Friday, January 30, 2009

Jambin in the Name of Rice

Saucyman – Now that I know what to put in jambalaya, so how do I make itCraving

Start with long grain rice basmati or jasmine work and they have a nice texture when cooked but as long as the bag says ‘long grain rice’ you are in good shape. Cooking jambalaya is different from steaming rice, which is about 1 part rice, to 2 parts liquid. Because you are constantly adding ingredients you aren’t steaming the rice, it is more of a boil, kind of like cooking pasta. So you will need at least 3 parts liquid to each part rice.

Liquid could mean water but in the Saucykitchens it means stock. I will write more about stock in the future, but stock is stock, it is not broth. One word sounds strong, one word sounds tepid. Stock is a foundation to a structure, broth is a decoration, like a window treatment – not essential for building. Do not now or ever use anything from a carton or a tablet that promises to enhance flavor – by making your own, you make everything better. 2 onions, quartered, 1 carrot sliced, 2 ribs celery cut in half, 10 parsley stems, 2 bay leaves and about a teaspoon of thyme thrown in a pot with salt and pepper. Sauté all of it together for 5 minutes over moderate heat, cover with a gallon of water and after it comes to a simmer - cook for 30 minutes, strain through a kitchen colander and you will have something way better than will ever come out of a carton. Freeze the excess so you will never again be seduced by the false promise of a carton.

Tomatoes. I like the Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes and not because they are organic and come with a hug from Al Gore (although he is a good hugger and everyday is really earth day) but because these tomatoes hold up to additional cooking. The heat used to process canned tomatoes cooks them, so a person has to be mindful never to treat canned tomatoes like fresh ones. Products like tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste that are cooked before they are canned - the last thing you want to do is cook those products more – they should be added at the end. The Muir Glen diced tomatoes don’t have that crappy cooked/scorched tomato taste. And when cooking tomatoes and rice in a dish like jambalaya tomatoes are treated like a liquid.

Vegetables. I like my vegetables to have a little bite, color and caramelization on them. They are sautéed in a separate pan and added to the rice in parts – onion first, red pepper and celery at the end.

Meat. Because I want to develop texture and color, I fry the sausage together with the onions over med-high heat and until the onions begin to brown just a little, then both are added to the rice. Shrimp goes in at the very end when for the rice is done. Chicken and/or bacon can be browned for about 5 minutes – add the rice and liquid and cook together. Shrimp get added at the end – turn heat off, stir in shrimp and leave covered for 2 to 5 minutes – the shrimp will turn that shrimpy orange color when they are cooked.

Jambalaya is basically a rice pilaf, so here is the basic pilaf recipe -

1 ½ cups rice
3 cups stock
1 cup diced tomatoes – broken up in food processor or with a knife.
1 bay leaf
Pinch of salt
3 – 5 cloves garlic
Oregano, rosemary, parsley, paprika, cayenne to taste

Add all the ingredients in a pan – sauté pans with a wide surface area work better than stock bring ingredients to a boil, reduce heat to medium. Depending how rapidly you boil the rice, an extra cup of water or stock might be required to keep the pilaf moist. All in all by cooking over moderate heat this should take 40 minutes.

Add onion and sausage after about 20 minutes. After the basic pilaf is done stir in the shrimp and the lightly sautéed celery and red pepper.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I See a Little Rice

Saucy – Pork, fish, shrimp, chicken, oysters what goes into an authentic jambalaya? Wondering

Anything and long grain rice.

I consulted cookbooks in the Saucetorium and of the dozens of recipes on hand there are all sorts of different ingredients including one that requires squirrel but all call for long grain rice.

There is an odd fascination with authenticity in cooking. While employed at an Italian restaurant, customers would often volunteer “That isn’t the way they do it in Italy”. "Okay", was my verbal response, but mentally I would retort there isn’t an Italian way, (dumbass), if you think there is one way one kind of food is prepared throughout Italy just go to the next village or next region and tell them they are doing it wrong. Influences, fashion, ingredients all change and shift – I remember reading an article about 10 years ago how modern Sicilians came to NJ/NY to study recipes and cookbooks from the first wave of Italian migration. The belief was the food ways immigrants brought to the US at the turn of the 20th Century was less corrupted than the constantly evolving Sicilian cuisine left behind in the Mediterranean. So what is more authentic – the food cooked in modern Sicily or the recipes frozen in time from a particular period in history. I’d answer both.

