Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Peas and Carrots" -- Maine Lobster Pancakes with Pea Shoot Salad and Ginger-Carrot Emulsion

First, let's start with some good news: I got my wallet back! Woo-hoo!!!!! It was found and turned in at the Metro station four blocks from where I was robbed. All the cards (including a whopper of a Williams Sonoma gift card) were still in there, and the only cash that was left was one quarter. Hey, big spender.

Anyhoo, I couldn't be more thrilled, because now I'm a two-wallet girl. My old wallet for the regular stuff, and the new bacon wallet to hold all my gift cards and store credits in one place (because right now, they're scattered everywhere and it's annoying).

But enough about me and my accessories. Let's talk about something really important and very official and that is the fact that I am a giant nerd.

Why (this time)?

Because at the Farmer's Market on Sunday, I acutally said, "Oh yay! Pea shoots!"


Not just OUT LOUD, but also kind of loudly -- enough so that people actually turned to look at me as if I were some sort of who knows what. So to that, I say "turn back around people and pay attention to what you were doing before and let me be happy about pea shoots, or else I might have to TUSK you or something."

Actually, I'm sure the reason they turned and looked at me so strangely is because allergy season is kicking my ass, and with all this pollen my exclamation about pea shoots resembled a Harvey Fierstein stage whisper, so they probably thought they had a celebrity in their midst. What a disappointment that they turned around and it was only me. C'est la vie....

I have been dying to do this dish and the salmon dish (coming soon to an Internet near you) because they both involve pea shoots -- which, in case you didn't get it from the words I so lovingly typed above for your viewing pleasure, I love so much.

I made this dish over the course of two days. It could be done all in one, but I have a life, people. Well, not really. I just felt like spacing it out.

The first thing I did was head down to BlackSalt to pick up three lobsters:

I steeped them in boiling water, took them apart, removed the meat for use later, and was left with three lobster bodies:

I cut up the lobster bodies into about 6 pieces each, and put them in a sauté pan with some canola oil. I had them in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then added some tomato, carrots, thyme, and water.

I let this simmer for about an hour and a half. Then, I strained it into another pot, pressing against the solids to make sure all the liquid was released.

I strained the liquid again into a smaller pot, which left me with nearly 2 cups of liquid.

I put the pot o' lobster liquid over medium heat and brought it up to a lively simmer, and reduced it until I had about 2 tablespoons of a thickened glaze.

I noticed there were some solids still in the liquid toward the end, so I strained it again into a smaller pot and finished the reduction (the smell of which was so intensely wonderful, I kind of wish I could afford to do this everyday):

While this was reducing, I prepared the lobster filling. I cut the lobster meat (minus the claw tips, because the texture would detract from the rest of the meat) into a small-ish dice, and minced some shallots and chives:

I mixed this in a bowl, and added a half-cup of mascarpone, some salt and pepper, then added the 2T of the lobster glaze I'd just reduced:

I covered this and put it in the refrigerator overnight. Wanna see a close-up? Of course you do:

The next day, I set out to finish the dish. The French Laundry Cookbook suggests juicing 3 pounds of carrots for the ginger-carrot emulsion, but I don't have a juicer. And, I wasn't going to shell out $200 for one, since I know I would never, ever use it (I generally don't like juice; I'd rather just eat the fruit or vegetable on its own). So, I bought carrot juice and "infused" (infauxed?) it with some fresh, shredded carrots, as well as some fresh, shredded ginger:

I brought this mixture to a boil, then reduced it to a simmer for about 15 minutes.

When it had reduced from 2 cups to about a half a cup, I poured it through a strainer into another saucepan, then whisked in some cream and 12 tablespoons of butter (one by one), then poured it into a blender. I know that the book says not to skim or strain at this point, but I wasn't really making the "correct" version anyhow, so I kind of had to wing it and make it my own from this point on.

I blended it for about 30 seconds and kept it in the glass vessel until I was ready to plate.

The last big step was making the crèpes. Even though I was psyched about this dish because of the pea shoots, I was equally as annoyed about making crèpes. Why? Because I have a history of bad crèpe making. I never seem to get the batter done right, or they're too thick or too thin, or they just end up tasting rubbery and awful. It's really depressing, because I love crèpes. Always have. I went to France for a few weeks after graduating from college, and because we were so poor, my friends and I lived on crèpes. They were about a dollar, and you could get them from these great little crèpe carts on the streets of Paris, filled with whatever you wanted -- ham, cheese, fruit, nutella... the possibilities were endless. The heat would permeate the thin paper they were wrapped in, but on a cold and rainy afternoon, it was an added bonus. Every time I've tried to make crèpes since then has been a disaster. I expected this time to be the same, and was already concocting different final-plating plans for this dish just in case.

