Friday, June 14, 2019

Loco Moco + Hawaiian Mac Salad


I first ate loco moco, a Hawaiian favorite featuring white rice topped with a burger patty, gravy, and finished with a fried egg, at Kona Cafe at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. It sounded amazing but the execution was disappointing. It was incredibly underseasoned, bland in fact. Once I learned what loco moco was, however, I was intrigued and wanted to enjoy a better tasting version. Since a trip to Hawaii isn't in the plans anytime soon, I decided to make it myself!

According to the story, loco moco originated on the Big Island of Hawaii, although the exact origin is heavily debated. It's a dish that can easily be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is available any time of day in Hawaii, making it an epic hangover meal as well as a late night staple.

This particular loco moco recipe features a mushroom and caramelized onion gravy, although it's not quite as thick as a typical American gravy. If it's too thin for your liking, you can certainly thicken it more with a bit of additional cornstarch, but it was fine for us.

I made sure to use the same type of rice used throughout Hawaii, which is Calrose or Kokuho Rose, a sticky, medium-grain California-grown rice that can also be used for sushi. I found it at a local Asian supermarket for fairly cheap, but it's also available online if you can't find it elsewhere.

I decided to zhuzh up my loco moco a bit by turning it into a Hawaiian plate lunch. What's a plate lunch, you ask? It's basically a plated meal consisting of a serving of protein, steamed rice, and mayo-based salad such as macaroni (or mac) salad, potato mac salad or even tuna mac salad. The exact variations of both the plate lunch and the mac salad component can range significantly not only from restaurant to restaurant but also island to island. Loco moco can easily be upgraded into a plate lunch as it is already served on rice and includes a protein. I simply added a scoop of mac salad on the side and my plate lunch was born. It's a thing of beauty!

Long story short, this loco moco is crazy good! See what I did there? Loco? Crazy? Yeah, I'm funny. Although I'm not the biggest fan of plain, sticky, steamed white rice, the mushroom gravy in this case soaks into the rice, giving it tons of flavor. The beef patty is also super flavorful, enhanced with onion, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. A fried egg, complete with runny yolk, is the figurative icing on the cake. What a magical combination?! God bless whoever actually invented this dish, and thank goodness I decided to give it another chance after the disappointment at Disney's Kona Cafe (as much as I love Disney, it dropped the ball with this dish).

And let's not forget the mac salad! It truly deserves its own post, it's that good, but it made more sense to me to include it in the loco moco post since they were served collectively as a plate lunch. I actually made half the quantity listed in the recipe below, and it was still plentiful especially if you're only serving an ice cream scoop's worth of salad per person.

Although from my understanding locals tend to overcook their macaroni, so the noodles are soft and fat, I cooked mine the way I typically prefer, al dente, and I have zero complaints. The salad is enhanced with grated carrot and onion, some acidity from apple cider vinegar, and a touch of sugar in the Best Foods or Hellman's mayonnaise-based dressing. These are the only brands of mayo that are used in Hawaiian mac salad, and they are technically the same brand, but have different names depending on the region of the United States where you are purchasing them. On the west coast it's Best Foods, and on the east it's Hellman's. I wasn't about to commit Hawaiian mac salad blasphemy, so I made sure to use the Hellman's like a good girl :) The mac salad was really good! Again, there are many different variations to the basic salad, but this is a good starting point. In my research most recipes stick to the basics below with a few tweaks here and there.

If a trip to Hawaii is not in the cards (maybe someday), this loco moco plate lunch will definitely satisfy the craving for traditional Hawaiian flavors. Aloha!

Loco Moco
Serves 4
(From Aloha Kitchen)

1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 medium Maui or yellow onion; 1/4 finely chopped, and 3/4 sliced into 1/2-inch wedges
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
2 1/2 tablespoons neutral oil
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups beef broth
2 teaspoons soy sauce (shoyu)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 cups steamed white rice (preferably Calrose or Kokuho Rose medium-grain white rice)
4 large eggs, fried sunny-side up or over easy
2 chopped green onions, green parts only, for garnish

In a bowl combine the ground beef, salt, pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the Worcestershire sauce, chopped onion, and garlic. Gently mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until just combined; don't overmix. Form into four equal-size patties about 1/2 inch thick. Place the patties on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and transfer to the refrigerator to rest for 20 minutes.

