Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mussels with Pasta a la espaƱol

We tried this one last night,  a Spanish take on the Italian pasta with mussels dish. The idea is the same as the Italian version only with Spanish spices.

½ pound spaghetti
1 pound mussels cleaned and debearded
1 large red bell pepper cut into dice
3 large cloves garlic sliced thinly
¼ cup olive oil
generous pinch saffron threads soaked in ½ cup warm water
1 cup dry white wine like chardonnay or pinot grigio
pimenton (Spanish paprika)

Boil 4 qts of water in a large pot adding 1 tablespoon of salt
Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the pepper and saute until soft. Add the garlic and cook until soft. Add the wine and reduce heat allowing the flavors to coalesce. Pour the saffron and its soaking liquid into the skillet and cook a few more minutes adding water or wine to the skillet if it ever begins to dry out.
Meanwhile add the pasta to the pot with the boiling water.
When the pasta is about 6 minutes short of being cooked, bring the skillet up to simmering, add the mussels and cook a couple minutes past when they've all opened. (Discard any that do not open within a few minutes of adding them as they may have been dead to begin with and inedible.)
When the pasta is al dente, drain into a colander then put it into the skillet stirring to combine the sauce with the pasta and let cook for another minute. Sprinkle on the pimenton and serve.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Camerones a la Diabla

This is a great dish that I found somewhere online when we got back from our most recent trip to Oaxaca in 2005. The first morning we were there, we had a breakfast in our hotel, Parador San Miguel, that included a guajillo sauce that was absolutely delicious, the first of many amazing meals we had in Oaxaca.

We serve this dish with brown rice, chili beans, and grilled homemade tortillas. It's got quite a bit of heat but the kind that enhances the dish's flavor rather than getting in the way of it.


Guajillo sauce:
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
8 dried guajillo chiles (about 4 ounces)
½ teaspoon dried **Mexican** oregano (not Greek!)
½ teaspoon black peppercorns, whole
1 teaspoon cumin, whole 
1 white onion (cebolla blanca), sliced into 8 rounds 
2 cups fish broth or as needed
2 tablespoons rendered pork lard (or vegetable or peanut oil)
⅓ cup red hot sauce (e.g. Gaucamaya) - optional

For finishing the dish:
2 tablespoons butter
1-1½ pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined


Guajillo Sauce: 
Roast the unpeeled garlic directly in a large skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until they get soft and black in spots. This should take about 10 minutes. Allow to cool then peel them. 

While the garlic is cooking on one side of the skillet, open the guajillas to remove the seeds and veins under running water. (YMMV, but I usually use dishwashing gloves while doing this to protect my hands from the capsaicin). After quickly drying them, add in batches to the skillet, opening them flat and pressing them down firmly on the hot surface with a spatula until they dry and darken a bit, no longer than 15 seconds each. Put them into a small bowl and cover with hot tap water to rehydrate stirring frequently so as to ensure an even soaking. After 30 minutes remove the chiles from the bowl and put them aside discarding the water.

Pound the whole cumin and black peppercorns then combine them with the oregano and 1 slice of the onion into a blender. Add the drained chiles, garlic and ½ cup of the broth. Blend to a smooth puree, scraping the sides down as needed. Poured the resulting paste into a sieve held over a bowl pushing the paste through with a wooden spoon. Once you have moved whatever you can through the sieve, scrape along the bottom of the sieve to get whatever hasn't fallen into the bowl yet.

Add the fat (lard/oil) into the skillet over a medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, add the strained puree stirring while thickening it over the heat. Lower the heat thinning it out as you add broth to it a bit at a time while it cooks gently for about 20-30 minutes. If you are using the hot sauce, add it towards the end.

In a separate skillet, melt the butter over a medium-high heat. Add the onion slices and cook until very soft. Then put in the shrimp using tongs. Cook each shrimp for one minute then turn over to cook for another minute. You want to make sure they are not overcooked. When they are done, move them into the cooking sauce to serve.


A more recent experience with porchetta is here.

This was an experience to say the least. We invited friends over to celebrate New Year's Day with a porchetta feast that I got from a Food Network show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Anne Burrell's show that I like to keep track of. We included the chickpea soup that was on the show as well. 

A detailed recipe for each are online at the Food Network site. 

As is my wont with new recipes, I kept to the letter on each one. I like Anne's shows in spite of her fairly annoying (to me) style as she is pretty good at describing the various steps to each dish but, as is true with Lidia's shows, you need to triangulate between the show and the printed recipe. Unlike Lidia, though, you don't have to buy a book to get the printed recipe as they are all on the Food Network site. In this case, however, there was a glaring omission both on the show and in the recipe as to the size of the pork she used even though made a point of cooking it for four hours. 

In our case we got a 10 pound pork shoulder with the skin intact from the Marketplace in Rockridge Oakland at Marin Sun Farms' outlet there. They told us the pork was a heritage Berkshire mix from a ranch in Sonoma county. The butcher boned and butterflied the shoulder for us.

In case you're unaware, most pork grown and sold in this country these days, are from breeds that have been developed to eliminate a lot of the fat inherent in pigs. I think this was a reaction to the fear of fat fetish we went through in the 90's but seems kind of ridiculous now in hindsight. I mean pigs are supposed to have fat, aren't they? Isn't that the whole point of eating pork? In addition to the new breeds, pork, like mass-produced beef and chicken in the US, is often raised in horrid conditions with antibiotics used as a preventive measure to counteract the effects of those conditions. The heritage breeds grown in smaller farms pretty much bypass all of this and produce amazing meat. Meat like I remember from when I was young in the 50's. Even though they tend to be considerably more expensive, I find it worth paying the extra cash for a superior product.

Even though not indicated in Anne's porchetta recipe, we marinated the pork overnight in the frig with the garlic herb paste. In the morning of the dinner, I started preparing the vegetable bed when our power went out.  Here are the photos prior to cooking.

We suspected that the power would be out for a while so I immediately fired up the Big Green Egg to get the pork into the heat with enough time to hit our mark on the start of dinner. A good thing I did too as the power wound up being out for 3 hours which would have a put a real crimp into plans.
The recipe calls for 4 hours at 450° but comments on the web site recommended kicking that down to 350° for the last hour. 

The BGE added a nice smoky flavor overall so it turned out to be a bit of luck as with the cold and the light rain that fell most of the day, I would not have used it if I wasn't forced to. We cooked the pork for the first 3 hours in the BGE and moved it to the inside electric oven at 350° to finish. The interior temperature reached about 165-170° at about 4½ hours so not far off from the recipe.

The pork was absolutely delicious but the veggies, save for the potatoes, not so much. Anne made a real point of keeping the veggies in liquid to avoid scorching from the high heat used to cook the pork but still they kind of became drowned in heavy fat from the pork.

This looks like the kind of dish I'm going to have to try a few times to get handle on as it's kind of like driving a semi the first time, what with the size of the meat and the high heat. It might turn out best with the veggies being cut into larger pieces to withstand the heat.