Friday, December 6, 2013

Thanksgiving After Action Report: Sous Vide Deep Fried "Turchetta"

Sous Vide Deep Fried Turchetta

Since we have a Thanksgiving tradition where meat eaters are in the minority (usually I am the only one), roasting a whole turkey is basically an exercise in insanity. I'd either be eating it three meals a day for a week and a half or tossing it out, so I look for nothing bigger than a small turkey breast when I start planning. Given the aforementioned vegetarian related constraints, I also like to not take up the oven for hours on end if possible. Last year I made turkey confit and that was basically perfect. It's not too much food, all but the last bit can be done ahead of time, and it was incredibly delicious. In fact, I was so satisfied with the outcome that I was planning on doing that again... that is until I saw Kenji at Serious Eats put out a recipe for Sous Vide Deep Fried Turchetta (so yes, I made yet another Food Lab recipe).

Preparing to roll up Turchetta

Porchetta is pork belly that is stuffed with garlic, fennel, and herbs before being rolled up and roasted or fried... so this recipe is trying to do the same thing but with a turkey breast. You take off the skin, separate the breast meat from the bone, butterfly it to make them flat, rub with your herb paste, and then wrap it up in the skin in a cute little cylinder. It's actually easier than you think, and I honestly spent the most time obsessively re-wrapping and tying the thing... trying to get "perfect" skin coverage... which, of course, turned out to be perfectly meaningless because nobody is looking at that when you bring it to the table.

After I vacuum sealed the turchetta I let it cure for a couple of days and made turkey stock from the bones. The stock only took about an hour with a pressure cooker and then I was done until Thanksgiving day, which was a pretty nice feeling. Besides making the gravy from the turkey stock, all I had to do with it on the day of was stick the turchetta in the water bath for 5+ hours and take it out to deep fry right before we were getting ready to sit down. As the recipe warns, the hot oil did flare/splatter a ton in the first minute or so, so you want to use an actual lid and not just a splatter screen or you will have a big mess on your hands. Final product looked great... even the vegetarians were impressed at how professional it looked... and it tasted just as good. Totally worth making if you have the means.

If I ever cook for a large group of omnivores I think I would probably take a whole turkey and break it down to do the legs confit and the breast like this... that would be the ultimate.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sous Vide Tacos de Lengua

Sous Vide Tacos de Lengua

This is a supper simple recipe from Serious Eats for beef tongue tacos made with a sous vide setup (though they do include alternate stove top braising instructions). All you are doing is putting your big ole cow tongue in a bag with tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and duck fat so that after 24-48 hours in the water bath (at 170 degrees F) you also have the basis for a salsa.

Beef Tongue ready for Water Bath

If you've never dealt with beef tongue before, you do have to handle the fact that it is indeed an animal's tongue and there is really no mistaking that. What that means, besides however "gross" you might think it looks, is that you have to peel the outer layer off before dicing up the rest of the muscle. I didn't have any problem with this... and I'm not an offal person in general... but obviously your mileage may vary. Personally I think if you are eating meat you should be comfortable with the fact that said meat came from an animal with a face (and a tongue)... but I suppose that doesn't mean you should have to want to eat it, however I think you'd be missing out since it is just like any other muscle in most respects.

Circling back around to the recipe... I had two relatively minor problems with it. The first is that it calls for 1.5 lbs of cow (or veal) tongue which, in the case of cows, is physically impossible. Cows are big animals, so you are looking at something more on the order of 3 lbs and butchers don't generally sell them in pieces (at least in my experience). So you either need access to veal tongue, to double the recipe, or a friend who also wants half a cow tongue... which worked for me, believe it or not, but seems like it would be somewhat uncommon in general. The second issue is that, once your beef tongue is done cooking, you divide the resulting liquid into two parts... one half to make the salsa and the other to reduce on the stove top with the tongue. The instructions say "Combine tongue and remaining liquid in heavy-bottomed 10 or 12-inch skillet. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is reduced and tongue has started to crisp, about 8 minutes." Emphasis mine. How exactly does that work? Can you crisp something in liquid? Well if it's fat, yes, and so I suppose it means for you to cook off the water and then fry the tongue up a bit... but all my liquid cooked off with no "crisping" so I ended up deglazing and going with it as is. I also found I preferred to just mix my beef tongue in with the chipotle salsa instead of keeping them separate, so I'm not sure there is really anything to be gained from that step.

Otherwise it's a solid recipe. Super simple and a great way to use a sous vide setup.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Recently Anna and I took a quick weekend trip up to Montreal for a belated celebration of our wedding anniversary. It's only about a five and a half hour drive from Boston through a lot of pretty country up in Vermont so it's a bit of a shame that I've only been up there once before. My previous visit (Anna had never been) was back in the 90's when I was fresh out of college and I went with four guys who stuffed themselves into a room at the Travelodge (try not to imagine the smell)... and let's just say our, uh, "priorities" were a wee bit different on that trip... so this was a pretty fresh experience of Montreal.


We stayed at LHotel whose claim to fame is having a pretty impressive collection of Pop art decorating its walls... we passed a couple of Lichenstein's and a Warhol on the way from the elevator to our room. It's got a great location on the edge of old Montreal and is right near the metro, so you don't really need to do any driving. We didn't eat there or really spend much time in the room besides sleeping, but the people at the desk were nice and the room was reasonably priced... so unless you want a lot of amenities, I think you'll do well there.

Now, Montreal obviously has a lot of French food, which is not particularly friendly to vegetarians (unless all you want to eat are salads)... and Canada's most famous food, poutine, is a meaty gravy and cheese curds covering fries. So we had to do a little leg work to make sure Anna had some good food to eat. Luckily, on the poutine front La Banquise exists, which among it's 30 odd varieties of poutine has a vegetarian version. You can see our order pictured up top... the closest is "La Kamikaze", which I ordered, and contains hot peppers,tobasco, and merguez sausage. I found it to be quite excellent, and something that surprisingly lived up to the hype Canadian partisans are always heaping on it. It's not something I would want to have every day, but it certainly puts your standard chili or cheese fries to shame. Anna was intrigued enough to want to tinker with the vegetarian version at home... so who knows, maybe we'll post a recipe for it someday... though we'd also have to make the cheese curds I think, since that's not something you see in Massachusetts grocery stores.


The weather wasn't great... not bitter cold, but drizzly... so we took advantage of the metro (which seems great by the way) to head to the the big Jean-Talon market after our poutine. It's got both indoor and outdoor stalls vegetables, food, bread, cheese, meat, fish, etc and I believe it is year round (at least the indoor section). As tempting as the vegetables were... there were some very cute collections of wild mushrooms that were nearly irresistible... it didn't make a whole lot of sense to buy any, so we only window shopped.


There are a number of shops that encircle the market such as the above Capitol Butcher. Meat wasn't really on the grocery list either, but we did bring home some Quebec cheeses. Some of the fromageries we visited were a little intimidating thanks to big crowds and the shouting out of numbers I can barely recognize from high school French class... but we ended up at Marché Des Saveurs Du Québec, which specializes in local products. While there was a bit of a language barrier, we did very well and came home with three pretty unique cheeses.

That evening also managed a fancy vegetarian tasting at XO Le, which was just about 50 feet from our hotel. Really quite nice with impeccable service... probably the longest meal I've ever had but paced so well as to not feel that way. The food was great... modernist in style which powders and foams and whatnot, and was very good. It was quite expensive of course, but that's what you expect for such an evening.

