is otherwise accustomed to bitterness only in tonic water, or in vegetables like chicory. It is well worth trying and nothing like as bitter as it sounds – far less so than some varieties of Italian salad greens, for instance.

I returned from my trip up north to my home village to find somebody’s birthday being celebrated with an old favourite – a brilliant campfire version of duck à l’orange called patotin. The duck is lightly spit-roasted and then transferred to a large iron saucepan, in the bottom of which is a bed of the Chinese fermented black beans which come in tins. A bottle of Sprite is added (though Fanta is equally satisfactory) as well as a large lump of ice. The ice slows down the cooking – heat control is always a problem with an open fire. After an hour or so the patotin is ready.

Free range duck is delicious in any case; but what makes this dish is the fizzy-drink-sweetened black bean sauce.

It used to be obligatory to end a food article by quoting the 18th-century French lawyer and gastronome, Brillat-Savarin,“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, et je te dirai ce que tu es” (Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are). I haven’t the least idea what he meant. What kind of judgment was he threatening to make? A class one? Racial? Nationalistic? Economic? Religious? Or merely implying a confident assertion of his own bon goût?

However, if he meant,“You are a curious traveler, soon to be dead and happy to try anything once,” one might allow the old fraud some points. The only form of abuse I remember without pleasure from my schooldays is gastronomic. It is a reminder that we come from a culture which thought nothing of giving Spam fritters to impressionable children. We owe it to ourselves to put our cast-iron digestions to better use, and abandon taboo in favour of new taste experiences.

Any visitor to Manila wishing to do the same might make a good start by dining at Patio Mequeni, a restaurant near Remedios Circle in Malate. Nothing too outrageous, but an interesting range of regional Filipino dishes.

The deep-fried mole crickets to nibble with a cold San Miguel as one waits for the main course are highly recommended, and would have made Vincent Holt’s evening. They rustle agreeably on the plate but are still squidgy and peanutty inside.

Dog-fanciers, on the other hand, will have to ask around, since the restaurants they are looking for tend to lie outside the touristy areas. If you find a taxi-driver who pretends not to understand, you can convince him by telling him you’re looking for aw-aw (rhymes with bow-wow). You can’t get clearer than that. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chilled Pea-Broth Basil Soup

The CC is finding abundant fresh shelled peas at his local farmers' market these days. The season is coming to a close and this luxury will soon go away.

Experienced cooks know not to throw away the shells of the peas. We've talked about pea-broth risotto on this blog before but there's something else that works like magic.

The peas tend to be starchier later in the summer and this recipe works perfectly with them. It's involves using the pea-broth to make a chilled soup which goes down easy in this absurd summer heat.

The recipe is a little laborious since it involves making the pea-broth and then making a soup based on it but it's easier than it sounds. You just need some pots and a dishwasher (either mechanical or of the human kind!)

The ideal accompaniment to this as a light summer meal is parmesan toast.

Ingredients

Pea Broth

1 lb organic pea shells (yes, they need to be organic!)
1 large onion
olive oil

6 cups water

salt
pepper

Pea Soup

pea broth (from above)
2 tbsp butter
2 shallots

1/2 cup peas
3-4 cups basil

salt

Recipe

Notes 1: You need a lot of basil because flavors are muted with cold soups. Same goes for salt and pepper.

Notes 2: When the soup cools, it will separate out. Just whip it again with a whisk before serving.

Notes 3: Do NOT use cream as you see in a lot of online recipes. Yes, there is a place for cream in the soup world but it has a tendency to flatten out the recipes and make all soups taste the same. This is all about the pure taste of summer peas!

First, make the pea broth. Fry the onions in the olive oil till they are limp. Add the shells and fry them for a bit. Add the water, salt and pepper and let cook for at least 30 minutes until the pea shells are limp. Blend with a stick blender. The shells are fibrous and will never blend completely.

Filter the broth using a strainer pressing down to extract the maximum amount of the broth. Toss the fibrous residue.

In a separate clean pot, heat up some butter. Fry the shallots on a medium-low heat. Add the pea broth and bring to a boil. Add the peas and let them cook for about 10-12 minutes until soft. Turn off the heat.

Add the basil and blend the mixture together until it is very smooth. Check for salt and and some if necessary. You can strain the soup if you want a finer presentation or just leave it as is for a slightly more rustic version.

Chill the soup. It will take at least 6-7 hours before it is nicely cold. Serve.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Vegetables

Vegetables are bland in flavor. There, the CC has said it.

Before a lynch-mob comes marching in, hear me out.

Vegetables are diluted in flavor by the water in their cells. So is meat, for the record. Hence, the concept of "aging beef" which allows the water to escape and making the meat more intensely "meaty".

