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