Wednesday, March 13, 2013

technicolor cavolfiori

We are getting SO close to spring time that it hurts...I'm ready to come out of culinary hibernation and get this show on the road.  I'm ready to see some color out there, and we all know I can't wait to over-purchase boatloads of highly perishable baby vegetables and items that are only available for a small window of time.  Seems logical, no? I just get excited.  I've sort of learned how to maintain my enthusiasm and not go overboard, but it generally works out in the end.

That being said, it seems as though we here in New York are still a couple weeks out from breaking free of winter's root vegetable shackles and into the realm of unicorns and rainbows....I mean fiddleheads, ramps, spring garlic, and....rainbows.  Fortunately, I was able to stumble upon a bit of color in my travels today...even though those colors sprung from an oft-rejected vegetable, the cauliflower.  We all know that I have a place in my heart for cauliflower, whether it's plain roasted, made into a soup, or as a puree base for some dish, to name a few examples.  Today's selection: orange, purple and green.  My affinity for the combination of these colors is also a problem, but I suppose everything has to ultimately come full circle.  Sadly, the green was not of the variety of one of my favorite, and probably one of the coolest vegetables ever: the Romanesco cauliflower, which grows in kind of a conical, logarithmic spiral.  Nature showcasing Fibonacci.  What more could you ask for?! But I digress.

I wanted to showcase vegetables instead of making a protein the main event.  We all know I love my meats and fishes, but it's sometimes fun to be able to combine a slew of flavors and textures that equally balance one another out.  And this is exactly what happened with this dish - easy and delicious, and that's all there is to it!

Salad of Roasted Cauliflower, Raw Mushrooms, Fennel, and Parsley with Lemon
2 cups of cauliflower, cut into small florets and thickly sliced (1/4")
A pinch of chili flakes
2 cups of cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup fennel, thinly sliced - reserve the fronds
1 lemon, zested and halved for juicing
1 handful Italian parsley, picked
Olive Oil
Fresh Ground Pepper
Parmesan Cheese
Fennel Pollen (if ya' nasty)

Preheat your oven to 400F.  Toss the cauliflower with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, the chili flakes, a generous pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a roasting pan.  Slide the pan into the oven, and let cook for about 20 minutes, until just fork tender, tossing occasionally.  Right before removing the cauliflower from the oven, great about a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese over top, toss together and finish in the oven for just another minute before plating. 

While the cauliflower is roasting, you can prepare the raw, shaved salad.  In a separate bowl, toss the mushrooms, fennel slices, parsley, and lemon zest together.  If you're not a big fan of large chunks of parsley, feel free to chop it up as opposed to leaving the leaves whole.  Squeeze in the juice of your lemon and about 2 T tablespoons of olive oil.  Toss the entire mixture together - the mushrooms will soak up pretty much all of the oil and juice that you've combined it with.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, giving it one final toss to come together.  Set aside and let the flavors come together

To plate, divide the raw salad portion equally amongst four plates (this, by the way, can be eaten all by itself and fare very well!).  Divvy up the cauliflower, scattering it on top and around the mushroom salad.  It's all going to be mixed together right before you eat it anyway.  Heck, if you're not a plating obsessor like I am, toss it all together in one bowl and dole it out!

Finish each plate with a quick grind of black pepper, a generous grating of Parmesan cheese, and finally, a scattering of fennel fronds, just for good measure.  If you have fennel pollen on hand, give it a sprinkle for that ne sais quoi.  Get your fork ready, and dig in!

Although this can be done equally as well with standard white cauliflower, the visual aspect of the dish with the multicolored cauliflower takes it to the next level.  The roasting of the cauliflower gives it a bit of sweetness and nuttiness that counteracts the earthiness and freshness of the raw salad.  Being so thinly sliced, the fennel definitely doesn't overpower the dish with an anise-y flavor, but kind of subtly sneaks up on you as your eating it.  Same with those chili flakes! The lemon, as it usually does, brightens up the dish and brings it all together.  And obviously, Parmesan cheese makes everything fabulous.  A bit of saltiness, a bit of earthiness, but also a bit of sharpness to top it all off.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"brick" chicken!

