Breakaway Cook

Lamb Chops Done Right

Like many Americans, I didn’t grow up eating lamb. I was well into my 20s before I realized what I was missing, and now I seem to be making up for lost time! I like all cuts of lamb, but my favorite — which also happens to involve the easiest cooking method — is simple roasted (or grilled) chops, which are also sometimes referred to as rib racks (see photo).

I once had the pleasure of eating lamb in southern France that had been pasture-fed on quite a bit of lavender; the meat was actually infused with the subtle scent of lavender, and I have never forgotten it. But since it’s awfully difficult to find lamb that have lived on such a delicacy, I searched for a way to introduce the same aromas into my lamb chops. The quickest, easiest, and best way? Simply sprinkle it with lavender salt. It is sublime. (You can make lavender salt by combining about a teaspoon of lavender buds with about two tablespoons of coarse sea salt in a spice grinder or electric coffee grinder).

I find that cooking one side in a hot cast iron pan, flipping it, and finishing it off in a very hot oven produces fantastic results. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Rinse and dry the lamb chops thoroughly, rub with olive oil, then sprinkle them liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Melt a combination of butter and olive oil in the pan, swirl it around, and add the lamb. Cook for about five minutes until well-browned. Flip it over and transfer to the oven. Roast for about five minutes for medium rare (the only way to eat lamb chops, in my opinion). Don’t overcook it!

Let it rest on a cutting board for at least five minutes, and slice into individual chops. Squeeze some  lemon on the chops and give them a liberal dusting of lavender salt, pepper, and lemon zest.

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Photo credit: Annabelle Breakey

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Pickled Ginger, As Featured in The Kitchn

 

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Friend and Tassajara mate Dana Velden just published a lovely tribute to breakaway-stye pickled ginger over at The Kitchn. Dana writes the weekend meditation column there, and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of mindfulness, food/cooking, and good writing. Check out the pickled ginger piece, with recipes, here.

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How to Cook a Trout

I grew up eating trout; my father actually carried a set of fishing poles in the family car(!), and would stop off for a quick hit of his addiction at the local lake on the way back from work. He almost always came home with a bucket of trout. Now the only trout I eat usually come from a farm in Idaho, but I still find them delicious..

I’ve experimented with lots of cooking methods for trout over the years, but I’ve finally settled on one that produces perfectly crispy and delicious skin and moist, wonderfully seasoned flesh.Here’s what you’ll need:

  • * one big fat trout, cleaned (they’re almost always sold cleaned)
  • * a cast iron skillet
  • * some basic seasonings

Rinse the fish and dry it carefully and thoroughly. Then take your sharp knife and scrape along the entire sides of the fish. You’ll get some funky grayish crap on the knife — wipe it off with a paper towel, and do it some more, until you no longer produce any gray muck. This wonderful technique applies to almost all fish; it removes all impurities and paves the way for a wonderfully crispy, scrumptious skin.

Rub the entire fish, inside and out, with a light drizzle of olive oil, and liberally sprinkle everything, again inside and out, with freshly cracked pepper and kosher salt. I also like to sprinkle about a teaspoon or so of freshly ground coriander seeds on the skin — this really gives it an extra crispy blast — but you don’t have to.

Preheat oven to 400. Heat up the pan over high heat, and add a splash of olive oil and a small touch of butter, and swirl it around. When it’s very hot, add the trout, and cook it over high heat for four or five minutes, or until it gets very browned. Flip it over and brown the other side. While it’s cooking, cut up a Meyer lemon, regular lemon, or some other citrus, and stuff the wedges inside the fish. Transfer the pan to the oven for about five minutes, which should be enough time to cook the fish all the way through.

Remove it and plate it. Stand the trout up on its belly and, with the backbone facing up, and, using a knife and fork, carefully slice the skin along the backbone and gently separate the meat from the backbone. It should come off in one clean swoop. Squeeze the baked lemon over the flesh, and add a final dusting of salt, preferably an interesting salt like tangerine salt or saffron salt.

I sometimes cook two or three at a time, and put the extra meat in a Tupperware for an incredibly tasty trout salad the next day.

 

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From Iceberg to Raw Kale

If you ordered a “green salad” in almost any restaurant in the United States in the 1970s, they probably brought you a plate of iceberg lettuce, adorned perhaps with thin slices of cucumber and tomato. You then chose a dressing: French, Italian, Russian, or blue cheese.

