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August 2009

August 22, 2009

Kuroge Wagyu, cucumber, honeydew, lime sugar

If you've ever eaten Snake River Farms beef, you'll know why I wanted to use their Wagyu for this dish.  If you haven't, oh how I wish and hope you will someday.  It's one of those bites of food that renders you mute, and even if you could talk, to try and find the language to describe how good it tastes is impossible.  The beef melts in your mouth and is, quite honestly, one of the best things I've ever eaten in my whole life.  I know the cooking process and professional expertise plays into how it tastes, but when you start with beef this good, it can only get better with great cooking.

So, a few weeks ago, I called Kim Glineski at Snake River to see if I could order the Wagyu beef cap I needed for this dish.  They were willing to work with me on it, but I had to buy 4 of them, and the price per pound meant I'd have had to shell out in the low four figures... something I knew I couldn't and didn't want to do.  Yes, I have friends who love food, but none who, right now, would've wanted to spend that much money on meat.

So, I pouted for about 3.8 seconds and thanked Kim for trying to make it work.  Before we hung up, she suggested I speak to their distributor in my region -- Seafoods.com -- to see if they might be able to find one of their clients for me to share a shipment with, and thus split the cost.  Sadly, we weren't able to make it happen, but they were able to get me some Mishima Ranch Wagyu instead:


But we'll get to the meat-cooking portion of our program in just a few minutes.

The first thing I set out to make was the lime sugar -- something I thought would be really quite easy.  And you know what happens when I think something's gonna be easy: fail-o-rama.

I needed Teflon-coated paper for this, and it was on my ingredient planning and procurement list; unfortunately, it got lost in the shuffle of a thousand different post-flu work projects I had to scramble to get done, and I didn't realize that I hadn't bought them until I cracked open the book to start pulling together my mise en place.  Dangit.  So, I sucked it up and used Silpat instead, which I thought might just possibly maybe perhaps work (while knowing deep-down inside it wouldn't), but I forged ahead anyway, because hell, it's only lime and sugar.  Not like if it doesn't work, I'm out nine frajillion dollars or hours of sweaty labor, right?

No, I'm just out a heaping helping of 12 hours of gas usage from my oven running overnight with a side order of maybe-I-should-just-get-an-effing-dehydrator-already.

To start, I whisked together sugar, egg whites, salt, citric acid, lime juice, and lime oil:



I put this mixture in between two layers of Silpat on a baking sheet.  The book says you should flatten it into 5" disk-ish shapes.  Not sure why.  I tried to do it in small bits, but when I rolled it to flatten it, it just T-1000'd itself into one giant blob.



I put it in a very low oven (about 120-125 degrees F) and went to bed. 

This is what greeted me the following day:


The more white-ish edges kind of resembled what it was supposed to look like, but the rest of it?  Not so much.


It was bendy and taffy-like, so I just let it sit uncovered in the warm oven, with the oven door cracked open, to see if it would dry out.

It didn't.  It just got darker and even more bendy and twisty, so peace out, lime sugar.  It was nice knowin' ya.

No time for whining, though.  Life's too short.  Onward and upward: time to finish the soy pudding!

Just as I started the lime sugar the day before, I also started the soy pudding a day ahead of time.  I mixed the tamari soy sauce and agar agar in a medium saucepan and combined it with my immersion blender:



I brought it to a boil, whisking all the while, and let it cook for a minute or so:


I stirred in more soy sauce and strained the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a plastic deli container.


It sat in the fridge overnight (at the same time the lime sugar kerflonked itself in the oven), and when I went to finish it the next morning, it came out of the container all in one piece, and it was beautiful:


The natural sunlight on it kind of makes it look like a metal canister or something, doesn't it?

I put it in the blender, along with a little bit of soy sauce (probably about 2T) to help it along, until it was the texture of mayonnaise.



I poured it into a squeeze bottle and put it back in the fridge until it was time to plate.

