Tête de serpent Monday, Jul 28 2014 

Snakehead pie.

Pie from the sky.

Pie from the sky.

Snakeheads, in mother fucking savory pastry

with mushroom catsup and some pickles.

 

Nasty creatures. They can live outside of water for up to 4 days, cross from one body of water to another and are alleged to even use public transportation.  They eat just about every and anything.  By law they have to be killed if you want to keep it.  Everything from mice to batteries have been found in them.  The flesh is similar to sturgeon in texture, but kind of tastes a but dirtier. With proper brining, curing and smoking however (and cutting with catfish), it can be quite delicious.

Ugly little bastard fish.

Ugly 10lb bastard fish.


 

if an angler wishes to keep a legally caught northern snakehead, the fish must be killed to be in possession, and the angler must call the hotline and report the angler’s last name, date of catch, location of catch and size. Kill the fish by:

  1. removing the head,

  2. separating the gill arches from the body, or

  3. removing the internal organs and put it on ice as quickly as possible.


The pasty is made by clarifying brown butter as with all afore-detailed pâtés in pastry.  A fine shortcrust with thyme or summer savory, eggs, vinegar, water, molasses, discipline and such.

Hotdog fish

Hotdog fish

Mushroom catsup is an olde timey English condiment and reads more nicely than the initial “white devil” sauce, particularly in a gentrifying, historically black neighborhood.  Mushrooms (button and chanterelle) are roasted and simmered with beer, white wine vinegar, shallots, aromatics and blended smooth.

Snug as a bug in a savory rug.

Snug as a bug in a savory rug.

The snakehead is a bit drier than the other fish I have used for fish pies (most of them are frozen immediately after they are caught and thawing releases too much moisture) so forcemeat is more of a farce fine with up to 100% cream by weight of the fish trimmings.  The smoked filets are put in the middle of the forcemeat, bundled up all nicely and baked at 425F for 17 magic minutes.  Some say it smells like hotdog via the far east.

Fin d’un chapitre Monday, Apr 28 2014 

End of a chapter

Palena restaurant

2000 – 2014

My home for 5 1/2 years.

My home and mentor for 5 1/2 years.

Thank you Frank.  And to the stranger at Tonic in Mt. Pleasant who, in January of 2006, upon overhearing my conversation of where to work next, kindly urged, without hesitation, “go to PalenaIt’s the best place in the city.”

I just re-read the first 10 pages of the Palena thread and with the exception of the Pojarski detractor (a dish you will have trouble finding anywhere else, in this century, and is representative of Frank’s fiercely classical repertoire) and grumbles of service, long waits for a table (for a damn burger) and other bullshit white whines there was near universal and effuse praise for the food, on a weekly basis.  We all misfire from time to time but on Frank’s watch those fumbles were rare exceptions.

Frank’s tenet #1.  Anything worth fucking up once is worth fucking up twice.

Hey, Pojarski!  My version.

Hey, Pojarski! My version.

Jonathan and I (Logan, Brian, Sarah, Carl and quite a few more) are fortunate to have found that door to culinary Narnia and been able to work at Palena.  After 8 years cooking for Laurent Manrique, Charlie Palmer, Gerry Hayden, Buben, Cathal and Bryan Voltaggio I thought I knew a bit, as most young-ish cocky cooks are wont to do, but all the while we were playing checkers to Frank’s chess. We unlearned some clumsy, bastardized -though standard- practices and were exposed to an entirely new reality of deliberate discipline, finesse, proper technique, sound theory, resourcefulness, professionalism, practicality, humility, layering of flavors and elegant compositions that highlighted traditional techniques of yesteryear, seasonality, regions and well established combinations that made sense and had exceptional flavor.  Never anything that was purposely random or conceived because of the pervasive “it sounds cool” variety of ideas.  Decadent, but no gimmicks. No hollow celebrity inflated by the curious praise of leaving things to go bad on natures terms, but what Michelin and big-shot bloggers fawns over. We learned to make everything that was worth the while.

Tenet #2: Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Pea soup of the finest caliber.

Pea soup of the finest caliber.

