Velveting Chicken 101: Chicken Stir Fry with Chive Blossoms, White Birch and Enokitake Mushrooms

Photo by kathyhuntphoto.com

Have you ever wondered how Chinese restaurants get their chicken so moist and tender? I used to think they had added MSG or some secret tenderizer that made the chicken taste great but was probably horrible for you. I had all but given up on figuring it out, relegating myself to Chinese takeout when I craved that “velvety” goodness when I came across an article about a cooking process actually called velveting.

Used not only for chicken, but also for beef and even pork, velveting is the simple process of marinating the meat in a “batter” of egg whites and corn starch then frying or poaching to set the coating. In restaurants they usually fry the meat quickly in plenty of oil but having tried both I actually prefer poaching. I think the protein comes out more moist and tender when cooked in water and using a little less oil certainly never hurts.

Below is the recipe I prepared most recently but the beauty of a stir fry is the unlimited number of combinations of ingredients you can use. This one would be good with broccoli, snow peas, and maybe even a few cashews in place of the chive blossoms and mushrooms…use your imagination and see what new dish you can dream up. Just remember to cook your vegetables starting with the ones that take longest to cook and finishing with the most delicate.

Chicken Stir Fry with Chive Blossoms, White Birch and Enokitake Mushrooms

To velvet the chicken…

2 – Boneless skinless chicken breasts, about ¾ lbs
1 – Egg white
1 Tbsp. – Corn starch
1 Tbsp. – Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
1 Tbsp. – Sesame oil
1 sprinkle – Kosher salt

Slice the chicken breast into thin, even slices 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. In a bowl large enough to hold all of the chicken, combine the 5 remaining ingredients and whisk to thoroughly blend. Stir in the chicken slices and toss to coat well. Cover and set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

In a wok over high heat bring 8 cups of water to a very light boil. Reduce the heat to medium and poach the chicken in two batches stirring gently to separate the pieces. Cook until the chicken turns mostly white (about two minutes) then remove to a strainer to drain.

Your chicken is now velveted and ready to use in your favorite stir fry!

For the stir fry…

2 cups – Velveted chicken breast
4 cups – Chive blossoms, sliced in two to three inch pieces, tough bottoms removed
2 cups – White birch mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and separated
1 package – Enokitake mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and separated (roughly 1 cups worth)
½ Cup – Chicken broth
2 Tbsp. – Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
2 Tbsp. – Tamari
1-1/2 Tbsp. – Hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp. – Garlic, finely minced or pureed
1 Tbsp. – Ginger, finely minced or pureed
1 Tbsp. – Corn starch
1 Tbsp. – Sesame oil
1 Tbsp. – Grape seed or peanut oil

In a small bowl mix the chicken broth, wine, tamari, hoisin, and corn starch until well blended. Set this aside for later.

Heat the wok over high heat and add the oils. Stirring rapidly, add the garlic and ginger and cook about 30 seconds continuing to stir. Stir in the white birch mushrooms and cook one minute before adding the chive blossoms, cook two minutes more while stirring…try to keep the ingredients spread out rather than all crowded in the middle of the wok.

Stir in the chicken then pour in the sauce mixture tossing all to combine. Continue cooking only until the sauce has come to a boil and has begun to thicken.

With the wok off of the heat gently stir in most of the enokitaki mushrooms reserving some for garnish.

Serve over cooked rice and enjoy!

Randy

Menu: Lightly Blackened Scallops with Crispy Prosciutto and an Orange, Rosemary, & White Wine Reduction, Cauliflower Mash with Boursin, & Julienned Snow Peas with Toasted Pine Nuts and Orange Supremes

Photo by Kathyhuntphoto.com

The other night I set out looking for clams to make a fresh clam, broccoli rabe, and sausage dish I had in mind. Alas, I came home with scallops. As funny as that sounds I was a little disappointed that the clams at the two purveyors I visited appeared to have been languishing in their little net bags just a little too long. With all seafood and especially shellfish I am extremely picky about freshness…I had to take a pass on the clams. But being the Friday before Christmas I did want to make a special dinner so Costco and their frozen sea scallops saved the day again. As I’ve mentioned before, I really like these “dry-packed” flash frozen scallops and I still always verify “Ingredients: Sea Scallops”. No salt and definitely no sodium tripolyphosphate!

To prepare these scallops for cooking simply give them a quick rinse, carefully remove the little hard tab of adductor muscle off of the side of each scallop, then dab them with a paper towel to dry. I usually place them on another paper towel set on a plate and refrigerate the scallops while I’m getting everything else ready. Keeping the scallops dry helps to promote browning once the scallops to hit the pan.

In this recipe I use the rosemary and the prosciutto to infuse the olive oil with flavor before cooking the scallops. I found that blackening seasoning alone was a little too much for the delicate scallops but with the flour added the seasonings were perfect and the flour helped form a nice crust. To ensure that even caramelization on the crust try not to move the scallops too much once they are in the pan…set them in, swirling the pan a little to distribute the oil, then leave them alone until you turn them. Timing is important so I suggest preparing the cauliflower first, blanching the snow peas while the cauliflower is steaming. Then while the scallops are cooking it only takes a minute or two to finish the snow peas and process the cauliflower.

Keep your eye out for that clam, broccoli rabe, and sausage recipe…as soon as I can find some decent clams!

