Not Eggs-actly

eggbanner.jpgIt’s somewhat of a joke among my friends that I believe, and have often said, adding an egg to any left-over is a good thing. An egg can transfer almost any soup into a breakfast (I lo-o-o-o-ve soup for breakfast). An egg can elevate some left-over vegetables to a lunch or even dinner. It adds protein to what might otherwise be a thin offering. It adds an eggy richness to almost anything. In my opinion, the egg should be poached or fried when used in this kind of savior role, but scrambled eggs work sometimes too (scrambled eggs and chili anyone?).

But wait, I recently encountered an egg of a different ilk. Salt-cured egg yolks. I saw a mention in one of those upscale cookbooks that line the shelves at almost any bookstore in the run-up to Christmas.  Salt-cured egg yolks were not something that was on my radar but when I saw a recipe in a book called Flour + Water by Thomas McNaughten, I immediately swooned.  What was this thing – cured egg yolk?  It sounded delicious, strange, rich, luxe, umami.  I had to find this food.

Turns out the rest of the world seems to already know about cured egg yolks.  A quick search of the inter-web revealed numerous sites with recipes, photos and opinions about cured egg yolks.  The basic idea is to take fresh (critical information!, FRESH) egg yolks and bury them in a dry cure of salt (and maybe other stuff).  Some recipes call for 100% salt.  Some use 50% salt and 50% sugar.  Many use ratios somewhere in between.  Some add other stuff (black pepper, cayenne, fennel, miso, soy sauce).  What’s a boy to do.  I wanted to try this but I didn’t want to waste a bunch of eggs on an experiment gone wrong.  So I trod a middle path of simple, and a second path of “sounds good, let’s try it”.

My two batches (shown below, side-by-side) follow the same basic procedure just the salt mix differs.  Each version shown below is enough to cure 4 – 6 yolks.

Mostly Salt Version
2 C. kosher salt
1/4 C. sugar
1 Tbs. fennel pollen
2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground fennel seed

Simple but more Sugary Version
1-1/3 C. kosher salt
2/3 C. sugar
2 tsp. black pepper

Fresh egg yolks buried in curing salt mix

Fresh egg yolks buried in curing salt mix.

 

For either version, mix the dry ingredients and put a 1/4″ – 1/2″ layer in the bottom of a non-reactive container.  Make depressions in the salt mix to hold the yolks.  Carefully separate the yolks from the eggs, getting the yolks as free from white as you can.  Once separated, carefully place a yolk in the depression.  Once you have placed as many yolks as you will be curing, gently spoon some of the remaining salt mix around and over the yolks, covering them by about 1/4″ to 1/2″.  Cover the container and place in the fridge for 1 week (7 days).

As I noted above, I didn’t want to end up wasting a bunch of eggs.  But on the other hand, if this turned out great, I didn’t want to have to go through all the trouble and have little to show for it.  So I prepared 4 chicken-egg yolks for each of the cures and 2 duck-egg yolks which I cured in a mixture of the two salt mixes.

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Yolks after 2 weeks in the salt cure.

After a week I checked the progress, not knowing exactly what I should be looking for.  The yolks seemed like a firm but fragile jelly and a pretty sticky.  The instructions I had seen said they would be firmer, more like gummy bears.  So, I covered them back up and let them sit in the fridge another week.  In hind sight, leaving them buried in the salt but not putting a lid on the container would have sped up the drying/curing but fridge space was at a premium and I wanted to stack the containers so I put the lids on.

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Brushing excess salt cure off the yolks.

Another week later, they’re firmer.  So, on to the next step.  Carefully clean as much of the salt mixture off the yolks as possible – not easy because the yolks are sticky and still surprisingly delicate.

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Yolks laid out on cheesecloth, ready to be swaddled.

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Swaddled yolks tied off between each one.

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Swaddled yolks ready to go back into the fridge. The 4 on top were cured in the fennel cure. The two in the middle are the duck yolks.

Once clean, the yolks are swaddled in a strip of cheese cloth, tied off between each yolk and  returned to the fridge for another week or two of drying, uncovered.

The end result is a yolk that is about half or less the size of what I started with.  The texture is firm, sort of like Swiss cheese.

