7 – Seafood

This week’s recipe is unique for a couple reasons. First, it is the result of collaboration with my new friends at American Kitchen Cookware, who sent me a set of their American-made cast aluminum cookware to test and share with you folks – be sure to keep scrolling for more info on their products, and a giveaway for a set of your own.

The second reason this recipe is unique is because it is actually two dishes in one. Both the Boneless Fried Chicken and Carolina Shrimp Bog would be excellent on their own, but a) I wanted to highlight two distinct pieces of cookware, and b) I was drawn to the challenge of writing you through the process of building two dishes at once. Crafting a single recipe is relatively easy, but balancing multiple dishes to create one whole meal is more reflective of how most of us spend time in the kitchen; I hope this week’s recipe will give you some insight into how I tackle multiple tasks simultaneously.

When it comes to frying chicken, I’ve made a few breakthroughs over the years, and this Boneless Fried Chicken is like a culmination of those efforts. To start, we’re going to use the seasoning I developed in last year’s Seasoned Southern Fried Chicken recipe, which has a flavor not unlike what you’d find from Colonel Sander’s secret 11 herbs and spices. Next, we’re going to use boneless thighs to speed up the cooking process. Finally, we’re going to use a traditional 3-step breading for the chicken, but with potato starch, eggs, and crushed pork rinds for the different coatings – a technique I use in my Tonkatsu/Chicken Katsu recipes in Paleo Takeout – which gives the chicken a crispy crust and unforgettable bite.

Joining the chicken is Shrimp Bog, a simple, thick Southern stew of rice, veggies, and (you guessed it) shrimp. While “Bog” isn’t the most appealing word to describe food, it is a little fitting, since this dish is a more liquidy version of another Carolina staple, Perloo (which is sometimes spelled Purloo, Perlo, Poilu, or Pilau – the latter definitely linked to its Pilaf origins). In the Carolinas, these two dishes were traditionally made with Carolina-grown rice, which fell out of favor as other Southern rices dominated our grocery shelves over the past couple centuries. Recently, Carolina Gold heirloom rice has been making a bit of a comeback among foodies and historians (here is an excellent writeup), and for good reason – the rice is creamy and nutty in a way that’s seldom found in long-grain rices – well worth the extra expense to try it once, if only to experience a bit of American history.

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My wife and I just returned from a short jaunt through Central America, celebrating 10 years of marriage. We never went on a honeymoon back in 2007, since our wedding was right in the middle of my health issues and I was in no shape to travel at the time. We had a great time visiting Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, our first time visiting the region (I shared some photos on my Instagram page, if you’re interested).

I didn’t get a chance to develop a new recipe for you this week–too much beach time, and maybe too many sips of rum. To compensate, I’m pulling an old favorite from my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table. To this day, Pesce al Sale is one of my favorite dishes to show people when I’m asked which recipe from the book they should prepare first. From the pages of the book:

This Italian favorite is the perfect date-night dish; in just a few steps you can have a perfectly cooked fish that’s a novelty to reveal to your dinner companion. It remains a common way of cooking fish in Sicily. Be sure to crack the crust and serve the fish directly on the serving table for the most impressive results. Honestly, I think it’s just as fun to put the salt on fish as it is to take it off.

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Moqueca is a fitting representation of Brazil’s diverse culinary background. There are several variations of this dish today, but Moqueca Baiana, from the Northeast state of Bahia, is one of the most interesting reflection of the traditions embedded in Brazilian cuisine.

Originally a seafood stew prepared by the native people of Brazil, Moqueca has taken on a new form over the past few hundred years. Some signature flavors of today’s Moqueca Baiana recipe include coconut milk, first introduced by Portuguese colonists who planted coconut trees as they removed other trees for wood, and palm oil, brought over by African slaves as part of the sugarcane trade.

Although palm oil contains some health benefits, there are ecological concerns with its production. I prefer to use Nutiva palm oil, which is certified organic and fair trade, and they ensure that no deforestation or habitat destruction results from the growing and harvesting processes. We also pop our popcorn in this oil, which gives it a rich, buttery flavor.

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In June of 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte led the French army to a decisive victory against the Austrian army in Marengo (present-day Italy), an important battle during the French Revolutionary Wars. Legend has it that the French supply carts failed to catch up to their soldiers, and so Napoleon’s chef had to forage for ingredients in the local village. Returning with a chicken, olives, and some crawfish, the chef threw them together into the dish now known as Chicken Marengo, and served it with grilled bread topped with a fried egg. Napoleon, who was known to have bad digestion due to wolfing down his meals, enjoyed the dish so much that he requested it after every subsequent battle.