Lightly Blackened Scallops with Crispy Prosciutto and an Orange, White Wine, and Rosemary Reduction Sauce

3 – Large dry packed sea scallops per person (Adductor muscles removed)
Juice of 1 Orange, zest reserved
1/8 cup – Dry white wine
3 large or 4 medium sprigs fresh rosemary
1 – Level teaspoon blackening seasonings
1 – Heaping teaspoon whole wheat flour
½ Stick – cold unsalted butter, quartered and cut into 16 cubes
2 Tbsp – Prosciutto, sliced thin then sliced across into 1/8 to ¼ inch strips
Extra virgin olive oil

In a 10 inch non-stick skillet heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add ¾ of the fresh rosemary and swirl the pan to cook, pressing the rosemary into the olive oil with a wooden fork from time to time. Cook until the smell of rosemary is permeating the kitchen. (Your family may come in to see what smells so doggone good!)  After 5 minutes or so the rosemary will begin to look brown and crisp. Use the fork to carefully remove the rosemary allowing any excess oil to drain back into the pan. Set the rosemary aside.

Over the same medium heat, add the prosciutto to the pan and stir briskly while shaking the pan to separate the pieces. Cook stirring constantly until the prosciutto begins to brown. When the prosciutto has changed color and appears mostly browned, empty the pan into a strainer, reserving the oil. Once the oil has mostly drained, set the prosciutto on a paper towel to dry (much like bacon). Return the captured oil to the pan and set back on the heat.

Combine the blackening seasonings and the flour and stir to mix. Press both flat sides of each scallop into the flour mixture then place the scallops directly into the pan swirling occasionally to distribute the oil.  Cook the scallops about two minutes, turn and cook two minutes to two and a half minutes more to caramelize before removing to the serving plates. Note: Scallops should be cooked “almost” all the way through when you move them to the plates. The residual heat will finish cooking them while you make the sauce.

Return the pan to the heat and increase the heat to medium high adding the orange juice, the remaining rosemary, and the wine to the pan to deglaze. Allow the liquids to boil swirling the pan occasionally until the sauce comes to a syrupy consistency. When the liquids have mostly reduced and have become syrupy, remove the rosemary. Add the butter 4 cubes at a time swirling the pan (or gently whisking) off the heat to incorporate the melted butter. Return the pan to the heat occasionally to keep the butter melting and repeat until the sauce has thickened and the all of the butter is incorporated.

To serve, drizzle a small amount of the sauce over each scallop then top each with some of the crispy prosciutto and garnish with orange zest.

Cauliflower Mash with Boursin

1 – Small head of Cauliflower
¼ cup – Chicken broth
2 Tbsp – Garlic & herb Boursin cheese
1 Tbsp – Unsalted butter
1 dash – Fresh ground nutmeg
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add a steamer basket to a medium sized stew pot along with 1-1/2 cups of water. Place the cauliflower in the steamer basket and bring the pot to a boil over medium high heat. When the water is boiling place a lid on the pot and steam until the cauliflower is quite tender, about 10 minutes.

Move the pot from the heat and very carefully transfer the cauliflower to a food processor with a standard blade. Use a wooden spoon to break up the cauliflower then add the broth, boursin, butter, and nutmeg. Process until smooth, check for seasonings and add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Julienned Snow Peas with Toasted Pine Nuts and Orange Supremes

½ Lb – Snow Peas, julienned (sliced lengthwise into 3 or 4 pieces)
1 heaping Tbsp. – Pine nuts
1 – Small navel orange, cut into supremes ( How to   )
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 cups – Water

Add water, salt, and the snow peas to a sauce pan over medium high heat. When the water comes to a full boil remove the pan from the heat and strain.

While the peas are draining dry the pan then place it over medium heat for one minute. Add the pine nuts to the dry pan and cook stirring constantly until the nuts begin to brown in spots.

Over the same heat, add 1 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pine nuts and stir in the oranges. As soon as the pan begins to simmer, stir in the snow peas and cook until heated through. Stir in kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Randy

Crusty Chicken with Mushroom & Leek Sauce

Photo by kathyhuntphoto.com

Photo by kathyhuntphoto.com

I just have to say Jacques Pepin is one of my favorite “celebrity” chefs! Between the wonderful shows with he and Julia Child and the “you can do this at home” approach to so many of his recipes, I really have grown to appreciate his work. Tonight was no exception as I was looking to use a giant chicken that my wife brought home but wanted something fast, something other than the same old tired recipes.

Jacques calls for chicken thighs but I split that giant chicken in half saving half (still over 3 lbs of chicken!) for later. Leaving the chicken intact, I removed all but the largest bones from the half that I did cook making it lay nice and flat in the pan…it cooked up perfectly! I took a few other small liberties with the recipe but the credit for this one absolutely goes to Jacques. Thank you Chef Pepin for all that you do!

For your cooking pleasure you can find the original recipe here: http://www.kqed.org/w/morefastfoodmyway/recipes.html#210

Crusty Chicken with Mushroom & Leek Sauce

One half chicken, intact with all but the largest bones removed, skin on
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup leeks, rinsed and halves lengthwise, then sliced in ¼ inch slices
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
3 cups washed and sliced (1/4 inch) baby bella or white mushrooms
Roughly 1/3 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp parsley chopped fresh, plus one Tbsp for garnish

Arrange the chicken skin side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp paring knife, trim off any excess skin at the edges, remove wing tips, and cut about 1/2 inch deep into the flesh on either side of the thigh bone. (This will help the meat cook more quickly.) Sprinkle each side evenly with ½ of the salt and pepper and arrange the chicken skin side down in a nonstick skillet with a tight-fitting lid.

