Category Archives: cooking

Roasted Brine-soaked Chicken

Chicken on Vertical Roaster

Brining is essential for a juicy, flavorful roast chicken. Brining is simple to do, and with a vertical chicken roaster and digital cooking thermometer with probe, roasting requires little work and is fairly foolproof. The result is so tasty, unless you don’t have time to do the brining or roasting, there’s no reason to ever buy a supermarket-roasted chicken again.

Ingredients:

1 4 to 5 pound whole chicken, thoroughly washed
1/4 c kosher salt
1/4 c sugar
2 T black peppercorns, freshly cracked
2 T minced or crushed garlic

Dissolve the kosher salt and sugar in about 2 cups of boiling water. After thoroughly dissolved, add about 1 quart ice cubes with water to cool the hot brine. Stir in the crushed peppercorns and garlic.

Stand the chicken, vent side up, in a 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag, in a tall stockpot. (I use an 8 qt. Calphalon stockpot; it makes the bagged chicken easier to handle, catches any overflow or leaked brine, and fits nicely in my refrigerator.) Pour the brine into the bag, aiming at the vent to concentrate the pepper and garlic inside the chicken. (If you wish, add the neck piece and gizzards; don’t brine the liver or heart – clean, lightly flour and gently pan fry these separately as a snack.) Zip the bag closed, squeezing out all the air, adding cold water, as needed, so the bag is completely filled with brine when zipped closed. (This will ensure all parts of the chicken are brined. Having put the bag in the pot, any overflow will be caught by the pot, preventing a mess.) Soak the chicken from 4 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

Remove the chicken from the brine. Strain the brine through a fine sieve to preserve the pepper and garlic and put it into the cavity; discard the brine. Stand the chicken on a vertical chicken roaster on a small pan to catch the juices. Insert the neck piece and gizzards under a flap of the neck skin. (If you’d like a crisper skin on the roast chicken, pour boiling water over the chicken skin to firm it up and let the chicken air dry for about an hour before roasting.) Roast the chicken in a 350° oven until the thigh meat (away from the bone) reaches 175-180°. Remove from oven and let the roasted chicken rest at least 20 minutes before slicing. Reserve and de-fat the pan juices for making a sauce. Because of the brining, even the white meat will still be moist and it will all be very flavorful.

VARIATIONS. Add herbs, spices, soy sauce, or Japanese mirin to the brine. Use brown sugar, honey or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart). Use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water.

The same method can be used for roast turkey (soak 1-2 days; use a jumbo 2 to 3 gallon freezer bag and vertical turkey roaster), roast pork loin, or pork chops. Also check out http://whatscookingamerica.net/Poultry/BriningPoultry.htm

How to Peel a Banana

Having learned a different way to peel an orange from my sister after 50 years of doing it the wrong way, I stumbled upon another fruit I had been peeling incorrectly for decades: bananas.

Lifehacker’s post Open a Banana like a Monkey opened my eyes as well. The basic lesson: Instead of peeling from the stem end, imitate monkeys and peel from the bottom end, pinching the end to separate a skin section. Much easier! (By the way, my clever sister said she’s always done it this way too!)

Having learned new ways to shuck corn, peel oranges, and now, peel bananas, I wonder how may other techniques I’ve been doing wrong for all these years! Well, at least I’ve proved that this old dog can learn new tricks!

How to Peel an Orange

I grew up peeling oranges the way my father taught me: With a knife, cut through the skin and pith down from the stem end to the bottom, with 4 cuts. Pierce the little scar where the stem was with the tip of a knife and peel down each of the 4 quarters of skin. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and thought this was the only way to peel an orange.

Then a few years ago, my sister showed me that she peeled an orange differently. She did the same scoring, but started peeling from the navel end towards the stem. I tried it and found my sister was brilliant! On most types of orange, the skin comes off much more easily that way!

I was looking through You Tube for videos illustrating the difference for this blog and I discovered those aren’t the only ways to peel an orange. Here’s one that’s a variant of the method my father taught me, slicing off the top and bottom of the orange and scoring the peel into 6 or more pieces instead of 4:

How to peel an orange – the easy and clean way

Then I found yet another, totally different method:

How to Peel an Orange the Russian Way!

This looks messier, but you get a half of a skin to use as an orange oil candle – or to fill with sherbet and freeze as a self-contained dessert. Others videos show a variant of this method, massaging the skin to loosen it from the fruit before scoring and peeling.

Looking through You Tube there are even more ways including a nice way of cutting to make pieces of cut orange for a fruit salad:

After so many decades of peeling oranges one way, I’ll now keep looking and trying other methods. So far, though, I think I’ll end up using the “cut off the top and bottom and score into 6 sections” method but peel from the bottom end to the top.

A Better Way to Shuck Corn!

I have to share this new discovery while we’re at the peak of fresh corn season on a remarkable way to shuck corn!

