Greek Salad – Horiatiki

horiatiki_greek_salad.JPGThe actual Greek name of the ubiquitous Greek salad is Horiatiki, which means, roughly, “village salad.”  As I mentioned in my general post on Greek food, one Greek restaurateur told me that the primordial Greek salad was just feta, onions, and olive oil, and that traditionally the cucumbers and tomatoes are flourishes added only in the summer months.

There are really only two things you need to know to make superlative Greek salad.  The first: for this dish more than maybe any other you need to use amazing ingredients.  Greek salad with pale tomatoes and thick-skinned cucumbers and canned olives is really one of the saddest things you can eat.

I use the following:

  • Gull Valley vine or cherry tomatoes (or in late summer tomatoes from the garden…)
  • Hothouse cucumbers from Doef’s greenhouse.  I prefer the smaller varieties as they have tender skin.
  • Vlahos feta – This is a cow’s milk feta made in Camrose by Tiras Dairies.  It is available at Greek grocery stores like Omonia Foods, as well as the Italian Centre Shop.
  • Marinated kalamata olives from Olive Me.

My second bit of advice: even though this is a very “elemental” salad, and we want the ingredients to speak for themselves, this doesn’t mean we should shy away from seasoning and dressing the salad.  I season the cucumbers and tomatoes a good while before mixing the salad.  The traditional dressing is just olive oil, but I always add wine vinegar, too.  Fresh herbs like parsley and oregano are also nice.

My only other suggestion is to be judicious with the onions.  A good spike of raw onion is a beautiful contrast to the juicy fresh veggies, but a little goes a long way.

Because we are dressing this salad it is best served with bread, to soak up the tomato juice and vinegar and oil left at the bottom of the bowl.

Horiatiki – Village Salad

Ingredients

  • 300 g fresh cucumber
  • 350 g fresh tomato
  • 20 g red onion, finely minced
  • a big pinch of salt
  • sugar (maybe)
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • feta

Sauerkraut

This post was originally published on September 17, 2013.  I’m re-posting it todayfor those that attended my session at Eat Alberta 2017.

 

Shredding cabbage to make sauerkrautKraut is German for cabbage.  It was also a derogatory term for Germans during the Second World War.  Sauerkraut means sour cabbage, or possibly a German curmudgeon.  Ukrainian, Russian and several other eastern European languages use the word kapusta to refer to fresh cabbage, cured cabbage, and various dishes made with one or both of those.

Sauerkraut is a miracle preparation.  Cabbage and salt.  That’s it.  Somehow liquid appears from thin air and submerges the cabbage.  Over a few weeks, though neither cabbage nor salt are acidic, the mixture develops a piquant tanginess.

I had never eaten sauerkraut before moving to Alberta when I was a teenager, unless maybe once I accidentally got it on a hot dog at a baseball park.  In Edmonton there seems to be a house every couple of blocks that has a big crock of sauerkraut in the basement.  I first learned the process from Yolande at Tipi Creek.

While I’ve made sauerkraut a few times over the past couple years, this was the first year that I went all in and filled a 10 gallon crock.  The ever-resourceful Judy had found us an old Medalta[1] crock, as well as a wooden cabbage shredder, pictured above.  The latter is basically a mandolin with three sets of serrated blades that make quick work of a trimmed, quartered cabbage.  The last piece of the puzzle fell into place on a balmy Saturday morning when I saw that August Organics was selling 50 lb bags of cabbage for $25.

The freshly sliced cabbage, about to be mixed with salt35 lbs of shredded cabbage had the crock brimming, though the volume falls by more than half once the salt is worked in.

The specifics of the preparation are discussed below.

Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 100% cabbage, thinly sliced, roughly 1/16″ wide and  2″ long
  • 1.89% kosher salt
  • optional: spice, usually either caraway or juniper, to taste

The percentages above are equivalent to 18.5 g of salt per kilo of cabbage, or roughly 3 tbsp of kosher salt for every 5 lbs of cabbage.

