Green Bean Chutney

This recipe comes from Joan Chapman, who has won many a prize with her chutneys and vegetables at the Great Bedwyn Village Fête, so we are in very capable hands. Runner beans are long, flattish green beans, often sliced on the diagonal.  The more you pick them, the more there seem to be the next day.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that my only real knowledge of chutney before this recipe was that one of the cavemen in those insurance commercials ordered roast duck with mango chutney.  A quick glance at Wikipedia told me that chutney is an Indian cousin to relish, and that supposedly the Hindi translation of “to make chutney” is a common idiom meaning “to crush”. This is because the process of making chutney often involves the crushing together of the ingredients.  What I do know now is that Mrs. Chapman makes a very fine chutney.  So let’s get to it!

Here’s another first for me: runner beans.  I’ve always been a fan of green beans, and they were one of the few “green” things I would eat as a child.  Runner beans however, are totally new to me, so I was flabbergasted to see them available at a local supermarket.  I had already resigned myself into trying to grow them so I could make this recipe, but luck decided to give me a little hand.

The runner beans were cleaned …

… chopped …

… and then blanched in salted water.

While the runner beans cooked, my wife chopped roughly 3/4′s of a pound of shallots for me.  I’m not sure how she does it, but the chemical compounds in onions and shallots that make me tear up just do not effect her in the least.  To say I’m jealous would be an understatement.  The chopped shallots were dropped into a pot with some malt vinegar and softened for a little while.

This is a bowl of Demerara sugar.  When I found a bag of it at the supermarket, I almost decided to just pick up a cheaper box of Sugar In The Raw since they are so similar in appearance.  To stay true to the recipe, I bought the Demerara.  After a bit of research though, I’m not really finding much difference.  Oh well.  I mixed the Demerara sugar in with the cooked shallots along with some Coleman’s Mustard Powder and some turmeric for color.

The blanched runner beans were added as well, and left to cook for half an hour so that the flavors could get to know each other.  Finally, cornstarch was introduced to give the chutney a bit of firmness.

I decanted the chutney into a sterilized jar, and then placed it into a cupboard for a few weeks to sit.  Last night, we cracked open the jar to find ourselves with an intensely sweet, tangy chutney with bits of bean that will squeak against your teeth and slightly crunchy shallots that add just the right amount of kick.

Since this is my first chutney, I’m not really sure what to do with it.  We’ve been spreading the chutney on slices of bread and eating it like preserves.  If anyone has suggestions, I’d be more than happy to run with them.

One down, one hundred to go.

Skate, Capers, And Bread

If your skate wings are small serve one each, half each if largish, and cut into four pieces if large. The main thing is to make sure your fishmonger skins your wings on both sides. The white bread hear does not refer to slices of stodgy, soulless, packaged bread, but a loaf with a distinguished crumb and splendid crust. You need a spirited salad to follow.

What a crazy week! Work has picked up, my mother and puppy had birthdays, and I’ve started playing tennis again. I’m still cooking though, I’ve just not had time to post. But this dish was so good, that I’m making time tonight.

This is another time where I wish I could thank Mr. Henderson personally for including such a wonderful recipe in his book. I’ve never had skate before, so when I decided that it was now my favorite fish after the first bite, I was reminded that I needed to keep my mind open when it comes to trying new things.

Skates are bottom-dwelling, cartilaginous fish found throughout the world, and sadly the common skate and white skate are assessed as Critically Endangered by IUCN (World Conservation Union) and the fish is listed by the Marine Conservation Society as a “fish to avoid”. I’ll do my part and only buy skate only one more time to finish all the recipes in the book. If you do end up buying skate, remember to use it the same day. Skate is extremely perishable so don’t delay!

After setting the oven to 425°F, I splashed a little oil and dropped a knob of butter into an oven proof pan and placed it over a hot burner. Once the pan began to sizzle, I carefully laid the skate wings in and gave it a quick “shuggle” to keep the skate from sticking to the pan.  I figured that I’d have the only use of “shuggle” on the internet, but apparently the term has various slang meanings.  What Mr. Henderson is asking for is a quick shake of the pan.  “Shuggle” is more fun to say though.  Shuggle.

