Saturday, September 25, 2010


I'm sure there's a trick for peeling hard-boiled quail eggs (it is not any of the tricks for peeling chicken eggs), but some days I think it might be "just use chicken eggs, take the photo from very far away, P.S. don't tell Bill."

Friday, September 24, 2010

this week's pizza: the chorizo oddball

The thing is I'm very busy.

So I must not have been paying much attention when I mixed the pizza dough, because it was very wet.  Very very wet.  It poured out of the mixing bowl like ... well, like a pizza dough wet enough to pour.  It couldn't be pulled or shaped at all.

Let's see what happens, I thought.

The first pizza I made with it was all right.  The crust tasted good - it came out cracker-crisp on the bottom, bready on top.  But I thought, hm, I have an idea.

The second pizza became the Chorizo Oddball:


I took the dough and mixed chopped chorizo and grated Pecorino Romano in it, and let it rise until it just wouldn't rise no more.  Instead of pouring/draping it into the hot cornmeal-dusted cast-iron like I had with the first one, I dumped it quickly onto the pan and then pulled it from the center to the sides using two spatulas - which is why the dough is sort of heaped up around the rim.

Blasted it at 500 for a few minutes with no sauce or cheese, which meant I sort of made my own Boboli shell here.

Topped it with the same sauce as before, and the same local cheese I used in my last pizza post (I forget the name).  Added more chorizo.  Blasted it again.

This works better.  Blasting the crust by itself improved the texture a lot - there's a crunch to it that I really like.  The Pecorino's sure not hurting either.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Baby duck eggs, as sold by Asian markets, aren't laid by baby ducks - they contain them.  Thanks to Fear Factor and other horseshit reality shows, most people have heard of balut or embryonic eggs, but "fertilized egg" should be thought of as a genre of food, not a specific food item.

I always hated those shows in the first place, but especially that aspect of those shows: ohgrossethnicfood.  Cheese is pretty fucking disgusting if you didn't grow up in a culture that takes it for granted, and the idea of drinking milk from an animal ought to weird you out a little.  I've never liked "oh God look at the things the rubes and brown people eat" television/web sites/etc, and I don't think adults have any business using words like "scary" or "gross" for real food that real people eat.  That doesn't mean everyone is obligated to like or even try everything - but understand that food is food, that there is a reason other people like and eat it, that your lack of appreciation doesn't reflect some actual real-world standard of good and bad.

I'm not crazy about eggplant, century eggs, sweet deviled eggs, flying fish eggs, or fertilized eggs that have developed past a certain point - but I'm not enough of an asshole to think that's a statement about the world instead of a statement about me, you know?


It takes a little over three weeks for a fertilized egg to develop and hatch, and there's a wide variety of possibilities beneath the shell in those three weeks.  Most people have probably had an egg with a red spot in the yolk - there's your day one.

When they're let to develop more than that, though, developed deliberately and sold as food products, they're boiled and served warm to eat, sometimes seasoned with hot sauce, soy sauce, etc.  

Fertilized eggs are a snack throughout Southeast Asia, with the cook date varying from place to place, ethnicity to ethnicity.

Personally, my fertilized egg preference is, if I remember right, around the two-week mark - still almost entirely a hard-boiled egg, but with a richer yolk, a small piece of meat that isn't yet recognizably anything, and a flavor like the whole thing has been cooked in light duck broth (... which it has).

... this egg is a bit more advanced than that, but short of the 21 day mark when the egg contains mostly developing baby duck, with bones you need to crunch through when you eat it.

In the first photo, you can see the yolk material at the top of the opened egg, and the developing duck about the size of a silver dollar (duck eggs are about, what, half again as big as a "jumbo" chicken egg) curled up beneath that.


Taking the shell off gives you another view: we've still got the duck, with the yolk directly above it, and the rest is egg white, most of which is hard and inedible.


Clockwise from nine o'clock: the little duck again; the mostly inedible white; the yolk.

The yolk is actually very good, but this isn't the stage of fertilized egg I'd seek out - the embryo is just a little too developed for me at this point.  That said, there isn't a strong flavor - with your eyes closed, there's nothing strange going on here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Unlaid egg soupUnlaid egg soup

Those unlaid eggs ...

