Chinese stir fry sauce

Chinese cuisine has so many sauces, it’s almost impossible to go through all of them.  They have their basic sauces: XO, hoisin, plum, fermented bean, orange, sweet and sour, and so on.  Normally these sauces are base sauces, or foundation sauces, for their ‘small’ sauces. ‘Mix 1 cup hoisin, 1 cup plum, 2 cups chicken stock, rice vinegar, smashed lemon grass, reduce’, and come up with something more unique and flavorful.  Of course that’s an example illustrating my point, but the concept is accurate.  And they give them all kinds of creative names.  Majestic dragon sauce, or sea empress sauce, or temple of the sun sauce, or some other name that will make you think it’s real deal Chinese.  I guess it’s part of the game.  But, in reality, these sauces, no matter what they’re called, are important.  No one just pours hoisin sauce over their meat.  You need a well balanced sauce, made with purpose, to make your Chinese dish great.

I think it’s tricky and somewhat intimidating to make good sauces, especially Chinese.  How do you do it?  What do you add?  Maybe just a couple dashes of soy sauce to my stir fry to finish?  Maybe some brown sugar, soy sauce, orange juice and a corn starch slurry?  That’s starting to sound complicated…  and yes to both, but I want to give you a great all-round stir fry sauce.   A sauce that works with noodles, vegetables, meats, fishes and any wok recipe you might want to try.  It’s relatively healthy, deriving its flavor from more natural reductions than anything else.  And it’s easy.

You will notice this sauce has a few Japanese ingredients, such as sake and miso.  There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a means to an end, and the final product will be quite authentic.  Remember, it’s a balance of sweet, salt, spice with an underlying flavor profile.  Everything altogether will leave you nothing short of a wonderful low sodium, flavor-rich stir fry sauce.

Stir Fry Sauce

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yield:  about 1 cook, or enough for 3 portions

Ingredients:

2 cups chicken stock (rich, homemade and slightly reduced is preferrable)
1 tbsp red miso paste
1 stalk lemon grass, cut into 1 inch pieces and smashed
1/2 cup shrimp shells
1/2 cup sake
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 scallions

Method:

In a small sauce pot, reduce the sake by half.  Add the chicken stock, shrimp shells, miso, lemon grass, sugar, vinegar and scallions.  Reduce by half again and add the soy sauce.  Slightly reduce and strain.  The sauce should be slightly thick, but not thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  This is perfect and now it’s ready.

When using this sauce in your stir fry, you will be adding it to a hot pan and cooking (reducing) it again.  Leaving it intentionally thin allows you ‘finish’ it in the pan, giving it the final reduction it needs.

Again, use this sauce with any Chinese style stir fry or wok recipe.  Glass or lo mein noodles work exceptionally well, with ingredients like shrimp, bok choy, snap peas, mushrooms, nappa cabbage and peppers.

Enjoy.

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Three Cheese Smoked Duck and Pepper Quesadilla

Fusion.  Here we go again.  If you may (or may not) recall, I posted a piece on fusion a while ago, displaying my general distaste for the entire concept.  And I stand by that.  It’s one of those culinary trends that has been taken too far, too over the top, has become too ‘trendy’ and ‘edgy’ and has therefore lost it’s appeal.  To me, at least.  But, as you may (or may not) recall, I also mentioned that in some circumstances, it can be wonderful.  Sometimes it makes sense.  French style fish in a sweet/spicy Thai sauce, would be a great example.  It sounds good on paper, conceptually makes sense, and if executed properly, is a winner.

My recipe of the day is, of course, a fusion recipe.  France meets Mexico.  Two great culinary regions united at last.  And let’s face it, a quesadilla is like the ultimate blank canvass for greatness.  Sandwich something between tortillas, add cheese and toast.  It’s hard to go wrong.  But smoked duck is unique unto itself.  Rich and lean at the same time, smokey, delicate, subtle yet extremely flavorful.  Brie cheese, goat cheese, fontina cheese… we’re on to something.  Add a little bit of roasted pasillo pepper, avocado and cilantro and viola!  France meets Mexico, and a great dish is created.

I love this dish.

I used to make this in restaurants, and people would go wild over it.  I would create apricot chutneys, red onion jams and things like that as condiments, but really, I think guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream are best.  It’s really a great dish, and I love making, selling and eating it.  The flavors explode off the plate, the smell is infectious (in a good way), it has great visual appeal, and it’s finger food!  Grab a piece and lay into it!  No forks necessary, which always makes it fun.

