Friday, March 30, 2012

Whole Fried Chicken Momofuku Style: An Experiment


One of my fondest food memories from my early childhood in Seoul consists of walking over to a neighborhood food market with my family and picking up the two items that everyone craved: a whole fried chicken and kimbop.  No, not a roast chicken or fried chicken parts but rather a WHOLE FRIED chicken!  (The kimbop is a Korean maki roll—something I’ll save for another post.)

To be sure, there are plenty of yummy foods I’ve eaten since (and most of them healthier than a whole fried chicken!).  But nostalgia is pretty seductive, and the unique qualities of that whole fried chicken have grown to epic proportions.  I had to replicate that flavor!  When I came across David Chang’s recipe for Fried Chicken with Octo Vinaigrette, I wondered whether this was, at last, something I could modify. (Click here for the post: http://eatingreadingwriting.blogspot.com/2011/12/tale-of-two-fried-chickens.html)

The recipe we used originally was intended for a chicken cut up into quarters, which we had instead cut into ten pieces (Click here for the original recipe: http://almostbourdain.blogspot.com/2010/01/momofuku-fried-chicken-with-octo.html).  But I was determined to attempt my own version of my childhood fried whole chicken.

First, we had to get a small fryer.  It’s quite easy to find a whole chicken for roasting (those that are usually 4+ pounds), but whole chickens for frying are less available.  We’d given up the search and was on the prowl for a chicken around 3 ½ pounds when—of course it happens when you’re not actually looking—we found Kosher fryers at a Costco (in Glenview, IL) sold in a 2-pack and each only weighing 2 ¾ pounds!


After brining the whole chicken in the mixture of water, salt, and sugar for about 5 hours, I set up a stove-top steamer.  I followed the recipe directions to steam for 40 minutes and then checked its progress, fully expecting to steam a bit longer—after all, I was steaming a whole chicken instead of parts.  To my surprise and dismay, the chicken was fully cooked already, with legs having pulled away from the bone.  Next time, I’ll steam a chicken this size for no longer than 30 minutes since the ripped skin and pulled flesh made it a bit harder to manipulate afterwards (since I feared dismantling the bird with every move).


Then I cooled the steamed chicken as directed and tied its legs together.  Once the chicken was ready, I set up my ancient but trusty deep fryer and set to work.  Here, the timing was off was well, but in the other direction.  While chicken pieces I fried in the same way crisped up in minutes (the recipe said 6-8 minutes), the whole chicken would not brown or crisp as quickly.  So, despite the fact that the chicken was fully cooked, I had to keep frying—turning every once in a while in a delicate maneuver, afraid the legs would rip off from the body.

At last, the color looked brown enough, and the skin felt crispy.  I let it sit to drain excess oil and to rest—and to let the skin crisp up further.  All the while, we were a bit apprehensive since the frying process was much longer (about 25 minutes) and we were afraid that the chicken would be too dry.  Once we plated the chicken and put the prepared Octo Vinaigrette in a small bowl, we were ready to dig in.  No worries.  The chicken was not dry but instead flavorful and crispy, its pure brined and fried flavor complemented by the vinegar-y sauce.  Just like I remembered!—I think…



Friday, March 23, 2012

Australian “Shrimp on the Barbie” on Your Own Patio



The consequences of Chicago’s unseasonably mild March has been the uptick in everyone’s (Spring Feverish?) desire to grill outdoors.  With the first days of my Spring Break bringing sunny days in the mid-80s, we almost had no choice but to use our Weber.  After all, it felt odd to turn on air conditioning in the middle of March, yet the idea of cooking indoors with the heat and humidity seemed a little obscene.  So out we went.

Did we mention that our Grill Guru is Steven Raichlen?  One of our favorite and quick (last minute) dishes to grill is his “Honey Sesame Shrimp ‘On the Barbie’” (from The Barbecue Bible, pp.349-350).  The dish only requires 30 (to 60) minutes of marinating time, the ingredient list includes items that we almost always have around the house, and there are no special tools or tricks needed to produce a uniquely flavorful taste.  What more can I ask for?


(If you want the recipe, the Huffington Post provides it in the link here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/honey-sesame-shrimp-on-th_n_1049708.html)

To pull together our first meal-on-the-patio of 2012, we accompanied the Honey Sesame Shrimp with the following sides:


Simple Rice Pilaf:
The Honey Sesame Shrimp recipe yields a goodly amount of glazy sauce (image below) which is nicely complemented by rice.  I am normally happy to steam some rice, but I also happened to have some jasmine rice from Friday’s dinner.  I love leftover makeovers, so rice pilaf is what I decided on.