... are so awesome.

They're firmer than the yolks of laid eggs.  They look like raw yolks at first, but press on them and they're as firm as gum drops - I guess from whatever it is that would eventually develop into the shell.  Cooked, they're like rich egg yolks - they reminded me of the creaminess of duck egg yolks, though these are from chickens.

What we made was a sort of pho.  I simmered the upper body (breasts, back, and wings) of a small leghorn chicken with about half a pound of chopped okra and a pound of Chinese watercress, for six hours.  The next day, I cooked that stock down until it was just enough to fill two bowls, and seasoned that with salt (don't skimp), ginger, and culantro recaito (culantro, cilantro, onion, and garlic, minced in the Cuisinart and then cooked in a little olive oil).  We put unlaid eggs and chopped black garlic in the bowls, poured hot broth over them to cook the eggs, and then topped with chopped ngo orm ("rice paddy herb," with a musky sort of cumin-lemon flavor) and bean sprouts.

Delicious.  Seriously, just ... a hell of a successful soup.  Certainly the stock helped - the okra and watercress contributed not only the green color you see there, but a lot of rich vegetal flavor, without overwhelming everything - but the eggs were great. Little orbs of yolk, soft enough to burst, but rich and creamy instead of runny and thin.

There aren't photos of dinner last night: spare ribs, pork belly, and Chinese broccoli braised with culantro, garlic, cilantro roots (which have a strong cilantro flavor), holy basil, chile, and cincalok (a Malaysian fermented shrimp paste - think of it as a substitute for fish sauce or miso, that's all), and then shredded, sprinkled with lime juice, and served on pita bread like tacos.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Highlights of a trip to Little Cambodia:


Longan.  Similar to lychee or rambutan, a longan is easily peeled, with a mild, firm, juicy fruit inside.

French Makok

Makok.  Spondias dulcis - a member of the cashew family.  Extremely fragrant, exotic rind with a lot of tartness to it; mild, crisp fruit.  Very very good. 

Unlaid eggs

Unlaid chicken eggs.  When a hen is slaughtered, it often has eggs it hasn't laid yet, in various stages of development.  There are a number of uses - in the South in the old days, these would have been served in the soup made from the hen.

This morning we had a "kitchen sink" breakfast using things already on hand combined with things from Battambang in Little Cambodia - sweet Chinese sausage stir-fried with okra, tomatoes, culantro, sweet potato leaves, and garlic, with fried eggs.  (We're assuming these are sweet potato leaves, at least - the label says "potato leaves," but I thought those were poisonous.)

Other acquisitions, apart from the usual herbs and meats - a couple of trays of unidentified fruit sold with sugar or salt to dip them in; "baby duck eggs" (balut); lychee black tea; sugar cane juice and roasted coconut juice; and durian candies and cookies.  Caitlin and I are basically taking the weekend and just seeing what we think of to make with all this.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I have to point out how much of my cooking this summer owes a debt to my mother and her garden. There's been a bumper crop of excellent tomatoes and okra, and I haven't had to buy cucumbers, celery, beet greens, corn, broccoli, or squash all summer.  This was particularly helpful since half of my garden pretty much failed because the sandy, rocky soil in my front yard finally gave up the last of its nutrients.

But look, for instance, at some young celery from her garden - later in the season it was much thicker and just as leafy:

Look at how leafy the celery from my mother's garden is

You don't see this in stores - celery with this much leaf to it.  They trim it down.  But the leaves have a hell of a lot of flavor, and although the texture when raw isn't what you'd like (dry and tough), I've been adding them to greens and minestrone - and they'd be great in any soup, so I froze several Zip-Loc bags full of them.

The stalks themselves get tough pretty soon into the season, and by the end of the season they're just flat-out too tough to eat raw and take a much longer time to soften when cooking.  But the flavor is intense - and I don't think you usually think of celery as a flavor that can BE "intense" - and even picking a single bunch of celery and putting it in the car with all those other vegetables made the car smell like celery for an hour.  Again, I chopped some up and put it in the freezer, most likely for gumbo, maybe minestrone.

