Friday, June 26, 2009

Heat + Meat

We’re hitting record temperatures in New Orleans. The A/C is our best friend, turning on the stove to cook dinner, or even grilling, when there’s a heat advisory in effect is just not appealing. So why not do what the Mediterraneans do so well? Dish out a charcuterie plate. It’s simple, it’s good and it doesn’t involve any cooking.

A classic spread includes a combination of cured and cooked meats. Butcher’s Chef Warren Stephens suggests two to three different hard salamis: a spicy picante or a soppressata, a sweet coppa dulce, a lucchese with coriander and mace, a Spanish lomo or a nostrano with warm spices. As for the cooked meats, Stephens mentions duck rillette, salami cotto – the cooked, not cured sausage – some Cajun head cheese or pork rillon to complete the meat spread. Add some acidic foods to the selection to counter balance the fatty meats. Chef Stephens likes to garnish his charcuterie plate with cured olives, the French like to put cornichons on theirs and so does Butcher’s Salumiere Chris Doll, but really any pickled vegetable works. Try okra and banana peppers for a change.
Add a fresh baguette to your charcuterie to make it a meal; get some artisan cheese at St. James Cheese Company to make it a dinner feast. Garnish the cheese plate with grapes, dried figs or dried, tart cherries, pour a cool rustic red wine or a refreshing vino verde and you’re set for a great evening with friends.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dads + Steaks

This Sunday we’re honoring the men in our lives. For Chef Donald Link, Father’s Day is definitely grilling day: “It’s the one day you want to grill steaks,” he says. “Thick, big, ‘more-than-you-should-eat’-steaks.” Like a one pound rib eye. Link adds, smiling: “ …and you’re snacking on sausages while you wait for the steaks to be done.” Chef Links actually doesn’t mind doing all the grilling, even on Father’s day. “As long as someone else is cleaning up. That’s the deal!” he says.

Father’s day is about spending time with the family, with friends. It’s not about stressing over an elaborated meal. “Keep it simple”, says Chef Link. He suggests to simply grill some Zucchini and Squash along with the steaks, roast ores of corn in the husk. “Have your kids make a cucumber and tomato salad with fresh basil.” Add a fresh bread, like a crusty baguette to the spread, open a bottle of cool, light red wine, like a Rhone, a Burgundy or a Rosé and enjoy.

To all the Dads, Step-Dads and Grandpas: Happy Father’s Day!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Marinate it

The summer heat is well on the way and the grilling season in full swing. It’s time to talk about seasoning those grilling goodies. Dry spice rubs are used for BBQ, for meats that roast slowly over low heat. Brines are great to season poultry in general and turkey in particular. For grilling meat – high heat, little cooking time – we’re talking marinades.
Generally speaking, a marinade is a blend of acid and oil, herbs and spices. The acid – lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar – breaks down the tissue to tenderize and allow moisture to penetrate. Oil and spices enhance the flavor of the meat.
A common method of marinating meats is to combine all ingredients, pour the mixture in a ziplock bag, add the meat, squeeze all the air out and let it sit for a while. However, instead of having the marinade evenly spread all over your steak, you might end up with oil and acid separating and all the spices, salt and pepper on the bottom of the ziplock. On top of it, the oil in the marinade is creating a barrier, not allowing the seasoning to really permeate the meat.
Kris Doll, Butcher’s man of the meat, suggests this simple fix: Hold on to the seasoning at first and start with marinating in acid only. Marinate a steak with fresh lime juice. Add garlic, onion or cilantro if you wish as those aromatics release their aromas into the acid, flavoring the meat without having to stick to it. Either or, the ziplock method works fine. After about two hours, remove the meat from the lime juice marinade, pad it dry, brush it lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper – and any other spices you might fancy - and slap it on the grill.
Kris Doll likes to finish a grilled steak with an Argentinean chimichurri: Chop garlic and cook it in olive oil until golden brown. Combine garlic, oil and red wine vinegar (ratio 2:1 vinegar and oil), add fresh chopped oregano and parsley and chili flakes. As soon as the steak comes off the fire, pour the chimichurri over it and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Voila, enjoy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pancetta Arrotolata

A couple of days ago, Cochon Butcher’s salumiere Kris Doll - the man who makes all the meats + sausages at the Butcher – brought Pancetta Arrotolata out of the meat locker: It’s done doing it’s thing and ready to go. But what is it, really?

Pancetta Arrotolata is made from pork belly, just like bacon. However, it’s not smoked, but brined and then rubbed with black pepper and coriander. Once seasoned, the pancetta-to-be gets rolled; ‘arrotolata’ is Italian for ‘rolled’. The big, fat roll is then placed into a net and hung to dry for 2 weeks.

Like Pancetta tesa or flat Pancetta, Cochon Butcher’s Arrotolata can be used as an alternative to bacon. Where bacon lends food its smoky, salty flavors, pancetta – the flat as well as the rolled – brings herbal and peppery flavors to the table.

Salumiere Kris makes a simple Spaghetti Carbonara with it – “the original one”. Cook Spaghetti ‘al dente’ and toss the pasta with egg yolks, pecorino cheese and lightly fried, diced pancetta. Or fry up thinly sliced Arrotolata and serve it with scrambled eggs and biscuits for breakfast. How about a ‘PLT’ for lunch? Pancetta-lettuce-tomato sandwich sounds really tasty.