28 July 2009

roast chicken

This big fellow was one of the roosters recently slaughtered; I wanted to make its preparation simple to highlight the bird itself — this is the first animal I have eaten in whose slaughter I was involved. I made an herb butter with unsalted butter, salt, tarragon, garlic, lemon, brandy and thyme. I spread that in and out and under the skin of the breast.

I started the bird at 425ºF, rotating it from side to breast-up-to side and then leaving it on it's side at 350º. (Julia Child suggests the majority of the roast to be on its sides — switch sides halfway through). It finished breast up.

I made a quick gravy with drippings, butter and vermouth and we had this with lightly steamed and buttered zucchini and squash (thanks Molly!), a fennel-potato-spring onion gratin, and a brown rice "risotto" with porchini and reduced stock from those feet. The meat was incredibly tender, flavorful and incredibly satisfying. Nothing compared to those industrial birds.

Served with raspberry-cranberry braggot and finished with Molly's tart blueberry-peach crisp, this was perfect.

kimchi jjigae

Kimchi jjigae is the ultimate comfort food. It's richly flavorful, easy to make, can be made with all sorts of ingredients (initially, when looking into making it, I was amazed at the variety of recipes) as long as you have kimchi. For this jjigae — which tasted better on the second day and even better on the third — I sauteed 3 anchovies in some oil (from the jar, since I was finishing them off), added a good amount of kimchi (my very successful gobō-carrot-cabbage-dried shrip attempt), sautéed that and then added water, some kombu (kombu stock could have replaced water/kombu), cubes of tofu and some wonderful fresh shiitake that I picked up at my CSA. (Had I had pork belly on hand, I'd have added it before the kimchi.) I let that stew very slowly while I made rice. Towards the end I added coarsely chopped snap peas.

The snap peas stayed bright, green and crunchy. The anchovies disappeared — as they should — for that je ne sais quoi that anchovies add to everything (same effect that dried baby shrimp has on kimchi). Fresh (local!) shiitake are a real treat and they and the cubes of tofu take on the kimchi's tang (and this is best made with old kimchi). Very very satisfying, and the acidity of the kimchi us refreshing despite the heat from the chili flakes.

Garnish with dulse for the ultimate effect.

22 July 2009

sardines & fennel.

Every time I'm in Worcester, MA I stop at Ed Hyder's, a wonderful little market that carries hard-to-find items like ras el hanout, affordable and delicious anchovies in jars, ten types of feta cheese, Lebanese, Geeek and Moroccan specialties, three grades of couscous, and various sardines, my favorite being Alshark sardines in oil or in spicy tomato sauce.

Tonight I wanted some sardines, but not on crackers. This chow post had a suggestion to broil tinned sardines. One of my favorite fresh sardine recipes is a Jamie Oliver recipe that uses fennel and sardines to make a pasta sauce. So I set to fond something simple that used fennel and tinned sardines.

This used said Alshark sardines, from Morocco. I generally trust/have had the best luck with sardines from Morrocco, Potugal and Japan. (The Japanese sardines are often packed in miso or something else and exact a different preparation).

This is what I came up with:

Marinate a very thinly sliced small bulb of fennel and toss with salt, mustard (I used a coarse, homemade tarragon mustard) and white wine vinegar. Cook some rice (brown basmati is perfect). Place the sardines under the broiler. Get them very very hot. Toss the hot rice with olive oil and serve the sardines on top with a drizzling of sriracha or another hot sauce.

This was terribly satisfying. So much so that I forgot to take a photo.

N.B.: just discovered the Society for the Appreciation of the Lowly Tinned Sardine blog!

14 July 2009

fête nationale

Mini vol-au-vents (bouchées) with a creamed kale-leek filling.

Foies de volailles à l'estragon en aspic — chicken liver pâté with tarragon in aspic (from those feet!) — grâce à Julia Child, bien sûr! Gateaux St-André and Quatres-quarts (pound cake) in background.

A new creation — cardamon meringues! (1 white, 1/2 c. sugar, pinch salt, pinch cream of tartar, six pods caradmom, ground).

Ensemble: Gâteaux St-Andre (Walnut cake), vegan pâté, pâté, Emmenthaler, chèvre from Colrain.

And tartes aux framboises : I made an almond pastry cream that was heavenly. Red and black raspberries from the Tuesday market.

