Wagyu Steak

Dining date: 8/27/11

plates steak2

A good steak. I can’t think of any other food that is so delicious, yet so simple to cook. In terms of ingredients, salt, pepper and a good piece of meat are all you need. That’s pretty much all I used here.

I stumbled upon a steak that immediately caught my eye – a Snake River Farms wagyu (commonly known as Kobe) New York. Technically it’s not 100% wagyu, rather a cross-breed between Japanese wagyu cattle and American Black Angus (“American wagyu“). As far as I know, 100% wagyu beef from Japan is no longer available in the U.S. and will not be for a long time. A foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2010 killed much of the stock and exports are currently banned.

For me, American wagyu is probably my favorite for a steak. Pure wagyu is incredibly fatty – because of this (and the cost), it’s best enjoyed in smaller quantities. American wagyu, since it’s cross-bred, finds a happy medium between the wagyu and Black Angus, resulting in a steak that is very well-marbled and not too fatty in large portions.

Beautiful.

raw steak

I cook just about all of my steaks in a cast iron pan, searing and finishing in the oven. I get the pan as hot as I can…smoking hot (literally), sear for a couple of minutes on each side, then use a meat thermometer in the oven. Because of the quality of the meat, I was shooting for somewhere in the high range of rare, low range of medium-rare. I think I got just that at around 125 degrees.

cooked steak

sliced steak

plated steak1

Served on top of a bed of garlic-sauteed spinach. Execution-wise, I thought it was spot on. I achieved a nice crusty sear, and finishing in the oven helped me get the uniformly pink meat. As expected, it was extremely tender, juicy and flavorful. Was it the best steak I’ve ever cooked? Hard to say. It’s definitely between this one and the dry-aged, bone-in ribeye from McCall’s that I made last year. I thought that one had a beefier flavor (no doubt aided by the dry aging process), but I can’t really compare a ribeye and New York strip side-by side. I would just conclude that this was a delicious steak, and I was pretty proud of it.

Seafood Risotto

Dining date: 8/21/11

risotto2

Risotto is one of my favorite dishes; there’s something very comforting about it. Creamy and rich, it’s shockingly simple with the most basic recipes only involving a few ingredients. I think it’s pretty easy to make an edible risotto, but making a great one is tough. Temperature too low? Then the rice ends up mushy. Temperature too high? Then the exterior of the rice cooks before the interior. The timing needs to be right too – the rice should be served al dente.

Over the last week and a half, I’ve been playing around with making various risotto dishes, varying the ingredients (mushrooms, truffle oil, seafood) and heat control. I’ve experimented with two types of rice. Arborio seems to be the most popular from all the recipes I’ve been reading, but lately I’ve been using carnaroli. Not coincidentally, it’s the rice that Thomas Keller uses, and the rice used in the best risotto I’ve ever had (see: white truffle risotto at The French Laundry).

carnaroli

The basics of a risotto sound simple enough: sweat onions in fat, add rice and coat in fat, add wine, periodically add stock until rice is cooked (stirring often), and finish with butter and/or cheese.

risotto1

My latest one is a seafood risotto with saffron as the main spice. I stumbled upon some good looking sea scallops this weekend, so I decided to incorporate them too. The rest of the seafood was shrimp and bay scallops. Peas would add color and ensure I’m still eating my vegetables.

I added the shrimp to the risotto a couple of minutes before the rice was finished and let it cook in the heat of the risotto. I added peas, bay scallops and butter off the heat, stirring to incorporate.

scallops

risotto3

 The risotto was pretty good. I thought the flavors were on point and I was pretty proud of the sear I achieved on the scallops (keeping the interior translucent). They were cooked perfectly. The rice was al dente, but the risotto wasn’t as creamy as I wanted. The risotto I made days earlier was creamier and richer (see below). I think I didn’t stir enough. Oh well, live and learn. Still, I was pretty happy with the dish; I’m amazed I haven’t overcooked any seafood yet. I hope to be experimenting with lobster and truffles sometime in the near future.

risotto4

 

Pork Chop

Dining date: 7/30/11

I’ve been trying to cook more pork. It’s a pretty reasonably priced meat (able to be eaten on a regular basis) but I really don’t cook it too often.

I grew up not really liking pork, especially the chops. My earliest memories are of thin, lean pork chops being cooked well-done, yielding a dry and mealy meat. Of course, there were the occasional ribs, carnitas or bacon, but the pork staple at home would be these well-done chops. My mother would often mention the words E. coli or salmonella whenever I inquired why, and she had the government on her side – until recently, the USDA recommend all pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees (in May, it was reduced to 145 degrees).

Once I started dining out more often (for the longest time I never, ever ordered a pork chop), I realized how tasty these loin cuts could be. A thicker cut, cooked to a medium temperature, could be a delicious piece of meat. I’d be lying if I said I preferred a pork chop over a beef steak, but it’s a nice change of pace and usually much cheaper.

I found some good looking pork chops at my local Bristol Farms and decided to take some home to cook. I often get confused on some of the cuts by name – what I took home was akin to a beef t-bone, which I think is also known as a center cut chop or a loin chop. There’s also the rib chop from the rib section and akin to a beef rib-eye.

I opted for a brine. Salt, sugar, bay leaves, rosemary, fennel seed and garlic.

Like with my steaks, I often like to sear on really high heat and finish in the oven. No different here. I patted the pork with garlic salt, pepper and some fennel and seared on cast iron. The rest of the cooking was done in the oven – I was looking for an internal temperature of around 135 degrees upon removing from the oven. Resting the pork would take it up to the low 140s.