Anna on top of Mount Royal

On the way out we picked up half a dozen St-Viateur Bagel's right out of the wood oven and made a stop for a quick picture on top of Mount Royal. All in all a quite enjoyable trip, and hopefully we won't let decades pass before we get back up to it again.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chicken Enchiladas Verde

Chicken Enchiladas Verde
I have trouble thinking of enchiladas verde as a "fall food" since they are so bright and green and fundamentally spring-like in my head... but I bought the tomatillos and chili peppers for this recipe up at a farmer's market in Maine about two weeks ago, so I guess that makes them a fall food whether I can wrap my head around it or not. I wasn't particularly planning enchiladas when I picked out the tomatillos, but I knew I was going to make something verde, and tomatillos are produce that I try to pick up every time I see them... I just love their bright tartness.

In the end made Rick Bayless's Roasted Tomatillo salsa (multiplying quantities by 4 for 2 lbs of tomatillos)... omitting the onion because I was planning on using diced white onion as a garnish... and then substituted that as the salsa verde in the Simply Recipes' chicken enchiladas verde recipe because you should always roast tomatillos and chilis because... it's just a fact. A tasty fact. That Simply Recipes recipe is the first hit when you search for "enchiladas verdes" so if you've ever even considered the dish you've probably seen her recipe, but I was actually surprised to discover it did not have any baking time for the enchiladas at the end. You just use the oven to keep everything warm while you are assembling the enchiladas, which makes this a pretty good weeknight dinner option if you make the chicken and salsa ahead of time. Indeed, I found myself assembling a single (oven safe) plate on enchiladas for a bachelor dinner and just sticking it in a 200 degree oven for a few minutes to make sure it was warm.

A good solid recipe that is very worth making.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Peter Reinhart's Bagels Revisited

Homemade Bagels
We've made these bagels a handful of times since I first wrote about them in 2010. It's a recipe made internet famous by Smitten Kitchen (like many, many internet famous food things) but one that many consider a little too fussy to be getting on with. Now I'll grant you, Reinhart's recipe is a two day process so it's no good if you want bagels RIGHT THE HELL NOW, but if you are going through the trouble of making your own bagels then I ask you: what's the point of cutting corners? Frankly I find it to be an advantage that it's spread out over two days because it means the morning you are preparing them is devoted solely to boiling and baking. Otherwise there are two exotic ingredients involved: high gluten flour and malt powder. You can just use bread flour or you can go in for something like this. I've seen Sir Lancelot flour at a well stocked Whole Foods and a co-op in Maine, but you might need to order it online if you are intent on super authentic bagel flour... if you do look in a store just make sure you don't come home with vital wheat gluten by accident. I think you could probably doctor up some all purpose flour with a few tablespoons of it, but it's important to note that while it is super high in gluten content it's not actually flour and is what people use to make seitan... and seitan bagels sound pretty gross.

We've used malt powder in the past, but when I went to grab some for this recipe it had turned into a solid malty block. I guess you are supposed to freeze it to store it, who knew? (well people who read the packaging probably) We substituted a little brown sugar as suggested and I thought the bagels tasted great, so I'm not sure I'll bother with it again.

These are a great little project and well worth making. I'm no bagel connoisseur, but I feel like these are worlds better than 90% of the bagels out there and will give even the very best a run for their money.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Spicy Sous Vide BBQ Pork Chop and Collards with Bacon

Spicy BBQ Pork Chop and Collards with Bacon
This was a fairly simple meal that was one of my more successful cooking efforts in recent memory. Largely because of serendipity with complimentary flavors between the two dishes, wherein the apple cider vinegar in the collards and bbq sauce really unified the plate. In addition, I think the ancho chili powder I used in the dry rub for the pork accented the smokiness of the bacon in the collards. Complete and total luck for my part, as this was certainly not something I was thinking when I picked the dishes to go together... but it was definitely something I noticed as I tried to figure out why this meal was especially good. The pork chop was from Kenji at Serious Eats and the collards from Simply Recipes, with both recipes followed as written (though my chops were boneless). The collards were especially awesome, and I can't praise Elise's recipe enough... though my vegetarian wife was none too pleased with my "ruining" of a perfectly good pot of collards with bacon (I may in fact try a vegetarian version with liquid smoke).

I don't intend for this to become a "modernist" food blog... I have no plans to start messing with meat glue or spherification... but sous vide really is becoming my default for cooking meat. My favorite cooking is probably always going to be slow braises and hearty stews and the like, but if you ever see a pork chop, steak, or chicken breast on this blog it will most likely cooked sous vide. I don't really feel bad about that fact since I pretty much never cooked those things conventionally before anyway, and I think the picture below makes the case for sous vide quite strongly:
Sous Vide Spicy BBQ Pork Chop
That's the juiciest most perfectly cooked pork chop I could ever hope to make, and the fact is that sous vide makes it incredibly easy. The argument has always been one of price, but beyond the $100 DorkFood device I use, there are new all-in-one devices that are hitting at around a $200 price point. So I don't think sous vide is going to remain just a fad for cooking geeks... I'm not going to go as far as to say they'll be as ubiquitous as microwaves, but I think it's a cooking technique that is coming to the mainstream someday soon, so if you are not a fan you had best get used to it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

White Beans with Roasted Tomatoes

White Beeans and Roasted Tomatoes
We're well into Fall at this point, so the days of perfect summer tomatoes that just need a little salt to be delicious are long since past. Roasting gives you a way to get a lot of flavor even out of lame super market tomatoes or whatever might still be in your garden. The recipe is from Epicurious, and was quite good. However I will note that while the 500 degree oven temperature is great for getting the tomatoes roasted in less than an hour, all the liquid from the tomatoes turned into a black coating on my roasting pan that took steel wool to get off... though on the bright side that's the cleanest my roasting pan has been since I bought it. If I do this again I think I'd go with Alton Brown's Slow Roasted Tomatoes, not letting them get all the way to the point where they are like sun dried tomatoes but where they still have a fair bit of moisture (more like 6-8 hours at 200 degrees).

Monday, September 30, 2013

RIP Marcella Hazan

Here is the NY Times obit. Her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking remains the Italian cooking bible in our home. I think it would be difficult to overstate her influence on Italian cooking here in the US, or on my Italian cooking personally. I've related the story here on how my mother became obsessed with Marcella Hazan while trying to perfect her ragù bolognese... and how she transferred that obsession to Anna and myself by starting every discussion of Italian cooking with "Well, Marcella says..."

She will be missed.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sous Vide Chicken Wings

Sous Vide Buffalo Wings
I'm not typically a huge chicken wings guy. I'll occasionally order them from a local place, but mainly because they offer tofu tenders for Anna when she's in one of her junk food moods... not because they are renowned for their wings. While I enjoy them, wings are messy and kind of a pain to eat, so more often than not I just don't bother. Certainly I had never thought to make them at home. But with all that said, the start of football season was upon us and I decided to go ahead and give them a try... if having a food blog is good for anything it's getting you out of your comfort zone and cooking things you otherwise wouldn't.

As is often the case here, my jumping off point was a recipe from The Food Lab wherein he advocates a low and slow fry (essentially confit the wings) followed by the traditional 400 °F deep fry. The idea being that the low temperature cooking will convert some of the collagen in the skin to gelatin without really cooking the meat very much (if at all). In the article Kenji makes a throwaway comment about maybe doing some wings sous vide in duck fat instead of this low temperature fry, but doesn't supply any time or temperature information. I was intrigued by this idea (as were many of his commenters) so I did a little research on my own.

