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Luscious Lamb Livers

December 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Foie d'agneau Lyonnaise

Dear Chef Bourdain;

As I’ve mentioned, some of your French ingredients are a bit hard to find. Especially since I’m not best friends with a French butcher. Not that I wouldn’t mind, I think that would be great. My imaginary French butcher-friend is named Pierre, and he and I will drink tiny glasses of red wine while I lean against his counter and he throws giant chunks of meat around. We gossip like old hens, exchange crackpot theories about what scientists are doing and not telling us about, and make appreciative remarks about women who walk by his shop-front. Appreciative but not crass; after all I’m married and Pierre…well, he loves the ladies. I mean, really loves them, in a deep and respectful way. To him, the ladies walking by are like a parade of fine art prints. Of course you would remark on their beauty, but such remarks are intended as praise, not degradation. Pierre is fundamentally more conservative than I am, though, so sometimes we argue about politics, but it’s always with affection.

Oh, but right, Pierre doesn’t actually exist. So the six thousand cuts of veal your book calls for? I can’t get them. Not without great expense, and frankly Chef, I’m goddamn unemployed, so if you think I’m going to spend a fortune flying in rare cuts of veal, you and Pierre can just go fuck yourselves. Wait, sorry. I”m not bitter, I swear – I just need a job. Not for the veal, but because health care in America isn’t like healthcare in France. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t also need a job in France…it would just be a little less life-and-death, you know? Not a free ride…just a little bit easier.

So back to veal. Couldn’t find any veal liver. But the local organic ranch has great lamb’s livers, along with other organs. Especially testicles. What’s up with that? I mean, they had a freakin’ freezer full of testicles! Pierre wouldn’t be so obsessed with testicles. So anyway, we got a fresh lamb’s liver. It was beautiful and firm and slappy. Know what I mean? That spankable, firm quality that really good meat has, that makes you just want to slap it a little? So we took this beautiful, slappy lamb’s liver home and had it for one of the best dinners of my life.

Now, liver of any sort fairly well calls out for onions, and your recipe does not disappoint.
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That there, is a slew of onions! As you might imagine, it smelled divine, which is fully half their purpose. It’s not reflected in this pictures, but as the onions were cooking, I sliced up some rashers of bacon into the closest thing to a lardon I can get around here. I threw it in with the onions, and let it cook over medium heat for a good long time.  Other members of the household became aware that something magical was evolving, and reported to the kitchen for their assistant-chefly duties.
Assistant Chef

Note the ducked head and hunched shoulder, the proverbial “hangdog” expression. It says, “No one has ever fed the dog. Ever! Do you think, just maybe, I might end up with a little bit of whatever that is up there?” Anyway, I cooked down the onions, and pre-heated a cast iron skillet for the liver. I put flour, seasoned with salt and pepper on a plate and dredged the liver through it. I improvised a little here – I feel like I’m allowed to do this now, Chef, since it’s obvious I didn’t complete the initial goal and at this point I’m just making stuff to eat for myself. Anyway, I added some truffle salt that I got for my wife last Christmas to the flour. It was a good call, though a very subtle gracenote under the powerful mineral flavor of the liver. So maybe that’s less of a good call, and more of a …pointless gesture? Story of my life.
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As per the usual method, I heated oil in the pan, added butter and waited for it to foam and subside, then browned the liver for a few minutes on both sides. My stovetop doesn’t get very hot, so I’ve been pre-heating my pans in a very hot oven. I don’t have a giant, fat hot gasline like my in-laws do, so I’ve got to make do, and getting a good sear can be challenging without a very hot stove. I have a little camp stove that gets absurdly hot, and I might actually try that with some cast iron pans next time, but this time, a 500F oven and the hob on high worked well enough.
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I set aside the liver and de-glazed the pan with vinegar. As per your suggestion, I had some demi-glace, so along with the onions, bacon and vinegar, I added that in to the cast iron pan, and let it soak and reduce for a while. I’ve noticed that the times on your official recipes are…optimistic. That or your stove is a fuckton hotter than mine. Hey, I just mixed measurements…a ton is not a way you measure heat. But then, a “fuckdegree” just doesn’t sound right either. Would “an hella” be more appropriate?
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It looks glorious, doesn’t it? And served over the liver, it really was. My lovely wife and I were fairly well enraptured by this liver – it was delicate and melt-in-your-mouth, but had a complex minerality that rewarded stopping and thinking a lot about what you were tasting. When we on our honeymoon, we had an amazing meal at a place in Glasgow callled The Butcher Shop Bar And Grill. I’ve even written about it here before, it was pretty magical. Like, flying-around-the-room magical. She had a lamb-liver steak there that was the best liver we’d ever had before; that is, until now. Lamb’s liver has the minerality of liver, but the lamby goodness of lamb. With good, fresh ingredients, it’s an experience not to be missed.