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bucket or crock.  Let stand for one hour, then mix vigorously until liquid is pooling on the bottom of the container.  (Letting the mixture stand for an hour makes the mixing and liquid extraction easier; you can proceed directly to the mixing, but you’ll have to work harder to get the liquid from the cabbage.)
  2. Once there is enough liquid, use a plate that is slightly smaller in diameter than the bucket to cover the cabbage.  Weigh the plate down (a smaller bucket filled with water works well) until the cabbage is submerged in liquid.  Cover the entire operation in a kitchen towel and secure with an elastic band.  Store at a cool room temperature, maybe 18-20°C.  Most basements are this temperature.
  3. A white scum will slowly form on the surface of the liquid.  For the first week or two, skim the surface every day.  Afterwards, skim whenever you remember that you have a crock of sauerkraut curing in your basement.
  4. After three weeks, starting tasting periodically.  The sauerkraut is done when it has a sharp-but-manageable acidity.

A jar of sauerkraut

 

1. Medalta, short for Medicine Hat Alberta, was once a large ceramics factory in that town.  They produced plain but distinctive pottery that can still be seen in kitchens and flea markets across the province.  One advantage of setting up such a factory in Medicine Hat was the large oil and gas reserves that could cheaply fire the kilns.  In fact it has been said that Medicine Hat has all hell for a basement.[2]  The site of the old factory is now a historic district housing modern ceramics studios and a museum.

2. Most know this phrase from the Big Sugar song All Hell for a Basement.  When that song was first played on the radio, my cousins in Ontario started asking if we had basements out in Alberta or what the deal was.  The song is actually the ballad of an itinerant worker moving to Alberta to find work.  Big Sugar is quoting Rudyard Kipling, who when touring southern Alberta, wrote, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”

The Big Sugar line is: I have lost my way / But I hear tell / Of a heaven in Alberta / Where they’ve got all hell for a basement.

Great lyrics…

Perogies

This post was originally published on January 6 (Orthodox Christmas!), 2013.  Re-published today for those that took my session at Eat Alberta 2017.  The only difference between what we did at Eat Alberta and the recipe below is that we used Sylvan Star medium gouda instead of orange Cheddar.

 

Perogies!There are as many recipes for perogies[1] as there are babas in the world.  Some pillowy perogies have potato in the dough, as well as the filling.[2]  Others are made with a simple dough of flour, sour cream, butter, and eggs.  This is what I prefer…

This afternoon I made perogies, then ate four dozen of them, giving me ample opportunity to contemplate their mysteries.

The Dough.  Full recipe is below.  I whisk together the sour cream and eggs, then slowly add the melted butter while whisking.  The flour goes into the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  I slowly add the liquid mixture to the flower as the paddle attachment stirs on the lowest speed setting.  As soon as a fairly smooth dough has formed we’re done mixing.  I then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for at least two hours.

Cooking the Potatoes for the Filling.  This is one of many recipes that requires cooking potato, milling or ricing it while it’s hot, then chilling thoroughly before further processing.  You’ll notice that steam billows from the potato as it breaks up.  This is good.  We want to get some of the moisture out of the potato before we make the perogy filling.

I use a food mill, the kind that has a hopper with a screen on the bottom, and a slanted, rotary blade that pushes the potato flesh through that screen.  There are also devices called ricers, that have pistons that push the potatoes through the screen.  Both work well, provided the potatoes are cooked all the way through.  If undercooked, the final dough won’t be perfectly smooth.

Milling the baked potatoes to make perogies

Once milled, I spread the potatoes out on a sheet tray and let them cool in the fridge.

The Filling.  Apparently the traditional filling is cottage cheese, but in North America cheddar is king.  The cheese is mixed with potatoes to give the perogies a structured filling.  I mix finely grated cheddar with the milled potatoes in a stand mixer.  The paddle kind of smears the cheese into the potatoes to make a homogeneous paste.  I also add sour cream for moisture, acidity, and to help bind the filling.  And salt.  Even with all the cheese, this filling needs salt.  The filling should be seasoned quite assertively so that it can be tasted through the dough.