I love fresh corn on the cob – enough to put up with the time and hassle of peeling off the husks and fastidiously pulling off the silk so it doesn’t get caught between my teeth. Then, just a week ago, I saw a  posting about a better way to cook and shuck corn – so interesting that I especially looked forward to visiting my local farmers market.

Fresh corn in hand, I simply placed them into the oven to convection roast at 350º for 30 minutes. Remove the corn from the oven and let them sit until they’re just cool enough to handle (several minutes) – or use gloves while they’re still hot. Some of the recipes on this process say the de-husking must be done while the corn is still warm.

Cut each ear with a serrated knife just past the point where the stem connects to the corn cob, cutting off the first ring or two of kernels. This will leave enough room for the ear to slide out of the husk.

Grasp the top of the corn with the silk and shake the ear. The corn will start to emerge and will come out easily, leaving the silk in the husk.

Voila! A clean ear of corn with almost no time shucking and a very easy cleanup!

Now talk about coincidences, just today I was listening to a book on tape: Jonah Burger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. In it, he describes a YouTube video that went viral: Shucking Corn — Clean Ears Everytime. It was posted in Sep. 2011 and shows the same process, except for microwaving for 4 minutes per ear instead of oven roasting. Here’s the video:

I tried the microwaving for 4 minutes per ear, for 2 ears at a time in my microwave oven. I had to cut off part of the long stems to fit on my microwave’s turntable, but the corn turned out fine. It slipped out of the husks easier than the oven roasted ears did and they taste the same. I also tried cutting the ends off the cooked ears with a heavy Chinese cleaver instead of a heavy serrated knife and it cut easily as well.

After so many years of shucking corn the old fashioned way, peeling away the husk leaves and silk, then picking at the remaining pieces of silk, then cleaning up the loose corn silk that has scattered around the kitchen, this is really a remarkable discovery! It even makes the shucking chore fun!

As to taste, the corn seems to be as fresh and sweet as by using the usual shuck and steam method. I’ve seen some recipes recommend washing the corn and cutting off the top silk to remove dirt that would impart a bad taste to the corn. My hand-picked farm corn is very clean, so I didn’t bother to do so and it tasted fine.

From an early age, I learned that the sugar in fresh corn starts turning to starch the moment it’s picked. So I try to find corn that has been picked just before I buy it. That seemed to be easier out east than here in Ohio, but this fast way of cooking and shucking corn means there’s little excuse not to cook it the minute I get them home, so they should be as sweet as possible.

Give it a try – and have fun!

Stuffed Bitter Melon

Photo from Felicia Friesema LA Weekly Many have written on the health benefits of Chinese bitter melon. I grew up enjoying them – my father prepared them at home Cantonese-style and we often ordered them in Cantonese restaurants – despite their fairly intense bitter taste. Pop always said eating bitter melon was good because they made everything after that taste sweet.

I was delighted to find them offered in my local farmers market. I bought a couple, but then had to find a recipe for them, having never cooked them myself. I had just prepared a batch of wontons and had some ground pork mixture left over, so I found a recipe for stuffed bitter melon – often offered in dim sum restaurants. I modified it a bit, to use what I had on hand.

Stuffed bitter melon

Braising stuffed bitter melon

The stuffed bitter melon were absolutely delicious! They were, appropriately, a little bitter, but what came through was a sweetness, with light saltiness and umami – everything except sour, beautifully balanced and subtle.

Cooked bitter melonCooked bitter melon

The pieces were quite pretty, and when cut open, showed the mushroom-shaped pork mixture, reflecting the mushrooms in the stuffing and sauce. They tasted far more delicate than those I’ve had in restaurants, perhaps because of the really fresh, locally grown bitter melons I used. Given the delicate taste of the melon, I don’t think it will take much for my friends to acquire a taste for these lovely little gems!

Stuffed Bitter Melon (adapted from Yi Reservation’s recipe)

1lb bitter melon (2 melons)
½ lb ground pork mixture (from Wonton recipe)
3 dried large Chinese mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 1/2 hour to soften

Braising Sauce

1tsp Chinese black bean sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 cup mushroom soaking water
½ tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp of water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the bitter melon cross-wise into 1 inch thick pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain.

2. Combine the ground pork with minced Chinese mushroom stems and 1 minced mushroom cap.

3. Use a small spoon to carve out the seeds and some soft flesh in the middle of the melon.

4. Stuff the melon with meat stuffing until it forms a small dome.

5. Over low heat, pan-fry the stuffed bitter melon in some cooking oil until the bottom part is browned – about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.

6. In the frypan, mix the black bean sauce, garlic, stock or water, sugar, pepper. Bring the sauce to boil.

7. Add the pan-fried melon and 2 sliced shiitake mushroom caps. Braise it over low heat with lid on until translucent – about 25 minutes. Add sesame oil and cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Add salt, if needed.