I mixed all the ingredients as instructed, poured the batter through a strainer, added the chives, and heated my non-stick sauté pan over low-medium heat.

I poured my first crèpe, ever so gently and tilt-ily rotated the pan and let it cook for less than a minute (probably 30-40 seconds). Then, I lifted one little bit with a small offset spatula, picked up the crèpe with my fingers, and flipped it over:

Not perfect, but not too shabby, eh? This is usually the point at which I find out they're too thin, so they fall apart... or too thick, and they plop like pancakes. This first one looked like maybe, just maybe, I knew what I was doing.

I banged out eight of these, and stacked them in between paper towels as I went:

Right before I started the crèpes, I took the lobster filling out of the fridge, so it could come closer to room temperature before I used it to fill the crèpes.

I laid a crèpe flat on a cutting board, put about 2 T of lobster filling in the center, then folded the edges of the crèpe up over the top until I had a neat, little lobster package. I made eight of them, and placed them on a baking sheet brushed with melted butter, and brushed some melted butter on the tops of the crèpes, then put them in the oven for 10 minutes until they were heated all the way through.

While they were in the oven getting warm, I made sure my ginger-carrot "emulsion" was still warm (it was), and I dressed the pea shoots with a bit of lemon olive oil, salt and some minced shallots.

To plate, I poured a little mini-pool of the ginger-carrot goodness onto the plate, topped it with a lobster-filled crèpe, then topped that with the pea shoot salad.

And, a closer look:

Guys. Gals. And everyone in between. This was freakin' fantastic. Let's start with the ginger-carrot foamy-ish extravaganza. I want soap made of this, and I also want to eat this every day for the rest of my life. If the way I did it was this good, I can't even imagine how amazing it would be to do it Keller's way. Wow. It's hearty and mellow and sharp and strong but smooth and luxurious. Paired with the lobster crèpe? Beyond amazing. Then, a bite of pea shoot along with the lobster-filled crèpe that I slathered with ginger-carrot sauce? So so so so good. Really.... I don't want to sound all haughty and obnoxious, but I was so proud of being able to make something this good.

We all gobbled it up in near-silence, with one of my most finicky tasters chowing down like there was no tomorrow.

While everyone else sat around the table getting caught up on the events of the day, I snuck into the kitchen, took the one remaining crèpe off the baking sheet and debated offering it to whoever wanted seconds. Then, I thought better of it and saved it (along with some of the ginger-carrot sauce) for myself to eat for lunch the next day. Except that I ate it at 11 o'clock that night because I just couldn't fall asleep knowing it was in my fridge, waiting to be enjoyed.

I slept 10 hours that night.

I haven't slept for 10 hours (in a row) in years.

Thanks, lobster crèpe with ginger-carrot fauxmulsion.

Up Next: Citrus-Marinated Salmon with a Confit of Navel Oranges, Beluga Caviar and Pea Shoot Coulis

Lobster from
365 canola oil and butter

Produce and most herbs from
Whole Foods
Thyme from my garden

Crave Bros. mascarpone
Lakewood organic carrot juice
Organic Valley heavy cream and whole milk
Pea shoots from
Calvert's Gift Farm
Eggs from
Smith Meadows Farm
King Arthur flour

Music to Cook By:
Rodrigo y Gabriela; Rodrigo y Gabriela. It's mesmerizing. Absolutely outstanding. I have the CD in my car and their music on my iPod in the house. It's Mexico and Central America meets Nordic-Irish-Europe with some help from the Gipsy Kings and the steady rhythm of heavy metal. I know I'm not doing it justice. Just get the album and see for yourself. I can't stop listening to it. I was so entranced listening to it in the car the other day, I missed my exit on the Beltway. Doy.

Read my previous post: French Laundry at Home Extra -- Trussing and Roasting a Chicken

Friday, April 25, 2008

French Laundry at Home Extra: Trussing and Roasting a Chicken

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a KCRW podcast of Evan Kleiman's "Good Food" radio show. At the start of each show, she punts to a field reporter who does a "Market Report," talking about what's in and what's good at the local farmers' markets in Southern California. In this particular podcast, field reporter Laura Avery interviewed a chef (his words, not mine) named Paul Shoemaker (formerly of Providence, Los Angeles) as they walked through the Santa Monica Farmer's Market.

