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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Simmer.

Hope springs eternal when the Farmers' Market opens after a long sleepy winter. While a few of the overwintered stalwarts  still linger, delicate baby lettuces, baby kale, pea shoots, tomato plants, bedding plants, and herbs line up side by side, fluttering through the cool Spring breezes. Every gentle leaf ushers in the new season with a subtle relaxed joy.  Although I'm keenly aware of the reawakened abundance of the early season market, I'm always a wee bit surprised when spring asparagus quietly appears. Without much fanfare, bunches and baskets dot most every farm stand. Vibrant beacons to a fresh beginning, I imagine  asparagus patches tucked in and around the fields of our local farms. Tempted to overplay my windfall by roasting, grilling, or wrapping them in prosciutto, I kept it very very simple to let the fresh spring asparagus sing.

Typically, I gravitate toward long lazy braises, frenzied high heat sautes, or charcoal/wood grilling. Unctuous gravies, rich pan sauces, and smoky nuance make me happy. Sometimes, it's fun changed things up. Why drag out the big guns when all I needed was a pot of simmering water?

Asparagus with Poached Eggs.
Simple is as simple does.
I trimmed the ends off of a gorgeous bunch of Silas Farm spring asparagus and  used a vegetable peeler to peel the ends before dropping them into a large pot of salted boiling water. After 3 minutes, I pulled the blanched asparagus from the hot bath, plunged the spears into salted iced water, patted them dry, and tossed them with a light fresh lemon vinaigrette.

Few things rival a perfectly poached egg. That said, a perfectly poached egg can be an illusive beast. Some eggs behave badly and some don't. Sometimes they break, run, flail, or overcook. Don't sweat it. A watchful eye and a little coddling goes a long way.

After filling a deep sided sauce pan with water, I brought the water to a perky simmer before adding 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. I cracked super fresh (key) Elmwood Stock Farm eggs one at a time into a small mesh strainer to let the loosey goosey  egg whites drain from the firmer whites, slid the eggs into individual ramekins, and carefully slipped the eggs into the rippling water. As they floundered about, I coaxed the egg whites to gently firm up around the eggs, covered the pot, and pulled it from the heat. When they hit the perfect poach (about 3 minutes, after a close check), I scooped them out with a slotted spoon and nestled them over the blanched asparagus before finishing with micro greens, flaked sea salt, lemon zest, and Stonehedge Farm shaved French breakfast radishes.

Poke the yolk.
When pierced, the yolks spilled from the jiggly eggs, enveloped the tender asparagus, and swirled through the vinaigrette, countering the warmth of the drinkable silky yolks with bright acidic punch. While the flaked salt added bite, the delicate shaved radishes provided assertive wet crunch.

Simple.
Sexy.
Fresh.
Perfect.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sterling

It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, and on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. The crushing of it only makes it sweetness more apparent. Like a woman's heart, it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Besides the gurgling brooks that makes it music in the pastures it lives and thrives.

 -J. Soule Smith, The Mint Julep: The Very Dream of Drinks, 1949.

Lush rolling pastures.
Painted planked fencing.
Thoroughbreds grazing at dawn

And free flowing bourbon.

The Bluegrass blooms during Derby season.

It's all about tradition.
Mint Julep
2 oz. Bourbon
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Fresh mint leaves
Crushed ice
Muddle fresh mint inside of the glass.
Add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice.
Garnish with more ice and fresh mint.

Dripping with demure southern charm, our minty bourbon-spiked elixir captures the very essence of Derby day.  On the first Saturday in May, swept away in the swell of My Old Kentucky Home, we'll raise a toast with Mints Juleps and call the horses to the post for the 143 running of the Kentucky Derby.

While heavenly splashed over crushed ice, the perfect marriage of mint, sugar, and bourbon lends itself to a world of other possibilities. Break the rules and slap it on ribs for a boozy barbecue treat.

Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the ride.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint Julep Barbecue Sauce
When it comes to lamb, I'm totally old school about the traditional mint jelly accompaniment. It's nonnegotiable. While I've had my share of the minty green jellies from the market (thumbs up), I wanted bourbon-infused Mint Julep jelly for the base of the sauce. Why smear sauce on precious little lamb chops? Why not? Meat. Fire. Sauce. Win. Place. Show. Bet on it.

Simple Mint Julep Jelly.
Think about it. Mint. Julep. Jelly. Sticky bourbon candy.  I packed 1 1/2 cups fresh mint into a small sauce pan with 3 cups water, 1/4 cup Old Forester Bourbon, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.. After bringing the water to a boil, I reduced the heat, simmered the mint for 20 minutes, strained the mint, and set the minted water aside. Using the same sauce pan, I brought 4 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 cups of the reserved mint juice, and 3/4 cups Old Forester bourbon to a hard boil before adding a 3 ounce pouch of liquid pectin. When the gurgling mix came to a full rolling boil, I let it rip for 1 minute, skimmed the foam, filled  jelly jars with the molten hot jelly, and set them aside. When they were cool enough to handle, I screwed on the lids, and slid them into the refrigerator.

Getting Saucy.
Wanting to err on the lighter side of gloppy, I nixed the standard ketchup base and heated 2 cups tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/4 cup Oberholtzer's  sorghum, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/4 cup grated onion, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder over a medium flame. After bringing the sauce to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer and added 3/4 cups of the reserved mint jelly. When the jelly melted into the sauce, I added a splash of bourbon to wake it up and  pulled it from the heat.

Lamb Pops.
Local Four Hills Farm lamb racks are gorgeous. Trimmed and frenched, their delicate nature belies their big meaty punch. Although I toyed with the notion of grilling a whole rack, I sliced a 1 1/2 pound rack into individual chops for optimum meat to sauce ratio. Better yet, when sliced, the exposed bones have built in handles for easy snacking. Drink in one hand, chop in the other. Perfect finger food.

To give the chops a savory head start, I brought them  to room temperature before rubbing them down with a simple mixture of  kosher salt, ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, and ground coriander.

Quick Fire.
I fired up charcoal in a chimney, released the glowing coals into the base of a charcoal grill, and distributed the coals to create even heat before slapping the lamb chops onto the grill. After 2 minutes, I brushed them with the Mint Julep barbecue sauce and continued basting and flipping until the internal temperature reached 130 degrees for medium rare, about 4 minutes per side.

I pulled the lacquered chops from the grill and let them rest before finishing with flaked sea salt and scattered fresh mint. Because more is more, I slipped a small jar of Mint Julep jelly to the side for an extra bourbony sweet kick.

Derby Chops.
Saucy.
Sassy.
Fabulous.












Thursday, March 23, 2017

Batter Up

Bon Voyage.

My father, brother, and I left Ethiopia for our final return to America in 1966. Although we typically flew across the Atlantic on our travels, our final big move came with baggage. You see, my father had grown quite attached to his rickety old brown Rambler station wagon. Whether puttering up and down mountainside roads on weekend trips to the Red Sea or driving around our secluded walled-in army base, the Rambler served my father well. He loved that old car, so when it was time to leave Africa, he booked all of us (including the car) on a one way trans Atlantic crossing aboard the SS Independence departing from Naples, Italy bound for New York City Harbor.

After transporting the car to Italy  beforehand, we boarded the ship for a nine day voyage across the Atlantic ocean. Back in the day, cruising wasn't a thing. Ocean liners were built for speed and transportation. They took passengers from point A to point B. The luxuries of sailing varied from ship to ship. The SS Independence, launched in 1951, was a small modest ship. That said, divided by a very rigid class system, well heeled travelers paid top dollar to enjoy the fancier side of sailing. We weren't well heeled or fancy (much to my dismay) , so we enjoyed the perk-less joys of Cabin Class. Cabin Class, a wee step up from Tourist Class, was bare-bones stark. Amenities? Hardly.  Our beds pulled down from the walls after the lone table folded up into the wall. Windows? Not on your life. There was a small movie theater on board, a dank swimming pool, and what seemed like miles and miles of wet wooden deck chairs interspersed with occasional painted shuffle board courts. Any preconceived notion of boyish adventure slowly morphed into nine monotonous days of  relentless high seas playing endless  games of shuffle board. Shuffle bored. I ached for the quiet throbbing heat of Africa.

