Friday, February 10, 2012

Pinot Painted Salmon

This time of year we are always working to freshen up the menu at the restaurant for the coming season. While conceptually things will stay pretty much the same, a few minor tweaks that are all in the effort to sell more food, or bring focus to some different items. For a long time I have been unhappy with the salmon preparation that is on the menu. In an effort to create what I conceived as the quintessential Oregon meal I really wanted to incorporate some sort of pinot noir glaze over a piece of cedar planked salmon. Nothing sums up Oregon better then those two items. It would make a perfect wine pairing on the menu. From conception I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, but the follow through proved to be quite a struggle. The salmon would be seared, then placed on a cedar plank and fired in the 500 degree oven for a few minutes, then glazed with the sauce, and cooked a few more minutes until it really started to caramelize and then plated and served on the cedar giving a really cool aromatic touch that wafts through the dining room 30-50 times on a busy night. I really wanted to use a nice Oregon pinot noir and wanted it to be able to shine on its own. Adding too much sugar was out as it would take away from the already relatively sweet salmon. Adding the veal stock that I already take so much pride in making to the wine brought a consistency that was almost perfect but brought in too many other flavors. The veal stock while packed with gelatin in the most amazing natural transformation of water, time, and love brings in too many deep dark flavors and I felt it took away from the salmon. I wanted whatever the glaze was to really retain some of the earthiness from the wine and to not take anything from the salmon but instead give to it. I didn't need it to be powerful but rather barely noticeable. A straight wine reduction wasn't the answer either. I didn't get the texture I wanted and it pains me to reduce a good bottle of wine by 2/3 or 3/4 as you lose everything that made it a good bottle of wine in the first place.

Third attempt was a blond pork stock. Blond is a term for a stock where the bones have not been roasted. In the veal stock realm of things you wouldn't roast the bones before hand to prevent that aggressive flavor that roasting imposes. You don't see blond stock very often, at the restaurant and even at home I always roast even chicken bones before I turn them in a pot. I like the flavor that it imparts, and while some would argue you lose out on optimal gelatin extraction in that process, I still think it is worth it and I have never struggled to get a stock to the thickness I am looking for. Nobody makes pork stock. I always wondered why so a year or so ago I made a roasted pork trotter stock here at the house and while totally packed with gelatin it tasted like water. Pork bones for the most part are not your best bet for flavor extraction, and they can even give you a greasy mouth feel even with a perfect text book process. I did a blond pork stock with about 3 whole pork trotters and then cooled and reduced it the following day. The consistency was very good, but the flavor wasn't where I wanted it to be. Had it worked I figured I could easily just cut the wine into it, and still keep that viscosity I really was after.

Fourth try was a blond veal stock in almost the same process thinking that the stock would carry a better but still very simple flavor, and again maximum extraction. It did work a little bit better but an animal stock still was going to be a bad idea. In the restaurant world you cant hide things like pork trotter stock on a piece of fish. Off the top of my head that could really offend at least two groups of people with food restrictions.

Cornstarch left a horrible texture when reheated on the salmon way to similar to snot to be acceptable as did arrowroot and potato starch. Gelatin sheets would've been ideal as they would thicken the wine without any heat but still that horrid snotty texture. I researched pectin a touch, but while pectin (the fruit equivalent of animal derived gelatin- used mostly to make jam and jelly) is amazing it is also really finicky. It needs lots and lots of sugar to set up. A chutney could get me there but is already over used and brought too many other flavors. I really wanted to showcase the salmon here, and the fact that I buy the nicest Oregon salmon available at any given moment. We even looked at a powdered pinot noir product. Basically dehydrated pinot noir grape juice. While a cool idea, it wasn't from Oregon grapes and i couldn't get a very good description of what it would actually look like or taste like. It seems that some people take it as a part of a vitamin regime in TB or pill form on a daily basis.