I was struck by this interview (which you can listen to by clicking here), because here was this guy, Shoemaker, who claimed to be a chef, but who also claimed the best way to cook a chicken is to "tusk it."

I could tell the interviewer was caught off guard, because she asked him about 5 or 6 follow-up questions about his technique to try and get him to correct himself, but he kept talking about all the ways to "tusk a bird." As I listened to it, I almost began to second-guess myself and what I know about cooking because this is a reputable radio program, and I cannot believe the producers would allow a line like, "I tusk it -- I tie it with butcher's twine" to be on the air.

Go ahead and listen to the podcast -- I lost count how many times that nitwit talked about "tusking" a chicken before I blurted out loud, "No, you dumbass. You truss it. You don't tusk it." (And then, of course, I thought of the USC marching band and was song-poisoned for DAYS.)

I feel like that's something everyone knows -- or should know -- whether you cook, or not. And, while I don't expect most people to know what "en crèpinette de Byaldi" means, knowing the difference between "trussing" and "tusking" (?!?!?!?!) a chicken is pretty basic. ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE THE BALLS TO CALL YOURSELF A CHEF. And sorry for the imagery you are inevitably getting when you hear the verb "to tusk a chicken" of some poor chicken being rammed you-know-where by an elephant. And yes, I am aware there are no chickens ba-gocking and roaming around the Serengeti with a pack of elephants. That's not my point. Wait. What was my point? Oh yeah, people who call themselves chefs, but don't know basic terminology.

And, shame on KCRW for putting that little interview on the air. They're a reputable NPR affiliate and should know better -- especially when it comes to taped portions of the program that could be edited or fixed. Live mistakes? Fine. It happens. But when you have the time to fix something so erroneous? Tsk, tsk. Or, rather, tusk, tusk, apparently.

So for everyone who has found this page because you Googled "tusk a chicken," please smack yourself and read on. And, Paul Shoemaker, if you've set up a Google Alert for when your name is published somewhere on the Internet and you find this post, smack yourself twice. Oh, and stop calling yourself a chef.

Because of this dude's vocabulary challenges, and my ever-strengthening belief in the importance of really getting good at the basics, I decided I'd take on some of the extra bonus features of The French Laundry Cookbook and do them here, as well. There are a few little extras in the book: trussing and roasting a chicken, preparing Béarnaise Mousseline, and cooking tripe. If you have the book, this little chicken bit is on page 171.

It's no secret that Thomas Keller loves roasted chicken. He writes about it in The French Laundry Cookbook, and there are a few pages devoted to it in Bouchon. On page 171 of The French Laundry Cookbook, he shares a story of how a chef he worked with threw a knife at him because he wasn't sure how to roast a chicken.

You know that I don't share recipes from The French Laundry Cookbook, but Epicurious has reprinted the chicken trussing and roasting instructions from Bouchon, so I'm going to include a link to that here.

I knew I was having some friends over for dinner a few nights ago and I wanted to do something easy because we were definitely having a casual night (and because work has been kicking me in the ass lately). So, I found it the perfect opportunity to roast a chicken. But first, the trussing. Here's the chicken after I'd rinsed it and patted it dry:

See that little triangular piece at the bottom, down by the legs? That's the chicken butt, and because I am twelve, it's my favorite part to point out. It's actually the best part of the chicken to eat (once it's roasted), as far as I'm concerned. Just the right balance of meat, fat and skin, and my neighbor's son and I shared it this time around (it's his favorite part, too).

I turned the chicken over on its back and had the cavity facing me. I then wrapped some twine around the back and below the butt, and brought it up around over the legs -- then crisscrossing it to bring the legs together, then back under the back and on the top to bring the wings in (some people like to tuck them under the chicken; I prefer the way they cook/taste when they're tight to the body). Then, I salt and peppered it (I'd already added a little bit of salt to the inside when I patted it dry):

I put the chicken into a roasting pan and put him in a 375-degree oven for 90 minutes (he was 4.31 lbs.). It was at this point that when I poked a paring knife into it, the juices ran clear.

I took it out and let it rest, covered, for another 15 minutes:

Here's what it looked like uncovered before I carved it:

I'm a huge fan of dark meat, but I gotta say that the breast meat on this chicken was really, really spectacular. And the skin? Crisptacular. I didn't baste with butter. I didn't add any herbs. I didn't put a lemon in the cavity. I didn't put it on a rack. I didn't douse it in apple cider. I didn't do any of the things that many other chefs and home cooks do. I only used salt in the cavity (maybe a tablespoon) and salt and peppered the outside (probably 2T of salt and 1.5T of cracked black pepper). Too often, chicken gets crapped up with too many other competing flavors, when, for me anyway, it tastes best with just a little salt and pepper.

