Meats

 

A Summer Cassoulet

A Summer Cassoulet

 

A traditional cassoulet is not a dish that springs to mind as summer arrives, but it is one of my favorite go to meals, especially when entertaining. With a few considered adjustments a classic winter cassoulet can be transformed into a scrumptious lighter  cassoulet to add to your summer meals repertoire.

Cassoulet is a well known and much loved regional classic stew made with white beans and assorted meats from the Languedoc region of France. Traditional versions vary but typically include duck or goose confit, pork or lamb, and some well seasoned local sausage. All placed in a deep earthenware crock along with cooked white beans seasoned with aromatic herbs and slow baked to golden perfection. Very much a rich hearty meal for the winter months that is anchored and bound together by flavors derived from copious amounts of duck fat used to preserve the confit. Without a doubt, absolutely delicious!

However, by using lean meats and sausages, and chicken rather than duck or goose, dramatically reduces the fat content without sacrificing flavor. The resulting “summer cassoulet” is every bit as flavorful as a classic cassoulet by simply applying a lighter healthier approach to your summer cookery.

Another reason a cassoulet is a favorite is that all the elements required for the finished dish are made in advance which is ideal for entertaining or for easy assembly for consecutive meals.

There are essentially three elements to prepare for a cassoulet. Cooking the beans, creating a flavorsome cassoulet broth for braising, and a final browning of the meats and finally baking of the cassoulet.

 

A Summer Cassoulet

A Summer Cassoulet

 

A Summer Cassoulet:   serves 4 to 6

For the beans:  Prepare a day in advance

  • 12 oz / 350 g dried white beans
  • 2 ¾ oz 75 g pancetta, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 quarts water + more as needed
  • small bunch fresh thyme sprigs tied together
  • salt freshly ground white pepper

Rinse the beans, place in a bowl, cover with plenty of water, and soak for 8 hours or overnight,

Place a stock pot on the stove over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta to the pot and saute, continuously stirring, until the fat is rendered and the meat is lightly browned.

Add the olive oil to the pan and when hot add the onions. Lower the heat slightly and stir until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute while stirring.

Add the bay leaves, the water, and the drained and rinsed  pre-soaked beans. Bring the water to a boil and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Add the thyme leaves. Cook the beans until they are soft but still holding their shape. Be sure to stir the beans now and again so they do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add more water as needed until the beans are finished cooking.

When the beans are finished remove them using a slotted spoon and place them in a large storage container.

Continue to simmer the cooking liquid until it is reduced and thickened slightly. At this point season the cooking broth with salt and pepper to taste. Keep in mind that the broth will be used later and reduced, so do not overly salt the broth.

Remove the bay leaves and thyme and discard, Transfer the broth to the container holding the beans and set aside on a cooling rack. When completely cool, cover the container and refrigerate.

For the cassoulet broth:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups diced onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled whole
  • ½ cup diced peeled carrots
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 quarts chicken stock, hot
  • herb bouquet; sprigs parsley, sprigs thyme, sprig rosemary 2 bay leaves

Hat the olive oil in a stock pot and when hot add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and carrots and cook a couple of minutes. Move the sauted ingredients away from the center of the pan and place the tomato paste in the center. Press the tomato paste against the bottom of the pan for a minute or until caramelized and a deep red color.

Add the stock and stir well. Add the herb bouquet and adjust the heat so the broth is gently simmering. Cook until the liquid is reduced by 1/3, about 1 ½ hours.

Remove from the stove and strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Then transfer the broth to a storage container, or containers, and set aside to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate if not using immediately. Discard the solids.

Meats:

  • 3 chicken legs and thighs, detached, skin, on
  • 1 pound / 450 g pork loin, cut into chunks
  • 1 pound/ 450 g well seasoned lean sausage
  • salt pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup white wine or water

Season the chicken and the pork generously with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat a large dutch oven or deep wide cast iron roasting pan over medium heat on the stove top. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and when smoking add the chicken pieces and evenly brown on all sides. Transfer them to a platter and set aside.

Add another tablespoon olive oil to the pot and add the pork and brown on all side. Transfer to the platter along with the chicken.

