Sunday, May 31, 2015

Black Rice Vermicelli with Shrimp, Okra and Mushrooms en Tarragon Tomate Vin Blanc Crème

     Super Grain Pasta!  
     Those who are tired of the same old pasta just might find today's recipe to be interesting.  Black rice has its origins in Indonesia and some varieties were bred to perfection in ancient India.  Thai Black Jasmine Rice is one of those ancient varietals that was perfected.  Black Jasmine Rice has been part of Chinese cooking for many centuries, but initially the general public was banned from eating black rice because it was the top choice rice of emperors.  Therefore, Black Jasmine Rice is also known as forbidden rice.  
     Black Rice is gluten free and it contains a much higher percentage of complex protein than regular white rice.  Black Rice offers some of the highest nutritional value of any grain on earth.  
     Black Rice Vermicelli can be found at Asian food markets.  It is a high quality product and there are many brands from China and Japan.  Black Rice Vermicelli is packaged like many Chinese specialty noodles.  The individual portion bundles are tied with a ribbon.  The noodles do change color from jet black to grey when they are cooked, so do not fret when the color fades.  It is the flavor and nutritional value that counts.  

     Instead of substituting Black Rice Vermicelli for a traditional style Asian noodle bowl recipe or pho soup, I decided to create a simple French style pasta sauce that has a little bit of influence from the American south.  One might say that today's pasta recipe is a fancy French American Soul Food item.  
     Pasta with shrimp in a white wine tomato crème sauce is fairly common at small French cafés.  Adding mushrooms, okra and tarragon sets this pasta sauce apart from the rest.  Mushrooms and tarragon are combined in many classic white wine and cream sauces.  Tarragon also goes well with tomato.  Tarragon has a strong flavor, so a little bit goes a long way.  Dried tarragon often tastes stronger than fresh tarragon, so this is important to keep in mind when flavoring the sauce.  Fresh tarragon was used in today's recipe and it takes about twice as much to create the flavor of dried tarragon. 
     Very few chefs feature okra in any recipe these days, simply because many modern chefs simply do not like okra, because of its mucilaginous texture.  Okra only becomes soft and slimy after it is cooked for a certain period of time.  There is a point where okra can be cooked tender without being slimy, but a chef has to be familiar with okra in order to know how to cook okra to that specific texture.  A chef that does not like okra will never know how good okra can be in something like an "a la minute" pasta recipe.

     Chinese chefs use a traditional method of shocking noodles in ice water, so the noodles gain a nice chewy texture.  Since the black rice noodles are from China, it is best to use traditional Chinese noodle cooking techniques, rather than Italian style pasta cooking techniques.  The result is a better quality black rice noodle!

     *This entire recipe yields 1 pasta entrée!

     Black Rice Vermicelli:
     Step 1:  Boil a pot of water over high heat.
     Add 1 portion of black rice vermicelli noodles.
     Stir the noodles occasionally.
     Boil till the noodles are tender, but so they still have a firm texture that is not too soft.
     Drain the hot water off of the noodles.
     Step 2:  Place the noodles in a container of ice water to shock them.
     Stir the noodles by hand, till they feel like they have a firm chewy texture.
     Drain the ice water off of the noodles.
     Set the shocked cooked black rice vermicelli aside.

     Shrimp, Okra and Mushrooms en Tarragon Tomate Vin Blanc Crème:
     The rest of this recipe moves along quickly.  The shrimp and vegetables are sautéed and the sauce is made in the same pan.  After the sauce reduces, the okra will be cooked just right.
     It is important to select small to medium size okra.  Large okra can be fibrous and they will require too much cooking time for this pasta sauce recipe.  
     Step 1:  Keep a pot of water boiling on a back burner, so the noodles can be reheated later in the recipe! 
     Step 2:  Peel and devein 8 to 10 medium size shrimp.
     Lightly season the shrimp with sea salt and white pepper.
     Dredge the shrimp in flour.
     Step 3:  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 tablespoon of pomace olive oil.
     Add the floured shrimp.
     Add 4 or 5 medium size okra that are cut in half lengthwise.
     Add 1/3 cup of button cave mushrooms that are cut into petite wedges.
     Sauté till the ingredients start to gain some golden highlights.
     Step 4:  Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 2 teaspoons of minced white part of a green onion.
     Sauté till the onion starts to turn clear in color.
     Step 5:  Add 1/3 cup of imported Italian canned crushed plum tomato. 
     Saute for a few seconds.
     Add 1/2 cup of dry white wine.
     Add 1 cup of shrimp stock.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of coarsely chopped fresh tarragon.
     Add 3/4 cup of cream.
     Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it is a medium thin sauce consistency that can easily cling to pasta.
     Step 7:  Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.