I served this with some peas (which my friend, Holly, so wonderfully provided), some roasted sweet potatoes with thyme, and some corn, which I had frozen from the last crop of fresh corn last fall -- I just thawed it, added some butter, fresh tarragon from the garden, a little salt, and some chopped bacon, and holy moley it was good. Oh, my friend's son also shaved some fresh parmagiano-reggiano overtop the corn and made it even better.

That chicken was soooo scrumptious. I'm still thinking about it now, a few days later. And I'm smiling. WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME? Oh, yeah. I ate good food. It was simple, uncomplicated, and really, really good.

How do you roast chicken? Do you season it with salt and pepper? Do you brine it? Do you shove stuff in the cavity? Do you season or enhance it with other things? Have you ever eaten a chicken butt? Did you giggle just now? Busted. Use the comments to let me know. I'd love to hear how you like your chicken. But do me one favor: try roasting a chicken one night just like this one. Plain and simple. Trussed. Roasted. Salt and pepper. And tell me what you think.

Up Next: "Peas and Carrots" -- Maine Lobster Pancakes with Pea Shoot Salad and Ginger-Carrot Emulsion

Chicken from
Whole Foods

Music to Truss a Chicken By:
A certain double album by Fleetwood Mac. Because if I have to be song-poisoned, so do you.

Read my previous post: Veal Stock

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Veal Stock

I promised a long time ago that I'd do a post on veal stock, and I apologize that it's taken me this long to get to it. See, here's the deal: I have a small kitchen with a small sink. I like to make veal stock in large quantities, which requires large stock pots... which means the weather has to be nice because I have to take those pots outside and wash them using a garden hose because they don't fit in the sink. And, because I enjoy a clean and relatively sanitary space in which to clean these pots, it means I have to clean up the area where my garden hose is, oh and by the way, it has to be above 32 degrees Fahrenheit because the hose can't be hooked up when it's too cold, and I hate being outside in the cold anyway to wash those pots, so there you have it. Also? I had a freezer full of veal stock from the last time I made it, so I needed to use that before I made more.

And so I did.

And here we are.

Many of the dishes I've done as part of French Laundry at Home used veal stock -- whether in a braise, a reduction, a sauce, or some other form.

And now, today, at this very moment, you get to see how it's done.

Aren't you lucky?

But before we do that, let me blather on a little more about veal stock.

When Michael Ruhlman published The Elements of Cooking, he spent a lot of time in interviews talking about veal stock (he actually wrote an essay about veal stock for the book, and called it "the home cook's most valuable ingredient"). It's something I paid attention to, because prior to cracking open The French Laundry Cookbook, I don't think I really thought about a) whether or not veal stock existed, and b) that it really is a thing of beauty.

There are those who believe veal stock is unnecessary. Those people are idiots. In fact, there was a great debate on eGullet not long ago, in which some folks claimed that veal stock was difficult to do, or hard to find ingredients for, or just too much work and that beef stock was sufficient. They are sadly misguided. And also probably have bad breath. I'm just sayin'.

Now, I'm not one to delve down into the nitty-gritty of arguments like that because I obviously don't have the culinary training or expertise that some folks have, but damnit -- I have a palate that can tell the difference between dishes made with veal stock versus beef stock, and it DOES make a difference, because veal stock has a certain, distinct neutrality to it. And, if I may get all science-y on you for a minute, because the bones are from a young animal they contain more collagen, which when it breaks down into gellatin gives the veal stock an unparalleled body you just can't get from older bones.

But let me explain it in more Carol-like terms:

Beef stock tastes like Chef-Boy-R-Dee ravioli.

Veal stock is more velvety than actual velvet.

Beef stock is a sweaty, hairy truck driver on the final leg of a cross-country haul, in which he stopped only to sleep, not shower.

Veal stock is like standing naked under a gentle waterfall in the sunlight.

Beef stock makes your house smell like farts.

Veal stock makes your house smell like home.

Beef stock is not veal stock. And don't even get me started on the canned stocks -- they should be outlawed. But that's a rant for another day, and another blog.

Back to the task at hand: Let's talk about how to make veal stock from The French Laundry Cookbook.

One of the biggest complaints I hear about veal stock is this: "But I don't know wheeerrre to buyyy veeeeeaaallll boooonnnnnnneeeess."

To which my reply is: "Get the hell off the computer and TALK TO PEOPLE."

