It’s Springtime for Salmon, if you can get it

The most refreshing, balanced salad as a meal I've ever tasted.

I hear it’s been hot across the rest of the country, but in the Bay Area it just warmed up a bit this Sunday. And in warm weather, it is hard to eat anything but a salad or a sorbet (though it wasn’t, actually, all that warm here. Nobody has air conditioning–it’s a bit of a disaster if it gets above 85 F, but even so it always cools down at night. Okay, no more bragging, but there must be some reason for the astronomical property values.)

This is a springtime riff on a healthy salad I’ve been making from my grad-school days. It’s based on a traditional Italian salad of white beans sauteed in olive oil and garlic, with olive oil-cured tuna, parsley, onions, and lemon juice. I often swap ingredients based on what I have on hand, or to create different flavor profiles, but the basis of the recipe remains–beans plus cured fish plus herbs/greens plus aromatics in a lemon/olive oil dressing. It is my favorite healthy lunch. I usually eat it on toast or on greens as a salad. I was actually inspired to make this by the salmon at the Farmer’s Market. This is the first year since I’ve moved to the Bay Area that salmon stocks were healthy enough for the department of fish and game to allow a salmon season, so I grabbed some when I had the chance. That plus these adorable red onion scallions and mini spring lettuces from the market made me think of my go-to lunch. Peas from the garden round it out, and fingerling potatoes make up for the carbs I’m missing from the dried beans.
Though I haven’t yet adopted any sous-vide cooking devices, or even a true vacuum sealer (my cheapo variety Seal-a meal present couldn’t last the 6 years since I’d gotten it, and is now made up of a vacuum device not held together by brittle, broken plastic parts), but I do recommend the “sous-vide” (cooking, in a water bath, at the ultimate temperature you want the product to obtain) technique in many cases, especially salmon. I find 50 C to be the perfect temperature. I came upon this after reading an aside in Thomas Keller’s Under pressure that “salmon cooked to 120 F (48.9 C) tends to be moist and slightly tacky), wheras salmon cooked to 123 F (50.6 C) is  slightly firmer and no longer tacky.” So much like Barbara Lee, my congresswoman, 50 C works for me.

Raw Pacific Salmon

50 C Salmon:

    1. Heat a large pot of water to 50 C (122 F), or if you have a sous-vide water bath, set the temp on that. This is near the temperature of hot tap water. Also, bring a couple cups of water to a boil in case adjustments of waterbath temperature are needed.
    2. Make enough 5% brine to cover salmon. For 1 liter, add 3/4 cup table salt to 1 L cool tap water.
    3. Place salmon in 5% brine for 10 minutes. This helps season the salmon and reduces the amount of albumin (white goo) on the surface of the cooked salmon.
    4. Lightly pepper the surface of the salmon. Feel free to add other herbs at this stage, but start with small quantities, as they tend to taste more concentrated than they would with other cooking methods.
    5. Add olive oil and salmon to a Ziploc or other sealable bag. Squeeze out air and seal.
    6. Place bagged salmon in water bath. Swirl and check temperature. Add boiled water if necessary to bring temperature back up to 50 C.
    7. Set timer for 15 minutes. Check on water temperature occasionally, adding more hot water to keep temp at 50 C.
    8. Remove at 15 minutes and serve, or refrigerate without opening for use in future recipes.

Salmon cooked to 50 C.

Springtime Salad:

    1. Bring potatoes to a boil in heavily salted water. Boil for 20-25 minutes or until tender.
    2. Blanch snow peas. I do so by placing them in a strainer and placing it over the boiling potatoes for 1.5-2 minutes. I like them fairly crisp.
    3. Chop scallions thinly. I use the bottom half and save the rest of the green parts for another recipe. I don’t mean just the white portion–I like a mix of crunchiness and herbiness for this salad.
    4. Chop dill and parsley (or other herbs) finely. Tail and cut snow peas into 1cm lengths or so.
    5. Combine scallions, herbs, snow peas, olive oil, and salmon in large bowl and mix to combine. 50 C salmon will break up while mixing, so no need to work too hard flaking it, though very firmly cooked salmon may need to be flaked. In any case, make sure you remove any remaining bones before mixing. Remove skin if still present.
    6. Cut fingerling potatoes into slices while still warm–a serrated knife works best.
    7. Add potatoes to bowl, season with salt and pepper, and mix.
    8. Add the juice of one lemon, remix, and taste for salt and pepper. I like to add plenty of each. You can also adjust the amount of herbs, olive oil, and lemon at this point.
    9. Serve in lettuce cups, or atop chopped lettuce.

