Fried Roman Jewish Style Artichokes

Sunday, October 27, 2013


These fried artichokes are especially pretty because they are pressed so that their leaves open up and resemble flowers. The leaves will become crispy like chips and the hearts will become meltingly soft. Use very fresh artichokes for this so that their leaves are pliable and easy to press open. Baby artichokes are cute but have a very small heart. Regular sized artichokes have a nice big heart and big leaves.

They look complicated but since there is no batter, these are very simple and easy to fry. The frying is done in two steps--the first frying is at a low heat to cook the artichokes through, and the second frying is done quickly at a high heat to brown and crisp them.


Recipe: "Carciofi alla Giudia -- Crisp-Fried Whole Artichokes" from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan. Marcella Hazan's recipe is written for whole artichokes; for baby artichokes, I used the timing for baby artichokes from "Baby Artichokes, Jewish Style" from "Vegetable Love" by Barbara Kafka.
Rating: Great
Status: Made several times.
Yield: Serves 2 to 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients:
  • 12 baby artichokes or 2 regular artichokes, as fresh and pliable as possible (the artichokes at farmer's markets are often very fresh)
  • 1 lemon, to rub on the cut parts of the artichokes
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • oil with a high smoking point (such as peanut oil) for frying, enough to fill a deep pot with several inches of oil
  • Lemon wedges or slices
  • Dipping sauce (such as a flavored aioli, ranch dressing, or Sriracha mayonnaise*)
  • (optional) herbs (such as parsley, basil, sage, mint, or other leafy green herbs) to use as a fried garnish (Basil is my favorite.)
Clean the Artichokes:

Trim the baby artichokes by snapping off their brittle leaves until you uncover the tender leaves which are half yellow and half green. Slice off the fibrous green tips, and then use a paring knife to shave off the fibrous portions at the base of the snapped off portions and on the stem. When you are cleaning the artichokes, rub all of the cut parts with a lemon half as soon as you cut them so that they don't turn black. See here for more detailed information on how to trim baby artichokes. Regular artichokes are trimmed similarly, except that the hair covering the inside of the heart needs to be scraped out (this is easiest with a round tipped knife, such as a butter knife), the inner purple leaves with a thorn on top should be plucked out too, and the green parts of the stem should be shaved off (the green outer parts of the stem has tough strands, the inner white part of the stem is tasty and edible).

Gently spread the leaves of the trimmed raw artichokes as far apart as you can without breaking them. This works best with very fresh artichokes, since they are more pliable and less brittle.

Low Heat Fry to Cook to Cook the Artichoke Hearts Until Soft:

Heat the oil to 250 F in a large heavy pot with tall sides (e.g. cast iron dutch oven).

Add a several artichokes (you can add however many fits as long as there is some space between them and the temperature doesn't drop too much, but you shouldn't overcrowd the pan). Cook for about 5 minutes for baby artichokes or about 15 minutes for regular artichokes (or until they can easily be pierced with a knife; they shouldn't get browned yet), turning occasionally (if your baby artichokes are bottom heavy so they would only float right-side up in the oil, like mine were, you can gently hold them down in the oil for a few seconds with a slotted spoon or frying spider to help the tops cook through instead of turning them).

Remove from oil with a slotted spoon or frying spider. Let the oil drain back into the pot and then place on a drying rack. Repeat with all the remaining artichokes.

High Heat Fry to Crisp the Artichoke Leaves:

When the artichokes are cool enough to handle, gently open their leaves even more and press their tops on a cutting board to press them flat. Press them gently but firmly (using your fingers, a spatula, or spoon), since their delicate inner leaves will tend to fall out if they are pressed very forcefully. Salt and pepper them. The artichokes can be prepared to this point up to a few hours ahead of time.

Heat oil to 350 F.

Add several artichokes to the pot (you can add however many fits as long as there is some space between them and the temperature doesn't drop too much, but you shouldn't overcrowd the pan) and fry for 30 seconds for baby artichokes or a few minutes for regular artichokes until they are browned and crispy.

