Archive | December, 2010

Seafood Impromptu

9 Dec

Recently I had a hankering for a fish stew. However, living far away from the sea sometimes poses a bit of a problem when trying to find good seafood. Obviously Toronto has an immense offer for just about anything if you’re willing to spend the time and money to find it. Thankfully the St. Lawrence Market has a wonderful selection of seafood, and so do most of the large supermarkets. While this is all fine and dandy, traffic sometimes gets in the way of getting to these fine food emporiums and I am left with whatever is in the fridge/freezer. Although I am an advocate of using the freshest ingredients, sometimes convenience trumps everything else. I really wanted fish stew but only had frozen shrimp, octopus, and scallops. I quickly ran down to the corner supermarket and got some fish fillets and mussels in their rather diminutive seafood section.  Now the problem was lack of fish bones (a critical element in making a fish stock).  I would generally cook all the proteins for the stew separately and bring them together and the end with the base of the stew (which has the fishy stock). However given the circumstances I cooked each element in the same pot while conserving all the juices. Once I had filtered all those juices it served as my stock base. The result was surprisingly good.

At the same time I decided to make 3 small amuse bouches: ceviche, pan seared and prosciutto wrapped scallop, and paprika and potato octopus. I started with the ceviche, lime cured fish, because it would take the longest. I sliced some tilapia into fine strips and combined with red onions, red peppers, lime juice, salt, white pepper, and a touch of a minced scotch bonnet. I placed it in the fridge for roughly 6 hours to let it cure.

Slicing the tilapia for the ceviche

As for my stew, I started with a some softened onions and herbs which I then added the mussels and steamed with some white wine. As I said, I conserved the juice which I then added to the bit of liquid I steamed the fish, and the other seafood with the exception of the octopus.

Base for the mussels and broth

Cooking the mussels with white wine

Octopus, unlike most things, benefits from being frozen. I thawed mine and plopped in in a large pot of salted boiling water for roughly 25 minutes until it was cooked and tender. Once I had my seafood juice stock base I simply added tomato and a few other ingredients and let it cook for a while. Once the base was ready I just added the seafood and voila!

Adding the seafood to the tomato and broth

The scallops were a bit of a different story. I decided to saute them in butter. I pulled one out before it was cooked all the way and then re-sauteed it after I had wrapped it in a slice of prosciutto.

Sautéing the scallops

I used a few pieces of octopus for the amuse bouche. I simply rolled them in some cooked potato slices I tossed in olive oil with paprika.

Amuse Bouche Trio: Prosciutto Seared Scallop, Octupus Galician Style, and Ceviche

As for the stew, I served with some garlic bread and a shot of sherry.

Seafood with garlic toast and sherry

Here is the recipe. Yum!

Luscious Pork

7 Dec

Sorry for the absence dear readers and food porn spectators! But as promised, here is the carnitas tacos post.

Carnitas literally means “little meats” in Spanish. In a nutshell, it is a typical Mexican preparation where the pork is first confit in lard, shred, and then fried. Quite obviously it is not a dish for the fainthearted or health conscious individual. However, for porketarians–that is true believers in the protein supremacy of king pork–carnitas is a delightful treat.

As with most traditional recipes, carnitas suffers from what I like to think of as the “grandma” syndrome. Let me elaborate. More often than not, staple dish recipes tend to have multiple different methods and interpretations. This often degenerates into something that goes along these lines: “my grandma used to cook this with the following special ingredients A, B and C that really made the dish better than other people’s version.” Although specific ingredients can often achieve amazing improvements upon preparations, I find that these claims are often more emotional than rational. Undoubtedly food preferences are intrinsically tied to memories and emotions. However, a reasonable level of objectivity is needed when determining what are better ways of preparing a specific dish that would please most people (not just those that had that grandmother that cooked it in a particular way). That objectivity can be found in methods as opposed to ingredients. Great methods can sometimes mean the difference between a great dish, and a mediocre one. The test of a great chef isn’t his use of amazing, fancy or expensive elements, but his dash of creativity and the right methods for the ingredients he has on hand. Carnitas is a dish that perfectly lends itself to such a test. Generally speaking it is made with pork shoulder (one of the cheapest cuts), and lard.

Here I sliced about a pound of pork fat that the butcher gave me for free and cooked it at low heat with a bit of water for about an hour and a half until most of it had rendered into lard. Needless to say I trimmed all the fat of the shoulder and used it in the rendering process. I cut the meat into fist sized chunks and cooked it in the rendered fat (which I had strained into a clean pot) at very low heat along with a variety of peppers, onions, garlic, orange peel, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, and peppercorns.

