Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas stuffed capon -with black trumpet mushrooms, sausage and chestnuts

This is a very traditional, northern Italian Christmas recipe. It is in fact the center of the Christmas day's lunch celebration and rightfully so - it is delicious and looks stunning on the table. Apparently, not everybody knows what a capon is: it is in fact a cock, castrated early in life to develop larger, more tender muscle masses while retaining more intense flavor compared to a regular chicken.

Ingredients: 1 large capon. For the stuffing: At least 1/2 pound of ground beef or more (depending on the size of the capon). 4 'sweet' Italian-style sausages. A handful of dried black trumpet mushrooms -steeped in warm water for at least 30 minutes. 1/4 pound of boiled, peeled chestnuts (available from trader Joe's for example). A slice of white bread soaked in milk, Fresh sage. Salt and pepper.

Preparation. Combine all the stuffing ingredients chopped into little pieces and mix them well by hand. De-bone the capon using the method demonstrated below by Pepin, leaving the wings and legs intact. Season the bird and stuff it liberally. Next, saw the skin back together to resemble the shape of an intact, bone-in bird: first, use a poultry needle and saw the back of the stuffed bird (making sure to pierce regions that have both meat and skin to prevent tearing), tie the drumsticks together and run the string below the back of the bird and around the wings, so that the breast will look tighter and stick out more naturally. Finally, lube the outside with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Rest the bird on a bed of chopped potatoes and cook in a 350 F degree oven for 2 hrs. Enjoy!

Before you start... you can study de-boning with Jacques Pepin

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mixed Seafood Sallad (Italy)

This is an ubiquitous dish in Italy, found in the menu of every seafood restaurant or even pizzeria. Because of this, you nowadays find infinite variations on the theme: ranging from an horrible all-from-frozen fish version to a sublime ensemble of fresh, local seafood. The preparation is very -and I mean very- straightforward and I see no reason why this shouldn't be a more widespread dish. The ingredients are easily available and relatively cheap (squid and mussels are amongst the cheapest fresh seafood) and the final product keeps in the fridge for up to a few days. Finally, this dish can be served as an appetizer, or used to dress a pasta for a quick and refreshing light lunch or dinner. The key to success is to use FRESH seafood and the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can afford.

Preparation: Start by cleaning the fresh baby squid, separating the tentacles and cutting the bodies into rings. Shell the fresh shrimp and de-vein them if necessary (small shrimp are good for this). Rinse mussels and manila clams (vongole) under running water. If you're lucky enough to get 'wild' clams and mussels ('veraci'), let them spit out the sand they might contain into a bucket of salted room temperature water for at least 1/2 hrs before using.

Cooking: bring water to a rolling boil. Add squid tentacles and boil for 5' minutes. Then add the squid rings and shrimp (cut into chunks if they're too big) and boil for additional 10' minutes. Drain, season with salt and pepper and dress with quite a lot of lemon juice (or a mix of lemon and lime juice), leave it to marinate. Meanwhile, fry a few garlic cloves and dry peperoncini in some olive oil until toasted, add the clams and mussels, a splash of white wine and cover the pot for 10'- 15' minutes or until all the shellfish is open (take care to discard shellfish that stubbornly would not open during cooking). When cool enough to handle, pick the meat out of each shell and add it to the squid and shrimp marinade. Add abundant, good quality extra virgin olive oil and toss - the dish can now be stored in the fridge for up to a few days (it reaches its 'peak' after a day or so) or served immediately. When ready to serve, cool down to room temperature, taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary, add a generous amount of fresh pepper, chopped parsley, peeled and crushed garlic, pistachio nuts and a dash of fresh olive oil. Serve at once. Buon appetito!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Festive turkey mole from Puebla (Mexico)

This is indeed a classic turkey recipe, used for many festive occasions througout Mexico. It is perfect to bring a little bit of spice to a more traditional thanksgiving turkey dinner. The recipe is actually quite laborious featuring one of the most subtle and complicated sauces ever concocted by human - mole . Moles date back to ancient indigenous preparations, where smoked and dried chilies, fruits, spices and unusual ingredients such as chocolate meld together perfectly creating a true balance between spiciness, sweetness and richness. The use of different varieties of dry chilies, in particular, lends different 'levels' of spiciness which, in a well prepared mole, should hit at first the tip of the tongue, then the back of it, and finally the throat without ever scorching the mouth.

