Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – Recap

It has been too much lately, reading the exploits of my friends who only seem to frolic, never work. My old buddy Rodrigo reportedly has some sort of high-tech job, but all I see on Facebook are videos uploaded from his surfboard-mounted digital movie camera. Another friend, Phil, now living in Oregon goes snowboarding down Mt. Hood when he’s not doing… Come to think of it. What does he do?

Though I have been known to strap on snowshoes, I’m not too keen on drowning in the surf or ending up a crumpled pile of fleshy bones after suffering the effects of gravity. This week I goofed off in my own way. I cooked, I brewed, I ate, I laughed.

I even got in an argument with a drunk guy and called him by a piece of digestive system anatomy… to his face. I’m opinionated, but I rarely share that epithet in mixed company. We made up. He bought me beer. What will our next meeting bring?

It’s Sunday now and I’m basking in the success of being in my own, indefinable way, the champion of un-work.

Here is my nugatory rundown of the week.

  • Monday I ate lunch and contemplated Tuesday.

  • Tuesday was the day for the chocolate and beer. I kept my fingers crossed that chocolates would come from Lincoln’s Chocolatier Blue and they did! The beers were a variable bunch provided by a local distributor. By his own admission, the rep stated he hadn’t much experience with chocolate and beer – and it showed. But the deeper message that was planted in my brain had to do with the biases inherent in distributor-chosen selections. I feel a bitch session coming on that I’ll have to post in my Gripefruit section very soon! However, there were two delicious pairings, both with Weyerbacher beer (Easton, PA):
  1. Belgian-styled quadrupel Quad with the holiday spice chocolate (“You got your apricot in my custard!” “You got your cloves in my peaches!”)
  2. Rum Soaked Currant praline with Weyerbacher Tiny (“Bing, bang, bada bing bing bang.”)

  • Wednesday I brewed my traditional Baltic Porter,  a dark, potent lager that will cold condition towards perfection (what, can’t I aim high?) for a couple of months. Thanks to my new book Yeast (White and Zainasheff, Brewers Publications), my yeast cell counts were (say it like Carl Sagan) in the “billions and billions.” Within six hours of pitching the fermenters were rollicking and spewing stuff that only a homebrewer could love.

  • It was also a good time to save some spent grains from the brewing. I had an idea, actually I thought it to be a revelation, that I could make pumpernickel rye soft pretzels. The trick to using spent grains in bread is to purée them in a blender with some warm water. Otherwise you end up picking coarse grain husks from your teeth. The recipe included stone-ground rye flour, molasses, caraway seeds and a few standard bread ingredients. I won’t post a recipe here, not because the pretzels weren’t good – they were delicious – but because a black pretzel has a rather unappetizing appearance. Judge for yourself…

  • While the infamous pretzel dough was rising I met up with beer maestro Jason to try out a few more of our cheese pairings. We had settled on certain cheeses but were still searching for the specific beers to knock it out of the park. We settled on a date (March 4) and number of tickets to sell (50) and we are sure to sell out early. There is a practical size to a cheese-beer tasting; even this one will have 250 measured portions of cheese, the same number of beers to dispense, plus accouterments. Then everything has to be at the right temperature. I hope we’re getting prep help the day of…
  • Thursday rolled around and there were still pots and pans to clean from beer and pretzel operations. I put off the cheese making to Saturday. But I did stick with the plan to attend a six course beer dinner at a Greek restaurant called The Parthenon. If you read my previous thoughts on beer dinners, you know that I believe it is a good idea to have some moderate strength beers in the mix so you don’t turn into a “pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course.” What I failed to estimate were the portions of food. The first course of spice-rubbed chicken drumsticks pressure-cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, sitting atop couscous flavored with lemon juice and blanched almonds was huge. What would pass for a chicken tagine entrée in some Moroccan restaurants was more food than an entire upscale beer dinner. By the fifth course, we were slung over the back of our chairs, our arms akimbo and eyes at half mast. Awesome, filling, soul-warming food. Then the soup bowl sized crème brulée, redolent with vanilla seeds. It had the consistency of melting ice cream. Here’s a similar recipe with a discussion on the key ingredient: vanilla bean paste. Oh mercy. Yes, if you’re wondering, we ate the whole thing.
  • Friday, is it Friday yet? Coasting just a bit. I spent most of the day researching an article for All About Beer magazine. Something about ancient beers and their cultural and ceremonial importance. Now, that is work. Sorry. Didn’t mean to mention the “w” word. I was trying to convince you that I am really just a professional goof-off. Back to being indolent… I made a batch of cider. Although I follow my own recipe, I’m going to let you in on a guilty little secret

  • Saturday – the Day of the Satur. I pause to imagine I know what a Satur is… some sort of man-beast mythic creature. Perhaps the body of a cow, a chalky green hide of lizard scales, angel wings, and man’s head that looks like Wallace. Or maybe I was channeling my inner cheese god. This day was for blue cow’s milk cheese in the British tradition, i.e. Stilton.

