Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Dinner

Since it is Easter I just couldn't resist. For all the societal and religious significance that Easter holds, this photo took my mind in a completely different direction. Sure, maybe I wasn't thinking about the resurrection of Jesus or the pagan holiday that we have seemed to co-opted to see how many Peeps and chocolate covered eggs our youth can consume, no I was thinking these salient thoughts: First, how much I hate George Bush (Grrr don't get me started), second, how long it has been since I have eaten rabbit (Damn, I love rabbit!) and finally how nothing says lovin at my house like a grilled leg of lamb.
If I had to pick a protein to take to a desert island this would be it. Growing up, we used to have lamb at Easter as well, but my Mom thought that lamb needed to be cooked well done and that mint jelly (remember that ungodly florescent stuff?) was the only condiment required.
Well, those days are over. Lamb needs to be cooked rare (120-125 degrees) and it needs to be cooked over a fire. Maybe a hit of Salt, Pepper, fresh rosemary and as many garlic cloves as you can sliver and stuff into the roast before cooking.

This was probably a 4 lb. roast with the bone in. It looked like a Fred Flintstone lamb shank and I think that one of these days I will try braising an entire leg and see what happens

A sharp boning knife makes quick work of removing the bone.

Chop some rosemary to place inside the roast before you roll it up-hit with some olive oil, salt and pepper and you are good to go. Sliver the garlic and insert into the body of the roast. You can easily insert 6-8 cloves (24-30 slivers).

You need some butcher's twine-ask nicely at the meat counter and the butcher will probably hand you as much as you need.

Sear the lamb over medium hot coals on all sides (about 5 mins for each side).
Set the lamb just off of the coals so it cooks indirectly-pull the roast when the internal temperature gets to 120 degrees (used a probe thermometer or a direct read...this will make you look like a genius-trust me). When your roast is done be sure the put it on a warm plate and cover with foil and let this rest for 20 minutes before you carve it.

While your lamb is grilling, turn on your oven to 425 degrees and put a large roasting pan in to warm up. Cut up some potatoes. Russets are good, fingerlings work too.

Add some rosemary and a touch of olive oil. Also prep about a head of garlic to throw in when the potatoes are halfway done.

Now, here is the secret to the best damned roasted potatoes-in case you don't speak French you are looking at duck fat. This is a staple in the SW of France and now it is a staple at my place ins SE Portland. Add about two tablespoons (you will need to warm this stuff up as it looks like lard). Throw the potatoes into that hot roasting pan and leave alone for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes take a spatula and turn the potatoes and add the peeled head of garlic cloves. Cook for 20 minutes more.

Some grilled asparagus and a glass of 2003 Produttori Barbaresco and dinner is served.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

1989 Produttori del Barbaresco

Produttori del Barbaresco is a Northern Italian (Piedmont) grape growers co-op dedicated to producing Barbaresco wine. Produttori del Barbaresco was founded in 1958 by the local parish priest, Don Fiorino Marengo, this co-op is widely considered the best in the whole of Italy and among the world's most respected in that category. Today 56 families farm about 250 acres. The co-op produces roughly 35,000 cases annually and in a good vintage they are divided among Barbaresco (40 %), single vineyard Barbarescos (40%) and Nebbiolo Langhe (20%).

The entire Barbaresco appellation has only 1692 acres, so you can see this single producer controls a big share of the market.
You will often hear Barbaresco mentioned in the same breath as Barolo.
Comparisons between Barolo and Barbaresco are unavoidable because they are both made from 100 percent Nebbiolo and their respective growing areas lie not only in the same northwestern region of Piedmont, but on either side of the same town in a hilly area known as the Langhe. The small Barbaresco appellation, named after the sleepy village where the wine originated, radiates to the north and east of Alba and covers the communes or towns of Barbaresco, Neive, Treiso and a sliver of San Rocco Seno d'Elvio for a total of 1,692 acres registered to it.

Last night I had an opportunity to taste the nine single vineyard wines that Produttori del Barbaresco produces. The vintage was from 1989 and the wines are listed below alphabetically with my notes attached. The link above is to the Produttori website and there is some great information about the individual vineyards and their characteristics. What strikes me is that this wine is fairly readily available, yet the single vineyard wine production is around 1000 cases per vineyard (that is tiny!).

Produttori del Barbaresco

1989 Asili: An earthy nose with bright cherry fruit that verges on cherry liquor. The wine finishes with a bit of a bitter edge.

1989 Moccagata: A burnt nose, very astringent, almost mouth puckering with no middle palate and no finish. Over the 90 minutes we tasted this wine actually got worse.

1989 Montefico: Perfume on the nose with a hint of leather. Good soft/ripecherry fruit with a bitterish mid-palate.

1989 Montestefano: Funky nose (sulphur?) that blew off with some time in the glass. Nice tart cherry fruit and a bitter, firm finish.

1989 Ovello: Leather on the nose with ripe, tart cherry fruit, good balance with a long finish.

1989 Pajè: Leather nose, rich cherry fruit with great body and balance and a very long finish.
This was my second favorite of the night. #2

1989 Pora: Medicinal nose, maybe even a bit nutty. A hint of some rich fruit that is overpowered by a bitter, astringent mid-palate and an unpleasant finish. To be fair, this wine was corked and probably oxidized (the nuttiness) as well. This would get a rating of: DPIM-(Don't put in mouth).