     Black Rice Vermicelli with Shrimp, Okra and Mushrooms en Tarragon Tomate Vin Blanc Crème:
     Step 1:  Place the cooked black rice vermicelli noodles in a pasta net and dip them in the pot of boiling water till they are reheated.
     Drain the water off of the noodles.
     Place the noodles on the center of a plate as a bed for the sauce.
     Step 2:  Use tongs to arrange the okra on the noodles, so each spear points out from center.
     Use a spoon to mound the mushrooms and shrimp on the center of the noodles.
     Spoon any excess sauce over the shrimp and noodles.
     Garnish with a curly leaf parsley sprig.

     This is a taste plate of modern Soul Food pasta!  

Farfalle with Chevre Crème, Spinach and Pimiento

     A Simple Comfortable French Style Pasta!
     The French word "Chevre" means a cheese that is made with goat milk, but Chevre usually refers to soft fresh goat milk cheese.  Chevre has a natural tangy flavor that tastes nice with spinach.
     Chevre cheese contains no fat, so it does not melt when it is heated.  Chevre will only soften when heat is applied.  When making a simple crème sauce with Chevre, it takes a little bit of time and effort to combine the cheese and cream.  Slow simmering, while constantly whisking the sauce, is the only way to incorporate the Chevre with the cream.
     French chefs seem to favor using a few select Italian pasta shapes.  Traditional Italian pastas are rarely served with a cream sauce.  On the other hand, French, German and American chefs often serve pasta with a cream sauce.  Some Italian pasta shapes, like Farfalle, do pick up a cream sauce nicely.  Farfalle also looks nice on a plate.
     The cardinal rule of Italian pasta is to only add enough sauce to coat the pasta with flavor.  The sauce should only cling to the pasta and it should not flood the plate.  
     Farfalle with Chevre Crème, Spinach and Pimiento:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     The sauce for this pasta recipe is a simple cream reduction.  Béchamel sauce can be used in place of cream if several portions of pasta are made at one time.
     Step 1:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of pomace olive oil.
     Add 1 clove of finely chopped garlic.
     Add 1 tablespoon of finely minced sweet vidalia onion or shallot.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 2:  Add 2 1/2 cups of fresh baby spinach leaves.  (Remove any lengthy stems.)
     Sauté and stir, till the spinach wilts.
     Transfer the spinach to a pan and spread the spinach out, so it cools quickly.
     Set the wilted spinach aside.
     Step 3:  Cook 1 portion of farfalle pasta in boiling water, till it is cooked al dente.  Be sure to stir the pasta with a wooden pasta stick occasionally.
     *The sauce can be made while the pasta cooks!
     Step 4:  Place a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 3/4 cup of cream.
     Add 1/4 cup of milk.
     Bring the cream to a gentle boil.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Add 1 pinch of Herbes Du Provence.
     Add 1 pinch of white pepper.  (Add no salt!  Salt will detract from the chevre cheese flavor.)
     Add 2 ounces of soft fresh Chevre cheese slices.
     Stir with a whisk, till the chevre cheese softens and becomes part of the sauce.
     Step 6:  Gently simmer and reduce the sauce, till it is a medium thin consistency that will easily cling to the pasta.
     Step 7:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Add 10 to 12 torn Italian Parsley leaves.
     Add 1 tablespoon of chopped roasted peeled pimiento.
     Add the reserved wilted spinach.
     Step 8:  *The farfalle pasta should be cooked al dente by this time.
     Drain the water off of the pasta.
     Add the farfalle pasta to the sauce in the pan.
     Toss the sauce and pasta together.
     Step 9:  Mound the pasta on a plate.
     Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of chopped roasted peeled pimiento over the pasta.
     This simple pasta tastes nice and it will impress guests!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Southern Fried Frog Legs with Neon Marjoram Louisiana Remoulade

