Tag : savory
Tag : savory
My family isn’t Scandinavian, per se, though it’s clear we wish we were. My paternal grandfather was Irish and born in England, while my paternal grandmother was from Ohio, but also Irish much farther back. On my mom’s side, my grandmother’s family came over from Portugal a long time ago, and I don’t know about my grandfather’s family.
In other words, we’re European-ish. But we’re not Scandinavian. If anything, we’re Irish, but I’ve never made corned beef and cabbage myself and I’ve only successfully made an Irish pot roast once, so this blog isn’t quite ready for a real Irish recipe.
My dad’s family has lived all over the world, from Chicago to Copenhagen. In fact, my dad and some of his siblings went to high school in Copenhagen (and yet the only Danish he remembers is “Vi skal spise snart,” meaning “We’ll eat soon.”)
From my Irish grandfather’s English upbringing and his family’s travels, we’ve adopted a weird variety of family traditions. I don’t know where Birthday Mouse came from, but I do know that our Christmas risalamande is one of the family’s Danish traditions.
We called our grandparents (when they were still with us) farmor and farfar (our cousins called them mormor and morfar), the Swedish words for “(paternal) grandmother” and “(paternal) grandfather.”
Even though we may not have any Scandi in our blood (aside from one aunt through marriage), we have plenty of Scandi in our hearts. And so here are some köttbullar (pronounced “hyutt-boo-ler”), Swedish meatballs. The main flavor in the meatballs is the onion, and though the spices are optional, I refuse to make them without allspice. The general recipe is cooked onions, bread, milk, eggs, pork, and beef, fried in butter. Butter is hit-or-miss with frying, unless you have a good cast iron pan (which I do, and I always use cast iron to make these) that can withstand the wear and tear. When I make the meatballs, I end up not needing any extra fat between the butter for the onions and the fat from the red meat, but if you do need to add more fat for frying the meatballs, you can use vegetable oil, a combination of vegetable oil and butter, or just butter (but watch your pan and your heat if you use butter.)
My version of Magnus Nilsson’s recipe has a tiny Mediterranean flair: I deglaze the pan with white wine (you can also use beer) and make a cream sauce from that.
spiced swedish meatballs (svenska köttbullar) and brown gravy
adapted from The Nordic Cookbook, by Magnus Nilsson
4 Tbsp (2 oz) unsalted butter
1 yellow onion or half of one large white onion
1 tsp ground allspice
4 oz milk or cream
1.5 oz stale bread or unflavored breadcrumbs
8 oz (1/2 lb) ground pork*
8 oz (1/2 lb) ground beef
a hefty pinch of salt
a hefty dash of ground black pepper
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour**
1/4 c white wine or light beer
1 c chicken stock
1 c heavy cream (for the sauce)
Egg noodles for serving
*Be sure that you’re not buying pork sausage or anything with the word “country” in the name: that’s breakfast sausage and is already seasoned (and very, very salty.) If you can’t find plain ground pork, or you can’t grind your own, ask the butcher.
**You only need the flour if you aren’t cooking the noodles. The water that you boil the noodles in will get starchy and you can add some of that to the sauce to thicken. If you are serving the noodles, then skip the flour. If you’re using the flour, add it after removing the last of the meatballs and before adding any liquid: flour for making sauces should go into the pan before the deglazing liquid.
Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet on the stove, on medium heat (you can use a different type of skillet or pot if you want, but I highly recommend bare or enameled cast iron.) While the butter is melting, mince the onion finely (because the onion bits will be in the meatballs.)
Add the onions and ground allspice to the skillet and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions brown a little bit and turn translucent, about 5 – 10 minutes. Prepare the rest of your ingredients while onions are cooking.
When the onions are done, turn off the heat but leave the skillet as it is, so you can use it to fry the meatballs.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the milk/cream, bread/crumbs, egg, pork, beef, and a hefty pinch of coarse salt and ground pepper.
Add onions to the mixture and combine with a spoon, whisk, or your hands, until the mixture is mostly uniform and you don’t see any dark red/pink spots left.
Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let the mixture chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to let it firm up. With ground meat, it’s best to handle and cook it cold because it holds its shape better. You still need to be careful about internal temperature, for sanitation reasons, and ground meat is generally less sanitary than whole pieces of meat. Make sure your meatball mixture is chilled so the meatballs don’t fall apart in the skillet, but while cooking, make sure they brown thoroughly and cook all the way through.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C, in case you need to finish the meatballs in the oven, and set aside a large ceramic baking dish.
Reheat the skillet that you used for the onions, on medium-high, adding more butter or vegetable oil if the bottom of the pan looks really dry.
Use spoons, your hands, or a cookie scoop (the cookie scoop is the safest and most consistent way to scoop the meatballs) to scoop the mixture. If you need to, roll the scoops of meat between your hands to form spheres.
Add the meatballs to the skillet. You should immediately hear sizzling as soon as you put the first meatball into the skillet, but not as much sizzling as when searing steaks. If you don’t hear the sizzling or you don’t see any bubbles around the edge of the meatball where it touches the pan, increase the heat slightly. If you immediately see smoke or the sizzling is intensely loud, reduce the heat slightly.
Add as many meatballs as you can without crowding the pan (they should be able to sit about 2 inches or 4 centimeters apart), let them brown on the bottom, then flip them to brown one more time on a different side. Each batch will probably take 3-5 minutes to brown on two sides.
You can either continue turning the meatballs to brown more than twice, and cook them through entirely on the stove, or you can transfer them to a baking dish and finish them in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes.
Test a meatball by cutting it in half: if it’s brown inside, that meatball and the others in the same batch are done.
When the meatballs are almost all done, start a pot of water boiling for the noodles. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add a splash of olive oil and about 1/8 c (most of a handful) of salt. Add the noodles and cook according to the directions on the package, but save about half a cup of the pasta water for the sauce before you drain the noodles. As soon as you drain the noodles, pour some olive oil on top and toss the noodles and oil together to keep the noodles from sticking while you finish the sauce.
Once all the meatballs are seared and out of the skillet, reduce the heat of the skillet to medium-low.
There should be plenty of fat in the pan from the meat, but if it looks dry or crusty, add a little more butter.
If you’re using flour for the sauce, instead of pasta water, add the flour to the pan and whisk to coat it completely in the oil. Let the roux cook and darken for a few minutes. (If you’re using pasta water for the sauce, save that for later in the process.)
Add the wine or beer and bring to a boil. While the alcohol is boiling, scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the skillet and whisk them into the alcohol. Let the alcohol boil down for 2-3 minutes until the volume is reduced and the liquid is a bit thicker.
Add the chicken stock (if you have pork bone stock, that will also work), and continue boiling to reduce and thicken the sauce.
Reduce the heat to low and slowly whisk in the cream, about 1/4 c at a time. Once the cream is totally incorporated, increase the heat to let the sauce simmer so that it thickens. If you’re using pasta water, add that to the gravy at this point. Let the sauce simmer at medium-high heat for about 5 – 10 minutes, tasting and seasoning occasionally, until it coats the back of a metal or wooden spoon.
