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Archive for the ‘Meat’ Category

For most of my adult life I had zero interest in cooking kidneys. I enjoyed them at good French restaurants, but whenever I’d tried them at home, their urinary undertones were too distressing. Then, a few years ago I found a recipe with a technique that it claimed would solve that problem – and it did! Ever since, I’ve enjoyed an occasional dish of that recipe’s kidneys in mustard sauce.

olney-menusWith the most recent veal kidney from my butcher shop, I thought it was time to try a different approach. In Richard Olney’s The French Menu Cookbook I found a recipe that uses the same “kidney cleansing” technique. Olney’s simple Sautéed Veal Kidneys with Mushrooms is fairly similar to my previous recipe; its main differences are using cognac instead of calvados, omitting mustard from the sauce, and including mushrooms.

The hardest thing about any kidney dish is preparing the kidney itself. Unlike small, smooth, round lambs’ kidneys (delicious but very hard to find locally), a veal kidney is an agglomeration of soft meat lumps held together with a complicated internal chunk of fat and tubes. Beloved Spouse did his usual heroic job of reducing this one to manageable segments.
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horizontal-kidney

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For the cleansing technique, I melted butter in a pan; tossed the salted and peppered kidney pieces in it over high heat very briefly – just until they turned grayish on the outside; and set them up in a strainer, where they gently exuded the reddish-yellowish liquid that carries the uriny taste.
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draining

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The next thing to work on for the recipe was the mushrooms. Coincidentally, I’d just bought a small batch of fresh chanterelles, which I thought should be very compatible with the kidneys and sauce.
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few-chanterelles

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I cleaned, sliced, and sautéed them in the butter remaining in the pan, then set them aside and did the same with minced shallots. When those had softened a bit I deglazed the pan with cognac, white wine, and a little very concentrated homemade broth. The recipe doesn’t call for broth, but I did it because in the headnote Olney remarks that, among professional chefs, “meat glaze usually lends additional body and intensity to the sauce.” Sounded good to me.

At that point I returned the chanterelles to the pan, stirred in heavy cream, and cooked gently until the sauce had reduced and thickened somewhat. Then I was able to set it all aside until dinner time.
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chanterelles

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When dinner was nearly ready I folded the kidneys into the mushrooms and sauce, warmed everything through, being careful not to let the sauce boil, and served.
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kidneys-served

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It was marvelous. Everything blended beautifully, the kidneys were delicately flavorful, and the chanterelles truly loved the sauce. In fact, they were almost tastier than the kidneys. An accompaniment of small boiled potatoes and white asparagus completed a highly satisfying dish.

I know innards aren’t everyone’s first love, but properly prepared they aren’t overpowering. They have gentle flavors, different from those of the familiar muscle meats – and for me, at least, a change is always welcome. I love prime rib, but I don’t want it all the time. Kidneys, liver, brains, sweetbreads: They all have something different to contribute to the kind of diet we’re fortunate enough to be able to enjoy.

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A place in my neighborhood, billed as the only 100% Paleo restaurant in the city, puts a chalkboard on the sidewalk listing daily specials. I love to walk by and envision a Neanderthal family sitting in their cave breakfasting on something like No-Yo Matcha Parfait: coconut milk, maple syrup, taro root, almond butter, matcha, banana, and grain-free granola. Where in the world could a group of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers have collected that combination of foodstuffs?!

Such absurdities make it impossible for me to take the Paleo diet seriously. While I’m quite happy to eat meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, there’s no way I’d give up all dairy products, grains, bread, pasta, sugar, salt, and coffee. (Not to mention wine.) But leaving aside the pros, cons, and controversies of the Paleo approach, it can be fun on occasion to eat something “primordial” – and there’s nothing more primordial than roasted marrow bones.

Here’s the batch that we had one recent evening:

raw-bones

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They’re perfectly easy to prepare: Place the bones in a roasting pan with the wider side of the marrow openings up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the pan in a 450° oven until the marrow softens and begins to ooze out – about 15 minutes. Serve. Except for the salt and pepper, any Paleolithic cook could have done it.

roasted-bones

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It’s hard to overstate how elementally satisfying the succulence of marrow is at the end of a grey, cold, winter day. However, I destroyed the Paleo purity of the dish by having a loaf of crusty ciabatta bread as its accompaniment.

bread-loaf

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There’s nothing roasted marrow likes better than to be scooped out and spread on a slice of warm toast, there to be blissfully devoured.
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plate-of-bones

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And one more post-Paleolithic touch: Marrow loves a good, soft, round red wine. So do I.

bone-tower

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A few times a year, I get an urge to try cooking pork tenderloin. This is strange, because in the past I’ve hardly ever achieved a successful dish with that cut of meat. I don’t know why; I’ve just assumed it was “not in my skill set,” as a work colleague of mine once said when he was asked to take on a task. But I keep trying, and this time I think I succeeded.

