Saturday, January 1, 2011

Trotters on the mind's plate

A few days ago, I went to Hakata Ton Ton in west village, a place famous for making pig trotters in the tradition of Hokkaido, Japan. Everything was delicious: crispy skin and unctuous meat. My only issue were the bones. I'm sitting by myself at the bar, with everyone able to watch me put eat a trotter and spit bones out onto a plate: So I understood that if I were to pitch trotters to a client, I'd have to get rid of the bones, or hope that its an intimate meal where the guests aren't embarrassed by spitting out bones. I'm doing a dinner for a friend and next weekend, and I thought of doing something where I stew the trotters, pull the meat, wrap it in the skin roulade style and crisp it up in a pan last minute. Here's what I came up with:

Degorge the trotters. Put in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil. This coagulates blood, and removes impurities.

Meanwhile, prepare aromatics to include in the simmering liquid. I reached for Celery, Onions, equal parts garlic and ginger, and star anise.

Foamy scum. You don't want that in your trotters, do you?

Dump the trotters in an ice bath to seize the meat. You're not cooking, but cleaning the trotters.

Sweat onions. I chopped them largely since they are going to be simmering for close to 2 hours and I didn't want them to turn to mush. Star anise adds a nice floral note to the broth.

Slice it all uniformly, continue to sweat all the aromats together until fragrant, drain the trotters from the ice bath, and add them to the pot, cover with chicken stock, and/or water.

Bring to a hard boil.

Turn it down to bubble lazily.

Remove when you can pierce the skin with a butter knife with no resistance.

This is the part where I had to deviate from my original plan. Pulling the meat off the bone was a bit too time consuming for New Years Eve dinner. My wife traveled for work the week before, and just got home last night, while the trotters were simmering, so I wanted to spend more time with her. So I did it exactly the way the did at Hakata Ton Ton, and just seared it off after its finished stewing, so now its technically a braise.

Uber rich trotters: succulent meat, crispy skin. It needed salinity, and acidity. So I turned to a granny smith julienne, and a quick soy-ginger sauce.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ceviche and batch cooling

This weekend was excrutiatingly hot. Saturday morning, I went to the farmers market in inwood, and then to arthur avenue to get fish, meat, and some produce. I needed something refreshing and cool for lunch. I made ceviche using scrod from Randazzos. Ceviche is a south american technique of coagulating fish in a citrus or acidic base. Usually, limes, lemons, or grapefruit juice is used. What happens to the flesh of the fish as it is kept in the citrus juice is that it coagulates the proteins, thus cooking (with no heat) the fish. Its also useful to mention that most (pathogenic) bacteria cannot survive in a highly acidic environment, which makes this somewhat raw application consumable. Here's my variation

Scrod, tomatoes, basil puree, chile, shallot, figs, lemon

I make a lot of chili at home. I thought it'd be useful to share a helpful solution to the problem of having to cool down a big batch of chili or any kind of stew. If you were to put a big batch of any kind of stew that's just been cooked into a container in the fridge, it will inevitably go bad. It won't cool down in time, and may alter the temperature of the fridge, thus ruining other things that need to stay cold. Solution: batch cooling. Rule of thumb no 1: temperature danger zone 41-130 degrees F (my chef instructors pounded this number into our brains). Bring food down to within the 80s (around room temp) within the first hour, and you can refrigerate it then. Rule of thumb no 2: The wider and colder the surface area, the quicker the heat will escape.Here's a quick demo:

First, make lots of amazing chili

Meanwhile, put two sheet pans in the freezer.

When done, pour the chili into the sheetpans and stir. When cool to the touch, store in an airtight container

This is also the method restaurants use for batch cooling risotto.

