Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CharcutePalooza Final: Tapas

CharcutePalooza has been quite the experience.  Twelve months of brining, curing, grinding, stuffing, and smoking have come and gone.  With each challenge came a new technique or a refinement of a previous one.  These techniques opened up the door to new dishes and new flavors, though admittedly most of the composed dishes were rooted in something from my past.


Beyond the obvious things like sausage making, CharcutePalooza has drilled into me something I can utilize in and out of the kitchen: organization.  Organization doesn’t just apply to mise en place but starts the moment conceptualization begins on a new dish.  Corralling disparate ideas, flavors, and experiences and focusing them into a cohesive composed dish around a single charcuterie item each month was an exciting test of my organizational skills.  So to say I was ecstatic that the final challenge required the use of four distinct charcuterie items was an understatement.


The moment the final challenge was announced I knew wanted to do four separate Spanish-inspired tapas-sized dishes to be served as an entire meal.  After much deliberation I chose to make bacalao al pil pil, a rillettes and tortilla bocadillo, chickpeas with botifarra negra, and violet-lavender ice cream with bacon.  This selection was a result the experiences I had in Spain and the confluence and osmosis between shared ingredients as seen in the above scribbling.


The first tapa was a rillettes and tortilla bocadillo.  Tortillas (Spanish omelettes) and bocadillos (baguette-like sandwiches) are popular in Spain.  When combined, they make one of Spain's most beloved sandwiches.  One regret I have was not seeking out a quality bocadillo as the ones I had were pretty dry and bland.  To make sure I wouldn’t have that problem, I decided to lubricate my bocadillo with a nice spread of rillettes.


The fat and meat from the rillettes also added richness to the bocadillo which would normally be provided by the egg yolks in the tortilla.  However, this was an egg white tortilla.  Early in the planning stages I realized I would have a lot of unused egg whites as a result of making the ice cream.  At that point, I decided to make my tortilla an egg white tortilla from the orphaned egg whites.


Having imagined my rillettes potentially turning about to be no more than glorified pulled pork, I was a bit skeptical at first.  However, the rillettes came out surprisingly spreadable and not stringy at all.  Cooking the pork in a veal-pork stock contributed a lot to the flavor.  From that stock, I was able to use the cooked meat from the veal bones and pork necks in the rillettes itself.


Due to a lack of Spanish bakeries in my vicinity and also due to my unconditional love for shoti, I chose to use a toasted piece of shoti for the bread.  It’s crispy exterior and chewy interior made it a great great vessel for the rillettes and tortilla.


The second tapa was bacalao al pil pil: salt cod pil pil style.  Bacalao is king in Spain, and one of the most traditional preparations is the Basque pil pil style.


Salting the cod to make the bacalao was step one.  My fridge was quickly taken over by the smell of dried fish despite putting two boxes of baking soda next to it.


After rehydrating the bacalao, it’s placed in a pan with olive oil, garlic, and parsley.  As the bacalao cooks, it releases water and proteins into the oil.  Once the fish has been cooked, the pan is swirled to create an emulsion between the oil, water, and proteins.  This is what makes the dish “al pil pil.”


The third tapa was chickpeas with botifarra negra (blood sausage).  Legumes are very common in Catalan cuisine, and the legendary Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona’s La Boqueria serves up their signature chickpeas with botifarra negra for breakfast and lunch.  Thankfully, finding fresh pork blood wasn’t very hard as my local Vietnamese market always seems to have it in stock.


Ruhlman was right about blood sausage being one of the easiest sausages to make.  Once the blood was liquefied,  all that was required was to mix in some pork fat, onions, and seasoning and shove the mixture into the casing through a funnel.  Not being able to find any recipes for botifarra negra, I simply took the blood sausage recipe from Charcuterie but seasoned it with salt and pimenton de La Vera (Spanish smoked paprika).


From what I recall, Pinotxo’s version of the dish had the botifarra crumbled and distributed throughout the chickpeas.  I preferred to keep it in casing so I could control the amount of botifarra eaten with each bite and also reap the rewards of the Maillard reaction.  A balsamic vinegar reduction and raisins added the perfect amount of acidity and sweetness to cut through the botifarra’s fat.


The last tapa was a serving of violet-lavender ice cream with bacon.  After having a violet ice cream at DiverXO, I learned that violet confections are very traditional in Madrid.  In fact, there’s a shop called La Violeta that specializes in such candies.  Having grown up on Vietnamese desserts, which tend to have some element of salt, my palette is tuned to crave a little bit of salt with my sweets to balance thing out.  In this case, the bacon not only added salt to the ice cream but texture.