And then, by sometime in the mid-1980s,  Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters came along and showed us some new salad greens: arugula, little gem and other leafy lettuces, radicchio, endive, and sometimes fresh herbs, especially chervil. Mixed altogether they were known as mesclun, and the big supermarkets began to carry prewashed mixed bags of mesclun. The introduction of mesclun on a mass scale forever changed the way we think of salad greens.

Poor iceberg lettuce lost its predominant position, at least in terms of culinary cachet, as romaine and mesclun made their way to the top of the lettuce hierarchy. Nostalgia may play a minor role, but I’m still a fan of the classic diner special of a thick wedge of iceberg, chilled almost to the freezing point, drizzled with creamy blue cheese, eaten like a steak, carved with knife and fork.

And in the unlikely event that anyone should ever accuse me of food snobbery, allow me to relay that I still have vivid memories of myself, somewhere around age 7 or so, bugging Mrs. Meyer, my babysitter, to make me a third, or fourth or fifth, sandwich that consisted of Wonder Bread, a giant pile of iceberg leaves, and a huge smear of Miracle Whip. The beginning of the road to breakaway cooking!

Nowadays I’m going for greener, more intense salads, salads that satisfy so deeply that they can be, and often are, the main component of dinner. And salads that star raw kale fit this bill nicely.

Most home cooks think that kale must be cooked, but it doesn’t; it’s absolutely delicious raw. You do have to chop it somewhat finely, however, since big pieces of kale leaves require quite a bit of chewing.

And, unlike more delicate green salads, it benefits from a “marination” in the dressing: the longer it sits in the dressing, the better, which makes it the ideal make-ahead dish.

Raw kale also seems to go best with very bold flavor contrasts: lots of vinegar for tang, plenty of dried fruit for sweet, and a healthy dusting of crispy breadcrumbs for texture. Try the version below first, then come up with your own breakaway kale salad, using ingredients you already have on hand.

 

Raw Kale Salad with Dried Fruit, Aged Cheese, Spiced Breadcrumbs, and Flowers

It’s pretty rare to be surprised by a salad these days, but this one just might do it. It’s a very open-ended recipe in that you can substitute far and wide and still have it come out tasting great.

You can use any kind of kale for this, but the intense dark color of black kale, also called lacinato kale and dino kale, is especially alluring.

The dried fruit can be a big mix of any fruit, but ginger, gojiberry, cranberry, and apricot play beautifully together.

The vinegar can be a combination (apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, and a small amount of balsamic is an excellent one), or a single vinegar; the dried fruit will absorb most of it, creating little sweet-sour blasts throughout the salad.

The aged cheese, too, can be anything: a good parmesan, asiago, pecorino, aged cheddar, or–my preference–an old gouda. The flowers are optional, and purely for color, but they are a really nice addition. Don’t skip the breadcrumbs though — they give the salad a lovely and rather surprising crunch. Makes about six large servings.

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  • * 1 cup diced dried fruit
  • * 1 cup vinegar of choice
  • * 2 small-medium bunches black kale, backbones removed, then somewhat finely chopped
  • * 1 small watermelon radish, sliced into matchsticks
  • * 3 or 4 tablespoons fruity green olive oil
  • * salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • * 1/2 cup shaved aged cheese, chopped roughly
  • * 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup (if you like more crunch) spiced breadcrumbs — stale bread, pulsed in a coffee grinder to produce something between traditional breadcrumbs and traditional croutons, with a little salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper added to it, then sauteed in a pan with some butter
  • * 1/4 cup edible flowers (optional)

Place the chopped fruit in a small mixing bowl, and pour the vinegar over it. Let the dried fruit macerate in the vinegar for a while if you can (say an hour); it will plump up nicely if you do. Do that step first while you wash and chop the kale, slice the radish, and make the breadcrumbs. Place the washed and chopped kale in an extra-large salad bowl.

Add the vinegared fruit, watermelon radish, and olive oil to the kale and, using your hands, mix well. Dust with salt and pepper as you mix (this is important–it makes the difference between a good salad and a great salad). Top with cheese, breadcrumbs, and flowers.

