Thursday, October 27, 2011

I've recently gotten into cooking fish, but I'm terrible at it. What can I do to improve my technique a little??

Cooking fish can be a very a misunderstood thing.  A lot of mongers and mothers rattle off rules of thumb that don't really work in the end.

For instance, "bake for 20 minutes @ 425˚F".  I hear this for almost every fish, regardless of size or shape.  This is too hot and too long for just about any fish I'd suggest eating.  

Have you ever played shuffle board at a bar? You slide a heavy metal disk down a wooden game board.  The goal is to get the disc to come to a stop in just the right place.  It requires a very delicate hand.
In many cooked fish, a little color is fine as long as it flakes.

Cooking fish, or anything for that matter, is very much the same.  The fish is moving down a spectrum from raw to cooked, and the idea is that the fish stops cooking in just the right place. 
In shuffle board, you can't put too much power behind it, or it will fly right off the board every time.  As well with fish,  a hot oven is bound to push you over the edge.  To get the fish to just the right place, you have to give it a gentle push - at a gentler heat (325˚F) and pull it out of the oven at the right moment, such that the cooking of the fish slows to a stop in just the right place.

Where's that place? It depends on the fish.  The size of the piece and the width.  Will you sear it first?
Just give yourself some leeway - pull it on the early side - you can always cook it more.  For flaky fish, you can give it a firm but gentle press with a finger,  feeling for the flakes to separate slightly.  For a fat piece, feel the sides.  They should look opaque and feel firm.  Also, expect fat pieces of fish to carry over more. 

If you see white stuff seeping out of your fish - you've gone WAY too far.  That shouldn't happen.

ALSO, I say this all of the time, but it holds especially true with fish - You have to buy the best you can find.  Fish is not the place to try to save a few bucks, you need to find the best.  No amount of finesse or know-how will set bad fish straight.

I used swordfish in this recipe, a fish that is notoriously terrible when over cooked. 

Mediterranean Style Fish with Almonds and Dried Fruit
If you're peeler leaves pith, cut it out.

2 lbs Sturdy fish, cut into 1 inch cubes (swordfish, mahi mahi, halibut,  tuna, etc)
1 Shallot, sliced thinly
1/2 roasted almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 cup dried fruit (cranberry, cherry, raisin, etc.
One Lemon, zest peeled-pith removed - juice reserved
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Nice extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. 
2. Toss the fish with salt, freshly ground black pepper and enough oil to lightly coat.
3. Working in two batches, sear the cubes of fish on a few sides.  It's bettaer not to be OCD about hitting each side because it will overcook the fish.  Four sides is enough.
4. Set the fish aside and in the same pan, add a little oil to lube the surface and drop in the sliced shallot and cook for one minute.  Add the lemon peel, almonds, and dried fruit.  Stir well to combine.
5. Kill the heat and return the fish to the pan and toss well.  Squeeze over the lemon juice and finish with a few generous tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. 
I actually just used a nut mix for this. It was perfect.

Taste for seasoning. Make sure it has enough salt.  This dish should also be nice and tangy, so another lemon's worth of juice may be in order.

This was yummy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I know you can do a lot with chicken, but I seem to get stuck in the same old ways of roasting, grilling or making a soup. Any ideas for something new?

This is a dish in my rotation that reappears when the temperature starts to drop.  It's got a nice interesting flavor profile and it's great left over.  It also freezes well.
It happens to qualify as a one-pot-meal, which makes it a great option for those of you who are cooking for one or two people.
Lastly, because I was feeling frisky, I implemented an oblique cut with the carrots.  In this dish, because of the long cooking time, the size of the vegetable cut doesn't really matter.  It does, however, look cool and in shorter cooking methods provides a variety of texture that can be interesting.

Also, for all the flavor it yields, it is strikingly simple.

Chicken Tagine

4 Chicken Legs (Drums + thighs, separated or whole)
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne (more if you like heat)
1 onion diced
3-4 carrots peeled and diced
2 lbs golden potatoes
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
preserved lemons, seeds removed and roughly chopped (or 1 lemon sliced into 1/8" rounds - seeds removed)
1/4 cup of dried fruit, chopped (golden raisins, apricots, apples, mango, etc)

To make an oblique cut, slice the carrot on bias and then make a 1/4 turn and slice again. 

Garnish with:
Cilantro and/or parsley, roughly chopped
Almonds, roughly chopped

1. Before you do any preparation, sprinkle your chicken liberally with salt and pepper and give it some time to rest. Prepare the rest of the ingredients for cooking.
2. Heat a deep heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat, add enough vegetable oil to coat cooking surface.
3. Brown the chicken well in the pan, working in batches if you need to.  Set it aside
4. Working over the same heat, add everything but the garnish to the the pan. Add enough water to almost cover these veggies and press the chicken pieces down into the liquid.  Add a good pinch of salt here.
5. Continuing on the medium high heat, bring this to a simmer.  Cover and either lower the heat on the stovetop to minimum or, preferably, stick it in a 350˚F oven.  Cook for 45 minutes. 
The sauce should be thick and viscous.  Taste it!  If it needs more salt, don't be shy.