I’d also guess some would adamantly claim authentic jambalaya would be prepared in a three legged cast iron pot heated over a hardwood fire and cooked by a board certified Cajun - not some citified Creole or slow talking northern interloper like myself.

Most cookbooks will tell you that jambalaya is a bayou interpretation of paella imported by Louisiana’s one time landlord the Spanish. Historian Karen Hess argues the dish is actually based on the Provençal-French-Acadian-Cajun rice dish, pilau, which uses long grain rice rather than paella’s short grain arborio type rice. Which begs the question wouldn't a really authentic jambalaya really be pilau?

Authentic has a very short shelf-life that might extend to the way your parents or grandparents made something - maybe but it isn't something I worry about; I am more concerned about good. Evan Jones' recipe calls for a roux, the New Orleans Cookbook doesn’t. Jeff Smith, teevee’s creepy Frugal Gourmet calls for spareribs. John Folse requires mushrooms, Lillian Hellman, yes she wrote a cookbook and grew up in New Orleans and had opinions about food different from the rusticated Justin Wilson. Emeril plays it accurate, offering many interpretations in his body of work.

Saucyman’s jambalaya is usually andouille sausage and shrimp cooked in a stock made from shrimp heads, shrimps shells and crushed tomatoes. Sometimes bacon, less frequently tasso (cured pork shoulder), occasionally crawfish and once even quail have found their way in the rice. Red pepper and a little celery are always added to the rice, as are onion, garlic, thyme and oregano. Whatever is in the rice it is always served with crystal hot sauce, generally with a piece of baguette and hopefully with a cold beer. Is it authentic? Who knows, but it is good and I can live with that.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nice Tet

Monday marks the first day of the first Lunar month of the year. The day commonly known as Chinese New Year or Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnamese culture, the start of the new year is the biggest holiday of the year in Vietnam – it is Yom Kippur, Mardi Gras, Christmas, a birthday and Thanksgiving all rolled into one.

The change in the lunisolar is most commonly referenced by noting the change is astrological signs. 2009 is the year of Ox or its Vietnamese analogue, the Water Buffalo. According to ChineseZodiac.com, an Ox is generally "steadfast, solid, a goal-oriented leader, detail-oriented, hard-working, stubborn, serious and introverted but can feel lonely and insecure." New President Barack Obama was born in the year of the Ox/Water Buffalo & in Vietnamese astrology "the buffalo is a harbinger of pragmatism and discipline, so people of all signs can expect this year to be less about new styles and trends, and more about hard work and responsibility…The buffalo's preference for an orderly home makes this a good year to settle domestic disputes."

In the US, Tet might be more memorable as a historical reference to the Tet Offensive, a communist attack on US and South Vietnamese positions - a turning point of the war- where Walter Cronkite opined he could no longer believe the Johnson Administration's silver linings about the Vietnam conflict. The second half of Full Metal Jacket deals is set in the first month of the Tet offensive.

Non-militarily, the beginning of the new year is a multi-faceted days long celebration in Vietnam. Tet traditions include the settling old debts, decorating homes with red blossoms, honoring ancestors and creating an environment for a prosperous New Year, these aspects of the festivities are so interwoven with food, they are impossible to separate from the feast. Offering of food to ancestors is part of the holiday ritual and food is so such an essential part of the holiday tradition that even food suppliers have reduced prices before the holiday. This year 9 major companies agreed reduced the prices of rice, eggs, sugar, and poultry by 10% to help families celebrate the Tet holiday.

Depending on how you translate, the expression 'an tet' literally means eat the new year or more idiomatically 'who are you eating [sharing food] with'. Food customs will vary from the Chinese influenced north, to the mountainous central inland to the tropical south, but there are a few foods that are important country wide – fresh fruit, especially watermelon/red dyed watermelon seeds (red is an auspicious color), Chicken served whole and banh chung – steamed rice cake.

