Friday, January 22, 2010

On the Road and Off the Reservation, Man Bites Dog

Pierino is back on the familiar HWY 101 north again. We spent two nights bunkered in Buellton waiting for the storms to pass. 2 1/2" of rain in Solvang in about 5 minutes.

We took the opportunity to check out Bradley Ogden's new restaurant in Solvang at the Hotel Corque, which happens to be owned by the Chumash Indians who have more money than Bill Gates. The hotel is actually not on the reservation but close by on Alisa. We assumed our usual position at the restaurant bar with our book and Droid in hand and ordered from their excellent bar menu. First we ordered their Maytag Blue souffle with fennel and tangerine "sous vide" and baby arugula salad. In our opinion "sous vide" is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Why sous vide fennel except to justify your expensive immersion circulator? But it was a good dish.

Next up was their "foot long hot dog", which is their signature bar dish. They change it frequently. When we first read about it it was served "Chicago" style. This time it was served "Philly" style---a frightening prospect for a man who loves his dog. It was served with white cheddar rather than Philly's favorite condiment, Cheez Wiz. It's an all beef dog in natural casing from Hobbs in San Francisco. A damn fine item. If you don't mind spending $12 on a dog (and we don't)this is the place to go.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Bridesmaid Again

Pierino has scored another "editor's pick" with food52 in the "couscous" competition, but we are still picking away for a "finalist" spot. But here is our recipe for Fregola Bastia sauce à l àmericaine.

Fregola is the Sard version of couscous, heavier and more dense, and you have to crucify a lobster for this one. If you can handle that here's the recipe:

The details for this recipe really apply specifically to California Spiny lobster. But it should be adaptable to whatever live lobster you have access to. When I look at the calendar and see that it’s the first week of October I’m down to the fish market right away. October not only marks the opening week of the season but it’s really the peak of the season too.

I try not to argue with folks on the east coast about which lobster is “best.” It gets down to the fact that in season this is the best, freshest lobster I can find. The market availability can be limited because much of the catch goes to Asia.

And he is indeed spiny. I put on kitchen gloves in order to facilitate Monsieur Homard’s dispatch. He doesn’t have claws but he can surprise you with a wicked tail flip.

Fill your biggest pot with water and get it boiling. Give your lobster a clean death, a soldier’s death so that he can wake up in Elysium with kelp waiving in his antennae. This can be a problem because the carapace of spiny lobster in the area of eyes and brain is heavily armored on both sides. You might like to turn him over and plunge a heavy knife in that area, but if you whack off your thumb Monsieur wins. You decide.

The average weight for a California spiny is about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ lbs. Plunge the lobster into the pot and cook for about 10 minutes. Extract your lobster (now in Elysium) and allow him/her to cool down.

Monsieur Homard is pretty easy to break up. Separate the head from the body and you will probably have a lot of green tomalley running out which you should try to capture. If it happens to be Madame Homard you could be lucky enough to collect some roe.

Most of the meat will come from the tail, but you might be able to get a little bit of cheek meat from the head. Using sturdy kitchen shears cut down the belly and pull out the tail and carefully clean out the nasty bits. SAVE THE SHELLS. With some patience you can get a bit more meat from the legs.

Chop up the tail meat and refrigerate until ready to use, although actually it might be easier to dispatch your lobster in the morning, refrigerate the tail and do the chopping along with your prep work for the sauce.

Ingredients for Sauce Americaine:

4 tablespoons butter
Reserved lobster shells
1 shallot chopped
½ yellow onion chopped---roughly ½ cup
1 celery stick chopped
1/cup chopped celery leaves
1 carrot chopped
1 clove of garlic chopped
¼ cup white wine
1 14 ½ oz can of diced tomatoes (substitute an equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes if you can find good ones)
1 pinch of Aleppo pepper or cayenne pepper (optional)
1 generous pinch of saffron threads
¼ cup Spanish sherry
Salt and pepper

Lobster cut into bite sized pieces

Roughly 6 oz of saffron fettuccine from Rustichella d’Abruzzo or other dried fettuccine

In a pan large enough to contain the sauce and the cooked pasta heat the butter over medium heat. Don’t let it brown. Once you have hot butter add the shallot, onion, garlic, celery and carrot one at a time stirring all the time. Add broken up lobster shells and continue to stir. Add the Aleppo pepper if using, the saffron and the chopped celery leaves. Add the white wine and simmer for about five to seven minutes (I tend to judge by aroma and color before moving on to the next step). Season with salt and pepper.

Add the tomatoes to the pan and bring to a simmer to reduce by about half. After a few minutes start your water boiling for the pasta.

When you feel the sauce is close to your satisfaction add in the sherry, season with salt and pepper and continue to cook a few more minutes. With kitchen tongs remove the shell pieces and discard. Put the sauce through a food mill over a bowl and then return to the pan.

Now add the cut up lobster meat to the sauce.

Salt the boiling water and add the pasta. The dried saffron pasta will cook rather quickly, in about 5 minutes. Other dried pasta might take longer. Add the pasta cooked just short of al dente directly to the sauce. Taste for seasoning. No cheese should be added.

This will serve two as a light main course or up to four as a first course.