An Uncomplicated Version of Paella

June 29, 2015

 

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This isn't really a paella that anyone in Valencia would recognize as real, but it certainly made a festive Sunday night dinner.  The tumble of flavors – saffron, chorizo, pimentos – with that wonderfully fat and slightly chewy rice is absolutely irresistible.  And although this is a protein-heavy meal, if you eliminate the shrimp, it's not all that expensive. Next time I'm going to try it without,  just for science. 

Cheater's Paella

2 1/2  cups homemade chicken stock
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 pound boneless chicken thighs
Salt, pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, cut into 1/2" slices
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 whole jarred roasted peppers, diced
1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled
1 1/4  cups bomba rice (arborio or canaroli are acceptable substitutes)
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1/4 cup dry white wine,
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 pound littleneck clams, washed and purged
1 pound squid, bodies separated from tentacles and cut into 1 inch rings

Heat the stock with the saffron.  Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Set aside

Heat the oil in a large flat pan or paella pan and cook the onions, garlic and pimentos until they're fragrant, about 10 minutes.  Add the chorizo and cook, stirring every once in a while, another 10 minutes or so.  

Dry the chicken thighs, sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  Push the onion/chorizo mixture aside and add the chicken to the the pan, turning occasionally, until it has lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.  

Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat it well with the oil.  Toss in the wine and let it cook away.  Add the bay leaf.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Bring the chicken stock to a boil and add to the pan.  Simmer 10 minutes. 

Bury the shrimp, chicken, clams and squid in the rice, as well as you can (much of it will still be sitting on top), and bake, uncovered,  until the clams are open, about 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and if there is still liquid in the pan (bomba rice can be slow to absorb liquid), cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes or so.  

Cover and let stand for a few minutes before serving. 

 

Purging Clams

Add a tablespoon of sea salt (it must be sea salt) to 2 cups of water.  Add the clams and allow them to sit in the bowl, in the refrigerator, for a few hours.  Watch the clams stick out their necks – and then watch how much sand they secrete into the bottom of the bowl. 

 

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The Excess Express Zooms into New York

June 27, 2015

It's been a wonderful couple of days in America. Obamacare is safe.  People can marry the partners of their choice.  And our president can sing!  It seemed like a great time to celebrate.  And how better to do that than with food?

My odyssey started with a drink at the Library at the NoMad hotel – surely one of the city’s most civilized spots.  This wine was totally unknown to me – Rondinella Bianco from Zyme.  It's clean, refreshing – perfect for a warm summer evening. I'll be looking for it again.

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On to Lupalo. The highlights at this raucous Portuguese gastropub were these incredible shrimp ($13 each!)

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and percebes – gooseneck barnacles. I've had these often in Europe, but the last time I tasted the strange little creatures in the United States was when the much-missed Jean-Louis Palladin served them at a special dinner he was cooking with Joachim Splichal.  I hope their appearance here means we'll start seeing gooseneck barnacles more frequently on American menus. 

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Spent a wonderful few hours at Brookfield Place – a total madhouse, but great fun.  Highlights there were the bagels from Black Seed

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and the spectacular brisket from Mighty Quinn. We asked for meat that was not lean – and then asked them to scrape the board after cutting the meat.  The result was totally delicious decadence. If you love barbecued brisket, this will make you very happy. 

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Downstairs, we roamed through the vast Le District marketplace – a francophile version of Eataly.  It's a wonderland of food, with a fragrant rotisserie, a lovely bakery, an enormous restaurant, local produce….. What intrigued me most were the beautiful little sandwiches on true ficelles – and the butcher shop with cases filled with such gorgeously aged and marbled beef I wished I could take some home. But we still had hours of eating ahead of us. 

On to Dominique Ansel Kitchen for the irresistible burata soft serve ice cream – and a few of these warm, barely sweet and absolutely fantastic chocolate madeleines. 

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And then, because it was thrilling to be so close to Stonewall on this historic Friday, we went to Via Carotta for a celebratory glass of wine and a few radishes dipped into the most delicious bagna cauda. The secret?  I think it’s excellent anchovies and butter.  

Dinner at Batard, which produces some of the city' prettiest dishes, like these delicate pea-filled tortellini:

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and this intense octopus terrine:

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And then – just because it was not yet midnight, and we wanted to squeeze in one more meal, we ended the evening at Aldo Sohm, the wonderful Le Bernardin wine bar. And after a bottle of wine we discovered that yes, we could manage a few tiny boudin blancs, some spicy chicharrones and an entire baked camembert. 