On a cold Spring morning, the Statue of Liberty floated by our ship as we neared New York Harbor. I wanted fanfare, ticker tape, and cascading melodic music to greet our arrival. Was that too much to ask? With zero hoopla, we docked in New York City the day before Easter. When the ship was secured, the gangway slowly lowered onto a cold concrete pier dwarfed by cavernous dimly lit warehouses peppered with busy deckhands and dock workers. There wasn't a shred of glamour to ease my pallid sea born boredom.

While our fellow travelers gathered their belongings and tumbled into taxi cabs or shuttles, we waited for our car to be lifted out and unloaded from the cargo area of the ship. Eventually, we piled into my father's beloved Rambler for the 6 1/2 hour drive to Buffalo, New York to spend Easter with family members. The next morning, amid their Easter flurry, I was handed a cellophane-wrapped solid white chocolate Easter bunny. Solid. White. Chocolate. Luxury. I was undone. Nine days of shuffle board was worth every excruciating pretense of fun to behold a solid white chocolate rabbit. Heavy, dense, and perfectly molded, the white chocolate bunny rocked my world. After scarfing down the ears, devouring the head, and nipping off the tail, I stashed the headless hare into my suitcase for the long drive to Kentucky. And with that, I closed the book on my bittersweet return to America.

Down the rabbit hole.

Easter Rabbit.

Buttermilk Fried Rabbit with Tarragon Dijon Cream Sauce.

The other other white meat.Without skin to hinder the process, breaking down a rabbit was somewhat easier than breaking down a chicken. I splayed a dressed 2 1/2 pound Kentucky Proud Blue Moon Farm  rabbit on its back and used a boning knife to easily removed the arms with quick slices. After slicing around the leg joints, I popped the bones from the hip and separated  the legs from the body before setting them aside. After trimming off the belly flaps. I used a cleaver to remove the saddle, located just below the rib cage, and chopped it into 4 pieces. I tossed the rabbit meat into a bowl and wrapped the remaining bits in plastic wrap to freeze for future shenanigans.



Marinade.
Giving the rabbit a southern spin, I marinated the meat overnight in 3 cups full fat buttermilk, 1 tablespoon granulated garlic, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 3 tablespoons paprika, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper, lemon juice, and a few dashes hot sauce.

Batter up.
I brought the marinated rabbit to room temperature, set it aside, and heated vegetable oil (about 3/4" deep) in a large cast iron skillet until it reached 325 degrees. To give the rabbit hefty crunch, I double dredged the meat in seasoned flour and buttermilk before carefully lowering it into the hot oil. Working in batches, I browned the meat on both sides (about 6 minutes per side for an internal temperature of 165 degrees), placed it onto a wire rack set over a sheet pan, and slid it into a preheated 200 degree to keep warm.

Saucy.
After removing the oil from the skillet, I placed it over medium heat before adding 2 tablespoons minced shallots and 1 clove minced garlic. When the shallots turned translucent, I deglazed the skillet
with 1/2 cup white wine to release the tasty bits from the bottom of the skillet. After reducing the wine by half, I added a splash of tarragon vinegar, 3 tablespoons Maille Dijon mustard, flaked sea salt, a dash of ground white pepper, and 2 cups heavy cream. When the cream reduced and thickened, I feathered 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon into the cream and pulled it from the heat.

I tumbled the rabbit onto brown butcher paper and showered it with flash fried fresh tarragon
before nestling it alongside the tangy anise-infused cream sauce, country ham-flecked deviled eggs, and whisper thin ribbons of bread and butter pickles.

Fried rabbit with gussied up white pan sauce, old fashioned sweet pickles, and creamy deviled eggs.

Perfect finger food.