1000 Italian RecipesThe recipe I used was Balsamic-Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Arugula and Parmigiano, from Michele Sciolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes. I liked the look of it because it had enough other flavorings to be attractive but not so many as to turn the dish into a big production number. And it was extremely easy to prepare.

condimentsThe main – almost the only – effort it took was to stir together a glaze of minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, honey, salt, and black pepper, a combination of tastes that promised interesting results. I happened to have some very fine balsamic and a jar of good acacia honey to use for that.
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I laid the tenderloin in a snug baking dish, brushed the glaze over it, and roasted it in a very hot oven, pouring a little water into the dish after the first 15 minutes. The pork was ready after 20 more minutes, without any basting.
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tenderloin-cooked

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While the tenderloin rested in its pan for 10 more minutes, I tossed a bunch of baby arugula with a balsamic vinaigrette. Then I placed the meat on a platter for slicing, drizzled the pan juices over it, spread the arugula around it, and sprinkled grated parmigiano over the salad.

tenderloin-served

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(Actually, the recipe calls for making cheese shavings with a vegetable peeler, but I didn’t have a chunk of parmigiano available. The grated cheese was fine.)

The result was the excellent medley of flavors I’d hoped for. The meat was only gently imbued with the glaze, but it had created a very nice, light pan sauce. I love arugula even just plain, and dressed as it was here, it made a sparkling foil for the sweet, succulent pork.

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Roland Marandino, who blogs at Cooking from Books, did a post recently on how much neater and easier it is to cook sausages and peppers in the oven than in a sauté pan on top of the stove. That sounded to me like a brilliant idea, and I decided to try it, with a few alterations, for a casual dinner party a few nights ago. It was a great success.

For six people I used six individual pork ribs, six sweet Italian sausages, six hot Italian sausages, two very large chicken legs, two Spanish onions, and seven of the last of this season’s locally grown Bell peppers.
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ingredients

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Beloved Spouse did his usual expert knife work on the peppers and onions, and the rest was a slam-dunk. I oiled my biggest roasting pan, laid in all the meats and vegetables, salting and peppering as I went, and drizzled olive oil over the top.
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oven-ready

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Roland’s recipe, which was for a smaller quantity of food, said to keep the sausages in a single layer and roast at 400° for an hour. As you can see, mine was a deeply filled pan. I gave it an extra 10 minutes and stirred the mixture around a few times during the cooking. When the time was up I cut the chicken into smaller pieces and halved some of the sausages. I’d intended to transfer everything to my very largest platter, but since this was such a casual occasion I just served everyone straight from the roasting pan. No one minded.
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roasted

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I’m happy to say that all the meats and vegetables were fully cooked and very tasty. A nice crusty country loaf complemented the simple meats. Everyone ate well, and with the accompaniment of a magnum of 1997 Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello, the customary good time was had by all. So thank you, Roland, for providing the idea!

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In our recent week’s vacation in Rome, Beloved Spouse and I dined only in restaurants we’d known and loved for years. We really had meant to try new places – I had a list – but once we were there, we couldn’t resist our old favorites. In my last post I wrote about our dinners at three of them; now I’ll describe the other three.
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campana-menu

We’ve been dining at La Campana for more than 30 years. It never seems to change, which is a comfort in this very unstable world. The image above is from my copy of its paper menu of July 7, 1979, all handwritten entries, reproduced in lurid purple ink. We’ve always eaten very well there and did again this time. Extravagantly, we both chose fettucine with white truffles for our first course (€50 a portion: about $55).
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white-truffle

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These truffles were much whiter than the ones Tom had a few days previously (a good thing: the paler, the better). Though they weren’t strewn as lavishly over the pasta as in the other dish, their flavor was much more intense, almost intoxicating. Interestingly, I have another of La Campana’s paper menus from fall 1990, which lists fettucine with white truffles for 35,000 lire. That amounted to $28 then, which would be about $50 in today’s dollars, so the price has hardly gone up in all that time.