Turns out that Modernist Cuisine at Home has a recipe for sous vide chicken wings. They call for cooking the the wings sous vide at 148 °F for 1 hour followed by a 390 °F fry for 3 minutes. A quick Google suggests that a number of people trying this recipe were disappointed about the crispiness of the end product, which makes sense given Kenji's technique since 148 °F is at the very low end of collagen breakdown. Collagen breaks down at temperatures greater than 140 °F but it happens very slowly until you get up into the 160-170 °F range, so 1 hour at 148 °F probably has no noticeable effect on the skin.
Wings after Frying

Despite the fact that the end product might not be the crispest wing EVAR, I decided to go with the Modernist Cuisine recipe anyway. At some point in the future I might decide to extend the sous vide cooking time more into the 6-8 hour range to see if that helps with crispier wings, but you need a baseline for comparison purposes so I just did their recipe verbatim. One tip I saw was to make sure the wings are extra dry before you fry them, so I made two batches... one with about a 3 hour air dry on a rack on the counter and the other with overnight air dry in the fridge. The second batch was noticeably crisper, so it's worth doing if you have time.

Sous Vide Chipotle Wings with Avocado Crema

Otherwise I did your standard Buffalo sauce for my first batch (1 cup of Frank's + 1 stick of butter) and then made the second batch using a recipe from Saveur for Chipotle Wings and Avocado Crema. Both were good and the sous vide aspect guaranteed perfectly tender wings, but I still can't help feeling like Kenji is right and that they could be even crispier. Not perfect, but still a good use of a sous vide setup... one nice aspect is that you can freeze the wings after the sous vide step and just pull them out of the freezer for a quick fry whenever you want some wings.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Frito Pie or Walking Taco

Frito Pie or Walking Taco
If you are born and raised on either coast, then the concept of a Frito Pie/Walking Taco is likely going to be completely alien to you. I myself, as a lifelong East Coaster, had never heard of them until I saw the recipe in Homesick Texan's cookbook, but apparently Midwesterners (who call it a Walking Taco) and Southwesterners (who call it a Frito Pie) just love these things for football season... because what better thing to eat in the stands than warm chili put inside a bag of chips? And that's basically the long and the short of what this is: take a bag of chips (canonically Fritos obviously), cut it open lengthwise, pour on some chili, and top with shredded cheese, jalapenos, onions, etc.

Now, I had basically forgotten it since I saw it in Lisa Fain's cookbook, but recent hype about the next Doritos Locos Taco (for those who ignore fast food news: a ground beef taco made with a Doritos shell) got me thinking about the Frito Pie again. I mean people really seem to love those Doritos tacos, but I swore off Taco Bell somewhere in my mid 20's and I think it's best for both of us if I continue to keep my distance... so why not just do a Frito Pie with with different kinds of Doritos? Not that I pretend this is some kind of genius idea, since people were already doing it and the advertising itself shows a taco coming out of a Doritos bag... but I thought it was a good excuse to try this iconic recipe I don't fully understand.

I used Pioneer Woman Cook's recipe instead of Homesick Texan's simply because I didn't feel like roasting chiles and I have some ancho chile powder I really like. The only problem with Ree's recipe is that Ro-tel is not readily available in Boston, but you can imitate it by just using a can of diced tomatoes and a small can of diced chiles (though you'll end up with more than the 10 oz she calls for). The other thing I did differently was to follow The Food Lab's advice on browning ground meat: wherein you deeply brown 1/4 of the meat, and then add the rest, cooking it only until it is no longer pink... which is supposed to leave you with more tender meat without sacrificing flavor.

Now, after being raised on the ground beef and beans style of chili I have come to favor Texas style chili much more... and this recipe didn't change my mind... but while you could certainly skip the beans it's hard to see how big chunks of meat would really work well here. Otherwise I think I still prefer my chili in a bowl with regular tortilla chips or corn tortillas... but it is an undeniably fun way to eat some chili that I don't doubt would be popular with kids or at a Super Bowl party.

While the picture shows only nacho cheese flavor Doritos, I did try a handful of other flavors that I could find in $1 2 oz size bags at a nearby convenience store... and I would say that the sweet spicy chili flavor combo worked out the best specifically because of the sweet contrast. I suspect I would also like Cool Ranch for similar contrast related reasons.

As much as fans of the genre might disagree, I don't think you'll find the Frito Pie to be a life changing experience... but they are fun and worth making all the same.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Serious Eats: Charred Corn and Cherry Tomato Salad

Charred Corn and Cherry Tomato Salad with Zucchini and Radishes
This is a nice late August farmers' market dish from Kenji over at Serious Eats, one that checks a lot of the boxes as far as what is local and fresh this time of year. However, unless you stock things like Mexican crema and cotija cheese... and live in a place where limes grow, it does involve another trip to a the kind of market that has fluorescent lights (and no farmers) to fill out your ingredient list. To save time the day you make it, you are probably going to want to make the supermarket trip before the farmers' market, as that stuff will sit way better than your fresh veggies. That said, I was able to pick up the corn, tomatoes, zucchini, radishes, and scallions all at the farmer's market at the Harvard Science Center... everything perfectly ripe and lovely.

There is a lot of knife work here, so it might take longer than the prescribed 20 minutes of prep time if you are not especially fast... but you can chop things while the zucchini and corn are on the stove. Plus you want this room temperature, not hot, so there is no particular hurry. I found the flavors to be quite good and for it to be a great way to consume bountiful summer produce.

As you can see above, I preferred it taco style as a main course but it could obviously work very well as a side dish.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Easy Pressure Cooker Chile Verde

Pressure Cooker Chile Verde
This is just a variation of Alton Brown's Pressure Cooker Chili, which I've posted about a couple of times. Alton's recipe is not one that's meant to be particularly authentic or elaborate... just a quick full flavored chili that takes advantage of the best qualities of the pressure cooker. So while I would like to make a more hardcore chile verde at some point... with the roasted tomatillos and peppers and all that... this recipe is purely a quickie type deal with jarred salsas and canned peppers. Not something that is particularly fashionable in this era of DIY ketchup and slow food, but sometimes you just want a chile verde you can have on the table in an hour.

I like a good chili even at the height of summer, and using a pressure cooker means you don't even have to heat up your whole house.

Easy Pressure Cooker Chile Verde


  • 3-3.5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 1.5-2" chunks
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 16 oz. jars of salsa verde
  • 1 4 oz. can of diced green chilies (preferably Hatch)
  • 30 tortilla chips
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • diced onion, for garnish
  • corn tortillas, for serving


  1. Place the meat in a large mixing bowl and toss with the peanut oil and salt. Set aside.
  2. Brown the meat in 3 or 4 batches in a 6 quart (or larger) pressure cooker over high heat, approximately 2 minutes per batch. Once each batch is browned, place the meat in a clean large bowl.
  3. Once all of the meat is browned, add a couple of tablespoons of water to the cooker to deglaze the pot.
  4. Add the meat back to the pressure cooker along with the salsa, diced peppers, tortilla chips, cilantro, and ground cumin and stir to combine. Lock the lid in place according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the steam begins to hiss out of the cooker, reduce the heat to low, just enough to maintain a very weak whistle. Cook for 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the pressure to reduce naturally (10-15 more minutes).
  5. Put in bowls and top with cilantro and diced onion. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Epazote and Pressure Cooking Homesick Texan's Black Beans

One of the herbs you see called for in many Mexican or Tex-Mex recipes is epazote, but it is unfortunately hard to come by outside of the Southwest. You can buy it dried online, but I'd never see it fresh here in Boston, even in the most expansive of grocery stores or farmers' markets. However that appears to changing as we all become more aware of regional and ethnic cuisines. Indeed, the picture above is a bunch of epazote I purchased for $2 at Chase's Daily in Belfast Maine. There is, of course, no way we can use that much epazote before it wilts but don't forget you can always dry your own herbs. Some herbs are easier to dry than others (based on water content) and I'm not sure how our epazote will do, but I will report back on the results in a couple of weeks.[UPDATE: Works great! I hung it upside down from a pot rack for about a week or two and it dried fine with no mold or anything. That bunch was enough to fill a bit more than once standard size spice jar.]

