Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Moroccan" Lamb Chops

I've never been to Morocco, and I can't say I know anything about Moroccan cuisine, but a friend of ours went to Morocco and brought back some spices. One of them was a spice mixture called Ras el hanout. My wife wanted to eat lamb chops, and she gave me no other instructions, so I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to use this unique spice blend.

I rubbed plenty of salt, pepper, and the spice blend on the lamb, and let it sit while the oven was heating to 425° F. I wanted the spices to be obvious, so I covered it generously. Once the oven was ready, I roasted the lamb to an internal temperature of 135° F, maybe about 30 min. At the same time, I popped in some oiled garlic cloves to roast.

To make a side dish, I did a take on Thomas Keller's smashed marble potatoes. I microwaved some previously boiled potatoes (which were saved from a previous dinner), smashed them, and cooked them in a generous amount of butter, along with the finished roasted garlic cloves from the oven. In addition to the potatoes, I simply sauteed swiss chard (from my patio garden) with garlic.

The lamb was full-flavored with a hard hitting spice component. Unfortunately, the texture was a little tougher and chewier than I would've liked. I think lamb chops are better off done more to a medium temperature. Next time, I will have to try it at 140° F. Paired with 2005 Volver Tempranillo, the wine brought out the spices in the lamb and served as a nice fruity foil to the inherent gamy flavor of the lamb.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Buffalo surf and turf

My wife came upon a great deal at Safeway this week: $5 frozen lobster tails! Yeah sure, live lobster is better, but you can't argue with $5. Our friend also happened to be at the San Francisco Ferry Building and picked up a half pound of buffalo tenderloin. Having some free time today, I put them together for a classic surf and turf. A shot of rich lobster soup accompanied the meal.

Lobster and buffalo lend themselves wonderfully to sous vide cooking. The slow cooking gives the lean buffalo a wonderful texture without fear of turning it into leather. Also, butter poaching the lobster using a temperature controller really infuses the butter flavor into the lobster.

To get the timing right, I started with the buffalo tenderloin. When the buffalo was done cooking, I transferred the bag and the water to a separate container to keep warm while I made the lobster and soup.

For the lobster, I followed Thomas Keller's recipe of poaching the tails in beurre monté. Buerre monté is an emulsion of butter and water, whisked together below 180° F. It's very easy to make: just start with some water water at low heat, and slowly whisk in pieces of butter.

Keller's recipe calls for creating an entire bath of buerre monté and lowering the lobster tails directly into the bath. In order to save butter, I put the tails into a zip-lock bag and poured the buerre monté into the bag. I ended up using about 1 stick of butter for this. The nice thing is, when you're done, you can reuse the butter to flavor anything.

The soup was kind of an afterthought, but it turned out to be a nice complement to the dish. It was very rich and flavorful due to the lobster shells. I wish I had some celery or potato to add substance, but I worked with what was available in the kitchen at the time. Also, a nice variation could be to use white truffle oil instead of extra virgin olive oil to finish.

Buffalo tenderloin steak
Buffalo tenderloin
salt, pepper, to taste

1. Salt and pepper the tenderloin, vacuum pack.
2. Cook for 1 hour (or as needed) at 130°F.
3. Grill on high heat, about 1 min per side.

Butter poached lobster tails
Lobster tail meat

1. Make buerre monté by whisking small pieces of butter into warm water. Dilute with more water until you have a 75:25 mixture of butter to water.
2. Place lobster tails and burre monté into a zip-lock bag and seal.
3. Cook for 15 min at 139°F.

Lobster soup
Lobster shells
bay leaf
heavy cream
extra virgin olive oil

1. Saute lobster shells until they are red
2. Add onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf. Add water until barely covered.
3. Simmer for one hour.
4. Reduce in half, add heavy cream.
5. Garnish with extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Blowtorch prime rib

I was inspired to post this because of my sister-in-law's recent posting on Facebook about her own prime rib. :) We hosted a dinner to raise money to send my wife to serve on board Mercy Ships. The fundraiser was a huge success and we are grateful for all who attended!

The main course was Thomas Keller's blowtorch prime rib. The recipe details can be found at the link, so I won't bother rehashing that. The key to the recipe is to torch the outside before you roast it, so that by the time it comes up to the correct temperature, it has a nice crust on the outside.

This is a dish I've made several times in the past, and I've found that it really lets the quality of the beef come through. My favorite type of beef to use is corn-fed, dry aged beef. You really get some nice complex flavors from the dry aging process, as well as the marbling from corn-fed beef. Just remember if you use dry-aged beef, you need to cut off the dry outer layers or else it will be tough.

For this particular dinner, we used a corn-fed, non-dry-aged prime cut of beef. You might say it was wet-aged for a week. The result was still delicious, although you don't get the complex aromas and flavors from the dry aging process.

The most fun part about doing this is using the blow torch! Don't bother using a "creme brulee" torch you get at fancy culinary stores. Go straight to your local home improvement store and get yourself a serious blowtorch at a cheaper price.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fountain Coke vs Mexican bottled Coke

Everyone talks about how Mexican bottled Coke is so much better than regular Coke because it uses cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Today at work, we put that to the test in a scientific experiment.