Remove the artichokes from the oil; hold them upside down over the oil for a few seconds until most of the oil drains off of them. Place them upside down on a rack to let the oil drain. Salt and pepper them on the top and bottom sides.

Repeat with remaining artichokes.

Serve immediately while they are still hot, preferably on a plate lined with some paper to absorb the oil (you can use a cut out piece of brown paper bag). Optionally serve with lemon slices to squeeze over and/or dipping sauces (such as a flavored aioli or ranch dressing).

To Make Fried Leafy Herbs (e.g. parsley, basil, sage, mint, or other leafy green herbs):

I like to use fried herbs as a garnish for this dish since they are fun to munch on since they are crispy and they are easy to make since you'll already have the oil heated to 350 F for the final step in making the artichokes. You can fry almost any herbs, however, one warning is that very large Italian basil leaves can contain lots of water inside the leaves, so be very careful if you choose to fry these because the water can cause the oil to violently bubble up, steam, and splatter (use a long handled spider to drop leaves in the pot, only drop a few leaves at a time, and keep as far as possible from the pot).

Make sure that your herbs are very dry (do not wash); any water on the leaves will cause the hot oil to violently splatter. Pick leaves off them stems (if appropriate) until you have about 2 cupfuls.

Heat several inches of oil to about 350 F in a large pot with several inches of space for the oil to bubble up and increase in volume.

Place a plate lined with paper towels near your frying pot. (Fried herbs have a tendency to be oily, so I like to spread it out on a plate lined with paper towels, rather than a drying rack so that the towels absorb some of the oil.)

Safety warning: When you fry the leaves, the moisture inside the leaves will cause the oil to bubble up and steam until the water evaporates. On occasion, there can be enough moisture to cause the oil to splatter. Stand back from the oil immediately after you place the herbs in the oil until the bubbling subsides. Therefore, use the first batch to test the moisture content in the leaves. Start with just one small half handful of leaves. Place leaves into a spider or slotted spoon. Stand an arm's length away from the oil and use the spider to over turn the leaves into the oil so that your hands aren't above the oil (since they are light you can drop them into the oil from several inches above) and quickly stand back away from the oil; the moisture inside the basil leaves will cause the oil to immediately bubble up and possibly splatter. As soon as the bubbling subsides (it should take only a few seconds) remove the leaves from the oil with a slotted spoon or spider (the quicker that you remove the herbs, the more vibrant green it will be); use the spider to drain the oil and then place the herbs on a paper towels set over a rack.

If the moisture content of your leaves is low and they don't bubble up much or splatter, you can increase the amount of leaves up to a couple handfuls that you fry in each batch. If the oil does not bubble up to much and you are comfortable, you it is okay to use your hands instead of the spider or spoon to put herbs into the oil, as long as you quickly remove your hands away from the oil. Repeat until you have fried as much herbs as you'd like. Regulate the oil temperature to maintain a constant temperature.

The leaves will be very crispy, dark green (tending towards a dull green or brown if it is cooked too long or at too high a temperature), and have a mild taste.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the crispy herbs.

* The sauce in the picture with the whole fried artichokes is Sriracha mayonnaise. I sometimes use this as the dipping sauce since it is quick and easy to make and I often I have the necessary ingredients in my refrigerator--Sriracha and mayonnaise, which I mix in approximately equal proportions. I have been using a commercially prepared mayonnaise (American style, since I didn't have Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise), but it is also possible to make your own Sriracha mayonnaise from scratch.

Trout Amandine

Sunday, October 13, 2013

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I visited Yosemite recently... actually, I visited the area close to the park boundaries since the park was closed due to the federal government shutdown. While I was there, I mountain biked to a small waterfall and also took a fly fishing lesson. I didn't catch anything, though since we were practicing catch and release, even if I did I wouldn't have been able to eat it.

