Dish,etc.

Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Mahroussie's chicken

You know Mahroussie Jabba as the smiling brunette of Markouk Breads, creating her warm, paper-thin rounds painted in Lebanese aromatics at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market.  A Gloucester resident of 15 years (Jabba married Gloucester native Richard Jabba 17 years ago), Jabba creates a variety of incredibly high-quality Lebanese products, recipes from her native home in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.  My personal favorite is her Lebnah, rounds of yogurt cheese preserved in olive oil.  Jabba spreads the yogurt cheese on warm garlic bread, or on pita with cucumber, fresh tomato and a little onion or scallion.

M's labneh

I bumped into Jabba recently, and she offered me this recipe from her mother.  The basic love in this dish is much like the Singaporean “Chicken Rice” that I published recently:  poach a whole chicken and then cook the rice in that delicious broth.  The rice absorbs the chicken fat becoming a suave, luscious product, nothing at all like the bland, fluffy, white piles beside the protein on many American plates.  

But, Jabba’s mother adds aromatics – cinnamon stick, fresh rosemary, and bay leaves –  to the broth, along with tomato. The rice therefore absorbs that fragrance; it is almost more special than the chicken.  Jabba told me that her mother also makes variations of this dish, stuffing the chicken in advance with seasoned browned lamb or beef and rice, sewing the chicken closed and poaching it like that.  The chicken and meats are served beside the rice when served.  

Jabba’s mother also browns dry vermicelli noodles in butter so that they are dark and crispy, and then adds them to cook with the rice, creating a lovely texture and color to the starch.  

Sometimes Jabba’s mother adds toasted pinenuts to the dish.

Even this simplest edition, like the Singapore “chicken rice,” strikes a kind of collective, nourishing deliciousness that makes everyone keep spooning out more.

Markouk products can be found all year round at Cape Ann Fresh Catch, 46 Commercial St. in Gloucester, MA.

M's chicken and rice

Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread

Serves 6 with rice leftover

Ingredients

1 3-4 pound chicken

Salt

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups broth

1 can chopped tomatoes (28 ounces)

2 cups water, approximately

1 cinnamon stick

3-4 sprigs of rosemary

2 bay leaves

Salt to taste

2 cups rice

Toasted pinenuts for garnish (optional)

 

Instructions

  1. Salt the chicken all over.  Add the olive oil to a large dutch oven and heat to medium high.  Add chicken, whole.  Turning the chicken often, brown it well on all sides.  
  2. Add the broth, tomatoes, and enough water so that the liquid almost covers the chicken.  Add the cinnamon, rosemary, and bay leaves (tying them together with string makes them easier to remove.)  Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for an hour or until the chicken is almost cooked through.  This, of course, depends upon the size of your chicken.  Err on the side of the chicken being cooked completely through, as it will still be fairly moist cooked in this broth, and you don’t want to serve raw chicken.
  3. Remove herb bundle.  Taste the broth for salt and pepper.  Add the rice to the broth.  Cover again, and continue cooking for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.  
  4. To serve:  Some recipes remove the chicken from the bones, but I was going to serve my chicken immediately and it was very hot.  So I removed the chicken from the rice, and cut it into serving pieces.  Spoon all the rice out onto a platter, and cover with the chicken pieces or the boneless chicken meat.  Garnish with pinenuts if using.  

 

Donkey & Goat wines – favorites.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

D & G stonecrusher

Tracey and Jared Brandt, wife and husband winemakers, have created their Donkey & Goat wines the way most of us would want the world to be:  no plastics, all natural ingredients, structure and flavor encouraged from the vineyard’s terroir and soil, not manipulated.  These are “encouraged” wines, not produced.  

I’ve tasted six Donkey & Goat wines now, and can only describe them as uniquely dynamic; each has almost a rascally quality of surprise.   The velvety, unfiltered body and that bold balance of acid and structure just plain startles.  Their inexplicable freshness conjures a French farmer in indigo work clothes crossing a stone courtyard for this bottle of his house stuff.  