The eating finally ended, we had a long walk home through almost-quiet early morning streets.  I love New York.

 

 

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So Rare

June 23, 2015

Celtuce

The first time I encountered celtuce I was thrilled and amazed. But these days it's less exciting to see celtuce on a menu – many Chinese restaurants now source this Asian stem lettuce year-round. During its short local season (late spring- early summer), Stone Barns, Blanca, and Eleven Madison Park all succumb to it’s singularly refreshing  snap. Celtuce has been having its moment.

But it’s a tricky crop to buy and cook for yourself. The growing season is abysmally short; I’ve never encountered celtuce as young, sweet and tender as that I’ve found in Sichuan restaurants. And since it’s mostly grown for it’s stalk, the milky greens are plucked during growth so they won’t hog all the flavor. It's rare indeed to find celtuce with leaves young enough to eat. 

So this weekend, when I found this rare young specimen at the farmers market , I marveled at its perky slender leaves. Celtuce was suddenly new again to me. At home I trimmed off the ends, set the stems in a jar of water and put them into the refrigerator. When I was ready to cook, I peeled the tiny stalks, reveling in the sweetness of their flesh as I simply ate it raw.

 I decided to treat the leaves like pea shoots. I splashed a tablespoon of peanut oil into a hot pan, added two cloves of smashed garlic, swirling them for a few seconds, then tossed in the leaves and a small sprinkle of salt. With just a wiggle of the wrist, and a toss with a spatula, the leaves wilted. I added a small pour of Chinese cooking wine, waited for it to evaporate, and brought the celtuce to the table. With a little bowl of rice on the side, they made a lovely summer lunch. (Some may yearn for a splash of soy, but I reveled in their sweet austerity.)

Rare, yes. But hopefully not for long. 

(I wish I'd put a dime next to the celtuce for scale: the stalks are that thin!) 

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Angel’s Food

June 21, 2015

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When I was in Madison a couple of weeks ago, a pleasant gentleman came up to ask if I’d ever heard of a Rekul Pan-O-Cake. 

I hadn’t.  He handed me a Xerox of a Clementine Paddleford Food Flash from Gourmet in 1947. Here’s Ms. Paddleford.

"Angel foods, the real heavenly kind, snowy white, soft as down, tall and lithesome, are going places by mail, traveling in the Wearever aluminum pans in which they are baked.  These are big cakes, the thirteen-egg kind, nine inches in diameter, four inches high.  The price, $2.50 post paid. 

The pan is yours, or return it for a refill.  The next cakes costs but $1.25." 

To make a long story short, Jackson Luker discovered that his angel food cakes got better over time if he left them in the pan.  And so he started his mail order business.  By 1947 he was selling half a million cakes a year.  That's an awful lot of egg whites.

The company is no more, but I was curious.  I found a couple of the old Rekul pans on Ebay and immediately ordered them. They’re sturdy pans – and they really do make great cakes.   

The man in Madison?  He’s Jack Luker’s son – and he remembers growing up “washing the concrete-like dried crust out of the pans in order to bake more cakes." 

I’m with him there; these are great pans – but it’s hard to get the cakes out (you’re supposed to bang the cake on a board, really hard, to remove it from the pan) – and even harder to wash the pans. 

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The Best Angel Food Cake Recipe I Know

When my friend Marion Cunningham was working on The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook, she sent a recipe for Angel Food Cake to thirty-five bakers, asking them each to bake the cake, exactly as written, and bring it to a meeting. She called me afterward in great excitement; “You would not believe how different they were,” she marveled. “They all had holes in the middle, but other than that, each cake was unique.”  Appalled by this, she and the other bakers decided to perfect the recipe. This cake, created by Flo Braker, is angel food perfection. Follow these instructions and you will have a high, white cloud-like confection that truly does seem food fit for angels.

Five Steps to a Better Angel Food Cake

1. Cold eggs are easier to separate, so do it when the eggs are right out of the refrigerator. 

2.If even the tiniest amount of fat gets into the eggs they will refuse to whip.  So separate each egg  white into a separate bowl before adding it to the others, in case one of the yolks breaks. 