We were treated to premium, tippy-top shelf products.  We had the privilege of cutting up and cooking wild loup de mer, glass eels, abalone, live urchins, live snails, periwinkles, crayfish, turbot, Dover sole, shiimaji, fresh anchovies, fresh Alaskan king crab, all types of things with wings, cockscombs, wild game, the best beans, olive oils, grains, luxury mushrooms, truffles, all sizes of animals all in raw state and then all the stuff from his garden which you can’t really make out from Google Earth, but probably rivaled Le Potager du Roi.

Consistent,stuffed noodles.

Consistent,stuffed noodles.

We learned a better way to make pasta (a well made dough never needs eggwash for sealing ravioli), a better way to make stocks and sauces, a better way to cook rice and grains (stirring risotto is folksy and romantic but totally unnecessary if you do it how he learned in Italy), the proper way to braise, to brine, to marinate, to butcher, to season,  to sear, grill, simmer, roast, clobber, poach, cure, corn, to turn vegetables to glaze them, to taste, to test, to feel, to smell, to cook until tender, to use spice, to be patient, to make breading, doughs, condiments, soups and an ethereal consommé, stews, ragouts,  to be efficient, be professional, make use of everything and waste nothing, to stuff things, to use recipes, take notes, to write recipes,  proportions, percentages, formulas, to measure, calculate the weight and be remarkably consistent without sacrificing soulful cookery.  Seeing how the butter was cubed on the stations was the first of  5 ½ years of revelation, immeasurable inspiration and 4 years of seasonal affective disorder. We also got a free turkey every thanksgiving.

Top shelf quail galantines.

Top shelf quail galantines.

Frank learned from stalwart Olympic heavyweights at the White House (Haller, Raffert, Messier), bonafide masters of the trade who knew how to do everything better and faster than the rest.  A flabbergasting  amount of skill and craftsmanship to be exposed to, and 50 ways to cook a potato. Frank regaled us one day with some pictures from his White House tenure (needlessly apologizing for the barely distressed 20 year-old photos).  Drive-in theatre sized glasses, an unruly soup strainer under the nose and one of those unfortunate mini-aprons that wouldn’t conceal one of those random workplace erections.  There was a nougat cauldron with sorbet flowers courtesy special pastry tips from the WH engineers, lobster Bellevue, elaborate centerpieces with stuffed this and jellied that, monkfish ballotines, booties on crown roasts, a dozen of hundreds of sweet potatoes whittled into Santa’s boots, fanciful desserts… “L’Art Culinaire Moderne” and Escoffier’s whimsical highlight reel revisited by Kodak.  I sucked up that inspiration like a depraved tick.

Proper pot au feu.

Proper pot au feu.

Frank was the first I ever saw to make a pâté en croûte from start to finish (though technically it was more of a pâté plantain).  Marinated in truffle juice with venison, prunes, ham, fatback and such.  A very elegant and particularly savory farce fine.  Though it would be cut up in slices he decorated the top just as if it were a centerpiece, painstakingly weaving vines, leaves and motifs and lavished layers of eggwash to give it a golden luster.  He told me he once made a pâté en croute for an event attended by all the city’s big toques.  One pointed and said “now that is technique”.  Another asked why he took the time to decorate it when the guests would never see it in the slices.  He answered that he himself would see it and so would all the other chefs.  Some humble showmanship and proud upstaging that showed off know-how.

Grind & salt

Parts of the pig

Palena was DC’s premier seminary for learning indispensable fundamentals and essential practicum (then go to Cityzen for a proper polishing) and I’ll never know another chef personally that and so heavily influenced my passion and who’s style was in my immediate orbit. We did a retrospective dinner that celebrated the White House years back in 2010 and Frank made the salmon bavarois with stuffed artichokes.  There aren’t many others, if any, who have the trained hands and talented mind to fabricate such a professional old world composition these days.  Frank can do it all, from baking the breads (all starter based, naturally), butchering, curing, puff pastry, vinegar, mostarda, donuts, savory tarts, pies  evenougat petit-fours.  And all the fancy napkin folds cradling the even fancier canapés.  A working chef who cooked something every day for almost 14 years gracefully, with composure and absolute pleasure.