Then, I got working on the beef.



Look at this gorgeous cross-section:


I trimmed away the silverskin and visible pieces of fat on the outside, squared off the tapered end, and cut the beef into two pieces, which went into separate plastic ziploc bags.  I squeezed out the air as best I could (please, oh lord in heaven, magical tonka bean witches, and Oprah's The Secret, send me a Cryovac), and put both bags in a 59-degree Celsius water bath, courtesy of my immersion circulator.


During the 30 minutes the meat was in the water bath, I prepped the cucumber strips.  I sliced an English cucumber lengthwise and sliced it along my mandoline, making 1/16"-thick strips.  I laid the strips on a damp paper towel-covered tray and covered them with another damp paper towel and stored them in the fridge.




That whole process took all of 3 minutes, so for the remaining 27 minutes of the beef's cooking time, I putzed around, nibbling on Cheetos and prosciutto and an overripe peach, drinking Pellegrino, and getting nostalgic about my cassette Walkman and the Depeche Mode tapes I played over and over again (you'll understand why when you see the "Music to Cook By" below).

I took the bags of beef out of the warm water, and put them into a bowl of ice water for 15 minutes to stop the cooking.


Now, here's where I diverged a wee bit from the book's instructions.  I knew I was going to serve this as an entree.  And, I knew the people I was serving it to wouldn't really love the idea of the meat being so red on the inside (even though it was cooked -- it's that when you do beef sous vide, medium-rare looks like rare).  So, I cut the meat into thin strips that I'd sear later on just before plating.


I also ate two of those strips, and moaned with pleasure as I chewed.  Lawdy, lawdy...

The last thing I needed to do was prep the honeydew melon.


Gosh, is there any better smell than honeydew?  I mean, I know there is.... but on a summer afternoon, when it's hot outside, and you just want something cool and clean and sweet and crisp and so fresh-smelling?  I'll take honeydew over cantaloupe or any other melon or fruit any day.

The book had very specific slicing instructions on the honeydew.  I took one look at them and decided that since I wasn't plating it on a rectangular dish as they did in the book (the photo of which is so beautiful, by the way), I'd just slice it however I felt like.


I heated my grill pan and seared the pieces of Wagyu ever so slightly:


And then, I plated.



Again, another dish I wish I could've had you all over to try.  Succulent, eye-closing, deep breath-inducing beef with the fresh, clean, cool crispness of the melon and the cucumber... a slight zing from the crushed pink peppercorns... the saltiness of the soy pudding.... AMAZING.  Yes, the lime sugar would've rocketed this off into the stratosphere, for sure.  And, looking back, if I'd had a few extra limes, I would've drizzled a wee bit of fresh-squeezed lime juice on this; but even without it the dish was outstanding.  You'll see there's cilantro on this portion -- my portion did not include cilantro, but my friends who ate it loved that extra bit of green to round out the flavors.

I'd make this again in a heartbeat.  In fact, I've been thinking about it as a salad: mache (or maybe even pea shoots), strips of seared gorgeous beef, cucumber, melon, and a lavender honey-lime-soy vinagrette.  I think this might be just the thing for a Sunday night dinner with friends.

Up Next: Huckleberry, soda, five flavors gelled

Resources: Mishima ribeye cap from Seafoods.com; honeydew from Whole Foods; English cucumber, cilantro, and limes from HMart; Domino sugar; eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; citric acid and agar agar from L'Epicerie; lime oil from TPSS Co-op; San-J gluten-free tamari soy sauce.

Music to Cook By: Depeche Mode; Catching Up With Depeche Mode.  I don't know how to describe my love for Depeche Mode.  They were the one band in high school who, along with Phil Collins and Journey, wrote and sang the songs that made me think man, they totally GET me.  They know how hard my LIFE is, and stuff.  Sigh....  I defy you not to dance around your kitchen to "Flexible."  Seriously, you can't NOT move to that.  Everything else? Just, LOVE.  Transports me to high school and college, and then makes me think about New Order, INXS, XTC, and OMD.  And Roxy Music.  And, seriously. Stop me, now.  Please.