(photo by Craig Lee)

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Yuzu — You NEED This Citrus

 

If you’ve never tasted yuzu, you’re in for a delightful surprise. It is usually translated as “Japanese citron,” but that doesn’t tell us much. It is about the size of a tangerine, and has a yellow-orange rind. The mature fruit is very seedy, and produces little juice, but  is mostly highly prized for its fragrant and florally zest, which seems to combine the best flavors of meyer lemon, mandarin orange, and grapefruit. The unripe fruit, with its green rind, does provide some juice, which is exceedingly sour yet delicious.

It’s almost impossible to find fresh yuzu outside Japan, but bottled yuzu juice—which is almost as good, and certainly more convenient—is becoming widely available in Asian markets, especially Japanese markets. A 10-ounce bottle will cost you around $12, but it will last a long time, since you need only small quantities at a time.  Yuzu powder—dehydrated and pulverized yuzu zest—is also becoming increasingly easy to find. Googling “yuzu juice” will yield a list of online purveyors. Intrepid gardeners can even try their hand at growing this thorny yet beautiful citrus. I’ve ordered two from Four Winds Growers, and both are doing well in our Marin climate, but, because it’s one of the few citruses that actually tolerate frost well, it should do well in chillier areas, too, as long as it has excellent drainage and at least six hours of direct sun a day.

In Japan, yuzu zest is used mainly to accent cooked vegetables, hotpots, custards, and fish, and is sometimes added to miso and to vinegar to infuse them with its florally wonders. Juice from green yuzu is often mixed with soy sauce (and often other ingredients) to form a dipping sauce known as ponzu. Many Japanese women love to put cut-up yuzu in their baths; there are even hot springs on the island of Shikoku, the heart of Japan’s yuzu country, that specialize in yuzu baths.

Yuzu has become the darling of many brand-name chefs, who are discovering its many joys and pushing the boundaries as they use it in ice creams and other desserts, cocktails, salad dressings, and all kinds of savory dishes. I’m told that the waiters at Jean-George, in New York, even put yuzu juice in an atomizer and spray it tableside on a scallop dish.

I like to use a small amount of yuzu juice—its intense power means that one must be careful of quantity—in braising liquids for fish and vegetables, and to combine some yuzu with raw tuna and eat it spooned over good bread. It’s also delightful mixed into a spoonful of miso, and then spread on fish and broiled. Or try some in a salad dressing along with some good olive oil, yogurt, and maple syrup.

Hunt it down–you’ll be really glad you did.

(photo by Craig Lee; originally appeared in the SF Chronicle on October 9, 2011)

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Toro Avocado Yuzu Crostini

Makes about 24 small or 12 full-size crostini

These make wonderful starters for a dinner party. The secret, as usual, is to use the freshest of everything, especially the toro. You can substitute halibut or hamachi, or even cooked Dungeness crab works, too. The yuzu is well worth seeking out, but you can substitute a combo of Meyer lemon and grapefruit juices.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup finely diced shallots
  • — Sea salt
  • — Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound toro (fatty tuna belly), finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fruity extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) yuzu juice
  • 1 ripe but firm medium avocado, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • — Zest of 1 Meyer lemon, minced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
  • — About 24 lightly toasted baguette slices or 12 thin slices of sourdough batard

Instructions: Heat the butter in small skillet over low-medium heat. Add the shallots, and cook, stirring, until they brown and become crisp (about 5 minutes); be careful not to burn them. Transfer the shallots to paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside.

In a bowl, gently mix together the toro, olive oil and yuzu juice. Taste for salt. Gently fold in the avocado cubes.

Spoon a heaping tablespoon (or more) onto each slice of bread, Top with the crisp shallots, lemon zest and parsley.

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A New and Tasty Way to Cook Squid

I think squid is the great underappreciated seafood, and can’t figure out why it isn’t more popular. Provided you don’t overcook it (which is easy to do), it has a fabulous, toothsome texture, especially if you make a crispy crunch crust before you cook it. It’s plentiful and completely sustainable, AND it’s local, at least for us lucky Bay Area residents. It may not be widely available in the huge supermarkets, but those aren’t the places you want to be buying fish anyway. And it’s cheap — I rarely pay more than $7/lb for top-quality squid, and a pound will make three or four generous portions.

