24 February 2006

Brown butter?

Question from a friend: What's "brown butter sauce" all about? (Too
lazy to go into the next room and consult the Joy of Cooking).

Brown butter is also called beurre noisette or buerre noir, depending
on how distracted I get from the cooking process. It's basically
browned or burned butter, respectively, sometimes with a dash of lemon
juice to emulsify it. I was just thinking it's a good way to give some
extra flavor to the crabmeat. In effect, you're adding clarified
butter, which we all know has a big affinity for lobster and crab,
plus some nutty flavor, which should complement the roux in the
bisque. Just put a couple tablespoons of butter in a heavy skillet and
heat over medium-low heat until the foam has disappeared and the
solids start to take on a brown color, then throw in the crabmeat or
shrimp and squeeze a teaspoon or so of lemon juice over the top. Stir
vigorously until the crab is heated through or the shrimp is mostly
cooked, then put on the bisque.

The Joy of Cooking will make you think this is the wrong way to do it.
The cooking-industrial establishment will tell you that this is a very
slapdash way to make a beurre noisette. The cooking-industrial
establishment should get a full-time job. They should also stop
trying to sell us things we don't need. Ladies and gentlemen, the $20
replacement for the beer can: the vertical chicken beer roaster. Do not buy this product.

23 February 2006

Bargain Bisque

A simple man's recipe for lobster bisque? It seems like asking where
you can buy overstock diamonds at bargain prices, but it really
depends on how much of a purist you are.

There's country simple and there's city simple. I prefer to use
healthy prepared foods where it makes sense, saving my energy for
times when authenticity really counts. For rushed, weeknight cooking,
I make regular use of Imagine soups. Yes, I know that's sacrilege,
especially coming from someone who purports to be a soup nazi, but the
texture is nice and they're flavorful and healthy. Their bisque is
fine. If you want to jazz it up, you can add a little shot of cream
or a dollop of sour cream, then make a brown butter sauce and fry up
some lump crabmeat or lobster meat in it (depending on the dish) for a
heavy garnish. Garnish with chives and it's something I'd be happy to
serve at a casual dinner party.

The ingredient list for their lobster bisque looks just fine.

I did a noodle soup with the crab bisque the other day that worked
really well. I used the crab bisque (thinned with a little water),
frozen udon, chili-garlic paste, and 4 big shrimp. While the bisque
boiled, I heated a cast iron griddle to the point where I could feel
the heat radiating off it while standing a few feet away. I plunged
the frozen udon noodles (after rinsing to get the frost off them) into
the bisque. While the noodles heated and softened, I butterflied the
shrimp, rubbed them with a little oil, and plopped them down on the
griddle, butterfly side down, tails pointing up. By the time the udon
were soft, the shrimp were nicely seared. I served in a big bowl. A
scallion garnish would've been nice, too.

The first time I tried it, I took a page from another noodle soup
recipe I'd tried and put a piece of smashed gingerroot into the bisque
while it boiled. The flavors clashed. I think the best thing to do
with this recipe is to leave it as a fusion dish, with an Asian
preparation but Western flavors. If I'm going to do this one again, I
might consider thinning the bisque with clam juice (or even Clamato)
to reinforce the seafood flavor.

22 February 2006

Won Jo

I had lunch at Won Jo, a Korean restaurant on 32nd between Broadway and 5th with my friend Liz. I guess I've had Korean before, like the soft tofu stew from Cafe Duke but have never been to a Korean restaurant. The menu offered all sorts of appetizing-in-their-unappetizingness items like soups with goat meat and squid (not together, but that is an idea).

We both had bibimbap, the rice dish. It came in a stone bowl, which Liz tells me keeps the food hot for longer and also creates a crust, much like stuck-pot rice. Some of that garnishes that came along with the kimchee were a bit strange, like what appeared to be shrimp shells, and some black beans that looked like raisins and were a little bit chewy, but the meal itself was very satisfying. You break the egg yolk that comes on top and stir in the beef, mushrooms, seaweed, and other garnishes that come on top of the rice. The bowl sizzles for a good few minutes after they bring it to the table.

