Sunday, January 31, 2010

La Quercia Acorn Edition III - Shipment #1

Sometime around the end of 2008, I stumbled across a little Iowa based company called La Quercia. I know I was late to the party, but I was amazed by what they had to offer. An American prosciutto seemed like an oxymoron, but the reviews were just as staggering. Making the New York and LA Times is no small feat. Naturally I decided to dive in head first and started making calls about their Acorn Edition.

For those unaware, the Acorn Edition is essentially a program where you buy a pig and over the course of 2 or so years, La Quercia doles it out to you in pieces. I know that sounds a bit odd, but there is a method to this madness.

So, after calling the good people at La Quercia, I was first in line for the Acorn III edition. However, a lot of time has passed since then. In fact, I paid my deposit back in June of 09. Naturally, I had forgotten all about the Acorn Edition by the middle of January 10. So imagine my surprise when I got an email saying that the first shipment would be on my door January 15th.

When I say my door, I should say my office. Yep, I came back from lunch and there was a huge, heavy box sitting at the door to my office. Well, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I had to have a peak.

Remember how I said, I had forgotten about the 1st shipment. That means I had forgotten what I had ordered as well. So, I was racking my brain, did I order extra head, feet, or caul fat? I had no idea.

Thankfully, the shipping labels answered a few of those questions.

Once I got home that evening, I had the time and space to see what all had come in the mail for me.

After opening the well insulated box, this was the first thing I saw.

Yes, that’s four packages of La Quercia’s garlic & fennel sausage. I’ve already tried some of that, and I’ll tell you, it’s as good as they say.

With our next item, we’re getting into the offal range.

Two nice front hooves or trotters. I’m still wondering what I’ll do with these. Maybe a nice Ruhlman recipe is in store for these beauties.

After that was something a little more pedestrian.

Four racks of ribs, back and spare. Again, I’m not sure what I should do with these. I’m stuck between the idea of bbq and something Chinese.

Who sees pate in their future?

With this much liver, I do, and it requires me to buy a meat grinder attachment for my stand mixer. I love an excuse to buy a new gadget.

Now here’s another mystery.

I’ve found a number of recipes for pig tails, but what can you do with just one?

Here’s something you don’t see very often.

Loads of leaf lard, which I’ve heard is quite good for pastry.

Speaking of mysteries, I have no idea what this is.

Someone suggested it could be a kidney, but why send just one? Besides, it doesn’t look like a kidney.

At first I thought this was a tongue.

Nope, it’s just a very pretty tenderloin.

Of course, everything just seems too near and orderly. Luckily there was a grab bag.

Labeled as a bag of trimmings, this seems like a good specimen for rendering, I think. All I know is there’s a lot of fat on there.

Aside from a tail and a few hooves, this seems like a pretty ordinary order of pork, if you call getting 50 lbs of pork in the mail ordinary. However, I had forgotten everything I had ordered.

Yep, that’s a real conversation piece for the average American. Honestly, how many people do you know that get a pig head in the mail? On this one, I’m really stumped. There’s the consistent hog’s head cheese, and Ruhlman does have a good looking recipe in his book “Charcuterie”, but there’s also a recipe from David Chang and his “Momofuku” cookbook. In Chang’s book, it’s called Pig’s Head Torchon and it involves frying things. So, it seems like my mind is already made up.

As exciting as this all is, there’s so much more to come. In the next shipment, I’ll be getting a delivery of guanciale and flat pancetta, with 2 lbs and 12 lbs respectively. After that it’s a pork laden magical mystery tour with lonza, coppa, lardo, then it’s one dry cured shoulder (spallacia) and then another 3 months later.

I know what you’re thinking, that all sounds lovely and quite frankly, overwhelming, but where is the prosciutto? Yes, La Quercia is known for prosciutto, and I’ll get my first leg sometime around the first of July….2011. Yes, and 18 month aged leg arriving in the mail for me. Finally, near Christmas 2011, I’ll get the last leg, just in time for the holiday. Of course, this is all organic, acorn fed, free range, Berkshire breed swine. Needless to say, I have a lot to look forward to.