The weirdest thing about epazote is probably its smell... which is quite strong and somewhat reminiscent of varnish, which probably doesn't sound that appetizing... but it doesn't actually taste like varnish (in fact it tastes good) and the smell goes away when it's cooked. A further point in the positive column is that it contains a compound that reduces gas, which is probably why the most common thing to add epazote to is a big ole pot of beans.

Thus I decided use my epazote in Homesick Texan's Black Beans while simultaneously adapting said recipe to the pressure cooker. The only other things I've changed are that I've made it completely vegetarian (easy enough since she uses chipotles en adobo intead of ham hocks for smokiness), the amount of liquid (you need less in a pressure cooker), and ratio of water to veggie broth. Note that level of heat of the beans with four chipotles in adobo is significant so you might want to lower that if you are sensitive to spice.

Austin Style Black Beans

Pressure Cooker Austin Style Black Beans


  • 16 oz. dried black beans
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut oil or canola oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2-4 chipotles in adobo, chopped (depending on heat preference)
  • 1 tablespoon of epazote or 2 sprigs fresh
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped and divided
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 3 cups of water
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth
  • Salt to taste


  1. Heat oil in your pressure cooker over medium heat. Sauté the onions and carrots for 10 minutes and then add the garlic for one minute.
  2. Add beans, chipotles, epazote and half the cilantro. Cover beans with water and broth and scrape up any fond that has developed on the bottom of the pot.
  3. Secure pressure cooker lid and bring pot to high pressure over high heat. Lower heat to maintain pressure and cook for 25 minutes.
  4. Remove pressure cooker from heat and allow pressure to lower naturally.
  5. Remove lid and add the cumin, tomato paste, lime juice, salt and remaining cilantro. Simmer over medium heat until all beans are fully cooked and flavors have melded.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Butter Steamed New Potatoes

Butter Steamed New Potatoes
If you've never cooked new potatoes... well, I have to wonder what you are doing with your life... but I also need to point out that they aren't like regular potatoes. If they are truly new potatoes (i.e. freshly dug immature summer potatoes), and not just small potatoes, they will spoil like any other fresh farmers' market produce. You've got a day or two before they start getting soft and going bad, which is obviously not behavior you expect from potatoes. The good news is that they are so delicious... in my view a summer treat that rivals both tomatoes and sweet corn... that you can cook them in the most basic of ways and never be disappointed.

This is a recipe from Deep South Dish that, as you might expect from the title, involves quite a bit of butter... two sticks in fact. The key point in that regard, however, is that the vast majority of that butter ends up at the bottom of the pot, and only ends up in your belly if you want it to. They only deviation I made from the recipe was to simply halve the potatoes instead of peeling off a strip of potato skin in the middle... simply because it's easier and I figured a similar amount of potato surface area would be exposed to the butter. I found the recipe to take 10 minutes or so more than the listed 25-30, probably because my potatoes were on the bigger side. When picking I didn't do a great job tying to ensure uniformity nor did I correct this by quartering some of the larger potatoes, so I had to hover a bit at the end, removing individual potatoes as they finished cooking. So a little bit fussy.

On the other hand, these potatoes were fantastic... I probably could have eaten the entire pot. Butter and parsley is really all you need.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Anonymity of Restaurant Reviewers

In DisguiseI haven't done one of these "ZOMG! Controversy in the food world!!!" posts in a while, but the furor over Pete Wells dropping Daniel down to three stars while using a secret diner seemed interesting enough to make note of and comment on. You can either read the whole review or get a lengthy summary at Eater, but the gist is that restaurants know who Pete Wells is and what he looks like. Being that getting (or not losing) that star from a place like the New York Times means significant money to these restaurants, they work hard to identify when any influential critic sits down in their restaurant and make sure to give them an impeccable experience. In Daniel's case that seems to have risen to the level of preferential treatment, where Well's colleague didn't get nearly the same level of service that he did. [As a side note, the inverse of this is Yelpers seeking preferential treatment in exchange for a good review]

The first thing to note, as L.V. Anderson does, is that the inner workings of the restaurant reviewing process of four star restaurants (and $150+ tasting menus) is not exactly the biggest issue facing the food world. On the other hand, these kind of restaurants are the places most of us can only go once a year (at most) on a birthday or anniversary, and it's exactly the type of place where you need a professional reviewer. You can sift the wheat from the chaff in Yelp! reviews and check Chowhound threads easily enough for Saturday night's dinner reservation, but not so much when you are trying to choose between your city's finest restaurants (or even more challenging: another city's finest restaurants). The idea that said professional reviewer is getting an experience that you will never see definitely undercuts the utility of their review, and it's not a new thing to worry about: Ruth Reichl famously went in disguise and as herself to compare the experiences back in the 90's. In the social media age the idea that a prominent food critic could be truly an anonymous diner like the rest of us seems pretty far fetched.

The aforementioned L.V. Anderson thinks this means critics should stop pretending they're anonymous, but it's difficult to know exactly what that means. Surely Pete Wells making all of his reservations under the name Pete Wells isn't going to help (though I do like the idea of all New Yorkers making reservations under the name Pete Wells). I suspect that reviewers simply need to more explicitly employ secret diners to evaluate service: an anonymous New York Times employee gets a free dinner at a fancy restaurant and Mr. Wells gets a better idea of what the average joe will experience. We need people like Pete Wells to evaluate what's coming out of the kitchen, but clearly some other strategy needs to be employed to gauge service.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sweet Corn Chowder

Sweet Corn Chowder
I've been a very bad foodie in regards to farmers' markets this year, despite the fact that I walk by one every Tuesday on my way home from work. I don't know why really, maybe my 6 month obsession with my sous vide setup has been too distracting... or maybe just that I was in a bit of a cooking funk... but regardless, now (even in New England) we are in high summer when corn and tomatoes are all in season and it's pretty impossible to resist their siren call (and who would want to?).

Even though it's been in the nineties here for what seems like months, I still felt like corn chowder more than any other of the myriad ways you can prepare fresh corn. Thus I picked this recipe from Saveur somewhat at random. So I bought corn from a local farm - picked that morning, which is key for sweet corn as it starts losing flavor as sugars turn to starch as soon as it is picked. I also had some leftover baguettes in the freezer, so I made my croutons from that instead of pumpernickel... but otherwise made the recipe as written. Though looking at the recipe now I see that it called for 8 cups of fresh corn which translates into some where in the 10-12 ears of corn area, whereas I only bought 6 because... well, I'm not sure really... it's just what I had in my head as the proper amount of corn for corn chowder. I thought it came out great as it was, but it's hard to argue with more corn. It isn't very aggressively spiced... just a teaspoon of curry powder with salt and pepper, but I think that is to it's credit not it's detriment when dealing with fresh picked summer corn.