Sold yet? Good, now go find some. As always, I can’t recommend the folks at Monterey Fish highly enough. You can get quality squid (and other sustainable tasty fish) online, believe it or not, from I Love Blue Sea.

My latest and greatest way to cook squid is to give it a crust made of amaranth, that ancient grain that kind of looks like quinoa, except the grains are even smaller. I often use other crusts, including ground rice, ground pink lentils, farina, and spiced breadcrumbs, to make my squid, but amaranth is really nice: it imparts a nutty, poppy, very lively crunch to the squid.

To prep the squid, rinse and dry it thoroughly (don’t skip this very important step) and then rub the whole thing generously with olive oil. Season generously with good salt and pepper, spray the squid with more olive oil, toss on some amaranth on one side and gently press it into the squid. Spray the whole thing again with olive oil (so that the amaranth doesn’t just fall off when you transfer it from cutting board to pan). Heat up a cast iron (or other) pan, give it a film of olive oil, get it very hot, and gently place the squid inside. Cook until deeply browned, as shown in the photo, about 3 to 5 minutes, and flip it over to cook another few minutes. Serve with wedges of meyer lemon and matcha salt (or other salt) and a huge salad.

Anyone have any favorite (and great) methods of cooking squid?

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Kabocha — The Lazy Man’s Squash

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The first time I tried kabocha was in a fancy tempura restaurant in Kyoto. It was one of those rare food epiphanies that come along once every few years: the perfect unity of sweet (kabocha is probably the sweetest of the winter squashes), salt (it was dusted liberally with matcha salt) and fat, delivered with ultralight crispness from the artful hands of a fry master. When he told me it was “pumpkin,” I was incredulous — this wasn’t like any pumpkin I had encountered. He hadn’t even bothered to peel it! But I wanted more of it, whatever it was.

I’ve been a kabocha fan ever since — it lends itself to quick roasting, steaming, braising, and pan-frying.  Prepping it couldn’t be easier because, unlike other winter squashes, you don’t have to peel it. It has a very tasty deep green skin with celadon stripes that’s better left on. So it’s just a matter of slicing it up into whatever shapes you like,  spooning out the seeds and strings, and proceeding. Use your biggest, heaviest knife for this job, and use lots of caution: the flesh is dense, and it’s hard.

But what a reward when it’s done! The brilliantly colored orange flesh turns buttery, flaky, and sugary, and takes well to spices and herbs. My go-to weeknight preparation of kabocha is a simple braise: cut up a few kabocha wedges into bite-size pieces, sauté in a combo of butter and olive oil, add freshly ground star anise, stir, add some stock, cover, and cook till soft, then top with good salt and chopped parsley or cilantro.

Its innate sweetness also makes it a natural for desserts. I like to gently poach some kabocha pieces in coconut milk and regular milk and warm spices like nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon, with a touch of brown sugar or honey. Simple and great. It makes a fine panna cotta and pudding, too. And I’ve made killer gnocchi with it.

But the simplest way to enjoy is to roast it in the oven. Cut it up into curved wedges or even, if you have the knife energy, into a julienne, place on a baking sheet, drizzle on some olive oil and salt and pepper, and bake it for 15 or 20 minutes in a moderately hot oven. When the edges begin to brown, it’s done. It’s fabulous on pasta, especially when combined with some fried sage leaves.

I always try to keep a few in my pantry, right next to the potatoes. They seem to keep forever, and it’s very comforting to know that a fantastic and easy dinner is nearby, even when the fridge is bare.

(photo by Robin Kok)

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Supertasty, Superquick Daikon Salad


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I love this salad. You get the daikon ribbons just by using a vegetable peeler — they come off in wonderful little strips. You then rinse them in cold water, which really improves their taste (I think it rids them of that property that many people find unpleasant: that bitter, superradishy taste). Blot dry in a tea towel.

That’s the base — you can then add whatever. Here I’ve added pomegranate arils — is there ANY dish that isn’t improved with pomegranate arils? — avocado, some orange bell pepper strips, and some cooked edamame I had in the fridge. Dressing of choice is a combo of some neutral oil (walnut oil is one of my faves, as is avocado oil) plus a tiny drizzle of sesame oil. And a squeeze of lemon (or yuzu, or other citrus of choice) for tang. Dust with s&p. Inhale, feel great. Top off with a cup of matcha for the full antioxidant high!

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