      Seriously delicious

Cooking Lucky Peach: Arpege Egg

This is it.

Lucky Peach, the magazine from two of my favorites from different worlds–McSweeney’s and David Chang, is one of the few things I have had high expectations of that has managed to exceed those expectiations. I am the sort of person who likes to keep my expectations low. For example, if many trusted friends tell me I have to see, and will love a movie, such as “Lost in Translation” and I think it is a good movie, but nothing particularly special (but better than most to all other movies out at the time) I’ll be disappointed. But if I’m dragged to a romantic comedy that I expect to be terrible and it is watchable to enjoyable I’ll be pleased. I’m fickle!! I think it is a matter of judging something not against everything else, but against how good I could imagine such a thing could be. And I was worried, because I couldn’t tone down expectations on this one, yet it was everything it could and should be and more–fiction, narrative, recipes, and travelogue. Not to mention the adorable and useful graphics.

Just like the phone pic of Weiner’s Wiener, I took this low res picture to prove I have this and you don’t.

As you can see from the above picture, the recipes in Lucky Peach are presented flowchart style. This totally makes sense to me, as not only are you often following several separate foci in recipes, I view the recipes as a guideline, not a prescription to be followed, which can often be better indicated by a flowchart indicating which elements/stages are important, and which follow under those.

I have never eaten at L’Arpège (as I have an income level which rarely makes high-end cuisine seem worth it to me) but was intrigued by the recipe–an egg with maple syrup, sherry vinegar, and whipped cream. My favorite dishes are those where I can’t quite imagine how the combination of ingredients will taste, or where the listed combination tastes much better than expected. So this piqued my curiosity (though I’m sure I’ll get to most of the recipes in this issue (ramen gnocchi, WTF?). I halved the recipe, just because (it was only I eating eggs).

2 eggs
1/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 tsp. sherry vinegar
3/4 tsp. sugar
4 tsp. maple syrup
salt
pepper
chives

Heat oven to 400F and prepare the whipped cream. In my opinion this is the best element of the recipe. I will definitely be making whipped  cream with sherry vinegar again, as I couldn’t stop licking the whisk from this preparation. And just in case people are wondering if you can whip just 1/4 cup of cream–absolutely yes. In fact, it took so little time to whip up that I was worried about over-whipping while adding the sugar and vinegar.

You can easily whip as little as 1/4 cup of cream.

So whip the cream, then add sherry vinegar and sugar. Refrigerate in a pastry bag, or, in my case ziplock bag.
Prepare the eggs by cutting off enough of the top to remove the yolk. Initially I was quite annoyed with myself for having an egg topper in my Amazon cart for months and not checking it out (let’s not even talk about the ice cream maker), but it was not as difficult to remove the top of the egg as I had imagined. Once I pierced the top of the egg with a large needle it was easy to cut and/or broke the rest of the top of the egg off.

My first attempt at egg topping.

So remove the egg top and the interior. The recipe says to clean the interior egg for all white parts,  but I find the chalaza (the white, ropy part) usually sticks to the yolk, rather than the shell so I did my best to pull it off the yolk. I returned the yolk and 2 tsp. maple syrup and a pinch of salt to each cleaned eggshell (which seemed like a ridiculous amount of sweetener, but who was I to question the guy who came up with one of my favorite recipes, Fuji apple salad:  Kimchi, Smoked Jowl, and maple labne)?

looks about right–thickened but not solid, though where did the white stuff come from?