For our second courses, Tom had petto di vitello arrosto, roasted breast of veal, and I had abbacchio arrosto, baby lamb, both with roasted rosemary potatoes and a light pan gravy. Both were quite simple and quite delicious Roman classics. Baby lamb here really is baby lamb: a tiny, pale-fleshed animal with a lot of gelatin and cartilage where Americans expect bone. And veal here means a milk-fed young animal, not a half-grown steer.
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vitello

abbacchio-campana

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La Campana’s menus now are multi-paged, printed, and encased in leather binders, so I fear I won’t be able to expand my collection any further. But I do cherish the old ones I have.
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sora-lella

Sora Lella is the only restaurant on the tiny Tiber Island, which stands in the middle of the river in Rome. Still family-owned and -run, it offers a large menu of classic Roman dishes, ever-so-slightly lightened. We started with two of the house’s specialty fried antipasti: suppli (rice balls) and polpettini (meat balls).
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polpettini-suppli

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Uncharacteristically for us, we skipped pasta that evening and went on to secondi: trippa alla romana for Tom, pollo alla romana for me. The tripe was of several kinds, not just the honeycomb that’s all we get in the US, well cooked to tenderness in a tomato sauce flavored with celery and cloves and generously topped with pecorino cheese. My chicken was a free-range farm bird, stewed with luscious sweet red peppers and a little tomato.
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trippa

pollo

torta.
With just room for a little dessert, we shared another very typical Roman dish: a slice of ricotta torte with a bottom layer of sour-cherry preserve.

 

 

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ar-galletto-awning

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And now I have to report the one disappointing experience of our Roman dining week: Ar Galletto. We used to love this place when it was known as Da Giovanni ar Galletto, a scruffy, unpretentious, side-street trattoria, cheerful, noisy, and much frequented by locals. A few years ago it moved a short distance to large quarters on the Piazza Farnese, decorated its rooms in chilly Milanese-modern style, extensively upgraded its menu – and sold its soul.

It disappointed us on our last trip to Rome, but we wanted to try it again this time in case it had recovered. It hasn’t. Giovanni’s brusque charm and his devotion to quality have gone forever. The waiters now seem to see their role as jollying international tourists rather than intelligently serving their food or knowing their wine list. The kitchen turns out some good dishes, but also some bad ones, apparently aiming more to impress than to please.

For example, of our pasta courses, ravioli filled with oxtail (coda alla vaccinara) and dressed with the same oxtail sauce was excellent. Short pasta alla gricia (the sauce mainly rendered guanciale and grated pecorino) was thick and gummy, not much improved by the addition of cooked artichoke.
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ravioli-gricia

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And of our main courses, abbacchio arrosto was as it should be, but maialino arrosto was inedible. The pork seemed to have been cooked and sliced in the morning, left out to dry and harden, and then heated up in a microwave.
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abbacchio-galletto

maialino-galletto

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Finally, ordering the wine produced a textbook example of waiterly ineptitude: See Tom’s blog post “Wining in Rome” for the absurd story. So, here’s one name to strike off our list of Roman restaurants to return to. But the contrast in the experience makes us appreciate the other great dining places all the more. Maybe not everything is eternal in the Eternal City, but enough good survives to make us look forward to our next visit.

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Beloved Spouse is the gumbo cook in our household. In summer, when okra is abundant, he gathers his ingredients about him and produces a gumbo that IMHO equals anything a New Orleans chef can do. I’ve written here about his seafood gumbo, and now I’d like to introduce you to another kind that he makes.

