Why is it that we save bacon fat but discard sausage drippings? When we were done cooking up tasting patties of pork belly sausage we were left with a pan full of drippings and fat. We decided to answer our question. We took a handful of small tomatoes and added them to the pan. We cooked the tomatoes, stirring them occasionally until they just started to burst there skins. Then we pulled them from the heat, added coarse salt and dug in. In spite of being surface of the sun meets molten lava hot they were delicious. We let them cool to a more comfortable eating temperature and dug in. These were great tomatoes. Richly coated with pork fat and seasoned with browned bits of meat. The next question is how to scale tomatoes in sausage drippings? Perhaps scaling is not the issue, and we can be satisified with our one pan of indulgence. Yeah right.
We started with heavy cream and added buttermilk, modeled after the creme fraiche from Maximum Flavor. Then we added the zest of 2 limes and stirred everything together. We put the lid on and now have it setting on the counter outside the workshop. By tomorrow we should have a lime scented lactic-ly tangy, thick cream. Then we begin the exploration of where to take it: ice cream, butter, as a sauce for oysters, or as the base for a cheese cake. The possibilities are endless.
It was as easy as putting the oysters on a medium high grill. When the shells popped, the oysters were ready. They were tender, juicy, and just cooked through. They made us think about cooking, the processes and the best results. Occasionally simple is easy. It's knowing when that is difficult.
Warm vegetable salads are perfect for suddenly cool summer evenings. They are even more exciting with unexpected inclusions like Swiss chard stem. Swiss chard leaves are usually separated from the stems because they cook differently. While you can cook them together, the results are not always ideal. Most people simply discard the stems, but when sliced thin and sauteed with green beans and garlic, they are a pleasure, sweet, slightly crunchy, with a hint of earthiness, and a bright splash of color to liven up your plate.
We started this dish with thinly sliced garlic in cold olive oil. We slowly heated the oil and cooked the garlic until it browned. We drained the garlic on paper towels and let it cool and crisp. We cooked the beans and stems in the garlic infused oil and when they were tender we added some soy sauce and sherry vinegar. We transferred the warm salad to a bowl and crumbled the crispy garlic over the top.
We have explored brines. And we have explored flavored brines. We have even explored injecting flavored brines. And we have poked holes in cakes and poured syrup over them so that moisture and flavor can penetrate into the nooks and crannies. What we have not done is cross-utilize the tools from brine injection in the sweet world. Really into the baked goods world. Yesterday we upped our game and injected Bourbon Chocolate sauce into a warm chocolat bundt cake. The cake soaked in the syrup and became even more decadent.
My next mission is to take whole loaves of bread, inject them with custards, steam them and then cool them down. We should then be able to slice French Toast and griddle to order. We can then explore the savory side and examine a whole loaf bread pudding. On the simpler side injecting melted garlic butter and cheese sauce into loaves of bread and pretzels has a ton of potential.
For that matter, why don't we inject sauces into meats after cooking as they rest? Sure we can do sauce on top and the side, but it might as well be inside. Chicken wings with an injection of buffalo blue cheese sauce would be quite acceptable. And let's not forget the vegetables. While injecting vodka into watermelons is a classic let's think outside the box. Time to inject dressings into tomatoes. (We did something like this years ago with a balsamic syrup. It seems we are ripe to revisit it.) Zucchini and summer squash injected with liquid pesto would be tasty. Eggplants injected with honey mustard would be outstanding. Time to get injecting.
We were pleasantly surprised to discover that New Hampshire Community Seafood has a weekly seafood share with a pick-up in Concord, NH and promptly signed up to see what they would bring. Truly fresh seafood is hard to come by when you don't live on the coast and so having a weekly delivery of freshly caught fish seemed like a no-brainer. We've hesitated over farm CSA's tempted but unwilling to pull the trigger because in PA they mostly required us to drive somewhere out of the way once a week to pick up our stuff but Concord is 10-15 minutes from home and we go there on a regular basis for shopping and banking and whatnot, so picking up mid-day once a week seemed do-able. And to be fair, they make it easy. It's only an 8-week commitment, you can choose the amount of seafood that works for you (we got 2 pounds a week), and you get 2 free passes, so that if you know in advance you won't be able to get your delivery you can cancel it and get a refund for that week. They also send out a weekly newsletter telling you all about the fish you will be receiving so you can plan ahead for dinner. Win-win.
This week was Acadian Redfish, small skin-on fillets that had been scaled and cleaned for us. They warned that might be a few stray scales and pin bones, and there were, but they were easy to find and cut off with scissors or a small, sharp knife. Half the battle in cooking is knowing what to watch out for. These are not the famous blackened redfish of the South, down in the Gulf they fish for red drum. These small tender fillets reminded me a little bit of red mullet. Back in the day we used to frequent a Mexican joint in Damariscotta, ME that made fish tacos with fried redfish fillets so we were looking forward to playing with these. In fact tacos were the main recommendation for cooking these fish.
When we got the redfish back to our kitchen we gave it a 10 minutes soak in a 5% salt brine. This technique is in both of our books and we routinely use it with any fish we bring home. It rinses away any surface proteins and debris, slightly denatures the surface layer of the fish, and reduces the coagulation of albumen when you cook the fish. In layman's terms that means that the fish stays fresh a bit longer in the refrigerator and cooks up cleanly without a lot of white gunk on the surface of the meat. It also adds a bit of seasoning but we don't leave the fish in there long enough for it to become salty. After brining, we patted the fillets dry, and checked them for stray scales and bones. We left the cleaned fish on a towel on a sheet pan, covered them with plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge until dinnertime.
We dredged the filets in potato starch and shallow fried them in rice bran oil. They curled lightly in the hot oil and came out lightly golden and crisp. The redfish fillets were juicy and rich, flaking easily as we bit through the crisp coating. They were like perfect little fish fingers and begged to be eaten out of hand right off the rack. Truth be told, a few disappeared before they ever made it to the table.
Alex wanted tacos and I wanted to focus on the fish so we prepared a meal that could go either way. There was a saute of green beans and swiss chard stems in a garlicky vinaigrette, guacamole, sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, hot sauce and warm tortillas. Alex and Amaya happily built and devoured tacos while Bill and I ate fish and vegetables. And well, I made a mini-taco at the end. I just couldn't resist.
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