Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Steak Tartare

            This bistro classic is found on countless Montreal restaurant menus. There are so many variations that run the gamut from classic to modern. Because of this fact, this will probably be the first among many tartare recipes I'll be posting. This recipe is based on the one served at Beaver Hall, the only difference is that I left out the crunchy wasabi peas to keep the recipe really classic. Wasabi peas are a nice touch though, so feel free to try adding some. They can be found in most Chinese markets and are great in salmon tartare too.   
 The bulk of the work in this recipe is involved in making the tartare sauce. It's a bit more work then simply adding all the ingredients directly to the beef as most restaurants do, but is worth it for both flavor and texture. This recipe will yield far more sauce then you need for the amount of beef specified, simply because making just a few spoonfuls of tartare sauce is not practical. The leftover sauce can be kept for about 1 week in the fridge and goes great with fish and chips (recipe coming soon.) You can simplify the process by using store bought mayonnaise and then jazzing it up with the other ingredients, but making mayo at home is fun and naturally more tasty!

This recipe is for a starter size, but can be easily transformed into a main course by increasing the portion size and replacing the crackers with salad and french fries.

Start to finish 30 minutes, serves 4

1 kg lean beef - tenderloin or sirloin
Cornichons (extra fine gherkins)
Djion mustard
cayenne pepper (optional)

for the tartare sauce:
2 egg  yolks
3 tbs   djion mustard
1 tbs   sherry vinegar
400ml vegetable oil
100ml olive oil
50g    capers
50g    cornichons
   1    French shallot
 1/2   lemon, juiced
         salt & pepper
Yields aprox. 700ml sauce

1. Mix the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice and vinegar in a blender. I used an immersion blender, but a regular blender will work fine. Slowly add the oil while constantly blending. Do not add the oil too quickly or else the sauce will break. If a layer of oil collects at the top, wait for it to incorporate before adding more oil. The vegetable and olive oil and be added in any order. If the mayonnaise becomes too thick, you can thin it with a little water.  

2.Slice the cornichions and chop the parsley and shallots, then add them to the mayonnaise. Add the capers and then pulse the blender for less then a second to incorporate the ingredients. Add a few drops of Tabasco and Worcestershire.

3. Cut the beef into thin slices, then cut each slice into strips. Cut the strips of beef into small cubes. Work quickly to keep the beef cold. A metal mixing bowl set inside another bowl that has been filled with ice will keep the beef chilled while cutting and mixing the tartare. 
4. Add about 6 large spoonfuls of tartare sauce to the beef and stir until evenly coated.  

To assemble:

1. Use a teaspoon to place a small dot of djion mustard on each plate, then quickly run the spoon through the mustard to get the "painter's pallet" effect. 
2. Divide the mixed tartare among the 4 plates using a large spoon to form the portions into a ball (a "quenelle.")
 - if someone would like their tartare extra spicy, serve the regular tartares first, then add a pinch of cayenne to the mix. 
3. Garnish each plate with crackers and pickles.

Coming soon: Beer Battered Fish and Chips. Also, if there is a dish that you really enjoyed at a restaurant recently and would like me to do a recipe based on it, let me know and I'll see if I can come up with one. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sous Vide Duck Breast with Cranberry Apple "Bread Soup" and Baby Greens

    I chose this recipe to serve as an introduction to cooking "sous-vide" - French for "under-vacuum." Cooking sous vide is very popular in restaurants now because of the remarkable results that you can get with this technique, but is almost unheard of in home kitchens. I hope to change that with this really easy recipe. No fancy equipment is needed for this example, not even a thermometer, just your index finger and a little bravery. If you try this recipe and would like to start experimenting a little more with sous vide cooking, you will want to invest in a good digital thermometer (about $15) and a vacuum sealer. Vacuum sealers can be found for about $140 and are well worth the investment because sealed items will keep fresh much longer in the fridge or freezer. If you don't own one , this is not a problem for this recipe because duck breasts are typically sold already individually vacuum sealed in a plastic that is safe for low temperature cooking.
The accompaniment for the duck, which is not really a soup but more of a purée - was inspired by a dish from Derek Dammann, chef at DNA. At a cooking demo he gave at  ITHQ he paired a bread soup with  pan seared fish. It was simple and delicious. I loved the creamy, mashed potato texture so much that I tried it at home with some duck and found it worked perfectly. Because I'm a sucker for cran-apple sauce, I  incorporated these two flavors into the bread soup using fresh Macintosh apples and dried cranberries. A splash of apple cider gives the soup a pleasant zing. Please don't use breadcrumbs out of a tin. They are filled with additives and taste musty. Ask for breadcrumbs at your favorite bakery. The bitter pea shoots and radish leaves balance the sweetness of the apples and cranberries really well, but unfortunately these items can be expensive and/or hard to find. Feel free to replace them with some fresh arugula.  