D & G box

The Brandts are minimalists:  Donkey & Goat wines ferment using only wild yeast and bacteria in the air and from the aged oak casks.  No additives are used except the tiniest bit of sulphur, far less than other wines.  No fining, cloudiness is embraced.  Like parents uninterested in test scores, the Brandts ignore their grapes’ sugar content, or brix, considered by most a cornerstone in the winemaking process.  The Brandts harvest grapes rather for flavor and variety.  

D & G wines

My affair with these wines started first with Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat, a bottle-fermented style of sparkling wine considered “Champagne’s hip younger sister” http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/07/peak-season-for-petillant-naturel.html.

Pet Nats, short for Pettilant Naturelle, are produced with only the grapes’ natural sugars and no added yeasts, ideal methodoise for the Donkey & Goat minimal intervention style.  We were not just startled but wowed by the deliciousness therein:  ginger and pear inside minerally-bubbles.   (Pet-Nats are considered rougher and thus less expensive than other sparkling wines.  Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat was on the high side for these wines at $45; Pet-Nats generally run from $18 – $28, but the Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat is truly a celebration-worthy bottle.)

“The Stone-Crusher” Roussanne is a beautiful example of an “orange wine,” meaning it has spent fermenting time with the grape’s skins, giving the wine a gauzy orange color and sometimes a cloudy cast, a wholesome “ding” that in a charming way signals the wine’s process.  Stone Crusher’s flinty feel and surprising body recall a bright cider but with the beautiful wine flavors of spice and dried apricots.  I am in love with this wine.  .

The Carignane was bright with a toothsome body, light fruit, and a little pepper.  After tonight I would nick-name it the “Shitake-Firer,” as it sent up flares of flavor around the shitake mushrooms in our dinner.  

“We make our wines for the table, not the cocktail glass,” Tracy Brandt writes on her blog.  I am not a wine writer, so I will leave more descriptions to the Donkey & Goat site, or to Robert Parker, but I can say each of the Donkey & Goat wines I tasted – including the above, “Eliza,” “The Bear,” and “Carginane” were consistently lively, dynamic, and vibrant; they are wines that drive conversation.  One sip, and suddenly everyone is trying to figure out what is going on here.  

Ranging in price from $30 – $50, Donkey & Goat wines are available on Boston’s North Shore in the Salem Cheese Shop and Savour Wines in Gloucester.  

D & G cork

 

Coq au Vin

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

coq au vin

 

Perhaps the best loved French dish in America, Coq au vin, has become so iconic it needs no translation.  Menus from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon print those three little French words with confidence if not casualness.  

Coq au Vin is classically a stewed old rooster from Burgundy.  If you lived in Burgundy a hundred years ago, and didn’t want to waste a tough old bird that crowed no more, you would cook it in your famous wine.  That’s how the whole dish started.  And there are other versions from other French regions – Coq au Reisling and Coq au Champagne.  But the Burgundian version – with bacon and mushrooms – turned out to be a sublimely famous combination of flavors, something repeated around the world.

There are issues to recreating a French farmhouse dish in modern times, mostly being that it began as a way to cook old roosters.  Few people have old roosters – or old laying hens, also called “fowl” – anymore.   A burgundian grandmere might cook that rooster for hours to ease some tenderness into it, but if we did that to a Market Basket chick we would have rubber poultry very quickly.  The original recipe threaded pork lardons through the tough meat, not to add bacon flavor but as an additional means of tenderizing the meat as it simmered.  

Coq au vin owes its American fame to Julia Child, who included the recipe in her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” published first in 1961 and a second volume in 1970.  In the early 1960’s only the extreme wealthy, some journalists, and academics had traveled extensively to France.  Most Americans were just exiting the great food trend of the 1950‘s:  commercially produced, frozen, canned, prepared meals.  American kitchens had been updated to be clean, sleek labs in which good moms warmed tv dinners in immaculate ovens.  

And then, “voila!”  Julia Child, along with Louisette Berhtolde and Simone Beck, published “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” and suddenly Americans wanted copper pots.  They wanted to understand wine.  The American love affair with French cooking began, and its poster child was coq au vin.