  • Saturday night it snowed again. A fair dose. After an hour and forty minutes of shoveling against the drifting snow, icicles on my eyebrows, I returned to the warm interior. No hot chocolate tonight. I have invented a new hot toddy that appeals to my woodland upbringing, my Scottish heritage, and, well, a desire to consume alcohol. I call my drink Woodsman’s Fly Dope because of its memorable aroma. First I make a big mug of strong tea using Lapsang Souchong tea. The tea has a huge pine/juniper smoke aroma and flavor. It brews a deep rust-colored tea with substantial body. So much body, in fact, that a wee dram of Scotch whisky is needed to lighten it up just a bit. The smoked tea and the peaty Scotch merge. Wisps of campfire memories wend their way through your skull like the figments they represent. Sleep will come, and dreams will weave my week into one confusing mural.

So, Rodrigo and Phil, right back atcha!

Cheers, TPJ.

Advertisements

Cedar Plank Salmon with Chanterelles

Eastern Red Cedar - handsome, fragrant wood - killer of apple trees. (Source: botit.botany.wisc.edu)

While immersed in recipe selection for my Feast of the Seven Fishes I had the opportunity to cut down three “cedar” trees (Juniperus virginiana) for my neighbor Deb. The trees provided me with some aromatic firewood for future seasons. Felling them also planted the seed for the enclosed recipe, number 6 out of 7 in my countdown for holiday season fish dishes.

The trees had been planted there in the 1960s by Barnacle Bob, the former owner, and were now tall enough to block much of the light on that side of Deb’s house. Old crusty told me a cockamamie tale about how he “rescued” these three trees from NYC’s Central Park. Maybe he did, maybe not. Fact remains, this locale is within the natural range of the specie, and they could well have arrived by most any other natural means.

I was delighted to cut these trees down, since they harbor an apple-damaging blight called cedar-apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) and are dangerously close to my orchard. In the springtime, when the apples are leafing out, spores from growths on the cedar tree travel to nearby apples trees and disturb both leaf development and later, the fruit. Since I continue against all odds to attempt an organic orchard, this is one of the more bizarre steps I’ve yet to take.

As I suspected, when I began cutting into the wood, I noticed its perfumed, purple-stained heartwood. This was the wood made into hope chests and closets. It’s commonly called Eastern Red Cedar, but really a juniper. It was smelling that fragrant wood that caused plank salmon to fall on my conscious thoughts. I’ve often cooked this way, usually on a barbecue and usually with riven sheets of Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) that have been first soaked in water.

Cooking salmon on planks combines grilling and smoking techniques. (Source: greatlakesgrilling.com)

Some say it is likely that plank cooking was in use by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest long before colonists arrived. Author Hilary Stewart reports how some coastal tribes called themselves “people of the cedars.” Their entire culture revolved around the myriad uses of the tree. Others contend that the technique is Scandinavian in origin. To me, it doesn’t seem worth arguing; many cultures would have used similar methods when there was an absence of pottery or metal cookery. In earlier times, wood smoke could add flavor when there were few imported spices or herbs.

Of course those earlier peoples ate salmon. I imagine that a fish from the Pacific Northwest would be most appropriate and I am particularly fond of sockeye. It’s flesh is a deep red-orange tone with the finest grain and texture of any salmon. It possesses an earthy, piny note that works well with cedar.

I prefer salmon from a sustainable wild fishery to avoid perpetuating the pesticides and dyes commonly used in “grocery store salmon.” Wild salmon fisheries are threatened by a range of issues, including pollution from cities and riverside fish farms, over-harvesting, and migration-interrupting dams. The ethical choice of “what’s for dinner?” is not without consequence. The most vocal proponent of restoring salmon waters in the lower 48 states is Save Our Wild Salmon, and I encourage you to see what they’re up to. This recent video release from Skip Armstrong sums up one of the many watersheds being contested. Ultimately I end up purchasing far less salmon than my love for it would otherwise dictate.

As for the other ingredients, you will see that there is an undertone of pine-scented ingredients. I roasted the potatoes with sage, sautéed the squash with thyme, and used rosemary in the balsamic reduction. I served the Scots pine ale Alba to top off my homage to an evergreen forest.