Thursday, March 9, 2017

Marbles

The first nibble of spring teases, taunts, and hammers home the fact that glorious summer tomatoes are still months away and far out of reach. Rewind to last fall when the farmers markets were winding down for the season and the colors of summer had slowly faded into the quieter muted tones of autumn. Always seguing  with guarded ease, it just happens. Seasons change. Think back. It's still boggles me that summer/fall tomatoes lasted as long as they did, bellying  up side by side with gourds, pumpkins, winter squash, and fodder shocks. The little ones, cherry tomatoes, held fast to the glory days of summer. By that stage in the long growing season, the farmers were practically giving them away and I was a willing taker. On one particular day, when told it would be their last day at the market, I loaded up on Pulaski County heirloom cherry tomatoes, hurried home, and froze the entire batch...whole. Yep. No cooking, canning, or sauce making. I simply tumbled the tomatoes onto sheet pans and slid them into the freezer. When they were rock hard, I slipped them into freezer bags and tossed them back into freezer.

Frozen summer marbles.



Seared Ahi Tuna With Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette
Cherry tomatoes (fresh or frozen) are ripe for roasting.
Little effort. Big payoff.

Shooting marbles.
After rolling the frozen tomatoes onto a clean dish towel to thaw, I tossed them with olive oil, tumbled  them into a cast iron skillet, and slid them into a preheated 400 degree oven. When the slightly blistered tomatoes collapsed  from the heat, I pulled them from the oven, splashed them with 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 4 tablespoons olive oil. salt, pepper, and set them aside.

Tuna.
After blocking off portions of  fresh sushi grade ahi tuna (Lexington Seafood Company), I brushed the flesh with vegetable oil, and rolled them in black sesame seeds.

Kissed with heat.
Keeping it rare.
I heated a small cast iron skillet over a medium high flame and drizzled the skillet with oil. When the oil started to ripple (just before the smoking point), I seared the tuna on all sides, 30 seconds per side for Beautifully rare centers. After resting the tuna for 10 minutes, I sliced it across the grain and nestled it into the reserved roasted tomato vinaigrette before finishing with scattered slivered shallots and perky remnants of over wintered window sill fresh basil.




Simple.
Quick.
Clean.
Fabulous.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bones

Somewhere along the way, the superstar status of bone broth seems to have blurred the line between broth and stock. Stock or broth? Bone broth or bone stock? Are they the same? Although both are prepared in very similar ways, stocks are classically made with bones, aromatics, and vegetables while broths are made with meat, aromatics, and vegetables. However, because most bones for stock might have particles of meat attached to them and meat for broths might contain bones, the line blurs. That said, bone broths are simmered much longer than typical broths, giving them the collagen rich character of long simmered stocks. In essence, they are a hybrid of both. Call it what you may. Stock. Broth. Bone Broth. Bone stock. Bone juice. In any form, it's fabulous. So, whether you slurp it from a mug or use it to fortify soups and stews, it's a handy thing to have in your back pocket, refrigerator, or freezer at any given time.


What's in a name?
Having been schooled in stock making, I'm on team stock.

Guinness Caramelized Onion Soup

Stock.
While store bought stock would have been fine, I wanted the deep beefy nuance of a collagen infused long simmered stock. With a little effort and a bit of time, stocks basically take care of themselves. Aside from some occasional scum skimming, they're pretty much hands off and fuss free. Good things come to those who wait, so bone up and enjoy the ride.

Roasting the bones and vegetables gives any stock depth, body, and intense flavor. Typically, the two are roasted separately. With a watchful eye, they can be roasted together. I scattered 4 pounds of meaty Marksbury Farm beef neck and shank bones onto a sheet pan along with 1 split leek, 2 chopped parsnips (unpeeled), 2 chopped carrots (unpeeled), 1 Large quartered Spanish onion (skin on), and 1 halved whole garlic head (skin on). After drizzling the meat and vegetables with olive oil, I seasoned them with salt and cracked black pepper before sliding them into a blistering 450 degree oven. After 30 minutes, I pulled the bones from the oven, brushed them on all sides with tomato paste, and returned them to the oven for an additional 30 minutes.

