Uni Risotto

Dining date: 8/1/13

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I’ve chronicled a number of risotto dishes on this blog, but I’ve been meaning to prepare a sea urchin (uni) risotto for a while. I was recently inspired by a meal at Mexicali Taco & Co., in which an uni-diving friend brought pounds of fresh urchin to top off our tacos. With some of the residual uni and its juices, I went home to finally prepare this risotto.

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Truffle Risotto

Dining date: 6/28/13

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Risotto is one of the rich, luxurious dishes associated with fine dining. The single most expensive dish I’ve ever eaten was a risotto, but it’s also something I’ve found to be fairly easy to make at home without costing a lot. I’ve definitely made my share of risotto dishes at home (my favorite thus far probably being this lobster risotto), and figured I’d make a truffled version (a classic pairing) when recently purchasing a fresh truffle.

This was my first time buying a fresh truffle, stumbling upon a black summer truffle at my local Japanese market. Unfortunately I couldn’t tell where it was from, but it looked/smelled as good as expected and the price was right…so I figured I’d buy it and give it a try.

Inspired by The French Laundry’s white truffle risotto, I sought out to duplicate Keller’s version at home, substituting my summer truffles for the white ones used in his recipe.

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Sous Vide Chicken Thighs

Dining date: 3/11/12

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While browsing the web for recipes in which to use my sous vide machine, I came across one that struck me immediately. It’s Michael Voltaggio’s recipe for crispy chicken thighs, posted on the Williams-Sonoma database. It’s very similar to a recipe I’ve prepared a number of times that includes brining chicken thighs in a thyme-based brine, letting it air dry in the refrigerator until its completely dry, and finally searing them up in a pan, basting with butter and herbs. Voltaggio’s recipe would be different mainly in that it involved a sous vide application, ensuring very precise and even cooking. Plus, I’ve always found it fun (and more trustworthy) to experiment with recipes from chefs whose food I’ve actually tried and enjoyed (see ink.).

The difference sous vide technique makes to chicken thighs isn’t quite as apparent as say, chicken breast, due to the fact that there’s a larger margin of error when cooking dark meat. When cooking dark meat, my fear is always towards undercooking rather an overcooking, so I tend to cook it a little bit past the point of doneness just to be sure. Cooking the thighs sous vide would help alleviate that, plus it would just be a fun way to continue experimenting with the technique.

The first step was a brine. Voltaggio’s recipe doesn’t include a brine and I’m not sure if he was just trying to keep it simple or if it’s just unnecessary (thighs have a ton of fat/flavor on their own). I had time, so I decided to brine half of my chicken overnight and leave the other half as is. Keeping it simple and mirroring the ingredients of the recipe, my brine consisted of salt, sugar, thyme, and garlic.

The verbatim recipe is below, from the Williams-Sonoma website:

Ingredients:

6 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed with a knife
2 or 3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. canola oil, plus more as needed
Directions:
Prepare a sous vide immersion circulator for use according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Preheat the water to 150°F, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Season the underside of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Place the thighs, skin side down, into a vacuum-sealable bag, making sure they lie flat. Add the garlic, thyme and butter to the bag. Using a vacuum sealer, vacuum and seal the bag tight according to the manufacturer’s instructions; be sure you have a smooth, airtight seal. Carefully place the bag into the circulating water and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Remove the thighs from the circulating water and place the bag into the ice water for 20 minutes. If serving the chicken that day, place the bag on a baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to sear the thighs. If serving the chicken the next day, place the bag, with the thighs skin side down, on a baking sheet. Place another baking sheet on top and weight it down with a heavy fry pan. Refrigerate overnight.

Just before serving, remove the thighs from the bag and pat dry with paper towels. In a large fry pan over medium heat, warm 1 to 2 Tbs. oil. Working in batches, place the thighs, skin side down, in the pan and cook until golden brown and crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the thighs over and cook until warmed through, about 2 minutes more. Transfer the thighs to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Repeat with the remaining thighs, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

I followed each step as precisely as I could:, first by vacuum sealing my chicken (note the “discoloration” of half of the pieces due to the brine).

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After leaving it in the water bath for about 90 minutes, I took the chicken out. Since the water bath was at 150F, this chicken was not yet fully cooked – the final sear would complete the process. As with most items cooked sous vide, it didn’t look very appetizing, basically resembling a boiled/poached piece of chicken. I dried them out as much as possible, knowing this would be key to getting a crispy skin.