A feast of simple foods infused with various evergreen aromas.

Cedar Plank Salmon with Chanterelles

Ingredients for Two

Time to Prepare: 60 min

  • a cedar plank 4×8 in, minimum (you may have to cut down a cedar tree)
  • 10-12 oz salmon fillet
  • 1 teas olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teas shallots, minced
  • salt and white pepper
  • 2/3 c high quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 c pomegranate juice
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 spring fresh rosemary
  • 3 medium red potatoes
  • 2 teas olive oil
  • 6 leaves fresh sage
  • salt and black pepper
  • 3 oz fresh chanterelle mushrooms
  • 1 teas butter
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 small summer (yellow) squash
  • 1 teas butter
  • 1 spring fresh thyme
  • salt and black pepper

Preparation

If the cedar plank is dry, soak in lightly salted water for 30 minutes. Place the salmon skin side down onto the plank, coat lightly with olive oil, and season with garlic, shallot, salt & pepper. Set aside in a cool place.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, juice, sugar, garlic, and rosemary. Bring to a low boil then lower the heat to slowly reduce. While this is taking on the consistency of honey, carry on with other preparations.

In just a few minutes of cooking the cedar aromas penetrate the salmon and the fish cooks to a delicate state.

Slice the red potatoes about 1/4 inch thick with the skins on. Brush with oil and season with sage, salt & pepper. Arrange in a shallow pan and roast in the oven at 450 deg for about 10 minutes, turning once. When you open the door to turn the potatoes, place the entire plank and salmon into the oven. While these two items are finishing you have about five minutes for the veggies.

Set two small skillets on the heat. In one cook the squash in a tad of butter, seasoning with thyme, salt & pepper. The squash can be cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds or into sticks. In the other you will simply cook the chanterelles in a little butter. Cook the mushrooms al dente, removing them before they wither and go flat.

Onto warmed plates arrange the sliced potatoes. Remove the salmon from the plank and place a portion onto the potatoes. Plate the squash and chanterelles beside the potato/salmon, then drizzle the balsamic reduction around the plate and onto the salmon and potatoes. Serve with a piny, resinous beer like Alba, Racer 5 IPA, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, or most any beer from Southern California’s Green Flash Brewing Company. Wine drinkers can go with the surprising Brut Rosé from Roederer Estate (thanks Otto for the suggestion), or a pinot noir from Oregon’s southwest corner.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel-burdock side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.
  • No. 3 – PBR and Caviar (Russian-White Trash Fusion) Dine like a rock star, served with ice-cold cheap beer.
  • No. 2 – Cedar Plank Salmon – (Nouvelle Native American) First, cut down a cedar tree…

Coming soon:

  • No. 1 – Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces – A massive, freaky effort to be made by the adventurous chef or dreamed about by armchair cooks.

Life is to be enjoyed and enjoyment is all the more savory if toil is required! TPJ

PBR and Caviar

Snack out like a rock star with affordable and authentic caviar. Wash it down with a can of beer!

It’s time for recipe number 3 of 7 in my countdown for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. If you’re checking your calendar you’ll realize that we still need two more recipes by Christmas. I will deliver on that, but it was challenging to find sustainably harvested sturgeon caviar for this dish.

Caviar (salted fish roe) is best served entirely by itself or with simple accompaniments that soften the saltiness without overshadowing the caviar taste. These sides can include blinis (small pancakes) or toast points, sour cream, and seived, hard-cooked egg. Some people go as far as to include capers, cornichons, lemon, red onion, pepper or herbs. The choice is yours, but be forewarned about criticism from caviar snobs. In truth, accompaniments of all sorts have been served with caviar for centuries.

Caviar’s flavor can range from subtly fishy to buttery or nutty, herbal, iodiney, and in some cases, very fishy. The palate development can be short or long. It is always a bit salty, although modern producers have managed to get the salt down below 3.5 percent. For the amount you will consume, this is less total salt than in many American meals.

Caviar also has a texture that contradicts its apparent soft look. Smaller grains have an almost poppy seed quality, while the large salmon roe are more surprising. You will experience how the roe explodes in the mouth releasing its nuanced flavors. Suffice to say, caviar may not be to everyone’s liking, but those who like it generally look forward to their next chance to taste it. And there may be another reason to eat caviar. As Brillat-Savarin wrote in his Physiologie du Gout:

…unanimous observations have demonstrated that it acts strongly on genetics, and awakens in both sexes the instinct of reproduction.