I've been wanting to cook some version of brick chicken for a long.....yes, long long time.  Why have I not? Good question! Excuses.  I'll just cook chicken breast.  Maybe just roast a whole chicken.  I don't even have a brick! You name the reason, I probably utilized it on more than one occasion.  Maybe I was just scared to cook it and thought it'd be more of a pain in the behind than it actually is? But excuses aside, I finally took my chances with it - and I am so glad that I did!  Not only does this render to be one of the most delicious tasting, juicy versions of chicken (all components!), but it is absurdly easy and dare I say...foolproof? Obviously, the chicken can be cooked in the same manner and served with any assortment of sides and accompaniments - but this combination proved to be wonderful.  Classic French flavors, great textures, and fully satisfying at that. Have a go at it!

Brick Chicken with Pureed Celery Root & Mustard Tarragon Leeks
Serves 4, but could be shared by two.
1 3.5 lb chicken, butterflied, back bone removed (your butcher can do this!)
1/2 cup dry white vermouth
1/4 cup thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme)
2 fresh bay leaves, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced onion
Fresh ground pepper
Olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 lemon

In a strong ziploc bag or large glass pan, combine all of the ingredients and toss to combine. Allow to marinate for 2 hours in the refrigerator, or overnight. When ready to cook, pat the chicken dry and season both sides generously with salt and pepper.  Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, swirling in just 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Place the chicken pieces skin side down, and place a second skillet atop the chicken.  Here is where the fun starts! If you have a brick...more power to you.  You can wrap that in foil and place it right on top of the chicken.  I, sadly, do not have any bricks in my I had to be resourceful.  Actual weights, large cans, olive oil name it.  Try to get about 15-20 pounds of pressure on top of the chicken.  Once you've got enough weight, cook the chicken for about 18 minutes, until the skin is super crispy and golden brown.  The chicken fat will render while cooking, aiding in the cooking and crisping process.  After 18 minutes, remove the "brick" situation and flip the chicken over.  Pour in the chicken stock and squeeze in the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and simmer the chicken in it for another 3-5 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pan and let it rest for about 5 minutes, reducing any remaining stock and scraping up and cooked bits in the pan
- you'll use this as a nice pan sauce to pour over the chicken! When you're ready to plate, the full half of the chicken can be placed on the plate, or you can separate the leg/thigh from the breast/wing combo.

Celery Root Puree
1 large celery root, peeled and roughly chopped
Fresh ground pepper

Bring about 2 cups of water to a boil in a steamer - bamboo, stainless, or otherwise - and lower to a simmer.  Place the celery root pieces in the steaming basket and cook for about 5 minutes, or until fork tender.  Place the cooked celery root in a blender/food processor with about 12 cup of the steaming liquid and puree.  Add more liquid if necessary - the puree should be smooth and velvety, but not too runny.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Mustard & Tarragon Leeks
4 leeks
Olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 T dijon mustard
3 T tarragon
Fresh ground pepper

First, clean the leeks.  Cut the root off, as well as the tops just about where the leaves split off in two directions.  Halve the leeks and rinse them of any dirt.  Chop into 1/2 chunks. 

In a large saute pan, heat up about 2 T olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil has heated up, place the leeks in the pan, cut side down.  Allow the leeks to caramelize on that side, not stirring until they've achieved a nice golden color, about 5 minutes.  Toss or stir, and cook a bit longer until tender.  Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and cook until the sauce has been soaked up by the leeks and reduced - it should not be liquidy.  Remove from heat and toss with the mustard and tarragon to finish.  Season with salt and pepper.

Now onto plating!! Spoon out a nice dollop of the celery root puree on the bottom of the plate, and top it with the mustard leeks.  Place the chicken on top - a whole half if you're serving two, or one of the quarters for four.  Finish with the pan sauce, and get ready to eat!

Seriously. This chicken is so good.  Most people know my obsession and love for chicken, but this takes it to the next level.  So easy! The skin is remarkably crispy, and every part of the chicken is crispy, no matter what portion it is.  The leeks and celery root pair perfectly with the chicken, and add a great variety of textures.