12 July 2009

strawberry gin

Having heard about the delights of sloe gin I thought I'd give it a try with strawberries as I have no idea where one might find sloe berries.

I filled a quart container with hulled strawberries and added a third of a cup of sugar. I filled it with gin and swirled the berries a little to dissolve some of the sugar.

Agitating the jar every few days I let it go as the berries lost their color fading to a pink-white and then to a dull gray. Meanwhile, the sugar dissolved and the gin turned a bright red. It's been three weeks, and it is delicious. Not to sweet, full of berry flavor and maintaining the gin flavor (New Amsterdam gin, which makes a terrible martini or gin-and-tonic but is suited for this as vanilla is its predominant flavor).

Should be perfect for a strawberry gin fizz, or pink lemonade, right?

Also made anise hyssop gin. Wonderful. Green like chartreuse and delicious.

a very rich stock indeed.

Every now and I then I make a truly great stock. It'll be golden (or amber, if beef), rich, clean and will set lightly when cooled. I've taken to not roasting, sautéeing or otherwise pre-cooking anything (unless, naturally, this is leftover from roasting something else). This reduces fat that'll have to be skimmed off anyway. I've also been using a slow cooker, which works splendidly.

Vegetables: carrots, whole parsley, fennel. There's also allspice, salt and peppercorns.

Feet — for gelatin, body and the flavor that comes with the bones — and necks — for that meat flavor and more bone richness. About 3 lbs total.

The feet need to be blanched for five minutes and then the tips and any pieces of the skin that won't come clean get cut off.

Everything gets tossed in the crock pot. High for five hours with the lid ajar, five hours at low.

And it sets like this, no reduction necessary. Rich and smooth when warm, not quite clear but very meaty (I haven't the patience to clarify stock, I usually just strain it three or four times). Some day I'll take this to the next level and make a consommé.

05 July 2009

acknowledging what goes into my dinner (slaughtering chickens)

Today my roommate, a friend, and I went to out friend Maria's to help her slaughter, pluck and clean some of the 75 chickens that she has been raising for her wedding dinner.

Their final day was spent much as any other. They've been in a tractor with a larger fenced in area so that they're always moving around the property, eating grubs, grass and kicking up soil.

Here two of us are retrieving some chickens.

And I've got one. They relax once you hold them close to your body. The chickens were far from the actual slaughter area, so they were oblivious to their fate.

And here's the first step. The highway cones allow for the chicken to be held upside-down for proper exsanguination.

It also holds them them firmly and minimizes post-mortem spasms.

Here's said chicken going into the cone.

A quick slice to the artery just under the jaw starts the blood flowing.

And a quick piercing to the brain cuts consciousness. The heart still pumps for a bit, relieving the bird of most of its blood. Once that's done a few muscle spasms — which are alarming at first — happen.

And then it's silent. The blood stops flowing.

And a knife gets re-sharped.

The bird gets scalded at 140ºF for 50-60 seconds.

That makes plucking (we did this by hand) much easier.

And soon we start to see the familiar contours of a roaster.

The head is removed. Finding a vertebra comes easier as this goes. I'd try to pop a vertebra out of line and cut the flesh/tendons around.

A few slices around the esophagus and trachea free it to be tugged out.

And then the backside of the chicken is opened.

The viscera are then removed. We found this to happen the most easily if the vent were left intact and removed with the rest. This way the intestines remained intact. We also gained agility and were able to preserve the livers without damaging/contaminating them. My boss, who was also there to help, kept these.

I kept the legs. And necks.

A cleaned, washed and ready-for-the-caterer bird.

On ice. Maria wrapped them to go straight to the freezer.

I was ready and willing to stop eating meat if I found this too terrible to do. I was a vegetarian for a long time and as I've incorporated meat back into my diet I've been telling myself that this was important. And I feel that in the end I can live with the violence of slaughtering animals in a way that isn't cruel, that's on a reasonable scale and that supported the animal's well-being during its life. These chickens grazed on fresh pasture and were rotated to new grass every day or two. They ate grubs and grass and mostly organic feed. They had lots of sun (when it wasn't raining of course). And in the end, the more time I spend with chickens, the more I feel that this is okay. This was a powerful and very positive experience.

Thanks to Jaime for the photos.