Sometimes a project just smacks you on the head.
It’s been a busy two weeks, first a trip to the Cascades (gorgeous!) and then a literal PILE of friends from San Francisco descended on Seattle for a weekend of total gluttony (and all I’m gonna say about that is “Don’t eat a Bacon Cheeseburger at Lunchbox Laboratory before noon. It hurts.”). And the sun. Did I mention the sun? It’s been shining over Seattle for two weeks. There was no way I was spending my days in the kitchen. I was planting a montmorency cherry tree in my front yard. And blueberry and raspberry bushes in the back. And if I can convince John to drive me back to the nursery I suspect we’ll be adding a comice pear tree to the family.
BUT. Back to projects. For some reason caramels just keep popping up. Everywhere. I go out to eat and one gets handed to me with the bill. I go to candy stores and they are there, taunting me. Even Pantea bought me a box as a present before flying away. The weird thing is, for some strange reason, they all tasted like raisins. I can’t explain it, but it was making me think that I left my taste buds in San Francisco. So I decided to make my own. I poked around on the interweb and found a recipe that had the two magic words: salt and creme fraiche. The only changes I made were adding some vanilla and slightly lowering the salt, because I didn’t want that to be ALL one tasted.
First I warmed up some creme fraiche over low heat.
While that was warming I heated up butter, sugar, corn syrup, milk, vanilla bean seeds and salt. This started out easy enough, but it was a tad tricky getting it up to 300 degrees without it burning in spots. There was a lot of stirring involved. I would have taken pictures, but I unfortunately only have 2 hands.
Once it was nice and dark (and 300 degrees) I poured the mixture into a foil lined baking pan. I let it sit overnight to cool.
Then I began the arduous task of slicing it into individual pieces. Can we just take a moment to appreciate that Seattle sunlight?
And candy was had by all! Well, by me and John anyways. I think I’ll be mailing some of this off to friends, because there is just no reason two people need this much deliciousness in their home. And btw, I am happy to report that these caramels did not even remotely taste like raisins. I dare say they were perfect.
SALTED CREME FRAICHE CARAMELS RECIPE:
250 grams sugar
250 grams light corn syrup
250 grams whole milk
200 grams unsalted butter
1 TBSP + 2 tsp salt
1/2 vanilla bean seeds
200 grams creme fraiche
– Line an 8″ square cake pan with foil and brush with melted butter.
– Put creme fraiche in small saucepan over low heat. You want it all loose and melty, not boiling.
– Rub vanilla bean seeds into sugar and place all the ingredients (minus creme fraiche) in a medium sauce pan. Heat over high with a thermometer in place, stirring occasionally. Once it starts to take on color, stir constantly, scraping around the sides to prevent scorching.
– When it reaches 300 degrees, very very slowly pour in the creme fraiche. Since it will probably splatter and attack you, I recommend wearing an oven mitt for protection. Because caramel burns, they hurt. And they scar. Stir the crap out of the caramel, getting all the lumps out.
– Once it is perfectly smooth, pour it into the lined cake pan. Let it cool completely, at least a few hours.
– Turn the candy out onto a cutting board and start slicing. It will stick, but you can easily scoop up the pieces with an offset spatula.
– Wrap them in waxed paper and hand them out to all your friends!
You did it again. You made me fall in love with you all over. It started months ago, you see. Living in San Francisco. There was this guy, Ryan Farr his name was. He was making magic with pork skin, and his chicharrones were showing up all over town. I was deeply jealous. I hated him for knowing you in a way that I didn’t. I mean, I grew up in ALABAMA – I should be frying pig skin in my SLEEP! Why wasn’t I grandfathered in on the secret? And rumor had it that this Mr. Farr was taking his technique with him to his grave. So I was on my own to find my way into your heart/skin. All hope was seemingly lost, months of searching were fruitless. But then it happened. I read somewhere that the new Momofuku cookbook was spilling the beans. Step by step directions for perfect chicharrones. I ordered some fatback from my new favorite butcher shop and left the house 5 minutes later to buy a copy. There was no stopping me now.
When my fatty skin came, I was enthralled. You looked so innocent, like a topographical map of a Washington state. I could have stared at you all day, folding you into different shapes.
But we were at the beginning of a long journey together, so I needed to get to work. First I separated your skin from your fat.
I put your skin in a pot of water and boiled you for 1 1/2 hours, long enough to soften up the fat left clinging to you.
The rest of your fat I cubed up and put in another pot, with a bit of water. Because when you have that much fat sitting on your kitchen counter, you might as well render some lard.
After your skin was done boiling, I stretched you out and placed you in the fridge. There you chilled for another 2 hours. Then I set about the arduous task of scraping off every last bit of fat. The book recommended the side of a spoon, but I had to use a knife. Because this was OUR moment and I wanted you to be perfect. Then I popped you in the dehydrator and let you do your thing overnight.
In the meantime, I still had some fat melting away on the stove. It took 8 hours, but eventually you released all your juiciness.
I strained you, smashing to get every last drop of liquid fat.
And was very pleased with your color, almost perfectly clear.
When you cooled, you were beautiful. Snowy. Pure.
I slept well, knowing that when I awoke the next morning, you would be ready for me. And you were. 12 hours in the dehydrator had left you thin and leathery. I broke you into tiny pieces.