Honestly, this one goes on my short list of best Les Halles meals I’ve prepared. If I can get more fresh lamb’s liver, I will definitely, definitely make it again. This is the kind of meal you could serve to someone who says, “Yuck, I hate liver” – and like a kid in an after-school-special who becomes a raging addict after one taste of crack, they’d instantly swear liver was the greatest thing ever. This is the organ meat that seduces people into loving organ meats, even though they think they’re kind of nasty, like a heavily tattooed pornstar. You know it’s kinda dirty, but you can’t help loving it anyway.

And honestly, chef, after slugging down all the wine you recommend, I need a little extra liver, I suspect.

But fuck you and Pierre and your veal obsession.

Yours;

Davy

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Fresh, Hot Kidneys? Yes please!

December 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Untitled

Dear Chef Bourdain;

In the immortal words of Jim Anchower, it’s been a while since I rapped at ya. But now that you’re off the air, and I’m out of work, hey, we’ve got a little time to catch up, right?

So here’s the ‘Rognons de veau’ that I made on Thanksgiving weekend. With thanks to my mother-in-law, who added the garnish and pomegranate seeds to make it pretty. Pretty kidneys. Just doesn’t seem right. And yet… S’anyway, the hardest part here was finding the kidneys, frankly. We Americans have just given up on organ meats, which is a pity, because when done well these were really quite scrumptious. I know I completely failed to do everything in the book in a year, but I still have hopes that I’ll eventually get everything done. Finding ingredients (and being able to afford them…) is the big challenge these days, technically I feel I’m up to at least a creditable attempt at anything in there.

So happily when I took a walk in the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market after breakfast with friends, my lovely wife and I found a local farm that brings their butchery fresh to market, never frozen. As it happened they didn’t have veal – hardly surprising given the general lack of interest in veal around here. But they did have lamb’s liver and kidneys, so we picked up some of each. You’ll have to forgive me for making some substitutions…but look at these kidneys, Chef!
Kidney meez

Gorgeous, right? Glistening and ruddy and …organish. Mmm.

So they might just be lamb’s kidneys, but they really did the trick. I started out by browning the kidneys and setting them aside in a warming tray.  That took too much attention to take a picture, so you’ll have to imagine some nicely browned kidneys. Then I continued as you always do with yer basic Frenchie meat dish; slice yer shallots, de-glaze the pan, brown the shallots.
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One minor difference between this effort and previous efforts. I was cooking at my in-law’s house, and had the good fortune to use their big, robust Viking range as well as the beautiful copper-bottom pots my MIL brought back from Paris. It’s a poor artist who blames his tools, so I won’t say previous failures were the fault of my range or pots, but let me just say that I can tell the difference between the good-enough All-Clad pans I’ve got, and these beauties. It does make a difference, a palpable difference, and can be the subtle edge between really good and sublime.

So once the shallots looked nice and moogly (a highly technical term, “moogly” – it actually comes from the height of the British Empire when continental chefs were trading techniques with India cooks, where “Mugli” meant “Maharaja of Onions In Perfection.”) I put in the mustard, mixed it up and let it reduce a bit till it was nice and sticky.
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After that, it’s just plate the organs, hit ’em up with a bit of the sauce, and cut in. As it turned out they were perhaps a bit more rare than I’d desire; organs take longer to cook on the whole than a regular cut of meat, something I didn’t allow for. But between the warming tray and the freshness of the kidneys, it just didn’t matter. The meat was earthy and savory and delicate, with just a hint of that organ minerality that is so unique. But it was by no means overpowering, it was like a lovely fillip that perfects a portrait, rather than what I expected, was more like overdone bead-bedazzling on an Elvis portrait.