Banh Chung is a cake of sticky rice steamed in banana leaf with pork, pepper and a bean paste. You Tube was kind enough to document how the dish is prepared. Warning that the soundtrack to the video is memorable enough to cause a person to hum it for hours afterwards. Please listen at your discretion.



Cung phát tài
Gung hay fat choy
Congratulations and be prosperous

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Custarded

What would you order for dessert? - Wondering

I am pretty much a custard fella. Crème brûlée, pot de crème, and anything that can call itself a pudding especially bread pudding – I like bread pudding so much I will pretty much order anything that calls itself bread pudding - like pizza, even when it is bad or disappointing it is still somehow satisfying.

Every once in a while I will order outside my comfort zone. I enjoy a good pie, but if bread pudding can be disappointing, pie can be awful, it is nearly always better when made at home. Cake can be so very good or so very processed. Chocolate is good, but we (chocolate and me) don’t share a deep emotional connection but we do seem to enjoy each other when we cross paths. Lately, I have been ordering the Amelie from local patisserie Pix, a small a hazelnut and chocolate cake – with custard.

One dessert, Oeufs a la neige will get my dessert dollars anytime I see it on a menu. Literally translated as ‘Snow Eggs’, the dessert is a winning combination of sugar, eggs and milk/cream but here it is presented as a classic example of the separation of yolk and white. The whites are whipped and poached then floated on a custard made of egg yolks.

In an age of various kinds of sugar bombs, dessert names like chocolate orgasm, death by chocolate and death by chocolate orgasm, Oeufs aren't going to fare well against such competition. And rightfully so, if a person goes out to eat once a month and wants a strong, bold dessert; Oeufs ala neige isn’t really what they are looking for. I rarely go out to eat, so a restaurant isn’t going to survive on the likes of me ordering the obscure and esoteric dessert.

Even when made for dinner guests, when there are no other choices, Oeufs are a hard sell. Guests have told me they don’t like meringues and eat will eat the custard around the whites out of politeness or something. Without going into a discourse on not liking versus not even trying, not liking meringue is fair enough. There are enough bad, stale, airy meringues (not to be confused with the infectious, toe-tappin’, hip gyrating merengue) to make desserters understandably cautious. Instead of baking the whipped egg whites, the Oeufs are poached in either a flavored syrup or the vanilla scented milk that will make eventually be the base of the custard – the result is a different experience altogether – chewy, textured, sweet and airy the perfect contrast to the thicker custard.

Oeufs a la neige is a subtle dessert, a dessert’s dessert – just as how well a kitchen prepares soups and vegetables tells you more about their skill than their ability to cook a steak, Oeufs mere presence on a menu tells me the pastry chef has a sense of history and well-rounded repertoire.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A WORD FROM THE KITCHEN: Consommé


Last week I was flipping through a cookbook and saw a recipe for Consommé. The clear, double strength soup is an old school preparation, since most cookbooks contain recipes instructing the addition of stock from a can or a carton, it is rare to see an author explain consommé. The soup is made through an elaborate process of reduction, filtering and clarifying. The final step involving egg whites, finely diced vegetables and usually ground meat added to a stock pot and stirred continually over low heat (as not to cook the eggs to quickly) sometimes for a half an hour or more.

Complaints could be made that everyone wants their cooking to be flash and flame - to kick it up a notch or produce a 30 minute variation, that no one wants to cook - to lose yourself in the often mundane, repetitive tasks in the kitchen.
In this instance, consommé might have fallen off the menu because who needs a soup course, that isn't how people dine any more. Still, looking at the recipe and reading all the variations for a garnish: Because the soup is clear, consommé is served with an elaborate garnish in the bowl - a singular slice of tenderloin about the thickness of a sheet of paper, thinly sliced crepes, a leaf of Italian parsley rolled between two nearly transparent sheets of pasta, a julienne of vegetables bundled together by a strip of green onion or a half dozen thin enokis floated next to one plump roasted chanterelle - for a fleeting moment I understood the value of a small, perfectly constructed taste.