While the patties are resting, add 1 tablespoon of the oil to a large skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion wedges and saute until almost translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are soft and caramelized. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add another 1 tablespoon of the oil to the skillet and set it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, swirl the pan around to evenly coat it, then gently place the patties in the pan, leaving room around each one. Cook until browned, about 4 minutes on each side. Using a spatula, remove the patties and transfer to a clean plate to rest. Cover with foil to keep the patties hot while you make the gravy.

Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to the pan and heat over medium heat until hot. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add the reserved caramelized onions. Add the beef broth, soy sauce, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium-low, scoop out a tablespoon of the broth from the skillet, and whisk it with the cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth. Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the skillet and simmer until the sauce has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes (note: it will not be quite as thick as a traditional American gravy, but it will thicken slightly; use more cornstarch if you prefer a thicker gravy).

Place 1 cup steamed rice on each plate and top in this order with 1 patty, some gravy, 1 fried egg, and chopped green onions before serving.

Hawaiian Mac Salad
Serves 6 to 8

8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 carrot, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons grated onion (it will be liquidy)
1 1/4 cups Best Foods or Hellman's mayonnaise
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni according to package directions (the locals tend to overcook the pasta until it's soft and fat, but I prefer mine a bit more al dente--use your judgement). Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the apple cider vinegar over the top, add the carrot and onion, stir, and let it cool slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, and sugar. Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the macaroni, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Gently stir before serving, and if needed thin it out with a teaspoon or two of milk or a little more mayo.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad


Cobb salad is hands down my favorite salad. It was invented in 1937 at The Hollywood Brown Derby by its owner Bob Cobb and theater magnate Sid Grauman to satisfy a late-night urge for a snack. Although there are slight variations of this salad, some using chicken versus turkey, or presenting the greens differently, the Hollywood Brown Derby way is to finely chop all the ingredients, likely making this the original chopped salad.

The Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad is available at The Hollywood Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. I've eaten there, and have thoroughly enjoyed the salad! It really is a classic.

I actually have two versions of the recipe. One which was included in the Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs cookbook, and another that was offered on a recipe card at The Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios. They are nearly identical except for the quantities and selection of greens. The book version calls for 1 cup each of chopped iceberg lettuce, chicory, and watercress. The recipe card calls for 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, 1/2 bunch watercress, 1 small bunch chicory, and 1/2 head romaine lettuce.

I used my judgement and took the liberty of making some adjustments to the quantities based on my experience. I definitely feel that 1 cup of each is not enough for the large quantity of toppings. Meanwhile, 2 half-heads of lettuce, a bunch of chicory and 1/2 a bunch of watercress seems like way too much.

The quantity I used felt like a good balance between greens and toppings, and it was the perfect amount for the 2/3 cup dressing. The original recipe also calls for 1 pound of turkey, which is a lot! I used 1/2 a pound, and think any more would overwhelm the other ingredients My adjustments are below.

Although it's not specified in the recipe, I'd aim to chop everything into about 1/4-inch pieces, from the greens to the toppings. And although some shortcuts are fine, like purchasing a slab of roasted turkey from the deli counter to chop instead of poaching your own turkey breast, definitely avoid others. You'll want to peel and seed your tomatoes otherwise you will have watery tomatoes, and trust me having the skins off makes a huge difference in elevating this salad.

The dressing is classified as "French dressing," but really it's a simple vinaigrette. Maybe that's why they call it French. It's nothing like the gloppy orange-hued French dressing sold in bottles. This salad is much classier. After all, it was eaten by Hollywood's finest for decades, and is still enjoyed today.

The Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs)

3 cups chopped iceberg lettuce (about 1/2 a head or slightly less)
2 cups chopped chicory (also called curly endive)
3/4 cup chopped watercress
8 ounces poached turkey breast, finely chopped (or use a slab of store-bought roasted turkey from the deli counter; you can also try making the salad with roast chicken breast)
2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
6 strips bacon, cooked crisp, drained, and crumbled
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

The Hollywood Brown Derby Old-Fashioned French Dressing:
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard (mustard powder)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons olive oil

Toss the iceberg lettuce, chicory, and watercress together and arrange in a large salad bowl. In straight and separate lines, arrange the turkey, tomatoes, avocado, blue cheese, bacon, and eggs on top of the greens. Sprinkle the chives in a diagonal line across the salad.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the water, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic, sugar, pepper, and dry mustard until combined. Whisking constantly, add the vegetable oil and the olive oil in a slow steady stream until the dressing is emulsified. Store covered and chilled until ready to serve. Whisk the dressing to blend just before serving. Makes 2/3 cup dressing.

Present the salad at the table, toss with the dressing and serve.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Tangy Achiote-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Tacos + Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa


I have a legitimate obsession with Mexican food. I really need no excuse to indulge in one of my favorite cuisines. These chicken tacos are easy enough to whip up on a weeknight, especially if you marinate them overnight in this tangy achiote/annatto infused marinade laced with chile powder, Mexican oregano, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and orange juice.

Although the original recipe calls for skin-on chicken thighs, I lightened it up a bit with chicken tenders instead. They were still incredibly juicy and delicious! Grilled and then chopped into small pieces, the chicken is definitely the star of the dish.

We served our tacos with creamy guacamole and charred, smoky tomatillo chipotle salsa. The salsa was so good, we continued dipping our tortilla chips in the remaining salsa long after the tacos were all gone. A combination of tomatillos, tomatoes, onion and garlic charred and then blended with smoky, spicy chipotles in adobo and a generous handful of chopped cilantro. The charred, smoky flavor of this salsa goes really well with fire-kissed grilled chicken tacos.

Whether you serve them together or separate, these achiote-rubbed grilled chicken tacos and the tomatillo chipotle salsa are both big winners in my book!

Tangy Achiote-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Tacos
Makes about 12 tacos; serves 4 to 6
(From Tacolicious)

2 pounds skin-on, boneless chicken thighs (I used chicken tenders)
2 tablespoons ground annatto seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons chile powder (preferably arbol) (I stemmed and seeded dried chiles de arbol and ground them up in my spice grinder to make my own chile powder; I used only 1 tablespoon to ensure it wasn't too spicy, and would be family friendly)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons agave nectar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 freshly squeezed orange juice
Corn tortillas, warmed

Put the chicken in a large, heavy duty zip top plastic bag. In a small bowl, combine the annatto seeds, allspice, turmeric, chile powder, salt, oregano, agave nectar, garlic, vinegar, and orange juice and mix well. Add the spice mixture to the chicken and seal the bag closed. Massage the contents of the bag to coat both sides of the chicken evenly with marinade. Alternatively, put the chicken in a glass or ceramic bowl, add the spice mixture, turn the chicken to coat evenly, and cover with plastic wrap. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or up to overnight, turning the chicken a few times to marinate evenly.

Prepare a medium fire for direct heat cooking in a grill. Bring the chicken to room temperature and remove them from the marinade.

Place the chicken, skin side down, on the grill rack directly over the fire and cook, turning after about 10 minutes. Cook for another 10 minutes on the other side. If the chicken is starting to burn or cook too quickly, move to a part of the grill with indirect heat and continue to cook. The chicken is done when an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165 degrees F.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and chop into small pieces, leaving the skin on. Serve the chicken with the tortillas and toppings of your choice.

Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
Makes about 4 cups
(From Salsas and Moles)

About 12 tomatillos, husked, washed, and dried
2 Roma tomatoes (8 ounces)
1/2 white onion, peeled but with root end intact (I used a large shallot instead)
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Turn on the fan over the stove. Line a large cast iron skillet or heavy griddle with aluminum foil and set over high heat.

