Who flipped the switch? After weeks of height-of-summer salads and cookies suddenly here we are, plunged into nights when you need a jacket. I grilled a dozen ears of corn last Thursday, alone at home, nursing a scotch on our deck in the dark, except when I raised the lid of our grill …
Fat. Let’s not beat around the bush, shall we? Fat’s probably the best place to begin a discussion of Chicken Rillettes with Preserved Lemon and Summer Savory. Au debut, as the French say, in the beginning, rillettes meant one thing – pork. Or rather, pork and fat. Rillettes was pork that had been salted, cooked slowly in pork fat, shredded, then preserved in the same fat, and served at room temperature, usually spread on toast. Rillettes* are now found all over France, and while pork is still popular, in the Southwest, the Midi-Pyrenees, extending down to the Spanish border, the technique is more often seen with duck or rabbit. Today rillettes of salmon, tuna or other fatty fish, or even mushrooms are not uncommon on pricey menus. It’s hard to argue with that–what doesn’t taste good when cooked slowly in fat and salt?
As you read this, we’re feverishly running around dropping off the animals, picking up last-minute compact flash cards, camera batteries and a new swimsuit. This afternoon we fly off on vacation, to spend a couple of weeks connecting with old friends, exploring prehistoric cave painting, cycling, drinking, eating and playing Bananagrams on the terrace. I’m still uncertain about whether we’re going to go dark–EVERYBODY needs some time off the grid–or if I’ll try figuring out some sort of wifi connection for the occasional splash of photos. In the meantime we’re going out with something that anyone can use to make themselves look like a back yard fire god, Grilled Skit Steak with Spicy Green Romesco. You need a food processor and a bit of patience. Look at the photos: No complicated technique. Believe me, you’ll be killer.
I had my first experience with balsamic vinegar, the bona fide aged article from Modena in Emilia Romagna, while working in a gourmet grocery store in rural Rhode Island in 1981. I remember the occasion because it involved tasting a small drizzle atop strawberries and I thought it was a prank. The taste was transformative. Imagine sweet-tart strained through a bottle of Chateau Margaux. The combination has remained with me ever since. You can catch an echo of that experience in this week’s Seared Salmon with Strawberries, Rose Water and Balsamic Vinegar.
As the work-at-home dad, I used to pick up our son Oliver from preschool. We discovered a Tibetan restaurant a short walk away, and you know what they say, If you give a mouse a Tibetan restaurant… he’s gonna want a momo to go with it. Momos are exquisite little dumplings, the go-to item on a Tibetan menu. You may order other things, but you will always order momos. For Oliver and I, and later our daughter Roxanne, momos became a regular Friday treat.
Fast forward, ten years. We continue eating momos, when we find them, but have never tried making them. Then I met Tenzin Conechok Samdo, a new bartender at my wife’s restaurant, TRADE. I thought I’d get an insider’s view on on who made the best momos locally. After I photographed a series of his remarkable cocktails he began asking, “Hey, when are you going to invite me over to make momos?” He knew about The Garum Factory. Make momos? At our house? Um, how about this Friday? Herewith, Tenzin’s Sha Momos with Sepen. Beef Momos with Chili Dipping Sauce.
If I ever leave New England, it will be the taste of a freshly seared Atlantic sea scallop that brings me back. Big, meaty, packed with marine flavor. When people talk about regional American cuisine and they trot out Texas or North Carolina barbecue or Virginia hams or Alaskan salmon, I always ask if they’ve ever tasted a genuine New England sea scallop. Most haven’t. This week: Sea Scallops, Peas and Chervil. The sea scallops are large, they take a thin edge of delicious sear while remaining moist and rare in the center, and they hold a delicious court with butter, peas and chervil.
I eat a tomato lasagna about twice a year. When it appears in caveman portions, as it usually does, the sight of it fills me with a kind of anticipatory fatigue. Oh, no… Am I really up for this? It doesn’t have to be this way. A Ligurian lasagna redolent of basil and pine nuts is seductively lighter, a Wilma Flintstone to Fred’s red version. No need to clean the Augean stables or capture the Cretan bull to work up an appetite before you can eat it. Ordinary hunger will do just fine for Lasagna with Pistachio Pesto and Prosciutto.
For the last two years we’ve posted spring recipes for shad roe, a seasonal reward for surviving winter. We’re still rolling with roe this year, but of a dramatically different kind: Spaghetti with Bottarga, Preserved Lemon and Chilies. Bottarga is the salted dried roe of gray mullet or bluefin tuna. Grated over pasta or served in very thin slices, it may be even more of an umami bomb than garum. Until recently only Americans fortunate enough to travel to Sicily, Sardinia or parts of Calabria were likely to encounter bottarga. But about ten years ago lumps of bottarga began showing up in a few American chefs’ hands. Its rich, funky flavor provokes either love or hate, but at twelve to fifteen dollars an ounce, it’s pricey enough to keep all but the curious or committed from seeking it out and trying it. Two ounces is more than enough for pasta for 4. Be forwarned: the curious have a way of morphing into bottarga zealots after their initial taste experience. Think guanciale of the sea. Armed with a small amount of bottarga and prep so rudimentary it makes bolognese look like a kidney transplant, you can make a pasta dish fit for the gods.
The little piles of sesame seeds atop the prunes are the traditional way of garnishing the dish.
We’re baaaaaaacccckkkkk…. with a dish that’s great for a winter that refuses to die–Moroccan Short Ribs of Beef with Prunes and Ras el Hanout. Before we stumbled through an invisible portal into the Gehenna of wiring, longtime Rialto employee Mohammed Karachi and his family spent a morning cooking with us. Mohammed’s wife Layla walked us through their Moroccan family recipe for braised short ribs, using ras el hanout from Mohammed’s mother. What a treat! Layla’s ribs easily earned a place in my personal pantheon of great braised dishes. The spicy and sweet components are kept separate until the dish is served. Do you want a forkful of beef with Moroccan seasoning and a bit of prune at the same time? Or first the spicy, then the sweet? (My preference.) It’s comforting either way.
Food bloggers and their readers tend to be a supportive, upbeat, crowd (“Kale! Wow! Double thumbs-up!”). We don’t get many complaints, helpful suggestions for improving the site, but every few months this plea arrives: “Can’t you do something so we don’t have to cut and paste your recipes?” Never let it be said The Garum Factory …