Not that I haven’t always been an odd duck, but as a child, I didn’t eat any sort of seafood except for oysters. Fish was assumed to taste the way it smelled, crabs looked like spidery ocean monsters, and shrimp had to have been the grossest looking things I’d ever seen. But oysters! How I loved them so! My favorite preparation was fried with lots of lemon and ketchup, and I would adore the nights our family and extended family would pile into the car to go to the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House for their All-You-Can-Eat extravaganza. I’ve grown to become EEO about seafood (I’m sorry for judging you guys!) and adore just about every fresh catch I can get my hands on, but oysters hold a special place in my heart. Continue reading Oyster Rockefeller Dressing
When did the art of creaming vegetables become en vogue? And when did it fall out of favor in the first place, with poor creamed corn holding up the fort, all the while labeled as low-brow and trailer park? It’s rather silly given that if ever there was a way to get people to give vegetables a chance, it’s to slather them in cream.
The first time I ever tried creamed spinach, I wasn’t really a true spinach convert. Boston Market (then Boston Chicken) had opened down the street from us and the family decided to give it a try. The guy working the counter (aka the “Side Dish Pimp”) tried to sell us on the glories of their creamed spinach, touting it as a game changer. We took the bait and I took my first bite of the stuff, more dairy than veg and not at all what I had imagined it to be. Years later, I realize that what I had had wasn’t revolutionary, but it did deserve credit for resoundingly convincing me that spinach is on my team 100%. *in my best Will Ferrell as Robert Goulet voice* “You win, spinach. You always do!” Continue reading Creamed Spinach
*in Jay-Z voice* “Tim, you did it again. You’re a genius.” Not too often when I’m cooking am I reminded of the fine balance between strict adherence to technique and freestyle improvisation in the kitchen. This recipe is like a dance – you certainly want to follow the rules to coax it into perfection, but there is room for you to do your thang as well. In essence, it’s everything I love about the kitchen. And as I watched my husband take the first bite of the final product and nod his head knowingly that this was something of pure majesty, I loved it all the more.
In Chef Tim Ma’s interview for this site, he talks about the importance of organization in the kitchen. As home cooks, although we don’t go all out with a true mise en place and prep kitchen work, there is something to be said for taking time to lay out all of your ingredients before you launch into the assembly of the dish. This recipe is a great example of this fact – chopping all of your ingredients first and setting up your kitchen before turning on the stove will allow you the luxury of breezing through this one. When you are all finished, you take a bite and marvel at the genius your tucking into without feeling as if you slaved at all.
Tim purports that this dish is an excellent use of many important kitchen techniques – I see it as a reminder of how much there is to learn in the kitchen, far beyond what we’ve learned from our families or from puttering around on our own with a bit of trial and error. Spending the time to figure out how to properly treat ingredients is so very necessary, and though we won’t all have the honor or luxury of attending cooking school, it doesn’t mean we can’t go out of our way with a little self-directed study on proper methods and techniques. Consider this recipe a solid lesson with Chef Tim as the instructor du jour.
Since we don’t have access to a live demonstration of this one (yet), a trickier part of the recipe is in the deboning of the chicken leg and thigh as one piece. While you can absolutely have your butcher do this for you, it’s a lot more interesting to grab a sharp knife and try it out for yourself. I found this old video of Paul Prudhomme doing it, and teacher that I am, I love his level of encouragement offered to newbies trying this for the first time. Yes, you can do this, and no, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never done it before. Now, fancy names be damned, go get yourself some roast chicken and mushroom action.