Roast the tomatillos and tomatoes on all sides until well charred and soft, turning as few times as possible. Roast the onion, cut side down, until it begins to soften and has a few black spots, turning it several times. Roast the garlic, in skins, turning a few times, until black spots appear.

Cut the onion into several pieces. Peel the garlic. Place both in a blender along with the chipotles, roasted tomatillos and tomatoes (and any juices), and salt. Cover and let the vegetables steam for 5 minutes, to bring out the juices. Pulse to make a fairly smooth salsa with a little bit of texture. Add the cilantro and pulse a couple more times to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Pour the salsa into a bowl and serve.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Parisian French Onion Soup


I have made French onion soup loads of times since my teenage years, and I've even shared my usual, go-to recipe on the blog in the past. During a recent trip to Paris I tasted the best French onion soup I've ever had in my life at Au Père Louis! It had a stronger, more complex flavor, and a better, easier-to-eat crouton topping than I typically have with my baguette slices. I spoke with who I'm guessing is the owner, and he explained the basic steps to their French onion soup. I had no measurements or specifics, but took copious notes and decided to attempt this Parisian-inspired French onion soup recipe upon my return to the States. Gotta put those culinary school skills to work!

There are so many variables in a seemingly simple French onion soup. There are those who use only beef broth, and those that use a combination of beef and chicken. Some recipes include red or white wine, although others feature a bit of sweet port wine instead. Many recipes use sweet onions while there are yet others that use standard brown or yellow ones. Flour acts as a slight thickener in some cases while it's sometimes omitted. For the record, Julia Child's recipe uses plain yellow onions, a bit of sugar to help them caramelize, flour, and a touch of white wine and cognac.

In that past I have used shortcuts in the form of canned beef broth. That's the first step that is changing. The owner mentioned that they also add white wine to their stock, though it's not a typical ingredient. He also said to reduce, reduce, reduce, both the stock and the soup.

Making stock: before roasting

Making stock: after roasting

Finished stock, before straining

Cooled stock is very gelatinous

The loosely explained recipe I was given in Paris actually breaks one of the cardinal rules in French onion soup making. Essentially every recipe stipulates caramelizing the onions, sometimes for a full hour, and occasionally even with the addition of a little sugar. I was told to cook the onions in oil until they are nice and soft, but not until they are caramelized. He was pretty adamant about that. I also noticed that the onions were not only plentiful but also sliced thicker than I usually slice mine, which almost disintegrate into the broth. So a greater onion to broth ratio, slicing the onions thicker, and NOT caramelizing them. Got it.

Onions just added to the pot, tossed with the oil

Onions after sweating for 15 minutes, covered

Onions after another 15 minutes, uncovered

He also said they add port wine, which is significantly sweeter than the run of the mill red wine I usually use. This could explain a bit of why they don't caramelize the onions. It would likely yield an overly sweet soup if they use sweet onions, caramelize them, and also add a sweet fortified wine like port. I didn't have port wine, but did snag some Madeira wine, which is also a sweet fortified Portuguese red wine, so I think it's a fine stand-in in this case.

After adding garlic, bay leaves, flour, and Madeira wine

I've always added a dusting of flour to my onions, and the staff at Au Père Louis does too. I've seen some mixed reviews on flour versus no flour. I have always felt that adding flour gives the soup a bit more body, so I'm sticking with team flour for now but I may change it up next time and see how I feel.

Following my conversation, here are the main takeaways: 1) homemade stock/broth 2) reduce, reduce, reduce 3) slice the onions thicker, soften in oil, but don't caramelize 4) sliced garlic, bay leaf, flour dusting, port wine, then stock 5) reduce, reduce, reduce 6) season generously, especially black pepper! 7) use smaller croutons.

