Thursday, March 26, 2009

Roasted Duck

for a twist on moo shu preparations

I really enjoy cooking and eating duck. Here are a few pictures of a dish I made last week, based on the Chinese classic. I stuffed the duck with mirepoix, oranges and a little garlic all of which was tossed in a mixture of fresh thyme, bay leaf, five spice powder, fennel seed, whole cloves, chili flakes, cinnamon, black pepper and sea salt. I rubbed a little of the spice mixture on the outside of the skin, minimally trussed the bird, and used a skewer to "sew" for body cavity closed.
The neck, hearts and wings went into a sauce pan with a little white wine and some of the flavored mirepoix mixture. This barley simmered for a few hours until I had a perfectly clear, delightful stock. I reduced this stock and used it to moisten the shredded duck.
Here is the duck right out of the oven. I pricked the skin heavily with the tines of a dinner fork before cooking it. It was slow roasted at 325 for several hours until super tender. When it was well rested and cool enough to handle, I removed the meat and chopped/shredded it, mixing in a little bit of the most crispy skin. The five spice and orange flavors had infused the meat nicely.

Finally, it became this. Warmed, rolled into buckwheat crepes with hoisin sauce and served warm with a salad of Asian greens, bean sprouts and baby bok choy tossed in a simple orange and shallot vinaigrette. Delicious, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tools of the Trade

these are a few of my favorite things

Question: Why is it important for a chef to master knife skills?

Answer: Because it is the most commonly used tool in the kitchen.

Recently I've developed a fondness for Japanese knives. The steel, geometry and artisan quality of Japanese knives, far outshine the steel, geometry and quality of the German knives. If you know what you're doing, although it takes a lot of practice, you can get a wicked edge on a Japanese knife unknown to any German blade. And it will last. As I convert my knife set to mainly Japanese knives, I'll have to find homes for the German stuff. There are many types of steels and styles of manufacture among Japanese cutlery. Here's a little Show And Tell...

The knives from top to bottom are: an 8 inch shun gyuto, a 240mm Kumagoro gyuto, a 170mm Moritaka santoku and a paring knife that I picked up at Dehillerin. I love all of these for different reasons. The Shun was a gift from a former executive chef at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, the Kumagoro I ordered from The Epicurean Edge, and the Moritaka I ordered straight from the maker in Japan (click here).

Next is a closer look at the Kumagoro gyuto. It is made of Blue Steel #2. It is the sharpest knife of the bunch currently. It's high carbon, so one has to wash and dry it lovingly. If cared for properly, it will develop a wonderful patina. The handle is made of Ho wood. It's untreated and must be specially cared for. I'm using a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil. See pictures and a description below. The ferrule is water buffalo horn.

This next picture is of the 170mm Moritaka. This style of knife, santoku, is becoming very popular in western kitchens. Santoku refers to three virtues; it's a knife designed for meats, fish and vegetables, kind of your all around-multi-purpose kitchen knife. This one has a rosewood handle and water buffalo horn ferrule. It's also made of Blue Steel #2. I think I waved the knife over these veggies and they just fell into these cuts, terrified by the sharpness of the knife.

In this picture, you can see that the high carbon blade of the Moritaka is forge welded to a stainless steel tang (the metal part that goes into the handle). This is supposed to give the knife a longer life.

Here are the three lined up so that you can see the heels.

The Shun is by far the most western of the bunch with the metal bolster. All three have a D-shaped handle for ergonomics. The Shuns handle is impregnated with resins and, therefore, needs little special care.

Here's what I am now using to treat my knives' wooden handles (and also my cutting boards). I make a mixture out of beeswax and mineral oil. I learned this from a terrific spot for knife talk: Fred's Cutlery Forum. The beeswax is from a local bee keeper. This pound of wax cost me five bucks. It feels and smells fantastic.

The mise en place for my mixture.

For melting the wax into the oil, I used a double boiler method so as not to overheat the wax.