The filling should be quite stiff when cold, otherwise it will run from the finished perogies when you cut into them, or worse, when you boil them.

Shaping.  Once the dough is well rested, I roll it out to 1/8″ thickness.  I use a 2.5″ ring cutter to punch circles out of the dough.  (As a side note, I’ve seen some women shape their perogies without a cutter!  They put a dollop of filling near the edge of the rolled dough, then lift and stretch the dough over the filling, and cut off the perogy from the sheet, leaving no trim!)

Once I have the circles cut, I put a bit of filling on each.  I’m always surprised by how little cheese stuffing it takes to fill the perogies, maybe a tablespoon, about 10 grams by weight.  Then simply fold the dough over the filling and pinch it off into the characteristic half-moon shape.  If the dough is dry, a bit of water brushed on the surface will help it bind.

Shaping the perogies

 

Perogy Trim.  Using a round dough cutter will invariably create trim.  This trim can be combined, and re-rolled.  The re-rolled dough is a little harder to work with.  Even after letting it rest, it will be tougher and springier than the original dough.  It will resist rolling, and the perogies will not close up as easily.  Perogies made from re-rolled dough will be slightly chewier, but it’s worth doing one re-roll, because about 20% of your original dough weight will be left behind as trim.  I wouldn’t do more than one, as the dough becomes pretty much unworkable.

A friend told me that there are traditional Ukrainian dumplings made by reshaping and boiling perogy dough trim.  He called them babaikas, (“ba-BYE-kahs”), but I can’t find any mention of them online or in my cookbooks.  I made these from the trim from my re-roll.

Freezing and/or Cooking.  At this point the raw perogies should be either frozen or boiled.  They freeze beautifully.  Just line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly dust with flour.  Lay the perogies out on the tray and put it in the freezer.  Once they’re frozen through, you can bag them.  Using this method will keep the dumplings from sticking together.

To boil, fill a large pot with cold water.  Season liberally and bring to a vigorous boil.  The old adage is that when dumplings float in water, they’re done.  Hervé This actually disproves this in his book Molecular Gastronomy, but it’s a bit of a “the bumblebee flies anyway” situation.  After about two or three minutes in boiling water, fresh perogies will float, and they’re done.  Frozen perogies obviously take longer to start bobbing.

Boiled v. Fried.  Once boiled, consume immediately with onions, bacon, and sour cream.  Once boiled, you can chill them and keep them the fridge for a few hours or days, just toss them in a small amount of oil to prevent them from sticking.  Then simply pan-fry the cooked, chilled perogies to thoroughly brown and crisp the exteriors.

Here are the actual numbers I use.

Cheddar Perogies

The Dough

Master ratio – 5 parts flour : 2 parts sour cream : 1 part butter : 1 part eggs

  • 1 kg flour
  • 400 g sour cream
  • 200 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 200 g eggs

The Cheddar Filling
Master Ratio – 4 parts cold mashed potato : 2 parts finely grated cheese : 1 part sour cream, by weight. And a generous amount of salt.

Ingredients

  • 400 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 200 g finely grated cheddar, the orange kind
  • 100 g, sour cream
  • kosher salt to taste

Another extremely handy ratio is that you need about 10 g of filling to stuff 20 g of dough.

 

Pan-fried perogies with onions and bacon

 

Footnotes

1.  You’ve no doubt noticed that there are about one hundred different spellings of the word “perogy” in common usage.  This is because many of the countries from which perogies come, places like Ukraine and Russia, use a different alphabet than us.  Rendering the word “perogy” is often an issue of transliteration, not translation.  If you hear a baba pronounce the actual Ukrainian word пиріг, they are clearly using sounds that don’t exist in English – how can they be transcribed?  The Polish alphabet is much closer to our own.  They spell it pierogi (that’s the plural form).  I think the entire point is mute.  It’s safe to say that perogies have been naturalized, and are part of Canadian prairie cuisine.  I defer to the Ukrainian churches of Edmonton, who, when advertising dinners on signs, usually (but not always) use “perogy.”