After a pretty serious struggle and all manner of research and experimenting, I was getting pretty flustered. Almost all of my ideas had been really close but the picture of the end product still was too vivid in my mind to avoid. At last a break though. One of my cooks had the solution and I was an idiot for not thinking of it before. She simply mentioned that we should try a gastrique. In its most basic form a gastrique is a sauce that is made from the caramelzation of sugar, then mounted with vinegar. You see them more and more often and are even seeing a trend in people calling them an "agrodulce" or sour and sweet. In all actuality it can be made from anything sweet and we started with some honey and got it really hot until is began reducing. We added shallots, lemon zest, and some black peppercorns, and then added a touch of red wine vinegar and some red wine and then brought the whole thing down. While in my head I was really worried about the added sugar and acidity, the end product was strained and cooled and I fired another test piece of fish. It worked perfectly. The consistency was good and the sweet/sour flavor really did exactly what I wanted it to do for the fish from a flavor standpoint, and gave me almost the exact shellacking I needed, being able to be painted on the salmon with a brush and then finished at a high temp for just a few more minutes. Hopefully we can get a really thorough recipe written this week, then some costing on it, and then throw it to the company boffins for approval. It is struggles like this that keep me cooking. The satisfaction of solving a problem like this is hard to explain. I know a fair amount about food, all of that coupled with tons of textbook research, and a few other opinions and we got exactly what I was looking for. It keeps me coming back for more every time. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rhode Island Red

Will is the corporate chef for the company I work for. Before that he was the Executive chef at the restaurant I work for, and I was his sous chef. He is a middle aged, balding, white guy who has been cooking since I was wearing diapers. We get along really well, and I am forever indebted to him. His philosophies have been installed into me, and has a huge hand in sculpting what my own food philosophy and style has become. I know him as well as I know my wife, and can tell what he is thinking from his facial expressions. We have been in the crap together, and on top together. He likes to say he is getting old, and he hopes someday to have a farm where he can grow everything he wants, and have a tractor. For his birthday last fall Melissa and I gave him a gift certificate to a work wear supply store up the coast for the sole intent to buy himself some farmer overalls, and he almost cried.  He is getting close to those goals. He presents the harvest from his own garden in armloads to me, as well as food he has preserved, turkeys and chickens he has raised, and eggs from his other chickens. For Christmas 5 or so years ago he gave me a brand new kitchen aid mixer. While I would've bought one for myself at some point since, it got me jump started on making my own bread. It was his curtails I rode to the James Beard House in NY. In return, I show up to work and bust it. I keep up to date of food books, menus, and restaurants for him. I try to keep him up to date with technology, clean up after him, organize, and keep him from losing his temper. It works good for us.

The Rhode Island red is a great all purpose chicken. While usually sought after for their egg production, they are also desired for their meat production by small farms as well. While there are some pretty fancy egg birds out there who will lay green and purple eggs, I wanted something that would lay a brown egg, a good sized one, and lay them often. The Rhode Island red will do that, laying 5 or so a week, and it does well in cold and hot enviornments. They will do good in confinement, have a generally docile manner, and are relatively low maintenance. Everything I am looking for in an egg bird. The name comes obviously from the state where it is the state bird, and they are available in white or red, but the red is the variation you will see most often. The red is for their feather color which is closer to a vibrant brown with some red hues.

For Christmas and my birthday this year Will decide it was time to do this, and about 3 months ago ordered the hatchlings with my yard in mind. Six were ordered and then started in his set-up to get them going. They were received at just a day or two old so take some special care in the first weeks of life, and he had some experience with that stuff, and due to the timely slaughter of his turkey collection, he had the room as well. Then he would come over on his day's off and build me the Rolls Royce of chicken coops, and has been on that project for a few weeks now.  On Monday I came home from work and the chicken coop while not totally finished on the exterior looked absolutely amazing and was full of six beautiful Rhode island red hens. Equipped with a spot for them to roost, lay, eat and drink safely indoors, and then a door for them to get outside to the elements totally caged to protect them from wildlife, with doors for me to access them outside or in. Ideally I can shoe them out to clean up inside, and shovel them back inside to clean up outside. The boys, Melissa and I are all over the moon about it, and while we are still most likely about 2 months away from when they will begin laying, both boys like to check the egg box "just in case". Once early spring rolls around, with the right food, and weather, we should be seeing well over two dozen eggs a week from them. Plenty to give to neighbors, family, and friends.
I think the plan is to actually side the coop with hardi plank so that it can be color matched to the house color, as if this isn't enough. So it sits in the pouring down rain, in the corner of my totally fenced big back yard, with a new puppy that came from Santa Claus for the boys, at the house we only have to pay on for 29.5 more years. Life is good. Thanks for reading.