Pork Fat and Shoulder

After three hours or so I took out the meat and pulled it discarding of any connective tissue or fatty parts. Once I had cleaned all the shred meat I sauteed it with a bit of the cooking lard along with some more coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt. At the same time I sliced some tortilla chips and fried them for some tasty chips!

Shreded Pork and Fresh Chips

Previously I had made a Pico de Gallo, just tomato, peppers, onions, garlic, lime juice, a bit of oil, pepper, and obviously salt. In the meantime I had some beans cooking with some bacon, sauteed onions, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, coriander and pepper.

Pico de Gallo and Bean Puree

Once I had the pork ready along with the pico de gallo and beans I threw together a bit of rice with lime juice and finely chopped coriander. The rest was delicious history.

Chips, Carnitas Tacos, and Lime and Cilantro Rice

Here are the recipes. Yum!

Bureaucracy in action!

4 Dec

Carnitas tacos post coming soon. I promise! I’ve been caught up filling out paperwork and haven’t had a chance to post the fantastic carnitas tacos meal I made a couple of days ago. Once I get all the paperwork done I’ll put up the pictures. After that I’ll be working on a chili con carne post, so stay tuned foodies! Im also figuring out the details for a recipe and catering section on the site. Ideally I’d like to build  a recipe library based on the posts (I’ve got it mostly worked out. I just need to actually write out the recipes when I get some free time). As for the catering section, I am thinking for small groups in the Greater Toronto Area. Also, I’ve set up an email account for the blog if anyone wants to contact me: admin@thegildedpig.com

Keep on reading!

Venezuelan Culinary Extravaganza!

1 Dec

My formal culinary training focused strictly on french cuisine. Even though this is the case I often find that the basic methods of French cuisine apply well to other world cuisines. Simple things such as the cuts, the base stocks, and just general methods have either been adapted from the French tradition or have analogous methods. What does change of course are the elements themselves. Here I prepared typical Venezuelan dishes relying on my classic french cuisine training. The result you ask? Delicious.

I prepared five common elements from the Venezuelan repertoire: arepas fritas, empanadas de carne Mechada, gusacaca, platanos dulces, and yuca frita. Arepas are the staple food in Venezuela. They consist of corn meal that is shaped into something resembling a hockey puck and generally cooked on a flat top and later filled with any number of meats or cheeses. Here I chose to shape them into little balls and deep fry them instead. Empanadas are similar to arepas in that they use the same corn meal dough, but are colored with anatto infused oil and are filled before cooking (like a turnover). For these empanadas I used carne mechada which is the Venezuelan version of a pulled beef dish common in Latin America (Cubans call theirs “ropa vieja”). guasaca is a simpler version of guacamole commonly flavored with small sweet peppers. Although plantains are cooked in a myriad of ways in Venezuela, platanos dulces is by far my favorite method. Essentially, the plantains are fried and then cooked in a spiced syrup. Finally, yuca or mandioca is another starchy root commonly used in Venezuelan cuisine. Here I choose to make fries that went great with the guasacaca.

The key ingredients

After preparing the dough and filling them with meat I arranged them on a tray prior to frying them. I used a saran-wrap cutting board to press the little dough balls into discs that I then filled and closed.

Preparing the empanadas

The syrup for the plantains consisted of brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and water. After it reduced a bit, I added the plantains and tossed them around until they were covered, and the syrup had reached the desired consistency.

Preparing the plantains

As I mentioned before, arepas are generally formed into a disc shape and then cooked on a griddle called a “budare.” After they toast they are cut open and filled. However, here I decided to place a bit of half cooked bacon to give the interior dough some flavor.

Placing the bacon in the arepa

Once I cooked all the elements I arranged them neatly for a photo shoot! here are the golden empanadas and syrupy plantains. They were delicious!

Empanadas and Plantains

Here is the yuca fries, the guasacaca and arepas arranged in line. I dipped the fries in the guasacaca and ate the arepas with a little of butter. The half cooked bacon inside gave them a great flavor without making the interior too moist.

Yuca, Guasacaca, and Arepas
More detailed view

I will be posting all the recipes soon in case you want to give these a try! Although my arrangements and general presentation make these  dishes look hard to make, the opposite tends to be the case. I always strive to take simple dishes and make them look perfect.

Here are the recipes. Yum!