June 25th, 2010 § § permalink
Mention Morocco and visions of sweeping sand dunes, loping camels and bustling marketplaces spring to mind. Mention this exotic North African country to me, and I think of russet colored tagines. For me, Morocco is the land of succulent stews and the shallow, clay containers in which they simmer.
Once you spot a tagine in a bustling North African souk or Western cookware shop, you’ll never mistake it for another pot. It consists of two parts: a circular, shallow pan and the large, conical-topped cover that fits inside the base. The cone shape allows condensation to cascade back down to the casserole, creating a rich, reduced sauce. The lid has a small knob on the top, providing cooks with something to grasp when removing the cover to check on the bubbling contents within.
Thanks to its unique design, the tagine encourages low, slow simmering of its contents. Simmering allows diverse flavors to meld together and ensures a tender, juicy, aromatic meal. Cooks must be vigilant, though, and add water as needed. Otherwise, they will end up with a dinner as dry as the desert.
Traditionally comprised of glazed terra cotta, today’s tagines come in materials familiar to the modern cook. Combinations range from stainless steel and aluminum core, courtesy of All-Clad, to cast iron and earthenware from Le Creuset. Unlike the classic clay construction, the new, pricier versions can be placed directly on a burner without the use of a heat diffuser. I must slide a cast iron skillet of comparable size beneath my old-fashioned pot before firing up the stove top.
Note that if you acquire the terra cotta version, you should season it before its first use. To do this, I placed water, olive oil, onions, zucchini and carrots and a sprinkling of spices, including turmeric, cumin and garlic, in the bottom. After plunking on the lid, I slid the pot into a 300-degree oven for 40 minutes. I then removed it and allowed it to cool. After it had reached room temperature, I removed the contents and washed the tagine in preparation for its cooking premiere. Another option is to soak it in hot water overnight, then rub olive oil onto it and place it in a 200-degree oven for 20 minutes.
Properly seasoned and cleaned, tagines yield such succulent meals as chicken with olives and preserved lemons, red snapper with raisins and sweet onions, and a vegetarian fete of soft artichokes, potatoes and peas. Spiced with such ancient seasonings as pepper, ginger and cinnamon, the aroma simultaneously soothes and stimulates the senses. Most tagine recipes also include cumin, onion, garlic and saffron, common Moroccan flavorings.
TAGINE OF CHICKEN, PRESERVED LEMON AND OLIVES
While traditionally prepared in the conical tagine, the recipes that follow can also be made in a Dutch oven or large, shallow, lidded saute pan. The keys to success are in keeping the heat at a low simmer, covering the dish while cooking and making sure the sauce doesn’t bubble away completely.
6 boneless chicken breast halves
1-1/2 large white onions, grated
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
Juice of 1 lemon
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper, or to taste
1 preserved lemon (see Note)
Handful of picholine olives
Cooked couscous, optional
Place chicken in a bowl. In another bowl, combine onion, garlic, parsley, coriander, lemon juice, olive oil, ginger and saffron, and whisk to mix. Pour marinade over chicken. Cover, refrigerate and allow chicken to marinate for 1 hour.
Place tagine on stove over medium heat. Arrange chicken so that it covers bottom of tagine. Pour marinade over and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add enough water to cover chicken by two-thirds. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and cook about 1 hour, turning chicken over periodically so that it does not brown on one side or stick to pan.
Rinse preserved lemon, then cut into strips. Add lemon and olives to tagine. Cover and cook 10 minutes to reduce sauce and meld flavors. Remove tagine from heat and serve chicken solo, or with couscous on the side, if desired.
Note: Preserved lemons are available at specialty grocery stores and from online food suppliers, such as Faraway Foods (www.farawayfoods.com) and the gourmet food shop at www.amazon.com. Regular lemons have a sweeter flavor and are not recommended for this dish.
June 17th, 2010 § § permalink
During a recent visit to Portugal I had the thrill of eating an impressive but quite simple-to-make Mediterranean dish – whole fish baked on a bed of salt. On that evening the server had wheeled a cart over to our table and, with a flourish, revealed a white dome of sea salt. After cracking open the top with a knife and peeling back the crust, he then skinned, filleted and doled out our bass table-side.
Seeing the mounds of coarse salt encasing the fish, I assumed that our entrees would taste as salty as the sea. One bite proved how wrong assumptions can be. The flesh had a subtle, almost meaty flavor and lacked any hint of saltiness. Soft and succulent, it was undoubtedly the most delectable and memorable meal on this journey. It was also one that I would feel compelled to replicate in my own kitchen.