Turn off the heat and add the finished meatballs to the sauce to coat them. Serve over the egg noodles.
Smaklig måltid! (“bon appetit”)
previous butter + milk monthly muffins
Cheese is in the air this week. Or is it love?
They’re basically the same thing.
When I think of February, I think of Valentine’s Day: chocolate, roses, champagne, fake aphrodisiacs, raspberries, tomatoes, cheese. I’m not the only one who thinks of tomatoes and cheese, am I?
If aphrodisiacs were a real thing (and we’ve proven time and again that they are not), cheese would be at the top of the aphrodisiacs list. Ignore the fact that it makes some people (me) fart like an angry motorboat.
Ever since I started this Monthly Muffin series, I’ve been thinking I should do something savory. Jalapeño english muffins are still on the docket for some time in the future, but I’ve actually had the idea of cheddar tomato muffins in mind for at least a year. I attempted them once maybe a year ago and then never got back around to them. I had so little faith in the results of that first attempt, I decided I wasn’t sure if I was ready to date again.
I mean, if I was ready to attempt to make cheddar tomato muffins again.
And now here we are, back in the game. And the game is bright, cheesy, herb-y, and delicious.
The muffins are made with just the rind of the tomato and without all the excess water from inside, shredded cheddar cheese, fresh oregano, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top, plus a splash of ground white pepper for a little kick.
I considered using sundried tomatoes, but to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of them compared to fresh tomatoes. On the other hand, fresh tomatoes are insanely watery and I knew even before attempting these that it would be frustrating trying to get the recipe right. I remembered a technique I learned in a knife skills class at work for prepping tomatoes so that you avoid both the seeds and the water.
Voilà! C’est une tomate sans les organes!
Making the muffins without the tomato meat means you won’t have to worry about too much moisture in the batter, the muffins getting damp after baking, or adding excess flour to compensate. Whenever you bake with fruit, you’ll always end up with excess water.
cheddar tomato muffins
makes 1 dozen
8.5 oz (2 c) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground white pepper (can substitute black pepper if you want)
8 oz (1 c) milk
2 oz (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
4 oz shredded cheddar cheese
6-7 oz diced tomato rinds (~3 regular tomatoes, 5~6 Roma tomatoes)*
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, minced
~1/4 c finely grated Parmesan cheese, for finishing
*The cutting and dicing technique is nearly impossible with cherry tomatoes, because they’re too small to hold while cutting. A larger tomato is easier, and a firmer tomato is easier to peel and dice than a soft one, as well.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin pan with paper muffin liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, white pepper, and baking powder.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, and eggs, until uniform.
Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture and quickly combine.
Add the cheese, tomatoes, and oregano, and fold the batter together just until no dry patches remain.
Scoop the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way, and sprinkle a large pinch of shredded Parmesan cheese on top of each muffin.
Bake 25 – 30 minutes until springy to the touch and the tops are turning a bit golden.
Let the muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to continue cooling.
Muffins keep for up to 48 hours wrapped individually in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.
My relationship with cooking pork is much like the oft-debated “When was our first date? Was it the night on Lover’s Overlook when we fondled each other with our clothes on? Or was it the first time you took me out for dinner at Johnny Rocket’s and paid for my meal?”
Excluding bacon, the first time I cooked pork was soon after I moved home from Japan. I was just starting my individual foray into the world of cooking techniques and, intrigued by the idea of braising, I decided to try braising a pork belly. I expected something similar to Chinese spare ribs or those delectable slices of chashu/charsiu you get in ramen.
I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t even find pork belly. I braised some part of a pig in coconut milk and spices, and I was so excited to try this homemade delicacy. I had braised! I had made pork! It would taste sooooo delicious!
It tasted like Death.
Let me clarify: that’s Death with a capital D. It didn’t necessarily taste bad, though at the time I figured I might never braise a pork whatever-it-was again (it’s been long enough, I should give it another chance.) It just tasted…dead. Not like blood, not like mold (cough cough, lamb, cough cough), not like rot. But like flesh, or like dirt. Eating those chunks of whatever part of the pig I bought, I had a striking sense that this thing had lived, had skin, muscle, and bones, and then had died.
For my vegan and vegetarian readers, I apologize for the graphic imagery. For the rest of you, I rarely have qualms about what I’m eating, because as much as I can, I try not to eat things that would give me qualms (or salmonella, but that’s an entirely different monster.)
So it wasn’t that I felt psychologically or spiritually that this thing was dead. It just tasted dead. Like Death.
If I had to find a better analogy, I would say it tasted a little like dirt.
At the time, I figured that pork usually tasted like dirt, forgetting that I had actually eaten plenty of un-dirt-y pork in my life already, and I decided to focus on chicken instead.
That brings me to the second date, the one where he actually took me out in public, to a restaurant, as a couple, and paid for my dinner: Easter, 2016.
Knowing that pork and lamb are the common Easter dishes, I decided I would go out on a newly-blossomed limb and try one or the other. I gathered together a packet of spring pork and lamb recipes, attempted a shepherd’s pie well before the holiday to prepare, decided with certainty that I would never cook lamb again (that tasted like an entirely different kind of Death), and then picked out a pork recipe for the big celebration: Brunello Cucinelli’s pork tenderloin with garlic and rosemary.
I had to make a few tweaks to the process because Signor Cucinelli is far more skilled than I was, but when we finally cut into the garlicky, floral pork roulade, it tasted…like Life?
That’s tacky. Sorry. It tasted like spring. No capital letters.
Everyone who tried it (my grandma and my parents) agreed that it needed to come around again, so throughout the last 2 years, I found times to try the recipe again, or to try other (simpler) pork recipes (one of which will feature on the blog later this year), or, feeling super creative, to adapt that recipe for the season.
And so that’s what we have: in December, feeling the cold of winter deep down in places where cold should not be, I went whole-hog (not literally) and changed up the recipe to suit the season: rosemary became fennel and star anise; the garlic became garlic, apples, walnuts, spices, and honey; the white wine for roasting became apple brandy; and the white wine pan sauce became brandied apples with butter, shallots, and spices.
Basically, it’s baklava but with pork instead of phyllo dough, and savory-sweet instead of only sweet.
And if you’re wondering why the blog is titled “Winter Stuffed Pork,” I’ll give you a hint: cranberries are for autumn, spinach is for summer, and spring remains to be determined.
pork loin roulade with apples and walnuts
Learn from my mistakes: pork loin and pork tenderloin are not at all the same thing. They both go by many names, but what you’re looking for in this recipe is pork loin, pork roast, or center loin. It’s a big chunk of meat, shaped like a block, with a nice layer of white fat on top. If it looks kind of like a certain genital thing, it’s a pork tenderloin and will turn out completely differently in this recipe (so don’t use that one.)