Read My Previous Post: Oyster cream, lychee, horseradish, chervil

August 14, 2009

Oyster Cream, lychee, horseradish, chervil

You know what's worse than having the flu?

Having the flu in the summer.  And, having a sinus and ear infection at the same time.


Nine days of grossness, exhaustion, and self-pity.  No appetite, no ability to focus on much of anything for more than ten seconds... and even after starting to feel better earlier this week, it's just been a struggle to get back on track.  Just when I take advantage of a new-found burst of energy, my body and my brain pull back on the reins with a whoa-there-nelly to keep me in check and not push too far or too hard too soon.

Days of unanswered work email, piles of things to edit, lists of things to write, too many voicemails to return... and all I really wanted to do was get back into the kitchen.  But a girl's got to pay the mortgage, so I had to spend a few more days than I would've liked getting back into the swing of things around these parts.

I made this dish right before I got sick, but the very idea of sitting upright, looking at photos of food, or trying to write anything coherent or cohesive just wasn't happening.  So, that's just my long-winded way of saying sorry to have left you hanging with that veal stock post for so long.

*  *  *  *  *

There are two dishes in the Alinea cookbook involving oysters.  You all know how I feel about oysters, so I'm not gonna go into yet another woe-is-me rant about how much I have to suffer when in their presence.  First-world problems, and all that.  I just decided after my first attempt with oysters, I wanted to get this second (and last) one done as quickly as possible.  Didn't want to drag it out and have it be a looming, dark, culinary cumulonimbus.  I just wanted to get it done, scrape my tongue immediately afterward, and cross it off the list.

It seemed like a relatively straightforward dish with ingredients that were easy to find.  I mean, every week, for years it seems, all my local grocery stores have carried horseradish root.  It's always there.  Chervil is hit or miss, but I knew I could sub out a combo of parsley and tarragon, and it would suffice.  So, as I made my grocery list, I knew I could get everything in one go.

Except I couldn't, because, go figure -- the one time I really need horseradish, no one had it.  After the third grocery store attempt, I whipped out the Yellow Pages (I keep one in the trunk of the car) and called down the list of grocery stores within a 20-mile radius of my house. 

Me: "Do you have fresh horseradish?" 

Them: "Yes, we do."

Me: "Wait, not the kind in the jars, the horseradish root in the produce section?"

Them: "Yes, ma'am, we carry that."

Me: "Would you mind having someone check and make sure you have some now?"

Them: [exasperated] "Ma'am, that's unnecessary, we have it.  We always have it."

Me: "Alright then.  Thanks."

And I'd get to one of those grocery stores where they "always have it, ma'am" and lo and behold, the horseradish basket was a) empty, or on two occasions b) had horseradish root covered in mold with mushy, rotten spots all over.

It took my stopping at nine grocery stores over two days to find fresh horseradish.

All for a dish I wasn't even remotely prepared to like. 


The first step is to combine the oysters, their liquid, and some cream in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low-medium heat.  Then, once it had begun to simmer, I put the lid on the pot, turned off the flame, and let it stand for about 20 minutes.


I strained the liquid through a chinois into another pan, and discarded the solids.  Let me repeat that: the book says you have to discard the solids.  Meaning the oysters.  Meaning, this was going to be a dish that carried the essence of oysters, without having to chew on those little suckers.

Glory be, things were beginning to look up!


Peace out, oysters.  Nice knowin' ya...

I weighed 600g of the oyster liquid (which smelled fantastic), added agar agar to it, and blended it with my immersion blender.  I brought it to a simmer, used a bit of it to temper the egg yolk-sugar-cornstarch-salt mixture in a separate bowl, then poured all that back into the oyster liquid on the stovetop, and whisked until everything was incorporated and it began to bubble and take the shape of pudding.  If you have the book, you'll notice that the recipe instructions mention salt, but the ingredient list does not.  So, I just made my best guess at how much to use and threw 2g of kosher salt in there.