Minutes later I flipped the skate over and gave the pan another little “shuggle”. For those that have never flipped skate before, it’s really, really tough. As you can see in the picture, the wing was already starting to segment and fall apart. The wing that isn’t in the shot didn’t flip as cleanly, but it still came out just as delicious. The pan was placed into the oven shortly thereafter.

In the meantime, I prepped the capers, parsley, lemon and bread I needed to finish the recipe. I made sure to pick a bread with a respectable crumb.

When the skate was finished cooking, I removed the wings and set them aside. The pan was returned to the burner and a whole stick of butter was melted. The second it started bubbling, I added my cubed bread. The bread was supposed to get a little color and crispy, but still be giving on the inside. The lemon juice was stirred in and sizzled until it turned brown and then the capers were added. Seconds before serving the dish, I sprinkled the parsley into the pan and then poured it over the skate.

Here’s the final dish. I can’t begin to tell you how sad I am that skate is on the “Critically Endangered” list. Skate is a wonderfully tender, flaky, flavorful fish, and adding capers, buttery croutons and a brown butter sauce just elevates it to a whole other level. I can see why they’ve been fished so heavily, but I’ll be staying away for now. Hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy it carefree in the near future.

One down, one hundred and one to go.

Shuggle.

Two quick things

Over at Offal Good, Chris Cosentino has a great post up.

Eats.com has a page on Deciphering the menu: offal They spent some time talking to me and  other chefs around the country about there reasons and beliefs on offal cookery in there restaurants. Take a gander and see what you think, they did a great break down of offal cuts with descriptions that you would find on menus around the country. This should be a great resource for any diner.

If you ever wanted a what’s what guide to offal, here it is!

Secondly, reader Ken Gallaher has pointed out to me two books that go way beyond nose to tail.

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

Award-winning food writer Fuchsia Dunlop went to live in China as a student in 1994, and from the very beginning she vowed to eat everything she was offered, no matter how alien and bizarre it seemed. In this extraordinary memoir, Fuchsia recalls her evolving relationship with China and its food, from her first rapturous encounter with the delicious cuisine of Sichuan Province to brushes with corruption, environmental degradation, and greed. In the course of her fascinating journey, Fuchsia undergoes an apprenticeship at China’s premier Sichuan cooking school, where she is the only foreign student in a class of nearly fifty young Chinese men; attempts, hilariously, to persuade Chinese people that “Western food” is neither “simple” nor “bland”; and samples a multitude of exotic ingredients, including sea cucumber, civet cat, scorpion, rabbit-heads, and the ovarian fat of the snow frog. But is it possible for a Westerner to become a true convert to the Chinese way of eating? In an encounter with a caterpillar in an Oxford kitchen, Fuchsia is forced to put this to the test.

From the vibrant markets of Sichuan to the bleached landscape of northern Gansu Province, from the desert oases of Xinjiang to the enchanting old city of Yangzhou, this unique and evocative account of Chinese culinary culture is set to become the most talked-about travel narrative of the year.

Unmentionable Cuisine

An engaging look at “food prejudices,” or why we eat what we eat and why we reject other food sources as unpalatable–with recipes! “This is a unique and engrossing work and, to my mind, an important contribution to the annals of gastronomy. It will not, of course, appeal to all palates . . . but neither do snails and sweetbreads, brains and other oddments of animals.”
–Craig Claiborne

“I read from cover to cover with huge enjoyment. . . I can recall no other book that has covered the subject of strange foods with quite his flair and authority, and I consider the book required reading for anyone interested in the lore of food.”
–James Beard

Ken’s review for “Unmentionable Cuisine” is right there as well.  When I mentioned dog stew at home, I was met with some strange looks.

Thanks Ken!

I think I need to pick up a new copy of the book

I’ve been using a paperback copy of “The Whole Beast”, and the extra attention seems to have worn it out just a little.  I’ve been taking it with me everywhere, constantly flipping through it, spilling brine and oil and who knows what on it.

Sure, it looks sort of okay here…

… but once you start flipping through it, things start to go pear shaped.

I’ve been dog-earring the pages for recipes I’ve completed.  I’m getting there, slowly.

I remember reading on eGullet at one point about some chefs being upset during book signings.  It seems that when people were bringing in their own personal copies of the chef’s cookbook, every single copy was in an unused, pristine state.