Add a final tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and dd the sausage to the pan and brown on all sides. Add a half cup of wine or water to the pan and stir until the liquid is reduced and the sausage is coated with the deglazed pan juices. Transfer the sausage to a separate plate and set aside to use later.

Assembling and roasting the cassoulet:

  • reserved cooked white beans with their broth
  • cassoulet broth
  • browned chicken
  • browned pork
  • browned sausage
  • flat leaf parsley

preheat the oven to 325 f/ 170 c

Add about 1/2 of the cooked beans along with some of their broth to the cleaned Dutch oven or cast iron roasting pan you used previously. Arrange the chicken pieces and pork on top of the beans and add just enough cassoulet broth to nearly cover the chicken and pork.

Transfer the pan to the oven and cook about 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and add the remaining beans tucked in around the edges of the pan and between the chicken and pork. Then tuck in the sausage in around the chicken and the pork. Add any remaining beans around the edges. Add cassoulet broth to nearly cover all and return the pan to the oven for another 45 minutes.

At this point if the liquid around the edges of the pan is not bubbling away increase the heat to 400 f/ 200 c. Add a little broth over the meats and return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.

When the cassoulet is done remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.

Combine and warm any remaining bean broth and cassoulet broth and set aside to use when serving.

Serving:

The cassoulet may be served directly from the pan or transferred to individual shallow bowls.

I like to present the cassoulet right out of the oven for all to feast their eyes on before serving.

You can then spoon the cassoulet into individual shallow bowls. Be sure to add some of the reserved combined broth mixture which is absolutely delicious when sopped up with crusty bread! Garnish with flat leaf parsley and serve.

The overall appearance of the cassoulet should be neither dry nor soupy. I lean toward ample amounts of broth as it really is the element that binds the cassoulet together.

Garnish with flat leaf parsley sprigs.

Suggested: Serve with a copious summer salad and a loaf of crusty bread!

Bon Appetite!

Thai Stir Fry with rum Marinated Pork loin and Chayote

Thai Stir Fry with rum Marinated Pork loin and Chayote

 

When the hot season, April- June, arrives in Thailand the last thing you want to do is spend much time in the kitchen. With temperatures tipping 40 c/ 104 f daily it is really HOT!

Being a hot country year round Thai cuisine has a unique hot weather appropriateness. Flash cooking fresh ingredients tossed together with assertive flavors and fiery spicy heat is what makes Thai cuisine so universally popular. The capsacin from fiery hot chiles stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain that instantly produces a sense of euphoria, while breaking into a sweat from the heat of chiles has a pleasant cooling effect as well. No wonder everyone loves Thai food!

The recipe that follows is a reinterpretation of a popular Thai stir fry dish; Kra Pao Moo (click here for recipe) . I have upped the ante in this recipe using a Thai rum marinated pork loin and included chayote to the stir fry that adds a fresh crisp element to the final dish.

Chayote

Chayote

Chayote originates from Central Mexico and widely used throughout Central and south America. Chayote was introduced to the old world during the Columbian exchange. From there it was transported through trade routes throughout Asia. Chayote is a member of the gourd family, and favored for its crisp texture and plentiful nutrients. The entire plant is eatable and often included in stir fried dishes throughout Asia. Seek it out! Widely available in Latin and Asian markets in North America as well.

 

Thai Stir Fry with Rum Marinated Pork Loin and Chayote    serves 4

To avoid the heat of the day during the hot season I like to marinate the pork in the morning and refrigerate it for the rest of the day. Prep all the other ingredients in the morning as well and refrigerate. That way the stir frying can be done very quickly in the evening without breaking a sweat!

Marinade:

  • 1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced and diced
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 3 kaffir/ makrut lime leaves
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup Thai Sang Som rum (or other dark rum)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound pork loin, silvery membrane removed and cut into 3 pieces
  • cold water to cover

Select a non reactive bowl just large enough to hold the pork loin and other ingredients. Place all the ingredients except the pork and water into the bowl and stir to combine. Then add the pork loin and, using your hands, massage the pork with the mixture until covered. Then add just enough water to cover all. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 8 hours.

