Monday, March 23, 2009

Double Mega Cheesy Steak and Bean

The core component of the world's most addictive fast foods is slurry. It is the stuff that you think about when you are about to drive into the Super Burger Taco Fryer Thunder drive-through. The delicate sauce on the bottom of the burger bun, a slurry of mayonnaise and meat juice. The substance in Taco Bell products- mysterious red sauce and chopped onion intermixing with melted cheese and bean stuff- again, gushy, delicious slurry. Even the sandwich chains exploit this marvelous substance: think about the mush formed in a Subway sandwich by the oil, vinegar, and vegetable/pickle juices, or, way better, Firehouse Subs, with their slurry of piquant sauces and discharge from fatty cooked meats.

Most comfort foods are thick liquids of some kind, but since fast foods are hastily assembled the fast food slurry is almost always composed of ingredients that have just met each other. Compare this with a thick tasty slow food like potage ambassadeur, where the bacon and the peas have been dating for several years before they even began the long, slow simmer of marriage. Fast food slurries are anonymous drunk sex in a club bathroom by comparison. Still, they're both tasty thickened liquids- why does the fast food version incite such wanton lust?

I hypothesize that the big draw to the fast food slurry is a roguish human attraction to opportunity. Journey back in time for a moment. A prehistoric fast food item is basically what you would have gotten if you nipped a bit of food from every person in the tribe into a big starch object. Nuki's Antelope Surprise, Nurg's Green Thing, King Cuchacho's Lemur Cheese, it all goes into the flatbread. Like modern fast food, you would cram it down your gullet, although not because you were late for work but because if he were found with the ill-gotten breakfast there's a better than even chance you would be killed and eaten. It gives the dollar menu a whole new significance.

Anyway, the fast food slurry- i.e., a thick liquid resulting from the liquids of many already prepared and/or cooked ingredients- is something easily replicated in the home. Last night I sought to come up with a Taco Bell-like slurry item and had what I thought was a reasonable success. It went something like this . .

12 oz steak
Badia Brand Fajita Seasoning. This is one of the best prepackaged spice mixes in existence.

6 oz dry black beans
1 onion, chopped
1 tblsp chopped garlic
4 tblsp fresh salsa, or some tomato product
1 tblsp chicken soup base
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp paprika
2 bay leaves
2 tblsp Olive oil
2.25 cups water

1 can black beans

6 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
2 large flour torillas
Canola oil

Liberally dust your steak with fajita seasoning. I used a 3/4" thick strip steak for this, so take note- if you use a different cut it will affect the cooking time.

In the pot of your pressure cooker, fry the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft.Add everything else, set on high pressure for 30 minutes, natural pressure release. Drain extra liquid. Fish out the bay leaves. Yes, the beans are not super soft. They will provide a little texture contrast to our beef and cheese slurry. ALTERNATIVELY, open a can of black beans.

When the coals are ready, cook the steak 3-4 minutes per side on high heat, until rare or medium rare. Try to go rare, because there is more heat coming up for this hunk o flesh.

Put some canola oil in a pan and put on a burner on medium heat.

Slice your meat into strips 1/4 inch thick. Go for bite size pieces, so pulling out a strip doesn't decompile the burrito.

Heat your tortilla 30 seconds in the microware to soften. Lay down the tortilla. Put down half the shredded cheese, then half the sliced steak, then cover with beans. Not too much, you can always have leftover beans. Fold up the ends of the tortilla over the filling, then roll tight, one side over, then the other side over. Put it in the hot pan seam side down (the last side you folded), then fry until brown and crisp on the bottom. Flip carefully and do the same with the other side. Put a plate over it, hand on the plate, flip pan and plate, and you've got a nicely toasted and plated burrito, seam side down. I do this flip trick with frittatas a lot.

Repeat the last paragraph with the other tortilla.

What happens inside this containment unit is the beans drop some moisture to the not-entirely-cooked meats, which then drop grease and liquid into the cheese, which melts with these two liquids, providing us with our faux-fast-food slurry food product.

