cooking

The hunger killer

Happy Thanksgiving. Here at the Ruff-Gold house, we’ll be having the traditional lamb-and-pita holiday dinner. But a couple days ago, I decided to experiment with something different: an Argentine dish called matambre (“hunger killer”).

As my South American cousins are sure to remind me, the original matambre is a beef dish, but flank steak is $18 a pound at the local QFC right now, so I opted for a cheaper variant that uses pork loin. You butterfly the meat to a uniform thickness of about half an inch, then roll it up around a filling of hard-boiled eggs, sliced meat, olives, roasted red peppers, and chimichurri sauce. Roast for about two hours and serve.

It’s really good, and it looks cool. The only problem is that the name is accurate: one slice of this stuff is enough to fill you up, so while it’s a great party dish, with just two people you’ll have more leftovers than you know what to do with.

If you’d like to try it yourself, the recipe I used is here. N.B., I substituted salami for capicola in the filling and it worked just fine. Also, unless your knife skills are really good, you’re going to need a meat tenderizer to pound the pork to an even thickness—I used a heavy bottle of vinegar as a mallet, but you probably want to go with something that isn’t made of glass.

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Two cooking experiments from the cutting room floor

In working through my email backlog, I came across some photos I’d sent myself from IPad2 of a couple cooking experiments I did back in February while Lisa was away for the weekend. I’d meant to blog about them at the time, but got distracted by The Mirage book tour.

First up is squid-ink risotto, using the Risotto Nero Alle Seppie recipe from Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman’s Risotto. I scored the squid ink packets at Uwajimaya.

The recipe is pretty straightforward. It’s a classic risotto incorporating squid ink and chopped up squid, and not much else. Which is ultimately the problem. The ink imparts a cool black gloss to the dish but not much actual flavor (or maybe it’s just too subtle for my palate), and while I love squid rings and tentacles they aren’t very substantial, so you end up with a dish that’s 98% arborio rice.

Compared to the risotto I usually make, which includes sausage and a slew of vegetables, it just doesn’t measure up. But I love the look.

Experiment #2 was stuffed lamb hearts:

I got the recipe from Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. You start by trimming away the inedible bits of vein sticking out the top of the heart, then fill the heart chambers with a stuffing made of bread crumbs, onion, garlic, sage, red wine, and butter or duck fat. Wrap the hearts in bacon, and put into an ovenproof dish:

The dish is then filled with chicken stock, covered in aluminum foil, and put into a 350°F oven for two and a half hours.

Serve with appropriate music:

As I recall, it was almost ten o’clock by the time this came out of the oven, by which point I was too tired and hungry to get a better photo. Sorry.

Heart is muscle meat, so the flavor is about what you’d expect, but the texture has a weird uniformity to it, like something pressed in a mold. Also, the heart chambers are small and tapered, so if you start cutting from the bottom you have to go a fair way up the heart before you hit stuffing, and further still before you get a good stuffing-to-heart-wall ratio. So, not bad, exactly, but odd, and probably not worth the trouble unless you’re looking to check lamb heart off your bucket list. I do wonder whether beef heart would be different, since it’s so much bigger. Maybe next time.

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We now return to our regularly scheduled diet

Lisa’s home, so last night we were back to normal dinner food, stir-fried shrimp and vegetables with black beans, over soba noodles:

I enjoyed my culinary experiments (seriously, you should try the hasenpfeffer recipe with chicken; it’s awesome). There are more I didn’t have time to get to, some of which—e.g., kidneys—will have to wait until Lisa’s next away trip. But there are others I can try while she’s home. For example, we’re both big lamb fans (or were, until the price started spiking a few years ago), but we’ve never had goat. I’ve got a great lamb and green bean stew recipe that I think would work really well with goat meat.

And in the realm of seafood, I just learned via @adam_orbit that the Gulf of Mexico is experiencing an invasion of giant Asian tiger prawns. Because this is an invasive species that doesn’t play well with other members of the local ecosystem, marine scientists are calling it a “big concern,” but to me it sounds like a sweet, tasty concern that cries out for melted butter. Stay tuned.

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Breakfast of champions

I was feeling a little experimented out last night, so instead of cooking something new I ate leftover hasenpfeffer for dinner. I still had half a pound of calf’s liver in the fridge, though, and with Lisa flying home this afternoon I wanted to get rid of it in time to let any lingering offal fumes dissipate. So, breakfast:

The liver came pre-sliced in two four-ounce pieces, so I decided to try two slightly different recipes. The first, suggested by commenter Inken Schuster, was just a straight-up fry in some olive oil, with sauteed onions. The second, from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, has you cut the liver into small pieces and dredge it in flour before frying, and serve with a bit of lemon.