Roast Chicken Leg and Thigh with Chardonnay Sauce, Trumpet Mushroom Duxelle and Fingerling Potatoes
2 trumpet mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 tbs. of butter
half of a lemon, juiced
1 shallot, minced
1 oz. of slab bacon or salt pork
1/4 c. of caramelized onions
2 chicken legs and thighs, deboned
2 tbsp dry chardonnay
4 tbsp vegetable or chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
1 lb. of fingerling potatoes
duck fat (or vegetable oil if you don’t have any)
salt and pepper
Melt 2 tbs. of butter in a large pan over low heat. Add bacon or salt pork and sweat for a few minutes without giving it color. Add shallots and sweat without giving color for a few minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to cook over low heat, adding a pinch of salt, pepper and the lemon juice. The mushrooms will begin to release water – once the water is completely absorbed, stop cooking. Add caramelized onions and toss to heat. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Heat a new pan that can go into the oven over high heat with a little blended oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Once pan is hot, add chicken legs skin side down and cook over high heat for a minute. Place entire pan in oven and cook until chicken registers 165°, about 10 minutes. Take pan out, remove chicken, drain oil. Deglaze pan with chardonnay, scraping up the brown bits. Reduce wine by half, add stock and reduce by half again. Turn fire off, add 2 tbs. of butter and whisk until incorporated. Place mushroom mix in center of plate, top with chicken, add sauce around, garnish with parsley.
To cook the fingerlings, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add potatoes and blanch for 3-4 minutes. Drain and dry well. Add about 2 inches of oil (or equivalent amount of duck fat) to a heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat until a piece of bread, when dropped into the oil, browns in 3 seconds. Add the potatoes to the pan, being careful to stand back if the skins sputter a bit. Allow to cook for a minute, remove and drain on paper towels and salt and pepper immediately while still hot. If you’d like to time this all so that the potatoes are finished at the same time as the chicken, cook the potatoes as soon as the chicken goes into the oven.
A pot of mussels, for me, is a treat worth sharing with special folks around. It’s rare these days that we get to partake in such a tactile experience – a large pot is slapped in the middle of a table, and folks collectively tuck in with their hands, scooping, dipping and munching on sweet mussels and typically a tangle of crispy fries or crusty bread. Mussels come in a million preparations, but this little bivalve is ever so easy to prepare. You’ve just got to know all the tricks.
When you get your mussels, they need to be alive before you cook them. A dead mussel in the pot will make your tummy unhappy later. As you go through them, mussels should be closed and if open, should close after you agitate them a bit. I usually just tap them on the counter and wait for them to close slowly. If they refuse to close, chuck ’em before cooking.
After you cook the mussels, it’s the opposite deal. If they stay closed after cooking, they are bad. Don’t eat them for fear of even more tummy unhappiness.
As I mentioned before, there are tons of way to sauce these guys – this recipe is based on one of my favorite preparations as featured by The Smith here in NYC. They bathe their bivalves in a lovely combo of shallots, thyme, wine and cream. It’s a luscious sauce that is meant to be sopped up with bread, fries, or whatever carb you can grab the fastest. I enhance my own with a heaping spoon of dijon mustard and a bit of garlic – deliciousness for an incredibly low price. If you can believe it, restaurants charge $17 or more per pound of mussels, whereas you can purchase them for as little as $2 a pound to cook at home! Outrageous! Not to mention the fact that you can be assured that your mussels are clean and fresh before cooking – not the case when you eat them out. If ever there was a case for cooking at home, this is it. Include this recipe on the menu for your next date night and savor the simple pleasure of a shared dish and company close at hand. It’s a dying art, I tell you.
Steamed Mussels with Tarragon and Shallots
2 lbs. of mussels, scrubbed of barnacles
3 tbs. of butter
2 cl. of garlic, smashed
1 c. of dry white wine
bunch of tarragon
2 tbs. of dijon mustard
1/2 c. of cream
salt and pepper
Check mussels to make sure that they are still alive – mussels should close after you tap them on the counter or rap them a bit with your finger. Clean mussels of any grit or barnacles on the shells and put into a large bowl. Fill bowl with cold water and let the mussels sit for a half an hour. This allows them time to expel any sand or grit – you’ll actually hear the mussels bubbling around in the water.
In a large pot or huge skillet, chuck in 2 tbs. of butter and melt on low. Turn up the heat to medium and add shallots and garlic. Cook until translucent and then crank the heat to high. Dump in wine, tarragon, and mussels and cover the pot. Cook 5-6 minutes or until mussels open up. Remove mussels from the pot and set aside, discarding any mussels that didn’t open in the cooking process. Boil sauce down, whisking in mustard and cream. Allow to reduce by 1/4 and then taste for salt and pepper. Pour sauce over mussels and serve, making sure to sop up the sauce with bread or crisp fries.