After spending four hours knee-deep in river water learning to cast and scrambling along slippery algae-coated rocks, I suddenly had a craving for trout, specifically trout amandine. It is a classic French dish of trout topped with almonds and is often served with green beans or asparagus. Amandine indicates a garnish of almonds; it derived from the French word for almonds ("amandes"), though it is sometimes misspelled as almondine in American restaurants or cookbooks since this is more recognizable as relating to almonds to English speakers (wiki).

I choose the recipe for "Truite aux Haricots Verts et Amandes" (Trout with Haricots Verts and Almonds) from "Bouchon" by Thomas Keller since the recipe has been on my todo list ever since I read about it on DinnerALoveStory.com. The technique used to cook the fish in the recipe is interesting--the trout is seared only on the skin side for just a couple minutes and is taken off the heat before it is fully cooked through (it must be either butterflied or in fillets so that it will cook quickly). It finishes cooking from the heat of the green beans and the brown butter sauce that it is topped with. I was skeptical that the fish would cook through, but it turned out amazing. I'm glad I tried this recipe. Trout, like most fish, becomes dry if it is over-cooked. This technique helps to ensure that the trout is cooked perfectly; the fish is served just at the moment it becomes cooked through, moist and just barely beginning to flake.

The recipe can be made from a whole butterflied trout or from fillets (with the skin on). It's quickest and easiest with prepared fillets, but since I didn't catch a fish (and couldn't have kept it even if I did), I wanted a whole trout. The trout was already gutted when we bought it since there are enzymes in the gut which will cause the fish to go bad faster if they aren't removed, but William scaled, deboned, and butterflied the trout; he isn't squeamish. Although butterflying is a little more complex than using prepared fillets, it didn't take him that long.

It was a beautiful and very tasty fish (it is a McFarland Springs Trout from TwoXSea's Trout farm which is sold by Bi-Rite in San Francisco). I liked that this trout has pink meat, just like salmon (trout are actually related to salmon--they are in the same family); the trout's color is from being fed red algae. It had a delicate sweet flavor and firm meat and wasn't fishy at all. Almonds, brown butter and green beans are classic accompaniments for trout, so everything tasted perfectly together in the way that combinations that have stood the test of time often are.

Recipe: Modified from "Trout with Almonds and Green Beans" from DinnerALoveStory.com and "Trout with Haricots Verts and Almonds" from Bouchon by Thomas Keller
Rating: Great!
Status: Made twice.

Yield: Depends on the size of fish or fillets. A whole trout weighting 1.4 lbs before being butterflied and the green beans and almonds can be finished by two people if there are no other dishes; if a starch (such as potatoes or bread) is provided, this could probably feed four. 1 lbs of fillets should be enough to feed 4.


Ingredients:
  • 3/4 lbs green beans or haricots verts, both ends cut off and sliced in half (the segments should be about 3 to 4 inches long).
  • one 1.4 lbs whole trout (measured with head and bone-in) or four 10-ounce deboned whole trout or 1 lbs of deboned trout fillets with skin on
  • salt
  • pepper (either white pepper or black pepper)
  • oil with high smoking point (such as grapeseed or canola)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter *  **
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp minced Italian parsley
Special Equipment:
  • A heavy pan, preferably cast iron, that is large enough to fit the fish or fillets. If the trout is very large, you may need to cook it on a large flat griddle pan (preferably cast iron) which covers two burners (e.g. I cooked my 1.4 lbs trout on the flat side of this reversible grill pan since the trout was longer than my largest skillet. Since the grill pan covers two burners, it needs to be preheated for a long time so that there isn't a cold patch in the areas between the burners). If you don't have a large enough pan, then you could cut the fillets in half.
  • A serving platter or several plates large enough for the cooked trout or fillets.
Prepare the Trout:

If using a whole trout: Descale the fish. Leave the skin on. Debone and either butterfly (this webpage on honest-food.net shows how) or fillet. Remove the head and tail and save for making stock or discard.

Rinse the butterflied fish or fillets. Thoroughly pat dry, especially the skin so that it will get crispy when pan-fried (if the skin is wet, it will steam the skin and the skin won't get crispy).

