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Hoppin’ John

By Patrick on Thursday, April 10th, 2014

As everyone knows, Hoppin’ John is a Gullah dish that utilizes all sorts of delicious things. Namely salt pork, red peas (or black eyed peas or cow peas), and rice.

I started off by making my own salt pork. Previously I’d used the wet brine method, but I highly recommend using Aliya Leekong‘s dry rub method. Since her site is under renovation, I’ll summarize it here:

2 lbs pork belly, skin removed (you can leave it on if you like)
3 cups coarse sea salt
2/3 cup light brown sugar (I used white sugar since my brown sugar is hard as a rock)
3 tsp black peppercorns, whole
2 tsp whole coriander
2 garlic cloves, smashed slightly

Rinse pork belly and pat dry with paper towels. Place in non-reactive dish. Combine dry ingredients thoroughly, and use some to coat the pork on all sides. (Rub the whole spices in hard. You want them embedded.) Reserve remainder of dry rub. Place plastic wrap on top of pork in dish, and then weights on top of the plastic wrap, pushing down on the pork (cans of beans are good for this, or canned tomatoes, or whatever you have). Refrigerate for 5 days, removing every 24 hours, tossing any liquid thrown off by the pork, and rubbing with a new measure of dry rub. At the end, rinse off dry rub and wrap pork in cheesecloth. It will keep in fridge for “one month” (i.e. forever, why do you think they salted pork in the first place).

The Lithuanians slice salt pork extremely thin and eat it on dark dense sour black bread spread with butter. The Ukrainians and Belorussians are said to drive for 6 hours or more to taste this delicacy.

On to the Hoppin’ John. I used Anson Mills red peas that had been languishing in my freezer. Soaked overnight, then cooked in their cooking liquid. The Anson Mills recipes are way too fussy for my taste and use far too many ingredients, so I turned to the always trusty John Thorne for a recipe.

1 cup red peas, black-eyed peas or cowpeas, soaked overnight in plenty of water and some salt
1 small chunk salt pork, sliced thin and blanched in boiling water for 10 secs (or skip that if you like salt like I do)
1 onion chopped
1 cup raw rice (Carolina please)
1+ hot chile, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1+ bay leaf
minced fresh parsley
a little thyme
salt & pepper

Boil 5 cups water (ideally the soaking water from the beans, with more added if necessary), add beans (“peas”) with bay leaf and simmer for 45 minutes until the beans are soft enough to crush against the roof of your mouth, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, render salt pork in frying pan until crispy. Remove the crispy pork and reserve. Fry onion in the rendered fat (add 1-2 tbs butter if pork hasn’t thrown off enough fat) until translucent.

When beans are ready, eyeball the remaining liquid. There should be about 2 1/2 cups in there. If not, add water till you think it’s at the right level. Then add salt pork, onions, uncooked rice and all the other seasonings. Bring to a very brief boil then simmer for 20 minutes uncovered. At the end, the liquid should be just about gone and the beans and rice almost or pretty much cooked/perfect. Turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve, with a little extra fresh parsley on top, hot sauce or freshly chopped chiles at the table, cornbread, bitter greens, salad.

Adapted from John Thorne, Serious Pig.

New Orleans red beans and rice

By Patrick on Saturday, March 15th, 2014

Recipe was adapted from John Thorne’s Serious Pig, a must-buy for anyone interested in American regional cuisine, or just great food prose in general:

The classic recipe calls for a cracked ham bone with generous pieces of meat left on it, or alternatively New Orleans pickled pork, neither of which I had to hand. What I did have was copious quantities of ham stock in the freezer from my Christmas ham, as well as $2 worth of pork neck bones from Flushing’s Chinatown (and two bucks buys you a lot of those there). Some chorizo or kielbasa was also recommended – all I could easily source was Goya chorizo. I stand by this shit. Cheap and good.

The beans were Rancho Gordo sangre de toro, part of their Xoxoc Project for working with indigenous farmers to preserve Mesoamerican bean varieties that are in danger of going extinct. These small, sumptuous red beans are far tastier than regular kidney beans, and closer to the small kidneys used in Louisiana. Also, most importantly, I had a bag of them.

So here’s the recipe – pretty simple, just allow yourself a lot of time.