The shovelnose sturgeon, rebranded as the more appetizing hackelback sturgeon, plies the waters of the Mississippi River. Hackelback is an affordable caviar that compares favorably with Russian Sevruga. (Source: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/)

What might be called “true” or “authentic” caviar is obtained exclusively from the sturgeon, among which there are many species. Generally the larger and lighter in color the grains, the more highly valued the caviar. However with salmonid roe (derived from various salmon or trout species) the rule is reversed, whereas the darker, smaller eggs are considered higher in quality.

A third group of fish roe, that of the lumpfish, is more of a novelty and better suited as a garnish, if you even purchase it at all. It is the cheapest of all roe and is often dyed into deep colors and may have preservatives added.

Current perceptions of caviar derive from a complicated history of royal families, issues of rarity among certain types, and taste preferences of disparate cultures. Hanging on to these traditions is one reason that sturgeons in the wild are on endangered species lists around the globe. So a new caviar ethic is in order, one in which you know where your caviar originated, i.e., that it came from a sustainable fishery (nowadays often a fish farm).

Considering that caviar was once so common it was served in Colonial American taverns instead of pretzels or peanuts, it seems fitting to pair it today with the quintessential blue collar beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon – PBR. This notion should agree even with those who hold conservative views about what to drink with caviar, seeing as ice cold vodka or frosty Champagne are traditional. I’ve simply substituted another very cold, bland drink. Do you like the irony of this suggestion as much as I do?

PBR and Caviar

Ingredients for Four

Time to Prepare: 30 min

  • 4 slices firm white bread
  • 2 tbls sour cream
  • 1 oz caviar (Hackelback Sturgeon,$30 at Whole Foods)
  • 1 hard-cooked egg, shelled and pushed through a sieve
  • 2 teas chopped chives
  • 4 cans cheap American lager packed in an ice bath

Preparation

Remove the caviar from the fridge, allowing it to warm up while making the toast. Toast the bread to medium toast, cut off the crusts, and cut each into four triangular toast-ettes. Place the sieved egg in the middle of the plate. Arrange the toast around the egg. Carefully place a dollop of sour cream on each piece of toast. The amount you want is about 3/4 teaspoon and should be equal to the amount of caviar you will place on top. Using a slim, non-metallic implement (I used the handle of a plastic spoon), place a wad of caviar on each bit of sour cream. The eggs stick together pretty well, so this is easier than it sounds. Sprinkle the chopped chives around the edge of the plate. Provide a knife for people to place egg on their morsel, if they so choose.

Serve immediately with very cold bland beer!

Get it on with caviar this Holiday season.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel-burdock side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.
  • No. 3 – PBR and Caviar – (Russian-White Trash Fusion) Dine like a rock star, served with ice-cold cheap beer.

On deck:

  • No. 2 – Cedar Plank Salmon – (Nouvelle Native American) First, cut down a cedar tree…
  • No. 1 – Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces – A massive, freaky effort to be made by the adventurous chef or dreamed about by armchair cooks.

More coming at you! TPJ

Fried Smelts with Risotto and Other Surprises

(Source: lotussutra.wordpress.com)

As promised, the recipes for the Feast of the Seven Fishes are getting more and more ‘out there.’ I make no apologies. This is a lengthy post and requires a cook with more hands than Shiva. There will be more fusion and more difficulty from here on out. Be an armchair cook or pony up, source the ingredients, and “make it so Number One.”

This recipe is number 4 in our countdown from 7. At the outset I will say that fried smelts are a traditional element in the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Traditional is great, but smelts can nevertheless be difficult to find, for of course they must be fresh, silvery, lithe and odorless. But fortune smiled and I found them in a diminutive fish restaurant cum market in West Brattleboro, VT – a place called Gillies.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought some unpopular product from a fish counter and have had the proprietor eye me askance, for just a moment, then a smile emerges, then the animated conversation about what’s for dinner. This is what I call connecting. It is a genuine human feeling that there is a commonality between you and another human being. Let’s just say I feel blessed when these moments occur.

Lithe and luminous - fresh smelts ready for action! (Source: italianhandful.wordpress.com)

And so, this jolly, round man weighed up my smelts for all of a couple dollars. He said “this time of year…” knowing that only a phrase meant a paragraph. I said “fried up with mushroom risotto.” His wife, I guess, trundled in and said “we serve ’em at the restaurant with chips.” I’m thinking she meant fries, but there was no English accent. I bounded out into a bolt of sun that broke through the gray sky of the day.