Thai Red Chiles

Thai Red Chiles

Stir Fry:

  • marinated pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into medallions across the grain
  • 2-4 teaspoons oil
    1 onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced and halved
  • 2 chayote, peeled, halved, pit removed, sliced lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, cut into thin strips and diced
  • 1-3 Thai red chiles, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and very thinly sliced and then diced
  • reserved marinade
  • ½ cup fresh Thai sweet basil leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce or to taste
  • stock or water
  • additional fish sauce to taste
  • fresh lime wedges

A steel Chinese wok is ideal for stir frying food very quickly over intense heat. For more information on cooking with a wok (click here)

Heat your wok over a gas burner or charcoal fire and add the oil. Swirl the pan to coat the surface and promptly add the pork medallions and stack them all the way up the sides of the wok. Sear briefly and then turn the pork and continue searing. Once lightly browned promptly remove the pork from the wok and set aside. Total cooking time 2 to 3 minutes max. Reserve the marinade to use later.

Add a little more oil to the wok and add the onions, garlic, and red bell peppers. Toss and stir fry until softened and lightly colored. Then add the chayote and toss to combine. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the jalapenos and Thai red chiles and toss until combined. Then add the reserved marinade and cook for a couple minutes. Taste the chayote. Ideally you want the chayote to retain a refreshing crispness that will compliment the otherwise deeply flavorful stir fry.

Add the basil leaves and toss to combine. Taste the broth and add additional oyster sauce and fish sauce to taste. If the broth has reduced quite a bit you can add a little stock or water.

Finally add the reserved pork and toss until just heated.

Serving:

Just before serving squeeze some lime juice into the stir fry, toss, and you are ready to serve.

Serve with Thai Jasmine rice or, my favorite, Thai Jasmine brown rice. Have a bowl of lime wedges set out on the table as well.

Chili con Carne

 

I can’t think of any dish more satisfying than a steaming bowl of earthy chili when winter’s grip bears down in earnest. Not that that happens here in Thailand, but vivid memories of winter’s bite are forever embedded in my psyche none the less. Chili’s colorful cultural past adds an almost palatable celebratory air that makes it an ideal choice for those informal holidays meals that lie ahead. Chili does freeze beautifully so why not get a head start and have chili essentially ready on demand.

Whenever I sit down to write about chiles there is that lingering conundrum about spelling and usage of the words that always comes to mind. When to use Chile and when to use Chili? Having lived among both Spanish and Mexican communities in the American Southwest and in Los Angeles for some time I have have sorted out the usage, but there are still ongoing heated debates about the correct spelling, definition, and usage of the words chile and chili.

In short chile is the Spanish word for all varieties of peppers (capsicums) that they discovered when they arrived in the new world. In Mexico however the word chili stems from the Nahuatl/ Aztec language dating back to at least the 7th century which describes the plants that produce all varieties chilis (capsicums).

Of course today both words have garnered various meanings not only for the peppers themselves but also for dishes that are made with them.

For example, in the North American southwest the word chile is used to describe varieties of capsicums associated with various levels of scoville heat as well as dishes made with the them. In the rest of North America the word chili (chili con carne) describes the popular spicy Tex Mex stew like dish that contains ground meat in a chile and tomato based sauce that often includes beans. South of the border chili con Carne is a chunky meat stew in a spicy chili based sauce without the addition of beans.

Confused? Just to make the differentiation even a little more complicated the Nahuatl language is still widely used in rural central Mexico as is the word chili. So in Mexican communities living on both sides of the border use both words interchangeably.

Generally speaking, it is safe to say that chile is the appropriate word to reference all varieties of capsicums with heat. Chili is reserved for describing the popular dish chili con carne as well as the seasoning mixture of ground dried chile powder mixed with other seasoning spices. Pure ground chiles without other seasonings would be called chile powder.

For more tasty information on this spicy subject (click here) for Chili (Basics).

The recipe that follows more closely follows a Mexican chili con carne that includes dried chiles to deeply flavor the sauce. However I have used ground beef instead of chunks of beef, and included beans in the chili which are served separately in Mexico. For me, including the beans in the chili makes a more complex and richly flavorsome Mexican meal in a single bowl. But maybe I’m just biased having grown up eating Tex Mex chile.