Consume very quickly before anyone sees you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kim Il Delicious

I've always been curious about Korean food, but the Florida backwoods offer a perhaps unsurprisingly limited number of Korean dining establishments. With access to some Asian food markets, though, it's not a problem, and we decided to entertain with a sort-of-Korean menu:

Dahk galbi: Korean marinated grilled chicken
Bibim Naengmyun: A cold buckwheat noodle thing
Pajeon: Scallion pancakes, also a Chinese staple, purchased from the market because I only have two hands
Ojinguh Moochim: Seasoned dried squid
Spring rolls: not really Korean, but I like them, see note for pajeon above. These had mushrooms and cabbage and were really tasty.
Brown rice

What did I really like from this spread? Well, I like kimchi, the naengmyun was pretty tasty, and the ojinguh moochim was really, really tasty, especially with the rice. It was all pretty good, actually, new and strange. If I did it again I'd use less pickle in the naengmyun and I'd make more ojinguh moochim. Oh, and I'd get actual Korean naengmyun instead of soba noodles.

Korean food seems to be made up of a lot of tiny little dishes. It's the way Koreans eat things, apparently, an array called banchan, usually served with cooked white rice. It uses lots and lots of tiny little bowls. I bought a stack of paper bowls and plates so I didn't use every dish in the house in the process of serving. Unless you want your spouse to murder you in your sleep, I recommend you do the same.

I had some chicken quarters sitting in the freezer in individual freezer bags. Two days prior to the meal, I took each bag and added 2 tblsp ginger, 2 tblsp garlic, a handful chopped scallions, .5 cup soy sauce, .25 cup rice vinegar, 1 tblsp sesame oil, 1 tblsp red pepper flakes. The resulting bags of chicken and liquid had most of the air squeezed out of them, then were sealed and put in a bowl in the bottom of the fridge to await the big day.

One day prior, I seeded and sliced 1 cucumber and peeled and sliced 1 fist-sized daikon radish. Mix up 1.5 cups vinegar with .5 cups water, then add 3 tblsp salt and 3 tblsp sugar. Put veggies in vinegar mixture and put in fridge. These impromptu pickles will appear later in our bibim naengmyun

The rice recipe for korean brown rice I got from the internet had me cook the rice almost into risotto. I thought it looked gooey and sticky, but my wife loved it. 1 cup of rice went into the pressure cooker with 3.25 cups water, a tiny bit of sesame oil, a glurp of peanut oil, and a teaspoon of salt. High pressure ten minutes, natural pressure release, then fry for ten minutes.

Started the fire for the chicken, then came back in and did the bibim naengmyun.

Boil a . . er, damn non-english packaging . . about 10 oz of soba noodles for 2-3 minutes. Drain. Yes, they're still chewy, that's OK. Thoroughly cool noodles in running water, then add yangnyum (sauce): 2 tbsp gochujang (Korean chili paste), 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp minced garlic, 1/2 tsp soy sauce. Toss toss toss toss. Top with the pickled cucumbers and daikon you set to marinating last night, then halve four handy hard boiled eggs (what, you don't keep hard-boiled eggs handy?), put those on top artistically. Scatter some white and black sesame seeds over the top of this, and that's your bibim naengmyun, or the gringo version of it anyway. Put it out on the table. It's very pretty and quite good. The buckwheat noodle is surprisingly filling.

Make up some Korean dipping/flavoring stuff. Something besides the chili. Stir up 5 parts soy sauce,1 part sesame oil, 2 parts rice vinegar, 1 part sesame seeds, 2 parts honey, 1 part chopped scallion. Mix mix mix, put it out on the table.

Take your approximately 4-6 oz bag of "Jane-Jane Dried Prepared Squid" and put in a bowl of water. It looks sort of like shredded jerky and has the same texture. The taste is, well, imagine sweetened chewy fish. It's good. Let it rehydrate a little bit, then take it out of the water, squeeze it once or twice, then give it a quick toast in a tablespoon of oil in a hot pan. Mince. Put in a bowl, add 1 tblsp mayo, 1 tblsp gochujang, 1 tsp garlic. Top with sesame, chill until serving, then out on the table.

The coals are probably ready for the chicken. Go put the chicken on for 12 minutes, flip, 12 more minutes, then bring it back in, by which time you'll probably have everything else ready.

Fry up your scallion pancakes, one at a time, and deep fry your spring rolls. If the rolls are frozen when they're fried, chances are they're still cold inside- wrap with foil and put in a 250 degree oven until serving time. Cut the pancakes into wedges. These scallion things were pretty bland, but I didn't make them, so I could only be so apologetic. Put them out in their little disposable serving vessels. I hope you've got your dining table extended because otherwise you're going to be running out of room.