3. Leave your egg whites in the bowl, out of the refrigerator, for about an hour. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the optimum temperature is 60 degrees. The white are more viscous at this temperature, and the air bubbles are more stable.  (Room temperature is about 70 degrees; they will whip more quickly, but at this temperature they are easy to overbeat.)

4.To insure that there is no grease on the bowl or beater, wipe them with white vinegar and rinse in very hot water.  Dry well.

5. Make sure your oven is 350 degrees. If the oven’s too low, the sugar will absorb the liquid from the egg whites and turn syrupy.  If it’s too hot, the outside will set before the interior. 

6. Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the pan.

 

Angel Food Cake (from Baker’s Dozen Cookbook) 

12 large egg whites

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 cup sifted cake flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla.

Allow the egg whites to sit in the bowl of a stand mixer for about an hour, to come to just above room temperature (70 degrees).

Sift the confectioner’s sugar, cake flour and salt together. 

Whip egg whites at low speed until they are foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium.  Keep whipping, gradually adding the cup of granulated sugar, until the whites thicken and form soft, droopy peaks.  Add vanilla.

Sprinkle a quarter cup of the flour mixture over the whites and fold it in, by hand, with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the next quarter, and the next, until all the flour has all been gently folded in. Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.

Bake at 350 degrees, 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden, the top springs back when you touch it, and a toothpick comes out clean. Invert the pan onto the neck of a bottle.  Leave for 3 hours so that the cake is completely cool. 

Run a knife around the sides of pan until you feel it release. Then push up the bottom of the pan. Loosen the cake bottom by tapping on a counter until it’s free and invert onto a plate, and then back onto a cake platter.

Slice with a serrated knife.

 

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A Completely New (to me) Ingredient

June 20, 2015

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Chicos

When I was in Tucson a few months ago, I was lucky enough to go to the Anita Street Market.  As I was paying for the spectacular tacos, I noticed little bags sitting next to the cash register, filled with a substance that looked like broken amber beer bottles. The shapes were shiny, irregular.  "What is that?" I asked.

The cashier glanced down at the bag. He shrugged.  "Chicos."  He pointed to a shelf.  "These are ours. Those over there are from a local farmer.  I like ours better. They're smokier."

"Add them to my bill," I said, sticking the little plastic bag in my pocket book.  Where I promptly forgot them.

I found them the other day, still hidden in the bottom of my purse. With no idea how to deal with them, I did a little research. The dried, smoked, broken corn kernels are an ancient ingredient beloved by the Indian nations of the Southwest.  Apparently they're easiest to find in New Mexico.  

Unsure of what to do with them, I made up my own version with what I happened to have on hand. I'm sure there are better ways to cook chicos, but everyone who came to dinner last night loved my thrown-together dish. I did too.

I began by soaking 2 cups of chicos overnight, as I'd do with beans.  In the morning I drained them.

I chopped a couple of onions and a few cloves of garlic and sauteed them in a couple tablespoons of duck fat.  (I'd cooked a duck the night before, and just happened to have it sitting by the stove. Ordinarily I'd use vegetable oil or bacon grease. But duck fat adds its own wonderful layer of flavor. )

When the alliums had given their fragrance to the air, I added the soaked chicos, a teaspoon of salt and a bay leaf, along with 6 cups of the duck stock I'd made with leftover duck bones.  (Chicken stock or water would undoubtedly work well too.)

I cooked the chicos  for about 3 hours, until they were soft.  Next time, just for science, I might try cooking them a little less, so they maintain some crunch. The recipes I've found online seem undecided on this point.

But then, the piece de resistance.  I'd been cooking some pork skin, and when the chicos were done I chopped some up and stirred that in.  The cracklings were the same color as the chicos, but they added crunch, fat and flavor to the smokey goodness of the chicos.  It was absolutely delicious – and not like anything I've tasted before.

 

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Crackling Pork Skin

I'd bought a pork shoulder from North Plains Farm, who raise the most delicious pigs.  At home I decided to slice off the skin and cook it separately.  So I salted it really well, rolled it up like a jelly roll and left it to sit in the refrigerator, well wrapped in plastic, for a few days.

Then I put it into a gratin dish (so I could capture the fat as it melted) and left it in a slow (325) oven for four hours, turning it every hour or so.  Halfway through it was almost submerged in its own fat, making this essentially confit.

When it came out of the oven the crackling was so delicious we pounced on it, devouring it with such glee we barely left enough to shred over the chicos.  

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