Looking north from Fire Island

Looking north from Fire Island
Continuing the cooking articles I write every summer

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sauteed Pork Filet in a Mosaic of Pita

My friend Andy got me to use dried pita bread to sub for bread crumbs. The advantage is it remains crunchy, while soaking up the delicious pan juices of oil, butter, herbs and meat juices. I let the pita dry, crush the pieces to smithereens, Instead of fine crumbs, I end up with tiny pieces of flat read. Click on the photo to see a close up of what I mean.

Pound a pork chop, or chicken breast in plastic wrap until really thin. Season and flour, dredge in beaten egg, then again in more flour, egg, and press the crumbs onto the meat. Press quite hard, even use a pl;astic bag, and let the meat rest a few minutes. I use my bare hands to do this, then rinse them afterward. It will be somewhat messy. Nothing beats hands as reliable kitchen tools.

Into a non stick skillet, some olive oil, an equal amount of butter, and some fresh rosemary and crumbled sage. Fry the meat, turning when the meat is done and the bread coating looks golden. Serve with lemon slices on the side.

So here's what makes it great: The bread forms a mosaic pattern on the meat, which is both tasty and crunchy. Very crunchy. That flavorful, buttery crunch adds a new dimension to the dish. The sage gives a sharp, exciting note to balance the meat. I urge you to try it. There are no rules, as long as you remain in touch with what you’re doing, and create something you like. Your own good instincts will guide you.

Remove the meat to a warm plate, finish the sauce in the pan with a few tablespoons of tarragon vinegar, and drizzle over the meat. Serve with slices of fresh lemon on the side.

Chicken Fried Steak with Coffee Gravy

This was inspired by a Texas classic I love. I learned the recipe calls for cubed beef, which is not cubes of beef, but steaks of tough, lean beef which have been run through a shredder to break up the muscle fiber. The shredder never got it tender enough for me, so my meat mallet had to do the rest. Noise and rattling utensils drove the dog out of the kitchen, but brought the cat. Once I got the meat as thin as I could, I hit it lightly and repeatedly along its entire length with the back of my chef's knife to further disguise its identity. A few minutes in a plate with buttermilk to further tenderize it. Now a double coating of flour, salt and black pepper. I also like a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Lay the steak into a non stick pan with hot corn oil, turn once, cook to medium rare, and remove to a warm plate. Pour off all but a tablespoon of oil. Add a TB of flour, stirring well. Add a cuppa coffee, some milk, salt, pepper, a teaspoon of good mustard, a few dashes of hot sauce, and whisk over a high fire until the sauce thickens. Use your instincts to get the consistency you like. The more you cook, the thicker it gets. If it's too thick, add some milk and whisk some more. It's a no-brainer.

Cover the bottom of a plate with the sauce, top with the steaks, garnish with a dab of mustard, and serve at once.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Macaroni

Bone and trim the meat. Flour, salt, pepper, brown in oil, remove from pot. Some oil should remain in the pot.
Have ready: two thick carrots, scraped and cut in two inch lengths, two onions peeled, cut into sixths top to bottom. 7 peeled cloves of garlic. One green apple, cored, cut into eighths, then cut again in half to give sixteen pieces. A small can of Spanish tomato sauce, or two huge TB tomato paste. Four Fire Island Bay leaves, 1/2 Tsp thyme, a branch of rosemary, minced, one Tb beef concentrate, two big TB tamarind paste, 2 TB flour.

With the fire at medium, hopefully with some oil remaining in the pot, add the carrots, onions, garlic which you have crushed and sliced, cook for ten minutes, turning a few times. Then add the tomato product on a cleared off area of the pot. Cook the tomato and then add enough water to just cover everything. Add the beef concentrate, tamarind, bay leaves, rosemary, and thyme. Return the meat to the pot, bring to a covered simmer. No boiling. You don’t want to see more than a very few bubbles. Cook until the meat is almost tender. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes. Add the apples, and cook until the meat is done. When the meat is tender delish, boil up a pot of salted water for pasta. Don’t use noodles, but instead use a short hollow kind, like Barilla mezzi rigatoni.

Put two TB flour into a bowl, and add enough water to make a loose paste called a slurry. With the meat is at a low boil, add the slurry, bit by bit, not all at once, to thicken the gravy. It must come to a boil. Not too thick, please. Now lift the cooked al dente pasta from the boiling water, and add it to the braised beef. Stir, correct the seasoning, and add a few spoons of grated parmesan cheese. Finally, drizzle some EVOO on top, generously.

This is serious food that goes straight where you live. A big, fat, red wine from Sicily or South Africa is best.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jamie's Mince Pie

You have to see this, at least to understand what I admire in the guy.