Takes a little longer to prepare than you might expect since you sweat the onions, celery, and garlic for 15+ minutes and then the corn for another 20 before finishing with a roux and 10 minutes of simmering... but you can be doing the croutons as this happens, and can probably get your corn shucked and off the cob while the other veggies are going... though I prefer a more leisurely mise en place approach.

Pretty simple and really good.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Food52: Steak with Arugula, Lemon, and Parmesan (Redux)

Steak Salad with Arugula, Lemon, and Parmesan

Back in October I posted about Food52's recipe for Steak with Arugula, Lemon, and Parmesan but where I shamefully overcooked the ridiculously expensive New York Strip in question. I hardly ever cook steaks, so it's not surprising but a little mortifying for somebody who has a food blog (though seriously do even the best chefs never make mistakes?). Though on the bright side, one of the reasons New York Strips are so expensive is that they are so tender that they still taste really good even when overcooked... and I really did like the simple flavors of the recipe. Being that I am now equipped with a sous vide setup, I figured I could try this recipe again and cook myself a steak without embarrassing myself.

New York Strip

Fortunately this turned out to be true! I did about an hour at 130°F, just putting some sliced garlic into the pouch with the steak after seasoning it with salt and pepper. I was a little worried that even in a hot dry pan that a couple of minutes of browning wouldn't provide enough fond to deglaze, but that fear ended up being unfounded. I did a minute a side and then held the fat edge to the pan for thirty seconds with tongs, and then just sliced it thin (no need to rest a sous vide steak).

Came out great, and would gladly make again... though only when I want to pay $20 for a steak. However, using sous vide, I would think you could use a cheaper cut like hangar, blade, or flat iron and still come out with pretty great dish. Hmmmm...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Homemade Chic-fil-A Sandwich [UPDATED]

Homemade Chic-fil-A Sandwich
Despite the fact that it's the height of farmer's market season... and that I should probably be making things with fresh tomatoes... I came into this week craving a chicken sandwich. Now, I'm not much of a fast food guy these days anyway (burritos excepted), but living where I do in Cambridge it's more complicated than you would think to get a simple fried chicken sandwich. So why not make my own?

The recipe that comes up at the top of the list is Kenji's at Serious Eats... which he developed for people boycotting Chic-fil-A based on their very public anti-gay marriage views. While I am very much in the marriage equality camp, the boycotting is pretty much moot since the nearest Chic-fil-A is like a 30 minute drive deep into the 'burbs (easiest boycott ever!). I just wanted a tasty fried chicken sandwich.

So obviously I'm no connoisseur Chic-fil-A sandwiches... thus how authentic this recipe really is means nothing to me... but lots of people seem to really dig the original so it seems a good place to start. I couldn't find boneless skinless chicken breasts in any size but FAMILY (so like a thousand of them) and instead purchased a pair of split chicken breasts (i.e. still got skin and bones) and did a little amateur butchering. Put the emphasis on amateur as I screwed up the first one, leaving the tenderloin on the bone and basically leaving myself only one cutlet where there should have been two. I rallied on the second breast, keeping everything intact, and did a decent horizontal cut of the de-boned breast to give two relatively evenly sized cutlets.

Looking at the comments, the major complaint about the recipe is the salt level, which I will have to echo. I left my chicken in the brine way too long (24 hours) so for that I can blame nobody but myself... nevertheless, next time I'd still do the quick 1 hour brine instead... which makes the recipe easier to do on a weeknight whim anyway.

Ignoring the salt issue, I thought it was a pretty aggressively spiced... lots of pepper... which was surprising for a mass market style chicken sandwich. Good though. I can't 100% recommend the recipe, but I bet with the quick brine it's a keeper... in fact I might give that a go this week.

Homemade Chic-fil-A Chicken Sandwiches - Attempt 2 Closeup

Made another attempt last night with a 1.5-2 hour brine and was very pleased with the results. I also think I did a better job with the flour, where you dribble in 3 tablespoons off beaten eggs and milk and mix with your fingers until you get the texture of "coarse sand"... which I didn't quite achieve the first time. Thus this time I think I achieved a much flakier coating. All-in-all, with the shorter 1 hour brine I'm very happy with the sandwich and it instantly becomes something you can whip up fairly easily on a weeknight with almost no planning.

Homemade Chic-fil-A Chicken Sandwiches - Attempt 2

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Potato Chip Spanish Tortilla

Potato Chip Spanish Tortilla
Your traditional Spanish tortilla is made by taking sliced potatoes that were cooked in oil and basically making a frittata that you have to flip over half way through out of some perverse Spanish desire to see you get eggs and potatoes all over your kitchen. I've tried to make one in the past without any success (hence the slight tinge of bitterness you are detecting). The difference here is not any kind of innovation in the dastardly tortilla flipping, but using potato chips instead of cooking your own potatoes... which sounds pretty crazy, but also pretty genius. The technique was first put out there by Ferran Adria (hence the genius part) but I only heard about it when Kenji posted his Salt and Vinegar Potato Chip Spanish Tortilla recipe, which takes the crazy!? crazy like a fox! vibe to a whole 'nother level.

I basically did Kenji's recipe except instead of using "kettle style" potato chips I used thin ones (Lay's) like Ferran Adria's recipe calls for. With the thin chips you end up not being able to tell potato chips were ever involved... they taste like very thin cooked potatoes, which I found fairly amazing. Whether the kettle chips hold up well enough to be a distinctively different experience... I can't say... but the recipe is so easy I'm certainly not opposed to further testing. I will note that with Lay's Salt and Vinegar chips I didn't really detect much vinegar flavor... so I'm not so sure that aspect has much merit, but presumably that varies by chip.

Given the picture above, I obviously also had significantly more success flipping the tortilla this time... just by using a lid that was several inches larger in diameter than the pan I was using... though I still did make a mess (thanks to oil and uncooked eggs) and I continue to fail to understand why we can't just use the broiler to cook the top. Isn't that what it's for? Sigh.

But anyway... the potato chip thing is pretty cool and worth trying. Definitely makes the Spanish tortilla into an even quicker last minute cooking option.

As a meta-note: I apologize for the lack of posting lately. My cooking has been pretty uninspired and my photography poor over the last couple of weeks, but I feel like I am turning a corner and have some good stuff planned.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sous Vide Burgers

Sous Vide Burgers with Zucchini Pickles

Burgers are perhaps the easiest thing in the world to sous vide... they only take 30 minutes at temperature to cook through, so you can easily do them in a beer cooler... and then it's 45 seconds per side to get your crispy crust and melt your cheese and you're done. So not much of a recipe here, but some tips instead. Kenji says not to use any added fat like butter (dilutes the flavor) during the sous vide process, but that aromatics can go in the bag with the meat (like garlic and parsley) for a little added flavor. Thus I made roughly 6 ounce patties and seasoned them liberally with salt and pepper and then put them with some sliced garlic in cheap little sandwich bags, instead of those hand pump bags, to save a little money. Then I just dunked them in a bowl of water as I sealed them up to force out the air. While this helps keep the burgers from getting overly squished by the vacuum pressure, they're going to have a lot more air in them (thanks to the ground meat) than a steak or chicken breast sealed up with this method. This makes them a bit more buoyant, so you have to be careful to make sure none of the burgers end up floating on top your sous vide water bath. I had the water preheated to 130 degrees F for medium rare, and that's about all there is to it. Dry the patties thoroughly, heat up some vegetable oil to smoking, and then pan fry for 45 seconds a side. Done.

