Category Archives: Special Topics

Greek Lamb Sausage

I have Greek food on the brain.  The current infatuation has many diverse origins.  For starters this summer is the ten year anniversary of an epic trip through southern Greece, and I have been reading old food notes from the journey.  Also I’ll be doing a class on Greek mezze for Metro Continuing Education this fall.  With all this in mind last week I made a Greek lamb sausage.

Coils of Greek lamb sausageIn 2008 I spent five weeks in Greece, eating in tavernas two or three times a day.  I don’t think I ever had a sausage like this.  In other words this sausage is not traditional, but it is very much inspired by Greek loukaniko, a pork sausage flavoured with orange zest.

This version is made with 100% lamb shoulder, so I figured we may as well go ahead and use lamb casings.  And we may as well wrap them up into adorable little coils and skewer them.  I never saw this in Greece but it makes for an interesting mezze.  And as I wrote here, Canadian Greek food is very much wanting for interest right now.

 

Greek Lamb Sausage

Ingredients

  • 2.270 kgs lamb shoulder – I like Four Whistle lamb
  • 35 g kosher salt
  • 54 g garlic, minced fine
  • 25 g orange zest (I use a zest compound called Perfect Purée)
  • 6 g ground black pepper
  • 3.6 g allspice
  • 2.38 g dried oregano
  • 1.8 g cayenne pepper
  • 1.17 g bay leaf
  • 0.9 g chili flake
  • 240 mL chopped parsley
  • 220 g ice water

Procedure

  1. Cut lamb shoulder into 1″ cubes.  Mix with salt and spices.  Spread onto a sheet tray in a single layer and semi-freeze.
  2. Grind meat using a 3/16″ plate.
  3. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand-mixer.  Add chopped parsley and water.  Mix on speed 2 for two minutes.
  4. Stuff mixture into lamb casings.  To make the spirals shown in the photo above, stuff into 19-21 mm lamb casings.  Be careful not to over-stuff as spiralling puts a bit of pressure on the contents.  Link into 22″ lengths.  Cut the links apart.  Curl into spiral shape.  Set spirals right up against each other on a sheet tray so that they are holding each other in shape.  Skewer.

Yield:  Approximately 16 spirals

Buranelli Cookies

Buranelli cookies in the traditional "esse" shape.One of my favourite Italian desserts is simple, elegant, and endlessly adaptable: cookies and sweet wine.  In Italy I’ve seen this dish served with every manner of cookie, from amaretti to lady fingers to biscotti, and sweet wines as various as Vin Santo, Recioto, and Pantelleria.  You could easily take the dish outside the realm of Italian cuisine and try something like ginger snaps and sweet applejack.  A particularly memorable experience was being served s-shaped Buranelli cookies with a glass of sweet Zibbibo in a small restaurant in Venice on a wet, chilly September afternoon.

Buranelli are from the Venetian island of Burano.  The dough is a bit like shortbread (more sweet and less buttery than my preferred Scottish-style shortbread) enriched with egg yolk and flavoured with lemon zest and vanilla.

There are two classic shapes, the bussola (“compass”) and the esse (“s”).  The compass is just a strip of dough curled into a perfect circle.  For some reason the s-shapes are made backwards to how the letter is normally written.  It’s a simple, versatile dough that could be made into any shape, including the classics of Scottish shortbread like fingers and petticoat tails.

Buranelli Cookies

Ingredients

  • 125 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 110 g white sugar
  • 80 g egg yolk (4 large egg yolks)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 + 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 250 g all-purpose flour

Procedure

  1. Combine butter, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the paddle attachment, cream ingredients thoroughly, roughly 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl every few minutes.
  2. Combine the yolks, zest, and vanilla.  Add to the creamed mixture and paddle until well mixed.
  3. Slowly add the flour will the mixer runs on its lowest setting.  Stop mixing as soon as the flour is incorporated.
  4. At this point the dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for later use, but note that the dough is much easier to work with when it is at room temperature.
  5. Divide the dough into 20 equal portions.  Roll each portion into desired shape.
  6. Line portions on a heavy bake sheet lined with parchment or a silicon mat.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  7. Bake in a 375°F oven until the edges and bottoms are just starting to brown.

Buranelli cookies with Recioto, a sweet wine from Valpolicella.

Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil

A couple bottles of Styiran Gold brand Styrian pumpkin seed oilStyrian pumpkin seed oil (Steirisches Kürbiskernöl in German) is a remarkable artisan product.