Because the flavor was more pronounced than regular celery, I also used some in this year's hot sauce: cayenne peppers, celery, onion, and a little tomato, pureed with salt ... and normally that's the point at which I would let it lactic-ferment for a few months ... but because of a brief-lived housefly problem, and the fact that the flies kept buzzing by the bottle, I wasn't comfortable letting it continue to ferment.  I mean, it was covered in cheesecloth - the flies weren't going to get in there!  But because I was trying to get rid of them, I didn't want to leave anything out they were attracted to.  So it only aged for a week instead of a quarter, and was then blended with vinegar and strained.  But it's a nice, nice hot sauce.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

-- I barely know her noodles

Cider orbs and noodles

Apple cider orbs and noodles.

Cider orb punctured

When punctured, the orb starts to ooze apple cider seasoned with cinnamon and ginger.

More later.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

with shoes on

Shell beans

Shelled beans

There are a lot of bean varieties that look like this: dragon's tongue, cranberry, borlotti.  Up here they just sell them as "shell beans," and I don't know anything more than that.

Cooked, they lose those speckles and become uniformly ivory.  The texture is creamy, which is perfect for minestrone, for instance.  A little large for chili, maybe, which doesn't stop me - until I discovered Rancho Gordo, shell beans were my default chili bean for as long as I had them in the freezer.  I don't know if I've ever made cassoulet with them - I'll have to do so, especially since I don't think I've made cassoulet yet for this blog (the result of the rising cost of duck).

They make a terrific bean dip when pureed with a little of their cooking liquid, olive oil and salt, and whatever seasonings appeal to you, from preserved lemon and thyme to sage and black truffles to garlic and chives.

The nice thing about fresh beans is that although you do have to cook them - shell beans aren't for eating raw - they cook faster than dried do.  Less than an hour, as little as twenty minutes - it seems to vary every year for me, depending probably on just when the beans were picked.

twp 9-14-10

This week's pizza:

Sausage / beet green pizza

Crust: regular homemade.  Thicker than usual because it dried out a little in the fridge, so I couldn't get it as thin as I like.

Sauce: half roasted tomatoes from my mother's garden, half roasted cherry peppers from my garden, pureed and strained, seasoned with Pecorino Romano, fennel pollen, and marjoram.

Cheese: local smoked mozzarella, a few shreds of gouda, Pecorino Romano.

Toppings: Beet greens (blanched, chopped, and under the cheese) and Italian sausage.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My spice cabinet includes sumac, pebrella, Mexican oregano, and three kinds of smoked paprika, but I don't have any black pepper.  It's not a distaste or anything, I just never seem to get around to buying any - I haven't got a pepper grinder and keep putting off buying one I'll like.  But you know, what I DO have gives me a lot of options.

This isn't an ad or anything, but I have to praise The Spice House.  A lot of people are familiar with Penzey's, and order their spices there - Penzey's is certainly excellent, and I've got nothing bad to say about them.  I originally placed an order with The Spice House - owned and run by members of the Penzey family, but I don't remember the exact relationship - because they carried cassia buds, which Penzey's didn't and which I wanted for a bitters recipe.  I ordered other things because I always order spices in batches, in order to offset the shipping cost, and I've stuck with the Spice House ever since.

For one thing, they carry a lot of things that you not only won't find in your supermarket - I know Penzey's fans usually become aware of Ceylon cinnamon pretty quickly, for instance, and one of the things I like from both stores is crushed jalapeno peppers - little flakes like the crushed red peppers you put on pizza, only jalapeno.  Online, it's also easy to find things like arrowroot, an assortment of curry powders, file powder, fennel pollen, saffron, epazote, grains of paradise, poppy seeds, and Sichuan peppercorns.  Weirdly, while other areas of the supermarket expand, I've noticed the spice selection at my local supermarkets is remarkably small, concentrated on a just a couple brands and actually offering a smaller variety of spices than they carried twenty years ago when I was shopping in the same damn town. Whether this is related to the enormous growth of bottled marinades and the condiment boom of the 1990s is left as an exercise for the reader or graduate students in local culinary history.

