Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Super Easy Horseradish-Caper Sauce for Fish and Beef

This evening I had two student friends over to cook and eat with me. It's their last cooking evening of the summer, since they both recently graduated from Emory, are just finishing their summer jobs, and are moving to start their graduate student lives. One of them, Alex, will be in Athens for two years, so I'll see him frequently there, I expect.

We had oven-roasted tilapia (salmon was out of sight on price right now) and various fresh vegetables, a light hot-weather dinner. To go with the lemon and dill-seasoned fish, I made a simple sauce of the kind I enjoy with oven-roasted fish, but also with beef and even with hamburgers.

The sauce ingredients reflected other parts of the meal, or complemented them. It took about one minute to mix the sauce. I aged it 15 minutes while waiting to serve dinner.

Horse radish remains one of my favorite seasonings. It shows up in many of my recipes at our restaurant, from sauces to chicken salad to mashed potatoes to quiche. I've loved it since I was a kid, when in my hometown an old Bohemian man sold homemade horseradish in wooden buckets from a horse-drawn wagon. I remember him more than once parking out in front of our house and my mother going out to buy it, bringing out her own jar. (I'm not kidding -- that was in the 1940s.)

The old man would have called it "kren", I later learned, the Slavic -- and Austrian -- name. Germans call it meerrettich (sea radish), and the French call it "raifort."

The horseradish I prefer is the simple grated horseradish in vinegar with a little salt. The good, unadulterated ones tend to be from Jewish manufacturers and are kosher. Gold's is a particularly good brand. These prepared horseradishes are found refrigerated, especially in the kosher section, at supermarkets -- at least in Atlanta.

Capers, the pickled flower buds of a Mediterranean bush, are a more recent favorite for me. Recent is a relative term, given my "seniority." Lemon juice and cream are always beloved.

Here's the sauce. Just enough for a six-person meal of roasted fish, braised or grilled beef, hamburgers or meatloaf. Don't make more than is needed for the meal. It's so easy to compose, and it's best very fresh.

By the way, we enjoyed a cold, crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Northern California with the fish and its sauce.

Horseradish-Caper Sauce

4 tablespoons light or heavy cream
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons pickled capers, drained
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt, plus to taste

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Let sit a few minutes. Taste, and add salt to taste.

Transfer to a small sauce dish to serve.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rillettes: Homemade French Charcuterie

For years, I've looked for rillettes [ree-YET] any time I was in France going back and forth to my work places in Africa, and at French restaurants in Atlanta. I was intrigued by this farmhouse specialty, which I first encountered in French cookbooks.

It's allegedly much easier to make than pâté or terrine, but fills the same niche in the appetizer course along with crusty bread or melba toast, Dijon mustard, and cornichon pickles.

Rillettes, a specialty of pork, duck or goose lightly spiced and cooked down slowly in its own grease and served spread on bread or toast, comes from the southwest of France. It's traditionally put up in the autumn and stored in small crocks in the cellar for use during the winter. An old-fashioned grandmother's (grandmère's?) kind of thing, it shows up rarely in the restaurants I visit.

Le Giverny, a fine and largely French restaurant near Emory University in Atlanta, offers "rillettes" as a starter. But what they actually serve is a baked terrine or maybe a country-style pâté, a perfectly good French dish -- but distinctly not rillettes.

Then Shorty's, a pizza-plus place with a wood-fired oven, which is one of my hangouts, recently came up with duck rillettes on their summer menu. Shorty's is a cook-driven restaurant, short on theme or atmosphere or pretense but long on hearty artisan cooking, good wines and beers. They are not at all French in style. One of their owner-chefs is in fact from New Zealand.

Their rillettes, laced with green peppercorns, are served packed in a small crock and topped with a thin layer of grease the way the real thing is. They are quite authentic and make an excellent, if slightly heavy, starter course.

