Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sea Bass and a Side of Yum

I’ve been a little lax about getting a recipe up here in recent weeks. And while I’m sitting at work, killing some time, and racking my brain to see what I can post or not, I realized that I have not yet posted on of my favorite new recipes which is quickly becoming my “go to” specialty; sautéed Chilean sea bass and mushroom risotto. It sounds fancy, looks pretty, and is not hard to make at all. The only drawbacks are that it takes a little practice to get the timing right, and it’s a little on the expensive side, considering Arborio rice runs about $5 per jug (there’s probably 4-6 cups in a jug) and sea bass has been up around $20-25 a pound the last 2 times I made it.

Chilean Sea Bass:
1 pound of sea bass (feeds 4 pretty well)
1 tablespoon of coarsely chopped shallots
2 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of butter
Olive oil

Cut into 4 pieces, or 1 for each person you are serving, and season both sides with salt, pepper, and a light coating of olive oil. Heat the butter with another dash of olive oil in the thick, heavy pan with the garlic and shallots. Once the pan is hot, start the fish. Cook it on each side until a light golden skin starts to develop (3 minutes per side-ish), then finish it in the oven at 300 for another 3 minutes or so. Once the fish starts to gently pull apart at the grains, it’s done.

Mushroom Risotto:
4-5 cups of chicken stock
1 pack of mushrooms sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 cup or Arborio or Risotto rice
1 tablespoon of butter
¼ cup of heavy cream

Over a medium-high heat, melt the butter, and cook the mushrooms. Once they have surrendered their moisture, add the garlic and rice browning it gently for a minute or so. Keep it moving the whole time. Then comes the time consuming part. Add 1 cup of stock, and reduce it. Then repeat that process until all the stock has been used. Once this is done, add the cream and reduce it one more time. Season with salt and pepper. It will have a creamy texture and still fairly moist. Some people will add a cup of dry white wine before they start with the stock reduction. If it’s cheap or you have some on hand, great. If not, don’t loose sleep.

The risotto will probably take you about 45 minutes give or take a few. As far as timing goes, if you start the fish right about the time you start reducing the last cup of stock, you should be okay.

There are a few things that I love about making this dish. As I said, it sounds really cool and looks really pretty when you present it. But also, if you go into a restaurant and ask for a pound of sea bass, chances are they will sell you several entrees at $19-26 each. For the cost of one entrée and maybe one or two drinks, you can make this at home and feed 4 very nicely.

Have fun.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cooking in the Dark...Literally.

This past week, the Greater Cincinnati area experienced a bit of a black out. A windstorm nailed the entire area, likely a result of cell depressions and such caused by Hurricane Ike. We experienced gusts of wind in excess of those experienced during a category one hurricane, and constant winds in the mid 60’s. Trees fell, shingles came off roofs, siding came down, and in the midst of all that distress there was enough damage to cost us our precious power for a while. Some 850,000 people in the area were without power Sunday night. As I write this on a Friday morning, there are still 100,000+ that are in the dark. Yes, it was an inconvenience bordering on being a pain, but it’s nothing compared to what the people in Texas were and still are dealing with.

With nothing to do in the middle of the day, Trina and I packed up our dog and headed over to my mom’s house. We sat in her garage snacking on food that would soon go bad without refrigeration and marveled at the range of the damage from house to house and street to street. As the time passed and the night set it, we all realized that we were getting hungry for some real food, as chips and dip just weren’t cutting it. So away we went to a darkening kitchen to take a quick inventory.

Now let me say this; should the day come that the US is invaded and should the masses descend on the Cincinnati area, I’m grabbing my wife, our dog, our cat- if I can locate her quickly, if not, TS, and my 12” Calphalon frying pan (the single most useful pan in my entire kitchen), and going to stay with my mom and step-dad. My step-dad, the Marine vet turned police officer will be ready to defend life, liberty, and property. And mom usually has food, and always has booze. We’re set. What did we not have in this would-be crisis? Batteries. Not a problem, we have uber flashlights that Pat uses to investigate crime scenes. They don’t get more commercial-grade than that. But considering how much use these lights get and the “green” movement in this country, these flashlights are rechargeable, rendering them useless after about an hour in a power outage.

