Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chicken gumbo

Rachel fell in love with chicken gumbo when she was an impressionable undergrad at Stern. The gumbo came from Mendy's and it was unparalleled, or so she remembers.

Unparalleled, you say? Sounds like a challenge. Let's make gumbo.

Gumbo starts with a red roux. Equal volumes of vegetable oil and white flour (1/3 cup each I believe) are cooked over medium heat.

After 10 or 15 minutes, it will develop into a deep reddish brown:

Next, dice onions, celery and green pepper (the Creole variation on the classic French mirepoix), and toss them into your ruddy roux. Add half a bag of frozen okra, and a 1 kg of chicken wings. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, and thyme. If you use fresh thyme, tie up a bunch of sprigs with a few other sprigs twisted into a rope, like so:

Cover everything with water and bring to a boil:

We ate this for Shabbat, so once a boil was reached, the gumbo was transferred to a crock pot set on low:

Finally, chop up some beef chorizo sausage and throw it in. Beef chorizo is not the traditional gumbo sausage. That would be andouille sausage which, alas, is not available in Israel. And contains pork. Chorizo it is, then.

Cook on low for several hours. If you put up the gumbo by late morning, and have it on low until dinner, it will be perfect, I promise. Between the starch from the roux and the unctuous polysaccharides exuded from the okra, the gumbo will be thick, wonderfully flavorful, and deeply satisfying.

[One final note - the gumbo will still be tasty for Shabbat lunch, but not as good as Friday night. Some components break down and it isn't quite as thick.]

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Taco night

We've talked about tacos before, but can you believe it's been over two years since Rachel and I made these? That's because these tacos are made with meat #14 (I think it's called פלדה), which is a hind cut, and hard to find.

I was always under the impression that, in Israel, hind cuts are generally available in most places you go to get meat. This impression was based on the knowledge that Israeli shochtim perform ניקור, the process of removing the גיד הנשה. This is true, but it turns out that the reality is this: hind cuts exist in Israel, but most butcher counters don't have them, and frozen meat sections definitely don't have them.

The reason seems to be that the majority of meat is imported from חוץ לארץ, especially South America. There, the hind quarters are simply sold off to non-Jews, so they don't make it here. I'm pretty sure nearly, if not all frozen meat is imported, and a lot of the fresh meat you see at the counter probably is too.

This week I was told that the only brand that does hind quarters is אדום אדום. I'm sure there are other, boutique ranches (in places like the Golan) that offer hind quarters, but אדום אדום (owned by Tnuva) is the only one you're likely to find in a grocery store nearby; specifically Shufersol, which carries א"א. Even then, not all Shufersol locations will have this cut. If you're in the Haifa area, the one in קניון חיפה carries it.

(Also, if you live in Jerusalem, go to the shuk to find the best variety when it comes to meat. That's where I found sausage casings, and that's where I've seen... um... a whole variety of... cow parts that are not usually found in other places... basically, you can probably find beef #14 somewhere.)

Ok, but what if you want to make tacos and, for one reason or another, you can't get #14? The most important thing is that you get a tender cut of beef. The two most tender cuts that are readily available pretty much everywhere are #1 (entrecote) and #6 (false filet, פילה מדומה). In both cases, ask the butcher to slice the meat thin for you, or do so yourself if you're buying a big frozen piece. To cook, season all over and sear in a hot pan with oil for really just a couple minutes, max, on each side. Slice against the grain into little strips.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hot Dogs: First Attempt

Americans with relatives in Israel are used to being treated as couriers, hauling everything that is either unavailable (Ziplocks) or more expensive (laptops) here. They've brought it all. Still, my parents thought it was a little strange when I asked for the meat grinder and sausage stuffer Kitchenaid attachments. They came through, though (thank you!), and now I'm ready to start making sausage.

The setup

Hot dogs actually aren't the easiest sausages to start out with, but it's tough to find good ones here, and so they're at the top of my list. I used this recipe, although there were several issues:

1. I don't have cure (nitrates)
2. Hot dog meat needs to be pureed in a food processor, and ours is dairy
3. I don't have a smoker

I decided to just skip the cure, especially since there wasn't going to be any smoking. Cure is important because it preserves the meat during smoking, which is done at temperatures that can allow bacterial growth. It also keeps the meat red after the hot dogs are cooked.

I also left out celery seeds (didn't have any), and used nutmeg instead of mace. Also, I used table salt, not kosher salt, which is important because if a recipe calls for kosher salt, you use half the volume in table salt.

The spice mix
For meat, I went with #3 because it was the cheapest I could find that day being sold in a 1 kg package. #3 is brisket, not chuck, but with hot dogs it doesn't really matter.

The first step is cutting the meat into pieces that can fit through the grinder, and then grinding on the smallest setting. Then the ground meat is thoroughly mixed with the spices, and ground a second time.

After grind number two, the meat sat in the fridge for 30 minutes.