There's the finished product along side the knives. I first made a blend of about 25% beeswax, which turned out to be too hard at room temperature. I found that 20% seems to work well, but I might even go a tad lower next time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Two Wine Recommendations

two good buys

A few years ago I participated in a food and wine event for which the emcee was a local food writer/wine critic personality. He awarded some prize bottles (as thank-yous, really) remarking that one could buy a really great wine for sixty dollars. Was his tongue firmly planted in his cheek? As just about every sane person knows, there are some fabulous wines for less than half that price point. The wines I buy for daily enjoyment mostly fall into the ten to fourteen dollars a bottle range. It's easy to spend more, but there is a certain satisfaction (not to mention financial incentive) when one finds a really pleasing bargain. In my ever so humble opinion, the following wines fall into this category. Each cost 13.99. Hint: buy mixed cases to benefit from the ten percent discount.

First up, a Chilean sauvignon blanc, produced by Cono Sur and wine maker Adolfo Hurtado. Cono Sur (an intentional cross-lingual pun?) means southern cone, a reference to the shape of its continent of origin. Established in 1993, they have become a major producer and particularly focus on pinot noir. This sauvignon blanc comes from their Vision line, which uses grapes from selected vineyards to show off the terroir. I've been enjoying the 2006, although I believe the 2008 is available and ready to drink. The whites of Cono Sur have screw caps. Good for them! The Vision sauvignon blanc is all stainless steel, no oak anywhere near it, no malolactic fermentation, so the terroir shines through (it's not masked). It's not over the top floral. What I love about this wine is how well it balances the floral qualities with minerality. I like to taste a bit of the earth in wine. As you might imagine, knowing the style and manner of production, it makes a really good food wine. I've got one bottle left, but I will be buying more.

Next up, one of my all time favorite (maybe my all time favorite) wine region and style: the Cotes du Rhone. California reds have moved mostly beyond the price point I target for everyday consumption, especially the pinots, which I so enjoy. I've been looking to Chile, Argentina and France for my reds, keeping Mexico on the radar. This 2008 Cotes du Rhone, Belleruche, by M. Chapoutier, might benefit from another year or two in the bottle. Perhaps I'll cellar some. It shares one similarity with the Cono Sur: no oak, all stainless steel fermentation and aging, no interference with the terroir. This wine, too, strikes a wonderful balance of fruit and earth. Here we can speak of garrigue, a term specific to the flavors of Provence, it's terroir and the associated herbaceous flavors. This wine's got it, and I like it. Again, a bargain at 13.99. Try it yourself and let me know what you think. Cheers everyone!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Job

lost sailor
Yes, no one knows better than I. I've been far too long at sea. However, despite strange currents, some of fate, some of my own manufacture, I seem to have landed. Friday night at about eleven o'clock, after cooking a six course meal, I accepted a job offer. Starting in about two weeks I will be the private chef for a family on the east side of Cleveland. I am very, very pleased. The family and those others who work in the house seem extremely welcoming. I will have an outstanding kitchen in which to work, better than some profession kitchens I've seen (that's not saying much really). I will be an employee of the house, their Private Chef. This is distinct from Personal Chef, a position I might cultivate later in life.
I will, of course, keep my commitment to the Hospitality Management program at Tri-C where I teach as an adjunct instructor. It would be unfair to the students and the department, if I were to leave half way through the semester. My other two jobs are another story, although I will miss both: teaching at the Viking Culinary store (I do love teaching) and my weekly restaurant fix (Sunday's at Fire).
I've got a good reason now to open that champagne we'd been saving. But not on the side of a ship. I've had my fill of sailing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Balut Incident: an Interview with Jeremy Esterly