My brother Carl, who reads and writes poetry, probably understands that idea on a much deeper level than I, below he explains
the history of the word consommé and offers his own thoughts on a soup that is rarely seen or served these days.

Consommé


The French term consummar mean to complete, finish. One is also supposed to consult the word consummate for a richer understanding. But first things first, consommé is a clarified soup and quite magical. Take a cooled down stock, dice any and everything you want and place it in the pot, add egg whites and heat slowly. With a large spoon begin stirring and remain stirring until temperature reaches 160 degrees. The surface of the soup should form a crust and all diced material will be gathered up, trapped in the egg whites’ web of protein. Let broth simmer under this small geological experiment. Break through with a ladle and find a deeply elegant soup.

Jesus said: it is accomplished. Translations, when time and usage change are added, become very difficult to comprehend. If he said anything at all he might have said achieved or satisfied or consummated. The broth is a union of all things in the universe of the stock pot. The many becomes one. Marriage, in its way, dances the same dance. There is the egg and what it binds. Consummation is the ultimate end, a thing perfected. The soup is finished, yet it needs to be served and consumed. Like marriage and like Jesus it seems once something is finished, it is far from over, that in fact, it is just beginning a life of its own.

-Carl Adamshick

Monday, January 19, 2009

Truffleupagus

Small things come in small packages - I know, I heard differently too. My friend and neighbor left a gift of small glass jar on my front porch. Inside wrapped inside a paper towel, about the size of a shelled walnut was one Oregon black truffle.

Truffles, like mushrooms, are the fruiting body of a fungus – there just has to be a better word than fruiting to describe the activity of fungal growth. Unlike mushrooms, truffles grow underground, usually in symbiosis with oak or linden trees, but occasionally they are found growing on the roots of hazel or birch trees. A skilled truffle hunter might be able to locate the presence of buried truffles by looking closely for the winged helomyza tuberiperda hovering above the spot where truffles are growing. Short of keen vision in a forest and fortuitous timing; catching the insects as they are ready to deposit their larvae on the truffle, most trufflers rely on the aid of an animal to help locate their prey. Historically pigs have been used to locate truffles but this is problematic for two reasons – although the pig will instinctively root, helping dig up the truffle, they will also eat it. Secondly, since truffles are taken off - possibly poached - of private or public lands: Taking a casual stroll with your swine through the woods might arouse suspicion of possible, strike, probable malfeasance. Instead, dogs are now the preferred truffle hunter – although the Saucydogs would perform very poorly at this type of activity, there are apparently breeds that excel at this task.

Not all truffles are equal – besides the different species within the genus tuber, the local growing climate, called terroir, plays an importance in the flavor of the truffle. It is believed the area in France near Perigord is the world’s best spot to find the black truffle. The Piedmont area in Italy is thought to be home to the finest white truffles, which are sometimes described as garlicky but I would describe the taste and flavor as pronounced, decidedly pronounced. Oregon black truffles are not as distinct in flavor or aroma as their European counterparts, but they are available fresh out of the ground.

For the most part cooking literature advises simple preparations – omelet, pasta, potatoes – to let the flavor of the truffle stand out. The other school of thought advocates matching the truffle to strong flavors – on my last major vacation, I passed through Italy during truffle and chingali (wild boar) season. I still dream of the ragu of chingali, truffle and juniper berries served over farfalle (We say bow tie, but the term means butterfly) pasta.

I tend to lean for the latter school even for the milder Oregon truffle. My gift truffle ended up inside boned/deboned chicken thigh with a few more shavings added to a demi-glace thinned with a little chicken stock spooned over the top of the truffle embedded thigh– the effect was subtle, the result was good. Richard Olney recommends a roasting boned chicken leg filled with breadcrumbs, brandy and truffle shavings.