There is so much to write about smelts. Truly. But not here. I already have an entire essay on smelts that I hope to use in the introduction of my first cookbook. Indeed I will likely draw further conclusions from this codex. My late-in-life discovery of the marvel of smelts is a personal idiom, one about the importance of trying new things, eschewing prejudice. I encourage you to find your own smelts, or beef tongue, or cross-dressing, or fascination with crochet. We expand ourselves by taking small bites out of fear.

Dredge in flour, fry ’em, toss ’em on a pile of spinach. No problem. But that’s not my plan. No, now I must find my other difficult treasures: the porcinis (Boletus sp.), Arborio rice, the fennel bulb, and whatever else weaves its way into my fascination. I make myself laugh… it is a wicked web we weave… when a complicated dinner we conceive. Even more so, because pairing a beer with fried fish and fries is simple. With this recipe I’m forcing myself to find an all-rounder that will match the fish, the earthy savoriness, the acidity of lemon and the sulfur of Brussels sprouts.

Fried Smelts with Earth Vegetables, etc., etc.

Ingredients for Four

Time to Prepare: 36 hours     –     Time to Eat: 10 minutes

Porcini Risotto

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 3 cups homemade beef stock with marrow, see note
  • pinch saffron threads, crushed
  • 1/2 teas marjoram, dried
  • 1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese, finely grated
  • salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Note on beef stock: Sear 1-1/2 lb beef shank on all sides in 2 tbsp olive oil. Add 12 oz of low bitterness brown ale or porter and 2 tbsp barbecue sauce. Top up with 4-6 cups water and braise covered for several hours until everything falls apart. Cool enough to handle. Remove the shank bone, meat and any un-rendered fat, but push the marrow back into the liquid. Mash the marrow into the stock. Chill to solidify the fat, then discard the fat. Heat the stock to a low boil, skimming if required, and reduce to 3 cups. Keep warm for use in risotto. Note that for purists, the use of meat or dairy in a Feast of the Seven Fishes dish is forbidden.

Preparation of the Risotto

The risotto recipe is in a style called Milanese and this version is adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Rosso & Lukins (Workman, 1989).

In a small pan, heat the wine to boiling, add the dried mushrooms, then remove from the heat. In a heavy, straight-sided pot or cooktop-safe casserole heat the oil, add onions until soft, 5 minutes, then stir in rice for another 3 minutes. Adjust heat to medium-low.

With continuous stirring add 1/2 cup of the warm stock. When that liquid is absorbed, repeat with another bit of stock. You will be stirring gently like this for the next 30 minutes – do not let the rice sit in a pool of liquid. The classic way to know when you’re ready for more liquid is when the bottom of the pot comes into view during stirring. When half the stock has been added, switch to adding the warm wine-mushroom liquid. Stir in the crushed saffron and marjoram. Continue with the wine until all used, then finish with the stock. Taste for doneness. You want al dente with no pithy interior to the rice. A small amount of warm water can be added if you need to keep going. Milanese risotto should be creamy, but not runny, whereas risotto from southern Italy tends to be soupier.

Stir in the cheese and salt and pepper, using caution with the salt because of the saltiness of the cheese. Cover the dish and keep lukewarm until plating.

Fennel-Burdock Dice with Brussels Sprouts

  • 2 tbsp finely, uniformly diced burdock root (Jap: gobo), see note.
  • 1 teas whole annato seeds
  • 1/4 cup purified water, acidulated with a splash of lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely, uniformly diced fennel bulb, white part only
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup brussels sprouts
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Notes on burdock root. If unavailable you may substitute with parsnip and/or celeriac (celery root), but skip the annato infusion and add to the sauté with the fennel. Burdock (Arctium lappa) is a medicinal root that looks something like salsify, or, if you’ve never seen that, then like a three foot long brown, anemic carrot. It is most commonly used in sushi where the baby roots are pickled in orange dye and MSG – ick! It has a smokey, woodsy, faintly artichoke taste that is unique – yum! My preparation is designed to achieve the same thing without the unnatural additives. (Also, contrary to popular myth, annato is not just a colorant – crush some and smell for yourself.) This side dish embodies the three colors of the Italian flag, with the burdock/annato supplying the red. Warning: burdock is a stimulant that has a caffeine-like effect. Even handling it before bed last night kept me up most of the night! Who needs Red Bull?

Preparation of the Vegetables

Do not peel burdock, rather scrape the skin off with the edge of a paring knife or use a 3M pad. Cut into uniform fine dice (3 mm) and immediately submerge in the acidulated water to avoid discoloration. Grind the annato seeds in a mortar until you achieve an oily pigment. Now you’re ready to paint the Sistine Chapel. No, now add this to the burdock and liquid allowing same to sit in the fridge overnight.