- 1 cup small dried red beans, soaked overnight, reserving the soaking water
- up to 1 quart ham stock
- 2 lbs pork neck bones
- 2 Goya chorizo sausages, cut into 1/8-1/4″ discs
- 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 celery stalk, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 small, hot red chile seeded and minced
- 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, minced
- 3-4 scallions, finely minced, green and white parts, half of which reserve uncooked

Blanch the pork neck bones from a cold start, boiling 1-2 minutes, drain and set aside.

Put beans in a heavy pot, cover with 1 quart ham stock, filling out with reserved soaking liquid as need be, add some salt, bring to a hard boil for 10 minutes, reduce flame and simmer for at least 1 hour, adding more soaking liquid as necessary, until beans are tender.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tbs butter in a skillet or large pot over medium heat and cook onions, both bell peppers and celery until soft (6-8 minutes). Add garlic, scallions and parsley and saute for another 2 minutes. Add bay leaves and sausage and saute for another 2 minutes.

Add saute contents to bean pot with all other ingredients, salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind that the ham stock and chorizo will have some salt already), bring to a boil, and and cook from 1 1/2 to 4 hours at a bare simmer, adding more reserved bean liquid (or hot water if you run out) as necessary. As the beans and other ingredients really begin to soften, mash them up against the side of the pot and stir the pulp back into the main liquid to thicken it.

Make rice to taste towards the end of the cooking period and serve beans and its gravy on top of it. Scatter reserved uncooked minced scallions on top. Place on table with condiments to taste (suggested: hot sauce, chopped raw onions, chopped raw scallion, chiles in vinegar, or really whatever you like).

Inauthentic tagine of chicken with habaneros and black olives

By Patrick on Sunday, October 20th, 2013

It’s getting cooler and darker here so I pulled out the unglazed tagine and improvised a highly unauthentic (i.e., non-Mediterranean) tagine of chicken with habaneros, cayenne peppers and olives.

Recipe:

I gently warmed a quarter-cup of olive oil in the tagine over a flame tamer on medium heat. Sauteed two cloves of minced garlic, one minced orange habanero and one minced medium-hot long Indian green chile until garlic changed color.

Added a mixture of 1 tsp each ground cumin, black pepper, sweet paprika, and 1/2 tsp each ground Ceylonese cinnamon and Indian medium-hot dried red chiles, and sauteed briefly.

Then added a couple tablespoons tomato paste and sauteed for a bit.

Added 3/4 cup hot water and 1/2 tsp salt, brought to a boil, added 3 chicken thighs and a big long green cayenne pepper, quartered the long way. Brought to a boil again, then covered simmered for one hour, turning chicken halfway, adding olives about 10 minutes before the end.

Removed thighs and crisped them in 450-degree oven. Meanwhile removed olives and peppers from sauce, boiled it down in a saucepan, degreased. Returned everything to tagine for another 10-minute simmer, followed by 5 minutes sitting off heat, covered.

Garnished with fresh flat parsley (more of a critical ingredient to this preparation than you might think).

I’d say it was a pretty unqualified success – I wish I’d had better olives and only added them at the end. And I think pimentón de la vera would have added a nice smokiness in place of, or in addition to, the sweet paprika. The interesting part is that the final result was not that spicy, even though that habanero packs a punch (and was supplemented by the other chiles) – the essential sour fruitiness of the habanero was there, but much of the sharp capsicum impact had dissipated somehow. Next time I’ll use more.

Final point – it is remarkable how the unglazed tagine adds a flavor of its own. Of course this is the whole point of unglazed tagines – the seasoning – but I wonder whether sometimes I want the slow-cooking properties of earthenware without that particular flavor (which I can’t quite pinpoint – some combination of the clay and all the dishes that have cooked in it previously). An excuse to buy a glazed tagine.

Gazpacho

By Patrick on Saturday, July 13th, 2013

I’d always thought that authentic gazpacho required blending that Mediterranean staple, stale bread, but not according to José Andrés. His incredibly simple, purist gazpacho calls for just tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, a garlic clove, sherry vinegar, olive oil and salt.

