Monday, September 26, 2011

Fresh jackfruit

I've lived just outside of Little Vietnam and I've been to a Little Cambodia and a Little Bosnia, but somehow I'd never been to a Chinatown - any Chinatown - until Caitlin and I went to Boston's Chinatown on Friday. There were a lot of highlights - ridiculously cheap lunch, roasted ducks and suckling pigs sold by the pound, $1 Portuguese tarts at Great Taste Bakery (crust so delicate it falls apart when you pick it up, rich creamy custard) - and we picked up some crazy cheap produce at C-Mart, including this big chunk of jackfruit.

Jackfruit looks weird, and looks a lot like durian, and although they're not actually related (I thought they were until checking Wikipedia just now), there is a slight similarity in taste - but don't be alarmed. Where jackfruit resembles durian's flavor is in the tropical fruity notes that durian has, not the sewagey rotting onion notes.

Fresh Jackfruit

The flesh surrounds big seeds, and scoops out pretty easily. When it's young, jackfruit flesh is starchy and cooked like a vegetable. Mature, it's sweet, meaty like a firm mango or something (though less wet to the touch, despite being juicy), and the flavor is incredible. I'd had canned and frozen jackfruit before, but never fresh - and fresh it's much more complex. Canned jackfruit tastes sort of like Juicyfruit gum. Frozen, it's less overwhelmingly sweet, with more subtle notes - sometimes like flavors you find in better bananas, but with a million things that'll probably remind you of every tropical fruit you've had, from cherimoya to pineapple. There's no acidity, which makes me think it would pair well with something tart - fresh pineapple maybe.

Piece of jackfruit

Jackfruit flesh.

Awesome awesome stuff, and a bargain - I think we paid about the same price for it fresh as we would have canned, a couple bucks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I will forget later to tell you what I've done, so this is so I don't. The first two steps of the southwestern pho I will post about are:

1: Char a quartered onion and three corn cobs on all sides, in a cast-iron pan. Add to a stock pot with beef short ribs and marrow bones. Barely simmer, for 24 hours.

2: Strain hot stock into a bowl with a cinnamon stick, hoja santa leaves, Mexican oregano, coriander seed, and cumin seed. Let steep, cool, and strain through cloth, to get as clear a stock as possible.

Monday, September 19, 2011

baaaaalls (that's Caitlin's joke)

As previously recounted, when I bought a lamb's head in Boston, the butcher also sold me a bunch of lamb testicles - six, as it turned out, two of them considerably smaller than the others.

This weekend I finally got round to cooking them, though didn't think to take photos. We had testicles two days: fried, alongside fried chicken; and in a simple curry with okra and tomato.

In both cases, basic prep was the same - I skinned the testicles, marinated them in buttermilk and spices, and sliced them before cooking. The fried testicles were battered just like the chicken (buttermilk, egg, and self-rising flour); the curry was chopped testicles, okra, tomatoes, and curry powder, simmered for half an hour.

The texture was a little like chicken breast, but more tender and without perceptible grain. Caitlin compared the fried testicles to fried oysters. The flavor is very mild - you'd never guess you were eating lamb, certainly.

Definitely something I'd do again!

Monday, September 12, 2011

As mentioned before, my curry duck confit post was part of a contest, in which you can now vote for me if you like. Or vote for someone else, even. That's how votes work.

New Hampshire is not a good place for fruits and vegetables. Locals will take issue with this, but they're wrong. It's not a question of the quality, that's the thing - that's what locals will bristle at - it's the length of the growing season.

By the time the watermelon is ready, summer is ending, the hottest weather is behind you, and you may even have some pretty chilly days while waiting for the last melons to ripen. Lima beans have a season of only a couple weeks, and barely overlap with the end of the tomato season - despite being considered a spring vegetable in much of the world.

Fava beans, peas, and strawberries have come and gone in much of the country before New Hampshire planting season begins.

That's the problem. You have rhubarb come in first, sometimes before you've even planted anything. Strawberries are next, in June, and apart from berries and the quick-growing small-volume vegetables like lettuces and radishes, you're shit out of luck until August.