Cooking the Book – Real Cajun – Spicy Crawfish Fettuccine

It’s time for another installment from “Real Cajun” by Donald Link. In what is fast becoming one of my favorite cookbooks, Link presents a number of recipes that that seem very approachable, even to those unaware of the goodness of Louisiana cuisine. Actually this dish, Spicy Crawfish Fettuccine, seems to have a more uptown New Orleans feel rather than the rustic approach of Cajun food, of course that could just be the heavy cream talking.

It seems that I can’t find a quick and easy recipe any more, and that’s a good thing. I like a recipe that takes time and effort, and with a fair amount of prep work, this one seems to fit that bill.

Here we have a finely chopped jalapeno pepper, poblano pepper, and small onion. Also on the plate are 3 cloves worth of minced garlic.

All of this vegetal goodness goes into a medium sauce pan over medium heat with a tablespoon or so of butter.

You can’t forget the spices. 1 tsp of salt, ¼ tsp cayenne, ¼ tsp paprika, and 1 tsp red pepper flakes make up this mix of spices.

I love how the pan is taking on a lovely red color from those spices.

Whoops, almost forget the 3 ounces of finely chopped tasso. I didn’t make my own for this recipe. I went the easy way and used Manda from Tony’s Seafood in Baton Rouge.

This whole concoction, along with 3 dashes of your favorite hot sauce, are cooked until the veggies were softened. Link gives pretty good time estimates as his 5 minutes for this step were right on the ball.

Even though they’re completely out of season, I found the tomatoes for the next step.

4 medium plum tomatoes, finely chopped are next in the pan.

It’s looking a little watery now.

However, once I add the 1 lb bag of crawfish, everything just looks plain soupy. To remedy this, Link says to reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the juices reduce by half.

10 minutes later, things are looking pretty good, so I’m ready to move on.

3 tbs of ap flour and 2 tbs of butter are the next ingredients.

First the butter is introduced to the mixture and stirred until melted. Link doesn’t specify cutting the butter into small cubes, but I figured it would help things melt faster.

Now the flour is sprinkled over the sauce. I’ll admit I was worried at this stage. Even though I was stirring constantly, I couldn’t seem to get all the lumps of flour to dissolve.

Maybe the 2 cups of heavy cream were the answer. I reduce the heat to low and simmered for another 10 minutes, all while making sure nothing was sticking.

10 minutes did wonders for this dish. The sauce was now a rich, creamy color and there were no flour clumps to be found. My only worry is that the crawfish had been cooking for a good 20 minutes at this point. That seems an awfully long time for a precooked meat.

Fears of overcooked crawfish aside, I added the last few ingredients to the pan.

The juice of ½ a lemon, 4 basil leaves and ¼ of sliced scallions were all stirred into the sauce.

A good ladleful or two of sauce was spooned over a waiting bowl of fettuccine and while it was good, it was missing something.

There we go, freshly grated parmesan never hurt anyone. Yes, it’s rich. Yes, it’s a little time consuming. Yes, it’s completely worth the effort. Link writes that he served this sauce over redfish to impress his then future wife. I don’t know how well it worked for him, but I’d be impressed if someone made me this dish.

Cooking from the Web – Appetite for China - Black Pepper Beef Stir-fry

I’m always on the lookout for new recipe sources. So that means a fair amount of time is spent searching the web. While looking for a sui mai recipe, I came across Appetite for China, a website with the fantastic tag line of “1.3 billion people must be eating something right.” Conveniently, Appetite for China has an index of all it’s recipes, and one beef recipe caught my eye: “Black Pepper Beef Stir-Fry”. With all the necessary ingredients on hand, it was time to see if Appetite for China is worth its salt.

Like almost every Chinese recipe, this one starts with a marinade.

Here 2 tbs of dark soy, ½ tbs shaoxing wine, ½ tsp sesame oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and a whole lot of dark pepper are all added to a bowl. The recipe calls for 1 tsp of black pepper, but I went a little overboard.

From the start I took a few liberties with the recipe. First was the excess pepper. Second, instead of using flank steak, I used a top round that I had from my last order of Flying M Farm beef. Third, I didn’t marinate the whole steak, but sliced the steak first then added it to the marinade.

Sorry for the excessive flash

But without it, everything just looks muddy.

While the steak was marinating, I got together the rest of the ingredients.