At this point, the cold water was added, and the meat needed to be pureed. A stick blender was my only option. At the time, I thought it did a good job, but in hindsight I think the mixture was supposed to be smoother, stickier and pastier. Total emulsification is important to getting the texture right, and my final hot dogs had texture issues.

Blended meat, but not smooth enough.
Next, stuffing the hot dogs. I used dry collagen casings (if you're looking for casings, get in touch with me; I have an inside connection through whom I can sell you some), because they are easier to deal with than natural casings. 

Here are a couple lessons I learned:
- The meat really needs to be forced down with the pusher, it won't just flow by itself into the casings
- Collagen casings are pretty fragile, so don't overstuff them
- You can't load more than about an inch or two of casing onto the stuffer spout

This is about how much casing you should put on the sausage stuffer
The meat gets pushed through the top with one hand, while the other hand guides the casing as it is being filled. You end up with one long snake of hot dog, which then gets twisted into links, or individual hot dogs.

At this point, they look perfect!

Another thing that happened was that air pockets form due to not-perfectly-even meat filling. The solution is to gently prick the air pocket with a toothpick or the end of a knife.

At this point, hot dogs are supposed to be smoked. Instead, I tried simmering them in hot water for 12 minutes. That's when everything started to go downhill. First of all, the meat turns brown, which always going to happen without cure, but still looks bad. Second of all, I didn't do the best job twisting the links and popping the air pockets, so a bunch of my dogs started leaking and swelling in the water, causing them to lose their casings and deform. After 12 minutes, I collected the finished dogs.

The final product - the picture makes them seem reddish, but they were totally gray
I could forgive the cosmetic issues if the taste made up for it, but as soon as I bit into one, I realized the texture was off. The flavor was there - that hot dog seasoning was unmistakable - but instead of being springy and juicy, they were dry and crumbly, like eating an overcooked burger or kebab.

The question became, what did I do wrong? I figured it was either incomplete blending, or maybe overcooking them in the hot water. I'm not sure about the second theory, though, because I cooked one raw hot dog directly in a frying pan, and it had similar issues (although it was a little bit juicier). It's also possible that if you leave out the cure, you should replace it with a little more salt, since the nitrates also help dissolve/emulsify the meat.

Ultimately, I think fixing the consistency of the pureed meat will do the most in improving the texture. This was especially true in my case since I used brisket, which is a pretty tough and fibrous meat.

Still, Rachel and I enjoyed the hot dogs. We put most of them into a cabbage tomato soup.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Kale shakshuka

So far, we've made kale chips and kale salad. They were good, but you can read about such things in a thousand different places.

But the kale adventures continued. I put some kale in a pasta dish with mushrooms, onions, wine and feta (not shown, but delicious).

Then came kale shakshuka. First, chopped kale is sauteed in olive oil with onions. Then comes a can of tomatoes, salt, pepper, cumin, chili pepper (tune the heat as you like it), chopped garlic, and some oregano. That all cooks for a few minutes, and then eggs are cracked in. A quick spray of oil over each egg, and then on goes the pan cover until the eggs are cooked (the spray makes this happen faster).

And, of course, some grated Parmesan on top, because what else were we gonna do with the little piece that was left?

Eat with bread. A lot of bread, if you made it spicy.

Foil pouch fish tacos

This is not an authentic fish taco. This is an easy way to cook fish - wrap it up in a foil pouch along with sliced onions, peppers and seasoning, and bake for about 20 minutes. Unwrap, and load the juicy fish, onions and peppers into crispy tortillas (made crispy by putting a little oil on a hot pan, then briefly toasting each side of the tortillas, one at a time) along with sliced tomatoes and lettuce.

Drizzle it with a dressing of mayo and hot pepper sauce (Frank's). Enjoy.

Beef #7 with herbs and bbq sauce

We buy beef #7 because it's cheap, and very good. I'm not sure which cut it is, exactly, but it may be deckle. I'm pretty sure it's from the brisket region. Whatever it is, it's fatty and perfect for slow cooking. Usually it comes as a big flat piece, but the last time we ordered it, it came sliced like big steaks. So I made up a way to cook them.

First, they were browned in a pan with some oil. Then, the meat came out temporarily, and onions were sauteed in the meaty brown bits. Then, back in went the meat, along with bbq sauce and lots of parsley. This whole thing was covered and put in the oven until soft.

The meat was good, although not 100% soft. To get more succulent meat it's better to slow-braise one of those big pieces I mentioned before.

Potato cabbage kugel

Basically a regular potato kugel, except there's a whole bunch of shredded cabbage in there too. Like, at least half a head, possibly more. The kugel is held together with eggs, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic.

In the end it was about half potato, half cabbage, and baked into a solid unit. The cabbage gives some crunch and acidity above the soft, savory potato. Regular potato kugel is a pure starchy indulgence, but by eating this instead, you are tempering the starch with vegetable matter.

One diner was actually surprised that this dish even contained cabbage. Go figure.