I’d like to think I’d manage a grin from Mr. Henderson.

Snails And Oak Leaf Lettuce

You can pick the snails for this salad yourself.  I have done this, though it is quite emotional.  A few years ago on the Tiree in the Hebrides we collected a positive feast’s worth of snails, but what was to follow was too much for one of our party.  You have to starve them, so they were left in a bucket covered with pierced plastic wrap to prevent escape and left to purge.  Days seemed to pass watching the poor captive snails leaving trails of snail poo on the sides of the bucket.  Eventually someone cracked and freed them, much to everyone’s relief.  If you are of harder heart and can get over this difficult stage, which takes about four days, you should then par-boil your snails for about 20 minutes.  Remove them from their shells with a pin. (Alternatively, you can replace them in their shells and smother them with butter, garlic and parsley.)  Simmer for 1 hour, by which point they will be ready for the salad.  There are American snail farms now, so fresh snails are available.

Well, this recipe was a roller coaster.  The high of finding “fresh” snails down to the reality of what I had actually found, all the way to the rush of having everything work out in the end.

While meandering through my local Asian market, I found a huge selection of frozen snails. Well, they actually had 6 different varieties, but when you think about it, when was the last time you saw any snail options at a local megamarket?

I picked up a tray of frozen rice snails, thinking that I had found a better option than canned snails.

Per the instructions in the foreword, I covered the snails with water and boiled them for 20 minutes.  The water turned an opaque milky color, and scum rose to the top of the pot.  I skimmed multiple times as the snails boiled.

Once the 20 minutes was up, I dumped the snails out, rinsed them with water and my wife and I began trying to remove the meat from the shells.  “Trying” being the operative word.  Every time I got just a little bit of snail out of the shell, the meat tore, and what I did manage to wring from the shells was scrawny and pathetic.

At this point, I remembered reading about escargot from another cookbook I have:

I could lie to you.   I could tell you to use fresh snails, implying that we, of course, use only fresh ones at the restaurant.  The truth?  I don’t know any restaurant, have never in twenty-eight years seen any U.S. restaurant–no matter how good or prestigious–use fresh snails.  Oh, a lot of them have snail shells, but they stuff them with snails out of a can.  I’m sure someone uses fresh.  Somewhere.  But let’s face it, even if you could get fresh snails (and I would have no idea where to send you), by the time you’ve had a good look at the things in their living, natural glory, by the time you’ve dug them out of their shells for the first time…you’re likely not going to want to eat them.

So do as the pros do:  Find the best, priciest, preferably French canned snails (though the Taiwanese ones have been fooling the French chefs for years) and use those.

There we go.  Anthony Bourdain has absolved me for using canned snails.  My wife ran to her workplace and came back with this:

Highfalutin canned French snails!

I finely chopped a some shallots and garlic cloves, and added them and a splash of olive oil to a heated pan to soften.

In the mean time, I began pulling leaves off of my head of lettuce. Sadly, this is not actual Oak Leaf Lettuce.  In my research for this dish, I found that an acceptable substitute was red leaf butterhead lettuce, so I picked a large head of it up.  I despise making substitutions, but some things I’m just not able to find despite my best efforts.

With the shallots and garlic finally soft, I added a cup of red wine to the pan and turned up the heat.  I was instructed to reduce the wine down until I had a movable “gunge”.

As the wine reduced, four pieces of toast were broken up and added to the lettuce leaves.

Finally, I cracked open the can of snails and pulled one out.  You’ll have to take my word for it, but this is a huge improvement over what I was pulling out of the shells before.  The snail meat was added to the shallot/garlic/wine sauce pan, seasoned with salt and pepper and then heated until everything was at the proper temperature.

The snails and wine reduction was added to the bowl along with a few splashes of Vinaigrette and a big handful of chopped curly parsley.

After a quick tossing, the salad was finished. The wine reduction really set the tone for the salad as tangy and savory.  The lettuce and parsley added peppery notes, while the snails… well, they really didn’t add much at all.  My wife and I talked about it, and we both agree that if we hadn’t have known that snails were in the salad, we’d have never guessed that they were anything more than little meaty bits of cooked mushrooms.  This is an interesting and tasty salad, but not something that I’d go out of my way to make on a regular basis.

One down, one hundred and two to go.