Starting from the to, we have ½ a yellow onion thinly sliced, 1 medium bell pepper thinly sliced, ½ tsp shaoxing wine, the marinating beef and lastly a sauce. Making up the sauce was 1 tbs oyster sauce mixed with 1 tbs water, ½ tbs dark soy sauce, ½ tbs shoaxing wine, 1 tbs sugar, and ½ tsp sesame oil.

Now, I was ready to start cooking. First 2 tbs of peanut oil were added to a wok on high heat.

Once the oil was smoking, I drained the excess marinade and added the beef to the wok.

The idea is really to velvet the meat here, not cook it all the way through. The recipe calls for 3 minutes to get the job done.

With the beef cooked, it was time to move on to the vegetables.

Another tbs of oil went in the wok along with the vegetables.

They were cooked until they were just caramelized, 2 minutes give or take.

The beef was reintroduced to the wok along with ½ tsp of shaoxing wine to deglaze.

Can’t forget the sauce!

I just tossed everything to make sure it was all up to temperature and then dished it out into a waiting bowl.

Served over some white rice, this was a tasty little dish.

I was a little worried about how dark everything looked but the dark soy wasn’t overpowering at all. However, I will make a few changes next time; I’ll use the recommended flank steak and I won’t be stingy with the black pepper. It never hurts to have some more black pepper.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cooking the Book – Revolutionary Chinese Cooking – Spicy Eggplant Pot

One of the benefits of my Houston relatives visiting is the sheer quantity of food they bring with them. There’s char sui, duck and vegetables from the Chinese groceries not to mention a bounty of boudin balls from Tony’s Seafood in Baton Rouge. Of course most of this food is eaten during their visit, but one leftover was a few Chinese eggplants. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them, so I turned to the ever useful Fuchsia Dunlop books.

Dunlop came through in the pinch with a recipe for Spicy Eggplant Pot or “Qie Zi Bao” in her book, “Revolutionary Chinese Cooking”. With recipe in hand, I started on the prep work.

First 2 dried shiitake mushrooms are soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes.

The recipe calls for 1 lb 7 oz of eggplants. I had about a pound on hand, but I went ahead with the recipe.

The eggplants were peeled, cut in half lengthwise and then across. Lastly they were cut into chunks, sprinkled with salt and left to drain for 30 minutes.

With the eggplant and mushrooms sitting, I was able to get everything else ready and soon I had the rest of the ingredients set for mise-en-place.

At the top we have 3 oz of ground pork, the salted, rinsed, and dried eggplant, then 2 scallions finely sliced, 2 tsp chopped garlic, 1 sliced chili, the rehydrated shiitakes finely chopped and lastly 2 tsp chopped ginger.

Now that everything was ready, I could start with the first step of cooking, frying.

The eggplant was fried in batches in 350 degree peanut oil until golden brown.

It didn’t take long, maybe 3 minutes at the most.

Deep frying done, all but 3 tbs of the oil was drained and the wok was put back on a high flame.

The 3 oz of pork was added and stir fried.

It wasn’t long before it separated and I was ready to add the chili bean paste.

2 tbsp of chili bean paste were added to the wok and fried until the oil turned red, or less than a minute.

The next ingredients in were the ginger, garlic, shiitakes, and chili.

I only cooked them until they were “fragrant”.

Once their aroma was evident, 2/3 cup of chicken stock and ½ tsp dark soy sauce went into the wok.

The eggplants were reintroduced to the wok right after I added the soy and stock.

From here, the heat was reduced to medium and the flavors left to meld and supposedly penetrate the eggplants.

Dunlop writes that you should salt to taste, and it seemed salty enough to me.

Now I could turn up the heat and reduce the sauce or add the last two ingredients.

I added the scallions and stirred them in.

It was only a few seconds before I turned everything out into my waiting bowl.

I realize this is supposed to be served in a clay pot, but this was the best I had on hand. Anyway, you can’t forget to stir in 1 tsp of sesame oil as the very last step. As you can see this was part of a great dinner of Spicy Eggplant Pot and Sichuan stir fried bean sprouts.

Over a little fresh rice, this eggplant was delicious. I have yet to find a recipe in a Dunlop book that I have disliked. Sure I’ve liked some more than others, but I might call her cookbooks my most indispensable. At the very least, I’m sure there will be more Dunlop recipes to come.