Thursday, January 17, 2013

Miso, umami, and those nifty Japanese

Umami is considered the fifth taste to go along sour, sweet, salty, and bitter.  It is more of an unctous, feel-good, yummy in my tummy kind of flavor.  To me at least.  The Japanese came up with the name for it (and maybe were the first to figure it out? Maybe?) and appropriately so since a lot of their cuisine is jacked full of L-glutatmate.  Miso soup, that piping hot sushi joint staple, is filled to the brim with umami ingredients, and yes miso is one of them.

I usually find it in paste form and it is simply mixed with water.  Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer for a few, taste, adjust, use.  It was the base of the sauce with the salmon dish pictured above. 

First get your pan really hot.  The test I like to use is to drop some driplets (those are baby drops) into the dry pan.  If the driplets bounce and dance around the pan I call it ready to go.  If they stick in one spot and boil; wait longer.  If they immediately vanish in a puff of smoke; I don't know what to tell you.  Next was some peanut oil and let this get nice and hot once again.  It should shimmer slightly.  My seasoned salmon goes in, presentation side down, and I turn the heat down to medium and don't touch it.  Let it get a nice, flavorful crust on the pretty side and do almost all of the cooking that way.  The salmon shouldn't stick at all.  If it did it means you're an impatient ninny-muggins and you didn't let the pan get hot enough.  Flip it for a minute or so and then I put mine into a low (180F) toaster over to keep it warm.  Back to the pan we put in minced garlic and ginger, stir, smell, and toss in sliced red pepper and mushrooms (shiitakes if ya got 'em).  When they are half done I put in my miso/water mixture, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce.  Then baby bok choy and clams go in with the lid on to steam the goodness in. 

When the clams have popped open it is time to plate din din!  I made a nice bed of the veggies, put the salmon on top (with some toasted seasame seeds and sliced raw scallions, arrange the clams, and sauced it up!  (Next time I am going to use smaller clams.  Count necks would be a good option.  These suckers were a little too big and chewy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Library requirements

In the two year hiatus of this blog more than a couple food books came into my collection. However two of them have become my daily go-to books for inspiration and direction; The Flavor Bible and Michael Ruhlman's Twenty. The Flavor Bible is a list of ingredients with a sub-list of all the ingredients that pair with the category. So if you have a random impulse to buy crayfish and don't know what to do with them... The Flavor Bible lists everything that top chefs from around the world say pair with crayfish. And, between font style and punctuation, it tells you the "strength" with which it pairs. When looking at crayfish it lists basil and also thyme with thyme being the stronger match. This book is a great resource for recipe formulation. I use it more than any other book in my collection.

Ruhlman's Twenty explores twenty fundamental ingredients and techniques to our cooking today. There is a brief, or not so, dialogue about the properties of the subject and then recipes follow. The best part of it to me is that it is all the basics. One topic he chose is water. Hard to get more basic than that. Don't be fooled into thinking the book doesn't offer you anything either. He sets the groundwork for you to go into culinary ga-ga land if you want.  Blogs need a photo it seems so above is obviously a hard boiled egg, also which is in Ruhlman's Twenty.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Building Blocks

Here at House Zube we are working to establish a good pantry collection. And not just dried pasta, canned thingies, and lots of vinegars and oils, but the freezer as well. I come from a Hunter-Gatherer background and a full freezer, and while I don't hunt anymore I can gather with the best of 'em. It's fun to wake up, want duck breast, and have some chillin' (get it!) in the freezer. My freezer pantry is being extended to more then just purchased protein too. I have decided to make more building blocks, to have on hand, for my cooking. For years I have been making big batches of chicken stock, freezing it into blocks, and storing for use as needed. Now I'm expanding. So far I have stock, some pork braising liquid,and soffrito (slow cooked onions and tomatoes in olive oil) put away for a rainy day. Today I am making Thomas Keller's mushroom conserva from Ad Hoc. You take a bucket load of mushrooms and steep them in hot, infused olive oil for 45 minutes and then keep them in the fridge for up to a month. And per usual for Mr. TK this recipe is about layering flavors so that the sum is greater than the components. -fast forward a couple of weeks- "Hmm, I want chicken and mushrooms tonight," you think quietly to yourself on the ride home. You could slice mushrooms and saute in some olive oil, maybe even add a little garlic or onion. Some thyme is always nice but you don't have any and its 7F outside your car. OR you could use the mushrooms that have been so lovingly bathing in the opulence of infused olive oil for the last fortnight eagerly awaiting the chance to adorn you plate! Personally I am in favor of option B. An hour of work (including steeping time) and I will have this rich, umami-packed "condiment" ready at a moment's notice. Sign me up please! 2 lbs assorted mushrooms (its January in Maine... I used cremini, shiitake, and button) 2 bay leaves 2 cups olive oil 4 thyme sprigs 1 rosemary sprig salt and pepper to taste 3 tbs sherry vinegar 1 teaspoon piment d'Espelette (fancy chili powder. I used guajillo. You could use ancho, cayenne, or just not) Yields around 3 cups. Heat olive oil, thyme, bay leaves, and rosemary in a wide bottom pot (I used my dutch oven) to 170F. Add mushrooms, bring temp back up to 170F for 5 minutes. Cut heat and cover. Let it stand for 45 minutes. Package it up in an airtight container with the mushrooms submerged and put in the fridge for up to one month. That's it. It is that simple. Bonus feature is that when the mushrooms are gone you have some very nice mushroom-infused olive oil for vinaigrettes, bread-dipping, or whatever else tickles your fancy!