     Buttermilk Batter Fried Frog Legs With A Tasty Louisiana Remoulade
     "Southern Fried" pretty much means coating a food item with a combination of buttermilk and seasoned flour, then pan frying the item in a cast iron skillet.  The frying medium for southern fried recipes is pork lard, animal fat grease of nearly any kind or a combination of animal fat lard and vegetable oil.  
     From a traditional standpoint, lard is the best frying medium of them all, because it has a high smoking point and it carries flavor.  Pan frying in a shallow amount of oil or lard produces the best fried food flavor.  
     When Frog Legs are southern fried with a buttermilk batter, the crispy golden brown coating seals the natural flavor of the frog legs in.  The buttermilk coating has much more flavor than an egg batter and flour coating.  
     Crispy golden brown, is a golden expression in more ways than one!  Old school chefs refer to "crispy golden brown" by the letters "CGB."  A talented fry cook that turns out one crispy golden brown item after another is a real asset to seafood restaurant.  The first thought of a seafood restaurant manager that hires a great fry cook is "Man!  We are going to make some great money tonight!"  

     Neon Relish
     Neon Relish is a Chicago specialty.  The last time that I featured Neon Relish in recipes was a few years ago, when I was working in Chicago.  Just about the only traditional recipe in the world that officially features Neon Relish is a Chicago Style Hot Dog.  
     Since most people do not eat Chicago Hot Dogs for every meal, a jar of Neon Relish can end up sitting in the refrigerator for quite a spell.  Creating new recipes with Neon Relish kind of helps people to get some ideas about how to put this classic condiment to use.  
     When creating recipes with Neon Relish, the word "Neon" or the words "Neon Relish" should be part of the recipe title.  This is because the name of this relish creates customer interest, and the high quality of Neon Relish is a sales point.
      Neon Relish has a unique Greek spice flavor and the color is bright aquamarine blue green.  The original Neon Relish is made by a company in Chicago and it is difficult to find this original product outside of the Chicago region.  The original Neon Relish does have the best color and flavor.  The Vienna Hot Dog Company markets a product that is called Chicago Style Relish, which is nearly the same as the original Neon Relish.  Relish connoisseurs will notice the subtle differences between these two products and the original clearly stands above the other.  Even so, both products are high quality items that will please any gourmet sweet relish fan.  
     Louisiana Remoulade
     Creole Mustard is a necessity, when making a Louisiana Remoulade.  Creole Mustard has a unique zesty flavor that cannot be compared to French or German mustard varieties.  Some European mustards are similar, but none are an exact match.
     There are several kinds of Louisiana Remoulade and all are identified by their color.  The most common have a pink or orange color.  This color comes from the addition of catsup.  
     Catsup is easy to make from scratch, but buying a bottle of organic catsup will save money.  Organic catsup is closest to the original catsup recipe.  Catsup originated somewhere in Eastern Russia or Northern China.  Catsup originally was a created as a cooking sauce.   
     Remoulade of any kind calls for a variety of herbs in the recipe.  When a much sought after herb is in season, then featuring that solitary herb in a remoulade is okay to do.  Fresh marjoram has a luxurious appealing aromatic flavor.  When no other herb and only marjoram is used to make remoulade, the flavor profile creates a very pleasant tasting experience.  Neon Relish gives Louisiana Remoulade a sweet Greek spice flavor and marjoram is used in many traditional recipes.  Marjoram and Neon Relish create an unbeatably good Louisiana style remoulade flavor.    

     Heirloom San Marzano Tomato
     In this age of GMO food, unsustainable farming, chemical pesticides and food that is saturated with herbicides, choosing organic food is the wisest thing to do.  Heirloom tomato varietals are bred the old fashioned way or they are naturally occurring species.  
     San Marzano tomato hybrids originated in Peru and Argentina.  The Inca and many preceding cultures were experts at developing hybrid vegetable strains.  The original San Marzano Tomato seed stock was presented to a prominent Italian royal family many years ago.  This sweet plum tomato varietal is now renowned as the greatest cooking tomato of them all.  
     A lightly seasoned grilled heirloom San Marzano Tomato really looks good on a plate.  Grilled tomatoes are a classic southern style vegetable.  

