Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Timing and the one critical component of the dish

No recipes in this post! I was watching "Michael Symon's How to cook like an iron chef" the other evening. I was struck by a few things in his approach. The first is the old adage of, "make sure you have all your ingredients ready" (aka get your mise en place together).

The second is, however much more valuable to me. I realised that for each of the dishes that he demonstrated, there was really only one thing whose timing was really critical. However, the dishes themselves had a lot going on. So that prompted me to think about how we manage time in the kitchen.

I suspect that we all have our own natural rhythms. Sort of instincts about how long it takes us to do certain tasks. Also we probably have an idea how long the critical item will be doing its thing. So, for example, Chef Symon was cooking some skirt steak. He talked about it taking 3 minutes on the first side, and less on the second. So we know that it will be done in 5 minutes, and then perhaps some resting afterwards - maybe another 5 minutes. 10 in all.

We therefore need to ask ourselves, "Is it possible for me to make the accompanying salad, set the table, pour the water,...in that 10 minutes total, recognizing that there are interruptions?" If you are anything like me, the answer is no, so we need to find ways of getting the other tasks done. The goal is for the meat to be perfect - after all it is both the star of the show and the major constraint on readiness. So perhaps you lay the table first, make up the salad dressing, assemble the salad all before you put the meat on to cook. It depends on your rhythms. Some of us like to work fast, almost in a panic - rushing about. Others prefer a more deliberate pace. The key is that you can't base your timing and sequence on what you see someone else doing. You have to decide for yourself and then avoid putting to much pressure on.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Green Goddess Soup

Madame and I went to a very good wine tasting at the Classic Cafe last Wednesday evening. As usual the restaurant did a very good meal, and they had clearly thought carefully about the pairings. For the soup course, the chef made a "Green Goddess" soup. It reminded me a bit of the cooking of Michel Guerard - he of cuisine minceur fame. It was a very green soup, with herby flavours - especially sorrel and garnished with sorrel leaves - and the surprise element was a drop or 2 of sriracha - the pungent, slightly sweet red chili sauce named for a small town in Thailand. Srirarcha sauce (plastic bottle, green cap, picture of a rooster) is actually made for the US market and complements this dish well, both in flavour and colour So this was a pretty dish, served beautifully. So good that Madame said, "I am sure you can make this".
Ever up for the challenge I tried. My approach was to be using avocado to give the soup body, blanched herbs and spinach for the flavor and lemon juice for brightening. A small amount of chicken stock to set the texture just right.
My first attempt (an abject failure) was to use water cress, cilantro, and a couple of varieties of Asian mint. That was terrible - too bitter. So I threw it away!
The second attempt was a whole lot better, so here are the details.
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lemon
4 Cups baby spinach
2 Cups fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh tarragon
1/2 cup fresh marjoram
2 Thai peppers minced
About 6 oz chicken stock (although I think vegetable might have been better)
Extra basil leaves chiffonade for garnish
Large sea salt crystals for garnish/taste
8 drops sriracha (2 drops per serving)
12 drops sherry vinegar on the basil garnish
Bring a large pot of water to the boil (at least a gallon). Prepare an ice bath - again about a gallon of ice and water. Scoop the avocado flesh into a blender, and add the lemon juice. Quickly blanch the spinach and herbs. They should be in the boiling water for about 5 seconds and then immediately transferred to the ice bath. They will all wilt. This will help remove some bitterness and allow them to retain their bright green colour.
Add the  hot peppers, blanched spinach and herbs to the blender and blend on high. You will need to add some stock to help it come together. You will need to blend until it is completely smooth and even coloured.
When the soup is completely blended, transfer to a covered container and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
Serve in chilled bowls. Chef Gilbert would have been proud - I chilled the bowls, and then placed the chilled bowls inside larger bowls packed with ice. Nice presentation. Into each bowl place a ladle of soup and 2 drops of sriracha. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Garnish with the basil chiffonade and 3 drops of sherry vinegar.

This did get the "we can serve this to people" accolade from Madame, so I figure it was a success.