History has its fair share of eccentric leaders. Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) had three of his eight(!) wives banished to spend their remaining days in an abbey, and legend has it he had an elephant executed when it refused to bow before him. Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916) supposedly had awful table manners and an insatiable sweet tooth. US Presidents have been fairly interesting too, from Chester A. Arthur, who wore several changes of pants each day, to James A. Garfield, who could write with both hands at the same time, in different languages (Latin and Greek). Ulysses S. Grant smoked over 20 cigars a day (but later succumbed to throat cancer). FDR supposedly enjoyed driving around in Al Capone’s armored car, which had been seized by the US Treasury Dept when Capone was imprisoned for tax evasion. Also, two US Presidents (Carter and Reagan) have claimed to witness UFOs.

Today, Chicken Marengo is only rarely made with crawfish – shrimp are a fair substitute – but given that crawfish season just started here in the Florida panhandle, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try the real deal. Instructions for both shrimp and crawfish are provided below!

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Paella is one of my favorite dishes to prepare at home – like fried rice or risotto, it’s an excellent way to clean out the vegetable bin. Moreover, it’s one of my favorite examples how the judicious use of white rice can in fact be very health-promoting; while rice gets a bum rap for being fairly devoid of nutrients, I think it’s just fine in the context of the broth, seafood, and vegetables used in this recipe.

This dish was a standout recipe in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and here’s what I wrote about it:

Paella is a dish from Valencia, along Spain’s eastern coast. Rice was a product of Moorish influence and was a staple in Spain by the 15th century. Paella developed over the years as people began to add combinations of meats and vegetables. While water vole was one of the first meats used in paella, today’s Valencian paella includes rabbit, chicken, snails, and beans; seafood paella is equally popular and is considered a traditional dish along the Valencian coast.

Using an appropriate type of rice is important, as many varieties were specially bred to absorb liquid without losing texture. Calasparra and bomba rices are preferred and are available from gourmet food suppliers and online. Arborio, a common risotto rice, fares pretty well. In a pinch, plain calrose rice will get the job done. Paella is best made over an open flame and is traditionally prepared outdoors.

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I’m relatively new to the sous vide world, but it’s something that has always intrigued me. Sous-vide cooking involves placing food items in a sealed plastic bag and immersing the bag in a water bath for an extended time, set at a specific temperature, to evenly cook the food. This method was first popularized in the 1960s, as a method of cooking foie gras (fattened goose liver) to the desired temperature without losing any liquid in the process. It’s become very popular over the past 10 years; in fact, the barbacoa, steak, and carnitas served at Chipotle are all prepared using the sous vide method in a central location before being shipped to their restaurants.

It sounds daunting to dive into a new cooking method, especially one that has precise temperature and time requirements, but more tools are coming to market to make sous vide a breeze. Case in point is the Oliso Induction Smart Hub, which the company recently sent me to try. This device comes in two parts: an induction cooktop, which heats food efficiently (and super quickly) using magnetic induction, and the sous vide Smart Top, which sets atop the induction cooktop. I like this concept since the induction cooktop can be used in a variety of ways, independent of the sous vide oven; I use it to rapidly boil water without heating up the whole house, or to fry up a couple eggs in just a few seconds.

There’s a whole world to sous vide, with all sorts of charts and graphs (or as one of my favorite bands–Grandaddy–would say, “Chartsengrafs“), but I wanted to present a simple recipe to help folks dip their toes into this new adventure. Salmon is an ideal choice, since it’s very easy to tell when fish has been improperly cooked, and this method guarantees perfect texture every time.

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When first drafting my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table, I was hesitant to add my recipe for Sole Meunière. After all, it contains only a few ingredients – fish, butter, and lemon, mostly – not exactly a huge culinary journey. But as time marched on, I’ve come to realize that this is one of my most treasured recipes from the book, in part because it’s so simple and satisfying. A couple weeks back, as we made it again for dinner, I decided to share my recipe on this blog.

Because flounder is easy to find here in the South, we’ve been using it instead of the traditional sole. Other flatfish, like plaice or turbot, will also work fine. Fun fact: flatfish have four fillets!

From the book:

Sole meunière is a classic French dish and an easy inclusion in this cookbook; Julia Child, best known for introducing gourmet French cuisine to the United States, had what she considered to be a “culinary revelation” when she first tasted this dish. It’s easy to see why, as the combination of mild white fish, browned butter, and lemon is basic but striking and never gets old.