Blistered and caramelized, I pulled the roasted bones and vegetables from the oven, tumbled them into a large stock pot, deglazed the sheet pan with 1/2 cup sherry vinegar to release the browned tasty bits, and scraped the juicy fond into the stock pot. After covering the bones and vegetables by 2" with about 12 cups water, I added a few sprigs of fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, fresh parsley, 10 whole peppercorns, and 3 bay leaves. I brought the water to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, moved it to a back burner, and let it rip, skimming the scum from time to time.

Stocks and/or bone broths can simmer up to 24 hours. While 4 hours is a good start, a longer cook allows the collagens to seep from the bones and melt into the stock. I took a little under/over wager on the cook time. After 8 hours, I strained the stock through a cheese cloth-lined chinois into a clean stock pot, discarded the solids, quickly cooled the stock in an iced water bath, ladled it into mason jars, and slid it into the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Caramelized Onions.
Cry me a river.
Low and slow wins the race when it comes to coaxing the natural sugars out of sliced onions to achieve silky sweet onion candy. The standard method requires hovering over slowly bubbling onions for a very long time (sometimes hours), gently stirring them as they gradually soften, collapse, and caramelize from the heat. While a slow cooker ( on a 10 hour setting)  would have alleviated the fussy attention, onions simmered in a slow cooker tend be softly browned rather than deeply caramelized. Direct contact with heat was key.

Crank the oven.
After slicing 5 pounds Spanish onions into 1/4" half moons, I tossed them into an oiled cast iron
dutch oven, added 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper. I mixed the onions until they were coated with the oil, covered the dutch oven, and slid it into a 450 degree oven.

On 1 hour intervals, I pulled the onions from the oven, gave them a quick stir, covered the pot, and returned them to the oven.

After 3 hours, I pulled the onions from the oven and placed them over a medium flame on the stove top. After allowing the onions to saute for a second or two, I deglazed the pot with 1/4 balsamic vinegar, a splash of Irish Whiskey, and 1 cup dark Guinness Stout Beer. When the beer reduced by half, I added 5 cups of the reserved gelatinous beef stock, 2 bay leaves, and fresh thyme. I brought the soup to a boil, reduced the heat, let it simmer for 30 minutes.

I ladled the hot slippery soup into oven safe crocks, slammed back a shot of Guinness, floated toasted Sunrise Bakery baguette croutons over the soup, smothered the toasts and crocks with mounds of grated Irish Kerrygold Dubliner sharp cheddar cheese, and slid the bowls under a broiler.

When the bubbling molten cheese blistered from the flames and oozed down the sides of the crocks, I pulled them from the oven and let them settle down before finishing with a sprinkling of flaked sea salt and fresh thyme.

Suspended in the soup beneath the slightly charred cheddar ,the sweet caramelized onions punched through the creamy saltiness of the melted cheese, the buttery soft crunch of the toasted croutons, and the subtle bitter undertones of the stout-spiked stock.

Tipping a hat to ubiquitous French Onion Gratinee, Guinness caramelized onion soup is a booozy slap happy rough and tumble riff on the iconic classic.

Bad to the bone.





Thursday, February 2, 2017

Steam Heat

Bao down, there's a new bun in town.

Steamed instead of baked, Chinese bao buns are pillowy puffs of simple yeast dough that can be filled with a variety of sweet or savoring ingredients. Centuries old, bao buns are becoming wildly popular outside of their traditional dim sum trappings. Although typically stuffed with saucy Chinese barbecued pork ( char siu bao) or roasted Peking duck,  they can be filled with just about anything. Rules are made to broken. Everything old is new again, so choose your fillings, gather some garnishes, and get your steam on.


Steamed Bao Buns With Sticky Duck.