Season the fish on both sides, inside and out, with salt and pepper (preferably salt at least 5 to 10 minutes before you cook the fish, so that the fish has time to absorb some of the salt). Place the fish skin side up so that the skin will air dry.

To Begin Cooking:

It is best to cook the trout, green beans, and almonds in brown butter sauce all the the same time so that everything finishes cooking at approximately the same time.

Place three pans on your stove (one for the trout, one for the green beans, and one for the almonds/ brown butter sauce). The pan for the almonds / brown butter sauce should be is large enough for the butter to only fill the pan halfway (the extra space is needed since the sauce may bubble up). Heat the pan for the trout on medium-high and heat the other two pans on medium. Turn on your fan.

For the almonds/brown butter sauce: Add 6 tablespoons butter and a pinch of salt in the pan for the sauce. When the butter begins to brown, add the sliced almonds. Stir occasionally to help them brown evenly.

For the green beans: Add 1/3 cup water and 2 Tbsp of butter into its own pan. When the butter has melted and the water comes to a boil, add the green beans. Stir occasionally.

Immediately begin cooking the trout after you have started cooking the green beans and almonds/butter sauce.

Cook the Trout:

Pat the trout's skin with a paper towel to make sure it is dry.

Coat the pan for the trout with a light film of oil that has a high smoking point.

Lay the trout in the pan, skin side down, carefully so that the hot oil doesn't splash on you. Don't move the trout after you place it on the pan so that the skin will get crispy.

Stir the almonds and green beans occasionally while the trout is cooking, and monitor their progress to make sure they are not overcooking. The trout cooks the quickest, so it will most likely be done first.

Cook the trout for about 4 minutes (the time depends on the size of the fillet or butterflied trout), until the bottom and middle of the trout has cooked through, but a thin layer of the surface of the trout is still raw (the trout should be about 75% cooked through; the hot ingredients that will top the trout will finish cooking the raw parts). As soon as the trout is cooked, place it on a serving platter (use a flat spatula to loose the crispy skin from the pan before moving it so that the skin doesn't stick to the pan).

To Finish:

Cook the green beans until they have softened slightly and cooked through but still have some bite to them ("al dente"); it should take just a few minutes, though older beans take longer to cook. Most of all of the water should have evaporated and the green beans should be glazed with butter. Salt to taste (Green beans taste best when they are on the salty-side. They should be salted enough for you to notice the salt). If the green beans finish first, keep them warm but try not to overcook them.

Cook until the almonds are a rich golden brown (it might take 5 to 10 minutes); the butter will have browned and foamed. Stir in the lemon juice and parsley (reserve a small amount of parsley for the final garnish); the sauce may bubble up from the moisture in the lemon juice but the bubbling will subside quickly. Carefully taste the sauce (be careful it is hot), and add more lemon juice or salt if necessary (the sauce should have a bright acidic tang but it should be slight so that the lemon doesn't overwhelm the sauce). If the almonds finish first, keep the sauce warm but don't burn the almonds while the other components finish cooking.

Use a slotted spoon to drain the green beans from their sauce, and top the trout with the cooked green beans while the green beans are hot. Discard any sauce left after cooking the green beans (putting it on the fish would dilute the brown butter sauce, and make the sauce cloudy.)

Spoon the almonds and brown butter over the green beans and trout and around the edges of the serving plate(s).  Garnish with the reserved minced parsley. Serve immediately.

* The recipe looks like it has a lot of butter in it (1 stick), but don't let that scare you. Most of the butter is used for a brown butter sauce; most likely you'll only eat the sauce which clings to the trout, green beans, and almonds and most will be left on the serving platter.

** I prefer to use unsalted butter in this dish. Since different brands may use different amounts of salt in their butter, you will have to carefully taste and adjust the amount of salt you add each time you make this dish if you switch butter brands. If you use unsalted butter and the same type of salt, then it will be easier to consistently salt this dish every time. If consistency doesn't worry you, feel free to use salted or unsalted butter in this dish as long as you add additional salt to taste.