 

Chili con Carne    serves 6

  • 12 dried guajillo chiles, split lengthwise, seeds removed
  • 1 or 2 dried chipotle chiles (or canned chipotles in adobo)
  • 6 garlic cloves, skin on
  • 3 tablespoons lard or cold pressed peanut oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican if available) 
  • 4 vine ripe tomatoes (or canned Italian plum tomatoes)
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon pure ground red chile powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt + more to taste
  • 1 quart beef or chicken stock + more as needed, preheated
  • 2 cups cooked beans (pinto, kidney, or black)
  • salsa fresca
  • crema or sour cream 
  • warm corn and flour tortillas

Warm a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat. Place the guahillo chiles in the skillet. Using a spatula press the chiles against the bottom of he pan. Let them toast for a minute or so and then flip them over, again pressing them against the bottom of the skillet and toasting another minute. Remove them and set them aside to cool briefly. Then remove the stems, tear the chiles into pieces, and place them in a sauce pan. Add the whole dried chipotle chiles and add just enough water to cover all the chiles and place the pan over low heat. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the chiles are soft and pliable, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Remove the stems from the chipotle chiles and transfer all the chiles to a blender jar and add enough cooking liquid to cover. Reserve the remaining cooking liquid to use later as needed,

Using the same skillet toast the unpeeled garlic cloves until they are lightly colored on all sides. Remove them and set them aside to cool. Then peel off the skin, mince the garlic, and set aside.

Add 1  tablespoons lard or oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot add the onions and saute until they are soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, ground cumin, and oregano and saute another couple of minute. Then transfer the contents of the pan to the blender jar.

Add 1  tablespoons of the lard or oil to the same skillet set over medium heat. When hot add the tomatoes (fresh or canned) and fry them until they are soft and lightly caramelized. Break them up and continue to cook until very soft. Then transfer them to the blender jar including the juices.

Add enough reserved chile liquid to to fill the blender jar to about half full. Begin pulsing until the ingredients are broken down and then increase the speed to high until the mixture is very smooth. If it is very thick thin with the remaining reserved chile liquid or stock.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of lard or oil in a soup or stock pot set over medium heat. When hot add the ground beef and cook until the meat is evenly browned, stirring from time to time. Add the clove, bay leaves, cocoa powder, red chile powder, and salt. Stir until well combined. Then pour in the hot stock and stir. When the contents reach a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
Add the beans and continue to cook another 30 minutes. The consistency of the chili should be very thick, but add a little stock to thin it out a bit if needed. Taste and add additional salt to taste. Skim off excess fat floating on the surface of the chili and discard.

At this point the chili is ready to serve. Otherwise transfer the chili to containers and cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating or freezing.

Serving:

This chili is so rich and flavorsome it needs very little embellishment other than a dollop of sala fresca and a swirl of sour cream or crema with each serving. Be sure to have a basket full of warm corn and flour tortillas and a bowl of salasa fresca placed on the table.

Crema is a Mexican sour cream that you can make by simply stirring a small amount of whole milk into a bowl of sour cream. 

Buen provecho!

Beef Barbacoa

Beef Barbacoa

 

Watching Christina Martinez making barbacoa in her South Philly Barbacoa restaurant (Chef’s Table, Se 5 Eps 1, Netflix) was, for me, the next best thing to being back in Mexico where food celebrates the very heart and soul of the country and its people.

Barbacoa originates from the central plains east of Mexico City where traditionally a lamb or a goat is slowly steamed in a deep pit lined with rocks preheated by a wood fire. The meat is marinated and wrapped in maguey (agave) leaves and steamed underground overnight. Cooking a barbacoa in Mexico is all about having a special meal for large family gatherings on weekends and for special holidays and fiestas.

Beef Barbacoa

Beef Barbacoa

A deeply flavored succulent Barbacoa is built around using a variety of locally grown sun dried chiles, traditional herbs and spices, and a seasoned cook’s attention to the nuances of slow cookery and taste. Most Ingredients can be found in Mexican shops and markets, in some super markets, or online. Once you have your sourcing resolved, you will find yourself making barbacoa on a regular basis. This is the kind of authentic Mexican food everyone loves to eat!