That metaphor was strained. But anyway – my father-in-law, a genuine gentleman-of-adventure who built two boats he sailed around the world on, who has been everywhere and tried it at least once – and decided he didn’t really like it, pronounced these something he would eat again on purpose. It’s sort of like the Grinch driving by your Christmas decorations and going, “Huh. Not bad, really.” High praise.

So I know kidneys can be a hard sell for modern Americans, but let me say – it’s a huge mistake. They’re really delicious, and get a completely undeserved bad reputation. Take some time to get good ingredients (they’re still really cheap) and put a little love in the pan. Not literally, you sicko. Seriously, the stuff I have to put up with from you people! But with some care, a little sense of adventure and a healthy does of what-the-fuck-why-not; you’ll get something unlike anything you’ve had before that’s genuinely delicious.
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Just look at the pink, secret inner joy of that kidney, Chef. That’s some good eating.

But I know with you I’m preaching to the choir. And also that you’re not actually reading this.

Hearts and Kidneys;

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Anthony Bourdain’s Pommes en croutes de sel

October 18, 2011 3 comments

Pommes en croutes de sel

Dear Chef Bourdain;

So, my self-imposed deadline of Nov. 1st to cook everything in your book is basically fucked. Short of a last minute cash (and interest by readers) infusion, I’m not going to make it. I’m in hand grenade range – close enough to be dangerous but not right on target. So I’m going to adapt, improvise, and overcome – I’m giving myself as much time as I goddamn need. What am I, getting paid for this or something? (Don’t let that stop literary or screen agents from contacting me, I would love to be paid for this or something!)

So here’s the latest – I made dinner for some friends. I whipped up some chicken Basquaise, which was as good as last time, colorful, easy and delicious. I barely looked at the recipe, it’s such a good one and so easily modified to taste. Along side, I served pommes en croute de sel, or potatoes in a salt crust, for you non-Francophones. (A Francophone is a speaker of French. For you idiots.)

If I’ve learned one thing, Tony, it’s not to fuck up my meez. I feel like I’ve mentioned that here once or twice. That, and more butter means more love. (Which means my lovely wife, who’s birthday it is today, get’s ALL THE BUTTER. Tell her that anonymous internet ninnies!) So this was interesting take on potatoes – no butter.

One meez, sans fucked-upness.

So here we’ve got a dish full of potatoes, four egg whites whipped to stiff peaks (much like a gay S&M club) and a pound of rock salt.

I mixed up the rock salt and the egg whites, and slathered it over the potatoes.

Pommes en croutes de bukkake

Then I baked them. The crust firmed up and kept the potatoes moisture in while they baked. The nice thing was that once they were done, I just turned the oven off and left them in there to keep warm. This is a nice touch when you’re cooking multiple dishes.

When the chicken was ready, I pulled out the dish.

Pommes, still en croute.

Interesting that the whites turned yellow, even in the absence of butter or yolk. So I cracked open the crust, and brushed it away from the potatoes. One thing I discovered – or rather, Mary, one of my guests did – was that you have to be really careful brushing off that crust. ‘Cause rock salt is hard on the teeth,  yo. Next time I do it like this, I’ll be sure to be more diligent about rock-salt removal.

Basically this was a low-stress, delicious way to do potatoes. They were moist and fluffy and cooked all the way through. They broke up nicely and soaked up the  sauce Basquaise. The added bonus that you can do-ahead and keep them warm and fresh in the crust is another point in their favor. Whipping egg whites isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but it didn’t take that long. And anyway I’ve been working out a lot lately, and am becoming thoroughly mighty – so much so that no egg white stands a chance against my mighty thews. Thews are important for a chef, right Tony?

Thanks for a definite hit, Chef. Easy utility dish, and delicious.

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Tartiflette – The Triumph of Bacon

February 24, 2011 1 comment

Tartiflette, aka The Triumph of Bacon, aka Oh Shit That's Good!