Melt some butter (3-4 teaspoons) on medium-high heat in a large pan, lightly sauté 1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley or green onion (this step is optional), and then crumble into the pan 2-3 cups cooked rice to mix.  After a few minutes of stirring, drizzle about 2 teaspoons of low-sodium soy sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  If you want your pilaf darker, drizzle some more soy sauce.  Salt and pepper to taste, and mix thoroughly.


Grilled Corn on the Cob:
We used to be amongst those who insist on soaking corn in sugared and salted water and then wrapping corn in aluminum foil or corn husks to grill.  About a decade ago, we learned—once again via Steven Raichlen—to skip all those steps, and we have not looked back. 

Simply slather your corn on the cob with some melted butter, salt, and pepper.  Grill, turning occasionally, until bits of kernels are browned and caramelized.  The natural sweetness of the corn is brought out by this process without any additional steps.  One of our favorite summer foods!


Asian salad:
Since the shrimp marinade includes soy sauce and sesame oil, I replicate some of those flavors in a slightly spicy soy-sesame vinaigrette.  You can go without the spiciness if you don’t tolerate red pepper flakes well.  However, if you can handle a little bit of spice, that additional flavor profile will pull together—without repeating too monotonously—the soy-sesame flavor of the shrimp.

Take whatever greens you have, halve cherry or grape tomatoes, slice some dill or Persian cucumber, and chop or julienne green onions.  For the dressing, use about 2 tablespoon canola oil, 1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil, 1 tablespoon rice wine (or white wine) vinegar, and 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 small clove minced garlic, 1 teaspoon green (or red) onion, hot pepper flakes (crushed, cayenne, Korean chile peppers, etc.), salt and pepper.  Whisk or shake in a jar.  The dressing is ready now, but do not mix with greens until you are ready to eat your salad, especially if you are using any sort of delicate lettuces like butter, arugula, red/green leaf lettuce, etc.  You don't want the greens wilting before you can get to them!

Now all you need to complete the meal is a chilled bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc which, while from New Zealand rather than Australia, really is a must for your warm weather drinking with food.  Let your pet lie on the patio with you while you all soak up some sunshine and warmth, and enjoy your Spring! 


Friday, March 16, 2012

Smoked Salmon Hash: An Anytime Elegant Meal


During a weekend house party in Ann Arbor several years ago, our hosts prepared a lovely dish of salmon hash for breakfast.  They had poached the salmon beforehand, and the flaked salmon was served with potato hash.  I forgot to ask for the recipe, but I found it simple enough to recreate.  (And, really, it’s easier to approximate dishes than to follow recipes since you don’t have to feel like you’re doing anything “wrong,” per se.)  Since then, salmon hash is something that I cook up for any meal—including a mid-week dinner recently.

I’m not generally a huge recipe follower anyway—or writer of recipes, for that matter—and my suggestion is definitely for you to use whatever you have.  I don’t often have fresh salmon I’m poaching for a Wednesday night dinner in between grading papers and preparing for classes.  So I’ve found it more manageable to use smoked salmon (cold or hot smoked).  If you want to poach fresh salmon, that’s wonderful!  If you don’t have fresh pepper of any kind, see if you have jarred roasted peppers (and add later in the cooking process).  Bored with potatoes?  Try using sweet potatoes.  Want to make it special?  Use leeks instead of onions.  No crème fraiche?  Sour cream can easily replace that in the cream sauce.  Other herbs (dried or fresh) can be substituted for the tarragon.  Get creative.  That way, you get to make your own indelible mark on a dish anyway.

So, here is a basic foundational recipe for Smoked Salmon Hash (for Two):

Ingredients:

For the sauce:
½ cup crème fraiche (or sour cream)
2 T white whine vinegar
1 t chopped herbs like tarragon and thyme (if using dried herbs, use half the amount and crumble with your fingers)
salt

For the hash:
Canola or vegetable oil
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, diced in ¼ inch pieces
1 medium onion, peeled, diced in ¼ inch pieces
½ green or red pepper, diced in ¼ inch pieces
4 oz. smoked salmon (or fresh, poached salmon—or leftover cooked salmon)
salt and pepper

2 eggs (for poaching)
Tabasco or other hot sauce (optional)

Directions:

1.  Combine all sauce ingredients and set aside to meld flavors.


2.  Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over medium to medium-high heat, then add potatoes and cook for about 3 minutes.  Then add onions and cook for about 5 more minutes until the potatoes are just starting to brown and the onions get translucent.  Then add peppers and cook for another 5 minutes or so.  Salt and pepper to taste.


3.  Slice up or flake salmon and add to the hash mixture and cook for about 3 more minutes for the salmon to warm up and to mix with the hash.  The hash is done.


4.  Poach 2 eggs (following the simple directions below) and nestle on top of plated hash, then dash some hot sauce on top.  Spoon a bit of sauce on the side of the hash to dip or mix.  Enjoy!