It was also served with hot barley tea. Overall, a very nice meal. The Citysearch review of Won Jo mentions brusque service. The service was not great, but for a lunch special, it was a lot of fun.

21 February 2006


So I finally made gumbo again. M and I went up to Maine for President's Day weekend. We stayed with her friend up there and had a very good (if chilly) time. I won't go into the details of the whole thing, but I cooked the gumbo in a shallow pan, then rather than simmering it, I put it in the oven to braise for like 3 hours. Here's the basic recipe:

Basic Sausage n Chicken Gumbo
serves 8, apparently

1 cup flour
1 cup vegetable oil

3 medium onions, chopped coarsely
2 red bell peppers, chopped coarsely
4 ribs celery, with leaves, chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, minced or put through press

3/4 lb. okra, cut into 1/2" rounds

1 box Swanson's chicken broth

1 Hillshire farms kielbasa or smoked sausage (light would've been better in retrospect), cut diagonally into 1/4" slices
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1" chunks

2 bay leaves
crushed red pepper
dried thyme

  • In a 3 qt pan, make a darkish roux with the flour and oil. I stayed lighter than I have before and had good results. I cooked the roux to slightly darker than natural peanut butter.
  • Heat a heavy skillet or griddle alongside the pot.
  • Add peppers, onions, celery to the roux and stir, cooking, until soft (10 minutes?). This stops the roux cooking, makes it look pasty and clumpy, but it's nothing to worry about. Add garlic halfway through.
  • Add okra and broth the the pot, stirring until roux is worked in. Thin with water if necessary.
  • Fry the sausage slices on the griddle/skillet until they have at least some char on both sides. Add to the gumbo as they brown.
  • Fry the chicken chunks as above.
  • Deglase the skillet with water and add the juices to the gumbo.
  • Simmer or braise 1 hour and serve over rice.
Braising for a long time made everything fall apart. The texture was good from the okra, but lacked variety or body. I still like medium-grain sushi rice, like Nishiki for the gumbo, cooked until sticky, and a big scoop in the middle of the bowl, with the gumbo served over and around it (topped with parsley), but a kitchen mishap had us using a mish-mash of Basmati and Nishiki for the rice. It also caused a burn on their formica countertop (oops) and clogged up their drains with half-cooked rice.

The big surprise here was that with salad and dessert, this recipe comfortably fed 8 hungry people. More lessons about portion size, I guess. I hope we get invited back to stay, though I despair of my chances to get invited to cook again after destroying their kitchen and their plumbing. Maybe a curry or a chowder will change their minds.

11 February 2006

I can see from reading Hungry Planet, though, that something else interesting is happening. Yes, many of the foods people eat as their culture becomes more globalized are processed and American, but there's this wonderful sharing that starts to happen just beyond that and I think that's something we can look toward. I know I'm well-travelled and have been brought up to eat a varied (if luxuriant) diet, and that I live in a very cosmopolitan city, but if you just look at my various favorite breakfasts to make at home, it shows that there's an amazing variety to be had out there now, and that if you make an effort to visit the various supermarkets of different cultures and learn about their food, you can eat better than ever. All these breakfasts use ingredients available within 20 minutes of my apartment. Assume massive amounts of fresh-brewed drip coffee with whole milk alongside all of this.
  • Sunday brunch - two eggs with half a Goya chorizo, 8-10 Ore Ida Texas Crispers fries, Heinz ketchup, Frank's Red Hot cayenne pepper sauce, mesclun salad with a little olive oil and lemon juice if I'm feeling healthy. I have to count the fries because otherwise I'll eat too much.
  • Smoothie breakfast - Guanabana smoothie (plain lowfat yogurt, honey, apple juice, Goya frozen guanabana pulp) with Swiss Family muesli
  • Italian breakfast - Caffe latte instead of drip coffee. Mulino Bianco toasts, Crema de Bel Paese cheese (Italian Velveeta), prosciutto.
  • Japanese breakfast - MSG-free ramen with an egg cracked into it.