Next time I will probably try deep frying them. The argument against deep frying is that by the time you get your nice crust you'll have a thicker layer of overcooked meat than pan frying. The pro argument is that the crust is uniform around the entire burger. I also feel like it would be a lot less messy... believe it or not... as pan frying gets oil and smoke everywhere (to say my vegetarian wife is not a huge fan of "burger night" because of this would be a massive understatement), which would largely be missing with deep frying. You have a giant pot of dangerously hot oil to deal with obviously, but I don't find that to be too daunting at this point.

Something to try for 4th of July for my fellow city dwellers with no access to grills.

Sous Vide Burgers

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Couple of Vegan Pizzas

We were up in Maine visiting with my mother-in-law for Memorial Day weekend and decided to do a little pizza party on Saturday, which was pretty perfect for a rather cold and wet couple of days. We've done this sort of thing several times (though afterwards we always comment about how we should be doing it more), and the basic idea is to make Peter Reinhart's cold ferment pizza dough in advance... at least the night before but it can be several days prior... and then on the day of prep your pizza toppings during the 2 hours where the dough is warming up and proofing.

The Reinhart dough recipe results in enough for 6 (somewhat small) pizzas, but we generally only try to think up 3 ideas and do them twice to keep the ingredient prep from being too insane. Since the MIL is vegan our pizzas thus had to be too, and beyond a fairly typical mushroom pizza I thought we came up with two vegan pizzas that were worth saving:

White Bean and Roasted Tomato Pizza

This white bean and roasted tomato pizza is inspired by one of my favorite pizzas at a local place. I don't know that I got it 100% right, but we came reasonably close. The key to me is for the beans not to just be a puree, but to still have some whole beans in there, which we didn't fully achieve. Next time I will reserve one can of drained white beans essentially as a garnish. Otherwise it's a can of beans in a saucepan with some veggie broth (1/3 of a cup?), fresh herbs (like rosemary, sage, etc), and roasted garlic... smash them up a bit with a wooden spoon or immersion blender... and simmer for about 10 minutes until it gets thick.

The perfect tomatoes for this kind of pizza would be the slow roasted kind but we didn't have any on hand so I needed to improvise. I seeded a few roma tomatoes and cut them into wedges, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled them with fresh herbs (sage and rosemary once again), and put them in a 450 degree F oven until they started to caramelize (20-25 minutes).

The final... and critically important... aspect of this pizza is some crushed red pepper. I mean, I guess it's fine without if you don't do spice, but personally I think that element of heat really elevates this pizza to another level.

Fiddlehead and Carmelized Onion Pizza

Our final choice was a fiddlehead and carmelized onion pizza for a bit more of a springtime feel, despite the gloomy weather. I had actually never had fiddleheads before... seen them plenty around this time of year, but never really knew what to do with them. Apparently there have been some issues with foodborne illness linked to un/undercooked fiddleheads, so we blanched them for 5 minutes but otherwise just seasoned them with salt to prep them as a topping. They're not super exciting on their own... Anna described the flavor as "green"... but they work quite well in this pizza.

We caramelized onions and roasted some garlic to go on with the fiddleheads, and while I'm not usually a fan of "cheese" products Daiya is pretty decent, actually melts, and the vegans I know seem to enjoy it. Personally I would skip it since I remember what real cheese tastes like, but it's probably no worse than supermarket shredded mozzarella.

All in all a pretty successful pizza making experience. Our only misstep was that I didn't put enough corn meal on the pizza peel for our first effort and ended up needing to roll it into a calzone to get it off. So I guess I will leave you with that final tip: don't skimp on the corn meal/semolina! It's better to wast corn meal than a pizza.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Food Lab: Sous Vide Chicken Breast

Sous Vide Chicken Breast with Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
I think there is probably no dish I find less exciting to cook than a chicken breast. Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoy chicken itself... roast chicken, fried chicken, spatchcocked chicken, chicken in a pot, etc... but the only time I ever grab chicken breasts is when I'm going to pan roast them and then make a sauce while the meat is resting, which I don't think I've ever even bothered to blog about. For better or worse I'm a cook who gravitates towards more "aspirational" than "functional" cooking and that means that chicken breasts... which I imagine are at (or near) the top cuts of meat cooked in the United States... get the short shrift up in here.

Well (for at least this post) that's all about to change! Enter the sous vide chicken breast... which is about as functional as functional cooking can be. I mean there is really no art/craft to cooking this baby... stick it in your sous vide setup for an hour and thirty five minutes at 140°F, brown the skin for 2 minutes, and dinner is served. 140°F! you may say... that's raw chicken you'll die of salmonella! No you won't. For a more detailed explanation, see this Food Lab post, but the simple answer is that the amount of nasty bacteria killed is a matter of both temperature and time... so if you want your meat to be safe to eat at a lower temperature you just need to hold it there for longer... which is where sous vide comes in.

The recipe I used can be found here, but pretty much all of it was making the (very good) sauce for the chicken. Since the chicken doesn't exude much of any juices at 140°F (better they stay in the meat, right?) there are no pan sauces here. A salsa, chimichurri, vinaigrette, or beurre meunière is called for to make things interesting... but nothing could be simpler than making the chicken itself. I got skin-on bone-in (or "split") chicken breasts but if your butcher does skin-on boneless breasts then that is the ideal I think... not that the bone is problematic or deboning the breasts, as I did, is particularly arduous. You definitely want skin though, unless you are just going to slice up the meat and put it in a salad. It's gives you something you can crisp up to both look and taste great.

Preheat your water bath to 140°F. Then just liberally season your chicken breast with salt and pepper before placing it in a plastic bag. Evacuate the air however you are going to do that (I like these hand pump bags)... but either the fancy ways or submerging it in water as you seal it work fine. After an hour and thirty five minutes (up to ten hours - so you can put it in before you go to work) your chicken breast will look like this:

Out Of The Bag

Not terribly tasty looking, eh? That's why we brown the skin. Set a skillet to medium high with a tablespoon of vegetable oil until the oil is all shimmery, add the breast(s) skin side down and cook until the skin is golden... about 2 minutes, and voilà:

Incredibly Moist

The most juicy and perfectly cooked chicken breast you've ever made. I'll tell you that I was a little concerned that the texture would be off putting or weird in some way, but that is simply not the case. It just tastes like really juicy chicken.

Definitely recommended for anyone with a sous vide setup. Note that it's also a short enough cooking time that you could do this with beer cooler sous vide, so if you are really just looking for a recipe to determine whether the sous vide investment is worth it, then this is a good recipe to try.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cornish Game Hen with Prosciutto, Rosemary, and White Beans

Cornish Game Hen with Prosciutto and Rosemary with White Beans

I don't really recall how exactly, but I only recently learned that Cornish Game Hen is neither a game bird nor necessarily a hen. They're really just tiny little chickens with a specific parentage.... who knew? Well, presumably lots of people... but not me, which is what matters around here. What's great about them is how small they are (less than 2 lbs by definition) but unfortunately they can be much more expensive than a regular chicken. So even though they're just tiny chickens you can easily pay like they're something much more exotic... I guess marketing works, eh?