The reason for not making a pure violet ice cream was because I found it fairly difficult to source violet extract.  I was able to get a hold of some violet syrup, but it ended up tasting like cough syrup.  If I were to make this ice cream again, I’d probably wait until violets were in season and use fresh petals.


Of all the dishes, the ice cream unfortunately reminded me the least of Spain.  There wasn’t much violet flavor because I held back on the syrup, and putting too much lavender extract made the ice cream taste citrusy with floral and minty notes; the flavor was much like Fruit Loops.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the ice cream.  In fact, it tasted like one of my favorite ice creams: blue moon.  Because I opted not to add food coloring, I dubbed the accidental ice cream “yellow moon.”


And so CharcutePalooza has come to an end.  It was a fun and wild ride, and I’m very glad I participated.  I learned a lot, I cooked a lot, and I ate a lot.


Egg White Tortilla De Patatas Y Cebolla

Mise En Place

  1. 300 g potatoes, sliced 2-3 mm thick
  2. 480 g egg whites (about 12 egg whites)
  3. 150 g caramelized onions
  4. An 8” nonstick pan


  1. Whisk egg whisk until combined and add caramelized onions
  2. Shallow fry the potatoes over medium heat until tender, about 5-10 minutes
  3. Add hot potatoes to egg mixture and season with salt
  4. Drain the pan of the oil but leave some for the egg mixture
  5. Pour egg mixture into the pan and reduce heat to medium-low
  6. After about a minute, gently work the pan by swirling it and tucking the edges in
  7. Once the bottom is set (about 5 minutes), place a cover of plate over the top of the pan and flip the egg mixture onto the plate so the runny side is on the top side of the plate
  8. Slide the egg mixture onto the pan, runny side down, and cook for another 2-3 minutes


Bacalao Al Pil Pil (adapter from here)

Mise En Place

  1. 225 g bacalao (dried mass), rehydrated and cut into 1” cubes
  2. 1 clove of garlic, minced
  3. 5 g parsley, minced
  4. Extra virgin olive oil


  1. Place bacalao in a pan such that they do not touch each other
  2. Fill the pan with enough oil such that it covers half of the bacalao
  3. Heat the pan over medium heat until the oil starts to simmer
  4. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes
  5. Flip the bacalao and cook for another 5 minutes
  6. Pour off about half the oil
  7. Swirl the the pan to start the emulsion and swirl until thickened


Chickpeas With Botifarra Negra

Mise En Place

  1. 225 g dried chickpeas
  2. 30 g sofrito
  3. 1.5-2 feet of botifarra negra
  4. 15 g raisins
  5. Parsley, minced
  6. Balsamic vinegar reduction


  1. Cook chickpeas in a pressure cooker at full pressure for 35 minutes.  Release pressure naturally and drain
  2. Brown botifarra under the broiler on in a pan and portion as you wish
  3. Heat the sofrito through in a pan over medium-high heat and add the chickpeas and raisins
  4. Top the chickpeas with the botifarra, parsley, and balsamic vinegar reduction

Yellow Moon Ice Cream Base (adapted from Ratio)

Mise En Place

  1. 650 g heavy cream
  2. 240 g milk
  3. 170 g sugar
  4. 225 g egg yolks (about 12 extra large egg yolks)
  5. 75 g violet syrup
  6. 5 g lavender extract


  1. Whisk sugar and yolks together
  2. Bring cream and milk to a simmer over medium heat
  3. Slowly pour the cream and milk into the sugar and yolks while whisking continuously
  4. Pour the mixture back into the pan and stir continuously until nappe
  5. Pour the mixture into a bowl set over ice water and stir until chilled
  6. Stir in violet syrup and lavender extract