     Neon Marjoram Louisiana Remoulade:
     This recipe yields enough rémoulade for 1 or 2 accompanying portions!  
     The Gaufrette potatoes can also be dipped in this sauce, so do not be shy about serving up a large ramekin of Neon Marjoram Louisiana Remoulade!
     Step 1:  Place 1/4 cup of mayonnaise in a mixing bowl.
     Add 2 tablespoons of organic catsup.
     Add 1 tablespoon of Creole Mustard.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of worcestershire sauce.
     Add 2 tablespoons of Neon Relish or Chicago Style Relish.
     Step 2:  Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of minced Vidalia Sweet Onion.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced fresh marjoram.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of paprika. 
     Step 3:  Mix the ingredients together.  (Or use a blending wand to mix the ingredients for a few seconds to produce a refined looking remoulade like the one in the photos above.
     Chill the sauce for at least 20 minutes, so the flavors meld.   

     Gaufrette Potatoes:  
     This recipe yields 1 portion of chips!
     *If you don't have a French Mandolin, then just thin slice a potato and fry regular potato chips.
     • French Mandolin Slicers are notorious for causing severe injuries.  It is best to wear a butcher's chainmail glove when using this tool.  
     • To make gaufrette potatoes, an 1/8" crinkle cut slicing blade (corrugated blade) is selected for the Mandolin. 
     • The depth setting is adjusted by eye between 1/16" and 1/8".   
     • After each stroke past the blade, the potato must be turned at a 90º angle.  Turning the potato back and forth by 90º creates a waffle chip effect.  
     • By turning the potato back and forth while cutting, it is easy to make a pile of perfect gaufrette potatoes.  The depth of the blade might have to be adjusted for the first few slices, but once the blade is dialed in, every chip will look the same.  The object is to have tiny holes between each criss-cross ridge.  
     Step 1:  Gaufrette cut 1/2 of a russet potato.  (about 4 to 5 ounces)
     Heat 6" of vegetable frying oil in a large high sided sauce pot to 360ºF.
     Fry the gaufrette potatoes in small batches, because they tend to stick together.
     Fry the chips, till they are crispy golden brown.
     Use a fryer net to place the chips on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan to drain off any excess oil.
     Step 2:  Sprinkle a small amount of Kosher Salt over the chips.
     Keep the gaufrette potatoes warm on a stove top.
     *Try not to eat them all before the entree is served!  Gaufrette Potatoes are highly addictive!

     Grilled Heirloom San Marzano Tomato:
     Care must be taken to not overcook a San Marzano Tomato, because these tomatoes become very tender in a short amount of time!
     Split a medium size Heirloom San Marzano Tomato in half lengthwise.
     Lightly season the tomato with sea salt and black pepper.
     Heat a non-stick (or seasoned) sauté pan or griddle over medium low heat.
     Add 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter.
     Grill the tomato halves on both sides, till the tomato is warmed and it just starts to become tender.
     Keep the grilled tomato warm on a stove top.   

     Southern Fried Frog Legs:  
     This recipe yields 1 petite entrée portion or appetizer portion!  
     Step 1:  Heat some lard or vegetable frying oil (or a combination of both) in a deep cast iron skillet to 360ºF.  The oil should be about 1/2" to 3/4" deep.
     Step 2:  Select 2 pairs of meaty large frog legs.
     Use a large chef knife or kitchen shears to cut through the hip joint.  Trim off any excess cartilage flash.
     Step 3:  Dredge the frog legs in flour that is seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.
     Dredge the floured floured frog legs in buttermilk.
     Dredge the frog legs in the seasoned flour a second time to create a thin coating.
     Step 4:  Place the coated frog legs in the skillet of hot oil and lard.
     Fry till the bottom half of each frog leg turns golden brown.
     Use tongs to turn the frog legs.
     Fry on both sides, till the frog legs are crispy golden brown.  (CGB!)
     Step 5:  Place the pan fried frog legs on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan to drain off any excess lard or oil.  Keep the frog legs warm on a stove top.

     Southern Fried Frog Legs with Neon Marjoram Louisiana Remoulade ~ Grilled Heirloom San Marzano Tomato & Gaufrette Potatoes:
     Place a large ramekin of the Marjoram Neon Relish Louisiana Remoulade on the back center of a plate.
     Carefully arrange a small mound of Gaufrette Potatoes on the center of the plate.  (I do say carefully, because gaufrette potatoes will easily break!)
     Carefully lean the Southern Fried Frog Legs on the Gaufrette Chips, so they fan out from center.
     Plate the Grilled San Marzano Tomato halves on both sides of the ramekin on the plate.
     Garnish the remoulade with a marjoram sprig.

