Sunday, 8 July 2007

What Did The Oyster Say To The Clam When He Asked Her Out? Aww, Shucks.

Oysters are bivalves (a mollusk that have a pair of hinged shells) that has enjoyed a popular history. Those crazy early Italians (the ones from Rome I think) loved these things for their aphrodisiac qualities. Me too. On the other side of the world, early East Coast Canadians depended on them to get by with their awful winters. Good for bed and survival.

If you think a Chocolate Chip Cookie and Milk makes for a great
marriage, well, oysters can have multiple spouses: lemons, limes, freshly grated horseradish, lemongrass, chilies, champagne or white wine (Muscadet particularly) and Worcestershire Sauce. Use it any way you like: in an appetizer, or on it's own, or in a stew, soup or pasta.

Shucking can be tricky. A thick cloth will do. Don't be nervous about it. Just try it. The knife (you have to buy one!) is inserted at the hinge and cranked into one direction. Pop it open and retain as much liquid (some chefs call it Liquor) as possible, severe the vein, top with your favorite garnish and voila! Just looking at these photos and writing about it makes my want to run to the market and grab a whack of them (I like Malpeques with Tobasco).

There are a whack of oyster recipes out there, but if you go through the trouble of buying them and shucking them, go ahead and take the plunge and try it raw.

However, for those who can't swallow it, Oysters Casino is a popular classic.If you are unfamiliar, the fresh oyster is shucked and broiled (cooked with radiant heat from above) garnished with butter, bacon, shallots, parsley and pimiento. Yum.

Or, something much easier is Angels On Horseback: wrap each oyster with a small piece of bacon secured with a toothpick. In a very hot oven, bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until bacon is crispy. That's it. Crowd Pleasing 101.

I often make a salsa to top the oyster with.

Ginger Tomato Relish

1 small piece of Ginger, finely grated
1 Roma Tomato, innards removed, finely diced
Drop of Sesame Oil (A drop! The stuff is strong)
Drop of Soy Sauce(A drop! The stuff is salty)
1/2 a Red Onion, finely diced
Small Bunch of Cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 Lime, juiced

6 Oysters, washed

Combine ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour. Mix again and adjust seasonings.

Shuck oysters and top with salsa.

Serve on ice immediately.

Variation: If shucking isn't your thing, you can steam the oysters in wine and add the leftover liquid to the salsa. Simply place in a soup pot, bring a splash of wine to a boil, cover and let cook until oysters open up. If they do not open, discard.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

What Kind Of A Guy Are You?

I couldn't help but notice I'm lacking a serious amount of entrees on my blog. Hell, I only have 15 recipes so far but only two true entrees (salmon on a plank and lamb shanks).

One of the most common cuts in the kitchen is the chicken breast. It is not particularly expensive but it isn't necessarily cheap either. And people seem to enjoy it even though it lacks flavour. Dark meat (thighs and legs) actually has more flavour but it isn't as appetizing as the breast. The trick is to make the breast flavourful and do something creative with it.

I always marinate my chicken breasts. It may be as simple as throwing some dried herbs on it s(h)meared with some olive oil, or perhaps you feel exotic and for once you want to use that tandoori sauce that's in the back of your fridge. Whatever it is, it'll make more flavour than just salt and pepper.

Butterflying is a technique where you slice the breast from the bottom (presentation side is the skin side up) to make the chicken look like a butterfly. It is easier shown than told but the best way for me to describe is cut into the chicken on a 15 degree angle to open side then turn the breast around and repeat. Open up the breast and if necessary use a mallet and pound out the chicken tenderly to make the breast flat and ready to be stuffed with your heart's desire.

Try using a Supreme: a chicken breast with skin and with wing bone. For classic presentation, you can "french" the wing bone: remove the meat to expose the bone. As it roasts, the bone darkens and acts as a garnish.

Prosciutto Wrapped Breast of Chicken Stuffed With Trio Of Roasted Peppers

4 Chicken Breasts, butterflied
8 Slices of Prosciutto
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Yellow Bell Pepper
1 Orange Bell Pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste (black, in case you're wondering)

Preheat oven at 375 degrees Celsius.