Now, to get busy, sauté just the burdock (reserving the red liquid) in the olive oil over medium heat for 10 minutes, gradually adding the red liquid. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the burdock is soft enough to eat. It is a fibrous root so let’s leave it with a little of that natural texture. Set aside.

In a clean pan, separate from the burdock, melt the butter and sauté the fennel until al dente. Meanwhile, in a small steamer, steam the Brussels sprouts for about 6 minutes, until the tip of a knife penetrates, but they are not mushy. Toss the Brussels sprouts into the fennel, then add the lemon juice, salt & pepper. At the last moment, stir in the reserved burdock and immediately plate beside the risotto, arranging to your heart’s content.

Fried Smelts

  • 1.5 lbs fresh, cleaned, beheaded smelts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • salt & pepper to suit your taste
  • juice of 1 lemon

Final Assembly

Begin by heating the oil in a broad pan until it shimmers. Keep the temperature steady. Pat dry the smelts and check for things that might have been missed during evisceration. Coat the smelts with lemon juice, then dredge in the flour to which you’ve added the salt and pepper. This can be done in a baggie, Shake-n-Bake style. Fry the smelts in an uncrowded single layer in the pan for about 3 minutes per side.

Plate the smelts onto a mound of risotto. The burdock-fennel-brussels sprouts mix goes beside. Garish with a lemon wedge and some fresh, flat-leafed parsley. Due to the range of oily, nutty, woodsy, sulfury, acidic flavors, you are going to want a beer that is equally complex. I recommend the Italian beer Genziana, brewed in the style of a Belgian farmhouse ale. It employs gentian root (Gentiana lutea), the bitter and medicinal element in Angostura Bitters, and has a honeyish sweetness and flowery hop aroma backed by yeast-driven depth and a lingering bitterness. I found it to be excellent with this dinner. May you and your army of sous chefs enjoy! TPJ

Dinner is served!

p.s. Tasting notes for beers paired with this dinner follow.

Some beers that paired credibly with this dish.

  • Saison du Buff (collaboration between Stone, Dogfish, and Victory), 6.8%
    • beer itself: bitter, yeast aromatics, vulcanized rubber/sulfur, herbaceous
    • popped out fresh vegetable notes from the brussels sprouts et al, collaborated with the risotto, a little slick with the fried fish
  • Raison D’Être (Dogfish Head, DE), 8%
    • the beer: malty & sugary, cedar pencil shavings, warming, low yeast factors
    • really matched the risotto, softened the vegetables, and enhanced earthiness from the fish; a happy union, if not very surprising or synergistic
  • Maudite (Unibroue, QE, Canada), 8%
    • the beer: pronounced pepperiness, dried fruit, meaty yeast
    • passable but not exceptional, too much spice and alcohol warmth
  • Prima Pils (Victory Brewing, PA)
    • bright flor-herbal hop aroma, light grainy malt, crisp sweet/bitter finish
    • held up very well with all flavors and popped up the lemon flavors

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel-burdock side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.

On deck:

  • No. 3 – PBR and Caviar – (Russian-White Trash Fusion) Dine like a rock star, served with ice-cold cheap beer.

We’re more than halfway there – How’s your Christmas shopping going? TPJ

Ceviché Mixto – Raw yet Refined

Number 5 in our countdown in the Feast of the Seven Fishes, though this dish alone could have seven fishes in it! Ceviché, cebiche, escabeche and similar terms refer to a seafood salad made with mostly or entirely raw seafood pickled in lime juice. It is typically served as a first course, the acid and spice jump-starting digestion.

As with many food terms the etymology is disputed. I prefer to accept that the term derives from siwichi, the Quechua name for the dish. After all, it most likely originated in the Andes where this language predominates.

Hot and fruity, the ají amarillo chili is a key Peruvian ingredient. (Source: laperuanavegana.wordpress.com)

Years back I was dining in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. Dinner was at a Peruvian restaurant named Machu Picchu. It was one of those dinners that you never forget – it forms an immovable stepping stone in your life experience.

There they served three versions of the dish. Opting for the ‘mixto’ I was served a heaping portion of spicy, citrusy wonderfulness with sea bass, octopus, and probably abalone. The traditional piquancy in this dish comes from the ají amarillo chili and tiny sour limes called limónes verdes, or more commonly, simply limónes. Many dictionaries will tell you this term means ‘lemon,’ but in South America is refers to a tart green fruit that looks a Key lime, but is tart as a lemon. I’ll provide you with an alternative on case you can’t find true limónes.

