Even without an occasion, quail always seems like an occasion.
- a brace of pasture-raised certified organic quail from Abra Morawiec’s Feisty Acres Farm in Jamesport, Long Island, each weighing a little more than 8 ounces, rinsed, dried inside and out, the cavities seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, with one quarter of a gently squeezed organic Whole Foods Market lemon inserted in each, the legs tied together and the wings sewn close to the body, their bodies rubbed all over with a mix of spices and olive oil (a third of a teaspoon of cumin and a fourth of a teaspoon of coriander, ground together and placed in a small bowl, where a bit of powdered Nigerian cayenne and 2 tablespoons of olive oil were added) then sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper, the birds placed breast side up in a small enameled cast iron roasting pan just large enough to accommodate both (set on top of sections of 2 celery stems from Lucky Dog Organic Farm, to keep them upright), placed in a 425º oven for about 9 or 10 minutes, at which time they were brushed with the remaining spice and oil mixture, continued with the roasting until done (an instant-read thermometer would register 150º, and the meat should feel slightly firm, and the juices run pale pink if the bird is punctured with a skewer), then removed from the oven, covered with tin foil and allowed to rest for 5 minutes before they were arranged on warm plates, drizzled with the pan juices and garnished with chopped parsley from Keith’s Farm
- one pound of pinto potatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm, halved lengthwise, tossed with a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, rosemary leaves from from Stokes Farm, a small amount of crushed dark home-dried habanada pepper, then arranged cut side down on a large Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic pan, roasted at about 425º for about 20 minutes
- the central part of what had been a large head of Treviso radicchio from Tamarack Farms (I had used the outer leaves in an earlier meal) cut lengthwise into 4 quarters, the solid stem ends pierced with a knife to allow for even cooking, each quarter pierced with toothpicks (it was faster than tying them with string), arranged on a medium size Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan, branches of thyme from Keith’s Farm cast on top, seasoned generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzled with a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil, baked in a pre-heated 425º oven for 10 minutes or so, turned over and baked for another 8 or 10 minutes, arranged on the plates and drizzled with a very small amount of balsamic vinegar
- the wine was an excellent Portuguese (Douro) red, Casa de Arrochella Grandes Quintas Colheita 2009, from Garnet Wines
- the music was Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Rafael Kubelik conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Chorus, with soloists Edith Mathis and Brigitte Fassbaender
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du,
Mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh!
[image above, of Alma and Gustav Mahler walking near Toblach, from Alma]
It started with two paper baskets of local foraged chestnuts, the very last remaining on the farmer’s table in the Union Square Greenmarket. I had hoped to find some kind of game, or game-ish bird which they might accompany on a cool autumn evening, but then we were away for 5 days, and since my prize Asian-American hybrid nuts were getting a bit long in the tooth, I convinced myself that some very good pork chops would be able to stand in for the game I had not bagged.
I was encouraged in my illusion of a game dinner by memories from years ago of preparing and serving faux-marcassin, many times, using a white wine marinade described by Julia Child.
The process of chestnut preparation preceded everything else in assembling this meal; it began of course with roasting chestnuts over an open fire. In this case “over an open fire” meant over a perforated chestnut roasting pan above the gas flame on the top of our 1931 Magic Chef. When I was living in Providence I actually did roast chestnuts over an open wood fire on the keeping room hearth of my 1760s house.
It was great fun, and a few chestnuts exploded into the air (I may have neglected to slit those all through the outer shell beforehand) but the excitement was over in less than 10 minutes.