I got this recipe off of Serious Eats, and you can go ahead and read it there since I didn't make any changes to it other than cutting it half to serve one... since even though I'm married I'm functionally a lonely bachelor when it comes to eating meat. This is one reason why I love a small chicken... sometimes I don't want to eat leftovers all week, but I can't usually find anything smaller than 3.5 lbs, so that's why I'm kind of intriuged by the whole Cornish Game Hen thing. In addition to avoiding excessive leftovers, everybody says that smaller chickens are more flavorful, though I don't know if that applies to younger chickens necessarily (which Cornish Game Hens are).

Cornish Game Hen Before Oven

The recipe itself is really simple and done in 30 minutes or less (no really!). You just got to cut the backbone out of the bird with kitchen shears and mince some garlic and rosemary and you are ready to go... which you can easily do as the oven preheats. It came out great with no real issues... but the one criticism I have is that I feel like the beans could have been jazzed up a bit... you just dump canned white beans into the roasting pan once you take the bird out to cool, but I didn't really have a whole lot of "accumulated juices" left to flavor them. They were fine and I like that they browned a bit as they heated up, but it just feels like they could have been something more... but then I've got no ideas, so who am I to judge?

This is a recipe that scales really well per person (1 Cornish Game Hen and can of beans for each guest) but at some point you'll run out of oven space. Seems like a good date night recipe since the presentation is pretty cute... or even a romantic dinner for one as I did (no I did not light candles!). Worth doing, at least to see what these Cornish Game Hens are all about.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Thoughts on Sous Vide Carnitas

This is more an addendum to the duck confit carnitas post from last week than a full on recipe. The assertion I made at the end of that recipe was that I felt like you could use the same technique for traditional porky carnitas, saving yourself the trouble of tracking down a couple of quarts of lard in the same way that minimal duck fat is required for sous vide duck confit... thanks to the whole "food vacuum sealed in a bag" aspect of sous vide cookery. Indeed, I think you could get away with no fat at all since the reason for using fat is to protect the meat from over cooking... a necessity that is directly obviated by sous vide. However you are going need fat at some point, and since not much fat is going to render sous vide, you have to add it. I feel like putting it in the bag and separating it out of the cooking liquid after the meat is done is easy enough, but you could also just use it at the final frying step.

So I basically just dove into making my own sous vide carnitas without much of a recipe to guide me. The results were pretty good, but not perfect. One mistake I made, which you can see clearly above, was shredding the pork too finely before frying it... which subsequently dried it out a bit. Don't do that. Leave it as distinct chunks for frying. Another possible mistake was my choice of temperature. I did 176° F because Kenji suggested it would be done on the order of 12 hours, which it was and that meant I could have tacos on Cinco de Mayo. Which was nice. But Modernist Cuisine suggests 149°F for 36 hours, which could lead to juicier meat as well.

Into the Bag

So with those caveats as to my approach, I still think... at least as a broad outline... this is a good way to go. I basically just followed Kenji's recipe for "No Waste Carnitas" but used 3-4 tablespoons of lard instead of 1/4 cup of vegetable oil and sealed it all in vacuum bag. Put the bag in a preheated sous vide setup set to 176° F and pulled it out the next morning... about 14 hours later.

Pork and Fat

You end up with perfectly cooked chunks of pork, some great cooking liquid to use in a salsa or glaze, and all of your fat back for frying. I don't know if you can tell here, but the meat definitely wasn't as dry as it appears up top... it was in fact perfectly cooked from what I could tell, so I'm not entirely sure going the 36 hour route is really necessary... but assuming enough of the connective tissue breaks down over that time frame at 149°F then it's theoretically going to give you the more moist end product.

Carnitas Tacos

Despite my error in shredding the pork a wee bit too much, the tacos I made from it were still pretty great... and really quite easy. I think with a few refinements... and some testing of longer cooking times/lower temperature... this could be dish I make pretty frequently.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sous Vide Duck Confit Carnitas

Sous Vide Duck Confit Carnitas 2
Being that cassoulet is probably my favorite food, I've made a fair bit of duck confit over the years. I've got big tubs of duck fat in the fridge (which gross Anna out) and a local purveyor that stocks several types of duck legs and sells them fresh. If you aren't lucky enough to live near a fancy butcher who can supply you with fresh duck legs you can always go with the more widely available fresh/frozen whole duck... take a pair and break them down - reserving the breasts for another (delicious!) use... or you can get the legs online. The more difficult aspect is likely getting duck fat... if you got a whole duck then you can render fat from it, or you can... once again... purchase it online. Isn't the internet great? You can also always use olive oil or some other fat if you like, but one of the advantages of the approach I'm outlining here is that you don't need very much and duck fat is fun to have just for frying potatoes or what have you.

My most recent epiphany in regards to duck confit preparation was turning to a "low and slow" technique where you cook the legs for 5-6 hours at 200 degrees F, but I came across recipes calling for even lower and slower. At the time 10-12 hours seemed like a long time to have a pot of fat bubbling in the oven, but now that I have a DIY sous vide setup it sounds like a snap. Indeed, I've already mentioned a key advantage... vacuum sealing the legs in pouches means only needing about two tablespoons of fat for each pair of legs. When you do it the traditional way you need something more on the order of multiple quarts of fat to keep the legs fully submerged.

While you could certainly make sous vide duck confit with a curing step (salted plus any additional seasonings for 24 hours), I didn't feel it was really necessary since these duck legs were destined to become carnitas (i.e. fried in more duck fat). This recipe is from the Sous Vide Supreme website with a few minor modifications:

Sous Vide Duck Confit Carnitas Tacos


  • 4 duck legs
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 4 tablespoons duck fat, plus 2 tablespoons reserved (melted)
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 6 medium tomatillos (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and split in half
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, split in half lengthwise, stem removed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • corn tortillas
  • chopped onion (optional)
  • cilantro (optional)
  • crumbled or shredded cheese, like queso fresco or monterey jack (optional)


  1. Preheat water bath to 167 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Season duck legs with salt, pepper, and chili powder and place in 1 quart bags (2 legs per bag). Pour 2 tablespoons of duck fat into each bag. Evacuate as much are as possible from bag either by submerging in water, using a hand pump, or a vacuum pump before sealing and submerging bags in water bath for the next 8-10 hours.
  3. While that is going on prepare the salsa verde. Place the onion quarters, tomatillos, jalapeños, and garlic in a saucepan and add water to come up to about 1" below top of vegetables. Bring to a boil and them simmer until the vegetables are soft... about 10 minutes. Blend (hand held or standing) until salsa is smooth. Season with salt and then cool and refrigerate until needed.
  4. Remove bags from water bath and allow duck legs to cool enough to handle. Remove skin from duck legs and reserve. Shred duck confit into small pieces.
  5. Add reserved duck fat to small skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add shredded duck confit to skillet and fry until about half of it is crisp and browned, about 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, wrap duck skin in paper towels and put on a plate in microwave. Microwave on high until skin is crisp, 4-5 minutes. When cool cut cracklings into strips.
  7. Next up: heat tortillas. Heat a non-stick small skillet over medium high heat until hot. Dip a tortilla in water and then place in pan for 30 seconds. Flip and heat for another 15 seconds. Wrap in a clean dish towel and repeat with remaining tortillas.
  8. To serve, place tortilla on plate (single or stack of two based on preference) and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of carnitas. Top with salsa verde and cracklings (and onion, cilantro, and cheese if desired).