I added half a fresh jalapeno, helped out our still somewhat pallid NYC tomatoes with some San Marzano juice, and omitted his elaborate garnish, substituting a slice of avocado. I like some chunkiness & pulp, so didn’t bother to strain. His tips for tasting at key steps are essential.

Brown and orange lentils (masoor dal)

By Patrick on Sunday, July 7th, 2013

A traditional Fourth of July dish, file this one under U.V. (unintentionally vegan). The recipe combines brown (whole) and orange (split polished) lentils and is pressure-cooked with curry leaves, cumin, coriander seed, black mustard seed, fenugreek seed, garlic, turmeric, tomatoes, chili powder, fresh cilantro and lemon juice. I used fresh grated turmeric instead of the powder.

It’s easy to make without a pressure cooker too. (If you can’t find curry leaves, substitute leaves from celery stalks.) The recipe comes from onelifetoeat.

Spaghetti with white clam sauce

By Patrick on Saturday, June 29th, 2013

I mixed a bunch of recipes for this. Clams were Manila, which approximate most closely to Adriatic ones. I used a pound of clams in their shells for two people. Tap clams against side of the sink and discard any open ones that don’t close.

Put water on to boil and cook pasta until just al dente or a bit short of that. Meanwhile, time the following so that the clams will be open when you are draining the pasta.

Slice some garlic paper thin and heat in olive oil until light brown. Add crumbled dried red chile flakes and stir to combine. Turn heat to high, add clams, and stir for 30 seconds. Splash in half a cup or more of dry white wine, along with a generous slug of good quality clam juice or canned clams in their juice, season (keeping in mind that juice or canned clams may be well salted), lower heat, cover, and cook until clams open fully, 3-6 minutes.

Drain pasta and add to clams, stir well, add chopped parsley, cover for 30 seconds, toss again with a tablespoon of olive oil, and serve.

Dominican food

By Patrick on Sunday, March 24th, 2013

(photo: Village Voice)

There used to be an incredible Dominican restaurant in New York on 14th Street just west of Seventh Ave, called Sucelt Coffee Shop. It was a family-run hole in the wall serving up some of the most delicious food in the city. It closed about five years ago.

Sucelt had an incredible cubano sandwich, great beef empanadas, orange juice freshly squeezed to order in a squeezing machine in front of you and insanely cheap, all kinds of stews and beans, luscious sweet fried maduros (plantains), and a deeply complex and spicy homemade agrio de naranja (bitter orange salsa) sitting in plastic dispensers on the counter.

But my favorite was the chicken stew with rice and black beans, pictured above. I’ve been trying to reverse-engineer it at home. The new and much lauded Latin, Caribbean and Central American cookbook, Gran Cocina Latina, unfortunately does not contain a recipe. Instead I’ve had to troll blogs and online recipes for pollo guisado, with mixed results.

This chicken stew recipe, from Dominican Flavor, contains some of the odd instructions you get from non-professional recipe writers, such as “bring the oil to a boil.” What I got from following the instructions more or less to a T was the following:

It looked good and tasted good, but the meat was too dry, and it certainly wasn’t the same as the Sucelt recipe. Not enough tomato, no potato. The beans here were Rancho Gordo’s new negro de arbol variety, prepared the simple RG way, and certainly had the right blackness and depth of flavor.

Next up was another non-professional recipe, this time from the Burden Clothing website. The photo certainly looked right, but once again, the recipe suffered from various confusing inconsistencies: potatoes are pictured but not listed in the ingredients; the ingredient list is not in the order called for in the instructions; and there is much vagueness on levels of heat, cooking times, etc. Sometimes vagueness can be a virtue, because it encourages you to experiment more, and in fact this version of the dish came much closer to the ideal.

There were also distinct similarities to the first recipe, such as caramelizing white sugar in the oil before you brown the chicken, which made me think I was getting closer to the real thing. At the same time, it called for adding water to the oil, which maybe is what the first recipe assumed you were doing when it told you to “boil the oil.” Adding water and cooking with the lid closed of course results in steaming the meat, and the result was – no surprise – less dry.

The chicken was moist and falling off the bone, there was the distinct green bell pepper aroma in the stew, and the potatoes were perfect. The only problem was that it could have braised/steamed a bit longer, needed a bit more salt, and perhaps a bit more depth of flavor. It could possibly use chicken stock instead of water, or even a dash of Worcestershire sauce (which is apparently genuinely used in Dominican cuisine). I’ll be trying that next time.