Now, after all that, what do they taste like?  Reports on the inter-web rave about the richness, the depth of umami.  One likened grated cured egg yolk to dried mayonnaise.

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Finished cured yolk grated over ravioli. One-half yolk is enough to season 2 servings.

In my opinion, not so much.  They’re salty.  They taste vaguely of egg.  The added flavor elements of black pepper and fennel are subtle but present.  In the end, I think it was an interesting egg-speriment.  I’m glad I tried to make them.  I find them useful as an umami flavor addition/boost, like anchovy or miso.  My favorite use so far is to grate half of one over a simple pasta with an olive-oil, garlic sauce. They’re also nice grated over a green salad or into a simple vinaigrette dressing.  Ultimately I probably won’t take the time to cure egg yolks again. But you should! It’ll cost you some time but you won’t be sorry.

 

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You’re Going to Drink That?

Our son is home for the holidays. When he was little he was a picky eater, as are many little kids. He had his beige phase – noodles,cheese, cheerios.  Carrots were never high on his list and salad, or for that matter, any leafy thing, was taboo (he could pick out one miniscule piece of lettuce from a Taco Bell taco even though it had been ordered without lettuce). But as he grew so did his palate and his bravery. His father, like his father before him, will try almost anything once and Nathan also has developed this crazy fearlessness. Well, crazy from my point of view. I have a whole list of things that Curt thinks are tasty bit which I won’t try, even once.

On this trip Nathan did not only bring home his laundry but a can of Chin Chin Grass Jelly Drink  from Taiwan. He said it was an impulse buy he made while picking up some groceries at his local Megafoods. My impulse buys usually tend toward chocolate or deli salads not weird drinks but, like I said, I live with adventurous palates.

Front and Back view

Front and Back view – note the festive Christmas colors

The ingredients listed were water, grass jelly (mesona procumbens hemsl), cane sugar, corn starch and honey. I forgot to mention this was ‘honey flavour’, implying there are other ‘flavours.’  And the can was in Christmas ‘colours’. Nathan said this was the only flavor on the shelf and later, we noticed it was way past its expiration date so it had been on the shelf for a while.

In his research my son discovered this was considered a dessert drink made from the boiled down stalks of a member of the mint family. We were having stir fry for dinner so he thought it might be a nice accompaniment. Poured into a glass it looked a bit different from the picture on the can, as Nathan put it, “Sort of a poo color.” Yum! The one thing missing in the glass from the picture was the chunky jello looking bits. Nathan found a few bits around the lip of the can which he tried to shake into the glass.

A glassful of Grass Jelly

A glassful of Grass Jelly

Now it was taste test time. Nathan said he really couldn’t identify a flavor. I said it was sort of a sarsaparilla with a hint of turpentine, and Curt said cough medicine. Nathan finished it but said he wouldn’t buy it again. For something with honey and sugar, it wasn’t very sweet. But where were those chunky bits featured on the can? Surprise! They were there all along, hiding on the bottom. So slippery they snuck right by when poured into the glass.

Chunks?

Chunks?

The Grass Jelly bits

The Grass Jelly bits

Once we saw the bottom of the glass we were kind of happy they weren’t floating around freely in the liquid. They had a shiny thick seaweed looking appearance and no one, yes not one of the fearless foodies said, “I’ll finish that!”  But Grass Jelly is also listed as a digestive so I think it will work fine in my compost. Can’t wait to see what they bring home next.

Happy Holidays!

Reconstructing a taste memory – almost

When I first started teaching, I had a student from Iran. This was before the Ayatollah Khomeini, the embassy hostages, and all the mess in the Middle East. This student, wanting to share some of his culture with the class, invited us all to his apartment for dinner.  Sadly, I don’t remember much about that student but I remember the meal he served us vividly.

I don’t recall that he had a name for the dish but I do remember that it was a revelation for me. What he cooked was basically chicken, braised in a tomato base with lots of spices. Chicken parts stewed in tomatoes with lots of onion, peppers and whole spices – cloves and cinnamon stand out in my mind – and tons of flavor.  From what I know now he would have probably called it a khoresht, a stew.