2.  If this style of perogy dough interests you, try this out for a dough recipe:

Ingredients

  • 680 g all-purpose flour
  • 420 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 50 g unsalted butter. melted
  • 50 g egg (one large egg…)
  • 230 g sour cream
  • 5 g kosher salt

 

 

Crème Fraîche

This post was originally published May 22, 2010.  I’m re-posting it today for those who attended my session at Eat Alberta 2017.

 

A spoonful of crème fraîcheCrème fraîche is similar to sour cream. In fact, they are made by the same process: inoculating dairy with a bacterial culture that converts lactose to lactic acid, which in turn coagulates the proteins in the dairy and thickens the mixture.

The major difference between crème fraîche and sour cream is fat content. Crème fraîche is cultured whole cream, so it’s about 30% fat.  Sour cream is made from leaner dairy products, and is usually around 15% fat. The added fat in crème fraîche gives it two advantages over sour cream. First, it has a more luxurious texture. Second, the fat tempers the acidity, making for a subtler and more rounded flavour.

Making Crème Fraîche at Home

Fresh dairy naturally contains the bacteria that would, over time, turn cream into crème fraîche. The traditional method of production would be to simply incubate that bacteria, and let nature take care of the rest. In the age of pasteurization, we must reintroduce this bacterial strain to the cream. There are several supermarket products that contain this strain. Buttermilk is one.

To make
crème fraîche at home, you need only stir one tablespoon of buttermilk into one cup of cream. Cover the mixture and leave it at room temperature for two days.  Then refrigerate.  At this point the crème fraîche will become quite thick, but as soon as you stir it it will become runny, like double cream.  Somehow it develops a nutty flavour, almost like brown butter.

Crème fraîche is perfect for finishing cream soups, as it adds a very mild, pleasing acidity to cut the richness. It being the end of May, with Edgar Farms enjoying its brief few weeks at the Strathcona market, cream of asparagus soup seemed appropriate.

Cream of asparagus soup with crème fraîche

Irish Stew

The defining element of Irish stew is the use of lamb neck, or scrag.

Traditionally it is made more like a casserole than a stew.  Actually it bares an uncanny resemblance to boulangère potatoes.  Lamb, potato rounds, and other vegetables are layered in a casserole, then covered with stock or water and baked in an oven.

Lamb neck is a very tough cut of meat.  I sear and braise the necks to tenderize, then use the shredded meat and cooking liquid to make the stew.

Once the necks are very tender to the tip of a paring knife, I remove them from the liquid and let cool briefly.  While the necks are still warm I fold back the meat and remove the neck bones in one piece.  There is also a large band of yellowish elastin that should be removed.  You can see it running down the centre of the neck meat below:

Removing the bones and elastin from the braised lamb neck.

 

Irish Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb necks
  • 75 g bacon fat
  • 240 g yellow onion, 3/4″ dice (roughly 1 large onion)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 200 g carrot, 3/4″ dice (about 3 medium carrots)
  • 200 g celery, 3/4″ dice (about 2 large ribs celery)
  • 1/2 tbsp dried herbs (I use a mix of thyme, rosemary, and savoury)
  • 75 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 x 341 mL bottle ale
  • 375 g turnip, 1″ dice (rutabaga for all you moderns…. about 1 medium rutabaga)
  • 425 g yellow potato, 1″ dice (about 2 smallish potatoes)
  • spinach or kale

Procedure

Part One: Cooking the Necks to obtain super tender meat and flavourful broth

  1. Season the lamb necks with salt and pepper.  Sear, either in a pan or a very hot oven, until amber in colour.
  2. Transfer the seared scrags to a pot.  Cover with cold water and put over medium-high heat.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer.  Regularly skim the surface of the water with a ladle to remove foam and fat.
  3. Gently simmer the scrags until very tender when poked with a knife.  This will take at least a few hours.
  4. Remove the necks from the liquid.  Let cool, then remove the meat from the necks.  Vertebrae and a very hard bit of yellowish connective tissue.  Reserve 450 g shredded meat for the stew.  The rest of the meat can be used for other preparations.
  5. Reserve 1 L of the cooking liquid for the stew.  The remainder of the liquid can be reserved for another purpose.

