16 July 2009

Risotto With Chicken Livers and Goats Cheese

Risotto is one of those things I can never be bothered to order in a restaurant. Not only are the portions usually too small, but its too labour intensive and time consuming to make it fresh for every customer in most places, resulting in a reheated gloopy mess arriving at your table. With the fridge lumbered with both chicken livers and goats cheese, stumbling across this recipe was something of a godsend. It's from a London chef called Stefano Cavallini:

It's a classic simple risotto recipe with a final twist. I'll run through it quickly: I started by softening onion in butter, then stirring in the arborio rice to coat in butter and toast slightly. Next came around a glass of white wine, which you have to completely reduce without stirring the rice. Now comes a ladle good quality homemade chicken stock one at a time making sure it is always slightly runny.

Simultaneously I browned off chicken livers, removed them from the pan. De-glazed with madeira wine, then reduced it down. Next came a tiny bit of reduced chicken stock and finished it with butter to make a sauce.

Finally I kept adding stock to the risotto till the rice was just cooked with a runny sauce (I don't think it was quite runny enough, but having run out of chicken stock I was loathe to add too much water), then took it off the heat. Next I added goats cheese, parmesan cheese and more butter and stirred it in. The result was an especially creamy risotto, almost rice pudding like. I cut the chicken livers across horizontally and plated up, pouring the slightly too think sauce over the top:

Having complained about risotto portions in restaurants, I think I went a little too far the other way. I hadn't banked on it being quite so rich. Two types of cheese, plenty of butter, and creamy chicken livers is quite heavy apparently. Apart from my stomach deceiving me, and a few minor errors (should've defrosted more stock and reduced the sauce down further), this was a pretty good success. My currently swine flu ridden mother approved anyway - although maybe partially due to her fever and current lack of taste. Well, at least I enjoyed it, and one to repeat I reckon. In fact it's a very inexpensive meal, none of goats cheese, rice or livers are too pricey. The real barrier to the dish is good quality stock, but fortunately for me I have about 3 litres of great French Laundry chicken stock sitting in my freezer.

14 July 2009

John Dory and Kasha

Delving into the archives of my food photos I just re-discovered this John Dory I cooked in my old house. The recipe was a toned down version of the one found in Michel Bras' "Essential Cuisine", omitting the buckwheat cake owing to a lack of ingredients. Here's the chef of Laguiole in France, an amazing, amazing restaurant (by all accounts - it's not as if I have the money to go there myself):

All his food is really bright, full of mountain herbs and the freshest vegetables imaginable. Therefore it's pretty difficult to replicate a lot of his recipes. There's not a lot of long braising, or complex dishes, just the freshest ingredients imaginable all cooked to perfection.

We took on this John Dory and Kasha as it seemed one of the more simple dishes. The Kasha cooked be done up front: boiled till soft, and left to sautee at the last minute. Without the book to hand right now I can't exactly remember how the sauce was done, but it was a revelation. Really quick and easy, and absolutely delicious - more of a aromatic juice for the fish to sit in than a sauce in the traditional sense. It went something like this: Brown onion and garlic in butter and oil, add fish bones, fish trimmings and parma ham and brown them too. Then add dry white wine, watered down slightly (and some parsley stalks?? My memory fails me). Simmer that down to a sauce like consistency. It sounds almost too simple and boring, but I know I'll repeat it again and again with white fish in future.

Finally we seared john Dory fillets (each split into three down the natural ridges in the fillet) in a hot hot skillet for no time at all (maybe 30 seconds a side), and sauteed the kasha in oil. We finally finished things with some sorrel. And here it is:

I absolutely loved this. John Dory is a hell of a fish, and the sauce just made it so moist. Kasha is a strange foodstuff. It's like a cross between a cereal and rice. I'm not totally won over by it, but it does have a hearty homely feel about it. I'm sure if you grew up on it it'd be one of those classic home favourites. Overall I was really happy with this dish, the final result really did look restaurant-y, and tasted it too.