Child knew American cooks would not be using old roosters.  Her recipe calls for a 30 minute simmer of chicken in red wine.  Truthfully, it is impossible to build the levels the true recipe created this way.  To start, an older chicken might be tough, but it inevitably has more flavor.  The dish’s complexity depends upon simmering the chicken for 2-3 hours in that pork and Pinot Noir.  Some recipes call for marinating the chickens in red wine for days in advance, but most chefs confess it does little more than stain the chicken red and make it difficult to brown as it is too moist.  Truthfully, the best coq au vin is made with an old bird – either a rooster or a fowl – that demands long, slow cooking to tenderize it.  The flavor starts with the chicken, and builds in that slow process.

The lardons concept gets adapted in dozens of ways.  Child uses bacon, but blanches it to remove some of the smoky taste.  Others use salt pork or pancetta.  The original lardon intention of adding fat to soften the meat seems to have been lost here when we have access almost singularly to fat, tender chickens.  The modern coq au vin seems to have honestly become a “bacon-flavored” dish.  So be it.

There ARE a few sources on Cape Ann for retired chickens – Seaview Farms, Salt Marsh Farms, Grant Family Farm.  It is truly worth trying to find an old bird, if only for the singular earthy, lusty bouquet coq au vin creates in a long simmer.  If you have your “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” available, by all means follow Julia Child’s.  The recipe below takes the best of many recipes, while adhering to the premise that it’s that old chicken and the wine that matter most.  If you cannot find a rooster or fowl, simply reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes, testing for doneness.  This is a dish best spent preparing on a slow, snowy day, and best served by candlelight (that wine-dark chicken and those bronzed onions!). It’s a dish that proves winter has its blessings.   

 

Coq au vin

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil (to keep the butter from burning)

3 ½ -4 pound stewing hen or roasting chicken), cut in serving pieces

8 ounces good quality bacon, (not smoked, preferably uncured) cut into 1” pieces

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 bottle hearty red wine, ideally Pinot Noir

One bouquet garni (thyme, bay, parsley tied with twine)

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 cups chicken stock, more if needed

 

For the mushrooms and onions:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3/4 pound pearl onions or white 2” onions, peeled and left whole

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

To thicken the sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

 

Instructions:

    1. Melt the butter and oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. When the butter is hot, brown the chicken on all sides, doing so in two batches if necessary. 
    2. Remove the chicken from the pan and add the bacon. Brown it on all sides.
    3. When the bacon is browned, add the chicken back to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Pour the wine over all. Add the bouquet garni and the garlic, and pour in just enough chicken stock to cover the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat so it is simmering, cover and cook until the chicken is tender, almost falling from the bone, 1-1/2 – 2 hours.
    4. While the chicken simmers, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. When it is foaming, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are nicely browned, 10 – 12 minutes. Season lightly, remove from the heat and reserve.
    5. In a shallow skillet put onions, 2 tablespoons butter, and water barely to cover.  Simmer until water evaporates and onions begin to brown and glaze.  Continue to cook in the remaining butter until the onions acquire a beautiful bronze color.
    6. When the chicken is done, remove the meat to a side bowl.  DIscard the bouquet garni.  
    7. Blend the last butter and flour in a small bowl to a homogeneous paste.  Add 1/4 cup of the cooking juices into the flour and butter mixture, then pour that mixture into the sauce. Stir it in and let it cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened. Return the chicken to the sauce and rewarm all.  
    8. You can serve the dish two ways:  put the warm chicken in a bowl, generously spoon sauce over it, making sure the bacon pieces land on each serving, and tumble some mushrooms around. Tuck some onions in on the side.  Or, you can add the mushrooms and onions to the whole pot, let the dish sit overnight, and serve all as a warm stew the next day.   

 

Local Girl goes to MasterChef Junior

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Lila

 

One young girl about to compete in this season’s Fox MasterChef Junior television series grew up among the pea tendrils, strawberry beds, and yards of chard at Appleton Farms.