Part Two: Making the Stew

  1. Melt bacon fat in a separate pot.  Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and dried herbs.  Sweat the vegetables until the onions are starting to turn translucent.
  2. Add the flour and cook briefly.
  3. Slowly add the ale while stirring.  A thick sauce should form.
  4. Slowly add the 1 L of lamb stock.  Return mix to a gentle simmer.
  5. Add turnips and potatoes.  Return mix to a gentle simmer.  Simmer until turnips and potatoes are tender.

A bowl of Irish stew with buttered bread.

Porridge, or Oatmeal

Originally published March 17, 2014.

Comparing steel-cut oats and rolled oatsThe single most important decision in making porridge is the style of oats you choose to cook.  For my breakfast, the only acceptable style is steel-cut, sometimes called Scottish or Irish oats.

Why Quick Oats and Minutes Oats are The Worst.  Quick oats and minute oats produce porridge with a nauseating texture.  The grains are rolled and cut fine so that they cook quickly, but the oatmeal has a gluey mouthfeel.  My theory is that the extensive processing produces a very fine oat-dust, and as soon as this oat-dust is hydrated, it becomes a thick paste.  Whatever the cause, porridge made from quick oats subtly sticks to the back of the mouth, triggering a mild gag with every swallow.  Perhaps I have a unique physiology…

Steel-cut oats are not rolled, just cut so that they still have the round cross section of the whole grain.  The photo above shows steel-cut oats in the foreground, rolled oats in the back.  Yes, they take longer to cook, but there is little oat-dust, so the final porridge has a creamy mouthfeel, punctuated by larger pieces of grain.  It really is like risotto if cooked properly.

In conclusion: the only thing quick oats and minute oats are good for is making meatloaf.

A simple, simple recipe for porridge is typed below.  Be sure to read the note on fried porridge at the bottom of this post.  It may change your breakfast routine forever.

 

Basic Porridge

Master Ratio – 1:3 steel-cut oats to milk, by volume

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, or I guess water in a pinch
  • speaking of pinches: 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • optional: buttermilk to drizzle over cooked porridge (try it…)
  • toasted nuts, seeds, and dried fruit as required

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy pot.  Add the oats and turn the heat to medium.  Toast the oats until you can smell that the butter is starting to brown.
  2. Add the whole milk and salt.  Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook until the oats are tender and the liquid has thickened, about 30 minutes.  Stir periodically.
  3. Stir in the brown sugar.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

A bowl of porridge with walnuts, dried currants, and buttermilk

 

Fried Porridge
or, why it behooves you to make more porridge than you can eat in one sitting

My great aunt Dorie used to pour leftover porridge into a tray to congeal.  The next morning it was cut into blocks and fried in bacon fat.  Think: rural Canada’s answer to fried polenta.

Fried porridge with berries and maple syrup

Irish Coffee

Originally published March 18, 2012.

Cream, rich as an Irish brogue;
Coffee, strong as a friendly hand;
Sugar, sweet as the tongue of a rogue;
Whiskey, smooth as the wit of the land.

-a traditional toast accompanying Irish coffee

 

Irish Coffee with Floated Cream

The Irish coffee typically served in restaurants here either has cream stirred into the drink, or whipped cream floating on top.  The traditional way to enjoy the drink is to gently pour heavy cream onto the surface of the coffee so that it floats, then sip the coffee through the cream.

Let’s discuss ingredients.

The Coffee – Use good coffee.  Brew it strong.

The Sugar – Irish coffee is made with brown sugar which has a distinct, cooked, molasses-like taste.  I use demerara, which is a very dark brown sugar.

The Whiskey – You can make a fine Irish coffee with Jameson or Bushmills, but for a superlative cocktail I suggest Redbreast.  It’s aged in oak barrels and therefore has more of the toasty vanilla and caramel notes that pair well with brown sugar.  I know many will cringe at the idea of pouring such a fine whiskey into coffee and sugar.  In fact there’s an old joke that Irish coffee simultaneously ruins three great drinks: coffee, whiskey, and cream.  The way I see it: how often do you make Irish coffee at home?  Maybe twice a year.  Use the good whiskey.

