Monday, February 15, 2010

Sous-vide lamb loin with lamb jus, toasted orzo with sundried tomato and garlic confit, and broccoli raab with anchovies

This is my first foray into sous-vide cooking, and I am completely sold. I have never cooked something so perfectly. The difficulty with most cooking methods is that you are using a heat that is much higher than the temperature that you want to bring the meat up to. As a result, the outside of the meat may be a little too well done by the time the core reaches the desired internal temperature. With sous-vide, you get the water to the temperature you want to hit, throw the meat in a bag with some seasonings, aromatics, or a marinade, set it in the water and let it go. Since the temperature will never go above the desired internal temperature, you can forget about it for a while and not worry about overcooking. When you are ready to plate, remove the meat from the bag and give it a sear in a smoking hot pan. You want to use a super high heat so you can develop the Maillard reaction as quickly as possible. (The Maillard reaction occurs when you expose proteins to high heat. This is responsible for the nice crust associated with seared pieces of meat.) The end result is something that is cooked perfectly and consistently from the center to the very edge.

Here's the recipe for the meal that I made:
-1 lamb loin
-6 cloves garlic confit*
-2 Tbsp chopped rosemary
-1 Tbsp thyme
-2 tsp lemon juice
-1/4 cup olive oil or canola oil
-salt, pepper

Blend together the garlic, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice, and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the lamb loin with the marinade and let sit for a couple hours. Add the lamb to a plastic bag and vacuum out the air and place in a water bath set at 125 to 130 for rare or 130 to 135 for medium rare. If you like your meat well done, maybe you should rethink your preferences. The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the meat. I let my lamb loin sit in the water bath for about 2.5 hours.

-4 cups chicken stock
-lamb bones
-2 sprigs rosemary
-2 tsp sherry
-1.5 Tbsp red wine vinegar
-1 Tbsp sugar
-1 tsp salt

Try to buy the lamb loin on the bone so you can use the bones and scraps to make a lamb jus. Add the bones and scraps to the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer. After about an hour, add the rosemary sprigs. Lighly crush the rosemary with your knife handle to help release some of the oils. Turn the heat up a little bit and simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove the bones and rosemary and strain out any impurities. Add the remaining ingredients and then turn the heat up and reduce the mixture until it gets down to about 3/4 cup.

-1 cup orzo
-2 cups chicken stock
-4 sundried tomatoes, diced
-6 cloves garlic confit
-1/4 cup white wine
-1 Tbsp olive oil
-chopped parsley
-salt, pepper.

Heat the oil in a saute pan. Add half the orzo and the garlic confit. Cook until the orzo begins to brown. Add the wine to stop the browning, and then add the rest of the orzo. Add the sundried tomatoes and begin adding the chicken stock a little bit at a time and stirring as if you are making risotto. Keep adding liquid and stirring until the orzo is just al dente. Remove from heat, stir in about a tablespoon of chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. This dish is also good with pine nuts and artichoke hearts.

-1/2 bunch of broccoli raab
-2 anchovy fillets
-2 tsp olive oil
-1 tsp lemon juice
- clove garlic confit, smashed.
-pinch of red pepper flakes
-salt, pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Chop the broccoli raab to the desired size and add the thick stems to the pot. About 30 seconds to a minute later, add the rest of the broccoli and cook for another minute. Remove the broccoli to the ice bath to stop the cooking and set the color. Set aside in a strainer. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Add the smashed garlic confit, anchovies, and red pepper flakes and stir/smash everything together. Add the broccoli raab and cook, stirring frequently until the broccoli is cooked to your liking. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

*To make garlic confit, add peeled garlic cloves to a pot with enough olive oil to cover by about an inch. Heat up the oil enough so that small bubbles just begin to rise to the surface (about 180F to 200F). Let the garlic cloves cook for about 20 to 30 minutes. Turn the heat off and let everything cool down. The garlic confit should keep for about a month.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The McGuyver Sous-vide

For various reasons, I've been thinking a lot about trying out sous-vide cooking lately: I see it on cooking shows like Top Chef, food blogs that are much fancier than mine have been abuzz with the recently launched "Sous-vide supreme," an immersion circulator scaled down for home use that hit the market a couple months ago, and, more recently, I met a neighbor who has his own immersion circulator. I thought that my own forays into sous-vide cooking would have to wait until I felt like ponying up the $500 it would cost for the Sous-vide supreme, and then yesterday, I had one of those rare Eureka! moments when I was making a big batch of stock.