Three Cheese Smoked Duck and Pepper Quesadilla

Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  45 minutes
Inactive cook time:  30 minutes
Yield:  3 large, or 6 small quesadillas

Ingredients:

2 duck breasts, skin scored into x pattern
2 pasilla peppers
1 tbsp dark chili or ancho powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp curry powder
kosher salt
black pepper
1 cedar plank for grilling
3 oz plain goat cheese
4 oz shredded fontina cheese
3 oz shredded or thin sliced brie
1/2 red onion, small dice
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 avocado, peeled and cut into thin sliced
6 ea 10inch flour tortillas
vegetable oil

Method:

Prepare a grill to medium high heat.  Rub the duck with the dry ingredients and salt lightly on all sides.  Place the cedar plank on the grill, place the duck breasts skin side down on the grill, and place the pasilla peppers on the grill.  When the duck begins to render its fat, immediately place them skin side up on the cedar plank. They contain a lot of fat, and if you leave them on the direct heat for too long, the fat will burn, causing the duck to burn.  Close the grill lid.  When the peppers are charred on all sides, remove from the grill, place in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly cool.  Cook the duck on the cedar plank until cooked through, remove and let cool to room temp.

Peel the peppers, discarding stems and seeds.  Remove the skin from the duck, discard, and very thinly slice the breast meat.

Begin assembling the quesadillas.  Have a large saute pan at medium heat.  Using a paper towel, rub a very small amount of vegetable oil in the pan.  Place 1 tortilla in the pan, and begin layering the filling.  Place 1 layer of shredded fontina, followed by the duck, followed by the other cheeses, topped with the avocado, a few leaves of cilantro and a sprinkle of red onion.  The goat and brie cheeses should not evenly layered; they should be randomly placed within the quesadilla.  Place another tortilla on top and gently press.  Cook until the bottom tortilla is golden brown, and carefully flip*.  Continue cooking until the other tortilla is browned, and the cheese is melted through.

Remove from pan, cut into 6 even pieces and serve right away.

I like to serve this with guacamole, pica de gallo, sour cream, hot sauce and additional cilantro.

*If you find the tortillas are too large and difficult to flip, begin with 1 tortilla in the pan, arrange your fillings only half way up, and fold the tortilla in half.  This will make it much more manageable.

Enjoy.

Stop playing around: Pulled Chicken in Black Bean Sauce

The real deal.  No BS.  No Manches!  Or, Mexican slang for no messing around.  Dress to impress, cook like your life depends on it, kill or be killed.  When everything is on the line, these are the phrases we use.

When you apply for a job in the culinary world, it becomes reality.  You may now be intrigued, but may also thinking ‘how ridiculous, it’s only cooking’.  Or something along those lines.  Or not.

Professional culinary jobs, especially those in management, are coveted.  It’s like being hired as the director of finance, or senior database architect.  Different worlds, same principal:  you have competition.  Other people want your job, and are willing to work longer hours, receive less pay, and work harder than you.

So why am I going to hire you?  What can you do for me?

‘Well, as you can see from my resume, I have a solid background in management, I worked at every top restaurant in the world, I can run a 4 minute mile, I went to MIT, I’m a war hero, I won a Noble Prize, blah blah blah’

In the world of culinary, a resume might get you an interview.  Your performance and attitude will get you a job.  ‘Okay, your resume is very impressive, why don’t we get you in the kitchen now and see how you do’

Now it’s on.  No manches, no playing around.  I’ve been in this situation many times, and it’s what we like to call a bench test, or ‘stage’.  And anything is fair game.  Maybe they’ll throw you on a station for the night and see how you handle yourself.  Maybe they’ll give you a bunch of leftover stuff and make you turn it into a 4 course meal…. if you can.  Maybe you tour the walkin and pick out a few things and cook an entree.  Whatever it is, you better impress them, and represent yourself 100%, otherwise no matter how much experience you have and how good your resume is, this job isn’t for you.  We will keep your resume on file should anything come up in the next 6 months.

The following recipe is the type of recipe that might work.  For me.  It isn’t necessarily refined gourmet French, and is therefore a gamble, but it’s build upon unbridled culinary passion.  The technique and resulting flavor are phenomenal.  Every chef has seen seared scallops and pan roasted chicken.  We’ve all had truffle celery puree.  Big deal, you can make wilted spinach.  Wow.  Good one.