- two 9-ounce bone-in loin pork chops (not really very thick this time) from Flying Pig Farm, thoroughly dried, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a bit of crushed dried habanada pepper, seared quickly in a heavy enameled cast-iron pan before half of a large organic Whole Foods Market lemon was squeezed over the top (which was then left in the pan between them, cut side down), the chops placed in a 400º oven for about 13 minutes altogether (flipped halfway through, the lemon squeezed over them once again and replaced), removed from the oven and arranged on 2 plates, some of the juices that remained in the pan poured over them, some poured over the accompanying chestnuts, and the remainder transferred to a glass sauce boat
- fifteen ounces of fresh chestnuts foraged from a hybrid Asian and American tree on Keith’s Farm, above the City in Orange County, roasted inside a traditional chestnut pan on top of a gas range, sprinkled with a few drops of what was to be that night’s red dinner wine* (we had to open a fresh bottle for the purpose, so we decided to accompany the meal with a red wine rather than a white), wrapped inside an old cotton shirt, squeezed until they crackled, allowed to sit on top of the hinged cover above the range burners and oven pilot light for 5 minutes, the nutmeat then extracted from the shells and placed inside a heavy antique medium size copper pot, sprinkled with olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, a bit of freshly ground black pepper, sautéed for a few minutes, a generous number of rosemary leaves from Stokes Farm, half a cup or more of a chicken broth made with Better Than Bullion chicken base added gradually while simmering above a low to medium flame, stirring occasionally, until the chestnuts are as tender as desired (I like them a little firm) and the liquid had emulsified into a sauce, a tablespoon or so of maple syrup from Roxbury Mountain Maple Farm in the Catskills stirred in, followed by a tablespoon of chopped fennel fronds, from a bunch of flowering fennel from Lani’s Farm, arranged next to the chops on the plates, garnished with more fennel
- the head of Treviso radicchio I had picked up at the Greenmarket from Tamarack Farms was far to large to be grilled or roasted for just the 2 of us, so I stripped off 10 or 12 of the large outer leaves, washed, drained, and dried them as thoroughly as I could, tied them into 2 bundles, arranged them on a medium Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan covered them with lots of thyme branches from thyme from Keith’s Farm, seasoned the treviso generously with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, and drizzled them with a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil; they were then baked in a pre-heated 400º oven for 8 or 10 minutes or so, turned to the other cut side and returned to the oven for around 8 or 10 minutes, then arranged on the plates and drizzled with a very small amount of balsamic vinegar
- *the wine was a French (Burgundy) red, Bourgogne Rouge, Dom. des Meix Poron 2015, from Astor Wines
When things go well in the kitchen. But not necessarily perfectly.
It was a really delicious dinner, although it wasn’t quite the dinner I had intended.
I thought it would end up looking more bright green than brown-green. I think I’ve pretty much gotten the crispy fish skin technique down, but now I have to know when to stop, or at least turn down the flame at the right time.
I’d say that the fish itself was superb, and cooked à point, which is an expression usually applied, in this country at least, only to steaks, an impreciseness which fits nicely with the meaty appearance of the bass fillets this time. Even the sauce was really tasty, in spite of having taken on a bit of an unintended brown butter effect.
In an earlier post I wrote that ‘the technique’ is from a page I found on line, ‘Perfect Seared Fish‘, written by Hank Shaw, who describes himself as a former line cook, but who is much more than that.
I didn’t have any micro sorrel or shallot blossoms this time, so I improvised a substitution for the main ingredient of the sauce: garlic scapes and celery stem and leaves, and I held the garnish. I think the decision worked out perfectly, except, maybe, for the brown part.\
- one 14-ounce striped bass fillet from Pura Vida Seafood Company, removed from the refrigerator, the thick and the thin sections each halved, salted just a little, allowed to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes, then the skin side scraped with a butter knife to remove excess moisture, both sides patted dry afterward with a paper towel, an 11-inch well-seasoned French steel pan heated above a high flame and a tablespoon, or a little more, of Mac Nut macademia nut oil from Whole Foods Market poured into the pan, swirled to cover the bottom, and allowed to get hot, all 4 fish pieces placed skin side down inside the pan, which was immediately jiggled to be sure that the fish wasn’t sticking, the flesh side of the fillets salted, the heat turned down to medium-high, the bass pressed down lightly with a spatula for 30 to 60 seconds, to ensure that the skin browns evenly, then cooked without moving them for 3 or 4 minutes, the thinner pieces temporarily removed after only about one minute, set aside and returned before they were all to be flipped, at which moment the pan was first jiggled again, to see that the filets moved easily, the bass cooked skin side up for another minute, maybe a bit more, then removed to warm plates; the heat having been turned off before that minute was up, a tablespoon and a half of butter was now added to the pan, swirled so that it melted swiftly, followed by a generous helping of barely-blanched garlic scapes, from Berried Treasures Farm, cut into very short lengths, along with some chopped fresh celery leaves from from Lucky Dog Organic Farm, the pan stirred with a wooden spatula, the sauce immediately poured onto the 2 plates next to the fish already resting there
- twelve ounces of small red thumb fingerlings from Willow Wisp Farm, halved lengthwise, tossed with a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, a pinch of Robusto Smoked Salt from The Filling Station in the Chelsea Market, fresh winter savory leaves from Keith’s Farm, a small amount of crushed home-dried habanada pepper, arranged cut side down on a large Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic pan, roasted at about 375º for 20 minutes or so, tossed around on the pan, arranged on the plates and sprinkled with chopped parsley from Keith’s Farm
- the wine was a Portugal (Dao) white, Casa de Mouraz, Dao Blanco ‘Encruzado’ 2016, from Flatiron Wines
No micro greens of any kind were harmed in bringing this dinner to the table.
