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.