     Viola!  Good old fashioned southern fried frog legs with some fancy accompaniments!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

North Carolina Style Mustard Basted BBQ Chicken ... with Sumac Berry Potato Salad

     A Traditional North Carolina Specialty!
     Today's recipe is an old North Carolina open pit barbecue recipe that is simply delicious.  Many folks in North Carolina prefer old fashioned vinegar basted barbecue over thick red BBQ sauces.  North Carolina style vinegar open pit basting sauces are usually flavored with peppers, mustard or both.  Sometimes tomato or sweet red bell pepper is added.
     Slow roasting over an open pit BBQ and constantly basting with an acidic vinegar sauce is the secret to how traditional North Carolina style Pulled Pork BBQ, Pulled Chicken BBQ and Pulled Turkey BBQ is made.  The acidic sauce makes the meat so tender that it easily can be shredded by hand.
     Chicken that is barbecued and basted with a Mustard Vinegar Barbecue Sauce is roasted at a little higher temperature than for making Pulled Chicken BBQ.  The higher temperature prevents the meat from shredding and it keeps the whole pieces of chicken intact.  The higher temperature also caramelizes the vinegar mustard basting sauce and this creates a great flavor.

     I have published several potato salad recipes in the past.  I was thinking up a new potato salad variation when I saw the bag of Sumac Berry Spice in my cupboard.  Sumac Berry?  Why not!  Sumac grows like a weed in America.  Native Americans used sumac berry to treat colds, digestive problems, infections, bladder problems and to make cough syrup.  A pulstice of Sumac Berries is an effective cure for arrow wounds.
     Red Sumac Berries are edible.  White Sumac Berries are poisonous.  Red Sumac Berry has a tangy lemon, red wine and wild berry flavor.  Dried Sumac Berry Spice can be found in Mediterranean food markets and it sells for a nice price.
     Sumac Berries stain a pretty pink magenta color.  If the potato salad is made a few hours ahead of time, it will turn a deep pink color.  I must admit, Sumac Berry Spice does taste nice in a potato salad.  The tart flavor is refreshing.    
     Sumac Berry Potato Salad: 
     This recipe yields 2 portions!
     Step 1:  Place an 8 ounce peeled russet potato in a sauce pot.
     Cover the potato with water.
     Boil the potato over medium high heat, till it is tender, but not mushy.
     Cool the boiled potato under cold running water.
     Chill the potato in a refrigerator.
     Step 2:  Dice the potato into small cube shapes.
     Place the diced potato in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 thin sliced green onion.
     Add 2 tablespoons of finely diced celery.
     Add 1/2 of a seeded green jalapeño pepper that is finely diced.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sumac berry spice.
     Add 1/2 of a chopped boiled large egg.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 3:  Add 1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard.
     Add just enough mayonnaise to bind the ingredients together, while gently mixing.  (About 4 or 5 tablespoons)
     Step 4:  Chill the potato salad in a refrigerator for 1 hour, so the flavors meld.
     Mustard Vinegar Basting Sauce:
     Step 1:  Heat a small sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 4 ounces of unsalted butter.
     Allow the butter to melt.
     Step 2:  Add 1 cup of water.
     Add 2 tablespoons of Dry English Mustard Powder.  (Or 3 tablespoons of dijon mustard)
     Add 1/4 cup of cider vinegar.
     Add 2 tablespoons of Tabasco Pepper Vinegar.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce.
     Add sea salt.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of coarsely ground black pepper.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of crushed dried red pepper.  (chile caribe)
     Add 1 pinch of garlic powder.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder.
     Stir the ingredients together.
     Step 3:  Simmer the sauce for 2 minutes.
     Take the pot off the heat and set it aside.
     North Carolina Style Mustard Basted BBQ Chicken:
     This recipe yields a half chicken serving.
     • The chicken should slowly roasted on a chargrill away from a direct flame.  Roasting over a few embers is best.  
     • The chicken must be basted very often.  The acidic basting sauce will make the chicken very moist and tender.
     • After the chicken is fully cooked, the chicken is finished over a higher temperature flame to give it some caramelized brown color.  
     If you cannot use a chargrill in your area or because rain set in, then the chicken can be cooked on a ribbed cast iron griddle over medium heat, till grill marks appear.  The grilled chicken can then be roasted and basted in a 350ºF oven or under a broiler.  
     Step 1:  Separate the wing, thigh, leg and breast of one half a chicken.  (Leave the skin attached.)
     Cut the chicken breast in half through the bones.
     Step 2:  Heat a chargrill to a medium heat range.
     Place the chicken on the chargrill over moderate heat away from open flames.
     Baste and flip the chicken often, as it slowly roasts.  (The chicken should never look dry.)
     Grill the chicken pieces, till they are lightly caramelized and fully cooked.
     Step 3:  Finish barbecuing the chicken over a high temperature hot spot on the chargrill, till brown highlights appear.  Be sure to flip and baste the chicken often.
     When the North Carolina Style Mustard Basted BBQ Chicken is ready, then pile it up on a plate!
     Serve with a generous scoop of the Sumac Berry Potato Salad.
     Sprinkle a little bit of sumac berry spice over the potato salad.
     Garnish with curly leaf parsley sprigs.
     Serve with your favorite BBQ fixings and a bottle of Green Tabasco Pepper Vinegar on the side.
     North Carolina Mustard Basted BBQ Chicken is tender, juicy and delicious!   

