Friday, March 25, 2011

Cooking with Chef Brian Alberg

Last autumn  at a Railroad Street Youth Project fundraiser, I bought a cooking class with The Red Lion chef Brian Alberg.  Today my friend Amy Rudnick and I spent several hours in the kitchen with Brian  He is well known for his devotion to pigs, so when he offered to butcher a pig for us, we enthusiastically said yes.

Amy getting ready to butcher pig

Me with half pig

Brian beginning to butcher a half pig

We met in the kitchen at The Red Lion Inn at 11 a.m. this morning, and proceeded directly to a work table where half of a small pig sat awaiting us.  We learned that the pig hadn't weighed more than a bit over 100 lbs, or about half the size Brian normally butchers.  (btw, slaughtering is bloody--butchering isn't)  This particular pig came from his own sty at home.  Butchering is actually quite graceful, at least the way Brian does it.  We watched him cut what will be a delicious ham, the shoulder (or butt, as it's popularly called for no apparent reason), the loin, the tenderloin, the chops, the baby backs and spare ribs.  Every part of the pig is used, and he threw just a few scraps away.  Below Brian proudly displays the large pork chops, one of which we ate for lunch.

The large pork chop we enjoyed for lunch over fresh greens from Ted Dobson.

When Brian turned to the second half of the pig, he suggested each of us help him cut it up.  Amy gamely took up the knife and began rather gingerly, gaining more confidence as she went along.

Then it was my turn.  I got to make a huge cut into the fat, which was tougher than I thought it would be. 

After lunch Brian cut up all the pieces to use in making sausage. 

These were then put through a grinder with a large-hole disk attached.

After the meat went through the first grinding, we added eggs and cream (yes, really).  Before the seond grinding, we had to taste the mixture to make sure it was seasoned correctly.  Brian took a scoop of the mixed meat, cooked it up for a few minutes, and then we each had a bite.  It was delicious!

So we knew the seasoned meat was ready for its second, finer, grinding that went directly into the casing, which is pig intestines.  Here Brian affixes a length of pig intestines to the spigot that churns out the ground meat.

And here goes....

Brian filled a lot of pig intestines, which were then twisted into individual sausages.

Amy and I each got six to take home as souvenirs of a splendid day in the kitchen with Chef Brian.  We not only had a great time, but we saw firsthand how much of the food served at The Red Lion is made in in-house.  Every part of the fish and animals is used for something, which is how it's supposed to be but often isn't. 

The moral of this story is that the next time you're at a charity auction and a chef is offering a few hours in his or her kitchen, bid on it!  Bid on it until you win.  You'll have the time of your life.  I promise.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two amazing new discoveries

I've been doing a lot of cooking lately, but it's mostly been dishes I've already written about here.  Last night, however, I hosted a "welcome back" party for LA friend Judith Burke who rented a house here for 11 months.  She'll still travel back and forth, but is making GB her home base for a while.  Lucky us.

I wanted to make something elegant but simple, and chose a recipe from Melissa Clark's latest cookbook, "In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite."  I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book--stories precede each recipe, giving them a personality before you've even tasted them.  The one that caught my eye for dinner was Roiasted Shrimp and Broccoli (pp 106-7).  The prep time is maybe 10 minutes (less if you buy the broccoli already cut into florets) and then 20 minutes in the oven.  Who could ask for anything easier?  And, as it turns out, more delicious? 

I could already envision the bright green broccoli and fleshy colored shrimp on the plate, and then imagined how beautiful a carrot-parsnip puree would look alongside them.  What can be easier than that?  Particularly made a bit ahead and kept warm in the warming oven.  A Caesar salad made with daughter-in-law Naomi's favorite dressing came next, followed by the always-lauded Chocolate Bundt Cake (see November 10, 2010) topped with macerated berries (see February 27, 2011).

My grandson Soyer has a real taste for food with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, so I'm going to alter the broccoli-shrimp roast next time to accommodate those flavors.  But the original recipe's flavor is excellent, as you can see below.

Roasted Shrimp and Broccoli

2 lb broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
1/4 c evo
1 t whole coriander seeds
1 t whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 t salt
1 t freshly ground black salt
1/8 t hot chili powder
1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 1/4 t lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
Lemon wedges for serving

Preheat oven to 425.  In large bowl, toss broccoli with 2 T evo, coriander, cumin, 1 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, and the chili powder.  In a separate bowl, combine shrimp, remaining 2 T oil, lemon zest, and remaining 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t pepper.

Spread broccoli in single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast for 10 minutes.  Add shrimp to baking sheet and toss with broccoli.  Roast, tossing once halfway, until the shrimp are just opaque and the broccoli is tender and golden around the edges, about 10 minutes more.  Serve with lemon wedges, or squeeze the lemon juice all over the shrimp and broccoli just before serving.

I was so smitten with the way the roasted shrimp tasted that this will be my preferred method of cooking them from now on.  Amazing discovery number one.
Serves 4

Carrot and Parsnip Puree

1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1 lb parsnips, ditto
Knob of butter
Milk as needed
1/2 - 1 t vanilla

Cook chopped carrots and parsnips in boiling water until soft.  Drain and throw into food processor, along with butter and milk to taste, and whirr them until smooth.  Add vanilla and taste to make sure you've got enough.  Don't add too much at one time.  You're looking for subtle flavor.  Then add salt to taste. 

Sometime in the past I must have read that a bit of vanilla enhances the flavor of carrots.  I'd never tried it but as I was whirring the carrot-parsnip puree, it came to my mind.  So I tried it, even though parsnips impart the most amazing flavor.  The vanilla pumped up the flavor dramatically, ergo the second amazing discovery of the day.
Daughter-in-law Naomi's Martinique Caesar Dressing

This is the easiest and most delicious Caesar recipe I've come across.  I browned some sourbread croutons in garlic butter, drained them on paper towels, and threw them in with the romaine.  Excellent.

2 T red wine vinegar
2 t Dijon mustard
6 T evo
1 egg (can eliminate if you're nervous about raw eggs)
1/2 tube anchovy paste or 3 anchovies, mushed
3 garlic cloves, put through garlic press
splash lemon juice
1 t Wor sauce
grated Romano/Parmesan (1/4 - 1/3 c)
salt and pepper

I throw it all in my mini-processor and that's that.

Buon appetito.