Tenet #3: Perfection doesn’t happen by accident.

Frank’s wild king salmon bavarois with Prosecco aspic and artichokes filled with English peas.

Frank’s wild king salmon bavarois with Prosecco aspic   and artichokes filled with English peas.

I am eternally grateful for Frank’s tutelage and congratulate his remarkable reign. Palena’s untimely expiration is a bummer. That’s life. Every patron, cook and chef worth a damn anxiously awaits his inevitable rebound.

Alors, l’alose. Friday, Mar 28 2014 

I had a shad.  And painstakingly deboned it.

Swim Shady.

Swim Shady.

Shad.  The hallmark Mid-Atlantic harbinger of spring, along with the ubiquitous asparagus, those tired ramps, the pods, the peas, mushrooms, rhubarb, berries and such.  However the shad demands more than a peeler.  Nimble and sensitive fingers, insurmountable patience and a dexterous knife rule the day.  Shad roe is the folksy popular progeny while the mothership is generally an afterthought, overlooked on account of the maddening maze of bones; pin bones, “y” bones and everything in between.

Pocketbook style eggs

Mothership & crew.

Provençal culinary folklore suggests that the oxalic acid  in sorrel melts the multitude of minuscule bones. There are as many fables to support the homeopathic shad-butchery of yesteryear as there are tales on the intrawebs declaring otherwise.  Undeterred and fiercely obedient to traditional French cuisine, the shad was butterflied through the back, the pin bones removed, stuffed with an ample amount of sorrel, bathed with brandy and slow baked for 10 hours at 160F.

My fish butchery has been commended as being strongly vaginal which bothers some men.

My fish butchery has been commended as being strongly vaginal                                which bothers some men.

The fish didn’t fall apart.  In fact, it held together quite well.  If the oxalic acid had worked as well as advertised, I would get a boneless slice of shad, the bones having melted away much like those in pickled herring.  Perhaps a pressure cooker would have sufficed.

Shad in  steel cercophagus

Shad in steel sarcophagus

Mummified

Mummified

It didn’t work.  The results were discouraging and left discomfort in the craw.  The “y” shaped pin bones are as remarkable a choking hazard as they are irritatingly baffling. Deboning shad is an enterprise in another reality of fish butchering and the handful of old timers that still know how to do it cleanly and efficiently deserve a comfy repose somewhere between the Smithsonian’s American History and Folk Art Department.  The meat was picked apart and we made shad cakes like they used to do back in the 50’s when you could still find canned shad roe at the grocery store.

Shadurday night fever.

Shadurday night fever.

There are about 400 bones, maybe even more, in each filet.  After fucking up a couple filets the bone matrix was finally deciphered and eventually, with dainty fingers, insufferable patience and delicate knifework, about 99.27% of the bones were removed.  The roe was rolled up in the beta version and inlayed in the forcemeat; a mixture of ground fluke, cream and egg white then sieved and mixed with J.O. spice, lemon zest and sorrel. It was rolled up as one would for a ballotine then poached, gently.

Tube fish.

Boneless tubefish.

A revised 2.0 version had the roe washed clean with water to remove the blood and bound with 10% of the forcemeat.  Much better results.  What’s more, the sorrel, without contact to the air or too high of cooking temperature kept green.  A sauce was made.  Loosey-goosey soubise of sorts (fish fumet thickened with butter, rice and onion) then blended smooth with blanched sorrel, watercress and parsley.  Lardons from my venrèche, little onions and red thumb potatoes filled out the rest of the plate after the slice was seared in lard rendered from the cured belly.  The dish was well executed, properly harmonized and exceedingly well received.

Hopelessly dated discipline and technique.

Hopelessly dated discipline and technique, though delicious.

Un jeune hareng Friday, Jan 24 2014 

Matjes

Fish tales.

Fish tales.