Whether prepared to be the star of the show or carefully matched to compliment its aroma and flavor, truffles should be used quickly. The thing about keeping a truffle in Arborio rice so it scents the rice, not really true, the rice dries out the truffle and the aroma is like perfume, it dissipates after a time. Wrapped in a paper towel or a piece of parchment, sealed in a clean glass container is a less showy, but better way to keep a truffle. The truffle should be added at the last possible moment and you don’t need a fancy pants truffle shavers that cost over a $100 – a good cheese grater works well for small portions, a sharp vegetable peeler is yields thin slices and a paring knife makes slightly thicker cuts.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Reheated


Damn You, Bittman

The New York Times ran an article by the always practical Mark Bittman earlier this month. Highlighting views from his new book, Bittman advised to throw away the prepared foods like bottled salad dressing, do a little menu planning, keep good whole foods – nuts, beans, good oils and vinegars; not necessarily groceries bought from earnest young neo-hippies in urban markets – in the pantry. He told readers to never pour stock a from a carton, rather make your own. Mark Bittman could cook or philosophize comfortably in the Saucykitchen – we approach food the same way.

The fist shaking, the mild curse of damn you, is that he published these ideas first. Well plus he is more successful and sure he has to occasionally get on an elevator with Maureen Dowd, but he still has a paying gig at the New York Times: Damn you, Bittman.


And Speaking of Whole Foods…


What started as Whole Foods’ acquisition of Wild Oats Markets has now turned into some sort of lawyerly battle of attrition between the Federal Trade Commission and Whole Foods. At stake is whether Whole Foods has to undo its 2008 purchase of Wild Oats. The FTC contends this would give Whole Foods a defacto monopoly on the natural foods market.

There are 1000s of community held grocery CO-OPs in the US, endless farmer's markets, 315 Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart is the single largest purveyor of organic goods in the country. The concept that there natural foods are a monolith - easily exploited by one party is foolish. This is a diverse and expanding market and since when has the FTC, even in the waning days of the Bush administration, been against companies expanding, growing and consolidating?

Whatever sympathy I can garner for 270 store Whole Foods having to face the petulant might of the federal government is immediately lost when they do things like subpoena the records of my preferred neighborhood/local grocery to help aid them in this lawsuit. If they can’t show a court that their stores account for less than 1% of sales and sell under 10% of all organics, without the confidential records and practices of their competitors, maybe they aren’t smart enough to win.

Finally

Tom Vilsack faced no contentious questions at his confirmation hearing and it looks like farm policy will get a heapin' dose of hope and change, Obama-style, in the next weeks and months. Center for Rural Affairs opines with this piece on how access to affordable health care is an agricultural issue.


Beyond Obama’s immediate attention to food production - the great and good Wendell Berry co-wrote an op-ed with Wes Jackson on what it will take to keep farms viable for the next two generations.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Glutenus Maximus

Saucyman, this new recipe I’m trying calls for cake flour. Why? And since I don’t have any, what is a good substitute? New Cake Baker

Cake flour is lower in protein, low levels of protein in flour means less gluten, less gluten means baked goods will lack that bread like toothy texture. Expressed at its simplest, gluten adds chewiness while low gluten is bad for bread, it is good for muffins, cookies, biscuits and eponymously - cake.

Gluten is a combination of two proteins – glutenin and gliadin - when mixed with water they form an elastic matrix responsible for the texture and structure of baked goods. Despite that bag sitting on the shelf labeled ‘all-purpose’, flour isn’t one universal product. The variety of wheat planted, where the wheat was grown, how the flour was milled all play a part the final result but the biggest factor in how the flour is packaged is the level of protein in the wheat.

Flour is akin to milk – whole, 2%, skim. Bread and pasta’s semolina flour are the ‘fattest’ – about 13% protein. All-purpose flour is roughly 11% protein and cake flour is 8%. Big dif - 11 minus 8 is 3, how much difference can 3% make? That is actually good math but the wrong equation - all-purpose flour actually has about 25% more protein than cake flour. That 25% is enough to give pancakes the texture of pizza dough.