Back at home I amassed approximately 4 1/2 pounds of coarse sea salt and 2 pounds of whole lane snapper. I would have preferred to use a more sustainable fish such as croaker or porgy but, as they weren’t available, lane snapper would have to suffice. Note that any whole, firm, heavy-boned fish, including rockfish, tilefish, striped bass, trout and the over-fished sea bass, work well in this recipe. Keep in mind, though, that you will need roughly 1 pound of fish per person. As a result, cost may become a factor in what fish you choose to bake.
Thanks to my fishmonger, I didn’t have to gut or remove the fins on the snapper; he had already done this for me. Instead I just unwrapped the fish and, after forming a 2-inch layer of sea salt on a baking pan, lowered it onto its bed.
Snapper in place, I then poured and mounded more salt over it. My goal was to have a mountain of salt covering the fish. This would act as an insulator, keeping in moisture and producing a luscious, flavorful dish.
After 40 minutes in a 400-degree Fahrenheit oven this was exactly what I had – a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth dinner for two. Easy to make yet dramatic to view, salt-baked fish wowed me time after time. Hopefully, it will delight you, too.
SALT BAKED SNAPPER
2 pounds lane snapper or other firm fish
4+ pounds coarse sea salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
On a standard baking sheet make a 2-inch bed of sea salt. Place your fish in the center of the bed and insert two sprigs of rosemary into its main cavity. Fish seasoned, pour enough salt over top to cover and form a thick mound over the fish. Bake for the fish for 40 minutes, checking the internal temperature with a meat thermometer to ensure that it has reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove from the oven and, using a knife and fork, crack open and peel back the salt crust and skin. If the skin doesn’t not come off, use your fork and knife to remove it. Fillet the fish and serve immediately.
June 4th, 2010 § § permalink
Time to make the doughnuts or, at the very least, eat them. Yes, folks, today is National Doughnut Day.
We can thank one of my former employers, the Salvation Army, for creating this special holiday. Originating from a Salvation Army fundraiser in 1938, the event honored women volunteers who had handed out doughnuts to World War I soldiers in France.
Some may deem a day dedicated to rings of deep-fried dough silly. Yet, when you consider classic American foods, the doughnut invariably springs to mind. With its moist, yielding interior, delicate, sugary crust and ease of portability it has been dazzling and sustaining diners for centuries. Truthfully, it’s about time that the doughnut has its day.
In the 21st century National Doughnut Day means free treats for everyone. Krispy Kreme is giving away one doughnut per customer, no purchase necessary, while Dunkin’ Donuts is offering a free doughnut with any beverage bought.
While Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme may have become somewhat synonymous with this delicious sweet, neither receives the credit for inventing it. Who does? Some historians point to an anecdote by Washington Irving concerning Dutch settlers in New York. Irving stated that these colonists always had fried, sweetened dough balls, called “dough nuts or oly koeks,” on hand. The Dutch, these scholars insist, brought the doughnut to our land. Yet others claim that it hailed from Germany or Central Europe.
No matter where it got its start, the doughnut – also spelled “donut” – remains one of the easiest and tastiest snacks to create. Mix together flour, eggs, milk and a leavening agent such as yeast or baking powder. After the ingredients are combined, roll and cut the resultant dough into orbs or rings.
From here drop the doughnuts in batches of two or three into oil heated to 370 degrees Fahrenheit. Using tongs, turn the doughnuts so that they fry evenly on both sides. When they become golden in color, they’re finished. It’s that simple!
With so many free doughnuts on offer today save the homemade ones for another time. Go out and indulge in a doughnut. After all, it is a national holiday.
From Rima and Richard Collin’s The New Orleans Cookbook (Knopf, 2004)
Makes roughly 5 dozen beignets
In France and regions such as Quebec and New Orleans where French cuisine reigns, the rectangular beignet supplants the traditional doughnut. Blanketed with powdered sugar, this pillow of dough is offered hot, around the clock, and with plenty of napkins. Beignet dough must be prepared in advance and chilled overnight. Covered, it will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup undiluted canned evaporated milk
7 cups flour
1/4 vegetable shortening
oil for deep frying
Put the warm water in a large bowl, add the dry yeast and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Add the sugar, salt, eggs and evaporated milk. Slowly stir in 4 cups of flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and well combined. Beat in the shortening then add the remaining flour, about 1/3 cup at a time. Stir until it becomes too stiff to do so and then work the dough with your fingers. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
On a clean, floured surface roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into rectangles measuring 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat the oil in a deep fryer to 360 degrees Fahreheit.
Fry 3 or 4 beignets at a time until they are puffed and golden brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Using tongs, turn them over once or twice so that they are evenly browned. Drain each batch on a wire cooling rack. Place them on a platter covered with paper towels and put the platter in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining beignets.
Liberally cover the beignets with powdered sugar and serve hot. Yum!