Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Month of Food Blogging (15 of 28) : Salisbury steak

Salisbury steak always makes me think of TV dinners, greasy, gristly meat, gravy loaded with MSG... I'd better stop, I'm grossing myself out. It's actually a really tasty dish, when made from scratch. It won't win any elegance awards, but it's hearty and savory with a nice beefy, meaty tone to it, and it's quick to make and inexpensive.

Until I started doing research for this post, I didn't know where the name came from. I had always assumed it hailed from Salisbury, England. Somehow in my head, adding bread crumbs to meat to stretch it seems like a very British thing to do. (I think it's the bangers.) But, thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia, I am now informed that it takes its name from Dr. James Salisbury, an early proponent of low-carb dieting. I'm not entirely certain why he favored chopped beef, versus a perfectly good steak, like most carnivores. However, the original Salisbury steak contained no bread crumbs. Internet rumor has it that it was a modification by thrifty WWII housewives, to stretch precious beef supplies a little further.

Salisbury Steak

Servings: 2
Time: about 30 minutes
Planning Ahead: None
The Funny Stuff: No funny stuff
Virtues: Easy, fast
Downsides: None, really. A bit on the high fat side.
Calories: 423

1/2 lb ground beef
1 tsp salt
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 egg
6 saltines
1/2 an onion, minced
1 sprig of fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
pepper to taste
2 cups sliced mushrooms
The other 1/2 an onion, sliced
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup red wine
1 Tbsp beef soup base
1/2 cup water

Combine the beef, salt, and worcestershire sauce, and let sit for 10 minutes. While it's sitting, prep all of the veggies, and preheat your skillet to medium, and your oven to 350.

Add the thyme, cracker crumbs, egg, and onion.

Goosh everything together. (I'm pretty sure gooshing is the technical term for this operation.)

Form into hamburger style patties, and drop into the pan.

Cook 3-5 minutes, until brown on the first side, and flip.

Once they're brown on both sides, pop them in the oven on an oven-safe dish, and add the onions to the pan, stirring occasionally.

Once the onions are softened and starting to brown a bit, add the mushrooms, and toss them until lightly cooked.

Sprinkle the vegetables with two tablespoons of flour, and toss to coat.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine, stirring quickly to prevent the flour from making lumps.

Let that reduce a bit, and then add the beef base and water.

Stir everything together, scraping the pan to get the reduced wine up, and voila, you have a lovely brown gravy.

Pour the gravy over the meat, and serve.

Photo credits to Aaron Wood and Aleatha Parker-Wood.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Month of Food Blogging (14 of 28) : Cassoulet, deconstructed.

Every culture has a dish which seems to translate to "we threw some leftovers together." In the US, it's often chili (or the dreaded "casserole"). In Italy, it's panzanella. In France, it's the dish known as cassoulet. Cassoulet is composed of beans and a menagerie of meat, slowly simmered in water and fat until the beans are tender and infused with meat flavor. Escoffier calls for pork rind, pork belly, and garlic sausage. The full Toulouse treatment calls for garlic pork sausage, pork rind, duck confit, mutton, and/or partridge. Oh, and it's got breadcrumbs on top. You get the idea. Leftovers. However, at its essence, it's a story about beans, slow cooked in broth and fat, with a bunch of thyme and some meat. The kind of dish you want to come home to on a cold winter's night. This is a heavily stripped down version of the real deal (which I also love), but this one takes about 5 minutes in the morning, and is amazing when you get home. The kombu is there to add an extra kick of glutamates, and the baking soda makes the skin of the beans more permeable, so they get more tender and soak up more flavor, without disintegrating.


Servings: 4
Time: 5 minutes of prep, 8 hours cook time, 5-10 minutes of finishing touches.
Planning Ahead: Start it in the morning
The Funny Stuff: Flageolet beans, kombu, duck fat (optional), chicken confit (optional, but highly recommended)
Virtues: Easy, high in fiber
Downsides: High fat
Calories: 324 (not counting the confit)

1 cup flageolet beans (or large white beans)
1 1/2 Tbsp chicken soup base
About 5-10 sprigs of thyme
2 chunks of kombu, about 2"x4" each
a pinch of baking soda
1/4 cup duck fat or olive oil
6 cups water
1 smoked brat, or other neutral flavorful sausage (garlic is traditional, Polish is pretty good, andouille is a bad idea. I checked.)
2 chunks of chicken or duck confit

Put the beans, soup base, thyme, kombu, and baking soda in a crockpot.