Styria (Steiermarck in German) is a province in the southeastern part of Austria.  Here and in parts of adjacent Slovenia they grow pumpkins that produce hull-less seeds.  These seeds are roasted and pressed to produce a fabulous oil that puts all other pumpkin seed oils to shame.  Whereas most North American versions are a yellow-brown colour, Styrian pumpkin seed oil is deep forest green, and powerfully redolent of roasted nuts.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find a high-quality Styrian pumpkin seed oil at any of the continental import shops in Edmonton like K & K.  To get my fix I purchase online from Styrian Gold, a company in Ontario that imports direct from Austria.  I buy it by the case for use at Salz Bratwurst Co.  I also purchase the whole, hull-less seeds from Rancho Vignola.

How to Use Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil

The most important thing to know about this oil is that you don’t cook it.  Like ever.  I know a lot of people say this about olive oil, but there are some olive oils you shouldn’t cook with, and some you definitely should.  Styrian pumpkin seed oil is emphatically a finishing oil: cooking kills the aroma, produces bitter flavours, destroys the nutrients, and turns your food a weird brown colour.

There are old-timers in Austria that take a tablespoon of this oil every morning for its nutrients, like how some folks here take raw apple cider vinegar.

Here are my favourite ways to use the oil.

Garnish for Soup.  The deep green oil looks amazing floated on a bowl of vibrant orange pumpkin or squash soup.

Pumpkin soup drizzled with Styrian pumpkin seed oil

 

Finishing oil on salads.  Especially tomato salad.  Season the tomatoes with salt and a splash of vinegar.  Let stand to marinate, then drizzle pumpkin seed oil over top just before serving.Tomato salad garnished with Styrian pumpkin seed oil.

Steirische Eierspeise

“Styrian egg dish” is scrambled eggs finished with the province’s signature oil.  I started making this dish with soft-boiled eggs still in their shell, instead of the traditional scramble.  As the egg yolk is fatty, it mingles perfectly with the oil.

To prepare, cook a whole egg, in the shell, for five minutes in gently simmering water, so the whites have set, but the yolk is still runny.  Crack the shell to expose the top of the egg, then use a spoon to remove the top of the white.  Rest the egg on a bed of coarse salt, and spoon half a tablespoon of pumpkin seed oil into the yolk.  Add a pinch of salt and enjoy.

I have tried this dish with other flavourful, high-quality oils, such as the canola, hemp, and flaxseed oils produced in Alberta.

Soft-boiled egg with pumpkin seed oil

 

On Ice Cream (Seriously)

When I worked at Looshaus in Kreuzberg they had a dessert called “ice cream with oil and vinegar”.  It was a bowl of ice cream drizzled with Styrian pumpkin seed oil and apple balsamic vinegar.  It sounds so, so weird, but is so, so delicious.  When I make this at home I like to add some of the toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch.  I call it Austrian rocky road :)

A bowl of vanilla ice cream with Styrian pumpkin seed oil and apple balsamic vinegar.

Goulash

A plate of goulash, Hungarian beef stew, served with ServiettenknödelnGoualsh is a beef stew originally from Hungary but eaten all over Central Europe.  It is the kind of preparation that Europeans will fight to the death over.  Matters like whether it is properly called a stew or a soup, whether it contains tomatoes, or potatoes, or what starch it is served with (if any) often become violent.  It is estimated that 12 Europeans are killed every year in goulash-related arguments.[1]

The following is an original recipe, inspired by the goulash made at Seewirtshaus in Semmering, Austria.  When I worked there they made a goulash similar to this using Maiboc (May deer) and served it with Serviettenknödel.  Many would take exception to my use of tomato paste and bell peppers, but I like this recipe just fine thank you.