You can make good bread or at the other end of the spectrum, good cookies with all-purpose flour but odds are you can bake better by using the different kinds of flour for each. The occasional cook would do better to keep cake flour around rather than all-purpose- cake flour improves the results of the things most people make/bake most often –cookies, quick-breads a.k.a banana bread, muffins, and pancakes.

As far as substituting goes, generally substitutions allow you to cook, really cook as opposed to assembling a recipe. With baking, it is a little more different. Cooking is literature – there are lots of different ways to beautifully express yourself. Baking is math – in the everyday world no one wants experimental math, they want valid addition and subtraction, solid formulas and no creativity when cooking the books or baking the goods.

Odds are you know you are going to bake before you do it check your cupboard against the recipe – flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cake flour. Households average 3+ trips to the grocery store per week, just try to pick up what you need for baking on one of those trips, not make an extra special trip. If you are in a pinch and need to substitute – add one level cup of all-purpose flour in a mixing bowl, remove 3 level tablespoons of flour and replace those 3 tablespoons with 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Better still, keep cake flour in the kitchen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Navel Gazing

Saucyman – Is there anything good that is in season right now. - Fresh

There is green, green kale – Chow posted a fine looking recipe today for kale. Outside of leafy, fibrous greens, this time of year is mostly all about the citrus; in particular navel oranges are looking way good right now.

The orange traveled from its ancestral home in China to subtropical regions around the world via the usual suspects - Columbus and missionaries. The orange commonly known as the navel, was a chance mutation discovered in a plantation located in Bahia, Brazil. Because the fruit is largely seedless, the navel can only be propagated by cutting/grafting. In 1870 the US Department of Agriculture brought a dozen or so grafted trees to the Ag station in Washington - the navel is specifically referred to as either Washington or Bahia by growers and produce professionals. The cuttings from these original trees were then distributed to growers in both Florida and California who were searching for an early ripening orange.

The variety never really caught on in the south like it did in the west. Florida is one of the most rained upon states in the US and the navel orange, thick skinned, low in moisture and acidity is a better match for the hot day/cool night conditions of California’s orange growing areas. Mostly though, Florida is about OJ: 97 to 98% of oranges grown in Florida go directly to juice, frozen concentrated orange juice. Even if you were to squeeze the navel, the juice from the fruit turns noticeably bitter after about 30 minutes due to the high content of the bitter compound called limonin. Instead, Florida growers focus their efforts on growing the Valencia orange, which roughly 50% liquid by weight, has a high sugar content and is low in limonin.

The bellybutton of the navel orange is actually a smaller, fruit embedded on the blossom end (as opposed to the stem end) of the orange. Navels, like tangerines are prized for their designation of being easy to peel. Which considering flavor, organic/conventional, sugar to acid ratio or nutritional composition – peelability seems to be an odd criteria for selecting a fruit, especially if you bypass the peel - quartering and eat them like a youth soccer player or Marlon Brando.

But peeling fruit is apparently a big deal. USDA statistics tell us we consume Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice at 6 to 1 ratio over the fresh variety. Del Monte has designed a vacuum packed bowl for fruit that replaces that onerous organic (in the carbon-based sense) packaging with the plastic variety. That consumers prefer convenience over taste is a fact/belief that determines everything from what varieties are grown to how products are sold: Just something to keep in mind when your Andy Rooney types complain about food doesn’t taste as good as it used to.

That peeling an orange might eventually be an act of cultural defiance, but for now it is the best way to enjoy the only fruit that is in season.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An Actual Post About Sauce


Saucyman, what is the difference between demi-glaze (glace) and a reduction?

Demi-glace, viande-glace or veau-glace all have traditional meanings that were defined by master kitchen taxonomist, Escoffier. Demi-glace, in particular, had the distinction of being a mother sauce, one of 4 sauces in the classic kitchen that smaller sauces could be made quickly from. Demi-glace is the mother of all brown sauces – old school (Victorian Era not ’92) sauces like the Sauces Robert, Duxelles, Bordelaise are all derivatives of demi-glace. These recipes like Escoffier himself, the type of kitchens he managed and the cuisine he prepared - are all dead. In the modern food world demi-glace and reductions are used interchangeably without too much confusion.

