Tuesday, March 15, 2011

“White Wheat or Rye – Hon?” Charcutepalooza 2011: Gascony or bust

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked “White, wheat, or rye?”  . . . Ah . . . who am I kidding?  I still would have become a cook; I would just be one of the few rich ones.

New Jersey diners are where I spent countless late nights, school hours, and weekends “growing up”. We chain smoked cigarettes, drank black coffee, and stoically discussed life in all its splendor – its fractured sense of humor and its utter disappointments for us as teenagers living in New Jersey. The shifts we put in at those diners astonish me to this day.

The diners of New Jersey were our epicenters. If you were hungry, if you had a date, if you were going to listen to your friend’s band, if you were stoned, if you were going into the city . . . . it was always “Meet you at the diner”.

To this day when I go home to visit, I try to meet my friends there. Of course since the laws have changed, it’s like walking into a different world. Long abolished are the smoking and non-smoking sections. There are even families with small children occupying the stools at the counter - once occupied by broken old men chain-smoking, discussing life - ordering their “usual” and filling in the crossword puzzles. I swear the wall colors are brighter and the waitresses have cleaned up too. Few things remain as they once were, but one thing that will always remain is the eternal struggle to choose between the Holy Trinity of “White, wheat, or rye?”

Rye was my choice and the inspiration for my corned beef - which I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve never made for myself. I know I couldn’t believe it either - my Irish-German roots, my hours spent at the Knights of Columbus pot lucks, my tri-state New Jersey deli pride - I should have been tenured by now with all my qualifications. The results, on the other hand, were delicious.  

Living in Seattle, Washington we are not afforded the Jewish Rye of my youth so I needed to focus on how I was going to appease my nostalgia for Jewish Rye when there was realistically none to be had. The question quickly became: How do I make a sandwich without the bread?   

The Menu:

Corned Beef Au Jus, Rye Spaetzel, Sautéed Greens, German Potato Salad with Watercress

Wine Barrel Oak Stave Brined Chicken a la Coq au Vin, Roasted Root Vegetables with Wild Miners Lettuce

            It would be remiss of me not to interject a word about Wine Barrel Oak Staves. Okay so this was not my genius in its organic concept, i.e. it was not my idea to bring this “ingredient” into the kitchen. However, I was asked how to use staves to cook so I will gladly take credit for the application of and resulting products of the staves.
Oak Wine Barrels are used to house wine prior to bottling and selling. These barrels are what impart the oak to your wines, like Syrah. Staves are the actual lengths of wood that comprise such a barrel. Wineries that don’t like to purchase whole, new or used, oak barrels often choose the cheaper option of purchasing the wood chips of cut up used barrels to float on top of steel wine tanks, much like a tea bag floats and infuses water.
            Wineries will often just give these chips away after ‘x’ amount of uses - hence the appearance in the kitchen. I was up for the challenge while others scoffed and dismissed the idea. Like the old Jewish post-war and post-depression grandmothers I was used to, I knew I could get one or two more cups of “tea” out of this “tea bag”.

Then came the “sweet” idea of simple syrups - the obvious idea of smoking chips, and the not so obvious idea of infusing brines. (The same concept behind simple syrups and candies worked beautifully here - just take the simple syrup ratio from my earlier posts and drop in the chips while you’re still on the flame and taste until you’re satisfied with the flavor.)

Recipe for Success:

1 Corned Beef  (Out of the all powerful and benevolent Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie though I’m sure if you referenced the five volume Modernist Cuisine you would find that the authors would just inject brine and cryovaced it to have ‘same-day corned beef’.)

½ c Rye Flour
½ c All-Purpose Flour
2 Whole Eggs
¼ c Milk
½ t Fine Sea Salt
2 T Toasted Fine Ground Caraway Seed
1 qt Fresh Grated Gruyere Cheese
1 pt Toasted Rye Crumbs
t.t. whole butter just enough to keep the Spaetzel from sticking

Greens –
2 bunches Mustard Greens
2 bunches Rainbow Swiss Chard
1 pint cooked bacon lardoons
                  t.t. salt nothing less then a tablespoon please
                  t.t. red wine vinegar literally a splash makes the difference

German Potato Salad –
20 ea Yukon Gold Potatoes
1½ c Dijon Mustard
                  1/3 C each Champagne Vinegar, Cider Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar

                        Brine the corned beef first and by first I mean seven – eight days before you want to eat. Insert picture fast forward montage here:

Make the Spaetzel batter by shifting the two flours and salt with an electric mixer. Combine the milk and lightly beaten eggs. Make an indent in the middle of the flour and pour the egg mixture into the crevice. Sprinkle in the toasted and finely ground caraway seeds. (Note: to toast caraway seeds, spread the whole seeds out in a single layer on a sheet pan and put them into a 350 degree oven until aromatic – wait until the seeds are cool to grind them.)

            Mix on medium speed with paddle until the gluten is developed.  It should take about 10-15 minutes. Then let the mixture rest to relax the gluten for at least 30 minutes.

            While it’s resting, peel and cut the potatoes. Place the potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water. Season the water with kosher salt, a bay leaf, a couple cloves of peeled garlic as well as a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer (never a full boil). Test the texture and flavor of the potatoes after about 15 minutes. If the potatoes are under seasoned, now is the time to season them by putting more salt into the cooking water. Potato salad texture is the goal: cooked with a ‘bite’- remember the potatoes will continue to cook after you strain them. Allow them to cool. 