Also, get yourself a good digital meat thermometer. When roasting meat, it’s easy to overcook the meat, and with pork more than anything else, it’s easy to dry out the meat too much. Anything you cook will continue cooking after you remove it from its heat source, so you can consider removing the pork from the oven when it registers between 140 – 145* degrees Fahrenheit. Adding brandy and cider to the roasting pan/Dutch oven will help, and if you think your pork dried out just a bit too much, then go heavy on the brandied apples on top.
*For anyone who doesn’t have a lot of experience cooking meat, make sure you cook pork all the way through (it’s not the same as beef, which has a wider range of safe temperatures.)
for the pork roulade
8 garlic cloves
1/2 c walnuts (2 oz)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp fennel seeds, divided
1 tsp anise seeds or ground anise
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 c honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
1/2 of one large granny smith apple, or any other red apple (save the other half for the brandied apple topping)
1 2-pound boneless pork loin or tenderloin
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c apple brandy
for the brandied apples
1 shallot, cut in half and sliced
1/2 of one large granny smith apple, or any other red apple
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c apple brandy
1/2 c apple cider
1/2 c honey
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp orange zest (zest from 1/4 of a large orange)
make the pork roulade
Preheat oven to 400°.
In a small food processor, pulse together the garlic cloves, walnuts, 1 Tbsp of the fennel seeds, a hefty pinch of salt, the spices, a splash of olive oil, and the honey, until coarse and chunky but not too pasty. Set aside until the pork is ready.
Place pork, fat side down, on a cutting board with the short end toward you. Holding a sharp knife parallel to board and about 1/2 inch up side of loin, make an incision along entire length of one side. Continue cutting, lifting meat with your free hand as you go, until loin is open and flat. Alternately, stand the pork up on one of the long sides so you’re cutting vertically, if that’s easier. This process is called butterflying.
Cover the butterflied pork with a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and using a meat mallet, pound out the meat until it becomes a little thinner and more even.
Spread garlic mixture over inside of loin and season with salt and pepper. Chop the half of the apple into small chunks, about 1 centimeter or 1/2″ wide. Place the apple bits evenly around the pork on top of the garlic mixture.
Roll pork tightly; using kitchen twine, tie at 1 inch intervals. Rub the outside of the roulade with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and the remaining 1 tsp of fennel seeds.
Place the pork, fat side up, in a large cast iron pot, skillet, or roasting pan. Add the apple brandy; roast pork until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of loin registers 140 – 145*, about 1 hour (the pork will continue to cook a bit after you take it out of the oven.) *Start checking after about 40-45 minutes.
When the pork is done, remove it from the pot and set aside to rest. Pour the liquid and fat from the pot into a large measuring cup and scrape out any brown bits. If needed, bring the liquid and fat to a simmer before you pour it off so that you can deglaze the pot and scrape out any stubborn browned bits. Keep the mixture for the topping.
make the brandied apples
Place the emptied pot or a clean sauce pan on medium heat and add a splash of olive oil.
Chop the other half of the apple into small chunks just like the first half.
When the oil is heated, add the shallot slices and apple chunks and saute for 3-5 minutes until both start to brown a bit.
Add the minced garlic and saute for about a minute until you can smell the garlic.
Add the apple brandy and bring to a simmer, deglazing the pot again and reducing the liquid by half. Pour the roasting liquid and fat back into the pot and add the apple cider, then bring everything to a simmer. Add the honey, bring to a simmer/boil, and let it cook until it thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.
Add the butter and orange zest, and whisk until the butter melts. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Slice the roulade evenly (slices about 1″-2″ thick), and serve with the apple brandy sauce.
Being of Irish descent, I have potatoes in my blood, and nearly every day this month so far, I’ve had them on my plate, as well. Roasted with garlic and rosemary, mashed with cream and chives, orange and sweet and roasted with maple syrup, you name it. Potatoes for me are the ultimate comfort food.
I have strange parameters for what foods I like and don’t like: I love bananas, but I don’t like any kind of artificial banana flavor or banana pudding. I love potatoes, but I don’t like baked potatoes. Ironically, baked potatoes (and roasted potatoes) are technically roasted, and mashed potatoes, if you put them in the oven, are technically baked. Woooo, words. I love cheese and sour cream, but I just can’t get into the whole baked potato thing, and I can’t explain why.
Mashed potatoes are a whole other story: I can’t get enough of them. I remember making craters in my mashed potatoes and filling them with turkey gravy, smothering the mashed potatoes all over roasted chicken, and scraping the mashed potatoes off of shepherd’s pie because I discovered I don’t really like lamb (I’ll make shepherd’s pie with beef instead and call it cowboy’s pie.)
I’ve made mashed potatoes myself plenty of times and I’ve had fun experimenting with extra things to add in, but it took a while for me to learn how to make them perfectly rich, creamy, and fluffy. The answer: cream. And also using a potato ricer (not required but strongly encouraged.) Really whipping up the potatoes so they aren’t coarse or grainy, then filling them up with cream and butter for smoothness, is the best way to make them. If you want, you can top them with cheese and bake the whole thing for a few minutes (in fact, I’ll probably end up doing that on Thursday.)
These mashed potatoes are flavored with caramelized shallots and fresh chives, but you can swap out the fresh chives for any other fresh herb (oregano is a good one), and shallots for roasted garlic cloves or caramelized onions.
caramelized shallot and chive mashed potatoes
serves 6-8 people
a splash of olive oil for cooking the shallots
2 lbs white, red, or gold potatoes
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1.5 c heavy cream
1/2 c fresh chives, chopped coarsely
hefty dash of coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cook the shallots
You can either caramelize the shallots on the stove or roast them in the oven. You won’t be using the oven for anything else in this recipe (unless you want to quickly bake the mashed potatoes after you combine everything), so unless you have a small countertop oven, the stove is the easiest way to cook the shallots.
Heat a medium or small skillet (8″-10″) on the stove on medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil for cooking.
Meanwhile, peel and slice the shallots thinly.
When the oil is hot, add the shallots and cook for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are noticeably bronzed but not burnt. Remove from heat and set the shallots aside on a plate or in a bowl.
Assemble the mashed potatoes
Coarsely peel the potatoes. You can peel them completely or partially, or even not at all, depending on how you like them. It’s easier to rice the potatoes with less skin but not entirely impossible to rice unpeeled potatoes. Cut the largest potatoes in half so they cook more quickly and fit into the ricer, if you’re using it*.
*Ricing isn’t required for mashed potatoes, though it does wonders for the texture. You can also use an electric hand mixer instead to whip up the potatoes. If you do use a ricer, though, with adjustable settings, you can use any but the widest setting. The widest setting will mean coarser potatoes and you may have to whip them with something else after ricing the potatoes.
Add potatoes to a large stockpot (6~8 quarts), and cover with water to an inch above the potatoes. Set the stockpot on the stove and turn the heat to high.