Then everything comes at once. Summer - the kitchen summer, the tomato sandwich and ratatouille summer - happens all at once, and then it's gone before you have time to make it a habit. Locals don't always get it - that even in Indiana, where it snowed just as much as it does here, the farmer's market opened a full two months earlier and was going full guns before the first plants had been put in the ground in Berlin, Lebanon, Manchester, and all those other New Hampshire towns named after everywhere else. Summer produce in New Hampshire is a sign that you've gone a little farther north than you were supposed to. You aren't really meant to be here. That's why the land isn't interested in feeding you. This is the airport Chili's. This is the 2am Denny's. You don't have the full menu. Smoke your cigarette and get your flight.

That said, while summer is actually on, it's awesome. It's all at once. You get that magic hour when tomatoes, corn, limas, and okra are all ready at the same time, and you've got more watermelon than you can eat. The quality of the produce is terrific - sometimes surprisingly so.


People keep asking me, you can really grow okra in New Hampshire? I can. But I don't - my mother does. She was so skeptical that it was going to grow up here that she insisted on planting it in her garden - a real garden, full sun - instead of my planting it on my deck, which gets sun in the afternoons. And not only does okra grow up here, it thrives. We get a bumper crop every year. If you don't pick it every 5-7 days, you get enormous pods like some of the ones pictured there - too big to eat, so I use them for vegetable stock.

Like lima beans, okra is one of those vegetables a lot of people are sure they hate. It's green. It has a weird texture. I was on the fence about okra for a long time. I was one of those people who loved it in gumbo (or other soups) - where the mucilaginous (slimy) texture is unnoticeable because it simply thickens the soup - but didn't like it on its own.

Then bit by bit, I came to love it. First fried or roasted - again, cooking methods that reduce the "slime" - then any method. When you have good fresh okra, I really don't think you can improve on okra and tomatoes, which is exactly what it sounds like ... sliced okra cooked with chopped fresh tomatoes and a little salt, until the okra is cooked through (10-15 minutes depending on the okra) and the tomatoes have broken down. You can add peppers, onions, bacon, garlic. You don't need to.

Lunch took advantage of the season. Everything except the bacon and the poppyseed roll is local: the goat cheese on the roll, the okra and tomatoes (from my mother's garden), the corn and red pepper (my mother's again) and lima beans in the succotash. The succotash is just cooked lima beans, corn cut from the cob, and chopped red bell pepper, cooked in a little butter with a little Tony Chachere's seasoned salt.

Succotash, okra and tomatoes

Sunday, September 11, 2011

lima beans


Any time I buy fresh lima beans, the cashier gives me a look like I must be fucking crazy. I tell them the same thing I tell you: just trust me.

Canned limas suck. Frozen limas are all right. Fresh limas are awesome. Mediterranean cooks know this. Southern cooks know this. Somehow everyone else forgets.

You have to shell them, but that's easy enough - hold the pod in both hands, twist it, and it'll usually pop right open.

The mealiness of limas comes from beans that are too old or overcooked. Ideally they're creamy - there's a reason they call them butter beans in the South - like cranberry beans or favas. They're a little sweet, though not like peas - but sweet enough that they pair very well with tomatoes or corn.

I'm sure I'll make succotash this week, I'll try to remember to take a photo and post again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

marx chiles contest: curry duck confit with red rice hash

Friend of the blog, Marx Foods, is having a dried chiles recipe contest for which they provide the chiles and in which this post is my entry. They sent me a sampler of dried chiles to choose from: organic habaneros, puya, japones, mulato, aji amarillo, and cascabel. Once all the entries have been sent in, I'll link you to Marx's blog post where you can vote for whichever recipe you like.

Though I didn't use them in this recipe, the puya chiles were a nice find - similar to guajillo, the chile I use the most, but a little hotter.

But I decided to use the aji amarillo here, because they were the only chile that I'd had fresh but not dry. Aji amarillos are a yellowish-orange Peruvian chile, a variety of the Capsicum baccatum species - the same species that includes Peppadews and Lemon Drop chiles. All three chiles are noted for their sweetness, fruitiness, and moderate to high spice level, which was perfect for what I decided to make:

Curry duck confit, with red rice hash.

Curry duck confit, red rice hash

Two duck leg quarters, plus any excess skin and fat from the duck, if available
About two tablespoons good curry powder
Two dried aji amarillo chiles, crushed; use more chile if you want a high heat level
About two teaspoons salt, divided
Coconut fat, amount variable
One cup rice
Two to three very fresh red tomatoes
Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
Four small links sweet Chinese sausage

I think it's probably clear that I often cook Southern food. In this case, you have Southern dishes (Country Captain chicken - a fruity tomato-based chicken curry; and red rice - rice cooked with tomatoes and usually peppers, a sort of simplified jambalaya) melded with some Asian concepts (curry itself, obviously; fried rice; and the Chinese sausage in the rice hash).