When it comes to those slightly uncommon items, or even the same items you see in the supermarket, you're going to find higher quality online - whether you're looking at The Spice House or Penzey's - because everything is fresher.  But you're also going to save money.  The other day I was out of ginger, so I grabbed some in my normal supermarket run - one of the little jars the size of a Zyrtec container.  Cost me six dollars.  That same amount in a glass jar from The Spice House would be $3.50 - in a reclosable bag, $2.50.

It's just like with my coffee: I spend a lot on a coffee order, but that's because I buy it 10-15 pounds at a time, and I'm saving nearly as much as I'm spending, and getting better coffee in the process.

But the other thing is how much The Spice House has that hardly any other spice vendors have.  The cassia buds I already mentioned.  Truffle salt is another thing I pick up sometimes.  Citric acid, which previously I had to buy from wine or specialty chef stores, which meant a separate shipping charge.  Molecular gastronomy components like sodium alginate, xanthan gum, and some of the Texturas line.  And they've started carrying black garlic, which there were only a few online vendors for before, which always meant paying a separate shipping charge.  All of this stuff is lightweight, so you're almost always going to be paying $10 or less for shipping on a large order, and the savings absorbs that easily.

(This is why I sometimes go without ginger or cinnamon for a long time, though - I'm waiting to run out of other things so I can place an order.)

Like I've said a bunch of times, the quality of your cooking mostly comes down to the quality of your ingredients and your ability to use them to your best potential - that's why I've become so dependent on places like this.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

red red wings

Depending on how many cop shows take place where you live, you've either had (3 or more cop shows) or will have in the next few years (0-2 cop shows) Korean fried chicken.  The way Korean fried chicken is made, it's lightly floured and fried twice, and then sauced.  Double-frying - the same technique, minus the flouring of course, that you should use for French fries - results in a crispier final product that is more likely to stay crispy even when it's not piping hot, and furthermore is better able to stay crispy when moist.

The combination of the super-crispy chicken with sauce creates a texture you're familiar with from Chinese joints - not the ones that put the thick batter on everything they fry so that the sweet and sour shrimp is like big sponges soaking in sauce (goddamn you, food court), but places like P.F. Chang's that lightly batter and fry chunks of chicken before saucing them.  Same basic deal.  In Korea, whole chickens are chopped up into chunks and fried - but Korean chickens aren't factory-farmed like in the US of A, so they're smaller and better suited to, well, cooking and eating.  In the US, chicken parts make more sense, and those factory farms result in large, meaty wings, a chicken part that was usually discarded or used for stock until World War II.

Really, despite the transglutaminase and calcium alginate, despite the bacon beignets and coconut curry ice cream, what I think about the most, what I always circle around, is hamburgers, pizza, chicken wings, fruit, and cheese.  That's always been my way.  I'm not an embryonic pseudo-chef, I'm just a home cook who plays around with a few things.  At some point I expect I'll have a long entry on hot wings.

But right now, since I have this deep fryer, I wanted to try the Korean fried chicken method.  Specifically the method - Korean fried chicken is usually sauced with a gojujang sauce, which is cool, but I wanted to divorce the method from the flavor here.  I wanted to deal with the method on its own.

So I made red wings.

Hibiscus-marinated wings

I started by "brining" the wings overnight with hibiscus.  I literally did nothing more than put chicken wings in a Tupperware container with a handful of hibiscus flowers, and cover it all with water.  The splotches you see are where the wings were touching each other or the sides of the container.  The color is otherwise quite magenta.

Hibiscus-marinated wings, first fry

The wings after their first fry.  They have more color than it looks here; this time of year I don't have much sunlight in the house until much later in the day (it's 1pm as I type this and the sun hasn't hit my deck yet).  That said, in the end the hibiscus didn't contribute anything of note.

Hibiscus-marinated wings, double-fried and sauced

The wings after their second fry, with sauce.

The sauce is very very red.  I pureed watermelon chunks with watermelon rind that had been pickled with Kool Aid; strained that, and cooked it down until it was a thick sauce; strained that, and added Tabasco sauce, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon.  The result is a bright red sweet and sour sauce with a burn that is primarily ginger with other spice notes and a little chile heat.

Friday, September 10, 2010


New board.


I keep forgetting titles

Fried chicken livers and pigs' ears; caramelized watermelon and Tabasco pepper jelly

Fried chicken livers and pigs' ears; caramelized watermelon and Tabasco pepper jelly.