Dear  Chef Bourdain;

For a long time I was an adherent of the notion that everything is better with bacon. This was a mistake – like telling a friend you like monkeys, and then getting monkey shit for every gift-giving occasion for the rest of your life, I was inundated with bacon-related gifts. Lest I sound like a cad, let me say, bacon-related gift items are pretty much as awesome as they sound. But it did teach me that not in fact quite everything goes better with bacon.

Happily, French cuisine is not one of those things that doesn’t go better with bacon. Let me unpack that unwieldy sentence for you – the recipes in your book often contain bacon, and are always better for it. I hadn’t realized bistro style cooking was quite so bacon-positive. (Must be third-wave baconists, I guess.)

Almost everything is better with bacon.

Tartiflette is an obscure name for an amazing dish. I’m pretty sure if we gave it a more appealing name, it would rapidly become a much-beloved bar food like potato skins or buffalo wings. “Tartiflette” doesn’t really convey what a beautiful mashup of potato, bacon and cheese this is. I will henceforward refer to it as “The Triumph of Bacon.” Hmm, maybe that still needs some work.

Tartiflette, aka The Triumph of Bacon, aka Oh Shit That's Good!

This one was really easy, too. Boil some potatoes, a skill mastered by everybody who can get potatoes. Skillet up some bacon.

Be prepared to fend off Assistant Chef Bourdain and other interlopers.

Drain off most of the grease and set aside the bacon. Fry up some onion in the pan until it’s nice and moogly. And that’s it. Remain vigilant, interlopers will have smelled the bacon and the onion and become interested.

Eyes in the back of my head, when bacon is at hand.

Scumbling up the potato, bacon and onions in the pan is easy. Then put in a layer in a casserole, and cover it with rebolochon cheese. Another layer of the mix, and another layer of cheese on top. Melt in oven. Bask in the glory that is one of the most comforting of comfort foods imaginable.

Melting, bubbly, bacony comfort.

I served this with some crostini to dab it on or scoop it up. I think something like fritos scoops would be white trash…but white-trash-delicious. This also reheated beautifully, in some ways even better than it was fresh out of the oven. In the future in cold weather, I might make this well ahead and reheat as a starter. I’m definitely making while skiing next month – putting this firmly in the “Hit” category.

What’s seeming to be the heart of bistro style cooking is recipes that are relatively easy, keep well and reheat nicely, and are very delicious.  The challenge has been finding some of the ingredients that would be very common at the actual Les Halles, but are esoteric here in Los Angeles. But the methods I’m learning, and the heart of the style are really valuable.  It’s kind of like practicing kata or forms in martial arts – first you learn the individual moves, then you see how they go together and flow from one to another – but the work of making the cognitive leap from understanding parts to the whole that is greater than the sum of those parts takes time, repetition and some stroke of inspiration.

So far those strokes of inspiration have, happily, involved a lot of bacon. What a wonderful discovery!

Yours with bacon;

Davy

 

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Steak Warhammer – Steak Au Poivre

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I have a tiny mortar and pestle. That’s not a euphemism. I mean the kitchen implement, and the one I have is a great size for say, crushing herbs or making almond dust. (Internet commenters, I have provided you with some excellent straight-lines here, I expect top-notch work!) But it’s too small to crack enough peppercorns for steak au poivre for six people. Sterner measures were called for.
So there were my peppercorns, crushed with the best tool I had for the job – a warhammer. Hey, it’s not just my weapon-of-choice for the zombie apocalypse, it’s also a handy tenderizer and whatnot!

I’m pretty handy with a steak, if truth be told. Knowing how to nicely pan-roast a good cut of meat was one of the skills I came into this project having if not mastered, at least journeymaned. But I was looking forward to this dinner – I found some really beautiful filets mignon at the local Costco. They were really thick, and a deep, dark red color. Like theater curtains. Of meat. Like you, I don’t think filet deserves the reputation it gets, it’s kind of bland. But it certainly has a buttery, toothsome texture, so kicking up its flavor with some pepper for spice, butter, cognac and to add some fat and flavor? Yeah, I’m in. And the prospect that the pan would flame up made it even more enticing!