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bresaola Pintxo

This being the second to last CharcutePalooza  challenge, I couldn’t help but start counting the days until the winner is announced.  That slightly unsettling feeling of anticipation also permeated the November curing challenge.  Time was the name of the game this challenge, but good things come to those who wait.
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Although a lot of my recent cooking has been influenced by my trip to Spain a few months ago, I decided against making chorizo for this challenge.  I wanted to make something I'd never had before, and after flipping through the options in Charcuterie, I found bresaola to be the only option that would satisfy both the CharcutePalooza parameters and my own personal quest to try new things.  However, that's not to say the final usage of the bresaola didn’t reflect some of the things I experienced overseas.
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Having done all 12 challenges at the time of this writing, I can definitively say this was the easiest challenge in terms of the difficulty of producing the meat product and difficulty of producing the final composed dish.  When you boil it down, the manual labor involved in curing something is minimal: salt the meat, wait, rinse the meat, hang the meat, wait.  Easy on the muscles, but tough on the brain.
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During the period the meat was hung out to dry, several things ran through my mind:
  • This thing is going to taste so awesome.  I can't wait!
  • Oh cool, some small specs of white mold have started to develop.  Hopefully that keeps the bad mold away.
  • Wait a second, does that small white spot look sort of fuzzy?  I don't think so...I think it's ok...
  • Crap, what if that spot really was fuzzy?
  • What the heck, how is half of the surface area suddenly covered in fuzzy green mold??
  • Wiping the fuzzy green mold with a brine solution seems to have gotten things under control.
  • Will I get botulism?
  • Great...fuzzy green mold is back again.  Time to try a vinegar wipe down suggested by a fellow CharcutePaloozer.
  • Phew!  Two weeks of no fuzzy mold!  Vinegar > brine solution.
  • What??  Fuzzy white mold one day before I plan on cutting into this baby...
  • Oops...the meat has lost 45% of its mass.  I hope that doesn't have any adverse effects.
  • Hopefully the vinegar in the pickled pepper and salt in the olive kill any pathogens.
  • Here goes nothing...
  • I'm not dead or incapacitated!
  • Curing is magical.
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Like I said: easy on the muscles, but tough on the brain.  The final composed dish, or more appropriately pintxo, was inspired by the pintxos found in the Basque country.  I also figured I should make something simple so the bresaola could shine.  I didn’t want all that waiting and worrying to be in vain.  One of the most popular pintxos in the Basque country consists of fresh anchovy, olive, and I believe pickled piparras peppers.  At one particular stall at the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, this pintxo served as the basis for a wide array of pintxos that all followed a similar template: a protein, a pickled something, and an olive.

From this template, I made a pintxo of bresaola, pickled banana pepper, and an olive.  Salty, briny, and sour in one bite.  I did plan to use olives that I’d recently started curing from fresh, but sadly they were still extremely bitter.  I was genuinely surprised how much herb flavor came through in just a thin slice of meat, and that herbal flavor was nice in the bite.  Overall, I was happy with how the bresaola and the pintxo turned out and found myself eating the bresaola plain after running out of olives.


Bresaola Pintxo

Mise En Place

  1. Thinly sliced bresaola
  2. Pickled pepper
  3. Pitted olive


  1. Skewer one olive, one slice of bresaola, and one pickled pepper onto a toothpick

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chinese Soy Sauce Chicken Galantine

One of the things I really enjoy about CharcutePalooza is learning to make new things while at the same time trying to figure out how to incorporate something familiar into each challenge.  That point of reference could be a flavor, a texture, an aroma, an ingredient, or a technique.  For the October CharcutePalooza, galantine, I drew from Chinese BBQ: soy sauce chicken and cold poached chicken with ginger-scallion oil.


Keeping with the Chinese influence, I decided to use the Chinese holy trinity of ginger, scallion, and garlic for the aromatics and shiitake mushrooms and wood ear fungus for the garnish.


When it came time to make the galantine, some parts were easier than others.  Thanks the previous challenges, producing the forcemeat was a breeze.  I was worried about skinning the chicken, though, as the recipe calls for keeping the skin in one piece.  However, it was surprisingly easier than I thought.  The only part I struggled with was separating the end of the drumsticks from the skin by pulling the drumsticks through “as if you were removing a tight shirt.”


Up until the point where I had the chicken breast laid out on top of the forcemeat, I was pretty confident that I’d be able to finish up this challenge without a hitch.  I was wrong.


Rolling the galantine into an even cylinder proved to be extremely difficult for me.  After a few tries, the best I could muster was a galantine shaped more like one of the Michelin Man’s appendages or Lumpy Space Princess.  I was afraid if I didn’t tie the support strings tight enough the forcemeat would spill out.


In order to make the galantine a true Chinese soy sauce chicken galantine, I poached it in the mother sauce I created about a year ago when I made my first soy sauce chicken.  The mother sauce is a combination of soy sauce, chicken stock, rock sugar, ginger, scallion, garlic, cinnamon, and star anise.  Each time it’s used to poach something, fresh aromatics are added and the meat being poached deepens the flavor of the liquid.  The soy sauce gave the skin that distinct brown hue that comes with every soy sauce chicken.


