Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shrimp with Beurre Blanc

While I was at work today, my counterpart whipped up a beurre blanc sauce. This is another one of those things that you can do yourself at home if you know a couple of things.

Beurre Blanc is not a classic French sauce - it's actually fairly modern, having allegedly been discovered by accident about 100 years ago by Chef ClĂ©mence Lefeuvre. She was supposedly working on a Bearnaise and she forgot to add the egg yolks. She still ended up with a decent emulsification, so she plated up. 

For us non-French chefs, life does not always go so well. Anyone who has ever played around with a recipe and thought that mixing vinegar, wine, and shallots together was a good idea might claim that no one would do this on purpose, and that all the butter in the world might not save the sauce. Turns out there is a bit of an art to it. 

Your basic beurre blanc starts with vinegar and wine, and the wine makes a difference here. You'll want a very sweet white like Champagne to cut the bitter edge off the rest of the ingrdients. You'll want two parts wine to one part vinegar, and you'll want to reduce it.

Once you have your reduction, you'll also want to add any combination of shallots, leek, and garlic. Traditionalists will stick to shallot, but leek and garlic add a little depth.

You'll also want about half a stick of butter, cut into about five or six pieces. Once the shallots, etc., have cooked, add the butter, reserving two pieces for later. When the butter has melted and is integrated into the sauce, remove it from the burner and add the two remaining pieces of butter to melt at their own pace.

Beurre Blanc - white butter

This will result in a sauce that is sweet, tangy, buttery, and surprisingly light. The Champagne will cut through the bitterness and will bring out the subtle sweetness of the shallot that is otherwise overpowered by its bitterness.

Fresh shrimp

This sauce is an excellent partner for seafood, and my counterpart served it over fresh shrimp that he sauteed with a little jalapeno, leek, and peas. Pasta tossed with a Spanish goat cheese and a smattering of lima beans rounded out things out nicely. It was completely unexpected for a Tuesday, and it was completely delicious.

Beurre Blanc over shrimp

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What to Do When the Fishmonger Won't Fillet Your Fish, and How to Prepare Fava beans

There is nothing better than fresh food, especially fresh fish. This weekend we took the drive down to the HMart in Ellicott City with a good friend to visit their seafood counter for some fresh tilapia. The fish was beautiful, as usual - plump and clear-eyed and silver. And the really nice thing about the fish counter at the HMart is that they will clean it up for you and even offer several levels of cleaning. We usually go for gutted, scaled, and filleted and end up with pristine fish. At this week's visit, we were informed that the trained professionals do not fillet tilapia. They did do a fine job of the rest of the cleaning, though, and packed our fish in ice for us for the long drive back to Harford County.

Tilapia with fresh herbs

The object of filleting is to remove the fish from its skeleton in two unmarred steaks. Which is why we prefer to have professionals do it for us. But, you can do it at home. You will need:

  • A boning knife
  • Kitchen shears
  • Pliers
Scaled and gutted, but not filleted

Use your boning knife or your shears to remove the gills and fins from around the top of the spine. Then, use your boning knife to cut along the spine, tip to tail. Then take a second cut along the dorsal side of the fish. Using your boning knife, gently cut the fish off of the bone, starting at the spine. Use your kitchen shears to cut through the last if the flesh at the ends of the rib cage.

Remove the gills and fins

Cut tip to tail

Gently ease the fish from the bone

Use the kitchen shears for the final cut

Once you have your fillets cut, use the pliers to remove any stray bones from the fish. Also, if you wait until after they are cooked to skin your fish, most of the time it will peel right off.

Fish fillets, done at home

You can use the fins, gills, and bones for a very nice fish stock. Place them in a pot of water with some onion and leek, salt, pepper, and a moderate pour of white wine and Thai fish sauce. Let it simmer on the back burner to use for a sauce later.

Fish stock - future sauce

And we had plenty of time for our fish stock to simmer this evening as we decided to pair it with fresh fava beans. This large, tender legume has a bad reputation for being fussy to prep. This is because it's a two-step process - once you get the beans out of the pod, there is a membrane that also needs to be removed. This is not as much work as it sounds. The pods are thick and furry on the insides but they come apart fairly easily. Once all your beans have been removed from their pods, dealing with that extra membrane is pretty easy, too. Just steam the beans for about 30 seconds and that hull loosens up. Removing it is similar to removing the red skin from Spanish peanuts.

Fava beans

Removing the membrane

Prepped and ready to cook

Cooking favas is also easy. They cook through in about 15 minutes on the stovetop in a bit of olive oil. We mixed ours with some asparagus and a bit of cooked potato we had from Friday's dinner.

Favas and asparagus in olive oil

While the favas were cooking, we broiled the fish following the technique for The Easiest Fish Ever. We also got back to that fish stock.

We strained the stock and combined it with heavy cream and butter over low heat. We added fresh herbs to flavor it and a little potato starch to thicken it up. We got a rich, slightly creamy sauce with a strong umami element that didn't overpower the delicate tilapia.

A little jasmine rice rounded out our Sunday night dinner, making a pleasing end to a beautiful summer weekend. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mary Cooks: Shrimp Burritos

Here's a quick and easy summer meal that comes together fast and doesn't heat up the whole house. By keeping this burrito simple, the light flavor of the shrimp and fresh salsa come through for a satisfying dinner that doesn't leave you feeling bloated. As if the heat weren't already enough.