Place the skillet over high heat and when the chicken starts sizzling reduce the heat to medium low, cover tightly, and cook for 18 to 20 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the chicken is browning properly. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 150 degrees. If the chicken seems to be cooking too fast after 10 minutes or so, reduce the heat to low. The skin of the chicken should be very crisp and brown. Transfer the chicken skin side up to an ovenproof platter and place it in the oven.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet in which you cooked the chicken. Add the leeks, garlic, and mushrooms and sauté them over high heat for about 3 minutes. Test for seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste then add the wine and any liquid that has accumulated around the thighs on the platter. Cook the sauce over high heat for about 1 minute to reduce the liquid.

Note: If a richer sauce is desired stir 1 Tbsp of butter into the mushrooms just before serving.

To serve, divide the sauce among serving plates. Carve the chicken into serving portions and place in the middle of the mushroom sauce on each plate, spoon some sauce over, sprinkle with additional fresh parsley, and serve.

Enjoy!

Randy

Oyako Donburi – A Little Warmth On A Rainy Night

Photo by kathyhuntphoto,com

Wikipedia defines Comfort Food as “food prepared traditionally, that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal, or simply provide an easy-to-eat, easy-to-digest meal rich in calories, nutrients or both”.

While I wouldn’t argue with any of the above I might add that, Comfort Food for me is often a dish that will comfort my soul following a rough time, can be a dish that reminds me of someone I care deeply about and most certainly, comfort food will warm the body on a cold day or the heart on a rainy one.

Getting back to the definition, Wikepedia goes on to say comfort foods can be “foods that have a nostalgic element either to an individual or specific culture” and this is where I get to my point. Oyako Donburi is a very well known comfort food in Japan and especially popular in Hawaii. It is a dish of chicken and eggs simmered in a warm broth and served in a bowl over rice.

In Japanese “Oyako” loosely translates to “parent and child” and “Donburi” is usually “bowl” or “rice bowl”. You may also see this dish called “Oyakodon” which is simply an abbreviation of the same. Vaguely similar in ingredients to the Vietnamese soup, Pho Ga, which has definitely become a comfort food for my wife and I, Oyako Donburi may well become our next new favorite.

Which brings me to today…it’s been raining steady here for two days straight and yesterday was a lazy, rainy Sunday.  It was the perfect day for making a big batch of homemade chicken stock and when the rain continued all day today, a comfort food meal seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. After a little research and some stovetop experimentation, Oyako Donburi was just the right prescription for a cozy night at home!

Notes: This recipe is not entirely authentic and is something of a fusion recipe as I use a Chinese method of “velveting” the chicken in step 1. Although you can skip this step and simply simmer the chicken pieces in the broth with the onions, I highly recommend taking the extra few minutes. The difference in flavor and texture is well worth the added effort.

Once the chicken is “velveted”, I prepare Step 3 one portion at a time for continuity…this step comes together fairly quickly. Feel free to experiment with ingredients; a Google search of Oyako Donburi recipes will give you many ideas from adding miso or cilantro to using bonito flakes (dried fish) for a variety of flavors.

Oyako Donburi

Begin by preparing enough brown rice for two 1 to 1-1/2 cup portions, then go to step 1 while the rice is cooking. The rice should be steaming hot when added to the bowls as it serves to finish cooking the eggs.

Step 1 – “Velvet” the chicken:

2 Tbsp – Dry sake
2 Tbsp – Warm water
2 Tbsp – Corn starch
1 – White of 1 large egg
1 – Good pinch of kosher salt
1 Large or 2 small – Chicken breast halves, split lengthwise then sliced crosswise into thin slices
1 Tsp – Sesame oil

Combine the first 5 ingredients and whisk only until well combined. Stir in the chicken pieces and marinate this mixture for at least ½ hour, refrigerated.

Fill a small wok (or a med sauce pan) at least half full with water and bring to a gentle boil. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then carefully add ½ of the chicken, strained of excess marinade, and cook gently separating the chicken slices to prevent clumping.

When the chicken is solid white and cooked through (about 1-1/2 to two minutes) the chicken will begin to float. At that point, remove the chicken to a strainer to drain. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked setting the strainer over a bowl to drain. Discard the water and if making ahead, refrigerate the chicken until ready to use. Note: I used a Chinese Spider Strainer for this cooking process and a traditional 8″ mesh strainer to drain the chicken.

Step 2 – Simmer and “bowl” the following 1 portion at a time

1/2 Cup – Fresh chicken broth
1 Portion – Chicken, prepared in step one
1 quarter – Large yellow onion, sliced in ¼” slices, divided
3 Med – Shitake mushroom caps, sliced in ¼” slices, divided
2 – Green Onions, sliced thin on a sharp angle (bias)
1/4 Cup – Fresh arugula (or spinach)
2 Tbsp – Dry sake
2 Tbsp – Tamari sauce
2 Tsp – Agave nectar
½ Tsp – Sesame Oil
2 eggs
Nori (Dried seaweed) for garnish

In a small wok or pan (I used a non-stick egg skillet) bring the broth to a gentle boil over medium high heat. Stir in the sake, tamari, agave nectar and sesame oil, then add the onion and mushroom slices. Simmer until the onions are just becoming translucent (about 5 minutes) then add the chicken from step 1 along with the arugula.

Simmer one minute more stirring to ensure even heating. (Note: If you are skipping step one, add the chicken one minute after the onions and mushrooms and simmer until cooked through, then add the arugula for one minute more.)

Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat just enough to break the yolks and slightly mix the eggs. Stir in half the sliced green onions then gently pour the eggs evenly over the top of the simmering broth. Cook 30 seconds, then using chop sticks, stir once just enough to distribute the eggs evenly, cover and cook 30 seconds more while you spoon the rice into a bowl for serving.

(If necessary microwave the rice for 30 seconds to make sure it’s hot then) Gently slide the cooked mixture out of the pan and into the bowl over 1 to ½ cups steaming hot rice.  Cover the bowl with a saucer and serve as the eggs finish cooking in the hot bowl. Garnish with the remainder of the sliced green onions and crumbled or sliced dried nori.

Enjoy!

Randy

A Healthier Hash – Ground Turkey Hash

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

I think I have mentioned before how much I loved my Mom’s corned beef hash (topped with poached eggs) when I was a kid. She pretty much always prepared it with the canned version and even as an adult I’ve made it quite often. As my eating habits have become more conscientious though, I’ve felt more and more hesitant to use the canned stuff, especially corned beef hash. Sure, I’ll eat fresh corned beef, steaks and burgers too, all in moderation of course. But when I open that can of corned beef hash and see all that greasy looking congealed fat I can almost feel it clogging my arteries as I cook it.

So this past weekend I had a package of ground turkey that needed to be used and being that it was Super Bowl Sunday I wanted a “Super” brunch. Hence what I’ll call “A Healthier Hash” using the ground turkey along with a few other things from the pantry. In order to replicate the corned beef hash flavor I started with a few ingredients common to corned beef including allspice and bay. Then, for the sake of either color or flavor I got a little creative with the mixture.

Cooking down the broth step by step not only ensures that the potatoes get cooked through; the flavor of the dish really gets a nice boost from the broth. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, be sure to let the hash cook without stirring as often. This allows for some nice browning to form on the bottom; those crunchy bits are packed full of flavor. Lowering the heat a little will help keep it from burning as it browns. The whole process takes about an hour but for all that flavor and a whole lot less fat; I thought it was well worth the effort. I hope you do too!

Ground Turkey Breakfast Hash

1 Lb – Ground Turkey (97% Lean)
1 Cup – Yukon Gold or Red Bliss potatoes, diced ¼ to ½ inch
1 Cup – Homemade or lower sodium chicken stock, divided
1 – Medium yellow onion, chopped
1 Clove – Garlic, minced
3 – Whole allspice berries
1 Sprig – Fresh rosemary
1 Star – Star anise
1 – Bay leaf
1 Tbsp – Ground turmeric
1 Tsp – Paprika
Kosher Salt & Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp – Olive Oil
¼ Cup – Fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Pre-heat a 12” non-stick pan over med-high heat and when the pan is hot add the olive oil and swirl in the pan to coat. Stir in the potatoes, onions, and garlic then add the allspice, rosemary, star anise, and bay leaf. Cook while stirring often until the onion begins to become transparent (about 5 minutes). Add the ground turkey, breaking it up as much as possible as you add it to the pan. Stir the mixture and continue to cook about 10 minutes more, stirring often and breaking the turkey into smaller pieces as it cooks.

When the turkey is nearly cooked lower the heat to medium and add about ¼ cup of the broth along with a few grinds of ground black pepper, the turmeric and the paprika. Stir the mixture well then cook, stirring less frequently until the pan is nearly dry (about 8-10 minutes). Continue this process, adding ¼ cup of broth at a time, until all of the broth has been cooked down, the potatoes are cooked through and some browning has begun. Before finishing, remove and discard the bay leaf, rosemary sprig, star anise, and allspice.

To finish, taste for seasonings and add kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to your taste. Stir in the chopped parsley and served topped with eggs cooked to your liking.

Enjoy!

Randy

Mmm Pork! Char siu “Style” Pork and Stir Fried Bean Sprouts

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

My wife and I attended a party last Saturday night…an Annual End of Summer Turkey Fry. It was a wonderful party hosted by our friends Joe & Linda and as usual the party was a huge success. As the enthusiastic crowd lined up with their plates to sample some of the 16 turkeys (yes, I said sixteen!) it didn’t take long to notice that the one poor guy that was carving and serving as fast as he could, was very quickly getting deep in the weeds.

Well, as any food lover worth his salt would do, I sprung into action, grabbed a knife and proceeded to help break down my fair share of the steaming hot birds. By the time the dust settled and the lines had dwindled down we had carved 13 turkeys. Both the cook and the gracious hostess insisted that the carvers “must” take home some of the leftover turkey…so who am I to refuse leftovers?

I ended up bringing home a whole 12 lb bird plus a jambalaya pot full of scraps.

Why all this turkey talk in a post about pork? Well, that was Saturday, and by Wednesday night we had eaten turkey gumbo, turkey with rice & gravy, turkey panini, and turkey hash (with poached eggs of course!). After turkey for lunch and turkey for dinner for four days straight, by last night I was ready for anything but turkey…I was ready for some pork!

Char siu, in Chinese, translates to fork burn (or roast). Interestingly the word Char actually means fork and siu, to burn or roast. This is the same “roast pork” that is often used in egg rolls, won-ton, fried rice, and myriad other ways in Chinese cooking. Traditionally it is hung on a hook or fork (Char) and roasted (siu) in an oven or over an open fire. Because this recipe strays from tradition (braised and not marinated for hours) I am calling it Char Siu “Style” Pork.