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Once crisped up, I placed the chicken thighs atop Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, sprinkled some sea salt, and garnished with a sprig of thyme (just like the picture in the recipe!). I was pretty happy with the results and kind of surprised I was able to get the skin so evenly crispy. I attributed it to ensuring the skin was dry before putting it into the pan, as well as making sure the thighs were as flat as possible throughout the process (ensuring even cooking).

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The meat was delicious, very juicy and exuding the thyme perfume I was aiming for. Was there a significant difference between the brined and unbrined chicken? No I don’t think so; in fact, I couldn’t really tell the difference. Compared to my old method, I found the meat to have a more uniform texture and temperature…and I knew it was going to be cooked through.

I thought this was quick and easy enough as a weeknight meal; even better, a large batch can be prepared on the weekend and left in the refrigerator to be seared during the week. I’ll definitely be making this again.

Lobster Risotto

Dining date: 2/26/12

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When I first started to cook sous vide at home, one of the things I wanted to make was lobster. Like most seafood, it can be a bit challenging for me to prepare since it’s so easy to overcook. With sous vide, I could ensure it would be cooked perfectly each time. I really like seafood risotto, so I decided to pair the lobster with the rice dish. It would be an ideal way to use the whole lobster too, since the body/shell could be turned into a stock for the basis of the dish.

To start with, I purchased a 3+ pound live lobster. As far as I can remember, I’ve never handled a live lobster. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve had to dispatch anything live for consumption. I’ve read and seen that the quickest, most humane way to kill a lobster is with a knife through the middle of the head; when contemplating that, I felt it was too…direct. So I decided to go with the boiling water method, blanching the lobster for just a minute or two. In short, it had a slow-ish death; I immediately regretted it and was completely disturbed. I hate to say it, but I like to stay removed from the whole process of killing one’s own food.

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Once blanched, I regained my composure and took apart the lobster by twisting the tail off and pulling off the claws and legs. I removed all of the still-raw meat and cut up the shells in order to make a lobster stock. The sight of the whole tail was something else – conjuring up some willpower, I abstained from turning the tail into a lobster sashimi on the spot.

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The shells were sauteed, adding celery, onions, carrots, tomato paste, white wine, thyme, fennel fronds and a bay leaf. Finally, I added water to cover and simmered for about an hour and a half. I didn’t add any salt, figuring I would salt to taste in the final stages of the actual risotto. While simmering the aroma of the stock was incredible, making my apartment smell something like a seafood shack. I half expected the neighbors to come knocking for some fresh lobster rolls and chowder.

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At this point, preparing the lobster meat was probably the easiest part of the entire process. I cut the tail into two portions and combined each portion with one claw’s meat and a generous amount of butter in a vacuum-sealed bag. It would then sit in a 59.5C water bath for about 45 minutes.

Before:

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After:

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While the lobster was cooking, I prepared the risotto. I followed a recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook:

Saffron Risotto

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
Salt
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 teaspoon lightly crumbled saffron threads
1 cup dry white wine
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
Pepper

1. Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover and keep the broth warm over the lowest possible heat.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until lightly browned, about 9 minutes.
3. Stir in the rice and saffron threads and cook until the edges begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until it is completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the warm broth mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed, about 11 minutes.
4. Continue to cook, stirring in roughly 1/2 cup of the broth every few minutes, until the rice is cooked through but is still somewhat firm in the center, about 11 minutes.
5. Stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I followed the steps pretty closely with a few exceptions. First, I used carnaroli rice instead of arborio. Second, I used my homemade lobster stock (duh!) instead of chicken broth, as well as a much higher ratio of stock:water than what’s stated in the recipe. Third, I omitted the cheese.

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Finally, I plated the risotto, topping it with my lobster, chopped parsley, and some lemon zest. Voila!

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I was pretty happy with how everything turned out. As expected, the lobster was perfectly cooked – delightfully spongy and sweet. I think the risotto could’ve been a touch soupier, but I was still happy about it. Both the saffron and lobster stock brought a ton of flavor that really made the risotto, and I liked the lemon zest for the fresh citrus flavor without the tart acidity.

Looking back, it was a lot of work for one dish but it was pretty damn satisfying and I’d do it again. I would experiment with some shortcuts, including using just lobster tails, as well as playing with store-bought chicken/shellfish stock for a dish that would hopefully be close, but much quicker to prepare.