Note that this technique should work with pork carnitas just as easily (and I may in fact try it this weekend). Just swap out duck fat for lard and cubed boneless pork shoulder for duck and you should be in great shape. From this article on Kenji I'd probably go with 176 degrees F instead of 167.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Marcella Hazan's Homemade Tagliatelle and Ragù alla Bolognese

It's been a pretty crazy couple of weeks both for the Boston area and me personally (in a day job sense - thankfully nothing to report in the marathon bombing sense), but things seem to be settling back down so I can joyfully resume regular food blogging.

Homeade Tagliatelle and Bolognese

Anna's had a pasta machine as long as I've known her, but except for some great (and time consuming) Thomas Keller agnolotti it hasn't really been broken out of its box very often. Part of this is due to the fact that I think dried pasta is perfectly fine most of the time, and when we want something like filled pasta we can just buy it from a great place up the street and keep it in the freezer... but I think a larger part is simply that I've been a little intimidated by my conception of the process. The aforementioned agnolotti was made entirely by Anna, and any time fresh pasta has been made it's pretty much been her deal... but on a recent weekend while she was up in Maine I decided to make a pot of sauce and try my hand at pasta making.

The following recipes are all adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Ragù alla Bolognese

You're going to want to make the sauce first... probably on a separate day because it's pretty time consuming. Granted, it's relatively hands off cooking, but I still wasn't in the mood to break out the pasta machine after a full day of sauce making. The recipe that follows is a double batch of Mercella's bolognese with a few adaptations for the home cook. Most people would cook this in a big Dutch oven... though I personally prefer my straight sided saute pan... but for either the key is the balance of volume to surface area. With something like a saucepan, with its comparatively smaller surface area, you are going to be noticeably slower in the multiple evaporation steps.

Marcella Hazan's Ragù alla Bolognese


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion diced (about 1 cup)
  • 6 stalks of celery diced (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • 4 medium carrots diced (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • 1 1/2 pounds meatloaf mix (i.e. equal parts chuck, veal, and pork... or just chuck if you prefer)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes


  1. Heat oil, butter, and onion in a pot on a burner set medium. Cook and stir onion until translucent. Add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.
  2. Add meat and season with a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Break up the meat and stir well, cooking until the beef has lost its raw, red color.
  3. Pour in the milk and let simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until it has bubbled away completely. This can take anywhere from 1 to over 2 hours, so be patient. You don't want to turn the heat up too high or you'll scorch your sauce.
  4. Add the nutmeg and then pour in the wine and return the sauce to a simmer. Let it bubble along, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated. Once again this can be time consuming but it should be significantly faster than the milk... about an hour.
  5. Add the tomatoes and return the sauce to a simmer once again. Here you want it to be barest of simmers... you might even want a flame tamer if you are working on a gas stove. Simmer like this for 3 hours, stirring occasionally... and don't be afraid to throw in a 1/4 cup of water if it looks like the sauce is drying out.
Pasta Machine
So once you have your sauce all ready it's time to make the pasta. I was surprised to find that making pasta is not a technically difficult or a particularly time consuming thing to do... but it's still likely you won't be 100% happy with your first effort. Why? For me it was because... apparently... nobody seems to have thought to standardize the settings on pasta machines. So somewhere between the thinnest and thickest settings (even this range varies from machine to machine) is what you want and you are only going to be able to find that by luck or experience. I made two batches on my machine which numbers its settings from 1 (thinnest) to 7 (thickest) and didn't quite get it right either time... once too thick (4) and once too thin (2) so now I know I want the third setting for my next batch of tagliatelle. In both cases the pasta was still quite delicious, but you are probably going to want some dry pasta on hand just in case you are disappointed with your early efforts.

As far as ingredients go... we actually have 00 pasta flour on hand because we're annoying food people who care about this sort of thing (note we also have 00 pizza flour which is totally different)... but Marcella says you don't really need anything other than all purpose and I suspect she is probably correct. The basic ratio she calls for is 1 cup of flour to 2 large eggs for 3/4 of a pound of pasta... which translates somewhere from 3 to 6 portions depending on whether you are thinking of main course or appetizer size or something in between. If you are confident in your pasta making then I would double it (i.e. 2 cups of flour and 4 eggs) since you can let leftovers dry naturally and keep them for weeks... but otherwise it probably makes sense to work in small batches until you get the hang of it.

If you are OCD about baking things (like me) and prefer weights then just weigh the eggs and use 1 to 1.5 times as much flour.

Cutting Tagliatelle

Not to insult all the wonderful Italian grandmothers out there, but one tip I will give you is that dumping your flour onto the counter, making a well in said flour, and then pouring eggs into it is a great way to end up with eggs on the floor. Just do it in a bowl... I promise I won't tell anybody.

Otherwise the progression is to combine your flour and eggs together until well mixed. You don't want the dough to be sticky, so be prepared to add more flour (especially true if you are using 00 flour and aren't doing things by weight since it weighs less per cup than all purpose) as you mix. Marcella says you should be able to poke your finger into the dough and not have it come out sticky.

Then you knead for 5-10 minutes until velvety smooth (possibly adding more flour if it is too sticky). After you let it rest for 30 minutes or so under a towel or plastic wrap you are ready for the pasta machine.

Multiply the number of eggs you used by 3 and divide your dough into that many pieces (i.e. 6 pieces for 2 eggs and 1 cup of flour). You'll need lots of free space from this point forward, so clear off some counters and or tables and put down clean dish towels. These pieces are going to get quite long, but note that you can always hang them over the edge of the counter.

Tagliatelle Birdsnests

Now you just set your pasta machine to the widest setting and run a piece of pasta dough through. You'll get a rectangle about this big. Fold it into thirds... like you are folding a letter (does anybody even do that anymore? might need to find a new analogy)... then feed the narrow end through the pasta machine. Repeat this process a couple of more times before moving onto the next piece of dough.

Once you've run all of your dough through the widest setting, simply turn the setting down one notch and run each piece of dough through again (don't do the letter folding thing though). From here on out things are pretty quick, though the dough gets progressively more unweildy because of its length... you just turn the setting to the next narrowest and then run through each rectangle of dough a single time. Here is what the dough looks like after the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th pass. As mentioned above I've basically settled on settled on using setting #3 (5th pass) on my machine for tagliatelle but unless you have an "Al Dente" pasta machine (and pasta preferences similar to mine) you are going to have to figure out what setting you prefer by trial and error.

Cutting tagliatelle must be done by hand... just fold it up over itself use chef's knife to cut 1/2" wide strips(see picture). You need to let them dry a bit before you cut or otherwise the strands will stick together... but you don't want to wait until they are too dry or the pasta will crack when you cut it. One option for cutting is to roll up all the pasta dough stips together which will speed things up, but since 2 strips works out to once serving I just cut them in stacks of two and then, after separating the individual strands, piled them into little bird nests to dry. Note that while they will last for weeks once dried completely (24 hours) they do become quite fragile so be careful storing them.

How long they take to cook is determined by how thick and how dry the pasta is... fresh thin pasta can be done in 2-3 minutes but thicker and drier pasta tends to be more like the boxed kind and takes on the order of 5-10 minutes.

Totally worth doing... don't be intimidated by pasta making like I was! Just remember that it's only flour and eggs, so it's not like you are going into the poor house if you need to start over.