Thursday, May 7, 2015

English Cheddar Cod

     Traditional English Comfort Food!
     Much of England's traditional cooking is comfort food.  I was the chef at an English Pub kitchen for a couple of years.  I ran a special du jour board that featured plenty of regional British Isle food and food items from distant places in the English empire.  The printed menu at the pub offered standard English pub fare, like Steak & Kidney Pie, Mixed Grill and Shepherd's Pie.  Of course the top selling item on weekends was Fish 'n' Chips.  
     The British Isles do not cover a vast land mass area and one can assume that every person on the island knows every traditional English recipe that there is, but this is not really the case.  There are many regional and local English food specialties that outsiders rarely catch wind of.  Cheddar Cod is a good example.  Most of the employees at the pub were from the south tip of the island, Liverpool or Ireland and none of them had ever heard of Cheddar Cod till I ran it as a special du jour one day.  
     Cheddar Cod was a sellout at the pub every time that I ran it as a special du jour.  The recipe is very simple and the gentle flavors provide comfort.  Cheddar Cod is just a casserole of potatoes, butter, cheddar cheese and cod.  As one can imagine, Cheddar Cod is a hearty entrée that is perfect for a clammy cold English day.  This traditional entrée definitely creates a warm and cozy feeling inside!

     Cheddar Cod can be made as a simple layered casserole.  A free standing Cheddar Cod presentation is fairly easy to make with a small pop-ring cake mold.  The free standing version does require a few extra steps.
     English White Cheddar is best for this recipe.  Imported White Cheddar or artisan White Cheddar are not always available.  An extra sharp cheddar like Colby Cheddar is a good substitute.  The orange color of the achiote oil in Colby Cheddar does look nice in Cheddar Cod.  

     Sustainability issues are a prime concern when cod is mentioned.  Atlantic Cod is nearly extinct, so it is best to seek a substitute fish for today's recipe.
     Haddock is low in numbers, so it is not a good substitute for Atlantic Cod anymore.  Pacific Ling Cod have declined in numbers, but Ling Cod has been listed as sustainable in recent years.  Pollock is a good substitute for Cod and Pollock is usually listed as sustainable.  After the cheddar smothers the fish, it is difficult to tell what kind of fish was used to make this entrée.
     At the English pub where I was the chef, the beginning of the end of Atlantic Cod was taking place at that time.  The price per pound quadrupled within 2 weeks and fish mongers stated that the species was overfished.  The owner of the pub did all the purchasing and he was freaking out about the food costs.  The owner was not exactly a chef, so he asked me if there were any cheaper fish in the sea.
     I suggested Pollack, because it tastes like cod and it flakes like cod.  The other reason that I suggested Pollack was because I had recently watched a documentary about modern ocean food chain problems and the information focused on why populations of seals were starving at that time.
     When cod are depleted, Pollack populations greatly increase.  When Pollack is in great numbers, Herring populations decline, because Pollack feed mostly on Herring.  Unfortunately, seals and sea lions also depend on Herring, so when Pollack eats all the Herring, the sea mammals starve.