Somewhat to my surprise, I liked both recipes. Because liver is another organ meat, I was expecting it to be similar to spleen, but the texture is much closer to a muscle cut, with a bitter-smoky flavor. I thought it was good, although there’s a lingering aftertaste—clenbuterol, perhaps?—that I’m not so fond of.

My final verdict: Surprisingly tasty. I doubt I’ll make a habit of it—there are cheaper cuts of meat that taste just as good fried—but as a once-in-a-while thing, sure.

…and now I will leave my assistant to relax with the paper while I run out to buy normal food for Lisa’s return.

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Hey, you got rabbit in my chocolate!

So, rabbit: It’s a pain in the ass. A lot of hassle for not much meat, and because it’s so lean it’s very easy to dry out.

However… I really wanted to try the “Hasenpfeffer” recipe from Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World. I’d made it once before, substituting chicken for the main ingredient, and liked it, and so I thought I’d see what the full-strength bunny version is like.

Don’t worry, kids, it’s only BAD rabbits who get eaten.

You start by cutting up the rabbit out of sight of impressionable children and marinating the pieces overnight in a mix of red wine, parsley, and aromatic vegetables:

“General Woundwort’s body was never found…”

On cooking day, you cut up four slices of bacon and heat them in a big pot until you’ve rendered most of their fat. Remove and reserve the bacon bits, then toss in 2 cups chopped onion (I used red onions), 1 cup each of diced carrots and celery, and half a pound of chopped button mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until soft, then remove and reserve.

While the vegetables are cooking, pull the rabbit pieces from the marinade and pat them dry. Strain the marinade and reserve. Dredge the rabbit pieces in flour and brown in the cooking pot, seasoning with salt and pepper (for the browning, I added a little oil to supplement the residual bacon fat). Then add the bacon bits, vegetables, and marinade, stirring lightly. The final ingredient is a finely chopped ounce—one baking square—of unsweetened chocolate.

Simmer, covered, for about an hour, taste and adjust seasonings, then serve over egg noodles:

The finished dish is delicious. The chocolate adds a richness to the wine sauce. Plus, you know, bacon! As for the rabbit, it turns out nicely—not too dry—but I have to say, for me it’s the least essential part of the dish. Skinless chicken thighs, either on the bone or cut up into bite-size pieces, would work just as well.

My final verdict: Try it with chicken.

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A little tongue for Santa

…or actually, a big tongue, about four pounds. Last night’s cooking experiment was “Tongue with Madeira Sauce,” from James Peterson’s Meat: A Kitchen Education.

You start by simmering the tongue in water for five minutes, then rinsing it in cold water. The blanched tongue then goes into a heavy pot with a chopped carrot and a quartered onion (the white thing that looks like an upside-down slipper is the skin after the initial blanching):

Insert clever joke about cat getting your tongue

This goes uncovered into a 400°F oven for an hour. Then a braising liquid of chicken or beef broth and Madeira is added, along with a bouquet garni, and the pot is covered and left to simmer over a low flame for another two hours. The tongue then comes out of the braising liquid and the skin—which is very loose at this point—is removed and discarded. The braising liquid is strained, skimmed of fat, and reduced by about half. Finally the tongue and the reduced braising liquid go back into the pot and into the oven for another half hour at 400°F, basting every ten minutes.

And then, at last, it’s ready to serve:

Just to give you a sense of the size, this is a 13-inch-long platter.

To serve, you cut crosswise into thin slices, and plate with a little of the braising liquid:

You can also serve it over salad greens, and make sandwiches with the leftovers.

As for the taste, it’s beef. It’s a tough muscle-meat cut—hence the long braise—but the only thing odd about it is the texture of the outermost layer of muscle, which reminds me a little of octopus. Roast beef-flavored octopus.

My final verdict: Awesome visual, and not bad tasting, but too much work for anything other than a special occasion.

Tonight: hasenpfeffer.

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Got some spleening to do

I was planning to do a triptych of organ meats last night, but the calf’s liver I bought is still thawing, and the fresh lamb’s kidneys I was eyeing at Pike’s Market turned out, on closer inspection, to not be so fresh, so I ended up going with just the pig spleen:

“See no offal”

…three pig spleens, to be exact, which I bought for a total of 89 cents at Uwajimaya.

For a recipe I turned to Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. His “Rolled Pig Spleen” has you layer bacon and sage on the spleens, like so:

Then roll them up tight and secure with skewers (I forgot to buy skewers so I used kitchen twine), and put them in an overproof dish filled with chicken stock:

This goes into an oven for an hour and a half at 350° F. The finished roll-ups are then sliced into serving rounds:

You’re supposed to let them cool before you slice them, but I jumped the gun and started cutting while they were still warm, which loosened the roll and led to the unfortunate turd-like appearance you see here. As for the flavor and texture, it’s kind of like chewy liverwurst. There’s also a weird aftertaste—I thought it might be the sage, but after sampling the leftovers this morning I’m pretty sure it’s the spleen itself.