But this… no manches!  This might be good enough to set you apart.  Difficulty level: 5/10.  Easy money; present it elegantly, garnish it well, make a clean and well constructed plate composition, and land yourself a new job.  Welcome aboard.

Pulled Chicken with Black Bean Sauce      

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hr
Inactive cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 portions

Ingredients:

For the Chicken:

1 whole chicken, split down the keep bone
2 tbsp miso paste
1/2 cup light soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup assorted dried peppers
1 cup sake
1 tbsp spicy korean bean paste
1 knob ginger, smashed
1 stalk lemongrass, smashed
2 bay leaves

For the Black Bean Sauce:

1 can black beans, drained
1 jalapeno, stem removed
2 tbsp tapatio hot sauce
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder

To Finish:

kosher salt
black pepper
1/2 red onion, fine chop
1/2 bunch cilantro, rough chop

grated cheddar cheese

Method:

For the chicken:

Place everything in a pot, add water to barely cover.  Simmer for approx 1 hr, until cooked through and tender.  Strain, reserving the liquid.  Let chicken cool to room temp, about 30 minutes.  Pull the meat from the bones and shred.

For the sauce:

Place everything in a small sauce pot.  Add enough water to cover by about 3/4 inch.  Bring to a simmer, turn heat to very low and cook for 1/2 hour.  Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.  Reserve and keep warm.

To Finish:

Mix the chicken with the onion and black bean puree.  Place in a saute pan and gently reheat.  Add some of the reserved cooking liquid to make sure it doesn’t dry out.  When hot throughout, add the cilantro and check seasoning.  Serve, using the cheese as a garnish.

Best served with tortillas (flour or corn), avocado slices, and tomatillo salsa.

Enjoy.

Red Eye Chili

This is my third chili post, and as you may have gathered, I love chili.  More than the end result, I love the process of making chili the most.  It’s a complex dish, aggressively seasoned, highly diverse, and yet subtle in all the right ways.  A pinch of this, a dash of that… it all adds up in the end.  The smell of the meat simmering in a rich concoction of peppers, tomatoes, beans, southwest spices, chocolates, broths, powders… watching it darken as it reduces…
It’s enchanting and perfect for those of us who love to cook.

To recap:

My first chili post was a complex creature in which the sauce is similar to a Mexican mole: rich with dried peppers, chocolate and complex flavors.  My second post was a quick version: to produce a great chili without complicating things too much, and spending too much time.  This version will lie somewhere in the middle.  Complex, multi-step, yet easier to balance.

Red eye chili.  The name itself is enticing.  Red eye gravy is a traditional pork based southern sauce, is normally thin, and its dominant flavor profile is strong coffee.  Hence, red eye.  Normally, it accompanies ham steak, biscuits or grits, but ‘red eye’ can refer to any dish made with coffee.  It’s cheap but tastes great.  Red eye chili is my version of chili with coffee.  It’s delicious.

Ingredients:

1 large yellow onion, medium dice
1 lb ground bison
1 lb ground beef 90/10
1 lb ground pork
4 tbsp minced garlic
2 cups strong black coffee
1 8oz bottle regular coke
3 jalapenos, thin sliced
10 each assorted Mexican/south west dried chili peppers, stems removed
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups tomato puree or sauce
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
1 can red kidney beans, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can black beans, drained
4 tbsp dark chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 stick cinnamon
1 bunch cilantro
2 cups rich beef broth (if using canned, use low sodium, and reduce 4 cups to 2)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Method:

In a small sauce pot, begin warming the tomato puree along with all the dried pepper.  Bring to a simmer and let simmer while you are making starting the rest of the chili.

In a medium stock pot, begin browning the meat in the vegetable oil.  As it browns, stir and break it up with a wooden spoon.  Add the onions, peppers and garlic.  Cook until well browned and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper, add half the chili powder and all the cumin.  Add the beans, coke and coffee.  Bring to a boil and reduce slightly.

Transfer the tomato puree with peppers to a blender and add half the cilantro.  Puree until very smooth.  Add to the beef, along with the tomato paste and diced tomatoes.  Mix well.  Add the cinnamon stick, brown sugar, the rest of the chili powder and more salt.  Bring to a simmer and add the beef broth.

Bring to a low simmer and cook for approximately 3 hours, or until very thick.  Check seasoning.

Serve right away.

Best served with avocados, shredded lettuces, queso fresco or shredded cheddar, rice and lime wedges.