I poured it into a bowl that had been nesting in a bowl of ice, and stirred it every 5-10 minutes until it had cooled to room temperature.  Then, I put the bowl of oyster pudding/cream into the refrigerator for an hour.


After an hour of being in the fridge, it had set.  I scraped it out of the bowl and into my blender (which will soon be replaced!) and blended it until it was smooth and almost the consistency of mayonnaise.  I strained it through a chinois and into a squeeze bottle.





I had enjoyed the smell of the oyster cream up until this point, but hadn't yet tasted it.  So, I grabbed a small spoon and squirted a bit of the cream onto the spoon before putting the bottle into the fridge.  Remember the olive oil pudding I was gonna marry a few months ago?  We're totally breaking up, because this oyster cream is even better.  I KNOW.  Who'dathunkit?  I put the bottle of oyster cream in the refrigerator until it was time to plate, smiling at the thought of actually, maybe, perhaps, could-it-be this dish might not suck?

The next step seemed straightforward at first, until I looked at the photo of this dish in the book.  The recipe is for chervil juice.  The photo shows a green, gelatinous cube.  I know horseradish gelée (coming soon!) isn't green, so I wondered: should I just gelatinize the chervil instead of making juice?  I mean, I know how to do that.  It's not difficult. 

I decided to move forward with doing the juice as it was in the book, but instead of chervil (which I couldn't get my hands on), I did a mixture of tarragon and parsley (which is the closest swap-out for chervil I know of).  I blanched the leaves and ice bathed them, then put the blanched leaves and 500g of ice water into a blender with some salt and simple syrup and blended it on high speed for two minutes:




I strained it through a chinois into a bowl, saving it for the final plating.


The next step was to make the horseradish gelée.  Even though it was a bitch to buy, I love horseradish.  Didn't always, but I do now.  I love the heat, and I love how it just sits in your nose and cracks open the palate but doesn't overtake a whole dish or a whole bite.  

I cut off a little nubbin of horseradish root (I needed 40g), and peeled and grated it:


I put it in a saucepan with some sugar, salt, and white wine vinegar and brought it to a boil.  Side note: if you have the Alinea cookbook, you'll see the recipe also calls for 1/4 red Thai chili.  Yeah.  I totally forgot to buy them, and didn't realize it until the time I started making this part of the dish.  So, I just went without.  Whoops.

Anyhoo, I brought the combo to a boil, then turned off the flame, covered the pot, and let it steep for about a half an hour.


I added some gelatin sheets, which I'd soaked in cold water for a few minutes, and gently stirred the mixture until the gelatin dissolved.


I poured the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and put the bowl in the fridge to set -- which took about 40 minutes -- after which I chunked it into small nuggets.



I don't have a photo of the last step before plating -- the slicing of the lychees.  I couldn't find any fresh lychees, so I had to settle for canned Roland lychees.  I cut small pieces -- each one the size of a nickel.

Time for plating:

First, two blobs of oyster cream.  Then, in between them went a small slice of lychee.  On top of the lychee went the horseradish gelee.  Then, two spoonfuls of the chervil juice around the perimeter.  Lastly, I topped the horseradish and lychee with osetra caviar.



Okay, it's not Oysters and Pearls.... but, I loved it!  It was all I could do not to just devour the entire bottle of oyster cream on its own.  And the oyster cream with the salty *pop* of the caviar, the earthy, bright green slightly anise-y taste of the chervil juice, and the kick of the horseradish?  Oh, wow.  It opened up beautifully with each bite, and it was something that you could almost taste all the way up into your tear ducts.  Now, I will say that I thought the lychee was a distraction, both in taste and texture.  So, if I were to make this again (which I actually might), I'd skip the lychee altogether.  Everything else, together and on its own, was really, really good, and it made the Great Horseradish Trek of 2009 more than worth it.