Note: For the easiest and fastest poached eggs, I follow this basic procedure I learned from bon appetit.   

In a measuring cup or a teacup, pour in ½ cup of water.  Crack an egg carefully into the water.  Cover with a saucer, and place in microwave to heat on High for 1 minute.  Drain, pat dry, and serve!  (You might want to play around with the timing depending on the microwave and the size of the eggs you are using.  Once you get the hang of it, poaching eggs this way will save a lot of time and mess, especially on a busy weeknight.)


Friday, March 9, 2012

Must-Visit Brunch Places and Must-Eat Brunch Dishes


The November 2011 issue of Chicago Magazine presented what seemed to be a comprehensive list of “Best Breakfasts in Chicago and the Suburbs: Great Restaurants to Try Now” (http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/November-2011/Best-Breakfasts-in-Chicago/).  Including in their round-up many diners and bagel joints and French bistros, the list offered a wide variety of brunch possibilities.  Among them, some of our favorites include Lula Café, M. Henry, Café Selmarie, Over Easy, and Tre Kronor.  There were also places on that list that we have tried for dinners that we are curious about brunching in, like Takashi (for their Sunday ramen brunches) and Sola (with their Hawaiian theme).

As full as the list was though, it was not exhaustive.  There are two more places that I would add—though at least one is quite new and might not have been offering brunches at the time of Chicago Magazine’s compilation.  In fact, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t rather let these two other brunch places stay under the radar since part of their irresistible charm for me is that they are accessible.  While M. Henry and Lula Café both serve exceptional breakfasts, it’s a bit discouraging to think about having to be in Andersonville at 7:58am and no later than 9:07am at Logan Square for these two stand-outs.  That just doesn’t resemble my idea of a relaxing Sunday brunch…

Thus far, Libertad (in Skokie: http://www.libertad7931.com/brunch/) and Prairie Grass Café (in Northbrook: http://www.prairiegrasscafe.com/index.php?page=brunch) have not been discovered enough for their brunches—though their bustling dinner service on most nights indicate that they have indeed been “discovered” by enough people.  We enjoy being able to stroll in at 10:00am to either place and having absolutely no trouble getting a table.  Prairie Grass opens for breakfast at 9:30am on Sundays and is large enough that the restaurant is not filled at 10:00am.  Libertad is smaller, but they don’t open until 10:00am anyway, so it’s a perfect match for me and Will on Sunday mornings.

Of course, this post about Chicago-area brunch places might not be much help to those who reside elsewhere, but ultimately this post isn’t about specific restaurants so much as (strictly personal) observations about what dishes brunch places should definitely include on their menu.


1) Some type of Eggs Benedict:
The picture above is of Prairie Grass’s Signature Benedict with sauteed spinach, crumbled bacon, and roasted tomato Hollandaise sauce.  Perhaps I might prefer a tad more their Portobello Mushroom Benedict which consists of two eggs over panko-crusted and fried Portobello mushroom caps, and also smothered with a roasted tomato Hollandaise sauce.  It’s a pretty special dish, and vegetarians might appreciate a change-of-pace from the spinach eggs benedict which is the usual option for non-meat-eaters.  Of course, I enjoy other benedicts as well (traditional Canadian ham, salmon, crab cake, etc.).


2) Some type of Belgian waffle dish:
Not everyone has a Belgian waffle-maker at home.  Even those who do (namely, us) have discovered that it’s not the easiest thing to make fluffy and crisp Belgian waffles first thing in the morning if you have not planned for it ahead of time.  The best waffle recipes seem to require an overnight rest of the yeast batter or dough and so this is not the spontaneous brunch option for most people.  I love Belgian waffles on their own, but at restaurants I also expect to be offered something special.  Like the yummy Belgian Waffle with mango ice cream and fresh berries, pictured above, from Prairie Grass.

Prairie Grass's bacon waffle with Valrhona chocolate sauce was not as successful—with the crispiness of the waffle muted by the bacon, and the delicate texture overwhelmed by the chocolate sauce which was more milk chocolate than I expect from a Belgian sauce. In fact, Will's Liege-style traditional Belgian waffle (firmer texture, with pearl sugars bursting through)--drizzled with a chocolate sauce I made from Callebaut dark chocolate and accompanied, in the photo at the top, with a small scoop of pistachio gelato--might have been a better combination.  It doubles nicely as dessert too.  (Click here for a good streamlined recipe for Liege-style waffles.)


3) Some type of special French toast dish:
Many restaurants offer different foundations like banana-bread French toast and pumpkin-bread French toast.   Those are great options, but even just a regular French toast is acceptable too—as long they are accompanied by something singularly interesting.  Libertad serves their French toast with habanero-butternut compote (it’s got a sweet and kicky flavor, and you do taste the habanero!) and roasted pineapple ice cream which provides a sweet cool contrast to the spicy heat of the butternut compote.


