Saucy by Nature

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(Originally published in 2006)

“How did you make that sauce?”, is a commonly asked question.  Around my house it generally leads to a lengthy explanation as to how it actually went together.

Sauce making in most refined places is alchemy.  Alchemists were considered part magicians and part chemists.  Merlin, the great wizard from the court of King Arthur was believed to be an alchemist.  Alchemy was a strange science as it used absurd ingredients like eye of newt to make something magical.  Remember that salt peter and charcoal in the correct proportions can make an explosive result just as the fond on the bottom of a pan and a little liquid can make a great sauce.

My inclination when it comes to sauce making is to “wing it”.  I try many combinations of flavours – sometimes they work and other times they are a complete and utter failure. My favourite sauces are reduction sauces as they are the easiest to make and are ultimately very satisfying.

When I sauté chicken in a pan, I tend to stay away from non stick pans and go directly for the regular pan.  Non stick works well but you can’t make the little brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.  Those little brown bits are the magic to sauce making – the brown bits are called fond.  They are crunchy, caramelized bits from the seared protein.  Here’s how you make a good sauce out of them.

Say you have a small steak to cook. Once the steak has come to preferred doneness (rare, medium rare, etc.) take it out of the pan to rest and relax the juices.

Place the pan back on the heat and add one half of a small diced onion or a small shallot.  A shallot is part of the onion family and has a flavour which is partially like an onion, but slightly sweeter and it has garlic overtones.

Once the small diced shallot (the better choice for making a sauce) is in the pan, move it around with a wooden spoon to scrape up all the fond.

Once the fond has been scraped up add one minced clove of garlic and cook it until you can smell it.  Once you can smell the garlic it has cooked enough – after that it will start to burn. Then add one tsp of Dijon mustard to bring some acidity to the sauce.  Now we have to add the liquid to main flavour to the sauce.

If you are going to have a glass of wine with the meal, add some wine from the top of the bottle, about half a cup.  When choosing a wine, only cook with wines which you would consider drinking.  The reason is that if you are going to make a sauce with a mediocre wine, by the end of the sauce you will have a concentrated mediocre sauce.  If you don’t have regular wine a fortified wine like port is a good substitute.  After the wine is added, cook until the liquid has reduced by half.

Then we come to a junction in the road; to strain or not to strain. To strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer will result in a very silky and luxurious texture when finished.  However, if doing dishes is not your thing, then you can choose to have a rustic sauce.  Either way, the sauce will be great.

The penultimate stage is called monte au beurre – mounting with butter.  This sauce making technique is the reason a great sauce is silky and coats the mouth.  Take the pan off the heat and add 1 Tbs of whole unsalted butter.  Once the butter is in the pan, lightly swirl the pan to incorporate the butter.  Do not use a spoon, as you will lose some of the shine.

Finally, taste the seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper, tasting each time you add some to make sure it is right.

If you feel the sauce is not finished and tastes what professionals call “flat,” you can add a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to “brighten” the sauce.

Now you have had a lesson on simple sauce making.  This technique can be applied to all proteins and to most liquids.  Try something different, experiment, and most of all have lots of fun while doing it.

Butchered and Butchered

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dfn: Butcher (v)

to slaughter or dress (animals, fish, or poultry) for market.
to bungle; botch: to butcher a job.
If we were to put the clocks back 50 years not everyone could afford meat. It was a luxury of sorts, not like it is today. We have no idea how good we have it. Meat for the most part is cheap and plentiful and I am sad to say, at least in my neck of the woods, the art of butchery is as dead as the prime rib roast they are hawking on sale.
In our fair city we have no butchers to speak of – at least in any great numbers. And if there are any out there – then please speak up – because I have no idea where you are but I would surely like to meet you (pardon the pun).
Currently we have an influx of what are referred to as “meat fabricators” which is a fancy term for a dude who couldn’t cut a steak straight and with any skill if the were paid…oh yeah..THEY ARE!
Butchery and to be a true skilled butcher is slowly being squeezed out by these idiots who butcher the meat without being a true butcher. ( in my head this sentence makes sense..but please continue –ed)
Case in point I wanted two tenderloin steaks for my wife for her birthday. She loves them. She also has gotten used to the ones I like to serve which are almost 2 inches (5 cm) thick. I asked two different stores to cut me the same steaks and I got two entirely different products.
I asked for two, trimmed, two inch thick steaks suitable for grilling. One idiot gave me two steaks with silver skin intact and were about as skillfully cut as a nearsighted man without glasses. Slanty and uneven.
The other guy cut four steaks. Not one of them even. Not one of them remotely close to the 2″ mark and the meat was dark and beginning to grey. Horrendous. Couldn’t tell if the meat was any good.
So what is a guy to do?
Don’t put up with it. Complain. Talk to management and tell them that this is ridiculous. And if they give any lip.send a letter to the corporate office and complain.
And as a side note, look at the labeling on the packaging. USDA Prime, Choice and Select are identical to those used in Canada for Canada Prime, Canada AAA and Canada AA respectively. Some stores use the Canadian standards and others do not. So know what you are buying before you leave the store.
The moral of this story – if you don’t want your meat butchered by some fabricator without standards learn to trim down primal and first fabricated cuts yourself and remember two little rules :
1) the silvery grey stuff is called silverskin – it is an elastic membrane covering and thereby protects the meat from other muscles and bone here is a quick demonstration. This will not, no matter what dude behind the counter says, breakdown with heat and become tender. In fact it will shrink and contract and turn your steak into a smoking dog turd.
2)not all fat is evil – if it were evil I would be Ernst Stavro Blofeld evil. Fat, and I am talking the subcutaneous kind and not the fat cap that sits above the muscle (that is evil,) is full of flavour. This *does* breakdown in the presence of heat and will slacken and tenderize as you cook it. The grey fat which sits atop a cut like a strip loin for example, should be trimmed to avoid becoming tough and to avoid grilling flareups.
So, if I have the only option of going to a massive superstore to purchase my meats and I have no time to do the butchery myself – I ask for “trimmed steaks, silverskin and fat cap removed” and if they say they are too busy I take my business elsewhere.
Butchery has become a dying art. Gone are the days when they truly cared for their work and gone worse still are the days when the customer could ask for a cut of meat and get a cut above the rest.
Do you have any butcher stories? If so, I’d like to hear them. I think I am not alone.. Cheers
Copyright 2012.