Enjoy.

Corn and Clam Chowder

Pork and shellfish.  Together, forever.  A kosher nightmare.

Think about it for a moment…

Scallops wrapped in bacon.  Prosciutto wrapped prawns.  Pork and shrimp sui mai.  Clams casino.  Any kind of chowder.   Oysters Rockefeller with pancetta or slab bacon.  The list goes on.  Each one is better than the next.  Pork and shellfish is a match made in heaven, and almost any conceivable combination is a winner.

Being from New England, chowder of course has a special place in my culinary repertoire.  By definition, a chowder is a soup containing pork and potatoes.  It does not need to be thick, does not need to be laden with clams and does not need to come from New England.  Or Manhattan.  It just needs pork and potatoes.

New England clam chowder, in my opinion, is the only acceptable form of chowder.  Clams, corn, bacon and red potatoes – it’s the best way, and after trying this recipe, I think you may agree.  Pork and shellfish, together at last.  I love the taste of sweet corn infused in the chowder, and the slightly briny flavor and chewy texture of clams is a must.

It is, as are many of my recipes, complicated and multi-step.  This is a fancy restaurant recipe for a relatively simply soup.  You can easily find other easier recipes and save yourself a lot of time and work.  But I would be cheating you, and myself, by not giving you every ridiculous and painstaking detail.  The different is in the details, and the proof is in the pudding.  Or, in this case, chowder.  Results matter, and I want your soup to be as good as possible.  Or at least give the recipe a good read-though and entertain yourself with the thought of making this.  What will it taste it?  What will it smell like?  How does the consistency come to be?  Feel free to comment or ask questions, I would love to hear reactions!

Corn and clam chowder
Prep time:  30 min
cook time:  1 1/2 hours
Yield: 6-8 portions

Ingredients:

5 strips thick cut apple or hickory smoked bacon – good quality – cut into 1/4 inch peices
3 large red skinned potatoes, washed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large yellow onion, small diced
1 rib celery, small dice
1 medium carrot, small dice
1/2 bunch chives, fine chop
4 oz (1 stick) whole organic unsalted butter
1 cup flour
1 qt half and half
1/2 qt heavy cream
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole peppercorns
3 lb little neck, manilla or mahogany clams
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups vegetable stock
3 whole cobs of corn, cut in half
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp paprika
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Method:

Submerge the clams in ice water and let rest for a couple hours.  The clams relax and release any sand they may have accumulated.  Drain the water and wash them under running cold water.

Place a large, heavy bottom straight sided saute pan over high heat.  When pan is hot, add all the clams, the fresh thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns and white wine.  Let wine reduce by half, add the vegetable stock, cover and cook until all clams have opened.  Remove the clams from the pan, strain the liquid through a fine strainer lined with a coffee filter, or clean dish rag (you want to make sure to strain out any tiny bits of sand or grit).

Reserve the liquid.  Remove the meat from the clams, discard the shells, and rough chop the meat.  The meat from these clams is much more tender than that of quahogs, and doesn’t need to be fine chopped.

Place the ‘clam’ stock in a medium sized stock pot along with the half and half.  Add the corn and cook for 1/2 hour.  Remove the corn and strip them of the kernels.  Reserve the kernels and return the cobs to the stock.  Let steep for as long as possible.

In a small stock pot, begin cooking the bacon.  When almost fully rendered, but not yet crisp, add the onion, celery, carrot and potatoes..  Continue cooking until translucent.  Add the butter and continue to cook until fully melted and foaming.  Add the flour and stir until a thick paste forms.  Begin adding the reserved stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring after each installment.  Continue in this fashion until the soup begins to loosen up.  Bring up to a simmer, which maximizes the thickening process.  Add the rest of the stock and bring to a simmer again.  The potatoes should be fully cooked.   Discard the corn cobs.  Season liberally with salt, pepper, the paprika and cayenne pepper.  Add the cream, the reserved corn and the chopped clams.  Check seasoning and re-season again if necessary.  Label soup into warm bowls, garnish with the chives and serve with oyster crackers.

Enjoy.