While waiting for the potatoes to cook, microwave the cream and butter together or heat them gently on the stove, just so that the butter is melted and the cream isn’t cold.
Once the water is boiling, start checking the potatoes with a fork every couple of minutes. You should be able to stick the fork all the way through the potato without much trouble. When the potatoes are tender, drain them in a colander in the sink.
Use a potato ricer, electric handheld mixer, or potato masher to mash the cooked potatoes in a large bowl. Whisk in the melted butter, warm cream, chopped chives, and caramelized shallots, and season to taste with salt and black pepper. The cream and butter make the mashed potatoes more smooth, and they should be plenty salty.
The mashed potatoes keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about a week or so, and can be reheated in the microwave. If they start to dry out, reheat them with additional cream or butter.
I always give thanks for good potatoes,
I occasionally work at a cooking school. By “occasionally,” I mean I used to work in a cooking school, but with a recent promotion (heyyyyy) I work almost exclusively on the retail floor (as a manager) at a store that contains the cooking school.
But this is a story about the cooking school.
There are tons of different classes taught in this kitchen, but the most common themes are French and Italian. It was during my first year at this store that I encountered…nay, heard of chicken piccata for the first time. Less popular this year for some reason, chicken piccata used to be the recipe du jour of the Italian-themed summer classes. I was working in the kitchen during one such class and there was an excess of the entree after the students were done, so I was able to sample a little bit.
Just one bite and I was in love. (Sorry, cardamom, but I’m a capers dude now.)
Such a simple recipe, and yet so intriguingly delicious. No wonder it was all the rage. In fact, until I attempted chicken piccata months later, following Giada’s recipe first, I had never made anything like it. The only meat I had ever seared up until that point was steak, which I always, always followed with garlic, rosemary, butter, and red wine. Never before had I dredged a piece of protein, let alone braised it in its own fat.
My first time making chicken piccata, and admittedly my second, third, and fourth times, I was not quite satisfied, but I was obsessed with figuring out how to make what I had tasted in that cooking class kitchen over the summer. I bothered chefs for advice, read every recipe on the Internet, and watched videos until I fell asleep, and I just kept making chicken piccata.
My mom’s family is from the Midwest, and if we’re talking bloodlines and ethnicity, they’re Portuguese (kind of.) They’re seven-layer-salad Midwest, Swedish meatballs Midwest (hint: I’ve finally perfected my take on Magnus Nilsson’s Swedish meatballs and you can expect a post about that in the new year.) Despite the mix of Scandinavian and Portuguese-ish heritage, it came about that when my mom’s family visits, I make Italian food. Why? The first time they visited after I moved home, I desperately wanted to perfect and show off my focaccia recipe. Subsequent visits involved attempts at chicken piccata, homemade ravioli, and recently, even chicken cacciatore. Basically, timing. Also, they always visit in the summer, which means basil and tomatoes, and thus, all things caprese.
Also also, my aunt owns a farm and an organic bed and breakfast in Spain, where she not only raises her own animals and provides her own ingredients for her B&B kitchen, but she also picks and presses her own olives. About a year and a half ago, she came to us with easily a gallon of first-press Spanish olive oil from her farm, and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to make sourdough focaccia, caprese salads (with our own basil and farmer’s market tomatoes), handmade pasta, and my two new favorite chicken dishes with my aunt’s own olive oil.
Thus, in a family with only one Italian person through marriage on my dad’s side, I make Italian food for my mom’s relatives.
And if you ever visit, I’ll make some for you. But for now, here’s a simple, Italian-esque chicken recipe: chicken piccata.
If you peek around on the internet, you’ll find a few different definitions of piccata and even a few different rules about what a real chicken piccata contains, but generally, the word refers to a meat breaded and cooked in a butter sauce. With chicken, the common flavor is lemon, and the favored addition are capers. More commonly, you see veal piccata (and veal marsala, but that’s a post for another year.) With dishes made in the same way as chicken piccata, you don’t need to dredge the meat, but traditionally, piccata is made with breaded cutlets, and the flour from the meat helps indirectly thicken the sauce (like a dissembled roux.)
The most important things I’ve discovered over the past year and some months of making this recipe are:
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or thigh
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3~4 Tbsp canola oil or light, refined olive oil
1/4 c all-purpose flour
extra-virgin olive oil or more light olive oil, as needed
1/3 c (~3 oz) lemon juice
1/4 c (2 oz) dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot, or even white cooking wine
1/2 c (4 oz) unsalted chicken stock
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp capers, drained (NOT rinsed)
Fresh parsley, chopped coarsely, to garnish
An hour or more before you’re ready to start, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Rest the chicken on a plate or cookie sheet between paper towels to dry.
If you’re using chicken breasts, I recommend butterflying them: lay the breast flat on a cutting board, and holding a long, sharp knife with the flat side parallel to the board, slice through the meat and open it flat like a book.
It’s also worth tenderizing the chicken breasts. Chicken thighs are already thin and tender, so you can skip ahead if you’re only using thighs. Wrap the chicken breasts, butterflied or not, in plastic or parchment paper, lay on a cutting board, and using a meat mallet, empty wine bottle, meat stamp, or rolling pin, roll or pound the chicken out until it becomes thinner and wider. Let the breasts rest on the paper towels to dry and warm up.
If you’re using chicken thighs, unravel them and lay them flat on the paper towels.
Heat a large skillet or sauté pan on medium-high. For 1 pound of meat, a skillet measuring 10 inches or wider is ideal, but you can cook the chicken in batches, so a smaller skillet or a larger recipe will work just as well.
In a shallow serving dish or plate, combine salt, pepper, and all-purpose flour and whisk with a fork.
Once the skillet has been heating for about 10-15 minutes, add a few tablespoons of canola or light olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom. There are a few ways to determine when your oil is hot: if you tilt the pan and the oil runs like water (the viscosity is thin); if you tilt the pan so the oil pools on one side, and then stick the end of a wooden utensil in the pool and see bubbles like you’re deep-frying the utensil; or if the oil is starting to smoke. Additionally, you can flick a little bit of the all-purpose flour into the pan and see if it bubbles and fries.
Dredge each piece of chicken, covering it in a light coating of seasoned flour on every side, edge, and in the nooks and crannies, then gently lay the chicken in the smoking oil. If you don’t immediately hear a sizzle, turn up the heat a bit and wait a few minutes before proceeding. You can do the chicken in multiple batches: keep the raw chicken between the paper towels until you’re ready to dredge and fry it.
Sear each piece of chicken on both sides*, until nicely bronzed. Once seared on both sides, remove each piece of chicken and set aside on a clean plate or in a clean bowl. Repeat with all of the chicken.
*When searing, I use the mantra, “set it and forget it…for a few minutes.” Don’t mess with the protein! Set it gently into the hot oil, let it sizzle, and let it brown for a few minutes. The meat will stick to the pan at first, and then gradually release as it sears up. Additionally, “golden brown” is the common phrase, but darker than gold is ideal, hence “nicely bronzed.” A bronze/copper color is the way to go.