I placed the eggshells in egg cups, in a pan with an inch of hot water (not actually covering the eggs, and placed in the oven for 6 minutes, 30 seconds. The recipe indicates 5-7 minutes, but I wasn’t  sure my oven was preheated adequately, so I went on the higher end, but the edges of my egg were overcooked (not traditionally overcooked, as egg yolks go, but definitely solidish, which was not what I expected from the proviso that the goal was to warm the yolks and give them some body.)

The opulent interior.

Finish the egg with freshly ground pepper and chives.

I thoroughly enjoyed the production. The flavors blended so well that even though I knew I was eating an egg yolk cooked at 400F with maple syrup, it just tasted like one of the most delicious egg breakfasts I’ve ever had.

Red curry pumpkin soup

I can't imagine anything more warming.

Yes, this does seem a bit out of season, but so does rain in the Bay Area in late June. I happened to have some roasted kabocha squash in the freezer, and I always have Thai red curry paste on hand, so I quick soup was just what I needed at the end of a long, rainy day. It is based of a true Thai dish, pumpkin red curry usually made with a kabocha-like squash and pork. This recipe is, in concept, that, thinned and blended smooth.

2 cups cooked winter squash or pumpkin
1-2 shallots, sliced
1-2 T red curry paste (I usually have a tub of Mae Ploy on hand)
a pinch of sugar (I use palm sugar, but that’s not necessary)
2 cups chicken broth
2 T fish sauce
juice of 1 -2 limes (or about 3 T prepared tamarind pulp)
1 can coconut milk

Cook the shallots in soup pot until they begin to caramelize. I used coconut oil, but any oil will suffice. Add curry paste and stir. I like things fairly spicy so I used more than 2 T, but 1 T will provide noticeable, but pleasant spice. When paste starts to become fragrant add some of the coconut cream from the top of the (unshaken) coconut milk can. For a true curry, I’d crack the cream (as described in the last paragraph here), but since this is a quick soup, cooking the paste in coconut oil then adding some of the coconut solids will have to suffice. After a couple minutes add the rest of the coconut milk and the pumpkin. If you had frozen pumpkin, like me, lid and cook until pumpkin is completely defrosted, otherwise cook for a couple minutes to bring pumpkin up to temperature. Add fish sauce, lime or tamarind, and 1 cup of broth. Blend with a stick blender and taste for saltiness, hotness, sweetness, sourness, and texture. If the texture is too thick add chicken broth and reblend until texture is slightly more liquid than desired. Balance with lime, sugar, fish sauce, or additional curry paste after dilution, then cook and additional 5-10 minutes. Serve with lime wedges and fresh herbs.

Meatless Mondays: Ligurian pasta salad

Perfect for picnics

I’ve always been a bit of a picnic grouch (I’m also a lot of a going out to brunch grouch, if anyone is wondering). Instead of enjoying a beautiful setting, I often can’t stop thinking about how much better the food would be if we had a kitchen to prepare and heat things. (And of course there is the issue of bugs, though that situation has vastly improved since I moved to California). I just don’t get that excited about cold or room temperature foods–maybe it’s their congealed texture, or maybe I’m just a terrible person, but for a long time I struggled to find a prepared dish I loved, which would still taste great at a potluck or picnic.

I have finally settled on a dish I like better at cool temperatures than fresh off the stovetop. This simple salad is good just after cooking, but it seems to me that some sort of magic happens both with the combination of ingredients and cooling. The beans taste sweeter, the texture of the potatoes improves, and it makes a great salad that is substantial enough for a meal (or a double-carb nightmare, to certain people).

I usually make pesto in large batches when I harvest basil from my herb bed, or find a good deal on basil. It keeps fairly well in the freezer, I add a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent oxidation. I generally use walnuts instead of pine nuts–they are much cheaper and not likely to run into problems with rancidity or pine nut mouth. While I haven’t experienced the horror of having a metallic taste in my mouth for weeks, I have found that almost all of the pine nuts I’ve purchased in the US have some rancidity to them.

