Author Archives: Denny Kozlov

About Denny Kozlov

Steampunk social flutterby and adventurer-aesthete

Gumbo z’herbes

I have, sadly, never been to New Orleans, nor am I Catholic, but when a friend gave me a huge bagful of fresh greens the other day, my first thought was to make that Creole Lenten specialty gumbo z’herbes. I did my usual Internet recipe research and discovered, as I expected, that there was a great deal of variation in how to make the dish–no consensus even on such basics as whether to thicken it with a Creole-style roux or with file powder. In fact, some of the recipes didn’t seem all that Lenten to me, containing impressive amounts of meat and sausage.

The one common denominator: greens, and lots of ’em–everyone recommended using a variety, preferably seven different kinds for luck. I was good for that: my friend had given me kale, beet greens, turnip greens, Asian mustard greens, and three different colors of swiss chard. A quick supermarket trip turned up no Creole sausage, but I got some Mexican longaniza that stood in quite well.

And then, on to cleaning and chopping all that vegetation. Every recipe said to discard all the stems from the greens, but I hate throwing out good food, which the stems are if you treat them right. I did remove them all, but only so I could simmer them separately, putting a little extra heat under them to get them as tender as the leaves. The chard stems especially were a great addition, as they’re so tender to start with; but even the kale stems got nice and soft with my treatment.

Cooking greens are notorious for hiding grit in all their nooks and crannies. To wash them properly: pile them all in a sink, fill with cold water, agitate the greens in the water as best you can, then pull them out and pile in a colander before draining the sink. Drain and rinse away all the grit left in the bottom of the sink, then repeat at least one more time, or until there is no more grit left in the sink when you drain it.

Ingredients:

  • Several generous bunches of fresh cooking greens, preferably seven different varieties, but in any case as many as you can manage–anything from collards, kale, and mustard greens to cabbage and lettuce counts
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup light-flavored vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced fine
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 lb. spicy sausage, cut into 3/4″ slices
  • 1 dried red chile pepper
  • several whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 heaping tsp. poultry seasoning (I was out of marjoram)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Thoroughly wash all the greens as described above, then roughly chop into 1-inch strips. If you’re also using the stems, chop them into 1-inch segments too, and keep them separate.
  2. In a large heavy pot with a well-fitting lid, bring about a quart of water to a high rolling boil. Turn it down to a still very active simmer, and then add the greens (just the leaf parts). If they won’t all fit at the first go, don’t panic; just put the lid on the pot and let the first batch cook down a bit, then unlid and chuck in more greens, repeating till you get them all in. Turn the heat to low, cover, and let simmer until very tender, at least an hour. If using the stems, bring some more water to a boil in another pot, place the stems in, cover, and turn heat to medium-low, letting them cook till they too are tender.
  3. Drain the cooked greens and stems, reserving all the cooking liquid (the “pot likker”). Chop all the greens and stems finely and reserve.
  4. Rinse out and thoroughly dry your large heavy pot, and place back on the stove. Add the oil and heat on high until you can see the surface of the oil rippling. Add the flour gradually, whisking thoroughly after each addition so that all the flour is incorporated with no lumps. Cook this roux on medium-low, whisking continuously and watching that it doesn’t scorch, until the roux turns a golden peanut-butter brown, which can take a good 20 or 30 minutes.
  5. When the roux is ready, start adding the greens cooking liquid gradually, again whisking in each addition thoroughly so as to prevent lumps. Once all the liquid is incorporated, turn the heat up to medium, stirring frequently, until the thickened liquid bubbles but is not yet boiling. Now add all the rest of the ingredients, stirring as best one can so that everything is well combined. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer at least another hour.
  6. Stir again and adjust seasonings. Serve in large soup plates over mounds of steamed white rice. Makes 8 servings.

Notes: Feel free to use more or other meats (ham, pork, veal, a ham-hock or ham-bone, etc.), and to vary the seasonings. You can also leave out the meat altogether to make this vegan, in which case I’d up the seasonings even more, and maybe add some of that vegan soy-chorizo to preserve a sausage-y note. The flavor will also change depending on which kinds of greens you use–because of the kale in mine it tasted very green-y, which since I love greens is a very good thing. For a smoother texture, you can run some or all of the simmered greens through a food processor before adding to the thickened cooking liquid.

Denny

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Filed under Difficulty - Sous Chef, Dinner, Southern, Spring

Pork braised with soy sauce and spices

A few years ago I started venturing on beyond stir-fries in my explorations into Chinese cooking. Along the way I discovered the wonderful world of red-cooking, a Chinese braising technique in which soy sauce is a significant component of the braising liquid. Used most often on pork, it turns the outside of the meat a lovely reddish color, and imparts that wonderful soy-sauce savoriness to the whole dish.