My final verdict: Interesting, but not really my thing.

Tonight: beef tongue.

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Stained glass pizza

I’ve made this before, but didn’t get pics last time:

It’s the “Rainbow Beet Pizza” from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François’s Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day: red and golden beets, sliced paper thin on a mandolin, placed over a layer of shredded cheddar cheese and drizzled with olive oil. The crust is the same spelt flour dough I used to make the Turkish pita boats.

At our house we also refer to this as the Christopher Moore pizza, because the first time I tweeted about it @TheAuthorGuy responded (I’m paraphrasing): “Gosh! That sounds delicious! Wish I had some!”*

*(Actual Chris Moore quote: “AN ABOMINATION!”)

My final verdict: Tasty, but the kind of thing you make more for the visual impact than the flavor.

Today I am off to the International District again to shop for organ meats. Christmas is coming!

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Got milk?

Following Tuesday’s chicken foot adventure, last night I decided to try pork braised in milk:

The big brown tubers on the right are cassava, or yuca, which my Brazilian cousins turned me on to a few months ago, and which I thought would make a good accompaniment.

For the main course I used the “Roast Pork and Garlic with Milk” recipe from Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World. You start by heating olive oil in a Dutch oven, browning two heads’ worth of peeled garlic cloves, then browning and seasoning the meat on all sides. Then you pour in enough whole milk to almost cover the roast, bring to a boil, and simmer until the meat is tender and the milk starts breaking down into curds:

As for the cassava, my cousins had warned me that it’s a bit of a pain to make from scratch (they buy theirs pre-peeled and frozen). You need to peel the outer skin with a knife and cut the root into chunks, removing the woody core. From there it’s like boiling a really dense, starchy potato. Timing’s a bit tricky, because different sized chunks cook at different speeds, and they start to disintegrate not long after they’re done, but I was able to find a happy medium. Here’s the finished cassava, topped with a Cuban-style sauce of red onion, garlic, parsley, and orange and lime juice:

And below is the finished pork, topped with a bit of milk-garlic sauce. Unfortunately the photo, taken with my iPad2, makes it look like something out of a scary ’50s cookbook; trust me, it’s more appetizing than that. Iron Chef Kitteh couldn’t wait to dive in:

My final verdict: Both good dishes. I liked the pork but didn’t find it special enough, compared to more conventional braising/roasting methods, that I’d rush to do it again this way. The cassava on the other hand I really dug, and I’m curious now to see what else I can do with it (I believe the cookbook said something about croquettes).

Tonight: pizza.

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My dim sum experiment: four toes make a blog post

Lisa is out of town this week, and one of our deals when we’re apart is that she gets to eat all the almonds, cashews, and pistachios she likes (I’m allergic) while I get to indulge in the sort of culinary experiments that she’d rather not be a part of (e.g., anything involving squid ink, the smell of which once woke her from a sound sleep convinced that I’d started an electrical fire).

Seeing as yesterday was the first night of Hanukkah, I decided to try my hand at a traditional dim sum item that I’ve always been curious about: chicken feet. I bought a pound and a half of them for a little over three bucks at Uwajimaya in the International District.

Iron Chef Kitteh surveys the secret ingredient

For a recipe I settled on “Spicy Steamed Chicken Feet” from Jennifer McLagan’s Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore, in part because it was the only one I found that didn’t require deep-frying, something I prefer not to do unless I’m sure the result is going to be worth the mess. Instead, after clipping the toenails, you give the feet a quick blanch in boiling water, which makes them curl up like little alien hands:

After that, they simmer for 40 minutes in a braising liquid of soy, Shao Xing wine, ginger, garlic, orange zest, scallion, star anise, brown sugar, and cinnamon. (The braising liquid smells awesome, and very Christmasy with the spices.) Once the feet are nice and tender, you transfer them to a platter, coat them in a mixture of hoisin and chili-garlic sauce, and steam for another 15 minutes. And serve:

My final verdict: Can’t beat the visuals, but the eating experience was a disappointment. The flavor was fine, the problem is there’s almost no substance behind it: it’s all skin and cartilage, without even the token bit of meat you get with chicken wings. (Not sure why I was expecting anything different, but after all those cooking steps I guess I thought the bones would turn into magic breadsticks or something.)

For tonight, I’ll be trying something much heftier: pork braised in milk.

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