Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to cure a smelly fish

Sometimes the best things just sneak up on you. Or, they could swim.

Take these mackerel. Furthest thing from my mind when I walked into the fish store the other day. Absolutely the best thing I came out with.

A lot of people don't like the mackerel. "Too oily," I have heard them complain. "Too fishy."

Imagine that. A fish that tastes like a fish!

As my consigliere (of undisclosed ethnic origin) Gloede would say, Ach du Lieber!

Calm down, Glodes, pour yourself another Strega. I got this one.

See, I happen to like a fish that tastes like its oily, smelly self, and am specifically fond of the mackerel (saba at the sushi bar; possibly my fave, but don't tell that to the uni).

If you are a fan of the fish (and the olive oil and the garlic), then you will want to try this recipe for "oil-cured" mackerel. It is shockingly easy to prepare (trust me on this), and will keep in the fridge for awhile.

Best of all, it will be of no interest whatsoever to people who want their sea creatures to taste like land-based proteins that reside in coops or, if they are lucky (the protein sources, I mean), roam "free" in "ranges." Which will mean more of the tasty fishes for you.

Though not, evidently, for me. I put these mackerel out as an hors d'oeuvres the other night, along with a whole bunch of other cool stuff, and they were the very first thing to disappear. They went so fast, in fact, that all I got to do was dip a couple hunks of bread into the olive oil where the fish had once been swimming. Which is not such a bad thing, I'll admit, but still...

Just my luck to be running with a bunch of smelly fish eaters.

I need some new friends.

Oil-cured mackerel
Recipe from La Cucina Italiana

1 medium onion, quartered
1 medium carrot, halved widthwise
1 celery stalk, halved widthwise
5 sprigs fresh marjoram
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 pounds whole mackerel, heads and tails removed (I left them on)
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, finely chopped (I may have upped this a bit; okay, I did)
3-4 cups extra-virgin olive oil (I used less)

Cover onion, carrot, celery, marjoram, rosemary and bay leaf with cold water by 3 inches in a 4- to 5-quart pot; add wine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add mackerel, return stock to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and let mackerel cool to room temperature in stock.
Transfer mackerel to a cutting board; remove and discard skin and bones. Transfer fish to a bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and garlic, then add oil to cover by 1/2 inch. Chill in refrigerator, covered, for at least 12 hours and up to 10 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to make sausage

There was a Mutiny on the Meatball a couple weeks back, and it was all because of a sausage. Not the sausage you're looking at, another one. Guess I'd better explain.

See, every New Year's, Tom and Beth hop a bus from New York (they don't care much for flying) and spend about a week or so at the house. It's pretty much nonstop eating and drinking, with at least one or two big projects on tap to keep everybody sharp. Since no particulars were discussed ahead of time (unusual for this crowd) I had decided on my own that one of this year's group undertakings might be to produce a mortadella, a first for any of us, to be sure.

Mortadella, if you are not aware, is a sausage. My friend Joe (aka Mister Bigshot World Traveler and uomo about Rome) callously refers to this glorious Italian salumi as boloney or cold cuts or, worst of all, lunch meat. He does this, I am pretty certain, to hurt me, as he knows how much I love the fatty stuff. But this is not the place to get into all of that. (Note to Joe, though: I was out of town. It was 25 years ago. Get over it!)

To be truthful, I could not recall either Tom's or Beth's position on the sausage. However, before their arrival, I went ahead and secured the ingredients required to make it nonetheless.

Big mistake. For, as it happens, my normally fit and ready crew, comprised of individuals whom I have relied upon in many a difficult culinary challenge, shattered a deep trust by staging a quiet yet powerful coup that proved far too great for me to overcome. (You don't see a freaking mortadella here do you?)

I could list the many objections put forth — neophytes ought not mess with PhD-level sausage-making projects; strict temperature requirements were far too demanding given our facility; you (that would be me) are not the most reliable follower of recipes, and in this case following directions is crucial — but I won't. Suffice to say I was aghast. And wondered if I might learn to trust these people ever again.

Please. I need a moment.

Okay, so we polished off a couple bottles of vino and decided to make a batch of sweet Italian sausage instead. Way simpler. And, most importantly, my mutinous, scurvy kitchen crew seemed entirely willing to lend a hand.

Whaddaya gonna do?

The pork butt that was at the center of it all (yes, you use it to make mortadella). It's about four pounds, and gets cut up into one-inch cubes.

The back fat also gets cubed; there's about a pound of it here. (The full recipe follows, by the way, in case you were taking notes.)