     I never mentioned the Pollack food chain factor to the pub owner, because at that time the low price of Pollack was like music to his ears.  Ethically, it is not good to mislead customers by substituting one fish for another, but in the case of Atlantic Cod the depletion situation was critical, so from an environmental standpoint it was necessary to do.
     The pub menu actually did not specify what fish species was used to make the Fish 'n' Chips and the customers always assumed that the fish was cod.  We never had a single complaint, because the customers could not tell the difference after the fish was battered and fried.
     I also used Pollack to make the Cheddar Cod entrée.  Because cod was specified in the name of this entrée, the waitstaff was required to disclose that Pollack was the choice of fish to customers.  The entrée was also priced accordingly on the menu at about one fourth of the amount that it would have been if it was made with Atlantic Cod.  A low price in a restaurant is always a humbling factor.
     English Cheddar Cod:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée.
     Check the fish sustainability rating before making a purchase!  Any whitefish can be substituted for the extinct Atlantic Cod in this recipe.  Basa, Swai, Ling Cod and Pollack have been good sustainable options lately.  
     • This recipe can be made the old fashioned way by simple layering the ingredients in a casserole dish.  The free standing style Cheddar Cod presentation described in this recipe requires a few extra steps. 
     • Do not season the casserole with salt and pepper!  The flavors of this casserole are meant to be delicate and the cheddar cheese is the key flavor! 
     Step 1:  Brush a small 5" pop-ring cake mold with melted unsalted butter.
     Place a 1/4" thick layer of thin sliced peeled russet potato on the bottom of the baking mold.
     Place a 3/8" thick layer of thin sliced whitefish over the potatoes.  (about 2 ounces of fish per layer)
     Sprinkle a thin layer of grated sharp cheddar cheese over the cod.  (About 3 tablespoons.  English White Cheddar or Sharp Colby Cheddar is best.)
     Step 2:  Repeat the layering steps, till there are 3 or 4 layers and the pop-ring mold is nearly full.  Make sure that the top layer is thin sliced potato.
     Step 3:  Insert thin potato slices vertically around the edge of the pop-ring mold, so the vertical slices slightly overlap.  (Just slide and tuck the potato slices into place.  (If necessary, use a butter knife like a shoe horn to make enough room to slide potato slices vertically into place.)
     Step 4:  Brush the top layer of sliced potato with melted unsalted butter.
     Step 5:  Cover the casserole with parchment paper or foil.
     Bake the cheddar cod in a 325ºF oven.
     Bake the casserole till the potatoes are almost fully cooked.
     Step 6:  Remove the casserole from the oven.
     Remove the foil or parchment paper.
     Step 7:  Place the cheddar cod back in the oven.
     Bake the casserole till light brown highlights appear on the edges of the top later of potatoes.
     Step 8:  *The cheddar Cod has to be chilled till the ingredients are solid, before un-molding or it will fall apart!
     Set the pop-ring mold on a counter top and let it cool to room temperature.
     Chill the Cheddar Cod to about 50ºF in a refrigerator.

     Free Standing Cheddar Cod Presentation:  
     Step 1:  Reheat the cheddar cod in a 250ºF oven, till it is warmed to 165ºF.
     Place the cheddar cod pop-ring mold on a serving plate.   
     Let the cheddar cod cool to about 140ºF.
     Step 2:  Run a thin bladed paring knife between the potatoes and the wall of the pop-ring mold.
     Remove the the pop-ring mold rim.
     Carefully use a metal spatula to free the Cheddar Cod from base of the pop-ring mold.    
     Step 3:  Serve with buttered peas and sliced mushrooms or a vegetable of your choice!
     Cheddar Cod is simple comfort food at its best!  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Neon Ham Salad Stuffed Tomato Platter

     The Neon Ham Salad name comes from the type of pickle relish used in the recipe.  Neon Relish is a popular Chicago condiment.  Neon Relish is one of the featured ingredients on an authentic Chicago Style Hot Dog.  The color of  Neon Pickle Relish is a bright neon bluish green color.  The unique flavor of Neon Relish is more complex than regular sweet pickle relish.
     Procuring Neon Relish is not easy to do outside of the Chicago area.  Neon Relish is a brand name product and it is the original.  Neon Relish is the best.  The Vienna Hot Dog Company also markets a product that goes by the name Chicago Style Relish, which is nearly as good.  Neon Relish or Chicago Relish can be found at Chicago Style Hot Dog Stands and at some Chicago Italian Beef restaurants.  Both relish products can also be found at internet shopping sites, like Amazon.