Dough.
I sprinkled 1 package active dry yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer and added 1/2 cup warm water. When the yeast started to bubble and foam, I added 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baling powder, 1/2 cup warm milk, and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Using a dough hook, I mixed the dough until it turned a bit shaggy before adding 1/2 cup bread flour to bring it together. When the dough pulled away from the bowl, I turned it out onto a floured board, kneaded it for 5-10 minutes, shaped it into a ball, slid it into a clean bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise.

Buns.
After doubling in size (about an hour), I punched down the dough and turned it onto a floured work board. From what I understand, most folks pinch off small bits of dough and roll them into individual discs. I cut to the chase and rolled the dough into 1/2" thick slab and used a 3" ring mold to cut out even discs. Rule breaker. After brushing the tops with vegetable oil, I
folded them in half and set them aside.

Steam Heat.
I lined a double tiered 10" bamboo steam basket with trimmed parchment paper, punched holes through the paper to allow the steam to penetrate both layers, and nestled the buns into the steamer. After filling a 10" wide pot with 3" water, I cranked the heat to high. When the water came to a rapid boil, I carefully placed the steamer basket on the pot, let it rip for 10 minutes, killed the heat, removed the buns, and set them aside.

Duck. Duck. Bao.
A while back, I picked up a gorgeous farm raised  whole duck from Joe Weber (Farmer Joe, Salvisa Ky), at the Chevy Chase Farmer's Market. After breaking down the duck, I tossed the breasts into the freezer and used the legs, thighs, and fatty carcass for duck confit. That journey to duck fat heaven left me with two gorgeous plump duck breasts on reserve. Fast Forward. Few things crack my knees more than pan seared medium rare duck breast.

Being mindful not to cut into the flesh, I scored the fat on top of two breasts and set them aside. I knew I needed a finishing glaze for the quick pan seared duck, so I tipped my hat to the flavor profile of slow braised Chinese barbecued pork.

After dissolving 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon light brown sugar in 2 tablespoons warm water, I added 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons hoisen sauce, 2 tablespoons shooxing wine, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/4 cup local honey, and 1 teaspoon 5 spice powder.

Hot skillet? Nope. To allow the fat to render slowly for shatteringly crisp skin, I seasoned both sides of the duck with salt and cracked black pepper before placing them skin side down in a cold cast iron skillet. After turning the flame to medium, I let the breasts coast until the fat slowly melted away and the skin caramelized, about 6 minutes. When the breasts easily released from the skillet, I flipped them over, cooked them skin side down for 3-4 minutes until they registered 135 degrees, and pulled them from the heat to rest.

While the skillet was still hot, I added 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 minced shallot into the sizzling duck fat. Just before the garlic teetered on the edge of overly browned, I deglazed the skillet with 1/4 cup shooxing wine, scraped the flavorful fond from the bottom of the skillet, let the wine reduce by half, and added the reserved sauce. When the sauce settled into a syrupy glaze, I pulled it from the heat, let it cool, and slathered it over the warm duck.

After slicing the breasts on a thin bias, I tucked the duck into the bao buns and drizzled them with additional sauce before finishing with quick pickled julienned carrots, fresh cilantro, shaved fresh radishes, slivered Thai chilies, and sesame seeds.

Boom to the bao.
The simple inherent nature of the steamed buns parlayed into perfect neutral canvasses for the big flavors spilling from their gentle airiness. Tender, juicy, and cradled in crisped fatty skin, the candied duck melted into the puffy soft bread.  While the pickled carrots added punchy bright acidity to cut through the sweetness of the jacked up caramelized duck, wisps of cilantro, biting chilies, and sesame seeds balanced out the party with fresh stinging crunch.

Steam heat.
Hot buns.
Sticky duck.

Fabulous.







Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cracked

Dressed up or dressed down, fresh lobster is special, indulgent, and sexy as all get out.
Whether fast and furious like a beach side romp on strewn newspapers splashed with sticky drawn butter or prepared  slow and steady finished with a booze-infused cream sauce, eating fresh lobster is unabashedly decadent.

While I'm totally game for a down and dirty lobster boil, I'm a hopeless fool for the retro antics and lobstery punch of an old school Lobster Newberg.