Pesto, it's time for your close-up.

Basil pesto

2 large bunches of basil (~3 cups leaves)
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
~1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Wash basil thoroughly and pluck all leaves from stems. Process basil, toasted walnuts, garlic, and cheese until very finely chopped in food processor. Slowly stir in olive oil, without using the processor. I’ve read that high speed blades on food processors/blenders can cause extra virgin olive oil to become bitter. As a skeptic, I chose not to believe it until I experienced it, and I have. Add only as much oil as the mixture will absorb and become a smooth, fluid paste–this may be a bit less or a bit more than the 1/3 cup recommended.

Once you have the pesto made, the rest of the dish is easy and can be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook your pasta. Make sure you use a pasta that has a recommended cooking time of 12 minutes or more (and is actually al dente at that time), if you want to use the one pot meal technique. Trenette is traditional, but any shape you can imagine shoving in your mouth along with potato rounds and green beans will work. I’ve also made this without pasta when I didn’t want to double up on carbs, or decided to serve it as a vegetable dish with another pasta. Though it is a traditional Ligurian dish, it is as though the picnic traditions of pasta salad and potato salad

Pesto Pasta Salad

1 pound pasta
1 pound green beans
1 pound small, cleaned red potatoes
1+ cup basil pesto
Start a large pot of water boiling and add at least a tablespoon of salt. While water is coming to a boil cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch rounds. If your potatoes are much larger than a dollar coin, cut the rounds in half or quarters, depending on the size. Add pasta to boiling, salted water and set timer for the pasta cooking time. When water returns to a boil, in about a minute, add the potatoes. Cut the green beans into bite-sized lengths while everything is boiling. When there are 4 minutes left on the timer add the beans to the pot. Place about 3/4 cup pesto on the bottom of a large bowl. When the timer goes off, test pasta and potatoes. The pasta should be quite firm, but will be the perfect texture after standing. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water. Loosen the pesto with a small amount of the pasta water, just enough to ensure the cheese is melted and the sauce can coat the noodles. Add pasta, potatoes, and beans to the large bowl, adding an additional 1/2 cup of pesto to the top. Mix, sliding a spatula down the sides, through the pesto mixture on the bottom several times. If the pasta is not coated with pesto add a bit more until all strands are coated. Taste, and if undersalted add some more Parmigian0-Reggiano or salt. Eat some now, then see if you agree with me about it sweetening up (in a good way) after cooling.

Meatless Mondays: Kale salad with carrot ginger dressing

A healthy bowl.

I usually make something a bit more substantial even when going meatless, but this weekend was so full of meat, all I was craving today was salad. I hadn’t thought about this dressing for years until food52 issued a “Best Carrot Recipe” contest and it was the first thing to pop into my head. It’s a dressing that caught on in New York’s East Village, at Japanese-ish diners geared towards students. I was happy at any restaurant where it was a dressing choice, and am surprised it hasn’t caught on as one of the standard dressings, though I don’t think it would bottle well.
I had a bit of a recipe from from my New York years, but after my recent googling, it was lacking a couple of the key ingredients like shallots and, surprisingly, water (and perhaps had some extra garlic and sesame). Luckily, after trying the version Smitten Kitchen posted, even though I had my reservations as her reference was the heinously named newsletter GOOP by Gwyneth Paltrow which suggested accelerating bowel movements by drinking castor oil in the same post.  But it just sounded right. Though the restaurant version was most frequently some sort of lettuce, avocado, onion combination suggested in the other posts, I find that this dressing pairs perfectly with kale. It brings out the slight sweetness that’s usually in kale, particularly the Lacinato (dinosaur) kale I usually have growing in my backyard.