Up Next: Kuroge Wagyu, cucumber, honeydew, lime sugar

Resources: Oysters and caviar from Blacksalt; Organic Valley heavy cream; agar agar from Terra Spice; Roland lychees from HMart; Smith Meadows Farm eggs; tarragon and parsley from my garden; horseradish from Whole Foods, Terra Midi white wine vinegar; gelatin sheets from L'Epicerie.

Music to Cook By: Kaiser Chiefs; Employment.  I took my neighbor's kids to see Green Day a few weeks ago (one of the best shows I've ever been to, by the way), and the Kaiser Chiefs were the opening act.  I'd heard of them before, but was not all that familiar with their music.  Or so I thought.  Turns out, I knew a lot of their music, I just didn't know certain songs were theirs. I really like their sound -- it feels like it's pulling the late 60s and early 70s (Kinks) into the early 80s (XTC) and giving it a more modern indie rock sensibility.  It's listenable punk with a few pop hooks, strong choruses, and lyrics that go beyond their original intent.  Their writing is strong, and I'm enjoying their other albums, as well.  Glad I got to see them.

Read My Previous Post: Veal Stock

August 03, 2009

Alinea at Home Extra: Veal Stock

The day is done, the sun set hours ago, the neighborhood is quiet, and most people are tucked into bed, watching the last few minutes of Jon Stewart, turning off the lights, setting the alarm for the busy day ahead...

The clock inches closer to midnight.....


You're in your pajamas, ready for bed........


But you're far from tired.  In fact, you know you're facing yet another night of insomnia, so what do you do?  Have a glass of water?  Read a book?  Toss and turn? Take an Ambien?

Me?  I make veal stock.

Since making veal stock for the first time when I did French Laundry at Home, I now keep packets of veal bones in my freezer at all times so I can make veal stock when the mood strikes.  In the past few years, that's been more often than not.  In fact, I've become a bone-hoarding freak, with all sorts of bones and shells and other detritus in ziploc bags in my freezer, ready to make nearly any kind of stock at any time.  It's like my superhero power -- although Stock Girl doesn't sound all that awesome, now does it?  Well, crap.  I'll have to come up with something else, then.

I was curious to make the Alinea veal stock because the ingredient list is different from TFLC.  Alinea's veal stock has no fresh tomatoes, no bay leaf, no garlic, no leeks, but the basic process is the same: blanch the bones, make the first batch, then the remouillage, then combine them, then reduce.  And strain and skim all along the way.

Making stock really isn't that difficult -- I swear.  And, having veal stock on hand, not just for my blog cooking but for making sauces and soups in general, has made my day-to-day cooking even more pleasurable and easy.  And, the best part about making this veal stock is that you can do it in your sleep. Literally.  Well, most of it.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I started my veal stock around 11:30 at night, got it going by 12:30 or 1 a.m., and let it do its thaaaang overnight while I slept... ah, sweet, elusive sleep... which finally came, once I slowly and steadily inhaled the aroma of stock simmering on my stove.

The first thing I did was put the calf's feet and veal bones into a large stock pot, cover them with water, and bring them to a simmer:



That took about 40 minutes.

I dumped the enter pot of water and bones into a fine mesh strainer, letting the nasty liquid go down the drain, and rinsed the bones under cold, running water.  This first blanching-the-bones step helps remove the impurities and other icktastic stuff from the bones, giving you a better, more pure, final product. 


I put the bones back into the now-cleaned stock pot, and covered them with water.  I turned the burner up as high as it would go and brought the liquid to a simmer.



I skimmed the impurities that rose to the top:


And then, I added the carrots, thyme, parsley, onions, peppercorns, and tomato paste:



I let this come back up to a simmer, and then went to bed, letting the stock simmer on the stovetop for 8 hours on low heat.