I heated your lard to 390 degrees and tossed in your skin, one piece at a time.
It was magnificent to see you puff up to 5 times your size. I like to think that was you swelling with love.
I tossed you in a spice mix I had prepared earlier. And you were glorious. Light, fluffy, melt in my mouth glorious. You were a lot of work, but Pork skin, you were worth it. Thank you.
Spice Mix recipe:
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 TBSP salt
1 TBSP sugar
This isn’t really a post. It’s more like a mention, because this was the tastiest jambalaya I’ve ever made. I didn’t really take photos, mostly because the beauty of cooking jambalaya is that everything just gets thrown into one pot (preferably an extremely large one). So it’s not the most interesting process, but it is a fantastic dinner.
This is basically John Besh’s recipe, from his new cookbook (which makes me want to hit up the state of Louisiana something fierce). I only changed a few things, mostly not using converted rice (uncle Ben’s) and omitting the celery salt. Because celery salt makes me uncomfortable. Not sure why.
Shrimp, Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya Recipe:
12oz andouille sausage, diced
8oz fresh pork sausage, removed from casings
8oz bacon, diced
1 oz butter
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 dried bay leaf
2 1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups white rice
1 15oz can crushed tomatoes
2 1/2 cups rich chicken broth
1 1/4 lb shrimp (preferably Louisiana white), peeled and deveined
– Preheat a large cast-iron pot over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and add the sausages, bacon and butter. Cook the meat as evenly as possible, stirring slowly, until the fat is released.
– Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the pot. Once the chicken has browned, about 5 minutes, add the onions and cook for 15 minutes. Add the bell pepper, celery and garlic. Continue to stir, allowing the ingredients to brown without burning, about 5 minutes.
– Add the thyme, bay leaf, paprika, cayenne, and rice. Keep stirring for 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat.
– Add the tomatoes and broth, raise the heat back to high until the liquid boils, and then cover and reduce to a low simmer until rice is almost cooked through, about 25 minutes.
– Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, and add them to the pot. Keep the pot covered for an additional 10 minutes before removing from the heat. Season to taste.
There are two types of cooks. First there are those that burn through recipes and techniques, dipping their toes in many different things and gaining all different kinds of loose intuitive knowledge. Then there are those who master the art of perfecting whatever they are into at the moment. They tinker and tinker with the same dish until they have it down to a science.
I am very much not the second type. I’ll just go right ahead and say it: I have a short attention span. It’s rare that I’ll do anything twice, no matter how much I like it. Vacations, restaurants, recipes: I’m always curious about whether there’s something more fun, so repeats don’t happen often. It’s weird, if you ask me to list the best restaurant meals of my life, I’ve probably never been to any those places twice. I can’t help it!
But. Every now and then, I get presented with an opportunity to get completely OBSESSED with one thing. It usually means I have no choice, or I’m fighting a string of particularly bad luck with a dish. Right now, the stars have aligned and it’s all candied citrus peels. We have this dessert on the menu at Delancey, a meyer lemon budino. A yummy rich lemon cream that is (thankfully) being well received. The cream uses a ton of meyer lemons, but mostly just the juice. After seeing piles and piles of lemon rinds being tossed, I started hoarding them. If there was ever a time to candy citrus, then THIS was it.
You see, tucked away in my brain’s recesses was a desire to perfect the technique of candying citrus. I know it’s not exactly hard, but I seem to have a very high standard. I dream of these perfect little gummy peels, flexible and soft, evenly coated with sugar, chewy when you bite into them, and not a trace of bitterness. For something that only has 3 ingredients, I had a hard time finding a way to consistently get perfect candy. But after about 5 rounds with the peels (that would be 5 weeks worth of budino scraps), I am proud to report that I’ve finally got it. What I think is the perfect technique for candied citrus.
First I sliced up my peels to the ideal size. Then I placed them in cold water and brought that to a boil. As soon as the water boiled, I drained them out. I did this 3 times, rinsing the heat out of the peels between each blanch so that they always started in cold water (without rinsing they will warm the water up immediately). This step helps remove the bitterness from the remaining pith.
Then I made a simple syrup of equal parts (in volume) of water and granulated sugar. I made just enough to cover the peels by 1/4″ or so in the pot. I brought them to a bare simmer (not a full boil) and let them poach for 4 hours. I checked them for doneness by pulling out a peel and holding it up the window. I want to be able to see through it. Then, I take the peels off of the heat and place the whole pot in the fridge. I leave them there, covered, for 2 days. It may seem excessive, but I’m convinced that this part gives the peels the delicious gooey soft texture I like. Obviously they can be stored in their liquid (refrigerated) as long as you like, think of 2 days as a minimum soaking time.
Once they’ve soaked, I laid them out on a drying rack over a sheet pan. This is the part where I had my epiphany. Previously, I had simply left the pans out for a couple of days to dry out. After several batches of not guessing the right time (not long enough and the sugar they get tossed in will clump up and become hard and crusty; too long and they get hard and lose their gummy bear texture) and getting extremely frustrated with the humidity in Seattle, it finally hit me: put them in the oven. Duh. So I did just that. And after about 2 hours at 180 degrees, they came out perfect for tossing.
I tossed them in superfine sugar and sealed them away in a tupperware. Supposedly they’ll last a month or so like this, but they’ve never actually lasted that long in my house…