Dressing
2 carrots
1 American-sized shallot (largeish), or three halves small Asian shallots
2 inches ginger
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
1/4 cup neutral oil
2 tablespoons water

Peel and roughly chop carrots, shallots, and ginger. I usually peel ginger with a spoon–it is the fastest, least wasteful method I’ve learned. Then process carrots, shallots, and ginger in a food processor until very finely chopped. Add miso, scrape down, and run food processor again. Pour neutral oil in while blade is running, then add water until smoot, and desired consistency. It shouldn’t be liquid, pourable, but it shouldn’t be completely chunky either. You may need a little more than 2 T water. Add sesame oil and process briefly.

I like to serve with a simple salad of kale/cabbage salad. This particular salad is ~2/3 Dinosaur (Lacinato) kale, ~1/3 cabbage, garnished with sweet corn. Other delicious garnishes include fresh peas, sesame seeds, avocado, or pressed tofu.

Beef with Broccoli


When I want to eat quickly I usually fall back on my go-to’s for quick cooking:  pasta or stir-fry. In the time it takes to boil pasta or make rice, you can usually finish the chopping and cooking you need to make a tasty meal.

Beef with broccoli is a favorite at American Chinese restaurants, and though I love exploring regional Chinese recipes, sometimes I really want a great version of takeout Chinese, with great ingredients. In fact, cooking it is easier for me than ordering it, as no decent places deliver in Berkeley and takeout would take about as long as the 20 minutes it takes to make rice. Though I do have those pesky dishes to deal with when I make it myself. The choice this time was obvious, as I happened to pick up some great grass-fed beef the other day:

Bavette: somewhere between flank and skirt, at least according to Marin Sun Farms.

Beef with Broccoli

1/2 lb beef
1 head broccoli
4 cloves garlic
4 scallions
Marinade
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch (or arrow root, or potato starch)
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing (rice) wine
Sauce
1 T Shaoxing wine
1 T Oyster sauce
1/2 t Sambal Olek (or chili garlic sauce)
1 t soy sauce

  • Start rice cooking in a rice cooker–if it is white rice, your rice and stir fry should be done at about the same time.
  • Chop beef into thin strips. If using a cut like flank steak, or other strongly grained cut (which have great flavor, and I highly recommend for this) make sure your strips are cut against the grain.
  • Add marinade ingredients to beef and mix. This marinade is fairly universal–the sesame oil is specific to this dish, but the cornstarch, (I’m 90% sure my unlabeled tub is actually tapioca starch, I’ve found most starches to be pretty interchangeable for this purpose.) dark soy, (you could use regular soy and the slightest pinch of sugar, preferably brown) and Shaoxing wine are universal. I occasionally add a bit of crushed garlic and ginger to the marinade.
  • Wash broccoli, then chop into bite sized pieces. Place in large bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Seriously, this is the secret to stir-frying broccoli. If you’re one of those people who insist that microwaves ruin food go ahead and blanch them briefly, but know that you’re wasting your time, the energy of whatever heat source you’re using, and one of California’s most precious resources, water. And unless you can produce a blind taste test proving your point, I insist that the microwave is the way to go on this one, convenience and tastewise.
  • Chop garlic and scallions and anything else you want to add. The acceptable additions include a bit of ginger, carrots or red peppers. Maybe mushrooms. Gather all ingredients and head over to the wok.

Mis en place

  • Heat wok over high heat, add about a tablespoon of high smokepoint oil (I use grapeseed, but peanut is the most common) and when oil starts to shimmer add the beef. Though it is called stir-fry, I try to spread the meat out in a single layer and leave it alone for about a minute. Then stir to your heart’s content, or occasionally until beef loses all pinkness, but not longer–remove to a bowl.

Don't stir, one minute.

  • Add broccoli to wok, making sure to drain away from any water remaining from washing/microwaving. Stir-fry for at least a minute dry, then push to the side and add 1 tsp of oil and the garlic and optional chili-garlic paste. When garlic begins to turn golden, stir the broccoli in and continue stirring until broccoli is almost at the desired tenderness. I like it with a fair bit of crunch remaining.

Watch out for the chili fumes.

