Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Potato Trofie with Wild Boar Sausage-Shiitake Ragu


Gnocchi of all shapes and sizes rank high on my list of comforting favorites for any time of year, but in particular the colder months when their decadence really shines. One of my favorite cookbooks from 2015 is Jenn Louis's Pasta by Hand, a culinary journey through Italy, exploring the variety of styles of hand-made pastas in the form of gnocchi/dumplings.

Until recently, I had made 4 of the delectable recipes from her book, including Gnocchi al Sagrantino, Chickpea Gnocchetti, Dunderi, and Ricotta Gnocchetti. I decided to try my hand at a particularly unique spiral-shaped hand made pasta/gnocchi hailing from the Liguria region of Italy: Trofie.

I opted to try the Potato Trofie, although the book also includes a semolina version. The dough was much firmer than that of standard potato gnocchi. This requires more elbow grease and additional time and finesse to roll and shape. I probably spent about 1 1/2 hours or so hand-shaping each and every trofie in this recipe.

Although time-consuming, the process is rewarding. I froze half my trofie (along with half the sauce in individual portion-sized containers) and cooked the other half for immediate consumption. The trofie has an excellent chewy texture, with more of a bite than your standard al dente pasta. I absolutely love it! With its unique characteristics, and firmer/chewier texture than classic melt-in-your-mouth-tender gnocchi, it's definitely worth a try!

I recently also had the privilege to receive and review some delicious products from D'Artagnan including their wild boar sausage. Rather than making pesto, a traditional sauce for Trofie, I decided to use this sausage as the base for my accompanying sauce. Fortified with more umami flavors from re-saturated dried shiitake mushrooms and their soaking liquid, and enhanced with garlic and crushed tomatoes, this wild boar sausage-shiitake ragu is an excellent counterpart to the toothsome trofie.

Each component, from the spiral-shaped trofie to the meaty ragu, works together to yield a seriously comforting hand-made pasta dish that just screams comfort food. As winter trudges along, I can see many more opportunities to indulge in gastronomic satisfaction with the likes of this trofie dish. Lucky for me, I've still got a stash in my freezer! I'll just need to pace myself so I don't eat it all in one week ;-)

Potato Trofie with Wild Boar Sausage-Shiitake Ragu
Serves 6 to 8
(Trofie recipe from Pasta By Hand; ragu recipe is a Mission: Food original)

Potato Trofie:
400 g/14 oz Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
570 g/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs
Semolina flour for dusting

6 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in cold water overnight
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
241 g/8 1/2 oz wild boar sausage (or other fresh sausage of your choice), casings removed
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a skewer, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside to cool.

When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and rice them into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Add the all-purpose flour and salt. Mix with your hands or on medium-low speed until roughly combined, about 1 minute. Add 1 of the eggs and mix for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the remaining egg and mix until the dough just comes together. If there is any dry flour remaining at the bottom of the bowl, stop mixing and turn the dough over a few times with your hands to get the dry flour to adhere to the wetter dough mass, then continue mixing. Knead for a total of 5 minutes; the dough should be soft and cohesive, but not wet. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the ragu. Remove the re-saturated shiitake mushrooms from the soaking liquid, reserving 1 cup of the liquid to use later. Squeeze the water out of the mushrooms first with your hands and then with a paper towel. Cut off the stems and discard, and then finely dice the caps into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.

In a medium pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the wild boar sausage, breaking it up into small pieces with your fingers and then with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, add the diced shiitakes and garlic, and continue to saute the mixture for another 3 minutes, or until the shiitakes are beginning to lightly brown.