Garnish with the chopped almond and the herbs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Later today (From 4pm-5pm) I'm going to be fielding cooking questions live on The Daily Meal's facebook page.  You can check it out here.

Bring a cooking question!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Warm Your Bones with Pork Chili

It's officially fall, and we're already reverting to the hearty preparations that, despite common medicine, seem to improve our circulation and rewarm our toes and fingertips. 

Good chili will do just that.  (Bad chili seems to leave my toes and fingertips numb) The true history of chili is somewhat muddy, but Texans will contest that a real bowl of "Texas Red" contains no beans or tomatoes.  This recipe has neither, (but won't really qualify as true "red") It is, however, really tasty chili.

Whatever the ingredients, the key to standout chili is in the chili powder.  Made well with the right ingredients,  it creates the deep flavor profile that characterizes your chili.  Store bought chili powder will get you a tasty chili, but the homemade stuff will take you to the next level.

Pork Chili

1.5 lbs boston butt cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes, seasoned well with salt
4 tbsps chili powder (DIY chili powder)
1 medium to large onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic   
2 poblano peppers
4 oz. fresh chili peppers, jalpeño, habñero, serrano,
1 bunch of cilantro, leaves separated from stems
2 tbsps dark brown sugar
1 dark or amber beer, preferably mexican (negro modelo or dos ecquis amber)
2 tbsps of masa corn flour

1. Heat a large heavy bottomed pot well over medium high heat.  Working in batches, brown the meat pieces.  Don't crowd the pot too much, as it prohibits browning.
2. While the meat is browning, combine 3 tablespoons of the chili powder, onion, garlic, poplano, sugar, and chili peppers and the cilantro stems. along with the beer.  Puree well on high until thoroughly blended.  (What this yields is NOT pretty, but it will be delicious)
3. Return all of the browned meat to the pot and add the veggie beer mixture.  Allow this to come to a boil, cover pot and place in a 325˚F oven for two hours, or until the meat if very tender. 
4.  Set the pot over a medium flame and let it bubble.  Stir in the masa (gently so as to not shred the meat) and and the final tablespoon of chili powder.  Wait to see how thick the liquid becomes.  Add more as needed or desired. I like my chili thick. 

I eat my chili with a little raw onion for crunch and corn tortillas heated directly over the bare flame on my stove.  I always serve this stuff with sour cream and or cheese, it's tasty but it also acts to cut the heat those who can't take it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Never Can Say Goodbye...To Tomatoes!

Although I welcome the cooler weather and the arrival of the autumn harvest, it’s always difficult to say goodbye to summer. Goodbye to stone fruit and berries, goodbye to bumper crops, but most of all, I mourn the loss of the fresh local tomato. Hothouse tomatoes can never compare and tomatoes from far away warm climates always arrive mealy and bland. Last year I promised myself that I would prepare to avoid a tomato-less fall and winter by making loads of frozen tomato sauce. Below is my simple tomato sauce recipe. I leave in the seeds and skin of the tomato because they don’t really bother me and I just blend everything together at the end. If you are bothered by the taste of the bitter seeds or the texture of the skin you can easily remove them with a few extra steps.
To remove the skin of a tomato, you will need a large pot of boiling water and an ice bath. Cut a shallow “X” on the top of each of tomato. Plunge the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds and then transfer immediately to the ice bath. The skin should have curled slightly at the meeting points of the “X.” Pull the skin away from each tomato, let them fully cool, and proceed…

End-of-Summer Tomato Sauce
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
10-12 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 Tbsp. chili flakes
1 Tbsp. Oregano
A handful fresh basil leaves, rough chopped
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
½ cup red wine (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven, or heavy bottomed saucepot over medium heat. Sweat the garlic and onions for about 10 minutes.
Add chopped tomatoes and spices and cook until the tomatoes begin to release their juice. Add the wine and vinegar. Bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer the sauce over low heat, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning. When the liquid has reduced by half, season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Let the sauce cool for a while and then process it until smooth in a blender or food processor. Freeze some of your amazing tomato sauce to taste tomatoes all winter long!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Some Cool Colorado Projects

A couple of wise goats. 

Part of my time away this past summer was spent in Colorado, where I happened upon a few places that reminded me of the importance of ingredients. The item you buy that only needs salt and pepper, but leaves guests asking "What did you do to that chicken?!?" 
One of these was Crystal River Meats in downtown Carbondale.   They're a sustainable construction office that happens to sell meat out of their office.  I am not exaggerating when I say that what they peddle what is probably the tastiest beef I have ever come across, and it is grass-fed. (I have not had much luck finding truly tasty grass-fed beef.)

The people at Crystal River Meats pointed me to the Rock Bottom Ranch,  an environmental education center.  Part of their programming being geared towards growing and/or raising your own food.  I was able to procure a couple of chickens from these guys - also outstanding fare.

If you're ever in that neck of the woods, these spots are definitely worth checking out. 

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