Ritz Cracker Crusted Haddock

This is New England through and through.  Thinking about this recipe makes me feel like I’m down on the Cape in the summer, instead of in Los Angeles in the winter.  You can almost smell lobsters boiling, potatoes cooking, and the briny wonderful aroma of a restaurant by the sea.  Restaurants like that, especially on the Cape, or southern Maine, are held to very rigid expectations.  You expect to have lobster, Wellfleet oysters on the half, chowdah, BLTs, and of course fresh and simply prepared northern Atlantic seafood.  Cod, sword, salmon, Pat’s clams, Nantucket diver scallops, bluefin tuna, butter fish… whatever else the boat brought back.  Catch of the Day, excellent stuff.

When I say ‘simply prepared’, I mean let those incredible flavors speak for themselves.  Do only what is required to make the seafood palatable, cooked if necessary, and delicious.  And it doesn’t require much.  It’s almost a theme through the entire blog:  simple is more often than not better.  Simple, like this recipe.  The minute you try to complicate it is the minute you ruin it.  Trust me, I’ve ruined too many over the years.

This recipe is a simple recipe, easy to make, and classic in every way.  Ritz crackers covering fresh haddock, baked with a little white wine and butter until golden brown.  It’s a little slice of the Cape in your home any time of year.  And it’s so good.  Is this restaurant food?  Absolutely.  No need to get fancy for this one, the simpler the better.  Do this right, and you’ll fall in love with seafood all over again.

About the recipe:  I add a few east coast ‘secret’ touches, which really aren’t secrets at all.  Add a little old bay for a well rounded flavor profile, some cayenne for a hint of heat, horseradish to balance the buttery cracker (and the butter itself) and white wine for a mellow acid, as opposed to lemon juice, which is powerful and dominating.  The real trick is use a hot oven and make sure to have a little liquid in the baking pan (again I use white wine and butter) instead of baking dry.

That’s really it.  Nothing fancy, just good New England coastal food.  Open up the menu with some shellfish, and close it down with a cobbler.  Wicked good!

Ritz Crusted Haddock

Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  20 minutes
Yield: 4 portions

For the Crust:
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tbsp old bay seasoning
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
8 oz crushed ritz crackers
melted butter (about 2 sticks, or as needed)
1/2 bunch parsley, fine chop
1 tbsp dry white wine
To Finish:
1 cup white wine
1 stick melted butter
kosher salt
ground black pepper
4 large pieces haddock or king cod, patted dry

Method:

Mix everything except the butter in a bowl until well combined.  Add enough butter until the mixture holds (it should feel like a meatball).

Heat your oven to 400.  Have a medium sized baking dish ready.

Lightly season the fish with salt and pepper.  Place the white wine and butter in the baking dish.  Add the fish (the wine should come up about 1/3 on the fish) and firmly press the crust on top of the fish.  Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes.  The fish should be cooked through, but not flaking, and the crust should be golden brown.

Remove the fish and serve right away.

Best served with horseradish mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and a little drizzle of warm butter and lemon.  A little tartar sauce and malt vinegar wouldn’t hurt either.

Enjoy.

Japanese Grilling Sauce – Tare

I can’t get over Japanese grilling.  Real Japanese grilling.  The incredible white hot charcoal, the intricate sauces, the simple ingredients.. it’s mesmerizing.  Similar to sushi, some chefs have dedicated their lives and career mastering the techniques.   Of course, I have tried.. dabbling here and there, and have discovered sort of pattern that runs consistent through many of these sauces.  The combination of sake, mirin, rice vinegar and soy seems to be the base of many of these sauces.  And from there, from that platform, is where the chef’s write their signatures.  Some add little bits of roasted chicken or meat, some add little pieces of dry Japanese mushrooms or seaweeds, others add additional sauces, fruits, preserves, or anything else ‘secret’ that works.

The sauce is known as ‘tare’, which is sort of an in-general term of Japanese grilling/dipping sauce.  The following is my version, and I think it works exceptionally well. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Japanese Tare Sauce

Prep time:  2 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield:  about 2 cups finished sauce

Ingredients:

1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sake
1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 knob ginger, smashed
1 cup orange juice
1/2 bunch scallions, cut in half
2 whole star anise
1/2 lb chicken bones, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tsp vegetable oil

Method:

Coat the chicken bits with vegetable oil.  Cook, slowly, over a hot grill until deeply cooked through.  In a medium sized sauce pot, combine all other ingredients except the soy sauce.   Add about 1 cup of water.  Put the cooked chicken bits in the sauce.  Reduce by half and add the soy sauce.  Reduce over medium low heat until slightly thick.