Lobster Newberg, created at Delmonico's in New York during the late 1800's, is a simple magical amalgamation of lobster, cream, stock, sherry, brandy, herbs, and aromatics. Served over toasted bread, rice, or puff pastry vol au vents (pastry shells) Lobster Newberg is a romantic throwback to demure extravagance. Although there are great shortcuts for quicker results. sometimes it's fun to bring out the big guns for a labor of love.

Lobster Newberg.
An old fashioned lobster date.
Slow and steady.

Lobster.
So, I haven't killed or cooked a live lobster since my school days. While options abound for already prepared lobster, I needed the bodies and shells to fortify a stock, so I picked up two 1 1/2 pound live lobsters from the Lexington Seafood Company and kept them packed on ice while I prepped for my date.

I filled a very large stock  pot with enough water to cover 2 live lobsters (about 14 cups), added a handful of whole black peppercorns, 3 bay leaves, and 3 halved lemons. After cranking the heat to high, I slid the lobsters into the freezer for 10 minutes to put them to sleep. When the water came to a rapid boil, I added 1/2 cup salt, removed the lobster from the freezer, and slipped them head first into the boiling water. When the water came back to a simmer, I let the lobsters cook for 6 minutes (until they turned bright red) before plunging them into salted iced water to stop the cooking process.

Cracked.
They make lobster bibs for a reason. Or wet suits. Cracking lobster is messy business. Dodging flying cracked shells and splattering lobster juice, I worked over a large bowl to salvage the precious drippings. Once cooked and cooled, I ripped the tails from the heads, sliced them in half, removed the meat (reserving 2 halves) and set the heads aside. After cracking the knuckles to remove the meat, I added it to the tails and went after the claws. Claws can be tricky and prickly. Using the dull side of a chef's  knife, I cracked the claws on opposing sides, carefully pulled them apart, and slipped the meat from the broken shells. I split the bodies in half, reserved the tomalley (liver) for other shenanigans, discarded the innards, chopped the outer shells into large pieces, and set them aside. Cracked, smacked, and covered with lobster bits, I slid the dispatched  tender lobster meat into the refrigerator, and moved on.

Stock.
I love making stock.
After heating 3 tablespoons canola oil in a stock over a medium flame, I smashed  the lobster shells into smaller pieces to expose more surface area to the heat, and tossed them into sizzling oil. When they started to toast, I added 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste and tossed it with the broken shells. As the tomato paste started to caramelize, I deglazed the pot with 3/4 cup brandy and fired it up. After the flames died down, I added 1 1/2 cups chopped celery, 1 cup chopped onion, 3 chopped carrots, 1 cup chopped fresh fennel, 2 cups pureed Elmwood Stock Farm canned diced summer tomatoes, 1 cup dry white wine, 8 cups water, 2 bay leaves. and 4 sprigs fresh tarragon. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum, and let it rip for 1 1/2 hours before straining the stock through a cheesecloth-lined chinois, mashing the solids to extract as much flavor as possible.

Sauce.
Working over a medium flame, I melted 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a heavy saucepan and added 3 tablespoons flour. When the flour/butter mixture formed a smooth blond paste, I added 1 cup sherry, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, salt, ground white pepper, and 4 cups lobster stock. I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced the heat, and let it simmer for 20 minutes before adding 1 cup heavy cream. After letting the sauce thicken until it coated the back of a spoon, I pulled it from the heat, and set it aside.

I warmed the reserved lobster in melted unsalted  butter over a gentle low flame before nestling the pieces around puff pastry shells feathered with lightly dressed baby lettuces. After napping the lobster tails, knuckle meat, and claws with the sauce,  I finished with a faint drizzle of Sriracha lemon oil.

With a delicate bouncy bite, the buttery sweet meat countered the tickling acidic heat from the lemony Sriracha as it swirled and puddled through the creamy sherry-spiked sauce.While the baby lettuces provided perky fresh bites, the airy puff pastry added crisp flaky crunch.

Lobster on lobster.
Cracked.

Rich.
Luxe.
Fabulous.

The perfect date.