 

Goulash
original recipe

Ingredients

  • 2.5 kgs beef chuck, cut into 1.5″ cubes
  • 150 g unsalted butter
  • 350 g onion, thinly sliced
  • 350 g bell pepper
  • 22.5 g garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 500 mL very rich beef stock or jus
  • ~1/4 cup cornstarch slurry
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Procedure

  1. Spread the beef out on a sheet tray lined with a clean cloth.  Use another clean cloth to pat the beef dry.  Season with salt.  Sear in a very hot, heavy pot so the meat is amber on all sides.  Remove the beef from the pan and set aside.
  2. Reduce heat and add butter to the pot.  Once the butter is melted add the onion and sweat briefly.
  3. Add the bell peppers, garlic, paprika, and oregano.  Sweat until onions are starting to turn translucent.
  4. Add tomato paste and cook briefly.
  5. Add red wine and bring to a simmer.
  6. Add beef stock and bring to a simmer.
  7. Add seared beef and bring to a simmer.  Cook very gently until the beef is tender, maybe 1 hour.
  8. Add cornstarch slurry to adjust consistency.  Should be the nap consistency of velouté.
  9. Add salt, pepper, and red wine vinegar.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

 

Footnotes

  1. Not true.

Spätzle

All the spätzle.Spätzle are little dumplings.  They are sometimes described as egg noodles, though they are quite different than the broad, flat, twisted dried pasta sold as egg noodles.

In former times spätzle were shaped by cutting small pieces of dough with a knife or spoon and rolling them into a pot of boiling water.  This process gives the noodles a long, tapered, vaguely avian appearance, which is the alleged origin of their name, which literally means “little sparrows”.

Originally a specialty of Swabia in the far south-east of Germany, spätzle is now common throughout southern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.  Shorter, more rounded versions are sometimes called knöpfli, which means little buttons.

These days most spätzle is made using a special board called a spätzlehöbel.  It resembles a cheese grater.  It is placed horizontally over a pot of simmering water and the dough is worked back and forth along its length, slowly being pushed through the perforations in the board and dropping into the water.

Spätzle may be served immediately after cooking, or it can be cooled and reheated by re-simmering or pan-frying.

Europeans are very particular about what starches are served with what meats.  I may have related this story in another post, but one time my sister and I were eating in Vienna.  She ordered schnitzel, and asked if the customary parsley potatoes could be substituted with spätzle.  The waiter flatly refused.  Schnitzel can only be served with parsley potatoes.  Spätzle is properly served with braises and other saucy preparations like goulash.

This tradition is flaunted in North American: I have seen spätzle served with everything from pork chops to baked salmon.

One very special variation deserves mention: käsespätzle, cheesy spätzle, which is basically macaroni and cheese made with spätzle noodles instead of macaroni.

Spätzle

Adapted from a recipe from Jack’s Grill.  I decreased the flour content slightly to make the dough softer, and translated the measures from volumes to weights.

Ingredients

  • 360 g whole milk
  • 410 g whole eggs (about 8 large eggs)
  • 40 g egg yolk (about 3 large yolks)
  • 800 g all-purpose flour
  • 6 g kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Combine the milk, eggs, and egg yolks in the bowl of stand mixer.
  2. Using a paddle attachment, mix the ingredients so that the eggs are well incorporated.
  3. Reduce the speed to a slow stir, then slowly start adding the flour.
  4. As soon as all the flour has been added and there are no dry lumps… stop mixing.
  5. Set up two medium pots of water over medium heat.  Generously season the water with kosher salt.
  6. Lay a spätzle-board across one of the pots of gently simmering water.  Fill the hopper with dough, and slide back and forth so that the dough is pushed through the holes and falls into the water.  Spätzle is cooked roughly 30 seconds after it floats to the surface of the water.
  7. Once the noodles are cooked, remove from pot using a spider and transfer the to a bowl.  Toss with a small amount of canola oil to prevent sticking.  Spread on a sheet tray lined with parchment and let cool.

Yield: about 2 kgs spätzle

Strangely, I don’t find that resting this dough makes much of a difference at all.  I often process and cook the dough immediately after mixing.  That being said, the dough can also sit in the fridge over night before shaping and cooking.

Ouzo

Me drinking a glass of ouzo with water in Parikia.

Me drinking ouzo with water, and being a douche-bag.

Ouzo is a strong, clear, anise-flavoured spirit made in Greece.  The taste may remind you of liquorice candy, or other anise spirits like sambuca, pastis, and Pernod.  The term is a protected regional designation within the EU, meaning that if it’s not made in Greece, it can’t be called ouzo.  It is usually about 40% ABV.