Not to be daunted, we undertook the challenge taking food that would certainly spoil and cooking for 3…in the dark…on a grill. To all the people who think up the Quickfire Challenges at Top Chef, pay attention. The meal of the day became sautéed chicken tossed with a garlic-mushroom duexelle, and a light angel hair pasta. Does anyone out there have any idea how hard it is to cook in a pan, on a grill that doesn’t regulate heat well, and the only light that there is to speak of is coming from a dimming flashlight that is clamped between your chin and your shoulder much like you would hold a phone? I’m guessing probably not. And why? Because no one else is silly enough to try to cook something complicated under a lousy set of circumstances.

It took forever. The last time I made anything like this at my house, under normal circumstances, it took about 20 minutes. I was standing in front of that stupid grill for about an hour. But all in all, it was a lot of fun. And when it was all said and done, man did that food taste good.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Complete Techniques

While flipping through Jecques Pepin’s book “Complete Techniques”, I was more than moderately inspired. Actually, Chef Pepin’s book was only just brought to my attention from another book, “A Chef’s Story”.

A Chef’s Story” is a collection of interviews with a number of world-renowned chefs, which uncovers and explores some of the inspiring events in their lives. What lead them to the kitchen? Was this their first career? Was this their first passion? What drew them to their particular cuisine? Did they study abroad? Or for that matter, did they even train formally? And believe me when I say that these chefs were not unknowns in the culinary world. Todd English, Cat Cora, Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, Norman Van Aken, Thomas Keller, and Jecques Pepin, himself.

What was intriguing to me was that probably 20 of the 27 chefs interviewed said that Pepin’s book, originally titled “La Technique” was a revolutionary catalyst in their culinary careers. According to Pepin, himself, there was too much information that he wanted to share for one book. So shortly after the release of “La Technique” he wrote and released “La Method”. For world-class chefs to speak so highly about this book meant that it had to be something very impressive and very special. So I had to have a look for myself.

Special doesn’t really describe the depth of knowledge that is conveyed in this book. And it became almost instantly clear to me why these chefs all endorsed it so heavily. The newest edition that is most widely available is “Complete Techniques”. It is a combination of “La Technique” and “La Method”. To call this a cookbook is not particularly accurate. It’s more a guide to all things eating from preparation, to presentation, to how to fold a napkin differently for different events. And while most cookbooks are stocked with a bunch of recipes with outlined steps to reproduce someone else’s creation, “Complete Techniques” shows you the brass tax fundamentals of ingredients. It serves as an instrument to make your own creations from square one.

If you’re into cooking, think you might like cooking, or even had questions about how something was made, chances are the answers are in this book. It’s a necessity for anyone who spends any amount of time in a kitchen.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Great Debate

The more I’m in the kitchen, the more I use olive oil. It’s a great alternative to using other fats like butter, thought I still use plenty of that as well. And there are a fair amount of health benefits from monosaturated fats to antioxidants. What you may have realized though, is that this stuff don’t come cheap. You can spend as little as $5-6 for a standard bottle, or as much as $50 a bottle for the top of the line stuff. Is it worth it? I guess that’s up to you, as it will be determined by your palate. But for us mere mortals who don’t have industrial or commercial grade equipment, the $6 stuff is just fine. Personally, I think that’s even a little pricey for oil.

But what is a cold-pressed oil? If you get a filtered oil, what has been removed? Is it worth buying something that is a “product of Italy”? Is one is darker or lighter than another, is the oil better?

Cold-pressed oils are made when olives are crushed as pressed through extract the oils. When this is done without heat, the result is a cold-pressed oil. Wow…I really thought there would be a better explanation for that too. Well then how about we add the fact that if an olive oil is “extra-virgin” if the oil is extracted within 24 hours of harvesting. Extra-virgin oils have a lower free fatty acid content and higher level of polyphenols than virgin oils.

Filtered or unfiltered refers to residual olive flesh in them. Filtered oils have none, while unfiltered oils have residual olive bits, which may cause the oil to look cloudy. Unfiltered oils also have a shorter shelf life than filtered oils.

A “product of Italy” is a large crock of shit. It sounds good because of the idea that the Mediterranean climate produces the best products and yada yada yada. All it really means is that it was pressed in Italy. It does not necessarily have anything to do with the origin of the olives themselves.

Dark and light oils only mean that the olives used to make them are more or less ripe. It doesn’t have a thing to do with the quality.

There is also some debate about cooking with olive oil at or beyond it’s smoking point. The argument is that when olive oil hits it’s smoking point, generally between 365 and 420 degrees, it starts to break down and yields harmful bi-products. The fact of the matter is that all oils will break down when heated and when any oil is past its smoking point, personal experience and embarrassment indicates that it’s too hot to do anything with. Instead, heat the oil until just after it starts to shimmer, and you’re much better off.