For some reason, I decided to monitor the temperature of the stock with my digital thermometer, and I noticed that when the burner we at it's lowest point, the equilibrium temperature was very stable. I realized that I could take advantage of this to set up my own water bath for some improvised sous-vide cooking. The difficulty with sous-vide cooking is that you want to set the water temperature to be at desired internal temperature for the meat that you are cooking, and for many meats, the temperature you want is pretty low. My stock pot was holding steady at around 180F, which is far too hot for most meat, fish, and poultry. The solution to this was to increase the surface area to volume ratio. This allows the heat to dissipate more rapidly, resulting in a lower equilibrium temperature.
I decided to use a heavy roasting pan for my make shift sous-vide. There are a few advantages to using a roasting pan. First, it has a lot of surface area, allowing you to achieve lower equilibrium temperatures. Second, it spans two burners, giving you an extra level of control over the heat. Third, it can fit a long cut, like a loin. And, finally, since this is a fairly heavy pan, it did a good job of maintaining a steady temperature.

When the pan was filled to about 3/4 of its capacity and both burners were on the lowest setting, the steady-state temperature was 133F. It was able to maintain this temperature for several hours. If I wanted to go lower, I could just use one burner, and if I wanted to go higher, I could just turn one or both of the burners up.

While it takes a bit of experimentation to figure out how to get to your desired temperatures, some might find it preferable to spending $500 on your own immersion bath. Eventually, I think it will be worth it to me to have the level of control that you get from an immersion bath that is expressly made for sous-vide cooking, but for now, this is a more than capable substitute. All it takes is a gas range, a large roasting pan, a digital thermometer that you can set to alert you if the temperature gets above a set point, and some plastic, vacuum sealed bags (You can get these at Target with a hand held vacuum sealer for a few bucks).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Abby's mushroom sandwiches

We never cook mushrooms because I hate them and, since I do most of the grocery shopping, they just never show up in our house. I've been out of town a lot recently, though, so that gave Abby a chance to cook up one of her favorite ingredients: mushrooms.
She used the recipe for the Hamersley's Bistro mushroom sandwich, which you can find here. This must be a good recipe, because when we went there, I even thought it was OK, and I never think that mushrooms are OK.

Grilled, stuffed avocado

We had purchased a few avocados to make guacamole for the Super Bowl last week and had a few extras sitting around. You can only have so much guacamole, so we turned the last one into a salad of sorts by grilling the avocado halves and stuffing them with a salad of hearts of palm, roasted corn, diced cucumber, tuna, cilantro, and lime juice. It's lightly dressed with cilantro oil. I'm not a huge fan of avocado unless it's in guacamole, but Abby said it was pretty good.

The Confit Collective, Part 1

Our friend Mike has helped Abby and I get in touch with the local food scene since we moved to Chicago. Last weekend, we joined him and several other slightly to obscenely obsessed home cooks for an afternoon filled with duck. The purpose of the event was to make confit, which I'll post more on latter once the confit has had the proper amount of time to age, and, for that reason, the group is, at this point, referred to as the confit collective. We'll see if that sticks. If we decide to do something with a whole pig later on, we might call that gathering that pork polity or some other clever alliteration.

While confit was the main event, we ended up doing a lot of other things with the duck as well. At the beginning of the day, we had something like 40 duck legs, 3 whole ducks, 2 large duck breasts, and a couple vats of duck fat. Here are some of the duck legs, waiting for a nice long bath in a vat of hot duck fat... this one.