Biggest Winner

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Since I started this post –  one entry now 6 years old holds the crown as the most viewed blog in my arsenal Green Apple Martini http://nickgardner.wordpress.com/2006/08/02/green-apple-martini has been viewed nearly 7,000 times –  and why?

Well, look at it yourself and let me know –  I have my suspicions but I won’t reveal them now.  But read it and send a comment or two..don’t worry I won’t bite.

Back from the dead

Sometimes I have to re-invent myself.

Sure it has happened to a lot of us. We all have to change and adapt to make ourselves fit onto the world we live in.

I remember in my college days it was drilled into us that on average we will change careers 3 times in our lifetime – something unheard of by boomers. To my credit I have bested the average – blown it clear out of the water:
Student, Reporter, Web reporter, Business manager, Tour Manager, Chef, Banquet Chef, Line Cook, Blogger, Freelance Writer, Columnist, Food Writer, Business writer, Business Development and Marketing Manager, Operations Manager, Development Officer, Fundraising Professional, Dad, Fundraising Consultant, Blogger…

I’ve come nearly full circle. But it is time to get back t my roots. Craving the creative in my life I set to write.. cautiously at first. Passionately…. always and hope that I can get back onto the writing horse and do what I do best – make cool food and write about it.

Two days hence – first post….never to drop it again.

I’m home 🙂

Feenie in Edmonton

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Rob Feenie who most notably  scored a defeat against Chef Masaharu Morimoto in ‘battle crab’ on Iron Chef America –  is undeniably an Iron Chef –  and rightly so.  Feenie recently spent three days  as “Chef in Residence” at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).

Check out this site where CBC posted some of his recipies like for risotto, beef carpaccio and roast chicken.

Enjoy

Bad, like a Virgin Airline meal

Some things are too good to pass up. When I came across this – just this morning – I had to share it as I am sure it will put a smile on your face.

Bad airline food is one thing- documenting it and having a 1,000 word rant on it is somethig else. This food looks bad.   Hell, I would have told them that they were serving the food  from the previous flight’s garbage bin – (but that’s just me).

Airline food is one of the things you have to deal with when travelling. When I wrote Air Fare some time ago I was being a little tongue in cheek. Sure it is better to bring your own food on board but in an ever increasingly secure world it is becoming less practical.

The guy wrote the letter, sent to Sir Richard Branson and then onto the Daily Telegraph. The mediaa will cover anything these days so, in all its glory – here it is.

Presidential Chef – Who could it be?

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Presidntial chefs are not a dime a dozen and pervious chefs including Walter Scheib who left after serving 11 years as chef to both the Clinton family and the Bush family.

So who is right to take the highest ranking Chef in the country? Some would argue that a celebrity – like Rick Bayless, or Alice Walters would fit the bill – however in this article, it explains why that seems like a really bad idea.

Like any great position there are always other contenders for the mantle and here. But there always has to be a winner. It seems that Mr. Obama became smitten with Mr. Bush’s current chef Cristeta Comerford – but we won’t know until it is announced. Until then may the best Chef win.

ed Note: And this just in… Cristeta Comerford is stayong on as the Presidential Chef

Hugh Giraffe Gaffe

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It seems British food personalities like getting ‘stuck innit’, as they are wont to say.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has proclaimed publicly that he is very fond of  steaks.  This in itself is not a problem, but when it is Giraffe steak –  well, then the gloves really come off.  See, it seems that the nanny state of Britain have seen fit to criticize HF-W for saying it was good eats.  But because the Giraffe is on the protected list of animals it is very dangerous to say things like that, even if the steak in question was culled, prepared and eaten in another foreign and sovereign country where it is perfectly legal to consume such animals –  it’s not the country who has to suffer –  it is the food evangelist who gets the boots taken to him.

Sad, but there it is.

Obama Lunchen Menu revealed

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As part of the inauguration ceremonies next week, the Presidential Inauguration Committee posts the courses for the first meal of the President of the United States once sworn in.

President Elect Obama’s choices for his luncheon? Not only has the Times Online have the menu, but the recipes as well.

Bon appetite.