Here in the U.S. much of the Char siu that I have eaten has been dry and oftentimes chewier than I prefer, so for this recipe I set out to come up with something a little more juicy and tender. I decided on braising because this cooking method has been working very well for me with the leaner boneless pork country style ribs. Because I didn’t have time for a true marinade, I felt the braise would infuse the flavors most deeply in the shortest amount of time.

Would I recommend using this same recipe and marinating the pork overnight? Absolutely! I probably will do exactly that the next time around. But, for the relatively short (two hours overall) cooking time that I had, I think I was able to produce a reasonable Char Siu “Style” pork. It tasted right, was moist and quite tender and I was happy with the results. And, it wasn’t turkey!

Of note: This pork would also be quite good finished on the grill instead of the final uncovered baking. Look for the bean sprouts to be hot, with a little browning on the outside, but still crispy on the inside. You don’t want them to be limp. If you like a little heat try adding a tablespoon of sliced bird (or Thai chili) peppers at the same time as the green onions.

Char Siu Style Pork with Stir Fried Bean Sprouts

For the pork…

1 Package – Boneless Pork Country Style Ribs (About 2 Lbs)
1 Med – Yellow onion, sliced thick
¼ Cup – Shaoxing wine
½ Cup – Hoisin sauce
¼ Cup – Light soy sauce
2 Tbsp – Dark agave nectar
1 Tbsp – Fish sauce
¼ Tbsp – Toasted sesame oil
1 Med. Clove – Garlic, very finely minced
½ Tsp – Fresh ginger, very finely minced

For the bean sprouts…

4 Cups – Mung bean sprouts
4 – Green onions, cut in 1” to 1-1/2” pieces
1 Med. Clove – Garlic, very finely minced
½ Tsp – Fresh ginger, very finely minced
2 Tbsp – Sesame oil
¼ Tsp – Toasted sesame oil

To prepare the pork…

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a Dutch oven or a large, deep sauté pan with the sliced onions. Add the Shaoxing wine and bring to a mild simmer over medium heat.

Combine the Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, agave nectar, fish sauce, toasted sesame oil, garlic, and ginger in a mixing bowl. Stir until well incorporated. One at a time, dip each rib into the sauce mixture to coat, then nestle them onto the bed of onions already in the pan. Place the remaining sauce in the refrigerator for later use.

When all of the ribs are coated and placed evenly on top of the onions, cover the pan firmly with aluminum foil before placing on the lid. Bake at 325 for 1-1/2 hours.

After 1-1/2 hours remove the ribs from the oven. Carefully remove the lid and the foil and then “very” carefully pour off most of the liquid (reserving the liquid for later use). Brush the remaining sauce mixture on the ribs and return them, uncovered, to the oven for 30 minutes more.

Remove the ribs from the oven and allow them to rest while you prepare the bean sprouts.

To prepare the bean sprouts…

Heat a wok (or sauté pan) over high heat until very hot. Add the oils, shaking the pan to distribute. Add the green onions, garlic, and ginger and cook stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Add roughly 1/8 cup of the reserved cooking juices from the pork, then the bean sprouts and cook stirring constantly for 1 minute. Let this sit 30 seconds without stirring then remove from heat. That’s it…You’re ready to serve!

To serve…

Place about a one cup serving of the bean sprouts on the plate then fan sliced rib meat even on top. Garnish with (roughly) 1” pieces of julienned green onions and serve with a little of the cooking liquid as a dipping sauce.

Enjoy,

Randy

Menu for Two – Seared Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast w/ Rosemary Shallot Pan Sauce and Braised Kale

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

As a home cook, one of the ways I work on improving my “chops” is by challenging myself. Sometimes I’ll pick a “secret” ingredient, a la Iron Chef, and other times I’ll prepare what I call a Pantry Dinner. For these, I simply scan the fridge and the pantry for ingredients, check out what produce we have on hand and try come up with something tasty for dinner. (If anyone remembers Gordon Elliot’s Doorknock Dinners show…that’s where I got the idea.) This recipe was the result of one of those “Pantry Dinner” nights.

On this particular evening I had to come up with something quick because I was a little late getting home…so late in fact, that I had actually thought of just making omelets and toast. But upon scanning the refrigerator I discovered half a bottle of wine, a package of chicken breast, and ½ a bunch of fresh kale left unused from a previous night. With a stash of whole shallots (Albertson’s has had good ones for 2.99 a pound lately) and a fresh head of garlic I was off to the races.

This cooking method is a fairly foolproof way to cook boneless skinless chicken breasts; they always come out nice and moist. Just be very careful pulling that pan out of the oven! I have a potholder glove that I keep on the handle of the pan while making the sauce. The pan sauce is very quick, it should take no longer than two minutes or so to reduce the wine. Remember to remove the pan from the heat before you stir in the butter. For this tiny amount of butter there should be no need to return the pan to heat. (Doing so could cause the sauce to separate causing it to be unpleasantly greasy.)

Start to finish this “Pantry Dinner” was on the table in about half an hour. With a piece of crusty whole grain bread, a salad and the rest of the wine this ended up being a rather nice dinner for two…I hope you’ll try it!