That said, home cooks can replicate a traditional barbacoa with a few adaptations in their own kitchen oven. No pit required.

I would suggest using beef or pork in lieu of lamb or goat unless you and your friends and family are seasoned regional Mexican food enthusiasts. Goat in particular is definitely an acquired taste and best cooked outside.

Making a barbacoa requires both time and effort, but you will will be abundantly rewarded with a truly authentic taste of Mexico. If time is a real issue you may want to speed up the cooking time using a pressure cooker or instant pot. Another tip, barbacoa freezes beautifully so you may want to double or triple the recipe and have barbacoa nearly ready on demand.

Beef Barbacoa   serves 6

Meat:

  • 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo beef brisket or chuck roast (or pork shoulder) cut into 3 equal size pieces, trimming off excess fat and skin

Marinade:

  • juice of 1 orange 
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • ¼ cup cider or white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a non-reactive bowl just large enough to hold the meat. Stir the marinade and add the meat, pressing the meat firmly down into the marinade to cover.

Cover the bowl with cling film and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Adobo Sauce:

  • 8 dried New Mexico Red or Mexican Guajillo chiles
  • 3 dried ancho chiles
  • 2 dried smoked chipotle chiles
  • 4 large garlic cloves, dry roasted and peeled
  • 1 small onion, peeled, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or to taste

Heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot place some of the dried chiles in the skillet without crowding. Using a spatula, press the chiles against the bottom of the skillet and toast them for 30 to 45 seconds. Turn the chiles and repeat, remove them, and set aside. This dry toasting intensifies the flavor of the chiles.

When the dry toasted chiles are cool enough to handle remove the stems, slit them open lengthwise, remove all the seeds and discard. Then tear the chiles into pieces and place them in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover and bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes and then set aside to cool. Drain the chiles, discard the cooking water, and set the chiles aside.

Using a blender, add the prepared softened dried chiles, sauteed onions, cumin, marjoram, black pepper, clove, sugar, cider vinegar, and salt. Blend all the ingredients together, scraping down the sides of the blender jar as needed, adding water as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. This may take several minutes.

Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and, using a silicon spatula, press the pureed sauce through the strainer until all the liquid has been extracted. Be sure to scrape off the residual sauce on the underside of the mesh strainer into the sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed.

Transfer the adobo sauce to a container, cover, and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 275 F/  135 C

For roasting/steaming:

  • 1 small onion, peeled, quartered and separated
  • 4 garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 6 whole cloves
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tomato blanched, skin removed and quartered, core removed
  • 2 jalapeno or fresh red chiles, quartered and seeds removed

Select a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid or a roasting pan. Place a shallow rack in the bottom of the pan of choice.

Remove the meat from the marinade and place it on the rack in the pan and add the marinade. Add  just enough water to the pan to raise the level of liquid in the pan to about half way up the side of the meat.

Distribute the onions over the meat and tuck in garlic, bay leaves, and cloves. Season with salt and pepper, and top with tomatoes and jalapeno slices.

Cover the pan with a lid or tightly secured foil and transfer to the oven. Set the timer for 4 hours. Then check to see if there is  sufficient liquid in the pan. If not replenish as needed. Repeat this every 2 hour until the beef is very tender and easily separated with a fork. Total cooking time will be between 7 and 9 hours. The longer the cooking time the more tender and flavorful the meat!

Once the meat is fully cooked set it aside covered until you are ready to serve.

Before serving you will want to remove the excess rendered fat gathered on top of the pan juices. Discard the fat or save for another purpose, like frying beans.

Before serving pull the beef apart using and reheat the reserved adobo sauce. The adobo should be the consistency of cream. If needed thin with pan juices. Spoon some adobo sauce over the pulled meat and serve the remaining adobo sauce in a bowl on the tables.

Serving:

  • corn and flour tortillas, warmed in a hot dry skillet (or comal, pictured) 
  • Salsa fresca  
  • salsa verde
  • quesso fresca or mild feta

Place the Barbacoa in the cooking pan on the  table along with corn and flour tortillas. Set out salsa and the quesso fresca for those who want to make barbacoa tacos.

 

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