Finally the watermelons in my mother's garden are ripe - and seeded, which is harder to find these days, especially if you live somewhere where most of the watermelons are brought in from elsewhere.  Seedless watermelons may be more convenient, but are less flavorful.

One of the luxuries of a deep-fryer is fried chicken livers, one of the cheapest proteins in the store.  I've mostly had them at roadside stops like the Frog City Travel Plaza in Rayne, Louisiana.  At home I usually serve them with watermelon pepper jelly, but this year I took chicken livers (and pigs' ears) out of the freezer to make room for other things, and didn't have any watermelon pepper jelly on hand - so I made a sort of a la minute version, by chopping some watermelon straight into a pan on high heat while the livers fried, and stirring it as it browned.  Removed it from the heat, added a spoonful of Tabasco pepper jelly which reduced quickly in the hot pan, and tada.

The thing to remember about cooking watermelon is that it's related to squash, and that vegetal flavor can become pronounced when it cooks.  Strong flavors cover it up, which is why it works fine in pepper jelly, and why watermelon-based barbecue sauce works better than watermelon-based pizza sauce.

Monday, September 6, 2010

My aforementioned novel Low Country features chicken-skin sandwiches in an early scene, which Caitlin and I decided to have over Labor Day weekend.  What I ended up making, though, isn't much like the sandwiches in the book, but instead crossed over with French fry poboys - the original poboy, a sandwich of nothing but French fries and gravy.

Chicken skin / French fry poboy

Deep-fried chicken skin (just skins from chicken thighs dropped into the deep fryer at 375 for about 4-5 minutes), French fries, rich beef gravy, and goat cheese, on a homemade baguette.  Mine has hot sauce, hers didn't.

I have to tell you ... my full review of Presto's Cool Daddy deep fryer is coming up sometime this month after I've had a chance to see how it handles larger quantities ... but just based on what I've done so far I consider it well worth the ~$50 price, and I didn't really expect to.  Deep fryers come in three basic price points - the cheapest ones with no temperature control, the ones at the $50-80 price point that usually have temperature control and a few other features, and the high-end ones at $200.  I expected there would be a good chance that a $50 deep fryer would be finicky enough that it would be really high maintenance and a pain in the ass to use, which is why I'd never bought one.  But it's handled everything terrifically.

Also of note: we decided to get ice cream at Dairy Queen on Friday because of Labor Day being the end of summer and all, and I ordered a marshmallow malt.  DQ just makes their shakes by combining their sundae toppings with soft-serve, so the options are a little different than usual.  Now, I'm usually a creature of habit with shakes: any time it's an option, I get a cherry malted; if it isn't, I get a vanilla malted; if I'm somewhere without malt powder, then usually a coffee shake.  But I just thought, fuck it, I'll try a marshmallow malted - and it was damn good.  It was almost like a vanilla malt with an aftertaste like Lucky Charms.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

There's some color and light weirdness here because of the time of day and using Picasa to make the meat more visible.

Pastrami, essentially

There was a sale on beef shoulder clod a couple weeks ago.  $1.69 a pound.  When's the last time you saw a boneless, gristle-less cut of beef for that little a pound?  Two weeks ago at my supermarket.  That's when.

So I bought the smallest piece, used some of it for chili, and cured the rest of it before smoking it today.  It's kind of pastrami.  You can think of pastrami as corned beef that's been smoked - it usually uses the brisket but didn't always, and they use basically the same seasonings.

This one isn't brisket, and doesn't use those seasonings.  But it is cured smoked beef, and there's not another word for that.

No, instead of the usual pastrami seasonings, I used the Baharat mixture from The Spice House, which is a fairly spicy Middle Eastern mix that I'm actually at a loss to describe, except to say that if you get an accurate sense of the flavor from the list of ingredients at that page, your mental palate is better than mine.  In any case, it's one of my favorite blends from my favorite internet spice purveyor, but this is my first time using it with non-ground beef (it's my go-to for lamb, and I've used it with chicken and meatballs).

I'm curious to see how this is going to be on a sandwich with cheese.  Good good stuff.