Because the sauce is so labor intensive, I suggest following the old traditional ways for cooking the turkey: just boil a couple of turkey tights and drumsticks before shredding the meat and combining it with the sauce (reserve some of the turkey broth to dilute the sauce during cooking as needed). Most of your time should be dedicated to the mole sauce: stirring it while cooking for a long time and tasting it again and again to make sure the correct balance of spiciness and deepness is achieved. Besides the necessary Mexican dried chilies, the exact ingredients you use are not crucial. Make sure you use some nuts (toasted almonds, sesame seeds and peanuts are quite typical), dried fruits (such as raisins), toasted tortillas or bread for body, and un-sweetened chocolate (Mexican cooking chocolate is best). Good additions from more tropical parts of Mexico are ripe plantains (cooking bananas) and a touch of sour orange juice (both available at Central American stores -fresh lime juice can be used instead of sour oranges).

Preparation: Start with the chilies. Most Mexican cooks use at least three different types of dried chilies. The classical 'trinity' is made up of chile 'Ancho', 'Mulato' and 'Pasilla'. You can also add 'Chipotle' (for example the kind that is sold in cans, in adobo sauce, to boost the spice level). First 'fry' the dry chilies on both sides in a hot pan using a little oil, until the flesh turns chocolate brown and the skin blisters. Take care not to burn them. When done, steep them in warm water for at least half an hour. After that you can take the chilies out, core and seed them and they'll be ready to use. Taste the steeping water as well, if not bitter, it can be used to dilute the mole during cooking - otherwise discard it. Next toast the nuts in a dry frying pan as well as the bread and tortilla. Finally briefly toast a couple of cinnamon sticks and perhaps a small amount of coriander seeds.

Now you are ready to go: blend the chilies with a little of their steeping water to a thick paste. Toast some garlic in a skillet with a little oil, add the chile paste and fry for 10 minutes. Add the dry fruit and let it swell. Next, put all spices and dry ingredients in a powerful blender (alternatively, grind the spices separately in a spice grinder to a powder first) and blend to a paste adding some of the turkey broth. Finally, add the (warm, not hot) chile paste to the blender mix, and blend everything until smooth, return to the pan, add some extra broth to loosen the mix, and cook on a low heath stirring constantly until the oil separates and the sauce is nice and thick (about an hour or more, add more stock if needed during the cooking). Season with salt and pepper, and adjust the level of spiciness adding some more 'adobo sauce' from the Chipotle. The final product should be a dark brown, thick paste. The flavors should be well balanced and the spiciness should be 'layered'. It should not be sweet, but rather smoky with both fruity and nutty notes. When this is achieved, just pour the sauce on top of the warm, shredded turkey, garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve with warm tortillas -enjoy!

PS. ‘The Great Chile Book’ by Mark Miller is a very good introduction to dry (and fresh) Chile varieties found in Mexico and now widely available in the US.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A rare find - Cinnabar-red Chanterelle risotto with Crayfish

Here is something that you do not see every day: a few handfuls of cinnabar-red chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnabarius). You normally find but a few isolated ones, and -given their diminutive size- you would be hard pressed to make a meal out of them. But not today! What a better way to celebrate this unique find that a great risotto that combines these amazing little mushrooms with freshwater crayfish - matching their color almost perfectly and contributing a great platform for their flavor. As it turns out, the cinnabar chanterelles are less intensely flavored than their more common yellow cousins (Cantharellus cibarius) so that they are best paired with subtle flavors.

As with any great risotto, start with a great stock. Put a small onion, a couple of dried chillies, a few peppercorns, and a tablespoon of sea salt in a pot. Bring to a boil and add the fresh crayfish - cook until done (10-15 min). Set aside the crayfish and cook the stock a little longer (15 min), then cool it and filter it before returning to the stove. Keep the pot on low heath so that the stock is just below the boiling point. Start the risotto: 'sweat' a diced shallot on medium heath until translucent, add the rice (carnaroli or vialone nano varieties work best) and toast it on medium-high until translucent as well. At this point, quickly add half a glass of good quality, fruity (not oaky) white wine and wait until it evaporates stirring frequently. Now, add the mushrooms, add a ladle or two of the hot crayfish stock and stir. For the next few minutes you want to monitor the rice closely and keep doing the same: add stock, stir, let evaporate, repeat - this until the rice is cooked quite 'al dente' (~15-20 min, but taste frequently so tha you do not overcook it). The small volume of liquid and the constant stirring ensure that the rice cooks evenly and that the starch breaks off the rice and into the pot producing the 'creamy' texture typical of risotto. Finally turn off the fire, add to the pot a nob of butter, the cubed tail meat of a few of the crayfish, pepper and salt to taste. Finish with chopped parsley, stir everything together vigorously and let sit, covered, for at least five minutes. Serve garnishing with a few of the cooked whole crayfish. Enjoy!