I do literally mean a pinch of baking soda.

Add the duck fat and water. You can either add the sausage now, or at the end. If you add it now, it will permeate the beans, but the sausage itself will be bland at the end.

Set the crockpot for low, and let it cook for 8 hours.

If the beans are still a bit soupy, reduce some of the cooking liquid, by transferring it to a pot and boiling it on the stove for a few minutes. If you didn't add the sausage at the beginning, heat it up (30 seconds in the microwave will do) and chop it in. If you're having it with confit, heat that up as well, and place it on top. We had this with baguette and green salad, and the baby got minced sausage and beans and a vegetable.

Photo credits to Aaron Wood and Aleatha Parker-Wood.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Month of Food Blogging (13 of 28) : Crockpot confit

Confit is a word that conjures visions of French bistros, long conversations over wine, espresso at 9 PM. It's not a ticket to Paris, but it's at least a nice reminder. As with most French cooking, it takes a long time to make, but most of that time is spent waiting around, working your way through the collected works of Molière and sipping wine.

As I mentioned in my last post, the magic of confit lies in the salt and the low temperature cooking. A long salting process breaks down the muscle and pulls the water out of the cells, making it very tender. Then the low temperature allows the meat to cook without causing the muscles to tighten and dry, and the oil drives out any remaining water.

Originally, confit was a way to soften and preserve the very tough legs of ducks. Once the meat was confited, it was left to cool in the duck fat. Between the salt and the fat, it could be kept in a cool dry place for months, making it a good way to put meat by for the winter. (Assuming, of course, that you didn't develop botulism in the anaerobic conditions under the fat, as occasionally happened.) These days, we have refrigeration, but it's still a great way to make meltingly tender meat. Here I've used chicken thighs rather than the more traditional duck, and it's still delicious. You can also swap out the duck fat for olive oil or other fats, if you just cannot get your hands on duck fat. If you do get duck fat, it can be reused several times, until it gets too salty, at which point, I recommend using it for potatoes Sarladaise.

Once you have made confit, it's very versatile. You can serve it atop cassoulet, as I'll do in my next post. You can shred the meat and use it to make a very fancy macaroni and cheese, a la Calafia Cafe, or put it in ravioli. You can certainly just re-heat it and eat it straight. It also freezes really well, again, because there's very little water in it.

Crockpot confit

Servings: 2
Time: 10 minutes of prep, 1-2 days salting time, 8 hours cook time.
Planning Ahead: Must be salted at least 8 hours in advance and then cooked for 4-8 hours.
The Funny Stuff: Duck fat.
Virtues: Very little effort
Downsides: Lots of fat
Calories: Depends on how much fat the meat soaks up. (I have no idea.) Minimum 150 calories, max, 200?

2 chicken thighs or duck legs
2-4 cups duck fat, enough to cover your chicken in the crockpot (can be strained and reused)
2 tsp kosher salt
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic

Set the chicken thighs in a bowl, or baking dish. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken thighs with salt, trying to cover them as evenly as possible.

Crush the garlic, and sprinkle it and the thyme over the chicken. Cover the dish, and set it in the fridge for at least 8 hours, and up to 48.

The next morning (assuming you are aiming for dinner), take the chicken out. There should be little to no salt left on the surface. Some people brush off the thyme and garlic at this point, because it makes the oil messy, but I like the flavor it adds to the oil. Pop it in the crockpot. Take your duck fat, and warm it up a bit, so that you can pour it, or at least spread it.
Pour it over the top of the chicken, set your crockpot to low, and walk away.

Come back 6-8 hours later. Voilà. You have confit.

Here it is over some cassoulet. (Sneak preview of the next post!)

Photo credits to Aleatha Parker-Wood.