Sidenote: In Scotland and Canada they make “whisky.”  In Ireland and America they make “whiskey.”  I don’t know why, but that’s how it is.

The Cream – What we call heavy cream is usually around 33% milk fat.  I find it very difficult to float this cream on the coffee and maintain a clean separation between the two liquids.  I prefer to use a higher fat cream, closer to 50% milk fat, something the British would call double cream.

Vital Green Farms is an independent dairy producer in Picture Butte, AB.  You can buy their milk at Planet Organic.  The Vital Green whole milk is some of the best milk I’ve ever tasted.  They also sell an organic heavy cream that is 52% milk fat.  Heavy cream is one of the few exceptions to the kitchen adage “fat is flavour.”  If you sampled a range of dairy products, from skim milk, through 1%, 2%, whole milk, coffee cream, and heavy cream, you’ll find that while whole milk is much more flavourful than skim, heavy cream has very little flavour.  I don’t know why, but that’s how it is.  Perhaps the fat in the cream somehow obscures the flavour of the lactose.  Despite its muted flavour, Vital Green heavy cream has the fat content we need to properly float our dairy.

Sidenote: people often refer to whole milk (3-4% milk fat) as “homo milk.”  In dairyspeak “homo” is short for “homogenized,” which means the milk has been processed to prevent the separation of fatty bits from watery bits.  All commercially-produced milk is homogenized, not just whole milk.  The next time someone asks you to pick up some homo milk, you should clarify this with them.

These sidenotes are ruining what should be a nice, succinct post.  Sorry.

Notes on Floating Cream – Fill the glass with the coffee, sugar, and whiskey mixture to within 1/2″ of the top of the glass.  Filling the glass very full will allow you to keep a spoon close to level as you add the cream.

Touch the tip of a large spoon filled with cream to the inside of the glass, just above the coffee.  Gently (gently!) tip the spoon so that the cream slides down the side of the glass and onto the surface of the coffee.  If the cream mixes with the coffee, you have ruined St. Patrick’s Day.

Since you’re going through the effort of floating cream, Irish coffee should be served in a glass, not a ceramic mug.  If you’re a sucker for tableside theatrics, as I am, bring the glasses to the table filled with the black coffee, sugar, and whiskey, then spoon the heavy cream on top in front of your guests.

A complete recipe, if you’re interested:

 

Irish Coffee (for four)

Ingredients

  • 14 fl oz. strong, quality coffee
  • 3 1/2 tbsp demerara sugar, packed
  • 4 fl. oz. Redbreast Irish Whiskey
  • 3 fl. oz. heavy cream (52% milk fat)

Procedure

  1. Add the sugar and whiskey to the hot coffee.  Stir briefly to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Divide the coffee mixture into four glasses, ensuring the liquid comes to within 1/2″ of the top of each glass.
  3. Float a portion of heavy cream in each glass (see Notes of Floating Cream, above).
  4. Consume immediately, sipping the coffee through the cream.

 

Sampling a glass of Irish coffee

A friend experimented with dunking oatmeal poundcake into his Irish coffee.  Initial impressions were favourable, but more rigorous study is required.

Dunking oatmeal poundcake into Irish coffee

Corned Beef

Originally posted on March 18, 2012

Corned beef and its delicious, delicious juicesCorned beef, also known as salt beef and spiced beef, is a national dish of Ireland.  Recipes vary, but the cure is usually made of kosher salt, curing salt, a heap of brown sugar, and spices like clove, allspice, black pepper, and mustard seed.  The cured meat is gently simmered (usually in water, sometimes in beer) until tender, and can be eaten hot or cold.