  • Add beef and any juices back to the wok, stir to combine. Add Shaoxing wine, oyster sauce, and soy sauce and stir. If sauce is still too liquid, push solid ingredients up the side of the wok and reduce the liquid to a proper sauce consistency. Unlike many recipes of this sort, I don’t add a lot of liquid ingredients plus constarch as I don’t like the final texture to be too gloopy. If your Shaoxing wine is the salted type, the final dish will be quite salty–you could add water or stock and cornstarch to add some gloop and reduce the saltiness, or just halve the Shaoxing and soy sauce. Of course, I don’t normally measure any of this stuff, just dump from bottles at the stove, but I did this time just to make sure my estimates weren’t way off.

Reducing steams up my camera.

And while this was one of my best beef with broccoli executions yet, largely due to the extremely flavorful beef, I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t taste quite as beefy as it did last night, when I made that beefy classic, a cheesesteak.

The beefiest cheesesteak I've had in years.

Green Ricotta Gnocchi

At least once a week I find myself in the situation of having way too much of something that won’t last another couple of days, or, more often, several things. This week’s culprits all came from my garden. It was one of those weeks when the artichokes and radishes were both about to bloom, and needed to be eaten or wasted. And in the case of the radishes the situation was even more dire as they seed prolifically and I’d already decided their mediocre taste wasn’t worth all the work to remove all the dirt from the roots (so their mediocre taste isn’t dominated by dirt taste). So I had about a quart of blanched radish greens and three artichoke hearts on my hands. (I ate the leaves this weekend with some garlic lemon butter. I’m one of those who finds it tastier and more fun to eat the leaves than to deal with a whole heart or two.) Even though they were older plants, the radish leaves were as mild as spinach, but a bit more fibrous. Luckily I also had a tub of ricotta and decided to make ricotta-radish green gnocchi. And, since I had the artichoke hearts to deal with I decided on an Provençal-ish sauce.

Green Ricotta Gnocchi

1 ~15 oz. tub ricotta, drained (or not if fairly firm)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed (optional)
the zest of 1/4 lemon (optional)
2 cups blanched, strained greens
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup flour plus flour for shaping

  • Squeeze as much water as possible out of the greens and chop as finely as possible. Then chop one more time–large chunks really interfere with the shaping and cooking
  • In a bowl, combine everything but the flour and mix to combine. Add the flour and mix until just combined. If the mixture seems too loose add a bit more flour.
  • Lightly flour a surface and your hands. I usually roll out a rope about a the diameter of a nickel and cut into pieces, but the fibrous nature of these greens made it difficult to cut through the roll without completely deforming it. So I just shaped them by hand, pinching off a bit and rolling into an egg or flying saucer shape.
  • Drop into plenty of salted, boiling water and cook until all gnocchi rise to the top, 5 or so minutes
  • Drain, or remove with a spider, and place in single layer. Can be kept overnight at this stage.

Ricotta gnocchi, boiled and a bit bland

Provençal style gnocchi

The leftovers

1 T butter
1/4 cup or more olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence
Leftovers–for me, artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, even more radish greens, and roasted chicken
I can imagine lots of other ingredients on this theme working with/instead of mine–olives, capers, walnuts, basil, zucchini, mushrooms, sausage, tomato
If I’d had a tomato and olives, I would have added them.
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1/4 lemon
Cheese for topping–I used Parmiggiano-Reggiano and a relatively young pecorino

  • Heat 2 T olive oil in skillet, add garlic and cook over medium heat until it begins to brown. Add artichoke hearts or anything requiring a longer cooking time along with the herbes de provence. Add remaining ingredients  and warm through. Deglaze with white wine and when bubbling subsides remove to a large serving bowl.
  • Heat butter and enough olive oil to cover bottom of the same skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi in a single layer and cook until browned on each side, about 3 minutes per side. Cook in multiple batches if needed.

    Most gnocchi taste much better browned

  • Add reserved topping back to skillet and toss to combine over heat. When everything is warmed and mixed return to serving bowl and squeeze lemon over the top. Add at least 1/4 cup cheeze and mix thoroughly.
  • Serve with additional cheese, parseley, and black pepper.

    The finished product