Japanese Pickled Ginger (Gari)

Saturday, October 05, 2013

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Pickled ginger is well known as a accompaniment to sushi where is it known in sushi shop jargon as "gari" (otherwise is is called "beni-shōga); it is eaten to refresh the palate and also has antiseptic properties. It also goes well with grilled items, e.g. grilled fish (especially oily fish since ginger helps to cut the oiliness) or grilled beef. It is easy to make at home if you can find young ginger.

Young ginger can be found sometimes at Asian farmer's market stands in the spring through early fall and sometimes at Asian markets. It is currently still available in the Bay area even though it is already early October. It is distinguishable from the brown-skinned mature ginger by its pinkish stems and tips, very thin translucent skin, and creamy white color. Often it still has all or part of the green stem still attached. The best young ginger has tender bright green sprouting leaves and long slender stalks with a pink blush at the bottom.

My recipe below is for a very small quantity of pickled ginger, about 1/2 cup (1 small jar) made from 1 large clump of ginger (2.75 oz, measured with the stalks removed. It is the amount of ginger shown in the picture above). This quantity is good for those that want to try making pickled ginger at home and want to be able to eat it up quickly. Hiroko Shimbo's recipe on her website lists the ingredient quantities to use for a large batch (14 oz of young ginger).

Recipe: Modified from "Japanese Sweet Pickled Ginger (Gari)" from "The Sushi Experience" by Hiroko Shimbo. Also referenced "Vinegared Ginger (Sushōga or Gari)" from "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" by Shizuo Tsuji and "Japanese Pickled Ginger (Gari) Recipe" by Andrea Nguyen from VietWorldKitchen.com.
Rating: Great. Quick and easy.
Status: Made once.

Yield: about 1/2 cup (1 small jar)

Ingredients:
  • 2.75 oz young ginger (1 large clump or a few small ones, size is shown in picture above)
  • 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp rice vinegar (komezu)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2-1/4 tsp water
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Special Equipment:
  • Japanese mandoline or the ability to make paper-thin slices using a knife or other tool
  • Heat-proof small jar with a tight fitting lid
Have a heat-proof jar ready.

Bring a pot of water to a simmer and keep it at a simmer.

Mix rice vinegar, water, salt, and sugar in a small sauce pan. Set aside.

Use a knife to separate the knobs of ginger so that they are easy to clean and slice. Young ginger does not need to be peeled since the skin is very thin, but you should tear off the papery pieces of skin by grabbing them between your thumb and a spoon and gently tearing them off or use a hard brush to scrub them off. Rinse any dirt off the ginger. Slice lengthwise (along the grain, not across the grain) with a Japanese mandoline into paper-thin sheets about 2 inches long. They should be nearly see-through

Bring the rice vinegar mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Turn off heat. Reheat it later if necessary; it should be warm when you add it to the ginger.

Add the ginger slices all at once into the boiling water. Cook for 20 seconds (over boiling will make the ginger limp). Drain the slices in a colander. Shake to remove as much water as possible.

While the ginger slices are still hot, place the ginger into the heat-proof jar. Pour the hot vinegar marinade into the jar. Submerge the ginger slices in the liquid (if there isn't enough liquid, then add an additional tablespoon or two of rice vinegar or you can double the quantity of the marinade). The ginger may immediately turn a faint pink (it will be a very faint pink; the vividly pink colored pickled ginger is dyed). It turns pink because young ginger contains anthocyanins which react with the acid in vinegar. Though sometimes this doesn't happen and it may remain pale yellow; the flavor is not affected and it will taste just as good.

Let cool uncovered, and then cap and refrigerate.

It tastes best after it has marinated somewhere between overnight and 2 days, though you can eat it at any time. It keeps in the refrigerator for to three weeks to several months (it can be frozen for longer storage). You can keep the marinade almost indefinitely; add new blanched ginger slices to the same liquid to replenish your supply. The marinade is also delicious and can be used to season other dishes.

Additional Notes: You can substitute mature ginger in this recipe. Boil the mature ginger for 40 seconds or until the slices are translucent.

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