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Mee Kati (หมี่กะทิ) is a noodle dish that is popular in Thailand (and some parts of Laos); thin rice noodles are steeped in coconut milk, giving them a creamy flavor that is distinct from their more popular cousins, Pad Thai and Pad See Ew.

Mee Kati is often sold by street vendors, where they use food coloring to give the noodles a pink hue. It’s a very unique visual experience, but one we’re going to forgo in this recipe (feel free to add about 1/2 tsp beet powder to the coconut milk broth in step #3 if you’re up for it).

Some usual Thai suspects are on hand in this recipe, to include limes, chiles, shrimp paste, and tamarind–but a more uncommon addition is soybean paste; either red miso paste or Korean doenjang will work nicely.

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Nakji Jeongol (낙지전골) is a Korean octopus stew that deserves a bit of primer, since the world of Korean soups and stews can be pretty intimidating. In Korea, most meals are accompanied with some form of soup, categorized into two main categories: soups like guk or tang, and stews like jjigae or jeongol.

Soups are typically thin, simple, and simmered for extended periods. In general, guk are meatless, and a little watery; last year I posted a recipe for the popular Gul Guk (Oyster Soup). Tang are, you guess it, made with meat (a favorite of mine, Gamjatang, is made with pork neck and potatoes – it appears in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table).

Stews are more ornate, adorned with fresh vegetables, and served in large, family-style dishes. Jjigae are typically made with a single defining ingredient; Kimchi Jjigae and Sundubu Jjigae, the latter made with curdled tofu, are the most popular. Jeongol contain a variety of ingredients, and are a little more elaborate; historically, jeongol were served for members of the royal court, while jjigae were for commoners.

Today’s Nakji Jeongol has a fair amount of add-ins, but the basic recipe is very simple: marinate the octopus, prepare the soup base, throw it all together. There is no single set of add-ins, so feel free to throw in whatever you have available to you (for example, I used cilantro because the more traditional herb, perilla, is hard to find where I live). Frozen packages of pre-cleaned octopus can be found in most Asian markets, or you can get some fresh (and likely cleaned, but here’s a quick video if needed) from your local fishmonger.

One fairly uncommon ingredient in the soup base is doenjang, which is the Korean version of miso paste; if you’re not able to find it locally, it is sold online, or red miso paste will work in a pinch. If you’re curious as to my thoughts on fermented soy, here is something I wrote earlier this year (spoiler alert: I think fermented soy is fine).

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Gumbo is a stew of Louisiana origin, dating back as far as the 18th century. As with Jambalaya, there are two popular versions of gumbo, Creole and Cajun; generally, the former includes tomatoes, while the latter omits them. It can be made with all sorts of meats, from chicken, to rabbit, to nutria, to oysters; today, we’re going to make one with shrimp and andouille sausage.

There are several ways to prepare gumbo, many of them influenced by how you thicken the stew. Most methods today include a French-inspired flour roux, while others use okra or filé powder (ground sassafras leaves) – or combination – as a thickener. I’ve found that mochiko (sweet rice flour) makes the best gluten-free roux for gumbo, with plain white rice flour coming in second – but on their own, they’re not quite enough to thicken the gumbo to what I’d like (I tried simply adding more flour, but it overtook the dish’s texture and flavor). In the end, a combination of rice flour roux and okra worked best, as the roux dampened okra’s sliminess, and adding a bit of optional gumbo filé powder at the end gave the stew a perfect earthiness, befitting a warm Southern kitchen.

Gumbo is often characterized by its dark roux, made by stirring the roux over an open flame for up to an hour, right until it’s at the threshold of being burnt. I’ve found that a rice flour roux tends to burn too quickly when compared to a traditional wheat flour roux, so my solution is pretty simple: roast the flour in the oven to a golden brown before turning it into a roux. This also gives you some time to multitask, and simmer up a quick shellfish broth using shrimp shells and clam juice, while the flour browns.

The origin of the word “gumbo” is a bit of a mystery. It’s commonly thought that it is either derived from the Choctaw word for filé powder (kombo), since the spice came from similar Native stews from the region, or the Bantu word for okra (ki ngombo) – as the vegetable was introduced to the area via the West African slave trade. Regardless of its origin, gumbo is a perfect example of the cultural melting pot that eventually came to exemplify Louisiana cuisine, with its French, Native, and African influences.

Finally, I would like to note that this isn’t a weeknight-friendly meal (unless, of course, you have a weeknight off, or you’re unemployed). But that’s the beauty of gumbo – when you spend a couple hours pouring yourself into a cooking project, a bit of your soul joins the dish.

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