The beans this time were Rancho Gordo’s midnight black beans. The bean recipe this time was Cuban, from Three Guys In Miami. (Black beans are more Cuban; Dominicans normally use red beans, but Sucelt gave you a choice of either one.) I can recommend this recipe unreservedly, though I think I want to use a blacker, denser bean than RG’s midnights next time. I subbed red pepper for green pepper.

Two Sichuanese vegetable dishes with chilli bean paste

By Patrick on Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Here are two vegetable dishes from Fuchsia Dunlop’s new book, Every Grain Of Rice. I’m linking to the British edition because that’s the one I own.

These are both fairly simple and don’t call for too many outlandish ingredients, but there’s one that is an absolute necessity: chilli bean paste from Pixian. Do not buy the standard brands like Lee Kum Kee, which are Cantonese and have a completely different flavor. Look for the word “Pixian” on the label, or the characters 郫县. Dunlop has written a mini-essay on this subject HERE.

The first is twice-cooked Swiss chard. The chard is blanched, stalks and leaves separately, and later stir-fried in the wok, hence twice-cooked. The seasonings include Pixian bean paste, garlic, ginger, fermented black beans, chopped celery, scallion and cilantro. This is a true vegetarian dish – vegan in fact.

The second dish includes a small amount of meat (1/5 lb ground beef), like many Chinese vegetable recipes. It’s simpler to make and focuses more on getting the right degree of wok-sear on the beef and the vegetable. It is “Send the rice down” chopped celery and minced beef, so called because you use it to send the rice down… the ingredients in this one also include Pixian bean paste, of course, plus ginger and Chinkiang (black) vinegar.

Namaa’s fatoush

By Patrick on Saturday, March 9th, 2013

This Levantine chopped salad looks forward to summer. It’s essential to get the best ingredients – tomatoes at this time of year are particularly problematic, so I recommend getting the smallest, ripest ones you can find on the vine. If even those are mealy or tasteless, try getting a lot of grape tomatoes – they tend to have a fair amount of concentrated sour-sweetness at any time of year. It’s also important to try to get Lebanese-style mini-cucumbers. Full-size supermarket cucumbers are watery and tasteless.

Adapted from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem.

1 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt and 3/4 cup plus 2 tbs whole milk
3 stale pitas, torn into bite-size chunks
Plum, cherry or grape tomatoes to equal 3 large tomatoes in season, cut into 2/3-inch dice
3 large radishes, thinly sliced
3 Lebanese or mini-cucumbers, peeled and cut into 2/3-inch dice
2 scallions, thinly sliced (green and white parts)
2 tbs flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
2 tbs fresh mint leaves
1 tbs dried mint
2 cloves of garlic, crushed in a mortar and pestle or on the chopping board
3 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
2 tbs white wine vinegar
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs ground sumac, or more, to garnish

Whisk the yogurt and whole milk together in a bowl and leave in a cool place or in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours, or better yet, overnight, so that bubbles form on the surface. It’s a less sour version of a sort of homemade buttermilk.

Prepare all the ingredients about half an hour prior to serving.

Place the pita bread chunks in a bowl and cover with the buttermilk. Pile all the other ingredients on top except the sumac and mix well. Allow to sit for 10 minutes so that all the flavors combine.

Serve into bowls, drizzle extra olive oil on top, and sprinkle generously with ground sumac.

Tart garlic chicken from Burma: Rivers of Flavor

By Patrick on Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Another recipe from Naomi Duguid’s new Burma: Rivers of Flavor.

Tart garlic chicken, from the Shan region of Burma, may not look like much, but boy it packs a chickeny-lime wallop. It’s a simple hearty dish that is perfect for the winter cold season. The ingredient list is incredibly simple: chicken, garlic, ginger, long green chiles, cilantro and lime juice.

The broth picks up added richness from the hacked bones, but there’s not much else to it.

Served with kachin pounded beef with herbs again, a sort of salad made in a mortar & pestle and infused with Sichuan peppercorns from neighboring China. Plus Burmese tart-sweet chili garlic sauce on the side.