You can do both thighs and breasts simultaneously.
Once all the chicken is seared off, lower the heat on the pan to medium-low and add the extra virgin olive oil (or light olive oil.) Let the oil heat for a few minutes, then pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits along the bottom. Simmer and reduce the wine a little bit, cooking for about 10-15 minutes.
Whisk in the lemon juice and chicken stock, and let simmer and thicken for about 10 – 15 minutes. Taste and adjust by adding more salt, pepper, wine, lemon juice, or stock. The sauce should be tart and flavorful but not purely lemon-y.
Add the chicken back to the pan, then add the butter and capers. Cover and let the chicken simmer in the sauce for about 10 – 15 minutes, until cooked through and ready to serve. Taste occasionally for seasoning. The sauce should end up lemon-y and buttery but not painfully acidic.
Serve the chicken and sauce over pasta or on its own.
What is more lovable than potatoes? Puppies? I think not. Fluffy kittens? Sorry, no. A French vanilla-scented candle washing away all of your soul-crushing self-doubts and broken dreams on a cozy, rainy, winter evening in a kitchen with a glass of cheap red wine and chicken roasting in the oven? Hah. Don’t make me laugh.
Being Irish, I am required by blood to love potatoes, and love them I do. Almost as much as I love cardamom.
Roasted potatoes was the first dish I learned to make…if you don’t count pasta. I mean dried, store-bought pasta that you boil in a pot for five minutes and drench in tomato sauce. I guess, then, boiled water is the first dish I learned to make, and to be honest, there was a time I couldn’t even do that right.
Once, I left the pasta boiling in the pot so long that the water evaporated and the bottom of the pot turned to charcoal. We had to throw the pot away. We have since ruined another 3+ pots (two Le Creuset stainless steel and one Calphalon hard anodized aluminum.)
Once, I tried to make gulab jamun and I put them in the water not only before it was boiling but also before I even added the sugar.
Everything, even something as simple as boiling water, needs a little practice.
After preparing pasta, roasting potatoes was the first thing I figured out how to do. Roasting potatoes is to college students with ovens what cheap drip coffee machines are to first-years living in closets. They’re simple, flavorful, hearty, and soul-soothing.
In Japan, I made oven fries on a weekly basis. For two years, I tried to get them to come out just like French fries, but alas, French fries are another adventure. Oven fries are just as delightful, though.
When I boil water, despite the old standby, I watch it like a hawk watching a soccer game until it boils. If water could blush, I’m sure it would.
When I roast potatoes, I set ’em and forget ’em. That’s the beauty of roasting (and also braising), you can dress the food, put it in the oven, and forget about it without worrying that you might carbonize the bottom of your beautiful steel roasting pan.
garlic rosemary roasted potatoes
serves 5 – 6
6 – 8 medium or large potatoes (white or Yukon gold)
extra virgin olive oil for coating
salt and pepper for seasoning
6 garlic cloves
4 – 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary (sprigs without the leaves work, as well, if you want to be resourceful.)
Preheat the oven to 450 F/ C.
Chop potatoes into just-larger-than-bite-sized pieces.
Toss the potatoes in the olive oil, salt, and pepper, and arrange them in a 9- x 13-inch roasting pan in a single layer.
Leaving the garlic skin on, smash the cloves with the flat side of a chef’s knife blade. Arrange the garlic and rosemary on top of the potatoes.
Roast the potatoes for 40 – 50 minutes until bronzed, tender, and fragrant, flipping them over once or twice throughout to prevent sticking and burning.
As they say in the homeland, “Dia Duit” (goodbye),
I used to be picky about meat. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly like it. I don’t know if I just got bored with what was on offer, or if I hadn’t developed a taste for it yet, but it was a rare meat that made me smile.
They say “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and that’s exactly what happened.
One week in middle school, my best friend said he didn’t believe I had the will to be a vegetarian, and that it was stupid to try. I showed him…for exactly one week. Then I caved. One meat I did like was Chinese beef, or beef in “Chinese” food. The chow fun did me in, y’all.
I was ashamed but also prideful, “I realized there was no point in being vegetarian. You were still wrong, even though I did give up. So…hah!”
Then in high school, I decided to try again, and really try. For me, it was like a challenge: could I challenge myself to expand my non-meat experiences? By eliminating “cheeseburger” from my options at restaurants, I figured it would make choosing an entree easier, something I still struggle with. I also figured it would be the healthy choice (Present Me is rolling his eyes at Teenaged Me), and that it made sense because I still wasn’t super thrilled about meat as a concept.
The first year was rocky. My family would (perhaps unintentionally, or perhaps cunningly) leave halves of Panera sandwiches that they had bought in the fridge. They would be halves of the very panini that I enjoyed the most…and I, though I probably could, would not restrain myself from sneaking bites of the chicken bacon whatever that belonged to my sister.
I was a bad vegetarian. Once, I wanted to try a friend’s nachos, which had ground beef on them. I wiped the beef off, and shrugged, “meh.” They all looked at me and said, “you’re a really bad vegetarian.”
The summer before that, I had spent a month in Ireland, gorged on bacon and Irish sausage (Irish sausage is a godsend, unless it dark and called “pudding.” That is a not-godsend.)
I was ashamed. So I doubled down and said, “no more of this nonsense!” I went to homeroom a changed dude.
For about two years after that I was a good vegetarian. I was super discerning. I was also a little nag-y, maybe (my college friends can confirm or refute.)
I once went out for Korean barbecue with friends, just because I didn’t want to be the only one not going, and ate all the pickles and condiments. And then I ate dinner when I got home. That was sort of a low, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
Early on in my second year at university, when I was starting to think about studying abroad in Japan, and also just living in Japan in general, a friend convinced me to exchange my vegetarianism for pescetarianism (is there a standard spelling for that yet?!) It didn’t take a lot of convincing. Before she could even get the “sc” out of her mouth, I was all in. “Please, teach me the ways of the fish!” We went out for a sushi dinner that night.
I loved all of it. That’s huge: as much as I disliked meat, I used to like seafood even less. But that night, I was in love. The lust has since plateaued into a balanced and prominent enjoyment of seafood.
I assumed I should get into seafood because Japan, and obviously, and duh. I later discovered I was misguided: Japan loves meat. The second step towards my carnal rebirth was ramen, an unavoidable and unforgettable thing…made with pork bone broth. I caved a little more: “I’ll only eat meat if it’s in ramen. Just that one exception.”
People were, understandably, flummoxed. I survived that way for a good three years, enjoying Los Angeles’s sushi and seafood scene, getting into Korean food (I can have KBBQ now!), and paradoxically eating ramen.