For my Shrimp Burritos, you will need start with the salsa. Salsa in its simplest form is tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Many feel that cilantro is a must. While it does add a little palate-cleansing freshness, personally I can live without it. What I need in my salsa is citrus.

For tonight's salsa, I used heirloom cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, a little garlic, and a little shallot. I also learned why you should take inventory of your ingredients before you start cooking. Once I had everything cut and ready for the immersion blender, I realized that we had no citrus fruit in the house.

In a move that my counterpart is sure to comment on later, I added a splash of lemonade. Here's why this works: It adds the necessary zip that comes from citrus (lemon, lime, orange, whatever). But it also adds some sugar to cut the bitter in the peppers, garlic, and shallots without clashing with the sugar in the tomatoes or blunting the heat from the peppers. I pulsed the immersion blender about five times and placed the salsa in the fridge to chill.

For the shrimp, you will want to steam them on the stovetop. How long this takes will depend on the size and quantity of your shrimp. I used four tiger shrimp that were only partially defrosted. They cooked through in about 15 minutes. Also, you should steam your shrimp in the shells and shell them once they are cooked.

And, if you are using large shrimp like mine, you'll want to cut them up once they are shelled. 

Once the shrimp is cooked and cut, you'll also need an avocado and some sour cream. Note that I am forgoing the beans and cheese ans they will weigh this down and won't taste right here. Well, maybe the right kind of cheese, but certainly not the beans. I am also omitting the cabbage slaw that usually adorns fish tacos. I consider the cabbage to be a proper culinary mistake on the tacos and certainly a disaster here.

To prep your tortilla, heat it in a flat skillet over low heat on the stovetop. You'll want to warm it so that it loses some of its stiffness. This will make it easier to roll and will prevent tearing.

To assemble the burrito, place the warm tortilla on a large plate. Add the avocado first, placing it in the center. Then place the shrimp on top of it. Spoon the sour cream on one side of the shrimp and the salsa on the other side. Carefully fold up the bottom over the filling. Then bring one of the sides over and line it up with the other and roll tightly, tucking in the bottom securely.

And that's it - avocado, shrimp, sour cream, and salsa. The whole thing came together for me in about 30 minutes. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Freedom Pheasant

On my birthday, I usually get some variety of game, so it only makes sense that on our nation's birthday, this also holds true. And, since it is July, it's going to be grilled.

To mark Independence Day, my counterpart grilled up another pheasant. There are some preparations you need to make for grilling a game bird that are not necessary with a domesticated bird like your typical chicken. First, you'll need to understand that pheasants are only partially domesticated. Even the ones at the grocery store most likely were not raised on a farm but were allowed to fly freely in an open space. They don't go through a factory for cleaning and packaging like our mass-produced chickens and turkeys. They are most likely plucked and packaged by hand. This, combined with their more muscular physique, means that the first step to preparing your pheasant  is to ensure that there are no little down feathers or quills on the carcass. You'll need to remove any plucking residue by hand. 

And here's one of the rare occasions when you can use your MAP torch in the kitchen as this is a good way to finish the job. Remember you are not trying to sear the bird. You're just trying to burn off any little hairs that might remain.

To ensure even cooking on the grill, you'll want to split it down the middle, or even quarter it. We decided to quarter our bird.

Once it's split, you can season it with a little spice rub. For today's freedom pheasant, my counterpart combined mostly bitter flavors with a little heat, which tend to go well with the irony flavor of this game bird. This is a good spice mix for pheasant and other birds:

Ground oregano
Rubbed sage
Ground coriander
Chinese five spice
All spice
Red Tandoori spice

One of the problems with doing a spice rub is the presence of moisture from the cleaned bird. My counterpart resolves this by using a couple of large, shallow bowls. He placing his quarters in the first bowl for the rub. As he rubs each piece, he places it into the second bowl. Most of the moisture stays in int he first bowl, and the spices end up more evenly distributed.

For grilling meat, we are partial to the charcoal grill. It generates a nice smoke that is easily controlled for both heat and flavor. We didn't do anything fancy with any of the various types of natural wood we have been known to add to the grill. We simply started up the charcoal in our chimney starter, poured it into the grill, and let the flames die down until we had a nice smoldering heat.

Here's a nice thing you can do when grilling: place several lengthy sprigs of fresh rosemary on the grill and put your bird skin side up on the rosemary. Cover it and let it cook slowly, checking on it every so often to flip it. Ours cooked for about 90 minutes over low heat, which was long enough to cook it through without drying it out.

Once it's off the grill, you can glaze it with a sauce before serving. Glazing the bird after it is off the grill rather than while it's cooking prevents the sauce from scorching, especially if you're using a sweet sauce. And, today we definitely went sweet.

While the grilled pheasant was resting, my counterpart make a quick herbed caramel sauce using some of the same flavors from the spice rub. He sauteed fresh basil, sage, and thyme in a good amount of butter. He then added allspice and red Tandoori spice. Once the butter was completely melted, he added a splash of white wine, a couple of drops of habanero sauce, and a generous pour of King syrup. He let it boil for a few minutes before removing it from the stove and pouring it over our pheasant.

Paired with herbed potatoes, this was a spicy sweet sticky greasy mess of a perfect summer grill dinner. I live the robust and gamy flavor of pheasant. The stronger taste and firmer texture make it a superior alternative to chicken. While the price differential means it will never replace its domesticated cousin. But for something a little special from the grill, it's a very good choice.