Pickled young herring

They are immature female herring.  Matjes is Dutch for v-vvv-vv-virgin herring.  Young females that have not yet laid eggs.  Traditionally they are brined with the guts still in and the pancreas does something that makes them more better but I’m not ready to start experimenting with the benefits of pancreatic spoilage.  They were salted then packed in a vinegar based solution with sugar, allspice, carrots and onions.  Accompanied by la ratte potatoes made better with some soured cream, lemon zest and parsley; you know, for freshness.  And a nice medley of handsomely colored pickled onions.

Pickular circles.

Pickular circles.

Une année de plus Monday, Jan 6 2014 

I resolve to be more ornery and judgmental.

Crabby New Year.

Crabby New Year.

A positive review is always welcome, though cursory Mad-Lib generated validation based on the sampling of 5 dishes (not counting the oyster and caviar & potato chips -neither of which we make, all we do is order and open them) after only 2 visits is the kind of empty praise one expects to find in a greeting card written sent from a grandparent whose wits are slowly unraveling or the praise parents must lavish on their tone-deaf and hopelessly uncoordinated children.  Better than to be panned I guess, though at least Ebert watch more than 10 minutes of the film.

π's

π’s

Fish pie in savory pastry with some pickles.

Fish pie in savory pastry with some pickles.

The fish pie is still a work in progress and I am flummoxed by the salinity despite a conservative 1.2% seasoning.  Eels will be available in the spring/summer, though my concern is that the eel meat will be mushy after 24 hours -the reason eels are sold live.  The coulibiac in Daniel’s cookbook  is absolutely stunning and the next challenge in the pâté croûte realm.

Butterflied swimmers.

Butterflied swimmers.

Salt bath.

Salt bath.

Pickled herring have been a success, though some are far more difficult to butterfly than others.  The Swedish varieties are exceedingly sweet and these are tempered a bit, not without their charm. More vividly colored pickles to follow.

Tales of the pickle.

Tales of the pickle.

I do miss making the meat fabrications though.

Star gazing.

Star gazing.

Bouffe les Bourges Monday, Nov 11 2013 

Eat the Rich

Whelks.  Stinky.

Whelks. Stinky.

Its an oyster bar on 7th St NW in the nation’s capital and I am in charge of the engine room.  Chesapeake Bay inspired food.  Whelks; stuffed porgy for 2; chöwderhead, Grand Chesapeake boil (scallops, shrimp, clams, fish, garlic sausage, cauliflower, potatoes, coddled egg and aïoli); swordfish & sauerkraut; beach & beans (flageolet beans, calamari, albacore, pickled mackerel), montgomery pie and the Superoast: -15oz lamb roast barded with ventrèche, sausage, grilled oysters and shank simmered in black-eyed peas.

Stuffed porgy.  Boneless, naturally.

Stuffed porgy. Boneless, naturally.

Fish Pie with pickles.

Fish Pie with pickles.

Fin d’un ère Friday, Aug 30 2013 

End of an Era

Pork & Squab Starship.

Pork & Squab Starship.

My term as meat minister at Range is coming to an end (“master” is the journalist’s embellishment, which, while flattering, is embarrassing considering what I have seen elsewhere.  I am grateful for their faith and trust in my craftsmanship.  Now to re-align recipes to work with seafood from the Chesapeake Bay.  Cue the B-roll photo montage of things that no one really ate:

Chicken giblets.  Livers as a terrine, gizzards confit.

Chicken giblets. Livers as a terrine, gizzards confit.

Chicken galantine with pistachio-stuffed morels

Chicken galantine with pistachio-stuffed morels

Rabbit and Riesling with mustard and mint.

Rabbit and Riesling with mustard and mint.

Jambon sec Wednesday, Jul 24 2013 

Dry-cured ham. 

Ham Jam 2013

Ham Jam 2013

Pure-breed Berkshire ham.  2 of them. More of a European approach in that the aitch bone was removed before curing.  Benton’s and Col Newsom’s  keep them on.  For what it’s worth (not much), I’ve become proficient at deboning and sewing up bone in hams.

Ham in a can.

Ham in a can.