I had no trouble at all finding veal bones because I know how to have a conversation. I know... how very 1991 of me. I simply picked up the phone and (using the yellow pages - I'm old, sue me) called grocery stores, butchers, and other meat-related businesses to see who had veal bones. I found at least 10 places in the DC metro region that carried them regularly, and another 10 who could order them for me 48 hours in advance. And, trust me, it's not just city centers that carry veal bones. I've done my research. You can find them almost anywhere -- you just have to ask.

I also asked the vendors at my local farmers' market if they knew anyone locally who sold veal bones, and it turns out one of them carries veal bones quite regularly.... and if he hadn't had them, I could have ordered them for the following week. So, it's almost like the veal bones found me... not the other way around.

So, it's easy. Again, you just have to ask. And when you do, you get 10 pounds of bones like these:

I rinsed them in cold water and put them in one of my gigundo 24-quart stock pots to begin the first step of making The French Laundry Cookbook's veal stock: "the blanching of bones for clarification."

I filled the pot with enough cold water so that there was twice as much water as bones.

I turned on the burner to medium heat and brought it to a simmer. While it was coming to a simmer, I moved the bones around a tiny bit (but not too much), and I skimmed all the gunk that began to rise to the surface. Bringing the pot of water and bones to a simmer took just about an hour and 15 minutes.

As soon as the pot began to simmer, I turned off the heat and drained the bones in a colander.

I rinsed the bones to remove all the gunk that was clinging to them, and had to take this pot outside later to clean it to get rid of all the gunk that was sticking to the bottom.

Thankfully, pot #2 was ready and waiting, so I could keep going.

I put the rinsed bones into a clean stock pot, added 12 quarts of water, and began what The French Laundry Cookbook calls "Veal #1 -- The initial extraction of flavor from bones and aromatics to obtain a first liquid."

I turned on the heat to medium and slowly brought it to a simmer -- again, it took about an hour and 15 minutes. I skimmed every 10-15 minutes so get rid of all the impurities that were rising to the top.

Once the liquid was simmering, I added tomato paste, which I stirred in to help it break up a bit in the water. Then, I added carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaves and fresh tomatoes.

I brought this to a simmer and let it simmer for just over four hours. I skimmed every 20 minutes or so.

When it was ready, I strained it and saved the bones and aromatics for the next step. I strained this part of the stock into a smaller pot, put it in a sink full of ice and stirred it to cool it before putting it in the refrigerator.

Next, it was time to make "Veal #2 -- or, remouillage (remoistening) -- the second extraction of flavor to obtain a second liquid." To do that I put the bones and aromatics from what I'd just strained into a clean stock pot and added 12 quarts of water.

I slowly brought this to a simmer, and allowed it to simmer for four hours, skimming every half hour or so.

I strained this liquid and cooled it, just as I did the first batch.

I let both batches of vealy goodness really cool off in the refrigerator overnight and began the final step the next morning.

I poured both pots of veal liquid into a large stockpot and slowly brought it to a simmer. This time, I let it simmer for 7 hours, and it reduced and reduced and reduced, and I skimmed and skimmed and skimmed, and MAN did my house smell amazing.

I poured it through two different strainers into a smaller pot and cooled it off in another sink full of ice.

Finally, I ladled it, 2 cups at a time, into plastic containers that later went into the freezer for safekeeping.

Make it this way once. Humor me. You won't be sorry. You can even halve the recipe, if that makes it easier. However, if you need a quicker go-to way for making veal stock, Ruhlman has it down, so follow his lead. The man knows his stuff.

Up Next: A French Laundry at Home Extra: Trussing and roasting chicken

Veal bones from Smith Meadows Farm
Cento tomato paste
Aromatics and produce from
Whole Foods

Music to Cook By:
It's a little bit of a roundabout story, but I listened to a pretty steady rotation of The Fixx and Re-Flex. See, I've been thinking about Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking a lot this week, and whenever I read that title, my brain sees/reads "The Elements of Cooking" to the tune of "The Politics of Dancing" by Re-Flex, and then I have that frakkin' song in my head all day. So, of course, I had to listen to Re-Flex while I cooked, and then thought, hey -- maybe I should also listen to The Fixx (with their obvious music video production budget of $50). Why? Because they are also from the 80s and have an "x" in their name. I know. How the MacArthur Foundation hasn't awarded me one of their genius grants by now astounds me, too.

Read my previous post: Saddle of Rabbit in Applewood-Smoked Bacon with Caramelized Fennel and Fennel Oil

And, a special thanks to Spooneroonie, who sent me this lovely, lovely bacon wallet to replace the one that got stolen. How much do I love her?!?!