            Take this time to clean and chop your greens, and if you haven’t already cooked the bacon lardoons, (small cubed bacon that, hopefully, you have leftover from the last challenge) do so now. 
            Next, cook the Spaetzel. This is fun and very involved, so I didn’t have a hand free to take a photo of how to do it but I’ve drawn a diagram for you. 

You want about 1 ½ inches of boiling water in a 4 inch hotel pan. Place a perforated hotel pan on top. Take the batter you’ve made and scrape it through the holes. The holes will naturally form little dumplings in the boiling water. Once the dumplings float to the surface of the water, they are ready to be scooped out with a slotted spoon or a spider. I toss mine immediately with a little whole butter to prevent sticking.
            Then place the Spaetzel into a casserole dish with the grated gruyere cheese and top with bread crumbs and more grated gruyere cheese. Place in 350 oven to bake until it’s golden brown about 10-15 minutes.

            Dissolve the mustard into about a cup of the three mixed vinegars and dress the potatoes as you would a salad. (Funny thing happened to me while I was mixing - I wanted a little more mustard but found I was out so I topped them potatoes with watercress, a spicy mustard green. Yummy!)

            While you are heating your corned beef with the au jus, get a pan on high heat with a touch of canola oil in it and throw in your washed greens. Sauté on high until tender. Throw in the cooked bacon lardoons and a splash of red wine vinegar with some salt and call it a day. Pull your golden casserole out of the oven, slice your beef, pull up your potato salad and there you have it: Corned Beef on Rye with Mustard.

                        I love brining food. It was as though a whole new world of moisture and flavoring proteins opened up to me when the first herb/salt water/sugar mix came into my life. I deviated a little from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie recipe, but the integrity of the recipe remains.
Recipe for success:

The Brine- (for a 3-5lb Chicken brined 12 hours)
1 Gallon Water
1 c Salt
½ c Sugar
2 Bay Leaves
15 Cloves Garlic
                        1 ea Onion
                        2 T Pepper
                        1 bunch Tarragon
                        ¼ c Champagne Vinegar
                        150 grams Oak Wine Barrel Staves

                        The Coq au Vin -  
1 Brined Chicken
                        1 c cooked bacon Lardoons (reserve rendered fat)
                        1 qt cipollini onions
                        1 # mushrooms (quartered)                
½ c Madeira Cognac or Brandy
                        1 ½ c Red Wine (I used Pinot Noir, but Burgundy regionals are traditional)
                        1 Bay Leaf
                        2 Sprigs Thyme
¼ c Water
                        1T cornstarch
                        Roasted Root Vegetables –
                        Equal parts:
                        Potatoes, carrots, and turnips
                        Note: If your carrot tops look as good as mine did wash and keep them for use for another time.)
2 large bunches of cooking greens i.e. mustard greens or chard
1 head Roasted Garlic and its reserved garlic oil
t.t. Salt and Cracked Pepper
t.t. Vinegar

Washed and Dried Miners Lettuce (or any green of your choice)
            Start your chicken brining the day before. On the day of serving, blanch the onions in boiling water for 1 minute. This will make it easier to pull off the skin. Cook off your bacon using a rack and pan to catch the drippings so you can reserve the drippings. Break down your chicken into four types: wings, breasts, thighs, and legs. Heat the fat in a large rondo (shallow pot with raised sides). Brown the chicken breast over medium high heat until the skin is crispy. Place the breast on a rack over a pan and finish cooking in a 350 oven.
Using the same rondo and hot bacon fat, place the remaining chicken in the pot. Cook until dark brown. I added the chicken carcass to brown. Remove the browned chicken and rest on a rack over a pan. Remove the fond from the pan by pouring some red wine into the hot pan and scraping with a wooden spoon. Be careful to turn off the flames because the alcohol may catch on fire. (Note: if you do catch the wine on fire it’s no big deal the alcohol will just burn off. Plus you’ll look super cool to your friends when you’re calm and explain that to them.) When you’ve finished scraping all the good bits and pieces up with your wooden spoon, pour the hot liquid and fat into a melt-proof container, I use a metal one but don’t touch it without a buffer towel in your hand please.
            Next sauté your onions and mushrooms over high heat; this time keeping them in the pan while you pick up the fond with the Madeira. (Yet another flammable thing.) Reduce the wine down into a syrup. Return your bacon, reserved liquid and chicken thighs, wings, legs, and carcass to the pot. Cover ½ the way up the solids in the pot with: 1 part red wine and 1 part water.

            Cover the pot once the mixture returns to a simmer and place in 350 degree oven until the chicken is falling off the bone. If your cooking liquid is too watery you should think about dissolving a tablespoon of cornstarch in 1/4 C of water – straining off the braising liquid adding your cornstarch liquid and boiling to activate the starch. It will be nice and thick after that. While that is simmering, wash your vegetables. Cook them on separate sheet trays coated lightly in oil in a 500 degree oven. Since each vegetable has a different cooking time, you will need to remove each vegetable as it finishes. Toss the vegetables together with a couple tablespoons of your garlic oil and a few roasted garlic cloves and season up with salt and pepper. You can even throw in those reserved carrot tops while the vegetables are still warm so that the tops wilt. Sauté your greens toss those in too and serve.

            Yet again, I loved this challenge almost as much as I love the idea of Dominique and Kate in Seattle. All my cured heart is with them!