Fate, however, had different plans. Not only did Japan love meat, Japanese public schools loooooooove serving meat for school lunch, and the whole “how do I maintain my pescetarianism (sp?) at school without compromising my relationship with the staff” dance was exhausting. I successfully got them to stop serving me meat at my junior high school, but my elementary school was a more difficult task, and I gave up. I decided to eat the meat, but only at school (or in ramen, or if it comes from the sea, or if I can’t see it…and so on, and so on.) One of my favorite dishes was, morbidly, orange chicken.
One evening, while enjoying my daily hazelnut latte across from the McDonald’s near my apartment, I could feel my willpower leaving my body through the foot area, and I caved one last time. I told everyone I had started eating meat again. Nearly everyone I had ever known was elated.
My heart had grown fond, but my tastebuds and stomach acids had grown lusty.
When I first started officially eating meat again, I had to take it slowly, to ease my stomach back into the process, but I was like a caffeinated baby: ready and raring to go. Once I felt like my stomach could handle the red, I went crazy. I jumped so far off of the no-meat bandwagon, I couldn’t even see the car anymore. I ate so much meat, my mom commented when I moved home, “Well, I guess you really aren’t a vegetarian/pescetarian anymore.”
And if you asked me three years ago what my favorite meat was, I would have said “chicken.” I would still say “chicken,” though steak, cooked right, is pretty damn good, too.
That’s where this bird comes in: beer braised chicken. In my quest to learn cooking techniques (poaching, braising, grilling, roasting, and so on), I found a recipe for braised chicken and immediately fell in love…with the end result, but not so much with the recipe itself. It was inordinately complicated, so over the last fifteen-ish months, I’ve simplified it a lot. It’s a franken-braise, hardly reminiscent of the original recipe at all. I don’t even remember where I found the recipe.
Braising is one of those things that feels complicated because people make it complicated. You can find multiples of dozens of braising recipes and styles and techniques and tips online. It’s enough to make your chicken thigh spin (pun.) Since starting this recipe, I’ve tried a few others (coq au vin, braised pork belly, pot roast, to name a few), and every time, I was overwhelmed by the deluge of braising styles. To make things more palatable, I like to think of braising as Six Simple Steps:
Every recipe is just a variation on this. Some recipes use starch, others don’t. Some use a lot of liquid, others only use a little. Different meats take different lengths of time to braise. Some people boil the hell out of the meat (don’t do that.) Others, smartly, don’t let it get above a simmer. Some people pour off the fat, while others (me. it’s me), love the fat. They embrace the fat. You can make gravy with the braising liquid, or serve it as is, or even serve it soupy.
beer braised chicken
2 lbs chicken breast and/or thigh with skin and bone
~4 Tbsp canola or coconut oil (for searing and sautéing)
kosher or sea salt
crushed black pepper
1 large yellow onion
1/4 lb carrots
3 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour (or other starch, such as corn, potato, or tapioca)
1/2 a bottle of beer (dark beers, lagers, Pilsners, etc., work best, as opposed to IPAs or flavored beers.)
1 c chicken stock
1 long sprig of fresh rosemary (or 1 Tbsp dried rosemary)
Place chicken, skin side up, on a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet, and cover with paper towels to dry. Let the chicken come to room temperature, sitting out of the fridge for about an hour before you’re ready to sear.
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Chop carrots into thumb-sized chunks and place in a bowl with the onion.
Heat a large, wide sauté pan, braiser, or Dutch oven on medium heat for a few minutes. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the oil and heat.
Make sure the oil covers the entire bottom of the pan/pot. It’s ready when it runs as thin as water or starts to smoke. You can also test the oil by tilting the pan so the oil pools on side, and sticking the end of a wooden spoon into the pool. If it bubbles, it’s ready.
While the pot/pan and oil are heating, peel and mince the garlic cloves and set aside. Measure out and prepare the rest of the ingredients, each ingredient in its own bowl or measuring cup.
Liberally salt and pepper the skin side of the chicken, and when the oil is hot enough, gently place the chicken in the pan, skin side down. Place chicken in one layer with some space in between each piece. Liberally salt and pepper the opposite side.
Flip the chicken after a few minutes, when the skin is nicely bronzed, and continue to sear the opposite side.
Remove chicken, reduce heat to low, and add another 1-2 Tbsp of oil. Set the chicken aside in a bowl, and let the oil heat.
Add the onion and carrots and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender and fragrant, then add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until you can smell it.
Add the flour and cook for another minute or two, stirring/whisking constantly.
If you’re using dried rosemary instead of fresh, add the chopped, dried rosemary at this point and cook another minute or two.
Pour in the half bottle of beer and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the beer reduce by about half.
Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the chicken back in, skin side up, and cover the pot/pan.
Braise/simmer for about 45 minutes, making sure the liquid doesn’t boil, until the chicken is cooked all the way through and falls apart easily.
If using fresh rosemary, mince the rosemary and add it to the chicken after about 40 minutes.
Serve the chicken with the gravy, reducing the sauce after you remove the chicken, if necessary.
See ya on the flip side,
When I moved home last summer, I decided I really wanted to start learning to cook. That is, actively learning all the techniques, collecting recipes, and becoming more acquainted with the kitchen, rather than just knowing how to use my oven.
And I really wanted to make bread.
I had actually been wanting to practice bread for years, ever since I resolved to cut back on buying or eating processed food. I love me some whole wheat sliced loaves but some day I’ll be making them with my own hands, rather than trying to guess what ingredients are on the label at the grocery store.
At first, it was all English muffins. Vegan, not vegan, whole wheat, whatever. I was going cray for English muffins. Eventually, I started playing around with focaccia, too. As long as I can remember, I’ve had a soft spot for focaccia, especially Panera panini made with the flatbread. From the moment I started baking it myself, though, I knew I would never stop. Bread is already the World’s Greatest Comfort Food (and also one of the oldest foods, as well), and focaccia, with its rosemary-olive oil crust and fluffy interior, is all the more belly-filling and heart-warming!
It’s also relatively simple to make, as far as breads go. I went through a couple different recipes, watched every YouTube video I could find, and came up with my own experiment to determine how best to make the flatbread. I tried different amounts of oil, different steps in making the dough, different amounts of flour and water, and different proofing times. Along the way, I found that the less flour you use, the better. Sometimes you can’t get away with not using flour: when you have to knead or shape the dough, for example. But in this case, using less flour than you’d expect results in a lighter and more flavorful bread. I end up making something closer to batter than dough.
The bread keeps for a few days just fine, but it’s so good you’ll have to hide the extra so you don’t eat too much in one sitting!
serves 6 – 8
100 g starter (or 7 g active dry yeast, plus an extra 50 g each of water and all-purpose flour; so 200 g water, 250 g flour)
150 g water
200 g all-purpose flour
40 g extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for seasoning
hefty pinch of salt (at least a tablespoon)
1 tsp sugar
seasonings and add-ons: coarse sea salt, fresh rosemary, garlic, olives
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl, combine starter/yeast, water, flour, olive oil, sugar, salt, and dried rosemary. Quickly whisk until just combined, then beat with a dough hook (either on the stand mixer or using a handheld electric mixer), for 5 minutes until uniform and the dough starts to pull away a little from the sides of the bowl.