Fresh Rigatoni with Ragu Bolognese

Dining date: 2/5/12

6879052095 9aa513801f Fresh Rigatoni with Ragu Bolognese

I recently purchased a KitchenAid stand mixer (due to a deal I could not refuse) and immediately had dreams of freshly baked breads, cookies and pastries. However, while researching optional attachments, I came across the pasta extruder, a play-doh like attachment that basically pushes dough into various shapes to be cut. I had to have one.

I’ve made fresh pasta once before a couple of years ago with a manual pasta roller…it’s been sitting in the cabinet ever since. I found it to be pretty difficult and time consuming, and my result wasn’t even up to par with dried pasta. However, the extrusion method is much easier. Basically, a dough is made and pushed through various dies to create different shapes, then are cut manually. No need to roll pasta over and over.

Inspired by this post on food, je t’aime I set out to make fresh rigatoni with a ragu bolognese from the Mozza cookbook. The ragu was fairly easy – it took a lot of time (most of it idle), but had a lot of room for error. The pasta, on the other hand, had to have a dough that was just right. One thing’s for sure; every chef and cookbook has their own pasta recipe. I tried a number of them, but so far have found this one to work best for me. Interestingly, it requires no eggs, no kneading and no resting.

Pasta dough (food, je t’aime)

5 oz all purpose flour
5 oz semolina flour
4 fluid ounces warm water

1. Weigh flour and place in bowl of stand mixer.
2. With the paddle attachment, mix on low slowly dribbling in water to produce a wet and crumbly dough.

The dough is cut into walnut-sized pieces and fed into the extruder. It’s pretty fun to do (as long as it turns out well) and makes fresh pasta pretty quickly. The dough is the tricky part; if it’s too sticky/wet, the pasta won’t hold its shape and will get stuck together. If it’s too dry, extrusion becomes noticeably more difficult and the resulting pasta becomes too dense.

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To pair with the rigatoni, I went with Mozza’s ragu bolognese.

Ragu bolognese (The Mozza Cookbook)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves
2.5 ounces pancetta, roughly chopped or ground
1 cup soffritto
1/2 of a 4.5 ounce tube double-concentrated tomato paste
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup whole milk

1. Combine oil and garlic in bowl of a food processor. Add pancetta and puree until ingredients form a homogenous paste.
2. Cook mixture over medium heat until the fat from the pancetta is rendered, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the garlic from browning.
3. Stir in the soffritto and cook for about 1 minute.
4. Move the vegetables to create a bare spot in the pan, add the tomato paste to that spot and cook for 1 minute.
5. Add veal and pork, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the juices released from the meat have cooked off and the pan is almost dry, about 10 minutes.
6. Add the wine, increase heat to medium high and cook until the wine has evaporated and the pan is almost dry, about 10 minutes.
7. Add the chicken stock, bring it to a simmer, reduce heat and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the stock has almost all cooked off but the pan is not completely dry.
8. Add the milk and simmer until the ragu returns to a thick, saucy consistency, 30-40 minutes.
9. Use the ragu, or allow it to cool to room temperature and refrigerate in an airtight container.

Finishing the pasta

Kosher salt
3/4 cup chicken stock or pasta water
3 teaspoons unsalted butter
12 ounces pasta
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano

1. Combine 1.5 cups of the ragu, the chicken stock and butter in a large saute pan over medium heat.
2. Stir ingredients to combine and heat until the butter is melted and sauce is warmed through, adding more chicken stock if necessary to obtain a loose sauce consistency.
3. Turn off the heat while the pasta is cooking.
4. Cook pasta until 1 minute from being done.
5. Place sauce over high heat. Lift pasta out of cooking water, drain and immediately add to the pan with the sauce.
6. Cook the pasta with the sauce for 2 minutes, stirring gently with a rubber spatula so you don’t tear the pasta. Add pasta water if the pasta is dry and sticky instead of slippery and glistening.
7. Turn off the heat and add the finishing quality olive oil, stirring vigorously and shaking the pan to emulsify the sauce.
8. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino romano and stir to combine.
9. Plate pasta and use a microplane or fine grater to grate a light layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano over plate and serve.

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Expectantly, the ragu was the easy part (technically) though there were a lot of steps. As expected, it exhibited a rather rich (there’s a lot of fat) and luscious sauce, definitely meaty. Simple and delicious. I added a little bit of chopped parsley on top.

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Over the course of a few days, I prepared various batches of pasta and came up with some I thought were pretty good and some that were just bad. While I liked the taste and texture of my “pretty good” pasta, they didn’t hold their shape very well, falling in on themselves.