It was a pretty simple meal. I wanted to make it so because I didn’t feel up to any challenges last night, and because, having decided the centerpiece on the plate would be a terrific small beef steak and, after that, that the principle vegetable would be Brussels sprouts, I knew there wouldn’t be any need for contrivances or adornments.
But the steak was a very special steak; the sprouts, while perhaps not out of the ordinary otherwise, were accompanied this time by one complex dried chili pepper; and the tomatoes, included mostly for their color, happened to be “the best cherry tomatoes”, by both the farmer’s testimony and my own.
- a single small (eleven and a half-ounce) grass-fed, grain finished culotte, or picayna steak from Sun Fed Beef in the Union Square Greenmarket, brought to room temperature, halved crosswise, seasoned on all sides with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, seared briefly on the top, or thick, fat-covered side inside an oval enameled heavy cast iron pan, the other, long sides cooked for 2 or 3minutes each, then the ends and the narrow bottom side seared, each very briefly, the steaks removed from the pan, perfectly medium-rare, arranged on 2 warm plates, each topped with a pat of defrosted ramp butter that I had made last April using some small, first-of-the-season woodland ramps from Lucky Dog Organic, a bit of juice from an organic lemon from Whole Foods Market, and some Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’, the steaks then allowed to rest for about 4 minutes
- a couple dozen Brussels sprouts from Lani’s Farm, the little cabbages liberated from their stalk moments before, tossed inside a bowl with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus one whole hot dried Sicilian peperoncino from Buon Italia (it can be seen at 12:30 in the picture at the top), roasted inside a medium size unglazed seasoned Pampered Chef pan until the sprouts were partly brown and crisp on the outside (at which time they taste surprisingly sweet and somewhat nutty)
I thought this meal was pretty special all the way around.
There were certainly at least a couple exotic elements, but everything was quite local.
I had been really looking forward to preparing these very special chops. They turned out to be even more delicious than I had expected, which is saying a lot, after having very much enjoyed this pork in other forms.
I used the same basic recipe I almost always use, but this time I had something else new to me to try out, a part of a gorgeous locally foraged chicken of the woods [laetiporus sulphureus] mushroom, and I incorporated it in the lemon sauce which is always produced naturally by the chops.
The vegetable was a bit less exotic, but it too was local, and from a local greenmarket, that at Union Square. I didn’t catch their name, but they were very neat sweet potatoes. The choice, and the orange hue, anticipated colder autumn weather and the meals it inspires, but it didn’t add another color to the plate; for that I had to add some chopped parsley.
- two 8-ounce Mangalitsa pork chops from Møsefond Farm [more here], purchased at Chelsea’s Down to Earth Farmers Market, located only one block west of us, defrosted inside the refrigerator overnight and brought to room temperature the next evening, thoroughly dried, seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, seared quickly inside a heavy enameled cast-iron oval pan before half of an organic Whole Foods Market lemon was squeezed over the top and then left in the pan between the chops, placed inside a 425º oven for between 14 and 16 minutes altogether (flipped halfway through, the lemon squeezed over them once again and replaced in the pan), removed from the oven, arranged on warm plates and topped with a combination of the juices that remained in the pan and a sauce produced by sautéing small pieces torn from a larger section of a locally-foraged chicken of the woods mushroom (laetiporus sulphureus) from Windfall Farms in the Union Square Greenmarket only moments before inside a medium high-sided heavy antique copper pot in a mix of a little olive oil and a ¼”-diced piece of Buon Italia guanciale that had been browned in the oil, the fat of the bit of cured pork cheek having been slowly rendered in the oil, after which a few tablespoons of a good white wine and 4 small sprigs of fresh thyme from Keith’s Farm, tied together, were added to the sauce pot with the mushroom, the liquid reduced a little over a higher flame before the thyme was removed
- five sweet potatoes, or just under a pound, from Central Valley Farm, left unpeeled, but washed thoroughly, cut as for short french fries, tossed inside a bowl with olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, two large unpeeled cloves of rocambole garlic from Keith’s Farm, and a pinch of crushed dark dried habanada pepper, roasted in a 425º oven in a treasured large well-seasoned Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan for about 35 minutes, or until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and a little chewy on the edges, some Maldon salt thrown onto the pan after it was removed from the oven, the frites arranged on the plates and garnished with chopped parsley from Phillips Farms
- the wine was an excellent California (Sonoma) red, Jacqueline Bahue Sonoma Valley Cabernet Franc 2016, from Naked Wines
- the music was at least our second listening of Antonio Vivaldi’s very silly, but absolutely beautiful 1731 opera, ‘La Fida Ninfa’