I'm currently reading Hungry Planet. It's a coffee table book. Really interesting. It's got pictures of dozens of different families from all over the world in front of a week's worth of food. The most interesting to me so far has been the Inuit family supported by the hunting father, living above the Arctic circle. Musk ox stew and Coke, anyone? Some of the numbers didn't scan, though. He apparently brought home 175 seals a year. There's only four people in the family. That means one eighth of a seal per day per person. He's probably trading for other stuff, because you can't just live off the fat of the land (or ice, as it were) .

Some of the numbers are amazing. They specifically point out that the 175 Tetley tea bags they report an Australian family of four consuming on a weekly basis is not a typo. Scary, huh? Six teabags each a day. Equally amazing is the sheer volume of food that people still existing on staples eat. The poor indigenous Ecuadorian family of ten goes through 100 pounds of potatoes a week. Makes you realize just how much starch we as a species need to live on. Many of these people are using vegetable oil as a staple, too, adding it just for calories (and presumably to make wolfing down the massive amounts of bland goo a bit less grim).

You can see the progression as cultures start getting ahead of subsistence farming and starting to add more variety to their diets. This seems to be the sweet spot of human dietary health. Rich enough to afford a varied diet, but not rich enough to afford things that have to come from long distances away or to afford to buy a lot of meat. Also not rich enough for their time to be worth so much that they need to start eating convenience foods. Once that happens, they start shopping at the supermarket, buying processed food, eating fast food, getting fat, getting diabetes. The book is remarkable in its journalistic evenhandedness. There is no subtext telling you that one way to eat is better than another. They lambaste the American factory farm for its cruelty, but realize that the poorer parts of the world are still happy to get a mouthful of meat every month or so. What really comes through is that we as a species are able to live anywhere on anything from deep-fried scorpions to dried okra to Pop Tarts.

After dinner at Sobaya, I went Asian food shopping while M rented a car for her work the next day. Found some good stuff. Miso-flavor ramen noodles that are very good, not at all like the Maruchan crap you get in the store. I used them for "Japanese breakfast". I added an egg to the ramen as it boiled. Not particularly original, but very good for a salty comforting breakfast after a night of drinking.

But the real standout was the Japanese curry. When my folks lived in LA and I'd go visit, we'd always stop by the Japanese curry house. It was a cheap meal that was always tasty. Well, turns out it's really easy to make, too. I picked up the hot version of Golden Curry and made it last night. Very tasty. You just fry up an onion and some boneless skinless chicken thigh (chopped into chunks), then add chunks of carrot and potato and some water and a block of the curry mix. It's sort of like a roux, so that it dissolves and thickens at the same time. Simmer for about half and hour and you're done. The sauce didn't thicken up enough for my taste, so I threw in a spoonful of cooked rice to simmer down into a thickening rice starch. I think in future, throwing a tablespoon of uncooked rice in at the beginning of simmering might be a good idea. Anyway, it's a dead-easy recipe and makes for a tasty meal with a salad on the side and some good jasmine rice to pour it over. The hot version was what I'd call medium, but maybe I diluted it too much. Just pleasantly spicy.

07 February 2006

Had dinner at Sobaya last night. Pretty good. I got curry chicken with soba noodles. M got duck with soba. I also had smoked, seared yellowtail cheek. M's brother-in-law was a little put off by the strange Japanese food, but seemed to like his. Altogether a pretty good meal, but I'm still a fan of Village Yokocho for the fact that you can take anyone there and get them a good healthy and or hearty meal. I think VY is a little cheaper as well.

Afterward, M went and rented a car for her jaunt the next day and I went to the Asian market. Got some barley tea and some Japanese hot curry cubes. I'm excited to try them out, as I love the soupy, simple Japanese curry. I got the hot variety and will be curious to see how it compares to the regular curry house stuff.

M and I went to Boston over the weekend. Foodie highlights:
  • great canoli at Mike's Pastry in the North End
  • great Hunan-style sea bass at a restaurant that I had my doubts about (Golden Temple)
  • found a decent approximation of the ingredients for "Italian Breakfast", my decadent Lubriano breakfast concoction of Mulino Bianco crackers, Bel Paese cream cheese, and prosciutto.
  • brunch on Sunday featured homemade corned beef hash.
That is all.