Oh and seeing how it doesn't deserve a post in itself I thought I'd throw in a use of leftover roast beef I was quite proud of ad-libbing. I threw some garlic and ginger in hot peanut oil, then some star anise and loads of chilli bean paste (made with fava beans, not soya beans) and a good pinch of sichuan peppers. Added leftover fatty beef, some dark soy, a touch of Chinkiang vinegar, sugar, and a good load of hot water and left it to simmer for 30 minutes of so. Then I boiled up some nice quality noodles, threw them in a bowl, and poured the lot over the top:

Bad photo, but it was amazing - spicy as hell, but in a healing way. The beef was soft and had taken on all of the aromatics. The sichuan peppers were numbing my tongue - it was great.

I say I ad-libbed this, well I did, but it is a known kind of Chinese noodle dish. If you really want to experience it at its best, head to Baozi Inn in Chinatown London and order spicy beef noodles. Much better than mine and the noodles are handmade (as far as I can tell - they don't advertise that but I'm pretty damn certain they are).

4 July 2009

"Pot-au-feu"/Braised Short Ribs With Polenta

Lesson learnt: Don't simultaneously move house and cook 3 star michelin food.

We tried to make "pot-au-feu" from Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook in the last few days before moving out of our house, and soon realised that the meticulous preparation of the vegetable elements of the dish was going to beat us. However I ordered in the requisite short ribs a week earlier, and having committed to the purchase, I had no escape. So in the end we abandoned going for the complete pot-au-feu and just did the beef elements of the recipe and served it up with polenta and bone marrow.

Anyway, despite bastardizing his recipe, here's Thomas Keller playing with pig's heads:

We started by leaving the beef in a red wine marinade (red wine boiled with aromatic vegetables till the alcohol had burned off, then cooled) for 24 hours, then strained it, reserving the vegetables:

The marinated meat was seared in a hot skillet:

Then all the beef was put in a casserole with the vegetables (browned), veal stock, chicken stock, and the reserved red wine marinade. Then put in the oven to braise for 6 hours:

Meanwhile, I pushed out the marrow from some veal bones and left it to soak in icy water for 24 hours or so (changing the water frequently).

Out came the delicious braised beef:

I can hardly believe even now that my butcher had it, but I managed to get hold of some caul fat (along with marrow and short ribs!), which even Thomas Keller with all his connections, warned of the difficulty of obtaining. W.H. Frost in Chorlton, Manchester, are a hell of a butchers, and you should make use of them if you're from round those parts and having moved back down south I'm gonna miss them big time. Anyway, I used my miraculously acquired caul fat to wrap small rectangular shaped pieces of braised beef into neat little parcels:

Next I seared each parcel in hot oil till the caul fat went translucent and put all of them in some of the reserved braising liquor to keep warm in the oven (the rest was strained and reduced to a sauce). Unfortunately the photography took a turn for the worse from here , mostly due to the fact a my hand took a huge splattering of hot oil, and my mood a turn for the worse. I just completely forgot I was taking photos at all until the final assembly.

Nevertheless, just before the final dish I seasoned and floured bone marrow pieces and crisped them up in hot oil. Keller warned that if you had it too hot the flour would burn before the middle went soft, and if not hot enough, the whole thing would break apart. To be honest it surprisingly didn't really trouble me too much, especially considering I'd never worked with bone marrow before. A moderate to high heat seemed to crisp them up perfectly, but I probably just got lucky:

Then arranging the little parcels (they look like sausages, but are so so much more) with polenta, the sauce and bone marrow, out came the final dish:

It's really disappointing I couldn't put together the proper thing with perfect little root vegetables, as polenta was a fairly poor substitute (though nice in itself). It makes the dish look like a weird sausage and mash. Actually the little beef parcels were incredible - falling apart, and the sauce was delicious (as anything I've ever cooked with veal stock is!) I should say, the bone marrow wasn't universally appreciated, 2 of the 4 of us couldn't stand it. I found that on its own it was a little intense, but joined up with the beef it was like an explosion of fatty deliciousness oozing out of a crispy outside.

I think I may have done myself an injustice with the negativity of my post, it was unreal beef, and a great great use of the last stocks of my beautiful veal stock reserves. I should really have taken a photo showing how the inside of the beef parcels just melted apart but it was probably best summed up by my cooking partner in crime when he said "it's like beef butter".

Anyway this post marks a landmark in that I've now moved away from Manchester and lost my butcher (WH Frost), fishmonger (Out of the Blue), and housemate with all his cooking expertise and equipment. On the plus side I now have access to my brother's photographic abilities, so it could be that the food lowers in quality but the presentation and quality of the blog goes the other way. We shall see.