There are a standard set of tricks across the globe to make vegetables more "vegetable-y" but since chez CC, we tend to be of the analytic bent, let's dig in further. We're also going to go further into domains not imagined by all these vegetable cultures.

All world cuisine relies on one or both of these tricks:
  1. Dessicate the vegetables to make them more intense.
  2. Dessicate the vegetables and then replace the lost water in the cellular structure by more "interesting" stuff.
There is no "third destination".

There are three standard ways of dessicating vegetables — roasting, frying and sun-drying. Each is standard across the globe although the CC would argue that frying is a cross between [1] and [2] in that it replaces the water with a light coating of fat which is irresistible to the human tongue.

Now, that you understand this, you will realize how bullshit the verb insaporire  ("to infuse with flavor") in Italian actually is. You're doing nothing of the sort. You're dessicating the vegetables by pan-frying them for a long time. No flavor is actually being "infused' because nothing is entering the system. You are pulling water out and the flavor is already present in the amazing vegetables to start with.

Yet, the Italians are onto something important. Pan-frying the vegetables does indeed intensify the flavor and this is the criticism that the CC would lay on the modern world and it's "fast food" concepts. You need to be slow and fry them languidly on a low heat for longer you think possible. The CC routinely catches himself trying to speed up before the analytic brain kicks in and says, "ten more minutes, mofo!" and the food is always the better as the Italians would have it. A great minestrone would have the vegetables pan-fried for the better part of 30 minutes.

The greatness of sun-dried vegetables should be obvious. So should be the concept of fried vegetables — everything from pakoras and tempura to fritto misto.

They are all precise ways of dessicating vegetables.

(Now, you understand why kale chips work, right?)

Once you've dessicated the vegetables, you are can re-infuse the cellular structures with other stuff. Everything from spices to meat and fish broths. The genius of Indian vegetarian cooking can be encapsulated in the fact that they combine steps [1] and [2] in one neat step. The vegetables are dessicated at the same time infusing them with the taste of intense spices. You see the same logic in an Italian minestrone which relies on vegetables being dessicated via pan-frying and reconstituted in an intense tomato broth. (Before the discovery of the New World, the Romans used meat broth to the same effect but the tomato is both cheaper and more intensely umami.)

Armed with this analytic conceit, we're no longer constrained by the arbitrariness of culture. If you want carrots to be more intensely "carrot-y" then dessicate them at a really low temperature and then reconstitute them in carrot juice!

In fact armed with this trick, you can make zucchini taste of meat or tomatoes or whatever you please.

The vegetable world is your oyster!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Notes from an Oyster Shucker

So the CC decided to learn how to shuck his own oysters and here are the notes from that.
  1. It's harder than you think. Way harder.
  2. Safety first. The CC cannot emphasize this enough!
  3. Equipment matters. Please invest in the following:
    1. a "serious" oyster shucking knife,
    2. a set of chain gloves — it's basically chain-mail for the other hand,
    3. a rough scrub-brush, and
    4. some cheap towels.
  4. They are filthy. Epically filthy. Hence the scrub-brush. You will be spending a lot of time scrubbing to prep them so get a good one.
  5. They are seriously jagged. Hence the chain gloves.
  6. It's hard to pry them open in the first place. Hence the chain gloves. Dunking them in water (to warm them up briefly) moves along the process.
  7. Take a look at videos online on how to severe the "adductor muscle". The CC thought this would be hard but it's actually the easiest part.
  8. It's way way harder than you think. Practice makes perfect.
And yes, they are exactly as amazing as ever to eat.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Les huîtres v/s かき (Kaki)

It's always very entertaining when two great food cultures have diametrically opposed views on a subject.

For starters, it doesn't happen very often because the human palate is pretty consistent. What's left behind is the purest form of the arbitrary nature of culture.

The point in contention here is the nature of oysters and how they are best consumed.

First the similarities — both the French and the Japanese agree that oysters are amazing and worth consuming in spite of the incredible effort involved in opening them.

(The CC would like to point out that oyster middens are some of the oldest sites involving ancient humans. Clearly, our ancestors agreed with both the French and the Japanese!)

What they differ on is how.

The French, from whom we've obtained some of our biases, insist that the ideal way to eat the oyster is raw where it "tastes of the sea".

The Japanese are equally insistent that the ideal way is that it be cooked (either grilled or fried) where the "juices are concentrated".

(Frying and grilling are precise ways of concentrating the meat by removing water.)

One would ordinarily have expected the Japanese to be enthusiastic about the raw oyster but they are adamant that oysters are best consumed cooked. There is no "oyster sashimi".

The CC will leave this open as a "striptease" but his views on these subjects tend to be relatively clear.