Seared Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast with Rosemary Shallot Pan Sauce and Braised Kale

For the chicken:
Two – Boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
¼ Cup – Dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1 – Med Shallot, chopped
1 Branch – Fresh rosemary (leaves only) chopped finely
Approx. 1 Tablespoon – Fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon – Unsalted butter, cut in 4 to 6 pieces and kept very cold
1 Tablespoon – Olive oil
Season with an Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder

For the braised kale:
4 cups – Fresh kale, stems removed, leaves torn or cut into bite-sized pieces
1 – Med Shallot, chopped
1 Clove – Garlic, minced
¼ Cup – Dry white wine
Approx. 1 Tablespoon – Fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon – Olive oil
Season with an Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a 10” oven-proof pan over medium-high heat and using the Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder, season the chicken fairly liberally on both sides while the pan is getting hot. When the pan is hot, add roughly 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl or shake the pan to cover evenly. (There should be “just” enough oil to coat the pan.)

Carefully place the chicken in the pan, skinned side down and sear until some browning appears around the edges, about 4-5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook 1 minute more, cover and place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm a large sauté pan over medium heat, when the pan is hot add 1 tablespoon of olive and swirl or shake the pan to cover evenly. Season the oil with a few good grinds from the Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder then sauté the shallot and garlic just until the aroma of the garlic begins to fill the kitchen, about 1 minute. Add the kale and toss to coat with some of the oil.

Add the wine and a squeeze of lemon juice and cover. Cook covered, 15 minutes or until the kale is tender, stirring every few minutes. Toss again and check for seasoning just before serving. If necessary, add a little salt & pepper to taste.

After 20 minutes, very carefully remove the chicken from the oven holding the handle of the pan with a pot holder or “dry” dish towel. Remove the chicken to a plate (or cutting board) to rest. Place the pan with any remaining juices over medium-high heat. As the pan juices begin to boil, stir in the shallots. Cook about one minute then add the white wine and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Return to the boil and allow this to cook until about three quarters of the liquid has evaporated.

When the liquid in the pan has reached nearly the consistency of syrup, turn off the heat and remove the pan from the burner, stir in the rosemary and half of the butter. Continue stirring and when that butter has melted, stir in the remaining butter. Stir until all of the butter has melted into the sauce and set the pan aside while you prepare your plates.

To serve, spoon a healthy serving of the kale onto each plate. Carefully slice the chicken in diagonal slices, fan the slices out and serve next to, or right on top of the kale with the sauce spooned evenly over the chicken.

Enjoy!

Randy

Fish 101 – Oven Baked Salmon with Lemon and White Wine

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

Once upon a time I loved salmon; then 5 or 6 years ago my family passed around a particularly bad stomach virus. The night it nailed me, what do you think I had for dinner? Why salmon of course. After that night I swear I could hardly even look at cooked salmon without feeling a little lightheaded, let alone eat the stuff! As the years went by though I slowly regained my taste for cooked salmon; a little at first, sampling small bites here and there, then by preparing my childhood favorite, salmon cakes. Before long I was actually cooking and enjoying salmon again.

My wife came down with that nasty virus that same night and she too refused to touch cooked salmon for even longer than I did! In time, she came around and once again she too enjoys cooked salmon (especially that crispy skin). So what is the point of my story? Well I believe that salmon, more than any other fish, is an acquired taste. Like coffee, caviar, and even beer; salmon is one of those foods that, for many people, seems to be an acquired taste. My wife and I learning to love salmon all over again is a perfect example.

Think about how many people you know that love fish yet claim to hate salmon. Curiously, I also know those that would tell you that salmon is the only fish they will eat! Why? Because for whatever reason salmon is a fish they developed a taste for or for those that hate it; maybe they never ate enough salmon to learn to like it. Which brings me to my final point, that salmon is one of the healthiest and sustainable foods in the ocean…it is well worth giving it another chance!

If until now you’ve avoided salmon I encourage you to give it try. If you’re ready…here are a few ideas on how best to enjoy this wonderful fish.

What to choose…

When it comes to fish, I have been known to preach about freshness and with salmon, freshness is paramount! Why? Simply put, the fresher the salmon is, the sweeter and milder the flavor will be. If you’ve had unpleasant, strong tasting salmon it may be that it wasn’t the freshest. When buying fresh salmon look first for whole fish with bright (not cloudy) eyes, and skin that is so moist that it has a sparkle to it (never dry looking!).

The gills should be bright red or healthy pink (not dull or off-color) and if you poke the fish in the shoulder (I’m snickering at the mental image of poking a salmon in the shoulder but it works!) the flesh should spring back firmly rather than leaving a divot. Finally, there should be no “fishy” smell. A fresh fish should have little smell, perhaps only the pleasant scent of the mist from a breaking wave or an ocean breeze, if any smell at all.

Once you’ve found your perfectly bright, moist, firm, and nice smelling whole salmon, most fishmongers will be happy to fillet it for you. But, you’re not always going to be able to find whole salmon…the next best thing to whole salmon is fresh, skin-on, salmon fillets. Again, look for firm, moist (the skin helps retain some of that moisture) fillets with little or no smell at all. I often buy fresh salmon fillets at Costco and I have no qualms at all about opening one little corner of a sealed package to sniff the fish for freshness. If it smells fishy…don’t buy it!

What about frozen?

Salmon actually freezes quite well and I often buy frozen salmon when fresh fish is not available. Look for a package that states the salmon is ICQ or “Individually Quick Frozen”. (These fillets are usually flash frozen while still very fresh, sometimes even still on the boat.) It’s ok if the fish portions are individually wrapped…I actually prefer it since I’m usually cooking for only two.

