Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Compressed watermelon

One morning we were having breakfast at Sustenio in San Antonio when this thing that looked like a piece of raw tuna showed up. It was a about1"x2" in cross section and 6" long. Looked like a lot of raw fish and at breakfast? Hmmm
And then I had a piece of it. It turned out to be compressed watermelon, infused lightly with pickled ginger. Compressing the ginger expels some of the water (flavourless) and then any flavourings are reabsorbed. Clever stuff.
So on the phone to Chef Gilbert - "is this doable at home?" using a regular vacuum "FoodSaver" rig. His simple answer - "yes, go for it".
So here goes:


1 Watermelon (using the flesh near the skin only) - total weight 10-12 lbs
12" piece of fresh ginger - juiced. I chopped it finely and used a citrus juicer
Same volume Agave nectar as ginger juice


Peel the water melon and slice into batons about 1/2" square and 3" long. Place batons into a vacuum bag in a single layer. Divide the ginger liquid evenly among the bags. Massage very lightly to ensure that the liquid is evenly spread across the watermelon in the bag.
Vacuum and double seal the bags. You will notice liquid being sucked out of the melon. Some may go into the channel. Don't worry too much that is easy to clean.
Refrigerate for at least 12 and preferably 24 hours.


This is amazingly flavourfull. You get a very firmly textured watermelon with the flavors permeating each piece. The watermelon flavour stays with you for an hour or so. 
Clever and simple.
Thanks Dave

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tarte Flambee (From Alsace)

It's getting to be the time of year when we want to cook outside. So the grill gets to become the star. Our favorite things to put on the grill are flat breads of one kind or another. We use pizza stones directly over the grill grates to help moderate and even out the cooking. Sometimes we do simple pizzas, sometimes other dishes. Yesterday was no exception. We had an old friend over for dinner and wanted to do a dish that she had never tried.
While tidying the cook book shelves the other day, I came across a book we had bought on a trip to Alsace several (about 10!) years ago. What better time to try one of the Alsacien classics. Hence Tarte Flambee.
Tarte Flambee is like a very thin crust pizza and is traditionally made using bacon, onions, and cream. Of course the recipe book was rather vague as to technique, cooking, etc. So some detective work was required.
So this is what I ended up doing:

Ingredients - 3 x 10" (25cm) Tartes


300 gm bread flour
175 gm water (room temperature)
1tsp instant dry yeast
2T olive oil
1tsp kosher salt


2 medium onions sliced pole to pole in crescents
6 slices thick cut smoked bacon
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2t finely grated fresh nutmeg
finely ground black pepper to taste



Mix the dough ingredients together (i usually add the yeast to the water first, but am told that is unnecessary). After they are well mixed, knead for 10 minutes by hand or 6 minutes in a mixer (e.g. KitchenAid). The dough wants to be smooth and elastic. It will be relatively dry. This is typically less water than I use when making artisinal breads (58% or so hydration for those who care). This dryer dough is much easier to roll out than the relatively wet (65+%) doughs I make for normal consumption.
Place in an oiled (use the same kind of oil as you used in the dough) bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave to rise n a warm place until about doubled in volume.
When risen, remove from bowl, knead a few times and divide into three pieces (each weighing about 160gm). Form these into individual balls until you are ready to use them. Time here is fairly flexible. From beginning to mix until rolling out was 3 hours. However you can speed up/slow down the process by controlling the temperature. If the first rise is going too fast, then it does little harm to slow it down by refrigerating the dough. However, always make sure that the dough is covered when in the fridge. It can pick up off odors and dry out very quickly (both extremely undesirable individually, and deadly in combination).

Topping (can be prepared several hours in advance).

Cook the bacon lightly until much of the fat has rendered, but the meat is not crisp. You want it the same sort of texture as Canadian bacon. Cut into batons about 1/4" wide. Set the bacon aside
Slice the onions and sweat in a little oil without salt for about 10 minutes until translucent. Set the onions aside.


Preheat the grill for about 30 minutes on as high heat as you can muster. The whole cooking time for one tarte is about 2 minutes.
For each dough ball, roll out thinly until it is 10" in diameter. Place the disk onto a peel with cornmeal on it to prevent sticking. Brush with a little oil. Ladle 1/4 cup of heavy cream onto the dough disk. Make sure you get close to the edge. Spread 1/3 of the onion and 1/3 of the bacon on each. Grate some nutmeg over the top, add a few grinds of pepper if desired.
Off to the grill! Cook on the pizza stone with the grill lid closed for around 2 minutes. You want a slight char on the bottom of the crust.