The term demi–glace is a bit of a misnomer. Demi, which literally means half, here denotes a sauce reduced by at least 2/3 of its original volume. Glace translates as ice -why ice for a sauce that is made by boiling stock for hours before the serving hot? I don’t know why, they’re French. Despite using two inexact words in its name, a demi-glace does have some specific attributes: First a demi-glace connotes that the sauce is based on beef or veal bones. In cookbooks and on menus demis are duck, lamb, quail, chicken and yes, even tomato. More importantly, calling a sauce a demi-glace implies it contains a thickening agent like the fat and flour combo called roux.

Whether it is actually a roux that is doing the thickening or arrowroot, pureed rice, cornstartch or tapioca - thickening agents do two things – save time and time’s corollary, money. Getting a gallon of beef stock down to 2 cups of reduction takes some serious time - 6 to 10 hours from making the stock to the final reduction. Adding a thickening agent adds color, means the sauce doesn’t have to be reduced as much and means the final product doesn’t have to rely solely on the gelatin extracted from the bones to thicken the demi-glace.

A reduction is straight-up honest concentration of ingredients. Usually a cook boils bones, then adds aromatics – onion, carrot, leek, celery, laurel, thyme, parsley - eventually the solids are removed, after a certain point in the preparation, all the flavor has been extracted. This liquid keeps getting boiled away until the saucepan contains a stock that is about the consistency of maple syrup. A reduction can be anything – wine, balsamic vinegar, vegetable, fish, fowl or meat.

So how is it that two words that have separate identities are used interchangeably? Arguably it is because restaurant kitchens are not professional environments – it is a place where people use pork as a verb and this is despite the fact they should know better because they are offering pork the noun on the menu. That and certain words and terms add value to a meal. While not everyone knows the dictionary definition, demi-glace might ring a bell to a casual diner – a word faintly remembered from watching Martha or Emeril. Possibly a word they have never heard from the lips of Rachel Ray – ergo it is something that takes more time than 30 minutes to make and therefore good.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tri-Tipasaurous

Saucyman, Tri-tip, is it a roast or steak? More importantly do you cook the cut like a steak or a roast?Dopple-question

Does it have to be a steak OR a roast, can’t it just be good? Tri-tip is a cut of meat from the bottom round of beef cattle, specifically it is a triangular shaped muscle found wedged between the flank, the shank and the round.

According to Christopher Kimball host of PBS's Cook’s Country - beef cattle in the western US are bigger than their eastern counterparts. The tri-tip is kept whole in the left half of the US, hence it is better known on the Pacific half of the country than areas east of the Mississippi. Up until fairly recently tri-tip was usually ground into hamburger, but a combination of low-fat content, taste and price (about 1/3 less than other cuts from the sirloin) have helped the cut of beef become increasingly popular. Tri-tip may be only recently fashionable but the English who historically have been known to like a good wedge of beef, have enjoyed tri-tip for many years, only the Brits call it triangle steak.

And if tri-tip had to be considered either steak or roast, it would be a steak. But it doesn’t cook like a steak exactly. Richard Olney explains the fine balance of cooking steak from his great book, The French Menu Cookbook:

The French say a steak is a point (“just right” the equivalent of medium rare) when, once having been turned the first pearl of transparent, rose colored liquid oozes up through the seared surface. If it is then removed from the grill and kept warm for a few minutes (on a heated serving platter, for instance, a heated bowl or saucepan above it or a warm but not hot oven), the flesh will continue to cook without becoming overdone. Although some people fear rare meat and others say that a steak be bleu, that is to say, both sides so rapidly seared the heat is not allowed to penetrate the interior, an overdone steak is always dry and savorless and one that is underdone is always rubbery and resistant.

In order to achieve a point for tri-tip, the cut needs to be cooked over high heat, then finished in a moderate oven of 300-325, which is pretty much how you cook a roast. Except it doesn’t take as long to finish a tri-tip - only about 20 to 35 minutes as opposed to hours.