An aternative for limónes (left) is a mixture of lime, lemon, and Valencia orange (right).

Alas, unable to find several of the traditional ingredients I have persevered to create a recipe with available foods that I think captures the delight of this dish.

I am also not immune to the idea the certain foods, like abalone, and to a lesser degree octopus, are not sustainable seafood products. You can check out recommendations from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Ceviché Mixto

Ingredients for 4 Servings

  • 2 pounds of fresh seafood (not counting shell weight), could include: firm white sea fish, salmon, shrimp, calamari, octopus, scallops, or other bivalves such as mussels or clams
  • juice of 12 limónes verdes, or substitute, as follows:
    • juice of 2 regular limes
    • juice of 1 lemon
    • juice of 1 Valencia orange
  • 4 ají amarillo chilis, substitute 2 habaneros
  • 4 serrano chilis, or add more!
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, slivered into very thin rings
  • salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • leaf lettuce or shredded cabbage garnish

After par-cooking, sea scallops can be sliced into two "coins," then again to make "half moons."

Preparation

You will improve the texture of the dish by par-cooking the shellfish or octopus. For sea scallops (the large ones), heat in butter for 2 minutes per side, remove, cool, and quarter. For clams or mussels, steam in their shell for 4 minutes, cool and shell them. For octopus, poach in boiling water until firm and opaque, about 2 minutes. For salmon or white fish, such as sea bass, swordfish, shark, or red snapper, simply check for bones and dice raw. Cut any par-cooked items into similar sized dice, except for mussels or clams, which you will keep whole. Keep cool while preparing the dressing.

Make the dressing by squeezing juice from the fruit and removing any seeds. Toss in the chilis, finely chopped, the garlic and the onion. Allow to meld for a minute, then taste for piquancy. Add a little salt and cayenne, stir, then try again until dressing borders on being too salty and too hot for your taste. This will be just right once the fish is added.

When you are about 15-20 minutes from serving the dish, combine the seafood with the dressing. Add the chopped cilantro and toss gently to coat everything. Keep cool until plating in a wide glass or a plate. Slice the avocado and dredge in the remaining dressing. Place lettuce and avocado around salad. Dig in! A dish like this will go well with a cold pilsner that has some hop character, including Tecate or Heineken, Singha, or your go-to German pils. You might also try the national cocktail of Peru, the Pisco Sour. ¡Salud¡ TPJ

Ceviché Mixto con Chili Habanero.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.

On deck:

  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts – providing I can find them (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.

Thanks for following along – more soon. TPJ


Blue Hubbard & Pink Salmon Pizza

Tinky Weisblat, food blogger and author of The Pudding Hollow Cookbook, recently put out the call for variations on squash pizza. Here’s one you might try: winter squash with salmon, blue cheese, pine nuts and fried sage leaves.

The underappreciated Blue Hubbard squash (Source: Harlem Community Farm Share)

I first encountered this pizza in Ashland, Oregon at the Standing Stone Brewing Co. and I have made it many times since then. It can be made with the ubiquitous acorn or butternut varieties, but it simply defies gravity if made with blue hubbard squash.

Growing up in New England we often had blue hubbard at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. The blue hubbard is an heirloom cultivar of Cucurbita maxima, which originated in South America. Stories vary, but it seems likely that the squash was introduced to coastal Massachusetts in the late 1700s.

They are quite large and have a rind so tough that you’ll use a hatchet to open them up, or just as often, drop them from a roof. This is why it will keep for months in a cool cellar. In exchange for the difficulty of accessing the interior, one is rewarded with the creamiest, sweetest, and most carroty-colored winter squash.

A few days after Ashland, my companion and I stopped in Chico, California. Substantively, we were there to visit the famed Sierra Nevada brewery. But in the morning, after breakfasting in the restored Hotel Diamond, we stumbled upon the farmers’ market.

A young couple just starting a dairy operation was selling homemade cheese. A gentile farmer was selling fall root vegetables and winter squash. In the center of his big display was a ‘gourdious’ blue hubbard weighing eight or ten pounds, but by no means as large as they come. I marveled. He said he hardly grew them anymore. They were so big that people didn’t know what to do with them.

I imagine you’d need to be deft at canning or have a lot of hungry people at your disposal. Then again, you could be a fellow like me, struck by the scent of autumn leaves and the almost unnatural color of that knobby squash, images that triggered deeply embedded melancholy of shorter days and wood stoves. He dug it out of the arrangement and sold it to me for five bucks. I drove all the way back to Nevada with it sitting beside me. Then I made this pizza.