     I posted a standard Ham Salad recipe a few years ago and I was surprised to find out how many people have never heard of ham salad.  About 100 people commented on the Ham Salad posting at social networks websites.  Most of them thought that Ham Salad was some kind of a novel new idea.
     Toward the end of the 1800's and the early 1900's, Europeans called Mayonnaise Potato Salad by the name American Salad (salade américain).  Europeans then started calling every salad that was made with mayonnaise an American Salad, even if the salad was made with tuna, chicken or carrots and raisons.

     Mayonnaise was not an item that could be bought in a store one hundred ten years ago.  Mayonnaise was made to order before the age of refrigeration.  When jars of Mayonnaise were first markets in the early 1900's, it caused a culinary revolution, because mayonnaise became a convenience.  Everybody and their mother's mother was making mayonnaise salads.  Potato Salad (salade américain) was the king of all mayonnaise salads.
     Nowadays, a jar of mayonnaise sits in nearly every refrigerator and the mayonnaise is most often used to make a fairly limited variety of mayonnaise salads.  In America, the name "salade américain" makes no sense.  The names of mayonnaise salads are specific in this country.  When Tuna Salad is mentioned, people think of a mayonnaise and tuna mixture.  The same goes for Chicken Salad.

     In the American southern states, Ham Salad is a popular item.  One of the best Ham Salads is made with dry cured Southern Ham.  The flavor of a Ham Salad that is made with Southern Ham is indescribably delicious!
     Southern Ham is very salty and it must be soaked in water before cooking.  Standard cured ham can be a little bit salty too.  It is best to only add a pinch of salt or no salt at all, when seasoning a Ham Salad or the flavor will be far too salty.
     When choosing a ham for a ham salad recipe, try to find a nice quality roasted ham.  Cheap boiled pressed deli style lunchmeat ham is not a good choice.  Roasted cured ham or smoked cured ham are the best options.  
     Neon Ham Salad: 
     This recipe yield 1 portion!
     Step 1:  Trim any excess fat or rind off of a 4 ounce piece of ham.
     Finely chop the ham.
     Step 2:  Place the chopped ham in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 tablespoon of Chicago style Neon Relish.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of finely diced celery.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of finely chopped onion.
     Add 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard.
     Add 1 pinch of salt, if the ham is not already salty tasting.
     Add 1 pinch of black pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of ground celery seed.
     Add 1 pinch of turmeric.
     Add 1 small pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 thin sliced green onion top.
     Step 3:  Add just enough mayonnaise to bind the ingredients together, while stirring.
     *Do not add too much mayonnaise!  Only use enough mayonnaise to bind the ingredients together or the Ham Salad will be soupy!  For a stuffed tomato the Ham Salad has to be fairly stiff.
     Stir the ingredients together till thoroughly blended.
     Refrigerate the Neon Ham Salad to 41ºF for about 30 minutes, so the flavors meld.
     Neon Ham Salad Stuffed Tomato Platter: 
     This recipe yields 1 stuffed tomato platter presentation. 
     Since most people expect to see bright colors when the word neon is mentioned, just go with it!  Some of the best quality brightest neon color pickle products are made in Iran and Iraq.  Basically the art of pickling originated in ancient Persia and this heritage continues to this day.  Persian pickle products can be found in Mediterranean food markets and they usually sell for a nice price.  
     Step 1:  Place a few small leaves of green leaf lettuce on a plate as a bed for the salad.
     Step 2:  Place a ripe medium size tomato on a cutting board with the core of the tomato facing down.
     Cut 4 vertical slices into the tomato from the top, almost to the bottom, so the slices only are cut just slightly more than 3/4's of the way through the tomato.  (4 vertical slices yields 8 tomato flower petals.)
    *The knife cuts must not be sliced all the way through the tomato or the tomato will not open up like a flower!  This procedure is called a Star Cut Tomato.
     Step 3:  Place the tomato on the bed of lettuce on center of the plate.
     Gently open the thin wedges of the tomato to create an open flower shape.
     Step 4:  Use a large scoop to neatly gather the Neon Ham Salad.
     Place the scoop of Neon Ham Salad into the center of the open tomato flower.
     Step 5:  Garnish the plate with these colorful items:
     - Italian Giardiniera
     - Persian Pink Pickled Turnips
     - Chicago style Sport Peppers
     - Pickled Banana Pepper Rings
     - Mixed Olives
     Garnish the Neon Ham Salad with Italian Parsley leaves.
     This tasty stuffed tomato salad entrée definitely has a neon glow!