My coworker Sean and I were presented with two unlabeled paper cups of Coke--one of which was Mexican Coke, the other was regular Coke from the fountain machine. I noted that they smelled pretty much the same. Upon tasting, the cup on my left tasted more familiar to me, like the Coke gummi candies I used to eat as a kid. However, the cup on my right seemed to be more refreshing and fizzy. I preferred the one on my right.

It was revealed that both Sean and I preferred regular fountain Coke, which was a shock to both of us. The candy-like taste of the Mexican Coke could possibly be attributed to the cane sugar. Also, the appeal of the fountain Coke could possibly be attributed to the freshness and coldness of the carbonated water from the fountain rather than the actual flavor profile of the drink. What we learned from this is that the freshness of a drink has a bigger impact than any subtle difference in flavor between cane sugar and HFCS.

However, since our goal is to isolate the difference between just the sugar, we will try this test again on Monday while trying to minimize these other variables.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Glazed Pork Belly with Swiss Chard, Pinot Gris-Poached Granny Smith Apples, and Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

This was quite possibly the best pork fat I've ever tasted. Most of the time when I eat pork belly, I take the fat off because it feels so unhealthy. This, however, was so good I wanted to eat all of it. The beauty of cooking this sous vide is the fat. Fat melts at 85°C, and the meat is cooked at 82.2°C. What this means is that while the meat is getting tender, the fat does not melt away. One mistake I made, however, was that I cut the pork incorrectly with respect to the grain. I should have cut the pork against the grain, because cutting with the grain made the meat seem more tough and stringy instead of fall-apart tender.

The combination of flavors on the plate was fun. There was the rich and decadent combination of the pork belly and the swiss chard leaves. The leaves were cooked with bacon, another form of pork belly, and could definitely stand up to the richness of the belly. Then there was the vinaigrette and the apple balls, both of which provided a cleansing acidic counterpoint to the fatty pork.

I paired this with a Ravenswood Zinfandel. I thought the fatty pork would help to balance the acidity and tannins of the zin, but I don't think it worked that well. It seemed like the zin overwhelmed the pork, which although it was rich, it was not very heavily flavored.

The pork was cooked 82.2°C for 12 hours, then seared at high heat on all sides. After that, it was cooked in a pork sauce made of reduced pork stock. This cooked down until it became thick and glazed the belly.

The swiss chard leaves were cooked with bacon, onions, and garlic, then roasted with additional chicken stock in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes. Then it was reduced on the stove until the chicken stock thickened and glazed the leaves.

The chard stems were cooked sous vide at 85°C for 75 minutes, with bay leaves, thyme, and garlic. Be careful with the herbs! The stems really soak up the flavor.

The final touch were granny smith apple balls. These were cooked sous vide at 85°C for 30 minutes in a solution of water, sugar, and an Oregon pinot gris. These provided a perfect counterpoint to the richness of the belly. The sous vide cooking allowed the apple balls to soak up the sugar and wine, while retaining a toothsome bite.

The vinaigrette was simple, with Dijon mustard, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Twelve hour pork belly

Unhindered by my lack of success with the short ribs, I decided to move onto pork belly. The recipe is also from Thomas Keller's Under Pressure. The crazy recipe involved sous vide at every turn, from the pork belly (82.2 °C for 12 hours) to apples (85 °C for 30 minutes) to swiss chard stems (85 °C for 1 hour, 15 minutes).

The pork started off overnight in a brine of salt, sugar, onions, carrots, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns.
After that, it was put into a bag with chicken stock, more herbs and spices, and cooked for 12 hours at 82.2 °C. Twelve hours later, it is put in an ice bath and chilled.

When I finally took it out of the bag, it came out a beautiful pale pink color with subtle alternating layers of meat and fat. The fat was so soft, trimming it was like cutting through a piece of lard.
In my next post, I will tell you how the dish turned out. Until then, I will leave you with an appetizer. I laid thin strips of fat trimmings on top of a plain garlic bruschetta. It was delicious! The feeling of cold pork fat melting on your tongue, contrasting with the crisp texture of the toasted bread was amazing. The subtle accents provided by the herbs and spices also added complexity to the pork fat flavor. A wonderful prelude of what was to come...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sous vide short ribs, part 2

48 hours later, I pulled them out. This was my first time cooking meat sous vide, so I found that they looked quite unpleasant and unnatural looking straight out of the bag. Many sous vide meat preparations call for searing the meat with a hot pan or torch before serving to create a nice crust. As a former Boy Scout, I love playing with fire and welcomed the opportunity to torch the meat!
However, before pulling the ribs out of the water, I made a quick sauce by sauteeing a mirepoix (carrot/onion/celery), tomato paste, deglazing with white wine, and then adding beef stock. I reduced this until it became syrupy.

Finally, I had my torched short rib and sauce. Time to eat! The result was indeed a medium-rare short rib--something I had never had before. I also found that there was no discernible difference between the three versions I had made. It was not as tender as I had hoped, except for one piece that was particularly fatty. I also thought that they had an almost overwhelming flavor of beef fat. I wonder if the result had something to do with the beef being grass-fed. Grass-fed beef tends to be lean and strong in flavor, almost gamy. Did cooking it in a pouch intensify these flavors? Did I need to cook it another 24 hours to make it more tender?

Overall, I had expected an amazingly tender short rib with amazing flavor. Perhaps that was too much to expect. Compared to this meal, I would have preferred a traditionally braised short rib. I obviously have much more experimenting to do.