from the interview desk

In my last post I mused about culinary preferences and sensibilities. There are items which might make western stomachs reel and the gag reflex give us the quick kick and heave. Seaweed ice cream, I have made perfectly clear (I hope) is not one of these. What about duck embryo? Think you could chow down on a seventeen day embryo with a little salt and pepper or a dash of lime juice? Not me. Not yet anyway. It’s not that I am afraid. It’s that my socially constructed preferences make it seem very unappealing. I’m just not ready to make a leap so far. This isn’t the case with Jeremy Esterly, Executive Sous Chef at Fire Food & Drink. We all know that it’s the chefs de cuisine and sous chefs that are often the backbone and driving force of day-to-day success, productivity and creativity of professional kitchens. Jeremy and Fire seem a good mix: the uncomplicated, big tasting food done exceptionally well weds with Jeremy’s love of charcuterie, his dedication to meat and his passion for all things food. His hunger for knowledge and food experiences seems to surpass my own. This was highlighted recently when a kitchen practical joke turned foray into a novel taste and texture incident. I write “incident” because even he had a little difficulty downing the balut. (Click here, if you don’t yet get what a balut is.) I’ve got to hand it to you, Jeremy. To put it kitchen vernacular: you’ve got balls! And so, we’ve opened the Petit Soleil Interview Room and invited Jeremy for a little chat.

Petite Soleil (PS): Jeremy, can you tell us, briefly please, where does your culinary passion come from?

Jeremy Esterly (JE): My passion comes from the fact that neither of my parents were accomplished cooks. I always wanted to provide better meals for my family. A lot my passion come from being able to do what I want with my job. We always strive to do as many interesting things daily as possible. A job in the culinary field is super rewarding. You learn something every day, literally. I am also extremely inspired by Martin Picard in Montreal. His food is so playful and over the top. I don't think it gets much better than him.

PS: We heard you were going to be interviewed by a culinary magazine (of much less stature than this blog, I'm sure) about your pig tattoo. Is it also true what they say, that you can't remember the basic parts of the pig so you had them tattooed on your forearm?

JE: The magazine in question is Meatpaper. Everyone should check it out. The pig tattoo will be featured in their March issue. Getting the tattoo sure didn't help me remember the pork primals, since the diagram on my arm is from a 17th century woodcut illustration. Too late to cover it up now. Maybe I'll update the cuts one of these days (feature 21st century retail cuts perhaps)

PS: You and one of the other guys at Fire do a lot of charcuterie in house. How do you manage to pull it off for the volume, when the kitchen is not really set up for charcuterie?

JE: The charcuterie project has been put on hold for awhile, aside from our small scale bacon factory that we have running right now. It is very hard to produce charcuterie in a kitchen that isn't set up to do what we have done. Dave Treaster (one of the guys) rigged a deep hotel pan so that we can smoke 5 slabs of bacon in our tandoor. Before that, it would have been a slow process, smoking one slab at a time. We are getting ready to introduce “private label” bacon in the coming months that should be awesome.

PS: We're vexed trying to balance a feeling of immense respect for you with nauseous revulsion. So we'll get right to point. What possessed you to eat the duck embryo? And for the millions of readers of this blog, please describe the experience.

JE: It all stemmed from a trip to Asiatown looking for some tamarind paste. One of the cooks and I decided that it would be funny to buy "balut" and trick one of the other cooks. At Fire, we offer sieved egg as an accompaniment to our Caesar salad. We placed one of the eggs in the pot with his other eggs. When he peeled the balut, he got a disgusting little surprise. After this, I decided that I had to eat one. Gagging this down was pretty hard. Part of the embryo felt like it was calcified, and I couldn't seem to chew it no matter what I did. After a couple of minutes, it finally went down and I was victorious over the lil' embryonic treat.

PS: Our researchers have discovered there exists a video of your experience (I've even seen it). Any chance of a YouTube appearance?

JE: We are thinking of doing a Cool Hand Luke style balut eating contest. So far, no one has signed up. If we get around to it, we will definitely put it up on YouTube.

PS: Are you planning to add duck embryo to the menu at Fire?

JE: We'll try to run it as a special with duck testicles. Coming soon to a plate near you.

PS: What's your favorite knife?

JE: Shun 8" Chef's Knife with a granton edge

PS: What was your single most memorable culinary experience (aside from this recent experiment)?