Yes, the galantine looked like a piece of poop as a whole, but when sliced it was hard to tell.  Although the slices did come out a bit oblong, the flavors and textures were spot on.  The wood ear fungus provided crunchiness and the shiitake provided a little more meatiness to the soft forcemeat.  As is traditional in Chinese cuisine, I garnished the cold chicken galantine with ginger-scallion oil which was a nice refreshing contrast to the dark flavors imparted by the mother sauce.  Overall, the dish was new yet familiar at the same time.  Overlooking the failure to roll the galantine perfectly, I felt pretty good about how this month’s challenge ended up.



Ginger-Scallion Oil

Via my recipe previously posted here

Chinese Mother Sauce (makes about 2 kg)

Mise En Place

  1. 1 kg chicken stock or water
  2. 0.5 kg soy sauce
  3. 0.5 dark soy sauce
  4. 100 g vermouth
  5. 100 g ginger, sliced and smashed
  6. 100 g scallion, roughly chopped
  7. 100 g garlic, smashed
  8. 100 g rock sugar
  9. 10 g black peppercorn
  10. 2 star anise
  11. 1 cinnamon stick


  1. Simmer for 2-3 hours, tasting every now and then and adjusting accordingly
  2. Strain

Galantine Forcemeat Aromatics

Mise En Place

  1. 18 g ginger, minced
  2. 18 g scallion, minced
  3. 18 g garlic, minced

Galantine Forcemeat Garnish

Mise En Place

  1. 20 g dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
  2. 20 g dried wood ear fungus, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Asador Etxebarri: 9-10-11

The day after our disappointing meal at Akelarre, we headed into a remote area of the Basque Country just south of the Durango mountain pass.  The destination was the highly acclaimed Asador Etxebarri.  Just managing to squeeze into this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at #50, Etxebarri specializes in grilling.  After Akelarre’s flashy dishes failed to deliver interesting flavors, I was hoping Etxebarri’s straight forward approach to cooking would help me better understand Basque cuisine and more importantly offer a tasty meal.  In the end, it thankfully did.


At Etxebarri, it’s all about the grill and grilling taken to the highest level of execution.  In their pursuit of excellence, Etxebarri makes their own charcoal on premises.  The side of the building houses the different woods they use to make charcoal.


Before eating at Etxebarri, I thought I had an idea of what types of flavors their grill and charcoal might impart on their food.  I’ve had various grilled and smoked foods in the past and used those experiences to calibrate my expectations.  However, the the grill and charcoal at Etxebarri influenced the flavor of each dish in a way I’d never experienced.


Beet Juice

The meal started out with a simple beet juice.  It tasted like…beet juice.  I would later realize that this was a perfect example of one of the things Etxebarri is all about.  Taking a simple ingredient and preparing it simply in a way that showcases and celebrates it.



Homemade Chorizo

I’d heard great things about the homemade chistorra at Etxebarri, but sadly it wasn’t on the a la carte or tasting menu.  Instead, we opted to add the homemade chorizo as a supplement to the tasting menu.  The chorizo was decent, but by it wasn’t memorable.



Salt-Cured Anchovies on Grilled Bread

This being the first dish on the tasting menu, it was a nice introduction to what I’ll call “the Etxebarri flavor.”  I knew I was tasting something new in the bread, but it wasn’t until a couple dishes later that I finally understood what exactly that was.




Next was a grilled oyster with a citrus foam (if I recall correctly) and seaweed.  The oyster was very meaty and there was a subtle yet distinct crispness to the flavor.  This was the same flavor that piqued my interest in the grilled bread.



Palamos Prawns

Palamos prawns are regarded as some of the best prawns in the world.  Caught off the Costa Brava, their meat is intensely sweet and their head juices are briny yet clean and not muddled.  You can actually taste the ocean when you suck these heads which can’t be said for the majority of crustacean heads I’ve devoured.  However, I did find the heads of the prawns we had in Madrid noticeably brinier and tasting more of the sea.

That’s not to say I enjoyed the ones in Madrid better.  The ones at Etxebarri were taken to another level thanks to the Etxebarri flavor which was more pronounced in this dish compared to the previous two.  By being able to elevate an already pristine product to new heights by simply grilling it made me realize how special Etxebarri is.



The Etxebarri Flavor

That little something of flavor that I’d been thinking about for the past 2 dishes finally clicked in my brain and I felt pretty dumb for not realizing it sooner.  That flavor that had progressed from nuanced in the bread to assertive in the prawns was from the grill and the charcoals.  How could something so simple, so rudimentary, so primal provide such a complex flavor and aroma?