To clarify, corned beef has nothing to do with maize.  “Corn” was once a broad English term for a small bit, whether a grain of wheat, or a crystal of salt.  “Corned beef” is beef that has been covered in corns of salt.[1]

Like most charcuterie, corned beef was first developed as a way to preserve the meat.  Because of its good keeping quality, the British navy adopted Irish corned beef as a ration for its sailors.  Wherever the British navy went, there was money to be made in provisioning its sailors, and many, many inferior corned beef producers sprang up around the world, notably on the Hawaiian islands and in South America, where the cured beef was later canned.  Sailors detested the canned meat, and apparently called it “salt junk.”[2]

Inferior corned beef was also used extensively as cheap, long-keeping food for British and French slaves, especially in the Caribbean.[3]

Despite its bastardization at the hands of imperialists and industrialists, corned beef remains one of the great festive dishes of Irish cuisine, along with colcannon, discussed below.  It is commonly eaten on Christmas, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day.

Corned beef is made of brisket, a cut of beef from the breast of the cow. It is actually comprised of two muscles: a long muscle on the bottom called the flat, and a smaller muscle on top, off to one side, called the point.

The bulk of the flavour of corned beef comes from the pickling spice used in the brine.  Don’t buy pickling spice; make your own. Here’s a simple procedure. I divide my pickling spices into two families: the “sweet spices” like cinnamon, clove, and allspice, and the “deli spices” like mustard seed, black pepper, coriander, and chili flakes.  Combine one measure of each of the sweet spices with two measures of each of the deli spices by weight.  Add the spices to the brine as you are heating the liquid to dissolve the salt and sugar.

I’ve had some issues with brine-penetration when curing brisket in the past.  It seems that the tough, fatty muscles of the brisket resist curing more than, say, a pork loin.  Some tips on achieving uniform cure:

  • Consider separating the point and flat from each other before curing.  This creates two, tabular muscles that will brine more evenly than a whole brisket.
  • Don’t overcrowd the meat in the brine.  It’s tempting to try and cram as much meat as you can into the tub so that it is all just, just submerged.  If you do this there will not be enough salt to cure the entire mass of meat, and there will be grey, un-cured pockets in the centre of the brisket.  Maintain the ratio in the recipe below: 4 L of curing brine for every 2.25 kg of meat.
  • Inject the meat with some of the brine.  A good rule of thumb is 10% of the weight of the meat.  This is especially important if you have decided to keep the briskets intact.
  • Curing time: 5 days should be sufficient if you follow the guidelines above.

As a side note, once you have cured the brisket, if you were to coat your corned beef in crushed black pepper and coriander, then hot-smoke the meat, you’d be making pastrami.  If your hot-smoker were in Montreal, you’d be making Montreal smoked meat.  Anyways.

Brisket is a tough cut that requires extensive cooking.  I put my corned beef in a casserole, add cider until the meat is half submerged, cover the dish with parchment and aluminum foil, then kept it in a 250°F oven until a fork slides easily into and out of the meat, about eight hours.

The water left in the casserole is extremely flavourful, though very salty and greasy.  Cool the liquid, remove the solidified fat from the top, then dilute with water or more apple cider until the salt content is tolerable.  Serve as a brothy sauce for the beef.

Corned beef is a fantastic dish to serve to large groups.  Once the beef is tender, you need only gently reheat it.  You can throw it in a low oven an hour or so before you plan on eating, then bring it to the table and slice across the grain of the meat.  I probably don’t need to write this, but the leftovers can be sliced and used to make superlative sandwiches.

Corned Beef

Ingredients

  • 4 L water
  • 450 g kosher salt
  • 450 g dark brown sugar
  • 25 g curing salt (6.25% sodium nitrite)
  • 25 g fresh garlic
  • 25 g pickling spice
  • 2.25 kg beef brisket

Procedure

  1. Combine half the water with the salts, sugar, garlic, and spices.  Heat on the stove, stirring periodically, til the salts and sugar have dissolved.  Remove from the stove and add the remaining cold water.  Chill brine thoroughly.
  2. Inject the brisket with 10% of its weight in brine.  Focus injections on the thickest parts of the brisket.
  3. Completely submerge the brisket in the remaining brine, weighing down with ceramic plates as necessary.  Keep refrigerated for 5 days.
  4. Remove the brisket from the brine, rinse with cold water, then let rest in the fridge a few hours, preferably overnight.
  5. Put the cured brisket in a large pan with a bit more garlic, bay, and cinnamon.  Add about an inch of apple cider to the pan.  Cover loosely and cook in a 250°F oven for several hours (maybe 8-10?).  The corned beef should be fork tender and wobbly when fully tenderized.