The spice mixture: Kosher salt, sugar, minced garlic, toasted fennel seeds, ground black pepper and paprika. (There's also vinegar, but that goes in later on.)

The cubed butt, back fat and spices are mixed together, then put into the fridge before grinding. (Note to novice sausage makers: It's important that everything be cold when you're grinding. We even put the grinding attachment and the die in the freezer before using it.)

We used the KitchenAid grinder attachment, the small one, to grind the mixture. The platter that the ground sausage mix falls into must be cold; this blue one is resting in a pan filled with ice and water.

All ground up and ready to go (after you add the vinegar and some water). This is also the time to pinch off a small bit of the mixture and fry it. That way you can taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary, before committing yourself.

The casings (which I got from Pat's, a local butcher shop that makes good sausage) need to soak in water for about half an hour.

Then you need to clean them clear through by flushing them with water. The simplest way is to attach one end to the faucet and run the cold water for a couple minutes.

Like so.

Get your mind out of the gutter. This is the sausage stuffing attachment, and we're sliding about ten feet of casings onto it. The idea is to move all the casings up onto the attachment, so that when the meat starts coming out, the casings unfurl along with it.

Sausage mix goes in the top, slides out the side.

And into the casing it goes.

And goes.

Until you've gone through the whole batch of stuffing mix.

Twist into five- or six-inch sausage links and they're ready to cook, freeze or refrigerate.

We were hungry, and so we went the cooking route.

And, yes, they were so good that I almost forgot about the mortadella. And the mutiny.

Sweet Italian Sausage
Recipe from "Charcuterie," by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder butt, diced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound pork back fat, diced into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
3/4 cup ice water
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed

Combine all ingredients except the water and vinegar, then chill until ready to grind.
Grind the meat through a small die into a bowl set in ice.
Add the water and vinegar to the meat mixture and mix until incorporated.
Saute a small piece to taste it; adjust seasoning if necessary.
Stuff the sausage into the hog casings, and twist into 6-inch links. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Roasted eggplant parm

WE'RE NOW ON FACEBOOK. Please see box at right.

I grew up in a place where eggplant was breaded and fried.

And it was good.

But while preparing an eggplant parmigiana for some house guests over the holidays, I did not crack an egg or touch a single crumb of bread.

This was also good.

Behold, the best roasted eggplant parm I have ever made. (With apologies to certain members of la famiglia; you know who you are.)

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the eggplant (or not; I go both ways on this) and cut slices that are at least 1/4-inch thick (I go thicker than that even). Then it's onto a baking sheet with a good dose of Kosher salt, ground black pepper and olive oil.

Roast until nicely browned. (I flipped the slices once so that both sides could char a bit.)

Make a simple sauce. This one's got olive oil, garlic, hot pepper, a couple anchovy fillets (yes, anchovies), a handful of basil and some San Marzanos. And it only cooked for about half an hour.

Layer it all up, with fresh mozzarella and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bake in the oven at 375 F for around 45 minutes and that's that.

I like my eggplant parm at room temperature, so it always sits quite a bit before I'll dig in.

On this particular occasion, a couple of house guests tried to stage a premature and completely unauthorized taste while it was still hot. These efforts, I'm happy to report, were thwarted.

As for the guests, let's just say they won't be trying that again anytime soon. Capeesh?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pasta and peas

Every time I eat this, and I eat it enough, I am ten years old again. It’s Friday night, I’m just getting home from Little League, it’s starting to get dark outside, and my mother is standing at the stove, a ladle in one hand, my favorite white pasta bowl in the other.

“How’d you do?” she says dusting a little parmesan on top, the way I like. 

Then, a kiss on the head, touch of the cheek. All is right this night here in Brooklyn.

Think I might hang around a while longer, finish what's left in the pot. Make yourself some pasta and peas tonight. You won't be sorry, I promise. 

Pasta and peas (pasta e piselli)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 anchovy filets (optional)
1 small hot pepper (optional)
2 slices prosciutto (optional)
¾ cups frozen peas
½ lb. pasta of your choice
Parmesan cheese for grating

In a large pot of well-salted water, start cooking the pasta.
Saute the garlic, anchovy and pepper in the oil for a couple minutes, then add the prosciutto and sauté another minute or two.
Add the frozen peas and simmer another two or three minutes.

When the pasta is done cooking (save about a cup of the salted water), toss it in with the peas, etc. Turn up the heat and gradually add some of the pasta water until the moisture level is to your liking. Incorporate fully before plating and topping with grated cheese.