Frozen salmon to avoid would be whole fillets that are packed loosely, fillet portions that are not individually wrapped and are all stuck together in one big frozen lump, or any fillets that have frost directly touching the flesh. If the only salmon fillets you can find fit any of the descriptions in this paragraph; now might be a good time to go with the canned salmon!

To thaw frozen fillets, move them from the freezer to the fridge the night before you plan to cook them. In a pinch, if you forget to thaw your fish ahead of time, you can also thaw them quickly by placing them in a cold heavy bottomed steel pan. Cast iron works very well for this but a good heavy stainless pan will work too. The metal of the pan draws the cold out of the frozen fish and will thaw frozen salmon portions completely in about ½ hour or less. (This is also a good trick for quick thawing frozen boneless chicken breast.)

OK, I’ve got my fish…now what?

Now that you have found your salmon, treat it with respect and do not overcook it! For the best flavor, cooking the fish properly is nearly as important as freshness. When overcooked, salmon dries out very quickly which ruins both the texture and the taste. It’s actually amazing to me how often restaurants serve dried out, overcooked salmon. It’s so rampant in fact that I would bet many of the people that do not like salmon have simply never had a piece that was perfectly cooked.

Salmon should be cooked just through to the center leaving just a trace of pink in the very middle. There is really no trick to it, just keep a close eye on the fish while it’s cooking and when you think the fish is almost ready, use a fork to test for doneness. When the fish is done the flesh will flake easily but still hold together towards the center. It’s important to note: If you wait to remove it from the heat, until the fish flakes all the way to the center, then it will likely end up overcooked. This is because residual heat will continue to cook the fish for a little while, even after you take it off the heat.

Again, baked salmon, like most fish, is done perfectly when you can flake it easily with a fork, but the flesh still holds together towards the center. Below is a rough guideline for baking your salmon. Remember, this is strictly a guideline so start checking your fish early…if you let it go too long it will overcook.

If baking at 400 degrees salmon fillets 3/4” to 1” thick should be done in 8 to 10 minutes, 1” to 1-1/2” thick, 10 to 12 minutes, and 1-1/2 to 2” thick, 12 to 15 minutes.

What else?

Quite often salmon fillets will have small pin bones running along part of the center line. These should be removed prior to cooking. To easily remove pin bones, drape the fillet skin side down, over an inverted bowl. This will arch the fillet so that the pin bones stand out making them easy to find and remove using just your fingers or a pair of kitchen tweezers. Needle nose pliers will even work in a pinch.

Are you ready?

This is a super easy recipe, so easy actually, that for just the two of us, I baked it in our toaster oven!

I sprinkled my fish with a little dried dill but you can use any herb you like. Fresh rosemary or parsley would also be good with salmon and even a little lemon zest would be nice…don’t be afraid to use your imagination. On the plate pictured, I served the baked salmon over a bed of fresh spinach sautéed with just a little olive oil and lemon juice. Along side is a white bean puree topped with a few green onion curls, lemon wedges, and a little creamy dill sauce. Dinner was on the table in about ½ hour and was elegant enough to serve to company.

Salmon is a versatile, healthy, and delicious fish that can be very easy to prepare. If it’s been a while since you’ve tried it…I hope you will give it another try! 

Oven Baked Salmon with Lemon and White Wine

2 to 4 – Salmon fillets, 3/4″ to 1 inch thick, in 4 – 6 oz portions
Olive oil
Lemon juice
White wine
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
Dried dill (or your herb of choice)

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and thoroughly dry your salmon portions by patting them with a paper towel. Cover a ½ or ¼ size baking sheet with aluminum foil and place your fish on the sheet with plenty of space in between. Drizzle the salmon evenly with roughly ½ tablespoon of the olive oil, turning it over a time or two just to coat. With the salmon skin side down, drizzle with roughly ½ tablespoon each of the lemon juice, then the wine.

Sprinkle the fish with a pinch of kosher salt and approx. ¼ tsp each of fresh ground black pepper, and dried dill. Place the fish in the pre-heated oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes, checking for doneness after 8 minutes. Remove the fish from the oven when the flesh flakes easily with a fork but still holds together slightly towards the center.

Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Randy

Sometimes Simple is Best – Florida Lobster Rolls

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

South Florida sportsmen enjoyed the Lobster mini season this week and I managed to get my hands on a couple of nice plump Florida spiny lobster tails. Having only two, I was at odds as to how to prepare them until I spoke to my wife who without hesitation exclaimed “Lobster Rolls!” Well, who am I to disappoint? Lobster Rolls it was.

This presented something of a challenge considering that she was talking about the highly regarded Maine tradition of a simple “Maine” lobster salad stuffed into a wonderfully fresh, soft hot dog roll.

Florida spiny lobster, quite a different animal from the Maine lobster, is also very different in both flavor and texture. I love them both but I wasn’t about to try to make my Florida lobster taste like the Maine version. Instead I set out to simply turn my lobster tails into the best lobster salad sandwich I could make and where does any good sandwich begin? With the bread of course!

I have enjoyed some great Maine style lobster rolls and for me, the thing that always stood out was the foundation this sandwich was built upon; that sweet, soft, impeccably fresh hot dog roll. Not having access to any impeccably fresh hot dog rolls it occurred to me that I work right around the corner from Direct From Philly, a very good, authentic Philly cheesesteak shop that uses rolls shipped in from the famous Amoroso’s bakery in Philadelphia.

The owner of Direct From Philly obviously appreciates good food and he loved the idea of the lobster rolls and very happily sold me a couple of fresh Amoroso’s rolls. So while they weren’t impeccably fresh hot dog rolls; I had found my foundation!