Blue Hubbard & Pink Salmon Pizza

Ingredients for Two 12-inch Pizzas

  • 1.5 – 2 lbs fresh pizza dough (many grocery stores now carry it, or make your own according a favorite recipe)
  • 2 cups blue hubbard squash in large rectangular blocks, say 1 x 1 x 2 inches

Cream Sauce

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 teas shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper

Toppings

  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 8 oz. fresh salmon cut into 1/4 in thick slices
  • 8 oz. crumbled blue cheese
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 12-18 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup canola or peanut oil

Preparation

Open the blue hubbard by your preferred means and remove the seeds and membranes. The seeds can be cleaned, salted and toasted for a great snack. Cut the squash into workable large chunks and, with all due safety in mind, hack the rind off with a cleaver. Reduce a portion of the squash to rectangular blocks for this recipe, and store the rest of the squash in the refrigerator until unexpected company arrives. Your goal with the squash blocks is to steam them until al dente, then you will slice them into domino-shaped pieces to put on the pizza. This will take about 15 minutes in the steamer.

Cream sauce nicely thickening.

Prepare the cream sauce by sautéing the shallots and garlic in the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Soften but do not brown them. Stir in the flour with a whisk and continue to stir until no longer smelling like flour. Slowly add the cream while stirring to create a smooth consistency. Still over medium heat, reduce slowly with occasional stirring until mixture coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

Arrange your mis en place: prepare the cheeses, salmon, and pine nuts and have ready. Heat the oil in a small pan until a sage leaf placed in it crisps up in about 5 seconds. Fry the sage leaves and set on absorbent paper.

The colorful toppings ready for assembly.

Preheat your oven to 450ºF, or hotter. Roll or hand stretch the pizza dough into two rounds, each about 12 inches in diameter and possessing a raised edge to help retain sauce. Place the dough on a pizza peel or cutting board that has been sprinkled with a little corn meal to make transfer to the oven easier.

Dress the pizza as follows: spread the cream sauce evenly over the surface, followed by mozzarella cheese. Generously arrange the sliced, par-cooked squash over the surface, then the same with the salmon. Sprinkle the pine nuts over all, then lightly crumble the sage leaves on top. You can either put the blue cheese on at this point, it will disappear during cooking, or sprinkle it onto the hot pizza a minute or two before removing from the oven (better option).

Blue Hubbard Squash and Pink Salmon Pizza.

Bake in a hot oven for about 12 minutes, until the crust is crusty, the sauce is bubbling, and the salmon is opaque. Serve with a malty, yet hoppy autumn ale, such as Sierra Nevada Tumbler, Long Trail Hibernator or splurge for St. Bernardus Prior 8. Enjoy! TPJ


Feast of the Seven Fishes

Here's the Pike Street Market in Seattle. I'll have no problems shopping near Boston either. (Source: dailyvignette.wordpress.com)

Seven, nine, eleven – family traditions vary. But the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Christmas holiday tradition shared by millions of Catholics. Oddly, I’m not one, Catholic I mean. But when someone says “feast” and “fishes” in the same breath they get my attention.

In case you missed it, one of my readers suggested I elaborate on the traditional elements of the Seven Fishes. So here’s the short exchange from Bacalao con Patates Dulces.

for baccala part 2 can we look forward to a holiday discussion on the meal of the seven fishes? [BR]

To which I responded…

How can I say no to this? Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll prepare one fish/seafood dish per week for the next seven weeks. As I go I’ll write about the mostly Italian-American tradition called the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” The closest I get to being Italian is that my Dad grew up in Boston’s North End. I’m also a long, long way from being Catholic. But I do like the idea of “fasting” where one is stuffed with all these delicacies!

So… I will make seven dishes and they will use some traditional ingredients, but I will not be held to convention beyond that! These dishes will come from the world over, they will be difficult, and they will be freaky. Thanks for the idea, but I can’t help wondering were this will lead. La Vigilia (the vigil) begins! [TPJ]

So… just to chum the waters, so to speak, I am going to let you know what the next recipe is. I’ll have it up by this weekend. That will be my plan, to keep tally of the recipes posted to date and to let you know the next one to come. As I said, it is going to be multicultural and freaky! And it will get stranger and more difficult as we go along. Um huh, there is a plan.

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale

On deck:

  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French recipe. Steamed mussels in cider, cream, and bleu cheese), served with more hard cider

That’s it for now – stay tuned. TPJ

Recent Postings

October 2019
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031