Deglaze the pot with 1/2 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid. Add the crushed tomatoes, then rinse out the can with another 1/2 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid and add it to the pot. Raise the heat back to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer. Partially cover the pot with a lid, so steam can still escape, but the sauce does not splatter all over the stove. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes until reduced and thickened. You will have about 1 quart of ragu. Set aside.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust with semolina flour (I inadvertently skipped the parchment but was still fine with a light dusting of semolina). Cut off a chunk of dough about the width of two fingers and cover the rest with plastic wrap. On an unfloured surface, use your hands to roll the chunk into a log 1/4 in (6 mm) in diameter. Cut the log into chickpea-size pieces. Working with one piece at a time, using your hands, roll the dough back and forth into a rope about 1/8 in (3 mm) thick and 3 in (7.5 cm) long. Them roll the rope toward yourself, applying pressure with a metal bench scraper held at an angle to the rope; this will give the trofie a spiral shape. Put the trofie on the prepared baking sheets and shape the remaining dough (I found it faster to work in small batches by rolling out several small ropes, laying them spaced out apart on my work surface, and then shaping them with the bench scraper rather than rolling and shaping each trofie before moving onto the next one). Make sure that the trofie don't touch or they will stick together.

(To store, refrigerate on the baking sheets, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 says, or freeze on the baking sheets and transfer to an airtight container. Use within 1 month. Do not thaw before cooking.)

Bring a large pot filled with generously salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile in a very large, wide skillet, re-heat the ragu gently. Add the trofie to the boiling water and simmer until al dente, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ragu. Simmer for 1 minute to let the trofie absorb the flavor of the ragu (add 1 to 2 tablespoons of pasta cooking water if needed to loosen up the sauce). Spoon into serving bowls and top with grated cheese, if desired. Serve right away.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Mole Poblano


I have never shied away from a cooking challenge. The more complex or time-consuming, the more intrigued I typically am to attack said challenge and conquer it. For years I've been planning to try my hand at making a traditional Mexican mole. I've enjoyed it at Mexican restaurants slathered on my enchiladas, and I knew of its reputation as being a laborious process.

Moles come in many shapes and forms, although mole poblano is perhaps Mexico's most famous dish. It features an incredible balance of savory and sweet with profound complexity and richness. This sauce requires a lot of stirring and patience. Nearly every ingredient is cooked individually and then combined in steps.

Chile puree (after toasting, soaking, and blending)

Spiciness from the dried chiles and sweetness from the chocolate are only two of many unique characteristics in this kitchen-sink style sauce. I sometimes wonder how one decided to combine such eclectic ingredients together to yield something so prized in Mexican cuisine.

A variety of dried Mexican chiles and other native Mexican ingredients--mole poblano only requires a few of these

The morning of my mole expedition, I butchered two beautiful chickens. I reserved the wings, thighs, and drumsticks for my Korean fried chicken, which was on the menu later that weekend, and then simmered the wing tips, backbones, and breasts with some onion, carrot, bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley stems, salt, and water to make chicken stock.

I reserved the breast meat, which I shredded, to become the filling for my Mole poblano enchiladas (or enmoladas), and used a good part of my fresh, homemade chicken stock in the actual mole. Talk about utilizing every part of the chicken! That's really the way it should be done. No shortcuts here :)

Meanwhile, I prepared my mise en place (literally translates to "putting in place" in French) for the mole poblano. Good prep work is paramount in successful cooking especially when faced with such a complex product as mole poblano.

Then, slowly but surely, I spent the next 4 or 5 hours (honestly, I didn't keep good track of my time) working on the mole. It's a slow process, but not a difficult one. You begin by toasting the chiles, then soaking them in hot water before draining and pureeing them.

Next up, you pan-roast your tomatoes, following by toasting a series of individual ingredients in your cast-iron pan. By the time I got to step 4 in the recipe, I simultaneously began step 5 on another burner. I was essentially toasting/frying ingredients in my cast-iron pan on one burner, frying my chile puree and soon after the tomato puree on another burner, and also blitzing ingredients in the blender (such as the tomato puree, and later the sesame mixture).

After FINALLY reaching the home stretch of this labor of love, the sauce is processed through a food mill to ensure the absolute smoothest, velvety texture.