Finished soup after 45 minutes of simmering, partially covered

The final result after spending about 8 hours over the span of 2 days making the stock and the soup from scratch is very close to the soup I enjoyed in Paris, albeit maybe slightly sweeter than I remember. I made this soup twice, using merely 1/4 cup of Madeira wine in place of the recommended port wine the first time, and found the finished soup to be perhaps a tad sweeter than my usual preference, not to say it was excessively sweet, but simply sweeter. The second time I cut it down to 2 tablespoons, and although it had a sweet note, it was more moderate, and better fit the flavor profile I was looking to achieve.

I am also sold on using more onions and slicing them a tad thicker than my usual ultra thin half-moons. It felt heartier and more robust, the perfect consistency to make an actual meal of this soup. All in all, I'm very pleased with this culinary experiment. It was nearly identical to the soup of my memory! It's très magnifique! Bon appetit!

Parisian French Onion Soup
Makes 4 servings
(Inspired by my visit to Au Père Louis in Paris)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thick half-moons
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon flour (can omit entirely if you prefer a thinner broth, or increase to 2 tablespoons if you'd like a thicker broth)
2 to 4 tablespoons port or Madeira wine (adjust to your preference; I have made it with both 2 and 4 tablespoons, and prefer the lesser amount, but both were delicious!)
6 cups beef broth or stock, preferably homemade, heated
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups (about 3 1/4 ounces) cubed crusty bread (1-inch cubes)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 to 12 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and salt and toss to coat evenly with the oil. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, sweating the onions until they are softened, about 15 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally another 15 to 20 minutes until most of the residual moisture has evaporated, but don't cook long enough to caramelize. Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook for another 3 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the flour and then the port wine. Add the hot beef broth and stir to combine. Season with more salt and pepper. Partially cover with a lid and simmer on low for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, skimming impurities, and adjusting seasoning as needed (don't be stingy on the pepper!).

Meanwhile preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the bread cubes with the olive oil, and toast in the oven for about 8 minutes until golden and crusty. Set aside.

Turn on the broiler. Divide the soup into 4 oven-proof bowls, top with the croutons (about 1 cup per serving), and then finish with 2 to 3 ounces of grated Gruyère per serving. Broil until cheese is melted, bubbly, and golden.

*Note* The second time I made this soup, I experimented by using beef broth concentrate instead of making my own stock, since it can be very time consuming. I obviously felt better about making the soup with my homemade stock, however the soup was still excellent and flavorful with the beef broth concentrate. In a pinch I think it would be fine, but for a truly authentic experience aim to make your own stock :-) My recipe follows.

Homemade Beef Stock
Makes about 6 cups (give or take depending on how long you reduce it)

5 1/2 to 6 pounds beef bones
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 6 large chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, washed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup white wine
4 quarts (16 cups) water
4 cloves garlic, lightly crush with the side of a knife
2 bay leaves
2 parsley stems
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Add the beef bones, onion, carrots, and celery to a sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 1 hour, stirring once or twice during that time to ensure even roasting.

Remove from the oven, and carefully transfer the roasted bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Drain the fat from the sheet pan (an old jar or disposable plastic container is good for this, and hang onto it for skimming fat throughout the process).

Deglaze the sheet pan with the white wine and 1 cup of water, scraping up any dried bits with a spatula. Pour the deglazed mixture into the pot with the bones. Add the remaining 15 cups water, and the rest of the ingredients. Heat over high heat until it just starts to bubble, but don't boil. Immediately lower the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Do not stir the stock, just occasionally skim off any impurities or fat off the surface (use the jar you've set aside).

Reduce the stock uncovered for at least another hour or longer (I reduced it for 3 additional hours, so a total of 5 hours). Continue to skim off the impurities and fat.

When you've reduced it long enough to your liking, take it off the heat and carefully remove the bones and vegetables using a spider skimmer or small strainer. Line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and set it over another pot or large bowl. Ladle the stock into the cheesecloth-lined sieve.

Stock can be stored in jars or plastic containers in the refrigerator or freezer (leave room for it to expand once frozen). Once the stock has cooled in the fridge you can scrape off additional fat on the surface, which will solidify. Now you discard your jar of skimmed fat. Definitely NEVER dump fat down the drain, as it will harden and clog your pipes.


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