This recipe is for 2 people, but can be easily scaled up for as many people as you like.

Start to finish 30 minutes, serves 2

    1      duck breast
    2      cups bread crumbs
100g   diced apples
100g   dried cranberries
400ml  low sodium chicken stock
100ml  apple cider
            pea sprouts
            radish sprouts
            salt & pepper

optional aromatics to use  if you have a vacuum sealer:
 10 peppercorns, 5 juniper berries, 1 stem rosemary,
1 bay leaf,  1 french shallots & 4 cloves fresh garlic

1. If you don't own a vacuum sealer, keep the duck breast in the original plastic wrap and skip ahead to step 3. If you do own one, remove the duck from the packaging and using a very sharp knife score the fat side almost down to the meat, but not all the way. Cut lines about 1/2cm apart, all the way across the breast, then repeat the process at a 90 degree angle. This will help the fat melt while in the water bath and will prevent the breast from curling during cooking.

2. Season the breast with salt and pepper and place it in a vacuum bag along with the aromatics listed above.  Seal the bag and let sit in the fridge to let the flavors infuse into the duck. Although not essential, this can be done 24 hours in advance, allowing the flavors to develop with the extra time.
3. Combine the chicken stock and cider and gently simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the breadcrumbs, apples and cranberries and let simmer until the "soup" has the consistency of mashed potatoes.
4. Fill a very large pot with hot tap water. Most hot water tanks are set to heat the water to between 55 - 60C which is very close to the ideal temperate to cook duck sous-vide. The medium setting on most stoves should be sufficient to maintain this temperature. The larger the amount of water you are using, the more stable the temperature will be. Check the temperature with a thermometer and adjust the heat as necessary to keep the water at 60C. If you're brave, you don't even need a thermometer - the water should be almost but not quite the temperature of hot coffee. A quick dip of your finger into the water will tell you if it has gotten too hot or cold. It is better to err on the cold side, because if the duck comes out undercooked you can compensate for this when you sear the breast. 
5. Place the sealed duck breast in the pot of hot water and cook for 25 minutes.  
6. Remove the breast from the bag and brush off the aromatics. Place the breast fat side down in a cold frying pan. Put the frying pan on high heat. Once the fat starts to sizzle, lower the heat to medium and fry the breast until the fat is golden brown. Flip the breast and sear the meat for about 1 minute, until golden brown.  
7. Let the duck breast rest for 5 minutes before slicing, This is very important, because if you slice the breast as soon as it comes out of the pan, all the juices will pour out of the breast.

To assemble:
1. Warm the bread soup and put a small pile in the center of each plate.
2. Place the sliced duck over the bread soup
3. Scatter the pea sprouts around the plate and garnish the duck with the radish leaves. 

Final thoughts: The major advantage to cooking sous-vide is the precision that can be obtained in a water bath that you cannot get in a conventional oven. To get the maximum accuracy of the temperature, professional chefs use an immersion circulator - a fancy device that will heat a water bath with the precision of 1/10th of a degree C. You will never get that sort of precision using the Macgyver stovetop technique I have given here, but it is still preferable to using a conventional oven or just a frying pan. Even the lowest setting on most ovens will be much higher than 60C and if you cook the breast to a medium rare in just the frying pan, the meat will not be cooked evenly. Also, sous vide cooking is very forgiving. Five minutes too long in a hot oven can lead to disaster for your duck, whereas five minutes too long in a 60C water bath should not be much of a problem. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rabbit Pot Pie

               This is the dish I cooked at my audition for Top Chef Canada. It's definitely more challenging that my first two posts, but please don't let that stop you from trying this delicious recipe. I had only 30 minutes to pull this off in front of the producers at the auditions. This version is adapted to unfold over a leisurely 2 hours. If you want to try this dish for guests at a diner party, you can do most of the work the day before and simply assemble the pies the day of.

          Although this dish is obviously a riff on the great comfort classic chicken pot pie, the recipe has been modernized a bit for a more elegant finished dish. Instead of making one big pie then dividing that into separate portions, this recipe makes 6 individual little tarts. The other major difference is that instead of cooking the filling inside the crust, I cook the crust separately then add the filling at the end. This allows you to cook the rabbit until it is meltingly tender and ensures that the sauce is perfectly runny and creamy. Also, filling the pies at the last minute means the crust won't have a chance to go soggy. A crisp, crunchy crust goes so great with the gooey, cheesy filling. A big handful of watercress salad on top helps lighten up an otherwise decadent comfort classic.

