Friday, October 23, 2009

Escabeche de Peixe

We hadn't seen Eli and Yael since their wedding, and Eli had asked me if he could borrow my (that was once his) truck to do a dump run. Absolutely was my answer. I left for work on my skate and when I arrived home the truck, as I had expected, was gone. What was surprising, though, was the 600 page Brazilian Cookbook that was on my doorstep. "I am passing this on to you as I have failed to use it, and know you will bring it to life" wrote Eli on the inside cover.

Well now the pressure is on...I had better make something soon, lest I too fail in the book's resuscitation. Pois bem, tonight is Brazilian night. I asked Lissa what sounded good to her, and even though we did fish last night with E and Yael we decided on fish again tonight. Now, peixe asado con cerveja? Pudim de peixe? Peixe com molho de coco? Escabeche de peixe?? Yes, that's the one...escabeche de peixe frito: pickled fish. Escabeche basically means pickled (In Spain, you will see jars of pickled beets, for example, labeled remolacha en escabeche) and most versions of this dish are served just like that...pickled, jarred and eaten cold.

However, as I often do, I strayed a bit from the beaten path. I decided to serve my escabeche de peixe warm, and even served the escabeche itself on the side, and I used coconut vinegar! I know, I'm crazy...a vida louca, brother. Also, the recipe called for dredging the fish in flour, but I decided to up the ante and make a beer batter. Other than that, I pretty much followed the recipe as it's written. And it came out delicious!

I started with rice and beans. When I don't have the time or foresight to soak my own beans, I just buy canned beans and supe 'em up a bit. The recipe I used as inspiration is tutu de feijão no.1 (from Olga de Sá Pires, from Minas Gerais). Alas, my pantry is void of farinha (farinha is yucca meal, and is used in Brazil to thicken sauces) at the moment, so I had to thicken my tutu by simply letting the liquid from the beans reduce. Check this post on the Perfect Pantry about the process of making farinha. O.K., back to the beans... First, bacon. I diced up two thick slices of heaven-aka bacon-and rendered the fat, browned it all up, and then drained the grease into a separate saucepan.* Then I poured in two cans of black beans and a bay leaf, and left it to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste and you have yourself a bean dish instead of just a boring old can of beans. Bacon makes everything better.

*Remember that saucepan with the bacon grease in it? Heat it up and toss in a diced onion. This will become our rice. Arroz Brasileiro. The recipe calls for "shortening, oil, lard, or bacon fat, but not butter." The secret here is to fry the onion and the rice in the fat for about 10 minutes over a low flame. Then you add chopped tomato or tomato sauce and the water, bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Once the rice and beans were on, I started on the escabeche. Again I stylized the recipe a la called for a cup of oil, but I only used a couple of tablespoons for lubricant, and maintained vinegar as the lead role here. Sliced onion gets sauteed in olive oil with bay leaf, ground ginger, salt and black pappercorns. Once the onions have browned slightly, the juice from 1 lemon and 1 lime, along with 1/2 cup of vinegar (coconut for me, but you could use white or red wine or even apple cider vinegar). Bring to a boil. Normally, one would then pour this over the fried or poached fish or chicken (or...), but I simply poured it off in to a bowl and chilled it in the fridge. Then I began dealing with with fish. I purchased some nice fillets of black cod from our local monger and cut them into medium-sized pieces. Salt and pepper on both sides, then a quick, light dredge in plain flour. Then they go for a swim in a beautiful batter. I used a bottle of Belgian white ale I had in the fridge, a cup and a half of sifted flour, and some sweet paprika. Whisk it together to remove any lumps, and look lovingly at the little air bubbles, knowing that they will be responsible for the fabulous crunch that you will soon crunch into.

Well, that's about it. I threw together a simple salad of arugula and palmito (heart of palm) dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette so it wasn't all deep-fry and bacon, and opened a bottle of Portuguese Vinho Verde from Aliança. All the while, mind you, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Seu Jorge, Ellis Regina and a slew of other fantastic Brazilian artists were infusing my meal with sweet melodies. As if I didn't already want to go to Brazil enough already....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Asian Collard Parcels.

I love the way those words play together; Asian collard parcels. Collard greens are a member of the brassica family, and are classified in the same cultivar group as kale and spring greens. The name collard is said to derive from Anglo-Saxon coleworts or colewyrts ("cabbage plants"). They are very nutritious and the leaves can grow to be quite large, which make them a prime candidate for parcel creation. Similar to Polish golabki, or German kohlroulade, these are little parcels of joy made by wrapping softened greens around a meat filling, an simmered in a saucy sauce of sorts. I used ground beef for my filling, and I 'asianified' the ingredients and sauce.

I began by finely dicing and sauteing a Japanese eggplant. Then I added some minced ginger and garlic, then a can of straw mushrooms. A splash of soy sauce and some sliced green onion, then let cool before adding the beef. To the beef I added one beaten egg and a tablespoon or so of chinese five spice powder, then mixed in the eggplant mixture.

Meanwhile, I blanched (3-4 minutes), drained, and iced my collard greens. Then I cut out most of the large vein running down the middle of the greens so they are more pliable. Now you're ready to roll. Place a small handful of your filling in the center of the deveined collard. Fold the sides inward, then roll lengthwise. Wrap each bundle with 3 collards. I ended up with 4 bundles. Then I packed them in an 8 x 10 ceramic loaf dish, poured in some mushroom broth, covered them with foil, and baked at 400° for about 35 minutes. To finish the dish, I topped the parcels with a simple pan sauce (garlic, hoisin and soy sauce) some toasted and chopped cashews and some thinly sliced green onion.

I served these fabulous little meat packages with my favorite cabbage salad. Blanched cabbage and thinly sliced red onion (salted, left to rest, rinsed, then squeezed dry) tossed with rice wine vinegar, salt, sugar, toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, black pepper and cilantro. This time I decided to top it off with some crispy shitakes! The whistles go WOO-WOO!