The sauce is now ready.  Traditionally, it’s used in two ways.  Either glaze proteins or vegetables with a pastry brush while cooking, or char your items on the grill, dip them into the sauce, and return them to the grill.  Personally, I like the second method; each dip adds more flavor to the sauce, but both ways work well.

Enjoy.

Espresso rubbed Tri-tip braise

Braised beef, more commonly known as pot roast, is such a familiar winter dish.  Everyone loves the smell, the anticipation, and the though of having a warm and hearty meal to look forward to.  Pot roast can, of course, turn out somewhat flavorless and tough.  We’ve all had it.  All the anticipation, the great aroma, the promise of a wonderful meal, just to find out that it lacks flavor, and is tough.  How disappointing.  Tough and flavorless pot roast.  No good.

So instead of going through the steps of a classic pot roast, let me turn you on to something guaranteed not to fail in the flavor department.  And as far as toughness goes, if you follow my steps, it won’t fail there either.  This is similar to pot roast in that it’s a braised beef recipe, and different in that the flavors are much bolder and a little off the beaten path.  And, this might be easier.

First, the choice of meat is always important.  Using a very lean rump roast or chuck roast will always end in a tough product.  They simply lack the fat to ever become naturally tender.  Sirloin tri-tip however, is perfect.  What a versatile cut!  It grills wonderfully, roasts well, and takes a braise extremely well.  It’s full of flavor, has just enough marbling to be tender, and is not expensive.  So, we’ll use it.  I employ a host of other ingredients, including dried peppers, classic coke, onions, garlic, and espresso powder.  Balancing espresso powder with chilis and beef is a match made in heaven.  Talk about big flavor.  Big aroma.  This is a great recipe.  It takes a little while to make, but so what?  If you’re going to braise beef, it’s going take a little while anyway.  

FYI, this recipe is also VERY crock-pot friendly, for those of you who looking for new and interesting crock pot recipes.  And, feel free to also add a little chocolate powder if you feel so inclined.  It’s a great touch and compliment.

Espresso Rubbed Sirloin Tri-tip Braise

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time:  4 1/2 hrs
Yield:  5 hearty portions

Ingredients:

3lb sirloin tri-tip roast, trimmed of excess fat
2 large yellow onions, peeled and cut in half
3 heads garlic, cut in half
2 tsp whole corriander
2 tsp whole cumin
1 1/2 tbsp espresso powder, plus 3 tbsp espresso powder
3 each dried ancho chili peppers
3 each dried anaheim chili peppers
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp tomato paste
8 oz regular coke
prepared chicken stock
3 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 tbsp chili powder
vegetable oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp onion powder
5 each oxtails or beef short ribs
kosher salt

Method:

In a mixing bowl, season the tri-tip with a little vegetable oil, chili powder, 1 1/2 tbsp espresso powder, ground cumin, and the onion powder.  Season liberally with salt and sear on all sides in a heavy bottom saute pan.

Place the seared beef in a medium stock pot.  Mix the tomato paste with a little warm water and add to the pot.  Add all other ingredients.  Lightly season with salt.  Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 4 hours.

Remove the beef and keep warm and covered.  Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer.  Using a ladle, remove the fat from the top.  Reduce the liquid until slightly thick.  When the beef is cool enough, shred and return to the sauce.  Keep heat low, and reseason.

The beef is now ready.  I like to serve this with potatoes and hearty winter vegetables, like carrots and brussel sprouts.

Enjoy.

Shrimp Fried Rice

Who doesn’t love fried rice?  Spicy, sweet, full of flavor, textures, and lovely little surprises that keep the dish interesting.  There are so many versions that it’s impossible to say there is one ‘correct’ version, but I love the southeast Asian/Thai style.  That means spicy, a little salty and usually has some sort of pork.  Do not be confused:  pork fried rice is different.  I use a little bacon for flavor only.

Fried rice is not complicated, but can be tricky to get right.  There are a couple of tricks and a couple of keys to success.  First and foremost, steam the rice well ahead of time!  You do not want the rice to be wet! Frying wet items usually ends up in disaster.  You want the rice to be cooked through, but cooled and somewhat dried out.  Second, make sure all your prep is done before you start cooking.  Fried rice is a quick cook, and you cannot be chopping and mincing and cooking at the same time.  Everything needs to be ready before cooking.  And last, think big flavors!  Wok cooking is fast, and by default, any fast cooking does not impart a lot of flavor into the food.  So you need to compensate by being a little more aggressive with seasoning.  Sesame oil, soy sauce and spicy Asian hot sauces add not only great flavor, but the necessary ‘pop’ the dish will need.