Lila Deluca’s parents signed up for an Appleton Farms’ CSA share before she was born. Now ten years old, Lila has spent her whole life visiting this North Star of local foods every week, spring through fall. Kale makes Lila very happy.

“We cook kale a lot at home; we bake it, saute it, put it in smoothies; we are always looking for more recipes!” Lila says brightly, nothing kale-tired about her.

“And we cook fish a lot, too,” Lila says. “In the summer we catch fish off our boat – stripers, sometimes flounder.”

Lila grew up in Rockport. When she was only seven, Lila and her younger brother Anderson pressed their faces as closely as possible without singeing noses to the chefs’ stovetops at the Rockport Harvestfest Seafood Throwdown. Sister and brother have remained front row faces ever since.

“Every year we go to Harvestfest,” Lila says, “we watch the Seafood Throwdown because we cook fish a lot, and we are looking for ideas, and then we make them at home.”

Nurtured thus on local fare, Lila has developed a serious dedication to cooking, an excitement that has landed her sunny, bespectacled face on the Masterchef Junior promotion page with her 39 other kid competitors.

Modeled on the adult version of MasterChef (Gloucester resident Christian Collins made it to the #3 position out of 100 on MasterChef Season 2 in 2011.), Masterchef Junior takes forty talented kids between the ages of 8 and 13, and puts them through a series of whimsical challenges in which some cooks get eliminated, and the field gets more and more narrow. Ultimately one lucky child takes home the MasterChef Junior trophy and the $100,000 grand prize.

Fittingly, it was television cooking that sent Lila originally into the kitchen.

“Every summer we would go visit my mom’s college roommate on Martha’s Vineyard. She had older kids who loved watching cooking shows. That’s how my brother and I learned to love them. We started watching them at home – I liked Masterchef Junior a lot.”

“I knew something was happening,” Lila’s dad, Scott, said, “when after one evening of watching Masterchef Junior, we heard Lila down in the kitchen the next morning at 6:30. She was making croquembouche.” Croquembouche is an elaborate tower of cream-filled profiteroles held together in a crystaline web of spun sugar.

Lila now slips on an apron and turns the handle on a pasta-machine in her Rockport kitchen like a professional. She hasn’t lost that Appleton Farms good taste; when asked what some of her favorite foods are Lila says, “I really like carrots, if you mix them with butter and brown sugar and almost caramelize it. I like this with fish because the sweetness complements the fish.”

The Deluca family travel often and far, therefore Lila has picked up some favorite International cuisines; she loves the simple beans and rice from Nicaragua, enchiladas from Mexico. At home she loves to prepare with her family Chicken Tikka Masala; “We love the yogurt sauces; we marinate chicken overnight in yogurt and mint,” Lila says.

Here is one of Lila’s favorite fish preparations, a simple white fillet – Lila loves cod and striper for this – coated in a Ritz Cracker and butter crumb. What makes it a little special is the onions and lemon underneath the fish, which create a bright, fresh sauce to counter those rich crumbs.

“I love it when the lemon and onions underneath the fish make juices,” Lila says. “We pour that over the crumbs on the fish when it’s served.”

Lila recommends serving this with roasted potatoes and, of course, kale. She sautés her kale in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and garlic slices, and finishes it with lemon juice and salt.

When asked to describe her cooking style, Lila responds, “farm to table.” She’s a girl nurtured on Appleton Farms.

MasterChef Junior Season 5 starts February 9th on the Fox network.

Lila's fish and kale

Lila’s Baked Fish

Ingredients
2 pounds cod, striped bass, haddock, pollock, or substantial white fish fillets
salt
8 ounces (about 2 sleeves) Ritz crackers
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 medium onions, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
1/2 – 3/4 cup white wine

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375
Rinse the fillets under cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
In the bottom of a baking dish that will hold the fillets in one layer, lay out the onion slices, lemon slices, and pour in the white wine. Lay the fillets on top. Cover the fillets thickly in the cracker crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the fillets are cooked through and the crackers are browned. Serve with roasted potatoes and sauteed kale with garlic.