There was a good deal of fat left in my pan and I knew exactly what to do with it. I parboiled some potatoes and crisped them up in the fat!

I’ve been a huge fan of corn season and I love cutting the corn off the cob and sautéing it. I did that here, with a little bit of spinach.

I thought the pork turned out pretty well. I wish I achieved more of a sear, but it was tender and juicy. Clearly, the brine did its job. Loved the potatoes, crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, while the corn was sweet with just the slight bite I was looking for.

Braised Lamb Shanks

Dining date: 6/5/11

I was recently inspired to braise some lamb shanks on a recent trip to my local Whole Foods. They had a spread of some pretty nice looking lamb shanks, and at $6.99/lb, I thought they were reasonably priced. I’d be able to braise a whole bunch and even bring some for lunch to work during the week.

I followed a recipe from my trusty America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook:

Ingredients

6 lamb shanks, 3/4 to 1 pound each, trimmed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped coarse
2 carrots, peeled chopped coarse
2 ribs celery, chopped coarse
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups dry red wine

Instructions

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pat shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of the shanks, reducing the heat if the fat begins to smoke, about 10 minutes. Transfer the shanks to a large plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining shanks.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left in the pot and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomato paste, herbs and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits. Add the shanks. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Uncover and continue braising until shanks are browned and the meat is falling off the bone, 45 to 60 minutes, flipping the shanks over halfway through the cooking time.

Remove pot from oven and let shanks rest in the sauce for 15 minutes. Transfer the shanks to individual plates and portion the vegetables around each shank. Spoon off any fat from the cooking liquid, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon some of the cooking liquid over each shank before serving.

I followed this recipe pretty closely, using a Côtes du Rhône as the wine of choice.

raw shanks

browned shanks

cooked shanks

I was pretty happy with how the lamb turned out. It was really tender; truly fall-off-the-bone. I found the meat to be rather gamey though, and I’m not sure if that was a result of my cooking skills (or lack thereof) or the lamb itself. I’d definitely make this again though. It was relatively easy to make, comforting and pretty damn tasty.

Wonton Noodle Soup

Dining date: 5/10/11


One of the most comforting foods in my childhood (and still now) is a good bowl of wonton soup. It’s a dish that every Chinese restaurant seems to have, but they can vary quite a bit from bowl to bowl. When I order it in a restaurant, there’s often only 4-5 dumplings in a bowl. For something so good, I always want more. So, I decided to make some at home.

I’ve made homemade wontons only a few times in my lifetime. This would only be my second time since moving out of my parents’ house almost 8 years ago. It’s a little bit of work, but the payoff is definitely worth it. There are so many things you could put in a wonton wrapper – I chose to do mine using shrimp and ground pork. I wish I could put down the recipe but truthfully, I just eyeballed everything. I used about 3 parts pork to 1 part shrimp, finely sliced green onion, lots of grated ginger, and a little bit of soy sauce and oyster sauce. Pretty simple.

Wrapping these little guys up was actually a little easier/quicker than I remembered. Put filling in, wet edges and fold in half, then twist into distinctive shape and seal.

To accompany the wontons, I had some fresh noodles, bok choy, and a chicken broth infused with ginger and scallions.

Delicious! I’d have to say these turned out very good; if anything, I’d probably add more grated ginger and scallions next time. But still, I was very happy with these…I’ll have to make some more soon.

Experimenting a little bit, I also made some pan-fried dumplings with a thicker wrapper.

I don’t have any wrapping technique so I just folded these in half. These were quite good too – there was a good amount of surface area to make them nice and crispy, and the filling was just as good as in the wontons.

Oven Pulled Pork

Dining date: 5/1/11

sandwich2

I’ve been wanting to make some type of pulled pork for a little while. I wish I had an outdoor smoker – I would totally have smoked a pork shoulder by now. Alas I do not, but I stumbled upon some recipes for oven pulled pork that promised good results.

Combine this with the fact that I stumbled upon these two items from Thomas Keller’s line of Ad Hoc goods, and my idea was set.

rubbbq sauce

I’ve had very good results with some of TK’s at-home products (see: Ad Hoc Fried Chicken), and this would be an opportune time to try some more of them.

Preparing and cooking the pork required lots of time, though with minimal effort. I started by applying the rub all over the pork the night prior, planning to let it sit and marinade in the refrigerator overnight. I also added some fennel seed, as well as fresh garlic and rosemary into some of the cavities.

raw roast

Early in the morning, I set my oven to 225 degrees. I roasted the pork low and slow for about 10 hours until the internal temperature was 195 degrees. It really seemed to take forever; I had my thermometer in the whole time and I could see the increase in temperature become exponentially slower….I remembered something about this in my high school science class.  Resisting the urge to turn up the oven temperature, the gentle cooking ensured the connective tissue had a chance to break down and let the meat become nice and tender.

cooked roast

The exterior of the pork developed a crisp “bark,” and I could easily tell the interior was full of tender meat. However I stayed patient and let it rest for a little while, then separated the large chunks of fat from the meat, and broke apart the meat with two forks.

pulled pork

Voila! I ate some of this right away – the pork was tender, flavorful and moist. But I knew it could be better – I tossed some of the meat in the barbecue sauce and created a sandwich.

sandwich1

I paired the sandwich with some simple potato chips. These were actually pretty good in the sandwich too, adding some saltiness and texture to the sweet, tender meat. I was pretty happy with the way this turned out, and it’s a very cost-efficient way to feed a crowd (pork shoulder/butt is usually less than $2/lb). Though in this case, the Ad Hoc ingredients were quite expensive. One could create a similar rub and BBQ sauce at home for much cheaper, but it was fun to try.