So after all these years, this recent inspiration led me to make rillettes this weekend. They were guinea-pigged on some visiting family plus a friend from years ago who showed up with her new husband. I worked out the recipe with pork shoulder ("butt"), and now look forward to trying the fancier versions with duck or goose.

The seasonings approximate the "quatre-épices" ("four-spice") used in French charcuterie. The method is simply to cube the pork, keeping the fat and bone, season it for 24 hours with sea salt, herbs and spices, then slowly simmer it down with red wine as a starter.

It takes three or more hours cooking after one day marinating. The cooking requires occasional stirring, and the pot should be enamel, or at least stainless steel. Because of the cooking time, rillettes should be made when other cooking or kitchen tasks are going on. Make a lot, and store it. Cooking more is no more work than cooking less.

Rillettes should be stored several days to let the flavors mellow. They are served with bread or toast, small pickles and Dijon mustard.

They go well with a hearty, dry red wine. The closest available to the wine where rillettes are made would be a Malbec. Although those affordable wines come from Argentina, they are descended from Cahors, the largely Malbec grape wine from the southwest of France. But a fruity, and faintly sweet white wine will also work, like a German or Alsatian Riesling or a French Chenin Blanc.

Rillettes de Porc

3 1/2 pounds pork butt, including fat and bone
2 teaspoons sea or Kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 large bay leaves, broken in half
2 tablespoons lightly packed fresh thyme sprigs or 1/2 teaspoon dry
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1/4 teaspoon dry ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground fennel
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup water
Extra grease, either butter or freshly rendered pork or chicken fat
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons drained green peppercorns

Discard any skin present, but keep all the fat plus any bone. Cut meat into 2-inch chunks. Mix with salt, herbs, and spices. Marinate in refrigerator 24 hours.

In heavy enamel (preferred) or stainless steel pan, simmer pork with wine and water, covered and stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Remove bone plus bay leaves. Break up meat with wooden spatula. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid drys down. If there is not much grease, add butter or rendered pork or chicken fat to make the mixture oily. Continue simmering, with occasional stirring, until meat is entirely broken down.

Add sugar and green peppercorns. After a few more minutes simmering, taste, and add salt as needed. The mixture should be just faintly salty so it will taste balanced when served chilled. Continue simmering 15 minutes more, stirring more frequently.

Pack hot into cleaned jars or crocks with lids. Press meat down so grease emerges onto surface. If too dry, pour in a little olive or canola oil to keep surface greased. Store in refrigerator.

Serve with bread, melba toast, or unsalted crackers. Accompany with tiny cornichon or other pickles and a dollop of Dijon mustard. A sprig of parsley or several slices of radish make a good garnish.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sesame and Lemon Sauce for Middle Eastern Treats

In the summer heat, the tangy impact of freshly squeezed lemon juice combined with the subtle bitterness of tahini adds a highlight to otherwise heavy foods. The effect is arrestingly good, cutting through the heaviness of the dish and perking up satiated taste buds. No wonder this lemon-sesame condiment is so popular throughout the Middle East.

The sauce serves as a dip or is poured over snacks like falafel (chick-pea and lentil cakes) and fried cauliflower or meatballs. It is even used as a sauce for fried fish. Easy to make, it highlights the dishes it accompanies and adds protein to vegetable dishes.

Rather than the Lebanese favorite of deep-fried cauliflower, try roasting olive oil-dipped and lightly salted cauliflower pieces on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees until just tender. Serve hot with tahini-lemon sauce as an appetizer -- or meze -- course.

Sesame (Tahini) and Lemon Sauce

3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste, available at Middle Eastern and health food stores)
6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small clove of garlic (optional), thoroughly mashed in the salt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Minced parsley for garnish, optional

In a small bowl mash tahini with a spoon or fork until softened. Add water and whisk it in. Whisk in lemon juice plus the mashed garlic, if used, salt and pepper.

Allow mixture to sit several minutes. Taste and, if necessary, add a little salt to make sauce slightly salty.

If serving sauce in a dish for dipping or spooning onto the foods, dust with some minced parsley.