Ouzo is made by infusing a relatively neutral spirit with anise and other botanicals.  The neutral spirit is a grape pommace distillate, just like Italian grappa or French marc.  In most of Greece this grape pommace distillate is called tsipouro, though the Turkish word raki is also common, especially on the islands of Crete and Cyprus.  Tsipouro has been made for centuries, and over time many distillers, notably monks, started flavouring tsipouro with herbs and spices.  Ouzo is simply an anise-flavoured tsipouro.  Unflavoured tsipouro and raki are still very common in Greece.  In fact most meals that I ate on Crete ended with a complimentary glass of raki.  There is at least one brand of tsipouro available here in Alberta: Avaton, made by the Greek winery and distillery Tsantali.

I think of ouzo the same way I think about gin: a neutral spirit infused with botanicals.  For gin the featured botanical is juniper, but there are usually several other ingredients, maybe lemon peel or grains of paradise or seaberry.  In ouzo the featured botanical is anise, but there are often other ingredients like coriander or cardamom.  For both spirits it is the unique blend of botanicals that sets the different brands apart.

Unlike gin, ouzo has not gone through a renaissance at the hands of small craft distillers around the world.  While the shelves of boutique liquor stores abound with the likes of Aviator, The Botanist, and Monkey 47, there are not many ouzo options for us here in Alberta.  I think the reasons are pretty obvious.  The extremely strong anise flavour is quite polarizing to North Americans, and very much an acquired taste.  Plus ouzo is not used in classic cocktails.  Plus you can’t call it ouzo unless it’s made in Greece.

The only three brands of ouzo currently available in Alberta: Ouzo 12, Cambias, and Olympic Ouzo by Tsantali.Anyways, according to Liquor Connect, there are in fact only three brands of ouzo currently available in Alberta: Ouzo 12, Cambas, and Olympic Ouzo by Tsantali.

The most common brand here as in the rest of the world is Ouzo 12, which was first developed in the 1880s and has been owned by the Campari Group since 1999.[1]  It has a strong and pure anise flavour.  Cambas is a great counterpoint to Ouzo 12, showing how different houses flavour their spirits.  While still smelling and tasting of anise, Cambas has a very distinctive toasted coriander aroma. I find the Tsantali Olympic to be the most neutral and least interesting of the group.  I also find the Greek column packaging super tacky, but that’s par for the course in Greek exports.

How to Serve.  The most traditional way to drink ouzo is mixed with water and served on ice.  You will notice that the liquid changes from clear to milky and opaque.  This is because the main flavour compound in anise is readily soluble in alcohol, but not in water.  When you add water these compounds start to come out of solution and diffract light, making the drink cloudy.

Ouzo with water (<<ouzo me nero>>) is a common aperitif in Greece.  It can be found at a taverna, or an ouzo bar called an ouzeria.  Both of these establishments usually offer small plates of mezethes, Greek appetizers.

Ouzo Cocktails.  Ouzo is emphatically not a part of the classic cocktail bar, but if you appreciate the fresh taste of anise, it can make some brilliant mixed drinks.  I’ve developed two of which I am quite fond.

 

An icy-cold Dryos sour.Dryos Sour
A while ago I wrote a short post about a perfect moment I had drinking ouzo and water in a lime orchard in a town called Dryos.  Much later I decided to make a simple sour combining the flavours of ouzo and lime.  I love the icy white colour of this drink.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Ouzo 12
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime
  • 1/2 large egg white

Procedure

  1. Dry build: Combine the ouzo, syrup, lime, and egg white in the glass of a Boston shaker.  Secure the tin and shake a few times to start the egg white emulsion.
  2. Open up the shaker and fill 3/4 full with ice.  Secure the tin and shake vigorously for about 15 seconds.
  3. Double strain into a chilled glass.

 

A Greek variation on the classic Sidecar cocktail.Greek Sidecar
This is basically a classic Sidecar, only using Greek brandy, and substituting a small part of the brandy with ouzo.  So where the Dryos Sour smacks you in the mouth with anise, the Greek Sidecar merely suggests it.  Metaxa brandy is sweetened with a small amount of muscat wine after distillation and aging.  For this reason I have dialed back the Grand Marnier from the classic 1 oz.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz Metaxa ‘7 Star’ Brandy
  • 0.5 oz Cambas Ouzo
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz Grand Marnier

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients in the glass of a Boston shaker.
  2. Fill the glass 3/4 full of ice.  Secure the tin and shake vigorously for about 15 seconds.
  3. Double strain into a chilled glass.

 

Sources

1. All these facts – most popular brand worldwide, developed in 1880s, and bought by Campari in 1999 – are from this page on the Campari website.

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

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.

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?