Monday, February 16, 2009
Think of the challenge caterers encounter at every event: use high end products, simple cooking techniques, and at least a 30 minute hold in a warmer to produce something worthy of the $100+ price tag that the host is paying -- oh and one last thing...do it 100 - 200 dishes at a time. Sounds like a challenge from the Top Chef line-up doesn't it!
Every now and then though, a dish is created in these instances that is just brilliant. Take for example the one featured in this post's headline picture produced by Max Ultimate Food of Boston, MA. The dish is simple: Pan Roasted Chilean Sea Bass with Glazed Baby Root Vegetables and Meyer Lemon Sauce. All of the elements here work because the person who created the menu thought through the production and execution of the dish. I'm sure it went something like this: a fatty fish will be able to hold up in a warming box better than a lean and flakey one...Sea Bass is that lucious fish...root veggies won't fall apart after being heated, then cooled, then heated again.....and a meyer lemon butter sauce will be able to be made and held at about 140 without losing it's character and freshness. Brilliant.
Now if only crudite could be outlawed!
The cold of winter here in New England has me craving a warm summer day when a dozen fresh shucked oysters and a couple of pounds of steamers or mussels are just a short drive away. Until then, I've got some time to perfect my recipes and techniques for making the perfect batch of steamers...and to do so, I'll refer to some tips given to me recently while at Mac's Shack and the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, MA.
There are a couple of big points to consider when making steamers: 1)No sand! -- simple as it sounds it's really difficult to clean these suckers, so the guys at Mac's actually built their own holding tanks for mussels, lobsters, and steamers that filters in Wellfleet Bay water 24 hours a day. This provides the steamers a chance to spew all the sand they ate while in the wild, without losing any of that natural flavor. To simulate this at home, soak the steamers in cold salt water for 24 hours in the refigerator. 2)No broken shells! --this one can be taken care of during the selection and storage process. Keep steamers in a collander in the refrigerator in a single to double layer covered with a damp cloth. Steamers are called soft-shell clams for a reason so be gentle! 3)Perfectly cooked without being overdone! -- This is tougher than it sounds. When cooking littlenecks or mussels, the opening of the shell is the best indication of being done, however with steamers, that is not the case. The name "steamer" comes from the traditional cooking method where 1-2 inches of water or broth was brought to a boil in the bottom of a pot, then the steamers would be added and allowed to steam for several minutes. This creates a good finished product, however after much snooping at some of the best seafood shacks on Cape Cod, I noticed that they actually boil the steamers and mussels in giant pots containing slightly salted water! I recommend the following when cooking 2#'s of steamers:
8 qts water
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon sea salt
Bring all of the ingredients to a boil and then drop in the steamers for 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Strain the broth through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer and reserve for dipping or drinking. Serve steamers with broth and drawn butter.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
For this simple, mediterenean inspired dish, a simple tomato sauce, scented with fennel is the vehicle for a great balance of acidity and sweetness. To make this dish: onions, fennel, garlic, bay leaves, and olive oil are gently heated to create an infusion of flavors. Once the vegetables are softened (about 5 - 10 minutes) but not browned, crushed peeled tomatoes and tomato juice are added to create the broth that the chicken will gently braise in. Be sure to add the chicken to the pan skin-side-up to insure a crispy flavorful final product. Right before serving, dust with salt and zest a lemon over the chicken. Enjoy!
1/2 Chicken, seasoned lightly with salt
1/2 onion, sliced
1 bulb fennel, tops removed, bulb sliced
2 whole cloves garlic, crushed
3 bay leaves
1 lemon, zested
1 cup canned, crushed tomatoes
2 cups tomato juice
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Pork Cachupa di Cabo Verde:
1 bunch collard greens or swiss chard, ribs removed and chopped
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into 2 inch chunks
Monday, February 2, 2009
Some topics covered are things like outlining the benefits of eating a partially vegan diet (he uses something he calls the before 6pm rule)....and using the production method of food, rather than an organic label, to decide whether or not it is produced in a sustainable, healthy manor.
He also attempts to bring the restaurant mindset of "food cost" to the home kitchen by explaining recipes that cost virtually nothing to prepare. One example he uses is making beans and rice from scratch -- a meal that is nutritious, vegan, sustainable, easy to prepare, and costs less than $1 per person to serve.
He outlines another great reason to try to change 3 meals a week from meat-centric to vegan. Animal (as do people) produce greenhouse gasses. At last check, we raise 40 Billion - yes Billion -- animals for consumption in the US alone. If each of us dropped three meat items a week from our diet, we would be able to reduce the amount of animals raised and consumed to a level that would environmentally speaking, be equivalent to taking all of the SUVS driven in America off the road. Additionally, to raise this many animals to produce things like steaks and cheeses, etc, we use extremly efficient (yet not very nice for the animals) farming methods that are currently operating at 70% the capicity of the world's farmlands. With the world population rising, and our consumption levels increasing daily, we soon will hit a maximum level of production.
One last thing, Bittman has been eating a more plant based diet for the past 3 years, and with no increase in exercise, has lost 40 pounds. Think about it.