Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Cooking - Dan Barber's Brussels Sprouts, Mexican Chicken Soup, Lettuce in Sesame Sauce

First things first - the hurricane hit and we are A-OK.  I know that much of lower Manhattan (as well as various suburbs and boroughs of Manhattan) are underwater and without power, but we survived pretty much unscathed.  While we were cooped up in the apartment we ended up cooking quite a bit, so this is going to be one large post containing a number of new recipes that we made over the past few days, in no particular order.  We also made a bunch of recipes that we have made before (like these Buttermilk Biscuits with Green Onions, Black Pepper and Sea Salt) And due to the weather, we don't have pictures of all of the recipes, which is unfortunate, but what can you do?

First up is this brussels sprouts recipe, which I saw on Serious Eats and got really excited about because it couldn't be easier.  Once I started reading further I realized that it is a little finnicky and tedious in that you are supposed to make sure all brussels sprouts are first added to the pan cut-side down, and then "turn each sprout over carefully on its back" after the brussels sprouts have seared up nicely on the cut side.  We cut corners a bit and weren't as precise in the cooking process as perhaps we could have been.  Things I will use from this recipe - the cooking method.  You get an unreal amount of caramelization on the brussels sprouts in a fairly short time period.  I would probably try different vinegars and seasonings in the future, but it was a beautifully simple recipe.  You got nice sweetness from the balsamic, balanced nicely against the nutty flavor of the caramelized brussels sprouts.  It wasn't the most amazing recipe I have ever made, but it was a really nice, simple side.

Now for the Mexican chicken soup.  This was something of a day long endeavor.  I started prepping the stock while on a conference call at 11:00 am.  The stock took about an hour to prepare, before we let the chicken cool in the stock for another few hours.  Around 6:30-7 pm we got started on making the soup to serve to some of our neighbors.  It smelled wonderful while it simmered away.  By the time the soup was ready I was really hungry and excited to finally taste it.  We don't often go to the trouble to make homemade stock and every time we do it really excites me because soup made with homemade stock is better than soup made with boxed stock by several orders of magnitude.  And when you make homemade stock you can season and modify your stock so that the flavors best suit the soup you are preparing.  This time I added various ingredients that are typical of chicken stock (onions, carrots, celery, thyme, garlic, bay leaves) and a few ingredients that I think of as being typically Mexican (chilis and cilantro).  I think that the flavors of the soup were really interesting.  I was a little worried about the texture of the blended hominy and chilis, but it ended up being nicely thick and hearty.  The chilis gave the soup a nice slightly sweet, slightly spicy flavor.  I will definitely be making the soup again because it's great cold weather fare and pretty simple.

Now for the Lettuce in Sesame Sauce.  I'm not really sure what there is to say about this recipe - I have a feeling that the sesame sauce is not going to appeal to a lot of palates.  I told Alex I thought the salad would go really nicely with a batch of Sichuan Dumplings in Chili Oil.  The combination of the thick and nutty sesame sauce would be nicely offset by the sweetness and heat of the chili oil.  We ate it with fried rice, which wasn't the most ideal pairing, but we had a limited selection of ingredients left by Tuesday afternoon...

Recipe after the jump!

Dan Barber's Brussels Sprouts
Available on Serious Eats

2 cups Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
s&p to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Gently heat the oil in a cast iron skillet, then add the sprouts, cut-side down. Cook without moving until they brown nicely and develop a crust.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 4 minutes.

Remove from the oven and, using tongs, turn each sprout over carefully onto its back (this process is kind of tedious so we gave up part way through since in the next step you shake the pan).  Add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze, gently shaking and tossing the skillet until there is no excess vinegar in the pan. Season to taste with s&p, and serve immediately.

Mexican Chicken Soup

For stock:
3-4 lb whole chicken, excess skin and fat removed (liver and inner organs discarded)
10-12 cups water (or enough to just cover the chicken)
2 medium onions, quartered through the root end
2 medium carrots, halved
2 celery stalks, halved
2 serrano chilis, stemmed
2 springs of fresh thyme
half of a small bunch of fresh cilantro
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbsp salt
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
For soup:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 dried guajillo chilis, wiped clean, stemmed and seeded
1 tomato, seeded and roughly chopped
2 15 oz cans of hominy, drained and rinsed
4 cups homemade Mexican chicken stock (see above)
2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 cups shredded white meat chicken  
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 limes, quartered
Rinse chicken thoroughly in cold water.  Add chicken to a large stock pot.  Cover with cold water.  Add remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, skimming fat and foam at the surface.  Reduce heat to simmer and simmer, partially covered for 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, skimming fat and foam at the surface occasionally.  Remove from heat and allow the chicken to cool in the broth.  Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, carefully transfer the chicken to a cutting board, remove the skin and coarsely shred.  Set aside 2 cups of shredded white meat for the soup.  Strain the broth and reserve 4 cups for the chicken soup.  If you have time, you can cool the broth in the refrigerator for a few hours and skim off the fat that solidifies on the top.  If not, that's ok too.  You can save the remaining stock in the freezer for a few months.

Heat oil in a large Le Creuset or other heavy pot over moderately-high heat.  Add chilis and cook, flattening with a spatula, until they are fragrant and begin to char in spots, about 30-40 seconds per side.  Remove from pot and set aside.  Add onion and tomato and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, the tomatoes have softened and the mixture is fragrant.  Add hominy (I reserved a cup of hominy and added it at the end for texture), chicken stock and toasted chilis.  Bring mixture to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add salt and puree mixture with an immersion blender until smooth (if you don't have an immersion blender, cool the mixture slightly before pureeing in batches in a blender or food processor).  Add chicken and white wine to the soup.  Bring the soup back to a simmer and simmer 5 minutes.  Season to taste with s&p.

Serve soup with cilantro, scallions and lime wedges.

Lettuce in Sesame Sauce (Ma Jiang Xian Cai)
Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan
By Fuchsia Dunlop

3/4 lb crisp lettuce leaves
5 tbsp Chinese sesame paste (or dark tahini)
2 tsp sesame oil
a pinch of sugar
salt to taste
optional garnish: 1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Clean the lettuce.  If using lettuce hearts, quarter them lengthwise; small crisp leaves can be used whole.  Arrange the lettuce pieces neatly on a serving plate.

Combine the sesame paste and oil in a small bowl and season with sugar and salt to taste.  (The sauce should have a luxurious pouring consistency - it can be thinned if necessary with a little peanut or salad oil.)  Pour over the lettuce leaves.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using, and serve.

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