Coat peppers with a drizzle of oil and season. Over open flame or on your Barbecue, blacken each side of the peppers. Place each pepper into a seal able plastic bag and allow peppers to steam through. After ten minutes, open bag and allow to cool slightly. Remove charred skin and clean off as much as possible. (It is optional to rinse under running cold water however some chefs will argue that some flavour is rinse off.) Cut peppers into 10 cm strips and place one of each colour inside chicken. Carefully wrap up chicken with peppers.

Lay out prosciutto and place breast face down in the middle of the slice. Wrap the breast having the prosciutto meet on the bottom.

Place breasts on a baking sheet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Slice in half on a bias to present the trio of peppers.

Serve with risotto of choice and sauted yellow and green zucchini.

Serves 4.

Variation: if you would like to make a sauce, use the pan juices from the roasting process. Simply roughly up some vegetables (onion, carrot and celery) and cook breasts on top of the mirepoix (veg). Pour the jus into a sauce pan and bring it to a boil, drizzle a little maple syrup, season with salt and pepper and coat the breasts.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Honey, What's an Eleven Letter Word For Vegetable Stew?

Some things are a classic for a reason: Creme Brulee, Caesar Salad, Carrot-Ginger Soup (Potage Crecy), Coquille-St.-Jacques to barely scratch the surface. Old recipes continue to enthrall taste buds because they are often so simple, so easy, so practical. For the professional kitchen, some staples continue to be staples because they are either in demand, or cheap to make, or able to utilize leftovers or all the above. Minestrone soup for example utilizes leftover pasta, leftover cooked beans, a few vegetables and some watered down tomato sauce. Make a batch for nothing and all of a sudden you're making dollars from pennies.

I really enjoy making Ratatouille because it is so simple, so cheap and so delicious (not because there's a Pixar Film with the same title). What makes Ratatouille so easy is that it is braised (remember that word?) in it's own juices rather than having a liquid added to it. Some cooks may call this a Confit: something that is cooked in it's own juices. However, strictly speaking, a Confit is something that is cooked with either acid (for vegetables), alcohol and sugar (for fruit, like a Confiture) or fat (for poultry, especially duck).

Not that this is vital information, but knowing the technique is useful and knowing allows you to build on your gastronomic repertoire. My style of cooking is simple: taking classical cuisine and throwing a modern twist to make it fresh. Rustic elegance.


1 Green Zucchini, innards removed, cut in small cubes
1 Yellow Zucchini, innards removed, cut into small cubes
Half an Eggplant, cut into small cubes
1 Large Red Onion, fine dice
1 Red Bell Pepper, small cubes
1 Green Bell Pepper, small cubes
2 Cloves of Garlic
3 Tomatoes, roughly cut
1 Bunch of Basil, chiffonade
1 Bunch of Thyme, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large stock style pot, on medium heat, sweat onions in some olive oil. Add peppers and garlic; cook until vibrant. Add eggplant and zucchinis and stir until they decrease in size by one third. Add tomatoes and cover, stirring occasionally. Let cook for approximately 15 minutes. Add herbs and seasonings. Keep on low heat, covered until served.

Serves 6.

A Humble Chef's tip: Try soaking the cubed eggplant in a salt water solution for about 10 minutes before cooking. When draining, notice how dark the water is. The salt removes the bitter flavour and prevents the eggplant from going black.

Variation: If you have time, you can use the Ratatouille as a filling in Phyllo or Puff Pastry. Roll out the dough and drain the vegetables. Wrap it up and bake to directions. The leftover liquid can be reduced and thickened with a syrup or a puree of some sort and used as a sauce for the strudel.

5 Minutes To Cook Dinner? No Prob!

Having tried a no carb diet for two weeks, my inspiration has been pretty geared towards salad and cold food with a twist. Since it is summer time, you can have some variety and not have to pay an arm and a leg for the ingredients. Besides, lighter fare is usually easier to make and digest. I love rich foods but in the summer, who wants to have cream sauces or rich desserts all the time? Well, maybe some crazy French people might.

This is a salad that I would never have thought of unless I was on a restrictive diet and forced to do some research. My co-dieter found a recipe that seemed simple enough but with a little variation we turned it into something that worked for us.