Here we see his "cheat" for the Christmas classic.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Succulent Beef Brisket

Beef brisket which has been cured in salt and spices is called corned beef. The name comes from the corn kernel size pieces of salt they used to use. Most of the time it's not corned. No matter, it is still one of the delicious cuts of beef. Texas BBQ is always beef brisket. Jewish cooking often uses this cut, as does Middle Eastern cookery. The meat is highly marbled with the rich kind of fat that melts in your mouth, giving a juicy quality to the meat. It rewards patience; it needs long, slow cooking to soften the collagen tissue, and melt the fat. Higher heat melts the collagen out of the meat, and you have a dry piece of brisket.

This time, I'm writing about the not-corned brisket. What I do is simple: Have ready a pile of carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and peeled garlic. Slice the garlic, cut the veg's into hunky sized pieces. Into a heavy casserole you have heated to screaming hot, add a few glugs of oil, and sear the meat on all sides. remove the meat to a plate, and sear the vegetables. Now you add a few tablespoons of tomato paste, which you cook in the bottom of the pot. Stir to cook the tomato paste, add back the meat, and add stock or water to barely cover the meat. Lower the fire to the barest simmer, cover, and leave it alone. Go away. Turn it over after an hour. An hour later, a test with a chef's fork will tell you if it needs more cooking. Test the vegetables for doneness, and remove them to a plate when they appear tender. Remove the meat and vegetables to a dish and cover with foil.

I love cabbage; any excuse to have some, I go for it. At this point I can cut a savoy cabbage into eighths and plunk them into the pot. It adds time to the process, but to me it's totally worth it.

Skim the fat from the liquid, and taste for seasoning. Now, mix some flour with some of the cooled down liquid to make a slurry the consistency of thin pancake batter. Mix until no lumps exist. Add the slurry slowly to the simmering liquid, bit by bit, until the gravy is as thick as you want. Bring the sauce to the boil after each addition to let the flour do its job. How much will depend on your tastes, and the particular nature of the flour, which will vary.

Now that the meat has rested, slicing is next. Note the meat has a grain, like wood. The grain signifies the way the muscles lie, and the meat must be cut across the grain. If cut a you slice, and see the long grain, turn the meat over and slice from the other side. This guarantees you will be enjoying tender brisket and not chewing each bite for half an hour. It takes a bit of experimenting, but well, I'm confident you'll get it.

Serve the meat on a hot plate (the oven) with layers of gravy on top and underneath.

Roasted Root Veggies with Chicken Thighs

It always happens this way. My fridge had root vegetables, carrots, beets with their greens, and some butternut squash. I remembered a side dish I had at Spotted Pig. The roasted beets were near perfect but for being over peppered and over-salted. I also saw Jamie Oliver do something similar, but his way was more to my rustic tastes. Try this, and please vary it with other winter vegetables.

Wash, scrub very well, two times, a bunch of beets, greens attached. Scrape a few huge thick carrots using the back of your knife. I think peelers take away too much flavor. Peel a butternut squash, cut the carrots and squash into large, 1 ½ inch chunks. Preheat the oven to 425, moisten the all the vegs with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt, black pepper and red chili flakes. Use your hands to toss everything around to coat them evenly. Now, into the oven they all go. After around half an hour, lower the temp to 325f. Test them for tenderness. The point of a chef’s fork should easily pierce the thickest part of one of the vegetables. If the rest seem overcooked, don’t worry, they’ll be delish. Click on the photo for a better view.

There were also a few skinless chicken thighs I wanted to deal with. Thighs rock, you can keep the white meat. I made a lateral slice on each thigh from the edge perpendicular to the bone, a slice from each side, he better to expose the meat to the marinade, and cook faster. I poured a cup and a half of buttermilk into a bowl, added a hefty amount of coarse salt, a shot of hot sauce, a quarter teaspoon of cayenne, a few grinds of ground pepper, ground nutmeg, and gave it a stir. I marinated the chicken in the buttermilk for two hours, turning them several times.

The idea of the extra salt was to brine the chicken. It gives chicken --and pork, a marvelous juicy taste. I set a nonstick pan on the range, and placed the chicken in the hot pan. Lots of water appeared when the buttermilk separated, which I poured off. Then into the oven went the pan to cook along with the veggies. I drizzled a few drops of oil on the chicken.

I can tell you the chicken was perfectly moist and flavorful, needing no frying oil or coating. Due to the caramelization of the natural sugars in the vegetables, they were sweet, even without any added sugar. The colors were Technicolor, the flavors real and intense. There was a bonus. The greens almost dissolved in my mouth, leaving only the flavor of the peppers and salt. It was an unusual experience, not unlike my first potato chip.

It was a guilt free, totally satisfying meal. I looked out the window to see snow falling on Greenwich Village for the first time this season. Wood fire smoke was rising from ancient chimneys perfuming the air with a nostalgic, small town scent, just like where I grew up in Massachussetts. A blue-tinted moon was shining through icy thin clouds. It felt good to be here, and to have this hearty dinner.