Several minutes later, here's another vat of duck fat, filled with legs, simmering away at 190F.
Once you get the confit started, there isn't that much left to do, so we spent the rest of the day putting all of the other duck to good use. Everyone brought knives, cutting boards, and various additional kitchen gadgets
so we were able to set up a number of different work stations, allowing everyone to participate in the process of taking apart the whole ducks and doing the fabrication necessary to make the various additional dishes that we had planned.
We separated the breast from two of the ducks and pan roasted half of them and used the other half to make tartare; we used the rest of the meat to make duck sausage; we made stock out of the carcasses, we kept the third duck whole and roasted it, we made cracklins' out of some extra duck skins, and we put together two separate cure mixes to make the remaining duck breasts into duck prosciutto. I'll go over this in a separate post when the prosciutto is ready in a week or so.

I didn't get that many great pictures of the finished dishes since I was too busy eating or prepping, but here are a couple snap shots from the evening. Here's the sausage being made:
and here is the finished sausage
Here's a shot of the cracklins' which we ate as is, added to a salad, and used to add texture to the tartare.
Here's what's left of the roasted duck, which was covered with five spice powder and filled with assorted aromatics such as orange peel and cloves.
and here is the pan roasted duck breast, which was served with a cherry gastrique that Bryan whipped up (Bryan lives right next door to Abby and I and is one of the few people I've met who appears to be more obsessed with cooking than I am).
I didn't get any pictures of the tartare because I was preoccupied by my quest to McGuyver a ring mold out of a paper towel tube and some tin foil...I mean, if your serving tartare, you have to make it look pretty.

After everything was finished, it looked like a bomb had gone off in the kitchen. Empty wine bottles and serving platters occupied every last square inch of the counter top. Good times!
Being the good guests that we usually are, Abby and I had to excuse ourselves before kitchen cleanup began because we had tickets to a play that evening - August: Osage County. It's good, but a bit depressing. It sort of reminded me of The Corrections. Next time, we promise we'll stick around to help clean up.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gnocchi with lamb ragu

We had a lot of lamb leftover from our last dinner party, so I made a batch of lamb ragu and served it with some homemade potato gnocchi. The recipe for the ragu was pretty standard: dice one red onion, thinly slice three cloves of garlic, brunoise one carrot. Saute the these ingredients over medium heat until the onions are translucent, add a few anchovies, add one large can of canned tomatoes, hand crushed, along with some sprigs of thyme and the lamb. Season with salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Let everything simmer and reduce for a couple hours. You want to keep the heat fairly low, otherwise the lamb will get tough and stringy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cold weather food

We're in the dead of winter here in Chicago, and while it hasn't been that bad, it's still cold enough to warrant some good, cold weather comfort food. So, last week, a few friends came over and we all put together a nice winter meal of leg of lamb, polenta with broccoli raab, pine nuts, and sundried tomatoes, roasted root vegetables, cahldo verde, some berries with balsamic vinegar and mascarpone whipped cream for dessert, and plenty of wine. This dinner party also gave Abby a chance to test out a camera lens that she's borrowing from our friend, Archie.

We started with a some of Mike's cahldo verde, a Portuguese soup with potatoes, kale, and chorizo or linguica. Here's the chorizo, served on the side.
and here's the soup.
I was thinking of just roasting the leg of lamb, but the butcher I got it from butchered the leg so poorly that I decided to go for a braise instead. Here's the braising vessel, our dutch oven, sealed off to keep everything inside during the cooking process.
And here's what the lamb looked like after a good sear (~8 minutes on medium high heat) and 7 to 8 hours in the oven at 275.
You can strain and degrease the braising liquids, reduce it a bit, and serve it with the lamb. Polenta is a great accompaniment for braised dishes since it soaks up all of the braising liquid.
Mike also whipped up a little brocolli raab dish to serve on top of the polenta,
and we also made some roasted root vegetables (celeriac, turnips, carrots, and parsnips).
Finally, here's a couple pics of the berry dessert that another one of our guests put together.