JE: So far, I would have to say being photographed for Meatpaper and getting promoted to Executive Sous Chef. I feel like I have come a long way in a short time. I went to New England Culinary Institute 3 years ago without any experience in the field, and am loving every minute of it.

PS: Wow, didn’t realize you were still such a babe in the woods. You're doing very well at Fire and may be there for some time, but we assume it's not your final destination. What's the next move?

JE: I hope to open up my dream restaurant.....The Little Pig. The restaurant will be pork-centric and feature quality ingredients from some of our finest local farmers. I also want to open up a soul food restaurant called Greens. We'll see. I'll keep you posted.

PS: Thanks for stopping by our studios. By the way, it's customary to bring some food with you. Next time how about some of that delicious bacon you cure and smoke in house?

JE: For you Mr. Fambrough, I'll bring a whole slab!!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

On Palatability -- Seaweed and Ice Cream

from the contemplations desk

It may be obvious to say that each person’s cultural inheritance heavily influences his or her dining preferences; that is to say, culinary sensibilities. While I deeply love the tastes associated with umami, I am not necessarily in love (or even used to) some of the slimy-soft textures slurped, sucked and swallowed by the Japanese. Had I been born Japanese, however… You catch my drift? And it follows that the more foreign a texture or taste, the more difficult it may be to swallow. Of course, this is not always the case. I remember with dreamy reverence the first time I melted monkfish liver au torchon on my tongue; or the subtle caress of uni across my taste buds; or standing in a walk-in cooler dumb-struck by the taste of a chocolate truffle powdered lovingly with curry. Epiphany! Dare I liken those experiences to the first time one makes love? I digress. These eye-opening (taste bud opening?) experiences intrigue me to no end. When I dined at L’Avant Gout (July 19th, 2007) I ate a dessert of alternating layers of chocolate and roasted red bell pepper mousse—sweet and savory together in perfect harmony. Union. Two together as one. Sentence fragments. It’s like that. At least the first time.

And THEN, then one begins to play. Flavors reposition themselves. Or one repositions them. And so it was recently when I decided to inflict my demented sensibility upon witting students. They were so good, so tolerant. It was the dessert that was my weapon, my gyuto to cut across their culinary assumptions and sensibilities. Poor students. They enjoyed the chocolate truffles, these infused with cardamom, clove, star anise and cinnamon. It was the ice cream they politely tasted and left unfinished.

When I catered for my brother and sister-in-law, she took me shopping in Boston’s Chinatown. One of the ingredients I needed was furikake, a variable mixture of seaweed, toasted sesame seed, bonito and a few other ingredients. There are several varieties with slightly differing combinations. Maybe someday I’ll learn to use each appropriately (whatever that might mean). Furikake is used commonly to dress rice. And I did that. I also coated some salmon skewers, which were then seared. As I tasted the furikake, I noticed a delicate sweetness to the bonito. It pairs well with the perfume of rice. My mind began to wander, imagining some possibilities untried, untested. A month later I was making vanilla ice cream, folding furikake into the churned, but not frozen cream. Was this a flash of limited brilliance? (Is it possible to have limited brilliance?) Alas, I did make a common error, forgivable for a first offence. I tasted the churned, partially frozen sweetened cream with furikake…and liked it. But it wasn’t quite “there” with the effect. I added more not considering that the ice cream would need time to absorb the flavors of the furikake. I think two tablespoons would have sufficed for the quart plus we made, rather than the three I added. Still, the flavors were new and in concert (at least, if you ask me). I know, I know…no one else is going to try this, right? “Eew, yuck… seaweed and ice cream" (never mind the bonito!). All I can say is “give peace and chance.” Oops, sorry, wrong post. All I can say is that my mind and tongue were satisfied. It IS possible. It’s not for everyday. It’s not for everyone. However, a primary goal had been achieved, a primary thirst quenched, a fundamental need addressed: I have expanded my palate. Joy.

And now I must meditate (actually, I’ve got to go preheat an oven for homemade pizza). Thanks for reading. Stretch your ears with Ives and Schoenberg; expand your culinary palate with ice cream and seaweed.