It’ll be pretty wet and batter-y at this point, but don’t worry. Everything will be okay, I promise.
Grease a medium-large bowl with extra virgin olive oil, and, using a bowl scraper or spatula, scrape the dough into the oil bowl. Either flip the dough in the bowl, or lightly drizzle with olive oil.
Cover the bowl and let the dough proof, a few hours in a warm spot or overnight in the fridge, until doubled in size.
Oil and salt a large brownie pan with extra virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt, then scrape the dough into the pan. Spread the dough out until it covers the entire pan, then let rise, covered, in a warm spot for at least an hour. Don’t let it rise too much or it’ll lose elasticity. Two hours maximum.
Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C.
When ready to bake, stick garlic cloves and olives into the dough at random intervals, lightly drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh rosemary. Bake 20 – 30 minutes until golden brown and puffy.
Transfer the bread to a wire rack and let cool slightly before serving.
Buon appetito, i miei amici!
Onion is among my favorite flavors, right after almond, cardamom, and garlic. Fortunately, it’s also one of the basic components of savory recipes, especially soups, and when making a sauté, braise, or poach, one must always keep onions in mind, even if they make you cry (tears of joy because they are so delicious.)
The best thing about onion soup, aside from the sumptuous beef stock, is the simplicity. I am all about simplicity. Give me a recipe with ten ingredients and I’ll try to make it just as well with five. Emphasis on the word “try,” of course. You could easily make this recipe more complicated, and you can even make it simpler than I do (though you may regret it if you do.) Unlike with those ingredient-heavy poached salmons and technique-intensive braised chickens, though, french onion soup is really a two-step deal: cook the onions on low, simmer the stock on low. The low-and-slow technique really draws out the flavors from the onions, shallots, garlic, and herbs, and simmering helps intensify the wine and stock flavors.
Skipping past all of that mumbo-whatsit, onion soup, while it can take a while (1-2 hours at least for a really good dish), is really just a long period of doing nothing. Normally when I plan a meal, I can only manage 1-2 things from scratch, because by the time those two things are prepped, I’m too tired to prep anything else but salad from a box. Moreover, some dishes require delicate timing so they’re still warm when it’s time to dig in, or precise timing so they don’t burn or explode before they’re ready. The balancing act of getting dishes started and finished is exhausting, and some evenings I give up and only serve one thing, with a side of kale. Onion soup, though, is mostly waiting, with the occasional checking and tasting.
Let’s say you wanted to serve homemade bread with your soup. Prepare the dough either in the morning or the day before and leave it in the fridge. Start by heating the oil and slicing the onions. While the onions are caramelizing, shape your dough (stacked rolls for brioche, loaf pan for focaccia, misshapen slabs for ciabatta, etc.) The dough can proof a second time while the onions are cooking, and now you can prep the rest of your soup ingredients. Maybe you want some protein, too. Pull your (thawed/not frozen) steak, fish, chicken, whatever out of the fridge at any point while the onions are still cooking (or even before), and get that ready (rinse, dry, whatever needs to be done.) Now you have soup base going on the stove, meat drying and coming to room temperature, and bread proofing, and you don’t even need to have the oven preheating yet!
Most recently, I made brioche dough the day before the soup, and while the onions and shallot cooked, I prepped the dough in fluted brioche cups, then put them in the oven (at 80 degrees F/ C) to rise. While the dough was rising and the onions were caramelizing, I was getting all the rest of the soup ingredients ready and washing the dishes. I also had fillets of fish drying off and warming up at the same time. After adding the garlic, flour, wine, and beef stock for the soup, I took the dough out of the oven and set the oven to preheat, assembled a salad, and even assembled dessert, which I put into the freezer until it was ready to bake. I seasoned the fish, and after the oven was fully preheated and the soup had been simmering for ~20 minutes, I heated up the oil in my cast iron skillet for searing the fillets, set out plates, bowls, and utensils, and cleaned up my mess. Everything was able to come out at the same time without all the running around and hair-tearing and inside-crying that usually happens when I cook.
You can prepare not just one entire meal, but more than one, while you make french onion soup and that, in addition to the taste, is why I love it so much.
I have on and off problems with lactose intolerance. Some days, dairy is deadly, while others, I frolic around the dairy fields, carefree and crap-free. Pills help, depending on how far I am towards the “dairy bad” side of the spectrum (some days, the pills do jack squat to keep me from the Irish sport of stomach hurling.) I try to be pretty strict about dairy (and I usually fail), and because the last time I made this soup, I had already prepared lemon oregano brioche buns, I decided just to do the soup without the cheese and toast. It’s still just as delectable.
Not only can you make the soup sans cheese, but you can also make it vegetarian or vegan by swapping out other soup stocks (mushroom, for example) and replacing the butter with other oils. Beware, though, that a lot of grocery-store mushroom stock has beef in it. I would recommend making your own mushroom or onion stock (or a combination!) Vegetable stock works, as well, but the flavor is very bright and tart compared to the beef stock and caramelized onions.
french onion soup
1 T light olive oil, or any other refined oil
1 T unsalted butter
2 yellow onions
3 – 5 cloves garlic, plus one extra for toast if using
1 T all-purpose flour
1 c dry white wine (eg., Pinot Grigio)
4 c (1 quart) unsalted beef stock
1 – 2 rosemary sprigs (with or without leaves)
coarse sea salt
Heat oil and butter in a stock pot on low-medium heat.
Thinly slice onions and shallot and add to the pot. Stir occasionally (every ~10 minutes.) Let the onions and shallot cook until sufficiently brown and soft, 30 – 45 minutes.
Mince garlic and sauté with the onions and shallot for a few minutes. When you can start to smell the garlic, add flour and whisk well. Let everything cook for a minute or two. The flour and butter form a roux and help thicken the soup.
Pour in the wine, bring to a simmer, and reduce slightly, then add the stock and bring to a boil. When boiling, throw in the rosemary sprigs. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 – 45 minutes, tasting occasionally and adding salt for flavor.
If doing gratinée
4 – 8 slices of baguette
2 – 4 cups of shredded cheese (parmesan, mozzarella, gruyere, etc.)
1 T unsalted butter, melted, or 1 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, or 1 T garlic salt
Once the soup is simmering, preheat the oven to 375 F/ C.
Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush with melted butter or oil.
Crush the garlic clove, if using, and rub onto the baguette slices, or sprinkle the slices with garlic salt. Toast for 5 – 10 minutes until just starting to turn golden.
Remove the bread and turn the oven up to 450 – 500 F/ C, or preheat the broiler.
Divide the soup into oven-safe bowls (ceramic or stoneware), top with 1 – 2 slices of baguette each, and sprinkle cheese liberally on top to cover the whole surface of the soup.
Toast/broil the soup in the oven or broiler until cheese is melted, bubbling, and a little golden brown. Serve garnished with rosemary leaves, black pepper, parsley, or any other desired herb.