Wontons

Pan-fried wontonsI’ve enjoyed making homemade wontons with family and friends throughout the years, using my father’s recipe. Here’s the recipe:

Norton Chu’s Wontons

Ingredients:

1 lb            thin wonton skins (Westlake)
– or –
2 lbs          thick wonton skins (Canton)

1 ½ lbs      pork

1 lb            shrimp

4                Chinese sausages

8                fresh water chestnuts, peeled
– or –
2 stalks      Chinese celery

2 T             light soy sauce

1                egg

1 t              sesame oil

2 T             cornstarch

Preparation:

  1. Chop/grind pork, sausage, water chestnuts or Chinese celery. (I use the chopping blade in a Cuisinart food processor).
  2. Peel and hand cut each shrimp into 3-5 pieces, depending on size.
  3. Mix all ingredients – except shrimp – together with an egg beater.
  4. Fold in shrimp pieces.
  5. Wrap wontons (I’ll add the wrapping technique after I find my photos of each wrapping step).
  6. Boil wontons in a large pot of salted water until they float; cool cooked wontons in a pot of cold water; strain in a colander.
  7. Put cooked wontons in a large baggie; mix in some olive oil to keep them from  sticking together.
  8. Use in soup
    – or –
    Pan fry until nicely browned on one or two sides over medium heat in hot peanut or olive oil; serve with Worcestershire sauce and sweet chili sauce
    – or –
    Deep fry
    – or –
    Freeze for later use.

Deep-fried wontonsI modified the recipe to make a pot luck dish for a locavore dinner by using meats from Thurn’s Specialty Meats in Columbus. Of course, I was stuck using wonton skins and condiments from the local Asian stores (I wasn’t going to prepare my own wonton wrappers), but all the other ingredients were from local Ohio providers.

Locavore Wontons

Ingredients: (meats from Thurn’s; produce from local farmers market)

1 lb            thin wonton skins (Westlake)
– or –
2 lbs          thick wonton skins (Canton)

1 3/4 lbs    pork

3                Landjadger sausages (5 oz)

5 oz           double-smoked bacon

2 stalks      celery

2 T             light soy sauce

1                egg

1 t              sesame oil

2 T             cornstarch

Preparation, as above.

The taste was intriguingly smoky, as intended. The filling was a little less juicy than the original, but they met the locavore requirements of the dinner.

Sous Vide Cuttlefish Tagliatelle

Another sous vide success: Cuttlefish Tagliatelle! An unusual dish that’s easy to prepare. Here’s my story.

Frozen cleaned cuttlefish at CAM

I found a package of frozen cleaned cuttlefish at my local Asian supermarket and tried to cook it as I had it in California many years ago: as an alternative to sauteed egg-coated abalone paillard. It was okay, but not really up to my abalone standards, so I looked for another way to prepare the remaining pieces. I recalled reading about Cuttlefish Tagliatelle so went on the hunt.

Thomas Keller’s book “Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide” has the recipe, available in a modified form in a blog I found, so I used it as a guide.

I thawed and cleaned the 2 pieces of cuttlefish I had remaining, mixed together some olive oil, salt & pepper, ground cumin, rosemary, thyme, minced onion, and minced red bell pepper, and spread a coat of the mixture on the cuttlefish pieces. I put each in a quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag, sucked out the air with a straw, and sealed them.

Packed cuttlefish with marinade

Packs in rack

Because the cuttlefish were so thin, they wouldn’t stand up in my SousVide rack, so I wove them through the rack, keeping the pieces from overlapping, and laid the rack horizontally in the water bath. I cooked them in my SousVide Supreme Demi at 147° for 10 hours.

Sliced cuttlefish

I drained and reserved the cooking liquid from the pouches, resealed them and chilled the cooked cuttlefish in ice water while making the dressing in the blog from lemon juice, olive oil, soy sauce, shaohsing wine (in place of the mirin in the recipe), garlic, and ground pepper. I sliced the chilled cuttlefish pieces into strips and tossed them in the dressing.

I enjoyed the look and texture of the cuttlefish – toothy yet tender – but found the dressing a little too simple. I mixed in a little mayonnaise and a bit of the cooking liquid and liked it, happily eating all of the two pieces for lunch.

I used the reserved cooking liquid, with additional chicken broth, to make quite a tasty risotto. In fact, it would make a nice accompaniment to a warm cuttlefish tagliatelle.

Alternatively, the cuttlefish “pasta” would make a tasty and interesting cold salad, served on lettuce leaves, but will need 1-2 pieces per person, depending on the serving size.

Next time, I’ll cut the cuttlefish into thinner strips – about the same width as the thickness of the cuttlefish; the cuttlefish will probably still hold together as strands without breaking apart. If serving the cuttlefish cold, I’ll take more care to whisk together a vinaigrette of the ingredients before tossing the cuttlefish strips in it. I’ll also be more diligent in sucking out more of the air (I’ll probably use my vacuum packing machine), and try folding over the packets to stand each in a single slot in the rack.