Weigh in on the subject in the comments.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Trapped (?)

This is pretty much the epitome of a "First World problem" but the CC feels trapped by the fact that he has too many amazing dishes in his repertoire and that the seasons change so fast.

Basically, there are too many dishes that the CC loves with seasonal ingredients with no room for anything else. It had to happen eventually with the CC's obsessive nature.

Two parts of the CC's brain are going to war with each other:
  1. Love it. MAKE IT!!!
  2. Novelty is amazing. Let's make something new.
It's a straight-up function of age. The obvious interpretation would be that there are only so many rounds left on the merry-go-around but the CC is young! It's not that.

It's more to do with how do we hold on to that original sensation when we knew nothing, and the entire world was afresh with the sense of discovery, and how we discover it and make it our own.

The only empirical evidence the CC has about this is that every time he has had this absurd feeling (and he's had it about four times now), there's always been a new breakthrough waiting in an unexpected direction.

Let's hope the empirical truth comes through a fifth time.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Weekend Menu

Just one "fancy" meal on the weekend with an old classic on Saturday. Recipes to follow.

The first meal is classically Italian, of course, but the ingredients came from a Japanese store. They have higher standards of quality.

The correlative in the Japanese meal is the blackness. It comes from the black rice which is representative of squid ink but there's none of that in the rice. The "toban djan" is Chinese in origin but it's amazing how the Japanese have converted the quick stir-fry to their own tastes. The "burdock salad" has mayonnaise but Japanese-style which is much much lighter and once again umami-laden. Okra is emphatically not Japanese but once again their love of slimy substances (natto!) means they've made it their own. There's very little "Japanese" about the second meal except that they have taken all these influences and converted them into a coherent Japanese meal.

The CC has said this many times but he'll say it again. One of the pleasures of cuisine is to be able to see the world through a different pair of eyes. We're all stuck with our origins but we can surpass them with imagination and empathy.

Cuisine is the fastest and easiest way to get there.


Pasta with mushroom sauce

Japanese meal

Three-taste mixed rice (white, brown, black)
Okra ohitashi
Burdock salad (ゴボウサラダ)
Squid toban djan
Miso soup
Smashed-cucumber pickle (タタキキュリ); Myoga

† This is the 1000th post. No need to get all misty-eyed. There will be many more to come.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weekend Menu

Semi-annual Japanese shopping trip. Two meals. Recipes to follow.


Pav bhaji

Japanese meal

Bamboo-shoot rice w/ fried tofu
Clams with ponzu and garlic chives
Gobō & carrot kinpira
Miso soup with horseradish shoots
Pickles (lotus-root amazuke, carrot shiozuke, myōga)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weekend Menu

Two meals. Recipes to follow.


Soufflé with snails, tomato sauce & chinese chives

Japanese meal

Fresh bamboo-shoot rice w/ sanshō
Okra ohitashi
Scallop sashimi
Miso soup
Pickles (lotus-root amazuke, carrot shiozuke)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Weekend Menu

Two meals. Recipes to follow.


Hunanese meal

Poached cod with fermented black beans
Bok choy with garlic & ginger
Rice
Carrot Pickles

Indian (Konkani) meal

Malvani-style clams
Stir-fried sprouted channa with kale
Carrot raita
Basmati rice
Fresh green mango pickles

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Epitome of Simplicity

The name of Ferran Adrià will forever be linked to molecular gastronomy but very few know that is a passionate advocate and practitioner of the simple perfection of Catalan cooking.

The freshest of ingredients, minimally touched, delivering magic on the tongue.

Here's one of his simplest recipes (and the CC paraphrases):
Scrape a vanilla seed into a bowl. Heat up some heavily salted water. Put fresh tagliatelle and cook for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, heat some unsalted butter in a pan, put in the vanilla scrapings at high heat. Add a splash or two of the pasta water. Drain the pasta. Toss with the sauce. Add with a lot of grated parmesan.
Some of you might have spotted the sleight of hand behind the simplicity. Fresh pasta takes some effort and it has to dry out for a few hours.

The rest is actually in the traditional sense of the word "simple".

However, the CC can attest that this recipe indeed is magic. Vanilla which is only seen in a sweet context takes on the starring role in a savory context.

Do make this. Even if you have to use dried pasta. This is ethereal.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Weekend Menu

Two meals. Recipes to follow.


Kale-stuffed pasta-shells in tomato-sauce

Japanese meal 
Miso soup with clams
Tuna sashimi salad
Bamboo-shoot rice
Sweet lotus-root pickles; Salt carrot pickles

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekend Menu

Three meals. Recipes to follow.