Smokey without the darkness.  Crisp and clean.  Light and refreshing.  These were the words that ran through my head when I made the connection between the new flavor I was experiencing.  When you think about something being grilled and having a smoky flavor, rarely are those mental flavors light, clean, and refreshing.  Another word, well acronym, that came to mind was YMCA.  For reasons I can’t explain, that magnificent Etxebarri flavor reminded me of how an over-chlorinated YMCA swimming pool smells like in the best way possible.  I think that thought was triggered because both things are clean.  Perhaps I’m totally wrong, but I was happy to have made some type of memory reference with the food even if it was unintentional.


Sea Cucumber

Out of all the dishes, none had more of that intense Etxebarri flavor from the grill and charcoals than the sea cucumber.  It wasn’t too surprising since the sea cucumber was essentially grilled directly on the coals.  The sea cucumbers are placed in a shallow wire basket such that the sides of the flesh are flush with the basket walls.  Then, the basket is placed directly onto the coals.

I’ve had sea cucumber before, but only at a Chinese seafood restaurant.  Typically it’s gelatinous, mushy, and fairly tasteless.  Etxebarri’s rendition was anything but.  The flesh was meaty and sweet, almost like a scallop.  Served over white beans and a vinaigrette, the dish as a whole may have been my favorite of the meal along with the prawns.

sea cucumber


Tomato with White Tuna

This was a very refreshing dish as the tomato was plump, juicy, and incredibly sweet.  The tuna was lightly grilled.  Simple ingredients prepared simply and when combined in a logical manner make for great eat.



Hake Kokotxas

The Basque people love their kokotxas.  We had disappointing faux kokotxas the night before at Akelarre, and in Madrid we had them pil-pil style.  Like most everything at Etxebarri, these kokotxas came simply grilled.  No fuss, no muss.  Fatty, gelatinous, and with that great Etxebarri flavor.  It was interesting to note that the English menu referred to kokotxas as “tongues.”



Red Sea Bream

The sea bream was brought to the table whole and portioned out tableside.  Thankfully they asked us if we wanted to keep the head and we of course said “si.”  The fish was very tender and moist and served with the same olive oil and parsley “sauce” that came with the kokotxas.  It also came with fried garlic and what I discovered to be hot peppers.



Beef Chop

Known as chuleta, this was Galician beef and supposed to be some of the best in Spain.  The huge chop was to be split amongst 3 out of the 4 of us as my mom opted not to eat it.  Sure, it finished with a pretty beefy flavor, but what beef doesn’t when you cook it rare?  I don’t mind rare, but this beef was so hard to chew.  My jaw eventually started to get tired and quickly lost interest as the flavor didn’t warrant the amount of chewing involved.  Perhaps the Basque people or Spaniards enjoy chewy beef?  This was a huge letdown as I’d heard so many great things about chuleta.  Even if I had zero expectations of it, it would still be a big disappointment.


The only saving grace of this dish was the amazing char on the outside of the beef and the excellent grilled vegetables that accompanied it.



Baby Squid with Ink

We had many iterations of chipirones in Spain and this one wasn’t much different.  Tender, sweet, and of course that Etxebarri flavor.  Since my mom opted out of the beef, she was served a single baby squid which everyone found pretty funny and ridiculous that a single baby squid would be served as her final protein.  We guessed this was done because the chuleta was probably a serving for 4 and the single baby squid was served as a courtesy.  Why they didn’t give us a beef portion for 3 and my mom more baby squid was confusing because we told them ahead of time that she would like to substitute something for the beef.  Not that big of a deal, though, as the total amount of food left us too full to go out for pintxos that night.



Reduced Milk Ice Cream

Despite the seemingly plain and simple menu listing, this ice cream was the bomb.  The milk used to make the ice cream is smoked, and you can definitely taste it in the ice cream.  It was like no ice cream I’d ever eaten.  Combined with the tart and sweet fruit sauce, this ice cream was very memorable.

smoked ice cream


Roasted Apple with Sheep’s Cheese Ice Cream

Not to be outdone by the smoked ice cream was the sheep’s cheese ice cream paired with a roasted apple infused with that Etxebarri flavor.  Delightfully tart, it reminded me of cream cheese ice cream that I’ve had before.   That tartness was well balanced by the sweet roasted apple.  This was yet another very memorable dish.



View from One of the Dinning Room Windows



View from the Parking Lot



Horses Across the Street



Cows Down the Road