Obviously the aji amarillo chile is neither Asian nor Southern, but the color reminded me of curry, and the fruitiness works with both the rice hash and the traditional inclusion of raisins with Country Captain.

Curry duck confit

There's a reason I'm not calling the duck "Country Captain duck" - it wasn't cooked in tomato, the tomato is only present in the rest of the dish. Instead, I used coconut fat - the health food section of your supermarket may have it - to cook two duck leg quarters duck confit style. The coconut flavor really permeated the duck, as much as the curry flavors did - you get a similar flavor profile to coconut-milk-based curries.

Duck confit was originally a way to preserve duck in salt and fat. Because modern duck confit is usually made with much less salt, it shouldn't be kept for years on end, nor stored at room temperature. In this case - as in most cases when I make duck confit - the goal wasn't to preserve it at all, although I do believe that the flavor of duck confit improves if you let it stay covered in fat in your fridge for a week.

Cover the duck legs with the curry powder, three quarters of the crushed chile, and half the salt, and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight. Add enough coconut fat that, once it and the duck fat have melted, the legs will be covered in melted fat. That's a judgment call, obviously, but it's easy to add a little more coconut fat during the cooking process. The fat shouldn't be bubbling violently during cooking the way it would if you were frying, so it's okay if the level of melted fat comes fairly high up on your cooking dish; if you're worried about anything bubbling over, use a lower cooking temp and a longer cooking time.

Cook the duck at 250-275 for most of the day. You get to where you can tell if it's ready by looking at it, but what you want is for the duck to be very tender, almost like pulled pork, and for all of the fat to have cooked out of the skin; the bone of the drumstick will be at least a little loose. Let it cool on the stovetop and then refrigerate it until you're ready to make your dinner.

Red rice hash

The red rice hash is easiest if you make the red rice the night before. I used my rice steamer - adding the rice, a large fresh tomato (chopped), the rest of the chile, the rest of the salt, and the minced ginger, and adding the appropriate amount of water. This made it pretty easy to get the amount of water correct, because I just added it to the fill line. If you use another method to make your rice, just account for the liquid the tomatoes are going to add. Once the rice is cooked, spread it out on a plate (to help it dry out a little) and keep it in the fridge overnight.

The Chinese sausage I used is sold frozen, in packages of four small links (each one about half the size of a hot dog), in Asian markets. It's greasy, it's sweet - sweet enough that the sugars caramelize when you cook the sausage long enough - and it's mild, with a little tanginess.

To assemble the dish

Reheat duck long enough to melt the fat, heat the duck up, and crisp the skin;

Chop up the Chinese sausage and heat it in a pan with the rice on medium to medium-high heat, turning periodically to help crisp the rice. You will not need to add cooking fat; if the rice is still especially wet, just let the sausage cook a while first. You definitely want to crisp up a lot of the rice, so that you have the textural contrast;

Sear two halves of a big fat tomato (ends trimmed off) in a pan with a little bit of the duck/coconut fat.

Serve with lime wedges to be squeezed over everything. The acidity of the lime and the fresh tomato is really needed in order to cut through the richness of the duck, the coconut fat, and the Chinese sausage.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Current favorite thing: local grapes.

Local grapes

I love Concord grapes, sure, but these non-Concords from Kimballs in Pepperell are a new thing for me. The blue Mars (on the bottom) and green Marquis grapes both have a little tartness to them; the red Vennessas have no tartness but are noticeably tannic and berry-like. All of them are taut-skinned, juicy, and awesome.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Home-roasted coffee

My first batch of home-roasted coffee.

More about the process once I've done it more than once, so I'm not talking out of my ass. If I'm able to get it down to a process that's easy enough that I won't put it off all the time, and makes a coffee I love, I can cut my coffee bill to about 60% of the current total (possibly less - I haven't checked the prices on my usual seller lately and I know they've been going up). I suppose my only reluctance is the possibility of busy weeks of work when I run out of the coffee I've been drinking and feel too frazzled to stop everything and roast some more, but it's not like I can't keep a pound of roasted in the fridge for just such times.

Anyway. More, later.