Basic method of making chili
2 lbs ground meat
2 or 3 cans of any beans
Can of crushed tomatoes
spices of choice
onion, diced
garlic, mashed
celery, diced
chiles, diced
dry chiles, rehydrated
handful baking chocolate

In first pan, sweat aromatics (onions, chiles, celery, garlic) until onions are transluscent and release their aroma. Add spices (I add paprika, cayenne, dominican oregano, pepper flakes, scant coriander, smoked salt, garlic powder if I'm too lazy to mash garlic). Add the beans

Meanwhile, in a smoking hot skillet, brown the meat using only enough oil to film the bottom of the pan. Brown meat in three batches. Deglaze last batch with a few drops of worchestershire sauce. Add meat to main pot.

Add dry chilies, and enough crushed tomatoes to submerge the entire mixture in liquid. If its not enough, add any kind of stock, or even water. Stir, and simmer for at least an hour (I simmer as long as I can, sometimes up to 4 or 5 hours to build flavor.

When done, add a handful of baking chocolate.
Batch cool as demonstrated.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tomato Basil lobster roll

My first lobster roll. Ever. Inspired by Aki and Alex. He says it needs lobster lightly dressed in a mayo based sauce, herbs, a spicy kick, and butter fried Martin potato rolls. For herbs I added a basil puree to a basic white-miso mayo.
I cooked the lobster in my office out of necessity. I went to a local supermarket that specializes in international food for this impoverished-yet-incredibly-diverse south bronx area. Lobster, $5.99/lb. 1 point 3 pounds. Check.
It was alive and kicking when I freaked out showed it to my patient office mate. An hour later I went to check on it in the fridge, and it was dead with a chipped claw. Lobsters are evolution's joke; when they die they're sweet flesh turns to mush unless its cooked immediately. I McGuyvered my way around this problem using two plastic bags, an electric water kettle, tupperware. I brought home cooked lobster that had been chilled, perfect
After harvesting the meat, I was left with about 7 ounces of meat and the rest of the weight in discarded shell.

Normally, I'd roast the shells w/ mirepoix and make a stock, but I had no need for lobster stock, or space in the freezer. Sadly, this had to be dumped.

Next I blistered potatoes. Basic blistering technique. Cut potatoes (in this case all blue, and laratte from the hudson valley) to uniform sizes. Dump them in a pot of mildly salted cold water. Boil, simmer until they are almost falling apart. Remove from water and allow to dry. Place on a pan with oil, and shove in a 350 degree oven until they are, well, blistered. Season aggressively (I reach for kosher salt, smoked salt, smoked paprika, and black pepper).

Next, dress the harvested lobster meat lightly in any mayonnaise based sauce. Basic mayo technique. The ratio I use for mayo is 1 egg yolk per 100-125ml of neutral oil. Place an egg yolk in a bowl, add 1/2 tsp white miso paste, juice of 1/4 lime, zest of 1/2 lime, pinch paprika, pinch of any kind of mustard, s+p. Whisk in oil in a steady stream (this technique works well in a food processor). Taste and adjust the seasoning. It will most likely need more acid since its such a rich sauce, so you can reach for citrus juice, or any type of vinegar (I go for sherry on most occasions, but I used rice vinegar this time). I added basil puree (blanch in boiling water, shock in an ice bath, puree in a blender or food processor with a little oil) for herbaciousness.
I got these beutiful sungold tomatoes from the farmers market the other day, and they were the perfect accompaniment. The acid of the tomato gave the overall dish the burst of flavor it needed.

Honestly, this was a delicious, affordable use of cheap lobster, but the quality of the lobster was seriously lacking. It was want for fresh lobster, and I don't think I'll return to food bazaar for lobster again. A journey dish like this is worth the trip into the city for super fresh lobster from a reputable retailer, or even a ride over to randazzos. The mayo would have benefitted from more white miso, and some lemon juice instead of lime (I found the lime overpowered the basil). Maybe some garlic or anchovy paste would have been a good addition. There you have it world. My lobster roll. Source your ingredients well, and make sure you don't have to troubleshoot a dead lobster in the office. Lesson learned.