Now, how does one utilize this liquid gold? Well, the most traditional serving method is spooned over boiled chicken and topped with toasted sesame seeds. It's also frequently used as a sauce for enchiladas, which is my personal favorite. I gently warmed corn tortillas and filled them with my shredded chicken, which I had mixed with some of the mole. I then spooned more mole over the tops of the enchiladas and finished with some queso fresco before popping the baking dish into the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or so until heated through.

This recipe makes a lot of mole, and I highly encourage you to freeze some of it in smaller quantities so you can defrost and use it for various future occasions and cravings. I personally like to freeze my chicken stock the same way, in a silicone muffin pan where each frozen disc yields 1/4 cup. That way I can count out how many 1/4 cup portions I require, and defrost exactly that much.

In any case, I'm thrilled to finally have had this opportunity to check homemade mole poblano off my cooking bucket list. I hope you're not discouraged by the lengthy process. If you're a fan of mole, this recipe is absolutely spot on!

Mole Poblano
Makes about 8 cups
(From Salsas and Moles)

7 large pasilla chiles
1 morita chile
3 cups hot water
1 cup light chicken stock

STEP 2: 
3 Roma tomatoes

STEP 3: 
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons raw pepitas
1/8 teaspoon anise seeds
1/8 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4-inch ceylon (Mexican) cinnamon stick
2 allspice berries
1 whole clove

STEP 4: 
2 tablespoons fresh lard (I used vegetable oil)
1 corn tortilla, quartered
2 plain cookies or ginger snaps, or 1/4 slice white bread
1/2 white onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup seedless raisins
1/2 cup raw almonds
1 cup light chicken stock

STEP 5: 
2 tablespoons fresh lard (I used vegetable oil)
1 cups light chicken stock

STEP 6: 
2 cups light chicken stock
6 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips (2 1/4 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt

STEP 1: PREPARE THE CHILES—Split the dried chiles up the side with a sharp knife. Remove the stem, seeds and veins. Open up the chiles. Turn on the fan over the stove. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Toast the chiles inside and out, pressing down gently, until blistered and soft. Be very careful not to burn the chiles. Place the toasted chiles in a bowl and pour the hot water over them. Soak for 30 minutes, pushing down several times. When soft, drain (reserve the soaking liquid) and place in a blender with the chicken stock. Puree for several minutes, scraping down the sides, until perfectly smooth.

STEP 2: ROAST THE TOMATOES—Line the skillet with aluminum foil and set over medium heat. Roast the tomatoes on all sides until blackened and soft. Place in a small bowl and set aside.

STEP 3: TOAST THE SEEDS AND SPICES—Remove the foil from the pan, and reduce the heat to low. When the pan has cooled, toast the sesame seeds, stirring constantly, until light golden brown. Scrape into a medium bowl. Put the pepitas in the the skillet and stir until toasted and pale olive color, then add to the sesame seeds. Put the spices in the skillet and toast, stirring, for 1 minute. Add to the sesame seeds.

STEP 4: FRY THE TORTILLA, COOKIES, AND OTHER INGREDIENTS—Add the 2 tablespoons lard to the skillet and increase the heat to medium. (During this step, you may need to add a little more lard.) Fry the tortilla and cookies until golden and crisp, then add to the bowl with the sesame seeds. Fry the onion and garlic until soft and golden brown, stirring often, add to the sesame seeds. Fry the raisins, stirring, until plump, add to the sesame seeds. Fry the almonds, stirring, until browned then add to the sesame seeds. Set aside.

STEP 5: FRY THE MOLE—Heat the 2 tablespoons lard in a deep, heavy 4-quart pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chile puree to the pot. It will splatter, so cover with a splatter screen. Do not rinse the blender. Cook and stir for 20 minutes, until thickened. When the chile paste is cooked, puree the tomatoes in the same blender. Add to the chile puree and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Do not rinse the blender. When the tomatoes have cooked, puree the sesame seed mixture with the chicken stock, scraping down the sides several times, until perfectly smooth (I "borrowed" an extra 1/2 cup stock from the next step to help this mixture blend more smoothly, and then used only 1 1/2 cups in the next step instead of 2 cups). This may take several minutes. Add to the pot, and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.