This dish goes well with a simple salad - although we served it with a Caesar salad and (of all things!) a Vinho Verde with its slight bubbles and yound, fresh taste.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

More ceviche thoughts

We are hosting a party in a week or so where we will be making a variety of ceviches (well perhaps technically not), more really "seafood where the proteins have been affected by acid". So by freeing up the approach, we tried some different acids and ingredients. So these are conceptual ceviches rather than the proper dishes.
Also because we wanted a variety, we decided to try several kinds of fish. The upshot of yesterday's experiment was to make the identical base for 2 different kinds of white(ish) fishes and something way out there for the salmon. With help from Chase and Jon at TJ's fish market, the experiment got under way.
We had the dishes for lunch and shared them with our neighbors. The neighbors thought that the dishes could have used more heat, but agreed with us that the fattier amberjack was the right way to go. So, for the party itself, I will take their advice.
I had had a conversation with Chef Gilbert (of Sustenio in San Antonio) and he counseled me against doing the vinegar based approach. However, I am a stubborn old cuss and wanted to try it anyway. It came out very well - not something that could ever be described as ceviche but extremely tasty anyway. I am glad I experimented - these are not dishes you do for the first time at a party!

1/2 cup key lime juice
12 oz fish (we used 6 oz bonefish and 6 oz amberjack but made the dishes seperately) 1/4" cubes
1" piece of ginger, finely grated
6 scallions, white and light green thinly sliced
1 habanero - seeded and minced finely
1 small orange bell pepper cut into 1/4" dice
1 small red pepper cut into 1/4" dice
1/2 cup diced (1/4") watermelon
1/4 cup diced (1/4") jicama
1/2 cup cilantro leaves and stalks finely chopped
3T tequila
salt to taste

METHOD - White Fish
Place the cubed bonefish into one bowl, and the amberjack into another. Pour 1/4 cup of lime juice over each, cover with cling wrap and rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients in another bowl. Leave to rest also.
When ready drain the fish leaving them slightly moist. Add 1/2 of the mixed ingredients to each fish bowl and mix thoroughly with a stainless spoon.
Server immediately with corn or other chips.

6 oz Atlantic salmon - cut into 1/4" cubes (no skin)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 kaffir lime leaf - torn and bruised
1t sesame oil
2 Thai peppers minced finely
3 scallions, white and light green thinly sliced
3T finely minced fennel fronds
3T finely minced fennel bulb
1T red palm oil
1 small red and 1 small yellow sweet pepper, cut into 1/4" dice
2T sake
salt to taste

METHOD - Salmon
Place the salmon in a bowl. Pour on the vinegar and add the kaffir lime leaf. Leave covered in the refrigerator for at least 90 minutes.
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl and leave to rest.
When ready to serve, drain off the vinegar from the fish and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well and serve with corn chips, fried wontons or other crispy chips.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ceviche adapted from Stephan Pyles

It's getting warm here in TX now, and we now want chilled, light, flavorful dishes. Especially those that go well with summer drinks - spritzers, margaritas and the like. Also we needed to take a dish to Madame's faculty party yesterday evening. In hunting through various recip books, I came across a scallop ceviche in a Stephan Pyles cookbook. We messed with it a bit, since we didn't want to overpower with heat. However, being cinco de mayo yesterday, we did want to make sure it had some tex-mex-ness.
Ingredients (Makes 50 little tostadas)
3/4 lb sea scallops (preferably dry) - cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3T orange freshly squeezed orange juice
4 medium tomatillos - husk removed and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic - minced finely
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 serrano pepper - minced
6 green onions - white and light green finely chopped
2 avocados, peeled and sliced into 1/4" cubes
Cayenne seasoned salt - to taste
50 corn chip shells (we used "scoopers, white corn chips")
Our method was a little unorthodox. We placed the scallops and 1/2 cup of the lime/orange juice juice into a chilled bowl and carried that mixture in the bowl in an insulated bag over an ice pack to the party. It was about a 45 minute drive. That's the perfect time for the scallops to "cook" in the citrus.
The other ingredients (except for the corn chips!) were combined, and the remaining lime added to make sure the avocado would not brown. This mixture was placed in a separate bowl, also inside the insulated bag.
On arrival at the party, drain the liquid from the scallops. Gently mix the scallops into the other ingredients. Spoon the scallop mixture into the chips and serve immediately. Add a little seasoned salt at this stage if desired.
These go extremely well with margaritas, by the way!