When cooking vegetables, keep it simple. Blanch in boiling salted water. That's it. Don't complicate it. Also, it is important to note that when blanching any green vegetable keep the lid off. This prevents acids from condensing and dripping back into the water. Unless you want your vegetables to look like the way your mother cooked them (perhaps you feel a sort of nostalgia towards shitty looking, mushy, over cooked veg), then by all means allow the chlorophyll to bleed and consume yuck. Or, you can simply bring water to a boil, add salt, cook your vegetable no more than 4 minutes and a enjoy crunchy, tasty salad.

My tone of voice may seem slightly sarcastic, however, if you grew up the way I did hating vegetables, then you may understand my annoyance.

Vegetable Salad

2 Broccoli Crowns, cut into florets
1/2 Head of Cauliflower, florets
About a Dozen Waxed Green Beans, washed and trimmed
50 g Pinenuts, toasted
50g Dried Cranberries
150 ml Ranch Dressing (Recipe follows if you are keen)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large soup pot, bring water to a boil. Add salt and taste water; it should be a little salty but not overpowering. Have an ice bath ready to refresh the cooked vegetables. Start blanching with cauliflower, then beans and finish with broccoli. They should not take more than 4 minutes to cook through. After blanching, place vegetables in ice bath and chill through. Drain and pat dry.

Place them into a large bowl and garnish with pinenuts and cranberries. Drizzle dressing and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Ranch Dressing

250ml Mayonnaise
400 ml Sour Cream
300 ml Buttermilk
40 ml Vinegar
20ml Lemon Juice
Pinch of Worcesteshire Sauce
Small Bunch of Chives, finely chopped
20 g Garlic Powder
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl, whip all ingredients together until mixed well.

Chill overnight.

Makes about 1 Liter.

Variation: If you feel indulgent you can change the dressing to Chantilly Dressing. Since most vegetables are over 90% water, then feel free and treat yourself. 100ml Whipping Cream whipped and folded into 400 ml of Mayo, Tobasco, Worcesteshire 1 lemon sqeezed. Mmmm.

You Don't Make Trends With Salad

Salad is easy. If you were to enter the cooking industry without any experience, you get thrown into the cold food. Take me for instance, my first day in the industry was working at the CN Tower restaurant making Caesar Salads up the wazoo. It was the summer of SARS and the 360 had a Table D'Hote menu that had a Caesar option. My first day I made over 200 Caesars in four hours. Fun times.

Anyways, the possibilities of salads are limitless. Whatever you like. Whatever you have. Throw it together have a blast. Typically in a salad, a Chef endeavours to throw in different flavours and textures that compliment each other.

Take Salad Nicoise for example: Boiled Potatoes, Green Beans, Black Olives, Hard Boiled Eggs, Tomato Wedges, Anchovy Fillets (others may use Tuna or Sardines) with Leaf Lettuce and a Red Wine Vinaigrette. Each element in the salad has a different texture and flavour and when you put them together you have a classic salad.

I make this salad often because it uses ingredients I tend to have in my cupboard. It has classic elements that when mixed properly, leaves you with a different bite every time you dig in.

I like using Mache for my salads when I can. Also known as corn salad, lamb's lettuce or, strangely enough, lamb's tongue. It has the shape of an ear lobe and has a hazelnut flavour.

A Humble Chef's Green Salad
500g Mache, washed and drained
2 Macintosh Apples, thinly sliced
50 g Walnuts, crushed
8 Cherry Tomatoes, quatered
75 g Goats Cheese, sliced into 6 wedges
1 Starfruit for garnish(optional), thinly sliced

For the Vinaigrette:
50 ml Hazelnut Oil
50 ml Olive Oil
50 ml Apple Cider Vinegar
20 ml Honey
Dollop of Dijon Mustard
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl, start with Mache. Arrange tomatoes around the outside. Sprinkle walnuts. In the center, place apples in a pile and top with cheese. Stand starfruit in cheese for height.

In a blender, mix honey and mustard and seasonings. Add vinegar and mix. On low speed slowly drizzle oils into blender until emulsified. Adjust to seasonings.

In the last minute before serving, drizzle vinaigrette on salad and serve immediately.

Serves 6.

A Humble Chef's Tip: Cutting Goat's Cheese can be messy and tricky. Try using waxed dental floss to make the cuts cleaner and more uniform.