Memory is often the sweetest seasoning

Over the years, I’ve tried to cook something similar on a number of occasions. Often getting close but never quite right.  However I didn’t attempt to reconstruct this dish until many years after I’d eaten it, thus I was drawing on taste memories that had undoubtedly been altered by intervening time and meals, not to mention that I had started to cook for myself and become somewhat of a “foodie”.  This iteration definitely includes some of that corruption.  Foolishly or blessedly, I’ve never tried to find a published recipe for the dish (except today as I was writing this post) – memory is often the sweetest seasoning.

Iran is what was once Persia.  I know one of the features of Persian food is that fruit is often included in savory meat dishes.  I don’t remember if my student’s offering had any fruit in it but I now regularly add fruit of some sort to my versions of this taste memory.  The recipe below may look intimidating because of the number of ingredients but there’s no difficult techniques involved, just chopping and a little sauteing.

Chicken Khoresht (Persian Chicken Stew) à la Curt

5 boneless chicken thighs, each cut into 4 or 5 chunks
3 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, cut into large chunks
3 or 4 stalks of celery, cut into 1″ pieces
2 Bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green, cut into 1-1/2″ chunks
1 C. okra, fresh or frozen, cut into large chunks
28 oz. can of whole plum tomatoes and juice, roughly broken up into pieces
1-1/2 C water
1/4 C cilantro root (optional)
1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro leaf
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/4″ chunks *
2 small or 1 large tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled, cut into chunks **
1/4 C. raisins ***
6 cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp coriander, ground
1-1/2″ cinnamon stick, left whole
1 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 tsp basil, dried
1 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Vegetables sweating

Sweat the onions, peppers and celery in 2 Tbs of the oil over medium heat in a large saute pan or dutch oven until softened.  Add the garlic and cilantro root and saute an additional minute.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Cut up chicken thigh meat

Add 1 Tbs of oil to what’s left in the pan and saute the chicken over medium-high heat until it loses its pinkness.  Return the vegetables to the pan with the chicken and add okra, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer.

Everything in but the apples and raisins

Add the spices, herbs, vinegar, salt and pepper, apples and raisins.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the chopped cilantro leaf as garnish.

Serve with white rice.

Serves 6

Chicken Khoresht (Persian Chicken Stew) à la Curt

NOTES:

The following are alternatives or additions to the ingredients in the recipe.

* Sweet potato:  Chickpeas, winter squash such as butternut.
**  Apple:  Quince, firm fresh peaches or nectarines
***  Raisins:  Dried cherries, currants, dried cranberries (Craisins), prunes, apricots

Khoresht ingredients vary widely and are often made with lamb.  They may include, in addition to or as alternates to the spices listed; saffron, cardamom, ground cinnamon and cumin.  The basil and thyme are not traditional but the small amounts I’ve added are subtle.

I’ve seen some khoresht that include eggplant or zucchini instead of the fresh fruit.  I’ve occasionally made this with some of the bell peppers replaced with chile peppers for a spicier version but be careful to not take it into the realm of hot chili or curry – you need to be able to taste the spices, fruit and vegetables.

I’ve eaten a Philippino stew that used pork, tomato, bell pepper, plantain and pineapple that was quite good and similar to a khoresht, so experiment with alternate fruits, vegetables and spices if you feel adventuresome.

Vampire Pesto

Garlic scape pesto

In a comment on our recent post about garlic scapes, Emily Wilson suggested a recipe for using the scapes to make a pesto. Being ever game and truly wanting some way to use the scapes beyond adding them to flower arrangements I gave the recipe a whirl last night.

As Emily posted it, the recipe was,

8 oz. garlic scapes
1 C. olive oil
2 C. Parmesan cheese

Of course, not being able to leave any recipe unimproved, I made adjustments.

First off, I cut the recipe in half and trimmed the scapes to eliminate the very tips, which where a bit dry due the recent hot weather, and the woodier lower parts.  So, I used  about 3″ – 4″ of the scape surrounding the flower bud.  And, every pesto I’ve ever had included some kind of nut – pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, etc.  so I added pine nuts.  After running the ingredients through the food processor it seemed a bit dry so I added some additional olive oil.  My version:

4 oz. garlic scapes
3/4 C. olive oil
1 C. Parmesan cheese
1/4 C. pine nuts
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

The end result was tasty, but not for the faint of heart.  The garlic taste is very assertive and a bit hot – certainly sufficient to keep any vampires at bay.  Also, the end product looks a bit anemic, although that, too, might be appropriate for a vampire pesto.  In hindsight, I think blanching the scapes would take away a bit of the garlic heat and adding a little parsley would give the pesto a somewhat darker/richer color for better plate appeal.