This recipe is a simplified version of the red-cooking technique that I adapted from a number of sources. It’s totally dead-easy, but it does take a long time to let the meat do the full low-and-slow braise to get properly tender. This of course makes this dish a great candidate for crock pot cookery (only dropping the bit about taking off the lid and turning the meat every now and then, since crock pots don’t like that). But even if you do it in a conventional cooking pot it requires minimal intervention.

You can do this recipe with any number of pork braising cuts–it’s especially glorious with fresh pork belly. Here I used a bone-in pork shoulder blade roast, with some of the skin layer intact. If you really dislike the skin, get a skinless cut or remove the skin. But I invite you to give the skin-on version a chance–the Chinese consider the jelly-soft braised skin a particular delicacy, and I don’t blame ’em.

Ingredients:

  • Approx. 4 lb. pork braising cut (shoulder, Boston butt, fresh ham, belly pork, etc.), preferably with a modest layer of fat plus skin
  • 1/4 cup Chinese soy sauce (Pearl River Bridge is a good brand)
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 3 or 4 chunks Chinese yellow rock sugar candy, or 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 quarter-sized slice fresh ginger root, or 1 tsp. dried ground ginger
  • 1 or 2 star anise pods (optional)
  • 1 small dried red chile (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place the meat in a heavy thick-bottomed braising pot with a well-fitting lid, that holds the meat comfortably but without a lot of excess room. Pour or sprinkle remaining ingredients over meat; add about 2 cups water, or enough to come just barely halfway up around the meat. Turn the meat over a few times to get it bathed in the liquid on all sides.
  2. Bring the pot just up to a boil on the range-top, then back it off to the lowest simmer you can manage–the liquid should just be burbling gently, not actually bubbling. Put the lid on and let it simmer for a good couple of hours, until the meat is very tender but not falling apart. Occasionally check the pot to make sure the simmer is staying at the right level, and to turn the roast so all sides get their turn in the cooking liquid. Be gentle when turning the meat, especially as it gets tender and more breakable–tongs and a wide-blade spatula help a lot. (Alternatively, you can do the braise in an ovenproof lidded casserole in a pre-heated 350F oven.)
  3. When the meat is done, remove it to a platter to rest before carving. Strain the cooking liquid; either spoon off the fat on top, or put it in the fridge overnight so you can remove the congealed fat more easily.
  4. Slice the meat across the grain, and in such a way that each slice has a bit of the skin on top. Serve with white rice, with a bit of the cooking liquid spooned over the meat and the rice.

Variation: You can add chunked braising vegetables to the pot for the last 30 to 60 minutes of cooking. I especially like carrots, turnips, and/or daikon braised this way.

Servings: 6 to 8 if the main dish; a lot more if part of a multi-course Asian dinner.

–posted by Denny Kozlov

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Filed under Asian, Chinese, Difficulty - Dishwasher Easy, Dinner, Long but worth it!, Meat

Tom Yum Goong (Thai Hot-and-Sour Shrimp Soup)

One of the first things one discovers when getting into a food-geek conversation with me is that I am a huge fan of Asian cuisines. I’m not quite sure how it happened, as I have never (yet) lived anywhere in Asia. But I did grow up in the suburbs of New York City, the proverbial cultural melting pot, and the cuisines of all those cultures made a huge impression on me. Since then I have lived in a number of other US cities with a variety of Asian emigre communities, including Boston, Seattle, and now San Diego. With the aid of cookbooks, patient friends both online and real-life, and innumerable visits to shops and restaurants, I have taught myself a few things about cooking in these delightful food traditions. And one of my favorite learnings is how to make a good authentic tom yum goong.

There are two ingredients that really “make” this soup: the head-on shell-on shrimp and the nam prik pao (one of the many varieties of Thai seasoning pastes). It is undeniably labor-intensive to remove the heads and shells from all those shrimp, but one taste of the heavenly broth you make from the heads and shells and you’ll know it was worth it. Do make sure you get the absolutely freshest shrimp you can, preferably buying them the same day you will be making the soup and storing them on a well-drained bed of ice in the fridge until you’re ready to prep them.

The challenge with the nam prik pao is for non-readers of  Thai to identify it in their local Asian grocery store. You will find jars labeled something like “Tom Yum Paste” — that’s not what you want, however, but a short-cut “instant” soup base. Alas, what you do want is a little harder to identify, because the English labeling will say something insufficiently clear, like “roasted chilli paste.” Fortunately, I discovered that Pantainorasingh makes a popular and very tasty version of the stuff, and their label is easy to pick out–it has a long dragon boat on it, plus the English text “chili paste with soya bean oil” (picture here). The Pantainorasingh brand actually has only a mild chile kick–mostly it’s super-savory, and a bit sweet, and incredibly addictive (yes, I have gleefully eaten it by the spoonful).