Put out the kimchi, maybe a little bowl of gochujang for people that are true masochists, and make sure nothing's left in the fridge. I'm pretty sure there's some forgotten banchan in there that I forgot about, but one of the great things about Korean is that it's not stealthy food. It'll make itself known in short order, like a really good cheese. Another great thing about Korean food is that it's really fun. Jal meokkesseumnida!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bean of Darkness

Black beans are not just full of nutrition, they are great chow for the New Depression. Also, they're delicious. This recipe is a sort of train wreck of Cuban black bean soup and Brazilian Feijoada- I took my favorite parts from both.

1 lb black turtle beans
12 oz bacon
12 oz chorizo or equivalent sausage product
12 oz of assorted meat scraps: chicken parts, ham bits, abandoned toddlers, etc.
2 onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
6 cloves garlic, or more
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 cups chicken stock, what the hell, use bouillon, there's a depression on.

1) In the cooking chamber of your pressure cooker or in your dutch oven, fry the bacon until you have a good bit of cooking fat. Remove the bacon and reserve.
2) Working in batches if necessary, brown all the other meats in the fat, working in order from most flavorful to least flavorful. Remove as you go, reserve. Note that you really don't need anything other than the bacon, and you could probably substitute even the bacon with a quarter cup of olive oil without screwing up the recipe. It's hard for me to say this, but the beans will cook up fine without pork fat.
3) Fry the onions and green peppers in the meat fat until softened, then add the garlic, fry until aromatic. Add the tomatoes and fry until the liquid has evaporated and you are left with basically aromatic-flavored animal fat.
4) Add the black beans, chicken stock or bouillon, vinegar, bay leaves, and reserved bacon. Stir. Lightly place remainder of meats on top. Lid the pressure cooker and put on high pressure for an hour. If using a dutch oven, lid the vessel and put in a 350 degree oven for anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.
5) Unlid, remove the meats. Stir the beans and check seasoning. Freshen up the liquid with some more vinegar if necessary. Serve with the meats, a good hot sauce, some raw chopped onions, and a little sour cream. It's pretty fantastic on yellow rice, as well.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Oven Fry Salvation

The Sunday afternoon tour de frigo yielded some randomness: a potato, eight ounces of sliced crimini mushrooms (a.k.a. "baby bellas"), a handful of parsley, some bacon, and some chicken leg quarters I'd set in a souvlaki marinade (lemon juice, olive oil, onion powder, garlic, oregano, black pepper, chicken bouillon) a couple of days ago. The bacon was rendered, the fungi fried in the resulting fat and rejoined with the cooked bacon and some chopper parsley. The chicken went on the grill, fifteen minutes per side. The potato was the testbed for a new recipe of oven fry.

I had never actually made a successful oven fry. I used to get either cinders or limp, greasy wedges that went in the trash. Imagine my glee at getting these things sort of right. The key to this recipe seems to be the pre-cooking of the potatoes and the fine coat of corn starch they get before heading into a hot oven. Hats off to America's Test Kitchen for the recipe.

16 oz russet potatoes, cut into wedges. The wedges I used were 1/16 slices- basically, half a potato, half the halves, half the quarters, then half the eighths.
5 tblsp canola or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tblsp corn starch
1 tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder

1) Preheat oven to 475. In big bowl, microwave the garlic in the oil for a minute or two.
2) Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of the garlic oil into a rimmed baking sheet. Roll the oil around the baking sheet until it is coated with the garlic oil.
3) Add potatoes to garlic and oil in the bowl, toss to coat potatoes. Cover in saran wrap, microwave 2-3 minutes, toss potatoes again, microwave 2-3 more minutes. The edges of the wedges should be just opaque.
4) America's Test Kitchen expects you to magically separate the garlic from the potatoes, as the garlic will burn in the oven. I'm not sure how I could have done that exactly. I just spooned the potatoes out of the garlic and oil then wiped the remaining garlic and oil out of the bowl with paper towels. I got most of it, I suppose.
5) Mix corn starch, pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Gently toss hot potatoes with this mixture until the potatoes are well coated.
6) Lay the potatoes down on the baking sheet in a single layer, put in oven. Cook for 12 minutes, then flip the potatoes, then cook for 12 more. Watch them after ten minutes. America's Test Kitchen said to cook them for fifteen minutes per side, but if I did that they'd have burnt. I did 12 minutes on one side and 11 minutes on the other. And yes, any garlic remaining on the potatoes did turn black. I think next time I'll just use the garlic powder. Still, deep brown, intensely crispy oven spuds.