Cured with coarse sea salt, modest amount of sugar, nitrate, effort and time.  Packed in a wooden wine box on a rack on an incline to do away with the resulting brine.  Rubbed again with salt after 2 weeks.  Terrific.

Salt of the earth.

Salt of the earth.

It spent a month in the salt. I got drunk a few times in the meantime.

Dark side of the Ham.

Dark side of the Ham.

Soaked the hams in water overnight and hung them out to dry. Rubbed the exposed meat with lard and ground spices as is tradition, even though there is little chance of any insects getting into the crappy Stagionello curing cabinet (based on the cabinets confusing and awful performance, anything is possible).  They will hang at 55F with 75% humidity for 6 months or so and we’ll see what happens.  And if they are inedible, I’m not too worried.  That’s the silver lining of not getting any credit for your professional work.  It also ensures all but absolute anonymity and keeps you exiled in a lower tax bracket.

Business end of lunch.

Business end of lunch.

Artichauts en Crepinettes à la Barigoule Thursday, Jun 13 2013 

Artichoke Crepinette à la Barigoule

A fresh and dried chick pea ragout with simmered pork shank.

Savory choke orb.

Savory choke orb.

A delightful cassoulet-inspired spring fabrication using artichokes, chickpeas, pork shank and spring garlic.  The dish presents a fair amout of work, but I was told by a better cook than myself that anything worth doing is worth doing right.  While my craving for artichokes is not one that I would run 10 miles in wet jeans and fip-flops to satisfy, turning the artichokes is a an exercise in handiwork, knife skills, speed, efficiency and Zen –the pleasures generally associated with endorphins and diligently slicing cured salmon.

Artichokes in roasted formation.

Artichokes in roasted formation.

The artichokes were turned whole, the stems cut at the base of the heart and simmered in acidulated water with olive oil, aromatics, honey, spice and salt until just tender.  Meanwhile, over on the counter, a measured amount of dried chick peas were soaked (in lieu of garbanzo beans) in dihydrogen monoxide overnight.  They were then blanched with pork shanks that had been brined for a few days to remove the impurities –namely foam- from the chickpeas.  Tomato water (a byproduct of the strained canned San Marzano tomatoes), water, salt and spices were measured according to the weight of the beans, a bouquet of tarragon, 2 ½’ed lemons, bay leaf, Oreo cookies and gently cooked in an 225F oven for 6-7 hours.

Chock full 'O chokes.

Chock full ‘O chokes.

Back to the chokes.  Pork trimmings were resourcefully ground with turnip and beet greens then seasoned with a determined amount of cream, bread crumbs, salt and spice, because BMW doesn’t just slap together car parts; they measure.  The forcemeat was divided into equal parts, rolled up, placed into the artichoke bottoms, cinched with a thin slice of my ventrèche to maintain moisture and promote flavor, then wrapped in caul fat to keep it all nice and clean and bound up tight.  The artichokes were placed on an aromatic vegetable bedding with olive oil and more of the tomato water then roasted covered in a moderately hot oven until the vegetables released their juices and cooked tender, then the cover removed to caramelize the artichokes and concentrate the flavor.  The artichokes were placed in a container and the tomato water/juices strained over.  And that is some good French cookery.  Perhaps it might succeed in the nation’s capital, as it appears to in an admittedly larger city up north.

Artie Chokes.

Artie Chokes.

Barigoule has been bastardized and diluted over the last few centuries.  Not sure why or how the recipe (d)evolved, but originally, artichokes à la barigoule appeared in the 18th century and the name is attributed to the milk cap mushroom (Lactarius deliciosus) known as the “barigoult” derived from the provençal berigoulo.  The artichokes are cut as one would pick the mushroom, turned so that they resemble the mushroom in appearance and cooked in olive oil as the mushrooms would be.  Later, they were stuffed with a mixture of the mushroom and onion, wrapped in fatback or pork belly (ventrèche or petit sale) and then slowly braised.  The mushrooms began to disappear, either as a result of over-harvesting or natural cycle, and along with it the traditional preparation. “À la barigoule” is cooked in the manner of the mushroom, which is to say generally stuffed.  Therefore, a proper artichoke à la barigoule should be stuffed or at the very least treated in a manner deemed worthy of a saffron milcap or similar mushroom.  Cooking artichokes in acidulated water does not à la barigoule make.