1989 Rabajà: A very pleasant earthy nose, rich, tart cherry fruit that verges on cherry liquor. Great balance and a very long finish. My favorite of the night. #1

1989 Rio Sordo: Menthol on the nose, bright cherry fruit with great body and balance with a terrific finish. #3

General Notes:
All these wines were purchased at the same time and have been cellared properly since somewhere around 1992. The wines had a similar appearance in the glass as there was a slight brickishness in the color, but this is to be expected from wines approaching 19 years of age. A great opportunity to taste this Produttori horizontal. As with any tasting favorites are all over the board. In this case, the group of 15 scored these wines the same way I did. My top three of the night have more than enough structure to go 5 more years, but they would be great with a nice Italian dinner tonight.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"Guantanamo Chicken"

Almost nothing is more succulent or comforting than a perfectly roasted chicken. For years I swore that a chicken cooked on a rotisserie was as good as it got, but then I discovered "beer can chicken" Think of it as kind of a red neck version of a spit rotisserie roasted chicken. The advantage is this dish is much less equipment intensive and the end result is just as great.
Since I am a bit of a food snoot I have been trying to figure out a way to make this dish seem a bit more refined and a little less "hillbilly". Truth be told, the ingredients are the same, the prep is the same and the end result is just as good, whether you are eating this at a campsite or a country club.
Going forward, I am just going to be calling this dish "Guantanemo Chicken". Follow the illustrations below and this will ultimately make sense . To make this easy lets lay out the menu and the ingredients and then we will introduce the main course.

"Guantanemo Chicken" (Fire Roasted, Beer Can Chicken)
served with
Grill Roasted Asparagus
Roasted Corn, Cherry Tomato & Black Bean Salad

First things first, a little "water boarding" brining, go ahead and put the entire chicken into a large bowl with 3/4 cup of kosher salt and cold water. Let the bird soak for an hour before prepping for the grill.

To prep for the grill go ahead and pull the wing tips behind the bird. This is kind of a "put you hands behind your head" thing. The wings will stay without being tied up (bondage). Take a old time can opener (why is this called a Church Key?) and punch a couple of holes in a can of beer (on top of the can). The can is going to act as a stand on the grill for the bird. My feeling is that the quality of the beer is inversely proportional to the quality of the chicken, so Pabst is about as good as it gets.

Stand up the bird on the beer can (no cavity probe jokes....please) and apply dry rub spice mixture, go head and rub hard!. I use a spice mix of:

Spice Rub
1 Tbsp Coriander
1 Tbsp Yellow Mustard Seed
2 tsp Fennel Seeds
3 tsp Spanish Paprika
2 tsp Black Pepper
2 tsp Kosher Salt
(grind the seeds and add to remaining ingredients).

Personally I only cook with charcoal or hardwood and for this preparation take a chimney of coals that you divide into two piles (one on each side of the grill) after they are good and hot. As you can see the bird is not going to cook over direct heat. Cook the bird for 30 minutes and then rotate 180 degrees and cook for another 30 minutes (extra hot coals might bump down the cooing time to 25 minutes a side). (Okay chicken, veee havve vays to make you talk)

At 50-60 mins. pull the bird and let is rest for 10 minutes while covered with foil before you start carving.

Asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil and S& P and 2 mins per side on the grill.

A Southwest Bobby Flay-esque Roasted corn, Tomato and Black Bean salad with a red wine vinegar dressing and dinner is served.
In Season fresh corn is great for this and you can roast the whole ear with its husk and all on the grill.

This meal would go will with a Spanish or Portuguese wine. A
2005 Altano from the Douro region in Portugal scored an 85 in Wine Spectator and at Trader Joe's it will set you back all of $6.99 (this is the best bottle in the store for the price).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

料理の鉄人, Ryōri no Tetsujin


I am a HUGE fan of the Food Network, that 24/7 food channel. It is the foodie equivalent of the Cartoon Network. I can still remember accidentally discovering the "original" Iron Chef. I was fascinated and my watching became an obsession to the point that my 6 year old son (now 12) could identify Iron Chef's Chen, Sakai and Morimoto. He also could tell whether the challenger had a chance to win and even this 6 year old knew that Iron Chef Sakai was a tough hombre to beat at Kitchen Stadium.
The premise was that a wealthy, eccentric Japanese businessman had pulled together the best chef's of Japan. The idea was that chefs from around the world would come to Kitchen Stadium and challenge the Iron Chefs. The format was a cooking challenge that lasted 60 minutes and was "themed" around a central ingredient (Lobster, Bell Pepper, etc.) The Iron Chef's weren't just Japanese chefs cooking Japanese food, no, these were Japanese chef's that cooked French, Chinese, Italian, etc. As silly as this sounds these chefs were very skilled and they were very formidable opponents.
The show with all it poor production values and Chinese Kung-fu movie-esq voice overs was a ton of fun to watch. This series had literally 100's of episodes and not only did the show keep track of wins and losses, but they calculated wine percentages (like a batting average). Take a look at the link above and you can see what a BAD ASS Sakai and Chen were on their home turf. According to wikipedia the last show aired in 2003 and it culminated in a battle of Iron Chef vs. Iron Chef. Ultimately my favorite chef (Sakai) beat back the French three star chef Alain Passard in "Battle Ronkonkai Chicken"
Today we have the American version of Iron Chef and while it still is somewhat entertaining (and my son knows Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Alton Brown by sight) I miss the original.