All Greek Yogurt is not Created Equal

Get ready for an absolutely unscientific comparison of single serve Greek yogurt based solely on my taste buds and the labels on the containers. This could get really boring and if you don’t care a whit about yogurt, Greek or otherwise, you may as well wait till the next post. Curt will probably be doing something yummy.

The yogurts I chose, five in all, were what I could get in my local groceries. One of them, Fage, I purchased at Walmart. I say this as an apology and as a confession because I never, ever shop at Walmart. I feel uncomfortable just going through the door but my Mom, who is on a limited budget, shops at Walmart. And I, dutiful daughter, go with her every four months or so, to help carry items she stocks up on that are way too heavy for her to lug to the car and then to her apartment. Things like kitty litter, laundry soap, pet food, jugs of juice, etc. Two weeks ago when I was there with her I discovered Walmart had the single serving Fage Greek yogurt. My grocery only carries the plain flavor in the large container.  So for the sake of science, I contributed to Walmart profits that week. I’m sorry. But confession is good for the soul.

So, I have four national brands and one local grocery brand. All have fruit on the bottom except Fage which has the fruit in a side-cup. All are zero fat. The difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt is how it is made. But that difference affects the texture, the flavor and the price. Basically Greek yogurt is strained extensively to remove much of the liquid whey, lactose and sugar. Both regular and Greek are healthy for you, but Greek yogurt will give you twice the protein and roughly half the carbs. My testing was just putting the Greeks up against each other. Here’s the first and only, boring yet informative, chart for your consideration comparing calories, sodium and sugar. The serving sizes unfortunately were not the same but at least they were divided into two amounts which are relatively close.

Product Calories Sodium Sugar
 Chobani  (170g)  140  65g  19g
 Oikos      (170g)  130  50g  20g
 Roundy’s (170g)  150  80g  23g
 Yoplait     (150g)  160  100g  20g
 Fage        (150g)  120  50g  16g
 Fage-plain (150g)   86  56g   6g

Overall they are pretty close except for Yoplait whose calories and sodium stand out even though its one of the smaller serving sizes. The Fage in the last row is the plain without any fruit. If you really want to lower your sugar and calories go with this one and just add a tablespoon of jam. For instance, this jam from Mudd Creek.

Ingredients: peaches, melons, red grapes, pectin (no sugar added)

Now on to the flavor and texture of our Greeks. Remember this is from my little ole taste buds so you will probably have completely different results. Let’s go best to worst.

left: Dannon Oikos, right: Roundy's-local grocery brand

For flavor, the Oikos (Dannon) and the local brand, Roundy’s, were probably the best. Both were creamy, had a mild tang unlike regular yogurt which I consider very tangy. Oikos was a little thicker but not gelatin-like thick. Going back to the chart, Oikos comes out ahead because of the calorie count and the sodium. Fruit flavors for both are what you’d expect: strawberry, blueberry, peach, black cherry, etc.

top row: Fage, bottom row: Chobani

Next, Fage edges out Chobani in the taste category. Both had a great creamy texture but were up a notch in the tang department from the top two. This of course is where personal preference comes into play. Fage wins in the calorie/sodium/sugar areas but Chobani wins in the available fruit flavors. They have thirteen compared to Fage’s ten. Flavors that include pineapple, passion fruit, apple cinnamon, blood orange and pomegranate. Oh, and the Chobani was as white as the Fage, my camera skills failed me on this shot.

Yoplait

Yoplait is at the bottom and it wasn’t necessarily bad, it just tasted pretty much the same as the regular yogurt. Much more tangy and the texture was more in the gelatin range rather than creamy.  Considering that you are paying about twice for Greek than you would pay for regular Yoplait, I would rank this one last.

So there you have it. The unofficial match-up of the Greek yogurts. It’s been fun even if I had to (shudder) purchase from Walmart along the way.