Scallops in XO Sauce
Collard greens stir-fried with garlic
Rice

Duck Salami
Prosciutto
Scrambled eggs with snails
Bread

♦ 

Filipino Meal 

Pancit Molo
Guisadong Mais (w/ kale & lotus roots)
Rice (w/ garlic bits)
Pickles


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weekend Menu

Three meals. Recipes to follow.



"Shirred" eggs with snails, persillade & tomato paste
Filipino Meal 

Kinilaw
"Guisado" with bamboo shoots, dried shrimp & kale
Umami rice
Salt pickles

 
Sautéed pea-shoots with garlic & soy sauce
Lobster ravioli in vanilla butter sauce


Friday, March 6, 2015

Poached flounder with baby potatoes, cherry tomatoes & olives in saffron-tomato broth

This is one of the dishes that is extremely simple provided you have the ingredients on hand.

Please read the notes and follow the instructions carefully.

Ingredients

(serves 2)

2 fillets of flounder
8 baby potatoes
12 cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh peas
1/4 cup carrots (sliced into thin batons)
1/4 cup French beans (sliced into 1" length pieces)
1/4 cup black olives

2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup tomato purée

2 sprigs tarragon (chopped)

large pinch of saffron

parsley (finely chopped)

salt
black pepper

Recipe

Notes:

  1. You absolutely need both chicken broth and the tomato purée. The umami is a big factor in this recipe. If you don't have chicken broth then you must either make a quick fish broth, or a Japanese-style dashi. This recipe will not work otherwise. The tomatoes and the broth function in tandem.
  2. Tarragon can be overpowering. Use in moderation. Substitute by fennel seeds.
  3. Saffron is non-negotiable.
  4. Obviously, you can use any combination of vegetables you have at hand but use neutral ones. Cauliflower is great as would be some beans. There is considerable leeway here.
  5. You can use any white fish. Cod is great too. Poaching time depends on the fillet thickness.

Bring the chicken broth and tomato purée to a gentle rolling boil. Add salt and black pepper. Add the baby potatoes and cook for 12 minutes. When this happens, foam will come to the surface. Skim it.

Add the cherry tomatoes, peas, beans and olives and continue to cook for 4 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, fish out all the vegetables and put them into two serving bowls which can hold liquid.

Bring the liquid to a boil again. Add the saffron and tarragon. Poach the fish in the liquid till it is cooked through - typically 3-4 minutes per fillet. (The CC had to poach them individually but if you have a large enough pan, you might be able to do both at once.)

Lift out the fish and place it gently on top of the vegetables.

Pour the broth over the fish and the vegetables. Sprinkling of parsley and if desired, more black pepper on top.

Serve with some crusty bread.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Weekend Menu

Two weekend days. Four meals. Recipes to follow.



Strata with caramelized onions, kale & gruyère 
Poached flounder with baby potatoes, cherry tomatoes & olives in saffron-tomato broth


Mushroom ravioli in garlic, rosemary & mushroom sauce 
Japanese Meal 

Nori rice with winter vegetables
Miso soup with clams & wakame
Squid tempura
Scallop sashimi (with calamansi)
Sweet lotus-root pickles (蓮根甘酢け); salt pickles (塩漬物)


Thursday, February 12, 2015

On the Delusions of Men

From the Guardian:
Carlo Cracco has cooked alongside Alain Ducasse and earned two Michelin stars for his restaurant in Milan, where the city’s elite feast on dishes such as lemon risotto with anchovies and cocoa, and marinated salmon with foie gras. 
But the chef’s professional pedigree did not stop the local council in Amatrice, a town two hours from Rome, from publicly denouncing and ridiculing him.
Cracco’s sin? The chef confessed on national television that he used unpeeled, sautéed garlic as the “secret ingredient” in his amatriciana, one of Rome’s staple pasta dishes.
According to officials in Amatrice, there are six ingredients that make up a real amatriciana: guanciale (pork jowl), pecorino cheese, white wine, tomatoes from San Marzano, pepper and chilli.
The town’s deputy mayor, Piergiuseppe Monteforte, denied that officials were being too strict. “Use one ingredient for another, it changes not only the flavour of a dish but also the history of it,” Monteforte told the Guardian. “If you use ingredients like garlic or onion in an amatriciana, it means you are ignoring a pastoral tradition that is almost 1,000 years old, passed down from generation to generation.”
Anyone spot the error?

Anyone?!?

A pastoral tradition with 1,000 years of tomatoes and chili peppers in Italy?

Pass the bong, baby! Don't bogart it.

Italy has only used tomatoes consistently since the late 18th-century or the early 19th century. Chili peppers are also New World. This complete lack of historic perspective is typical for people steeped in a particular tradition. Thankfully, chez CC, we aspire to higher standards of truth.