Let me just say that I can't remember the last time I slept for 7 hours in a row so soundly, and so restfully.  Wow.  I know I've pined for sauces and foodstuffs to be made into bath products, but if there's any way to make a veal stock-scented sleep aid, I will invest in that, tout de suite!

In the morning, at around 8:30, 9 o'clock, this is what greeted me:


I removed the bones and put them in a bowl on the counter until I needed them again.  I then poured the liquid (and aromatics) through a chinois into another stock pot:



I skimmed that liquid one last time before putting it in the refrigerator to hang out while I did the remouillage -- or "remoistening" of the bones for the second step of this process.  So, bones back into a now-clean stock pot:


Covered them with water and brought them to a simmer:


Added some more tomato paste and continued to simmer for another 8 hours, during which time I did some work for my clients, gardened, reorganized the pantry, and hosed off the front porch and back deck -- all while my stock happily simmered away...



I removed the bones (discarding them, along with the now-fallen apart calf's feet) and strained the liquid into a bowl.


I then poured this second step -- the remouillage -- into the first pot of liquid:


And I turned the burner onto a low-medium heat and began to reduce it.  By this time, it's about 5:30, 6 o'clock in the evening on Day 2.

It's at this point that I see I need to reduce it to 1000g.  Now, I know what a gallon of liquid looks like.  A quart.  A pint.  A cup.  That's easy.  But, I didn't know how to eyeball 1000g of liquid.  So, I measured 1000g of water in a bowl and used that as a rough guide or estimate, knowing that this same visual amount of stock would weigh more than water since there are dissolved solids in it.  But, it was a helpful guide, nonetheless.



I turned up the heat a bit, to reduce it more quickly (so I wouldn't have to stay up all night):


And, by 10 p.m., I had what looked like would be 1000g of veal stock:



It actually ended up being 1,015g of veal stock, so there you go.  Done and done.

I stored the stock in four containers: 3 300g containers and 1 115g container.  I let the stock come to room temperature before covering and freezing the containers, and here's what they looked like before going into the freezer:


Here's a shot of the stock itself:


Isn't it gorgeous?  I wish you could've been here to smell it.  It's one of those things that kept a dork-ass little grin on my face all night long, and made my house smell fantastic for the next two days.

Flavor-wise, it tasted different than the stock from The French Laundry Cookbook.  Not better, not worse, just different.  The Alinea veal stock was more more (does that make sense?): it felt like it had a wee bit of weight to it (like comparing the weights of a baseball and a softball -- incremental difference at best), it was a tad bitey and it had a deeper caramelization, all while staying silky smooth and sleek.

The stock is in my freezer now, ready to be used in one of the dishes I've got planned for later this summer. 

In the meantime, if you're interested in making your own veal stock, here are some great resources: Michael Ruhlman's blog post on making veal stock; and, Ruhlman's chapter on veal stock in The Elements of Cooking. And holy crapballs, I just googled "veal stock" and am gobsmacked that my old FL@H blog post is the top search return, followed closely by Ruhlman's posts.  That's damn cool.

Up Next: Octopus, Oyster Cream (I know!!), or Idiazabal... or maybe Kuroge Wagyu

Resources: Veal bones from Smith Meadows Farm; calf's feet from Wagshal's; aromatics from the Takoma Park Farmers Market; peppercorns and tomato paste from Whole Foods.

Music to Cook By: Podcasts: NPR Science Friday.  I'm on a podcast kick these days, and in an effort to clear out my backlog of books and articles to read, shows to watch, and other miscellaneous things to do, I've been cutting way back on TV and music for the past few weeks and listening to all the podcasts I subscribe to.  Plus, there's also always some sort of statistic or discovery on Science Friday that make for great dinner party chatter.

Read My Previous Post: Oyster, ginger, steelhead roe, beer

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