Usually, he starts from the gumbo recipes in Richard and Rima Collins’ The New Orleans Cookbook, checks back with the chosen one from time to time to remind himself of details, but then goes on to vary the ingredients and proportions to suit himself. Always using okra: He’s not a filé gumbo person, and he has a decided preference for the kind of flavor an okra gumbo develops.

okra

For this occasion a large boneless chicken breast, two Louisiana andouilles, and a chunk of thick-cut boiled ham provided the protein base. He cut the chicken into chunks, the sausages into coins, and the ham into dice. Continuing the preparatory knife work, he then sliced ¾ pound of okra (Note to the squeamish: If the okra, your knife, and the cutting surface are dry, the okra slime will not be a problem) and chopped up a cup of green pepper, a cup of onions, ¼ cup of scallions, and a large heirloom tomato. Very simple prep work, if a little time consuming.  My only contribution was to set out the other ingredients he’d be needing: olive oil, flour, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, cayenne, salt and black pepper.

gumbo ingredients

After browning the chicken pieces in olive oil and removing them to a plate, he stirred flour into the oil and cooked it about 10 minutes, to a light brown roux. Then the andouille, ham, and all the vegetables except the okra and tomato got added in and stirred. After 10 more minutes, the chicken rejoined the pot, along with all the spices and a little water. This cooked for yet another 10 minutes and then – finally – in went the okra, tomatoes, and a quart of water.

gumbo broth

At this point, the pot got covered and the gumbo cooked gently for an hour, with an occasional stir, after which it was done. I was permitted to check occasionally to be sure it was continuing to simmer and that nothing was sticking. And at dinner time, I cooked the rice.

gumbo plated

This was a terrific gumbo. The andouilles’ own spices had permeated all the ingredients, giving a much needed boost to the bland chicken breast. (The chef wished ardently that we had had some legs and thighs on hand.) All the vegetables merged seamlessly into a stew that tasted purely of New Orleans. And, as always, we wound up eating most of a portion that was supposed to feed four.

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Saucier's ApprenticeThis week’s recipe is a sort of Cinderella story. The main character is a humble, homely cut of meat, which is dressed so elegantly that it becomes fit for a prince. Appropriately, the quasi-magical recipe is from Raymond Sokolov’s The Saucier’s Apprentice. I’ve had the book for a very long time, but I’ve very rarely cooked from it. It’s subtitled “A Modern Guide to Classic French Sauces for the Home,” and those sauces are immensely painstaking and time-consuming.

The recipe for Breast of Lamb Shepherdess Style calls for a base sauce of jus de veau. That separate recipe starts with splintering 18 pounds of veal bones with a cleaver and cooking them with 10 other ingredients in stages that take about 12 hours to complete. I’ve never done that, but once long ago Beloved Spouse and I spent the better part of three days making Sokolov’s demi-glace, which is a closely related sauce, some of which we used for the lamb breast recipe when we made it then – and remember as indeed spectacular.

The dish came to mind again last week as a good choice for our Easter dinner. I was encouraged by the fact that it’s no longer necessary to start splintering veal bones for it; I could buy veal demi-glace. That helped, but it didn’t make the rest of the recipe a breeze. I did the first stage a whole day in advance, using two pieces of lamb breast from my freezer, left over from a different meal.

lamb breast

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I had to braise the lamb with sliced carrots and onions, garlic, and an herb bouquet, first on top of the stove with two small doses of diluted demi-glace, demiglacereducing each to a glaze; then in the oven with a larger amount of diluted demi-glace. The demi-glace I purchased turned out to be very disappointing: far thinner and less flavorful than the Sokolov version; not even as rich as Beloved Spouse’s homemade stock. I skipped the dilution and used much more demi-glace than the recipe called for.

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After 1½ hours, the lamb was fully tender.

braised

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I took it out of the pot, let it cool under a heavy weight, and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

Next morning, I had to debone the lamb, trim off the fat, and slice it into ½” strips. Teasing the bones out without tearing the meat was more difficult than I recall from the previous time. Also there was a lot of interstitial fat that couldn’t be removed without the strips’ trying to fall apart. Beloved Spouse did his very best knife work for me, but the result was unprepossessing.

strips

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Then came the final stage: the elegant clothing of my Cinderella strips. I dipped each one in melted butter and coated it in a mixture of mushrooms, which I’d minced and squeezed as for making duxelles, and fine breadcrumbs.

coated

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With an additional drizzle of melted butter, they went under a broiler just until browned. Alongside I served a crisp potato galette and green peas sautéed with shallots and minced mushrooms. Tom graced the Easter table with one of his two precious bottles of 2005 de Voguë Chambolle-Musigny premier cru.

served

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The wine was superb – glorious. The lamb, not so much. It was decent, but not the brilliant dish we both remembered from long ago. A bit dry, a bit chewy, a bit coarse. I’m not sure what went wrong this time. Maybe, as Chief Dan George said in Little Big Man, sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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