Next up was getting the lobster ready. In Maine the lobsters are typically boiled or steamed until just cooked. Since these were Florida lobsters I decided to broil them as I like the way broiling intensifies the “lobstery” flavor. I also tried making my own mayo but decided against using it because I used extra virgin olive oil and the olive oil flavor of the mayo came out a little too strong. Next time I will stick to the recipe and use lighter flavored oil. (I did use the homemade mayo in the cole slaw though!)

Once the lobster was cooked I chilled it for a half hour to get it to the right temperature for a salad. Then, following the lead of our friends in the great state of Maine, I kept it simple. Using just the minimal ingredients to compliment, allowing the flavor of that lobster to be the star.

If you try the recipe I recommend using the tender, white celery branches from the inside of the celery so you don’t have to worry about peeling. Also, if you really want to put a Florida spin on this sandwich; try a little key lime juice instead of the lemon. So what was the final verdict from my wife? “Mmmmm” was pretty much all she said…she was just too busy enjoying her fresh “Florida” lobster roll to do much talking!

Florida Lobster Rolls

2 – Sub or hot dog Rolls (Find the freshest softest rolls you can find!)
2 – Florida spiny lobster tails
1 – Celery stick, chopped (about two tablespoons)
2 to 3 Tbsp – Mayonnaise
1 squeeze – Fresh lemon juice
¼ Tsp – Dried tarragon
¼ Tsp – Kosher salt
1 Pinch – White pepper
2 Tbsp – Butter, plus enough to butter the bread

Pre-heat the broiler then split the lobster tails, brush with 2 Tbsp melted butter, and broil until just cooked through, being careful not to overcook. Remove the lobster meat from the tails and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before continuing.

When the lobster is chilled, split your bread and spread it with butter then place in the toaster over or broil to toast. Remove the bread and cool slightly before adding your lobster salad.

While the bread is cooling use your fingers (and a knife) to pull your lobster into bite sized pieces and chunks. Toss the lobster meat in a bowl with the remaining ingredients, using just enough of the mayonnaise to coat the lobster.

Fill each sandwich with a generous portion of the lobster salad, trim the ends of the bread just up to the edges of the filling, and serve.

Serves 2

Enjoy!

Randy

Butter vs Olive Oil – Penne with Shrimp, Fresh Herbs and Lemon

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

There was a time when most any meal I set out to cook began with a big glob of butter melting in a hot pan. Whether it was sautéing onions for a casserole, browning chicken for a braise, or scrambling an egg; it all started with butter. Then as I began reading about nutrition and becoming more conscious of my health, slowly but surely I transitioned to olive oil. Quietly and gradually, somewhere over the last few years, olive oil became my butter.

Through most of my years of cooking, it was not unusual for me to use a pound of butter per week, or at least every couple of weeks. Nowadays it is a rare purchase indeed and though I still keep (un-salted) butter around for a special treat in a pan-sauce or on my Sunday morning toast…I can honestly say the transition is complete. And why not?

Butter is a saturated fat too much of which can contribute to the build-up of blood cholesterol – Olive oil actually contains anti-oxidants and monounsaturated fats that have been proven to help lower cholesterol. Olive oil also contains vitamins E, K, and A, powerful anti-inflammatory properties and a host of other health benefits.

So why eat butter at all? Well, aside from that wonderful flavor there are a few good things about butter. For one, it does not contain any trans-fat, it also contains beneficial vitamins and minerals, can be high in Omega 3, and can even help your body fight off cancer cells. There is a great article at getmybodyback.com that discusses the details.

To my thinking these days, a little butter goes a long way…It’s a good fit in my “everything in moderation” theory that I mention so often. Butter is not inherently evil but it can easily be too much of a good thing. If you balance it out with a good bit of olive oil though, I think you can find a happy medium that will help you live a longer and more enjoyable life.

Recipe notes: This recipe uses olive oil as the base for the “sauce”. It is surprising in that it is not dripping in fat or greasy tasting. The idea is to coat the pasta rather than drenching it in a heavy sauce. The recipe comes together very quickly so I recommend having all of your ingredients ready to go by the time the pasta is almost ready to drain.

Penne with Shrimp, Fresh Herbs and Lemon

1 Lb – Med fresh shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/3 Cup – Extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp – Fresh garlic, minced
2 Sprigs – Fresh thyme
½ Tsp – Dried red pepper flakes
8 Oz – Dried 100% whole wheat penne
Juice of ½ Lemon
1 to 2 Tbsp – Fresh basil chiffonade
Fresh Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper

Add a tablespoon of kosher salt to a large pot of water over medium-high heat. When the water comes to a boil gently stir in the pasta. Continue stirring occasionally and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until the pasta has softened to your desired doneness.

When the pasta is roughly two minutes from being done, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, stir in the garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes and about ¼ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper. Stir constantly for about 30 seconds then add the shrimp in a single layer. Shake the pan to “nestle” the ingredients.

Meanwhile, test the pasta for doneness, and drain into a colander reserving a little of the pasta water on the side.

After about 2 minutes, shake the pan again to loosen any shrimp that may be sticking and turn the shrimp over. Cook 2 minutes more on the second side then add the lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. Cook another minute and remove the pan from the heat. To finish, stir in the pasta and the basil, gently tossing to combine.

Serve with fresh grated parmesan sprinkled over the pasta.

Enjoy!

Randy