 

 

References

1.  Kurlansky, Mark.  Salt: A World History. ©2002 Mark Kurlansky.  Vintage Canada 2002 Edition.  Page 125.
2.  Ibid.
3.  Ibid!  Is it bad to have three citations from the same page of the same book?

Sprouts for the Spring Gap

Originally published on March 16, 2014.

clover_sprouts.JPGMaking your own sprouts is simple business.

Frankly most sprouts aren’t too flavourful, but I think they’re good for the spring shoulder season, when we’re starting to crave fresh vegetables, but nothing has popped up in the garden yet.  When we pull out the seed box to sow the veggies that will be transplanted, we also make some clover or alfalfa sprouts.  Clover seems especially appropriate around St. Patrick’s Day.  Both are great accompaniments to the Easter ham.

How to Make Sprouts at Home, from Seeds.  You can buy or make proper “sprouting bags”.  We use one quart mason jars and cheesecloth.

  • Soak the seeds at room temperature overnight. Two tablespoons of small seeds like clover or alfalfa will be plenty for a one quart jar.
  • Transfer the seeds to a mason jar.  Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth, pantyhose, or a similarly porous material, held tightly by a rubber band, or the metal ring from the lid of the jar.
  • Rinse the sprouts twice daily by pouring cool water through the pantyhose, then drain by turning the jar upside down.  Store the jar upside down and tilted to ensure the seeds are not sitting in water.
  • Continue rinsing twice daily until the the sprouts reach the desired length.  Small white sprouts will show up in a day or two.  Continue for a week for very long sprouts.

Sprouts stand up surprisingly well in the fridge.  Store them as you would greens, and they last up to two weeks.

These little spindles are good on sandwiches (again, not too flavourful, so mostly for texture and I guess also nutrients).  Last Easter we made a salad with them using pickled carrot, raw onion, and a light honey mustard dressing.

Easter ham, scallop potatoes, and a clover sprout salad

 

Soda Bread

Originally published March 16, 2014.

Soda bread cooling on the deck.Soda bread is plain quick bread, bread made with a chemical leavener like baking soda instead of yeast.

You’ve no doubt heard of Irish soda bread.  The two defining characteristics of the national bread of Erin are 1) the inclusion of lesser parts of the wheat berry, such as the germ and husk, and 2) the use of buttermilk.

One way that my soda bread differs from true old-school Irish soda bread is the inclusion of such luxuries as butter, eggs, and honey.  This is emphatically not traditional, but it makes for a moist, delicious bread.  Picture a fine cornbread, only instead of corn meal there are coarse bits of wheat germ.  The wheat germ gives the bread a slightly yellow hue.

Just what the internet needs
Another Soda Bread Recipe

Ingredients

  • 165 g all-purpose flour
  • 105 g whole wheat flour
  • 30 g wheat germ
  • 12 g baking powder
  • 2 g baking soda
  • 8 g kosher salt
  • 50 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 140 g whole milk
  • 125 g buttermilk
  • 30 g egg
  • 15 g honey
  • 30 g sour cream

Procedure

  1. Combine the dry ingredients, the flours, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, in a medium mixing bowl.  Make a well in the centre.
  2. Combine the wet ingredients, the melted butter, whole milk, buttermilk, egg, honey, and sour cream, in a separate bowl.  Whisk thoroughly.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, then mix with a spatula until just combined.  Do not over-mix!
  4. Transfer batter to a buttered baking vessel and bake at 375°F until the centre of the bread is set, roughly 30 minutes, though exact times will depend on the dish you have selected.

A slice of soda bread, with butter