These held their shape perfectly, but were way too dense.

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My understanding is that the ideal dough for extrusion is different from one that goes through a pasta roller (particularly with the kneading and resting period), though I’m not entirely sure. For some reason, pastas in which I added egg, kneaded, and rested turned out way too sticky. If anyone has a pasta extruder and tips to share, I’d love to hear them!

Pappardelle with Oxtail Ragu

Dining date: 1/2/11

6682918079 48429866dd Pappardelle with Oxtail Ragu

A meaty ragu (with pasta) is one of my favorite foods. If there’s one on the menu, there’s a pretty good chance I’m ordering it. One of my favorites is an oxtail ragu commonly served with a wide, flat pappardelle pasta. There’s just something about the beefy, meaty oxtails imparting their flavor into a rich and hearty sauce with pasta. It’s a dish I’ve wanted to make for some time but was never quite confident enough in my ability to do it. Turns out, it was actually fairly easy. Just takes a little time, but it was well worth it.

As with any dish, there are tons of different recipes out there but I found one from Mario Batali out of the Babbo Cookbook. With the Batali name attached to it, I chose this one to follow…well, mostly. Technically it’s for gnocchi with oxtail ragu, but I figured I could follow the recipe and just substitute the gnocchi for pasta. The recipe is as follows:

Recipe (adapted from Mario Batali, Babbo Cookbook)
2.5 lbs oxtail
Kosher salt and ground pepper
Flour, for dredging
1 onion, diced
2 cups red wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Pecorino romano, for grating
Pasta/gnocchi

Salt and pepper the oxtails and dredge oxtails in flour. Sear until well-browned on all sides. Remove oxtails.

Add onion and cook until lightly browned, a few minutes. Add red wine, scraping up the browned bits, followed by the chicken stock, tomato sauce and fresh thyme. Bring to a boil.

Add back the oxtails and their juices to the pot and put into a 375 degree oven for 3 hours.

Once oxtails are tender and falling off the bone, remove from sauce and let cool. Strain the sauce or blend all ingredients to achieve a smooth consistency.

Once the meat has cooled, pull meat apart from bones and shred into small pieces. Add back into sauce.

Cook pasta according to directions. In a saucepan, add meat and sauce to warm. Once pasta is a couple of minutes away from being done, drain and place pasta in saucepan with enough pasta water to maintain desired sauce consistency. Cook sauce and pasta together until well-incorporated and pasta is done. Plate and grate cheese over the top.

I followed the recipe fairly closely, carefully browning the meat and braising them until tender. Once the braise was done, I let the oxtails sit for a few hours to cool and for the fat (and there was a lot of it) in the sauce to settle at the top, where I tried to skim as much as I could. As much as I love oxtails, they’re not the healthiest cut of meat – there’s a ton of fat (flavor!). I tried to minimize that as much as possible in this step. I then blended the sauce up in its entirety to create a smooth consistency.

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Once the meat was pulled apart and put back into the sauce, I was ready to assemble the pasta. I experimented with two different dried pappardelle pastas (as much as I would’ve loved to use fresh pasta with this, it’s a lot of work and I’m not very good at it) – a thicker, wider Delverde variety and a thinner, eggier Rustichella pappardelle. Basically, those were the two varieties my local Bristol Farms carried.

Taste-wise, I preferred the thicker and wider Delverde pasta but found it to break apart while cooking far too easily. I could understand it breaking apart if overcooked, but these guys starting falling apart after a few minutes of cooking. The Rustichella variety held up together perfectly during the cooking process, but it didn’t have the same mouth feel as the thicker Delverde.

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Fully assembled and plated pasta with the Delverde.

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And the Rustichella.

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I also experimented with a couple of added touches. I liked adding some bitter greens (I had some Chinese broccoli on hand, of which I used just the leaves – they worked very similar to rapini); I thought it added a whole new dimension, and its fresh, slightly bitter flavor helped to offset the richness of the dish. Plus, it made me feel less guilty about eating this in large quantities. I also did one with some clementine zest (’tis the season!) which added some bright citrus to help cut through the richness, though I preferred just the greens.

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I was pretty happy with the way this turned out. I’m still searching for the perfect pasta (it may have to be made fresh…sigh) but I thought the ragu was exactly what I was looking for. Rich and tremendously flavorful, it would’ve worked well on any pasta. Or even mashed potatoes. Or spread on some toasted bread. Probably with any starch. I’ll definitely be making this again.