Couple things to keep in mind when cooking meat:

Searing doesn’t lock in the juices, it only develops flavor; eventually high temperatures will dry out meat, not completely lock in moisture. Strike a balance between a beautiful caramelized exterior and a moist interior.

Medium rare is 135ºƒ, the best way and most accurate way to tell the internal temperature of any meat is with a thermometer.

Don’t wait until the thermometer says 135ºƒ, everything continues to cook after you take it off the heat. For meat this carryover cooking is about 10 degrees, for all essential purposes, steak is done at 125.

Let the steak rest for about 10 minutes– see above paragraph about platter, bowl, etc. before slicing and serving.

Saucyman’s preferred method for cooking tri-tip is to sear the roast on all sides, crush 6 cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle with salt and pepper, rub the outside of the tri-tip with seasoning and bake in the oven until 125ºƒ - and then serve with demi-glace, which we will talk about in the next post.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cold Cut Chronicles III - The Salami Who Would be King

Welcome to 2009. Saucyman should be back to its thrice weekly posting schedule now that the holidays are behind us. To start out the calendar year Friend of Saucyman, Charles Seluzicki is continuing his epic quest to explain every kind, type and variety of sausage known to humans. Today the world of salami comes to saucyman.

The great salamis of the world all have their origin in the need to preserve those portions of the meat that is not consumed at butchering time. Salt is central to this process; salami, and all salumi, derive their name from the adjectival form of the Latin sal, salsus (salted). Entrails of all sorts and, less frequently, skins are used to house the chopped and salted meat. The stunning varieties of salami- an estimated 1500 kinds in Germany alone- if charted from the softest types to the hardest describe an epic arc of innovation, terroir and trade, the seasons and necessity. Methods of production lend specific salamis their name: Katenrauchwurst derives from katen or the huts where salami hung in chimneys for long smoking or, even more simply, saucisson sec (dry) or saucisson fume (smoked.) Likewise various decorative styles of tying salami identify them, as with the German netz (latticework). Regions also commonly lend their names to many well known styles: Toscano, Genoa, Milano.


The qualities of necessity and innovation are no more evident than in hard salami. Necessity because these are the preserved meats that required the longest time to make and then to hold for periods of scarcity, innovation because the slow genesis of technique associated with the humble and utilitarian farm salami evolves into the artisanal methods we associate with great regional salami. Food historians generally agree that the latter happens sometime in the early 18th century, in the first afterglow of the explosion of the great cities of Europe in the mid-17th century. This combination of urban growth, an emerging middle class and the concurrent competition for their new spending power, provoked growth in all quarters. The art of charcuterie was subject to the same forces that drove the new merchantile society generally. Necessity would slowly give way to innovation and the concurrent need to provide standardized products of predictable quality. Imperial Rome's passion for the salamis and hams of Gaul develops into the middle class sophistications of Europe's urban centers.

The firms Salumi and Fra'Mani have been mentioned here with admiration. Their hard salamis are at once familiar and bear the unmistakeable imprint of their makers as well. Some years ago I tried oregano salami at Salumi (this does not appear to be regularly available) and was incredulous that a cured salami could retain such a vibrant herbal flavor; likewise their finnocchio, redolent enough with sweet and salty fennel to make Caesar swoon. I have been tasting my way through Fra'mani's offerings as well. The fathomless wine-reds of their Toscano glisten with fine fat. Slice it paper thin and serve it up with traditional salt-free Tuscan bread grilled to perfection. Permit their diminutive salametto picante, flavored with spicy Spanish pimenton, time for a little flamenco on your palate in between bites of sweet Spanish peppers and tangy goat cheese, drizzled with a fruity Spanish oil.

As with many foods that appear expensive at first glance, these artisan salamis are evolved, rich, complex with individual personality; they satisfy fully, with less. More, it is as if the fine white bacteria that coats many salamis, protecting them from decay, nurtured by their makers and working a chemical magic that cannot be otherwise duplicated, becomes a metaphor for something larger in life itself, something like necessity in its other guise, ineffable but a-glow with simple pride, touched with happiness. Something impossibly pure and yet completely of the world.


- Charles Seluzicki