One other ingredient note: palm sugar typically comes in rock-hard lozenges about 2 inches in diameter. Use whatever method you can come up with to break up the lozenges. I’ve resorted to putting a few inside a clean pillowcase and pounding them with a hammer till pulverized. You can substitute brown cane sugar if you prefer not to be whacking at your ingredients, but the palm sugar has a distinctive tang that I think really adds something to the final product.

Servings: 8 as the soup course of a full dinner, or 4 as a main entree

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 lb large shrimp with heads and shells intact
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 chunk ginger or galangal root the size of your thumb
  • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves
  • The juice of 4 limes
  • Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, to taste
  • palm sugar, to taste (approx. 2 to 3 tbs; )
  • fresh Thai red chilies, to taste (caution, extremely hot–as few as 1 or 2 might do unless you’re a chile freak)
  • nam prik pao, to taste (approx 2 to 4 tbs)
  • 2 15 oz. cans straw mushrooms
  • Extra chicken, fish, or vegetable broth as needed
  • 1 big handful cilantro leaves (removed from stems)

Special equipment:

A small sharp pointed scissors is very helpful in shelling and deveining the shrimp a little more quickly.

Directions:

1. Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp: Work over a bowl to catch the juices, taking care not to get your hands stabbed by the sharp points on the shrimps’ heads and tails. To remove the head, grasp the shrimp’s body in one hand, the head in the other, and just snap or pull the head off. To shell and devein in one step, insert one blade of the scissors right at the point where the vein peeks out from the body and snip right through the shrimp’s back, shell and all, the full length of the shrimp; then pull the meat free from the shell and tail.  The vein is left exposed for easy removal; pull it free with the tip of the scissors and discard. Rinse the cleaned shrimp briefly in cool water, pat dry, and return to the fridge until you’re ready to use them. Reserve the heads and shells, as well as the juices you caught in the workbowl.

2. Put the heads, shells, and shrimp juices in a stockpot with water to cover. Add one stalk of lemongrass, sliced (discard the straw-like top part); 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed; and a chunk of fresh ginger or galangal root the size of your thumb, sliced (don’t bother to peel this). Bring to a boil, back it down to a low simmer, cover, and let simmer for a good hour or so, stirring occasionally. Strain the broth through a fine sieve, smooshing the shells and heads a bit to get at least some of the remaining liquid out. Discard the shells and other detritus.

3. Measure the resulting broth, and add some of your backup broth as needed to bring the total volume of broth up to about 8 cups. Drain the straw mushrooms; discard the liquid, as it will probably be too tinny-tasting to use in the soup. Halve the bigger shrooms lengthwise so they better match the smaller ones; add them to the soup. Also add 4 to 8 kaffir lime leaves, depending on size, and the second stalk of lemongrass, sliced up, dry top discarded. Bring up to simmering temperature, cover, and let cook together for awhile till the lemongrass and lime leaves have had a chance to release their flavors.

4. You’re now going to do a flavor-balancing act with the fish sauce, limes, palm sugar, nam prik pao, and chiles, adding and tasting till you like the combo of  salty/sour/sweet/spicy. My suggestion would be to start with a big spoonful of the nam prik pao–make sure it’s well dissolved into the simmering soup–and maybe one or two chiles, sliced and deseeded. (Wear gloves when cutting up the chiles–and if you’re a chile-head, by all means add more than one or two to start!) Then a couple tablespoons of the fish sauce. Then alternate lime juice and sugar, a little at a time, tasting as you go till you can taste both sweet and sour. Then readjust the savory and hot seasonings as needed. Repeat till you’re happy with the result.

(Many recipes say to wait to add the nam prik pao until the soup is served, putting a spoonful in the bottom of the bowl and ladling the soup on top to dissolve it. I find it easier to get the flavors balanced if I add the nam prik pao at the same time at the same time as the other seasonings. You can always offer the nam prik pao, and other condiments, at table for anyone who wants to adjust their soup further.)

5. Maybe ten minutes before serving the soup, bring it just up to a boil and drop in the shrimp. Bring it back up to a lively simmer, and cook until the shrimp are just cooked through–don’t overcook! Pour into a tureen, drop in the handful of cilantro leaves, and serve. (Make sure your guests know that the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass are not meant to be eaten!)

–posted by Denny Kozlov

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Filed under Asian, Difficulty - Sous Chef, Long but worth it!, Seafood, Soup, Thai