I washed it all down with a nice cold Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. $2.99 at Food bazaar. I've been meaning to try this hefe. It was great with the lobster roll, had some strong grainy notes on the palate and incredibly refreshing. All I needed was a dayboat to be on the LI sound, and it would have been perfect.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Happy friends

A friend hired me to do a dinner for his 3rd year anniversary. He's giving me full reign over the menu, and a generous budget. This friend and I have a good amount of history, so I want to pull out the best stuff for him. 11 or 12 course small plates tasting with 2 or 3 sweet courses, and a cheese course. At the risk of prematurely revealing to he and his wife a menu item, I thought it'd be nice to reveal a play by play of how I thought of one of the courses.

Cinnamon and vanilla butter poached lobster tail half, Jamon Iberico, Idiazabal.

For lunch in the office, I brought it some jamon serrano, and Idiazabal cheese, which is similar in nuttiness to an aged manchego, though its more smokey. Jamon serrano, has a very unique nutty, and spicy characteristic. You can't get these flavors out of these products when you eat them straight out of the fridge; you've gotta let it come to room temp so all of those hidden flavors and aromas can feel safe to come out.
I rolled a few thin slices of idazabal in a single slice of jamon, took a bite and savored. I got notes of cinnamon, almonds, walnuts, and some very light smoke. Jamon Iberico is a ham that is cured for about 2- 3 weeks in the mountainous regions of Spain, and then hung to age and dry for two years as its pounded by the pure winds that bring the ocean's briny characteristic to it. As the meat ages, the flavor gets nuttier and the texture of the fat becomes more supple.
Its been referred to the caviar of cured meats, and the cheapest I've seen it for was $99/lb. I had the pleasure of sampling Iberico at Murray's real salami at Grand Central Market this week, and was floored. It was an embarrassingly emotional experience for me (I think I may have was that good!) I paid closer attention to it, and tasted a faint note of cinnamon.

I will roll six or seven thinly sliced pieces of idiazabal in one slice of Jamon Iberico. I will gently poach the harvested lobster tail meat in cinnamon and vanilla butter, and put them both on the plate for my friends to enjoy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fermented coffee

There is an animal in Indonesia that finds the best coffee beans, eats them, and poops them out. People go hunting for their poo because the coffee beans left whole in them yields the best (read most expensive) coffee in the world. Don't believe me? Read here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Asparagus cookery

exhibit a exhibit b

I mentioned how I learned a decent technique for cooking asparagus from Heston Blumenthal's book in previous post. I do it often. My friend loaned me his Nikon D50, in order to get some professional quality photos for the blog/website I'm working on, so I took it out for a spin while cooking dinner.

The technique is simple. Place asparagus in a cold pan big enough to fit it all in one layer. Pour some oil over the asparagus, but only enough to film the bottom of the pan and lightly coat the asparagus. Put the heat on low, cover with a lid, and cook until its the desired doneness (a bit more toothesome than fork tender for me).

The idea is that blanching asparagus in water extracts a lot of that excellent asparagal flavor into the blanching water. Not enough of it stays in the stalk. Also, the pigmentation of asparagus is water soluble, but not oil soluble. Easy fix, cook it low and slow in a little bit of oil. The recipe adds little fat to the asparagus (its not a sponge so it doesn't sop up the oil), and keeps it pretty green. THIS IS THE EASIEST WAY OF MAKING ASPARAGUS SUPER FLAVORFUL!!!! All of the flavor is really in there. Try blanching it in salted water, shocking it in ice water, and reheating it in unsalted water. Then try this method. Leave a comment.

Admittedly, I overcooked the asparagus (exhibit b). I should've took it out when it was just done (exhibit a). I had a bit too much fun w/ the camera and its excellent manual settings.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I took this photo on the corner of 79th and 3rd last night. Strangely, I was tempted to somehow disconnect the line of liquid nitrogen, seal it, and hail a cab. I wouldn't have gotten that far. Apparently, NYC has several random dewars of liquid nitrogen strategically placed around the city to depressurize lines on the power grid.
I still fantasize about being able to make ice cream in less than 20 seconds with Liquid nitrogen.