STEP 6: SIMMER THE MOLE—Rinse the blender with the chicken stock and add to the pot, along with the reserved chile soaking liquid (see note below), stirring until well combined. Add the chocolate, sugar, and salt and stir as the mole comes to a simmer to make sure the chocolate does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Once simmering, reduce the heat slightly. Simmer the mole, stirring often and scraping the bottom, for 30 minutes; do not allow it to boil. Strain the finished mole through the fine screen of a food mill.

Note: To make the mole less spicy, discard the chile soaking liquid and substitute 3 more cups of chicken stock (this is what I did, just to be safe, and thought the result was slightly spicy, but very flavorful).

Serving Ideas: This mole is traditionally served with simmered or roasted turkey pieces, corn tortillas, and plain white rice.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Korean Fried Chicken


Happy New Year! I hope all my readers have a wonderful 2016 filled with lots of delicious food from all over the globe. Although it might be breaking several health-focused resolutions, the first recipe I'd like to share this year is exceptional.

This past summer, I reviewed a wonderful single-subject cookbook by Rebecca Lang entitled Fried Chicken. I don't think I've met anyone (outside of vegetarians, of course) who doesn't like fried chicken in some aspect. It's one of the ultimate comfort foods. Although frying can be incredibly messy, and certainly not a healthy cooking method, I consider it a treat on occasion, and do allow myself to eat and enjoy fried food from time to time. One of my favorite occasions to be bad is when watching football. I mean really, it kind of goes hand-in-hand. And with the playoffs kicking off this weekend, there's no better time to plan your game day menus!

For months now I've been wanting to make the Korean-Style Fried Chicken with Gochujang Sauce from Lang's cookbook. I've eaten Korean fried chicken once before, many years ago, and recall seriously delicious memories of the experience. Korean fried chicken boasts a thin, brittle, incredibly crispy crust and a complex spicy sauce featuring gochujang, Korean chili paste. When combined with football watching, it mimics the consumption of Buffalo chicken, and in my opinion even surpasses it. This particular Korean fried chicken is one of the crunchiest fried chickens I've ever had with a spicy yet flavorful sauce that has way more dimension than your standard Buffalo.

The Korean fried chicken photo in Fried Chicken; it's also the cover shot!

The recipe calls for drumsticks, thighs, and wings, but no breasts. I butchered two fresh whole young chickens that were exactly the same size (weighing in just under 4 1/2 pounds each). I used the wing tips, backbone, and breasts to make chicken stock (along with a bunch of aromatics like onion, carrots, peppercorns, bay leaves, and parsley stems), then shredded the boiled breast meat for enchilada filling for enmoladas (that recipe is coming up soon!) and saved the rest of the chicken parts for my Korean fried chicken. By butchering your own chicken(s), you can ensure that the chicken parts are the same size and will cook uniformly. Purchasing already cut-up chicken parts yields parts from all different chickens with potentially different cooking times.

One of the things I particularly like about this recipe for Korean fried chicken is the fact that if you use gluten-free soy sauce and gochujang, the result is gluten-free. You lightly coat your chicken pieces in rice flour and then dip them in a paste made with rice flour and water. You fry the chicken part-way, then remove it and shake to break off excess crusty bits, and then finish them back in your hot oil before tossing in the sauce. I fried my chicken in two batches because all the pieces would have overcrowded my pot. The first batch was still pretty hot even after resting while I fried the second batch. I planned to re-heat it in the oil again, but it didn't seem necessary.

This is the gochujang I used. It doesn't seem quite as blatantly Korean as the other brands, but it's the only one I found that doesn't contain corn syrup. You can order it on Amazon.