Parsley de Lys.

Parsley de Lys.

Fortunately, the pork shanks and chick peas cook tender after the same amount of time.  The shanks were pulled from the beans and left to cool after which the meat was picked and shredded at the natural seams then mixed into the beans.  The ½’ed lemons were squeezed to release their juice and some sherry vinegar added for essential acidity in an otherwise rich dish.

Red Funion.

Red Funion.

While the shanks were cooling, spring garlic was toasted in olive oil,  sliced red onions added and cooked until wilted after which the segments and julienned zest of 2 lemons were added to bolster the red onion color and flavor.  The reserved artichoke stalks were sliced and stirred into the onion mixture along with spring garlic tops and said matignon (French soffritto) would be incorporated into the chick pea mixture once it cooled –lest it discolor the red onion.  Check for salt and vinegar, place in a container and wait to serve the next day.

A proper chick pea stew.

A proper chick pea stew.

The gelatin released from the collagen-rich shanks will thicken the bean liquid considerably and once cooled the cassoulet is firm with good body and viscosity.  The stuffed artichoke is heated in its liquid until warmed through while the beans are supplemented by fresh chick peas.  The components come together with a blessing of bread crumbs.  It is a substantial dish with well-seasoned and moist sausage, tender artichoke,

Encornet farci de boudin Wednesday, May 15 2013 

Squid Stuffed with Boudin.

Get your squid stuffed here.

Get your squid stuffed here.

In a concerted effort to minimize the appalling waste generally (and unabashedly) generated by restaurants while expanding a culinary repertoire and practicing practical classical techniques, fish trimmings have been saved and with the addition of orphaned egg whites and lobster roe, cream, a few shrimp,  vegetables, starch (corn starch,  eventually bread crumb and possibly tapioca as a binder), busted up lobster knuckles and some effort produced a pleasantly plump, savory, harlequin (multicolored) boudin.  Essentially an emulsified silken seafaring sausage generated from scraps.  Resourceful, technical, efficient -and with a cost of $0.70 per 3oz link-  quite economical when supplemented by thrifty shellfish.

The Great Boudini.

The Great Boudini.

Many prototypes  were tested with the type and percentage of binder varying, offering different texture and firmness results though the other amounts of ingredients (fish, shrimp, egg white, cream, cooked vegetable garnish) remained consistent.  While corn starch made for a firm sausage (something our male readership might be able to relate to and what the female readers might yearn for in the morning after dreaming about this blog) bread crumbs seems like a more efficient and wholesome use of leftover bread baked in the restaurant.  Tapioca starch might relieve me of any guilt passed on to consumers by government subsidies to the corn industry which artificially devalues our nation’s food quality.

Visual approximation of squid size and purchase location.

Visual approximation of squid size and purchase location.

Rather than stuffing the boudin mixture into casing, I picked up some large squid (not pig rectum imitation calamari)  from the venerable Bestworld over in Mt. Pleasant  along with California asparagus and bulb onions; the hallmarks of spring.  Boudin was stuffed into the squid, roasted stove top in a cast iron dutch oven and basted with roasted lime.  Upon resting, the tubes were sliced and garnished with some manicured asparagus and spring onions glazed in olive oil.  The tubes were tender and the delicious boudin rendered pastel red from the cooked lobster roe.  Carrots, fennel, lemon zest, leek red pepper and dill provided additional texture, flavor and colorful contrast.  A later version found the boudin cut into thick coins, browned in olive oil and composed with the vegetal ingredients in larger forms as well as a particularly creamy Carolina Gold & spring onion soubise; the sublime, old timey French purée of butter, onions, rice, sour cream (blanched onion tops for a soothing vermillion color) which so nicely compliments the feathery light boudin.  Past and future versions include and are not limited to internal garnishes of tuna, cured salmon, striped bass belly, capers, green M&M’s, mermaid nipples and manatee peduncle.

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