I had two pans large enough to use, and six steaks to do. Because everyone was sitting down together, I couldn’t do them in batches,  per se, they all had to finish resting at the same time. So I got both pans ripping hot. Not as hot as I normally would, because your instructions call for a a little less heat, presumably because of the butter rather than oil – lower smoke point and all. I seared ’em up nice and brown, then transferred all six into the cast-iron pan in the pre-heated oven.

It was then that it was time to make the flame happen!

Action Shot! Only...without the action!

No flame.  I was excited about this, too – giant gouts of flame are ALWAYS fun, and when they’re combined with delicious meat and booze? That’s a fiesta, Chef.  A goddamn fiesta! But there was no flame here, just the steam and smoke. I realized why, after the fact – because this pan hadn’t roasted in the oven (the other one was doing that) it wasn’t as hot as it otherwise might have been.

So, the cognac didn’t flare up, but the resulting sauce was still pretty amazing. Hard to go wrong with butter, fat, cognac and seasoning though, right? I de-glazed the second pan with the sauce when it came out of the oven too, not wanting to waste any of that delicious frond.

I served up the resulting symphony of beast, flame, booze and warhammer-crushings with truffled pommes frites, sauteed asparagus, and love. That’s the secret ingredient.

The Secret Ingredient is...

HAHA. No, just kidding, the secret ingredient is definitely the booze.

Have some booze for me, Chef.

Davy

P.S. The leftovers the next day might have actually been even better, chef!

Anthony Bourdain’s Salad Danglers

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Salade d’onglet was a brilliant recipe; but it totally sounds like salad danglers. I think that’s a euphemism for something sweaty Greek men do in steam-baths.  First, it gave me a good excuse to eat steak. If you’ve ever spent time around women – and rumor has it you have – you know that they tend to prefer organically raised cracked Bulgarian spelt salads made out of lettuce that was harvested on the night when its sun-sign was bio-rhythmic with other leafy greens and sprouts-of-other-things-you-don’t-want-to-eat-when-fully-grown. So combining that with a nicely marinated steak is kind of genius. I mean, it’s healthy, right?

Look at all the organic leafy greens! (Never mind the steak..)

I actually waited too long to make this, I blanked on the fact that the steak has to marinate for at least three hours, but preferably over night. So I really only had half an hour to marinate it. Even so, it came out very flavorful. One winning takeaway from this dish – a fantastic marinate that packs a ton of flavor. The ginger, the soy sauce and the vinegar all combine to something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. I will keep this in my back pocket for all my meat-marinating needs. And chef – I have needs. Meat needs. Thank you for helping me with my meat needs.

Other than that, I know how to make a steak and toss a salad, it’s pretty straightforward. When I go to the market and ask for “onglet” I get a wall-eyed look. (From a man wearing chainmail and carrying a scimitar, so you know, I’m inclined to keep it not-too-surprising with these guys.) But flank steak is very popular around these parts, and I had no problem scoring a pallet-sized side of it at Costco. I used half for this recipe, and the other half is vaccuum-packed and waiting for me now in the freezer, like something wonderful that lurks in a deep, frozen slumber. Like Walt Disney’s head!

Walt Disney’s head, on the other hand, wouldn’t be nearly as good with some greens and a nice red wine vinaigrette. And that’s the other takeaway from this recipe – a really nice, simple dressing that packs a lot of flavor into a small volume. Like Kristin Chenoweth. If she were salad dressing, this would be her – sassy, bold and highly concentrated. You can tell her I said that, Chef. You know, if it ever comes up.

So thanks for another hit, Chef – this one was easy, was really excellent, and has lots of great ways to be re-purposed for other dishes.

Plus, it’s a great excuse to eat MEAT! totally healthy green leafy vegetables!

Davy

Blueberries in lime sugar

February 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear chef Bourdain;

Simmer some lime zest in sugarwater, throw it on top of blueberries mixed with lime juice and sugar. A little mint, and the result: a light, sweet and tangy dessert.

Thanks for another easy, yummy one!
Davy

Categories: Eating, Prep
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