I am choosing shrimp fried rice for a couple reasons.  Shrimp is naturally sweet and will contrast the savory and spicy rice.  Second, shrimp has incredible natural flavor.  As mentioned, fried rice needs big flavor, or it’s perfect.  And last, shrimp cooks fast.  A good quality for a fast dish.  On a side note, pork fried rice or chicken fried rice is tough to produce because you need to find a way to make the chicken or pork tender, flavorful and succulent without over or under cooking.  Many times, the pork or chicken is cooked separate (slow grilled, roasted, etc) shredded and added a la minute.  Or sliced very thin ahead of time.

Shrimp Fried Rice

Prep time:  20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield:  Enough for 4 portions

Ingredients:

1 large shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small knob ginger, peeled and minced
1 tbsp sambal olek
1 slice bacon, fine chop
2 cups steamed jasmine rice (start with 1 cup uncooked rice)
1/2 cup uncooked, peeled and deveined rock shrimp, or any other small shrimp (41/50)
3 scallions, thin slice on a bias
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 organic eggs
1 carrot, small dice
1/2 cup bean sprouts
kosher salt
black pepper
peanut or vegetable oil
toasted and crushed peanuts
siracha sauce

Method:

In a wok, or large saute pan, begin heating about 1 tbsp peanut oil.  Have a strainer or several paper towels at hand.  Begin cooking the bacon.  When it begins rendering, add the shallot, ginger, sambal olek and garlic.  When fragrant, add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the shrimp is just beginning to turn pink.  Remove everything from the pan, and let drain in the strainer or on paper towels.  Refresh the oil in the pan.  Add the eggs and a dash of soy sauce.  Scramble in the pan, over very high heat.  When cooked, remove the eggs from the pan and let drain.  Add a little more peanut oil and begin toasting the rice with the carrot.  Cook until slightly colored, but not burning.  Add the sesame oil and the remainder of the soy sauce.  Stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan.  Add a small amount of siracha, 3/4 of the bean sprouts and half the scallions.  Keep stirring.  Return the shrimp and eggs to the pan.  Taste and add salt, spice or soy sauce if necessary.  When you’re happy with the flavor, and it shouldn’t require much, transfer the rice to a serving bowl.  Garnish with the remainder of the bean sprouts, scallions and crushed peanuts.  Serve right away.

Feel free to add peas, tofu, snap peas, or anything else you love in fried rice.

Enjoy.

Cucumber and Tomato ‘Pickle’ salad

This is a delightfully easy and refreshing salad.  When I’m in the mood for a salad but don’t feel like cutting and washing lettuces and a million other things, this is my go-to.  It is most appropriate in the summer months, but due to the ‘brine’ marinade, I qualify it as a winter salad too.  And the seasons don’t matter when good food is at hand, or you live in southern California.

I say ‘brine’ marinade because a brine is what gives us pickles.  Sugar, salt and vinegar are the basis.  They inject their flavors, leaving a crunchy, sweet/sour, and somewhat preserved product.  It replaces any homemade or store-bought dressing, is easier, and imparts a great flavor.  And, in this particular case, is all you need to make the ingredients shine.

Again, this is a basic recipe.  Some versions will call for fresh dill.  Others, sour cream.  To make it Japanese, use rice wine vinegar, mirin and soy.  Koreans will also add some fish sauce and lots of dry/fresh chili peppers.  Obviously, the versatility is there, and you can do what you want with it.  I prefer it simple and refreshing.

Cucumber/Tomato ‘pickle’ Salad

Prep time:  10 minutes
Yield:  enough for 4 sides

Ingredients:

1 English cucumber
2 roma tomatoes
1/2 red onion
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp kosher salt
pinch of crushed pepper flakes

Method:

Cut the tomatoes in quarters, the long way.  Run your knife under the seeds and pulp.  Discard the seeds and pump and chop tomato ‘petal’ into roughly 1/2 inch pieces.  Place in a mixing bowl.  Slice the cucumber as thin as possible (a mandolin works best).  If using a knife to do this, make sure the knife is very sharp and take your time – the thinner the better.  Same applies to the onion.  Slice it julienne style as thin as possible.  Place everything in the mixing bowl with about 2 tbsp cold water.  Taste it and adjust it if necessary.  It might need a little more vinegar, sugar or salt.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Drain the brine and serve right away.

Enjoy.