I had a couple small concerns with the recipe, but my finished result still turned out great. One, when I "vigorously" shook my first batch, I perhaps shook it too vigorously (I did it in the sink instead of over a baking sheet to make less of a mess on my counter) and I lost quite a bit of my crispy crust, more than I expected. In one case, one of my drumsticks lost ALL of it's skin and batter and had to go back in the fryer naked. For my second batch, I shook it slightly less vigorously. Whether or not my crust was thin enough for a traditional Korean fried chicken is irrelevant to me because it was delicious. I'd say just be wary you don't end up losing ALL your crust if you shake it too hard.

Two, I fried the first batch almost as long as the recipe specified, 10 minutes before shaking and 10 minutes after, but felt that it was starting to overcook on the tail end and pulled the pieces out a few minutes early. My second batch fried for 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after shaking and was still cooked through and golden crisp on the outside. The recipe specifies the number of chicken pieces, but not the original weight of the chicken(s) those pieces derive from, so just use your judgement (and if needed a meat thermometer) to determine when they are done (the wings technically shouldn't take as long as the dark meat either). Even though one batch cooked nearly twice as long as the other, the finished result was so delicious we couldn't even tell which pieces came from which batch. They weren't dry at all!

The sauce is unreal. It begins with plenty of garlic and ginger and is then blended with gochujang (Korean chili paste), unseasoned rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and fish sauce to yield a complex, spicy, slightly tangy and sweet sauce that kicks my beloved Buffalo chicken's butt. The chicken is so crunchy, that even when coated with sauce, it seriously maintains every bit of crunch. Although I was a bit worried during the frying process, both from losing too much of my batter and from potentially over-cooking my first batch, the finished product was in no way disappointing. I would definitely make this chicken again! The recipe yields 4 to 6 servings, but 3 hungry football fans easily demolished it in one sitting. Cheers!

Korean-Style Fried Chicken with Gochujang Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
(From Fried Chicken)

Gochujang Sauce:
4 cloves garlic
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1⁄4 cup gochujang
1⁄4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Canola oil, for frying
4 cups rice flour
2 cups water
4 chicken wings, wing tips removed
4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs

To make the sauce, pulse the garlic and ginger in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until finely chopped. Add the gochujang, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and fish sauce and pulse just until combined. Pour the sauce into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

In a deep fryer or large, deep stockpot, heat 3 inches of canola oil over high heat to 340°F.

Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet for draining the chicken. Submerge a frying basket in the oil, or place a wire mesh colander nearby. Place a rimmed baking sheet near the fryer. (You’ll shake the fried chicken over the baking sheet.)

Put 2 cups of the rice flour in a shallow bowl (I thought 1 cup was more than enough). In a bowl, stir the remaining 2 cups of rice flour with the water to make a very thin paste (this is also more than you'll realistically need).

Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, then dip them into the flour paste to coat. Once all pieces have been coated, carefully place the chicken in the hot oil. Fry for 10 minutes (see note below regarding fry time). Maintain a frying temperature of 340°F.

If using the frying basket, lift it from the oil and vigorously shake the basket over the baking sheet, allowing the crispy bits of batter to fall off. Let the chicken rest in the basket out of the oil for 2 minutes.

If using a colander, use a spider or a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to the colander and shake vigorously over the baking sheet, allowing the crispy bits of batter to fall off. Let the chicken rest in the colander for 2 minutes.

Check the temperature of the oil; it should remain at 340°F throughout the frying process. Return the shaken, rested chicken to the oil and fry for 10 minutes longer (see note below regarding fry time).

Drain the chicken on the wire rack. Add the pieces to the bowl with the sauce and toss to coat evenly with the sauce.

*Note* I thought this total fry time was a bit too long, and reduced it by about half (both before and after shaking) for my second batch of chicken, for a total of about 10 minutes (5 before and 5 after shaking). Please use a meat thermometer to check your internal temperature if you're uncertain if it's cooked through: 165°F is your target for poultry.


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