Start to finish 2 hours, serves 6

 1/2     rabbit, or 2 legs
 250g   green peas
250g   carrots - a mix of colours
 150g   beets - leaves and stems attached
 200g   potatoes
      3    French shallots
      1    head garlic
      1    bunch watercress
100ml  white wine
    1L   low sodium chicken stock
250ml heavy cream (35%)
 250g  swiss cheese
  50ml olive oil
  20 ml white wine vinegar
       salt & pepper

For the dough:
800g flour
220g butter
100ml milk
2 eggs
10g sugar
5g salt

1. Roughly chop the shallots and garlic (skins and all) and place them in a pot with the rabbit. Add the white wine and chicken stock. Add a little water if necessary to ensure that the rabbit is fully covered.
2. Bring to a boil and then let gently simmer for 1 1/2 hours. When fully cooked the rabbit should be easy to separate from the bone. Strain, reserve the stock and let the rabbit cool. Shred the meat by hand, being very careful to remove all the small bones and cartilage. 

3. While the rabbit is simmering, it's time to make the pie crust. Preheat the oven to 425F. In a large bowl combine the butter and flour until it reaches a clumpy, sandy texture. Be careful not to let the butter get too warm or overwork the dough. Large clumps of butter will help keep the crust flaky. 
4. Once the butter is combined into the flour, dig a well in the middle and add the eggs and the milk. Mix the eggs and milk into the dough and form into a ball. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and gently knead the dough. Dust the ball with flour until it is no longer sticky. Cover with a moist towel and let it chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. 
5. After the dough has rested, return it to a floured work surface and roll it out into a sheet 1/4cm thick. You may find it easier to cut the ball into 3 pieces and then roll each one separately.
6. Place an aluminum tart shell under the dough and gently flatten it into the mold. Place a second  mold over the crust and roughly cut the edges. I like leaving some excess dough sticking out from between the two aluminum molds, because this part will brown a lot and become extra crispy. I also like the look of the rough edges on the finished tarts.

7. Repeat the process in step 6 for each of the tarts. If you are having trouble fitting all six tart shells under the sheet of dough, gather up the pieces you have trimmed off and re-roll the dough into a new 1/4cm thick sheet.  
 8. Transfer the tarts to a baking tray, keeping the top mold in place, and bake in the oven for 15 -20 minutes.  Check on the tarts after about 8 minutes. You will need to push the top mold down with a spoon to prevent the tarts from expanding too much. An old chefs trick to avoid this problem is to fill the top mold with dried beans to weigh them down. If you have some dried beans handy try it! 
9. When the tarts are nicely browned, but not dark, remove them from the oven and let chill. The tart shells can be made one day in advance and stored overnight with a dry towel over them in a cool dry place. 

10. To make the sauce, bring the 35% cream to a simmer and reduce by half. In a separate pot, bring the reserved rabbit/chicken stock to a simmer and reduce that by half.
11. While making the reductions, cut the carrots, potatoes and cheese into small cubes. When the stock has finished reducing, add the carrots and potatoes to the stock and continue to simmer for five more minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are soft.
12. Slowly stir in the reduced cream, then add the shredded rabbit, green peas and cheese to the stock. Let simmer for a further 5 minutes. The filling can then be chilled and kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.
13. To make the salad, wash and peel the remaining carrots and the use the peeler to cut the carrots into strips.
14. Cut the leaves off the beets, then chop up some of the stems. Like the carrots, use the peeler to slice the beetroot. Combine the carrots, beetroots, stems and watercress in a mixing bowl and dress with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. 
To assemble:
1 Preheat oven to 425F. Gently warm filling on medium heat                      2.Remove the tarts from the aluminium shells and place in oven for 5 minutes, until warm and golden brown. Place one tart on each plate.            
3.Fill each tart with warm rabbit mixture and top with extra sauce.      
4. Garnish each rabbit pot pie with watercress salad.

Final hints and tips:
- In summer try to find fresh peas, still in the pod for this dish. One of my favorite things about pot pie is the little green peas that pop in your mouth. If green peas are out of season, don't get a can. Canned peas are great on a hot chicken sandwich, but they wont have any pop. At most grocery stores you can often find good quality frozen green peas that will pop just like a fresh ones in a hot pot pie. Just make sure, whether fresh or frozen, you use add them at the last possible minute to avoid overcooking them.    

- To get just the texture you want for the sauce, use extra chicken stock, cream and/or beurre manié. Beurre manié is simply a mixture of equal parts flour and butter. Use room temperature butter, and mix it in your hand with a little flour. If the sauce is too thick, you can dilute it with stock or cream. If you want a thicker sauce, add some beurre manié, a little at a time. For an extra saucy filling, add stock, cream and beurre manié. This technique is really handy for soups too, particularly for clam chowder.