Bon appetit, mes chers!
I discovered something late last year: I don’t generally like stews. It just so happens that most things called “stew” are things I don’t like. Not a fan of chili (except Cincinnati Chili, oh mama), try to avoid Brunswick Stew, and really don’t like boiled meat (beef is not meant to be boiled, y’all.)
But I won’t judge you if you do like stew. I just won’t cook it for you and if you have a habit of making it, or of boiling your meat, I will not be coming to your house for dinner (unless you buy wine in bulk, then I’m there.)
Because of this, I would much rather this recipe be called Mulligatawny Soup, but I’m not gonna try and rewrite history to suit my own preferences.
While I’m not a fan of stew, I am a massive fan of anything curry, the saltier and spicier the better. And bonus points out the buttcrack for coconut milk-based curries.
So I think I can overlook the name just this once…maybe.
I first had mulligatawny stew nearly a year ago, when I was still doing the food-writer-ing-editor-ing thing in Japan. One of the recipes submitted for a cold weather-themed spread I came up with was mulligatawny stew. I had never heard of it, but I needed photos for the spread, so I tried my hand at the contributor’s recipe (she is now one half of the food section editorial pair and her culinary endeavors are by far the most inspirational I’ve ever watched.) Needless to say, my attempt was a failure. I’m not a wonderful cook now, but a year ago I was abysmal. Unless I was making pasta or roasted potatoes, I was helpless. More stories about that throughout the year (think failed naan and that time I discovered chicken gizzard.)
My soup was thin, clear, and flavorless, but looked pretty enough in the photos. I’m trying to become more attuned to flavors in cooking and how to manipulate them. I have plenty of experience with pastry and baking that I can handle ingredients deftly, but when it comes to pots and pans, I’m a baby.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t trust this recipe. I put myself down but I have learned at least something since I started cooking. I spent the latter half of 2015 playing with soups (so expect a lot of soup recipes this winter and next), so I’m getting used to how things work together in the soup pot.
Between the first time I ever made mulligatawny stew and the recipe below, I noticed the big factor is the coconut milk. First of all, I’m lactose-intolerant and as I get older, my reactions become more intense/more frequent. Second of all, when there’s curry, there should also be coconut*. I can handle butter, but if you wanted to go full vegan, you could substitute coconut oil easily. If you’re paleo, coconut oil is the way to go, as well.
You may be thinking of green curry, which should actually taste like coconut, but I’m thinking of other curries. If you can’t handle dairy, don’t substitute soy milk. I learned the hard way (creamy vegan tomato soup) that soy milk breaks up. Coconut milk is smoother and holds together. I recently attempted tikka masala for the first time and had to make a non-dairy substitution. I thought coconut milk might be too strong a flavor for the tomato gravy, but you couldn’t even tell, and the texture was amazing.
So, when substituting for cream or milk, use coconut milk, and when substituting for butter, use coconut oil or other vegetable oils (peanut works very well.)
The chicken really adds to the soup but you could substitute it for vegetables of your choice (roasted cauliflower is brilliant, and as always, I love a good potato done any way. If you’re trying to cut back on starches, go with the cauliflower or some chickpeas.)
other important things I’ve learned:
1. Let the flavorings (garlic and onions) cook slowly and for a long time to really develop those particular flavors. In fact, cook everything for a little bit longer than you expect. Second, salt should be the last ingredient.
2. Most recipes say “salt for flavor” because salt determines the intensity of the other flavors. You can keep adding spices and it won’t change a thing if you don’t have any salt. Follow the recipe, and at the end, throw in a generous handful of salt, and then taste and adjust.
3. This one takes a long time to come together, so start preparing ~2 hours before you intend to eat. Fortunately this means you have time to prepare other things while the stew is going.
This is a perfect winter soup: it’s warm, rich and creamy, with enough spice to surprise you, but not so much that it’s hard to handle. The flavor is simultaneously light and strong, the broth is buttery even if you make it without butter, and the vegetables are sweet, savory, hearty, and refreshing. Using roasted cauliflower, or topping with roasted nuts, adds another delicious dimension, as well.
non-dairy mulligatawny soup/stew (with chicken but also with vegan substitutions included)
adapted from Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, by Melissa Joulwan
makes 9 servings (no really, it lasts a long time unless you eat it for every meal like I do)
2 yellow onions
1 large red apple
3 cloves garlic
1 lb carrots
salt and pepper
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh
oil (coconut, peanut, canola, etc.)
1 1/2 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 Tbsp flour or starch
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
2 bay leaves
1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes
4 c chicken stock
Salt, to taste
1-2 c coconut milk
for topping: toasted sliced almonds, toasted cashews, toasted shredded coconut
Dice onions and put in a bowl by themselves.
Chop apples, mince garlic, and slice carrots, and put in a medium bowl together.
In a large, deep stock pot, heat ~1 Tbsp oil.
Lay chicken on a paper towel lined plate and dry off with paper towels.
Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and brown chicken on both sides. Remove meat and set aside in a bowl.
Add a little bit more oil to the pot and let it heat for a minute.
Sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes until they begin to soften and brown.
Add garlic, carrots, and apple, and continue to cook until everything starts to soften and turn brown.
Mix curry powder, chili powder, flour, cayenne, and allspice together in a small bowl. Add the bay leaves and spice mixture to the vegetables, and sauté for about 10 minutes until the spices become dark and fragrant.
Meanwhile, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Add the coconut flakes, and chicken stock to the pot, scrape up any brown bits at the bottom, and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat, add chicken pieces, and simmer for about 45 minutes, until thickened, tasting along the way.
When soup is seasoned and thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk.
For serving: toast some sliced almonds, cashews, or shredded coconut on the stove in a dry frying pan, until they brown noticeably (don’t worry about burnt nuts, they add flavor), and put on top of the stew. Warm up some naan the same way, in the same frying pan, or roast some seasoned chickpeas in the already-hot oven. Alternatively, put out some yogurt (dairy or non-dairy) to eat on the side or add to the stew for a contrast to the warmth of the soup.
instead of 2 lbs of chicken, use one head of cauliflower or 2 lbs white potatoes
instead of chicken stock, use vegetable stock
If using cauliflower, preheat your oven to 450 – 500 F, or preheat your broiler. Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, spread out on a baking sheet, coat lightly with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
When oven or broiler are ready, roast/broil cauliflower until it starts to blacken on top.
Meanwhile, heat the oil and cook the onions, carrots, apple, and garlic the same way as the non-vegan version above.
Add the spices, flour, and bay leaves as above and cook until darkened.
Add coconut flakes and vegetable stock, and scrape up any brown bits from the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, until thickened noticeably.
If using potatoes, chop them into bite-sized pieces and add them to the soup.
If using cauliflower, add them to the pot about 20 minutes before the soup is done.
Simmer as above, turn off the heat when the soup is done, and stir in the coconut milk.
Garnish and serve as above.