4) Some type of breakfast sandwich or burrito:
It feels a little special to have what sounds like lunch or dinner food in the morning, so breakfast “sandwiches” are nice additions to a brunch menu.  It’s even better when your runny egg and bacon torta is accompanied by chimichurri fries the way Libertad serves it.  Remember though that breakfast sandwiches which include runny fried eggs are quite messy to eat, so you might want to save this dish for when you are with someone you don’t need to impress.    


Friday, March 2, 2012

Dinner Challenge: Deconstructed Seafood Kebabs


It sounds a bit masochistic, but we enjoy making an elaborate production out of our Sunday dinners.  We occasionally have friends over as guests to share our end-of-the-weekend last hurrah, but most weekends it’s just me and Will at the dinner table (with our dog Katie underneath, playing footsies with us and hoping for scraps which she knows she won’t get).  Regardless of whether or not we have other guests, these multi-course dinners are planned in advance: shopping completed, dessert baked, and appropriate wine picked out before we start our actual dinner prep.  Usually.

This past Sunday, we got behind.  Between attending to stacks of grading and a condo gone amuck with weekday clutter, we discovered that we had done no food shopping for our Sunday dinner by the time it was 5pm.  Luckily, we were able to raid our refrigerator and our pantry—where part of our clutter resides.  After we took stock of what items were possible candidates for a main course, we ran into a slight timing issue.  We had plenty of frozen meats (from chicken parts, pork loin chops, to even a tenderloin roast!), but none would defrost quickly (and naturally) enough.  For fast defrosting, we rely on seafood, but we had just enough for half of a shrimp entrée or for half of a scallops entrée.

Since the weather was relatively balmy for end of February in Chicago, we wanted to grill.  So we looked for inspiration from our go-to grill guru, Steve Raichlen, whose Barbecue Bible and How to Grill ought to be required readings for all would-be grill hosts.  His “Latin Quarter Shrimp Kebabs” sounded good—and luckily we did have enough vegetables for kebabs—but we didn’t have enough shrimp for both of us (and our requisite leftovers).  Then Will reminded me that we threw away our bamboo skewers in a hasty fit of de-cluttering.  Thus, out of necessity, invention emerged!

Here’s what we ended up doing for our Dinner Challenge: “Deconstructed Seafood Kebabs.”

Ingredients:


For the oil:
1/3 cup olive oil
1 sprig rosemary
3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in halves or quarters

For the herb salt:
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon black pepper

For the Deconstructed Kebabs:
12 large shrimp (21-25 count), shelled and deveined
6 large sea scallops, side mussels removed, and cut in half (leaving smaller scallops whole)
1 medium or ½ large red onion, peeled, cut into 8 wedges
1 medium or ½ large green pepper, cut up into 1½-2 inch pieces
1 lemon, with ½ of the lemon cut into 8 pieces and reserving the other half  
½ pint cherry or grape tomatoes, or 1 large tomato cut into 8 pieces

1 large naan bread

(Serves 3-4)

Directions:

1.  After starting the grill to pre-heat, warm olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, add garlic and rosemary sprig, and let cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.  Then turn off heat and let the garlic and herb infuse the oil while you prepare the rest of the dish.

2.  In a grill-safe basket, layer all the “kebab” components in a single layer.  Drizzle some of the infused olive oil over the seafood and veggies, and then sprinkle some of the herbed salt over the oil.  Toss with a large spoon to distribute the oil and salt evenly.


3.  Place basket over the pre-heated grill.  Toss a few times over medium-high heat so that the seafood and veggies cook (ideally even getting a little charred in parts).  Really, the seafood shouldn’t take too long to cook, and the vegetables are more pleasant if they maintain a crispness along with the char.  Cooking should take about 5-10 minutes, depending on your grill.  You can drizzle some more oil and sprinkle some more herbed salt as you cook, and feel free to cut open a piece of seafood for doneness.

4.  Push the grill basket off to the side and away from the flame (or just take off the heat) and place naan on the grill and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side to warm the naan and to get some char marks.  As soon as you take the naan off the grill, brush with some herbed oil and sprinkle some herbed salt.  Repeat with the oil and salt over the seafood kebabs. 


Serve with a cannellini bean, tomato, and cucumber salad with diced red onions and parsley, and a dressing made from the remaining half lemon, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  This salad will nicely complement the lemony and Mediterranean herb scents of the kebabs.  You can also use pita bread (which was Steve Raichlen’s original recommendation), but we had naan around and loved the resulting soft, chewy, charred, and herbed result.