Friday, September 24, 2010

Morcella Especial

Morcella (say "muh-sal-uh") is the Portuguese version of the blood puddings or blood sausages that show up in just about every major cultural cuisine. "Boudin Noir" to the French, "Black Pudding" to our British friends, "Blutwurst" to the Germans, "Soondae" to the Koreans and known by many other names to people from many other cultures. The stuff is universal.

I'm not going to pull punches here. It's made from blood and that tends to put people off. Even people who'll eat the rarest of rare meat will pass on morcella and its international kin. It is kind of an acquired taste. Most people I know that eat it started doing so as children and ended up liking it long before they learned what it was. Some, once they learned what it was, stopped eating it. Bummahs for them!

My earliest memories of morcella are the sandwiches my dad and mom used to make, or how my Portuguese grandmother used to mix it with scrambled eggs for breakfast. The latter I enjoyed again for breakfast when I was in the Azores in 2004 and it was still damn good!

Recently, the good people at Mello's Chourico in Fall River, MA asked me to come up with some recipes for their fine line of Portuguese sausage products. While anyone who reads Chop Onions, Boil Water knows, doing anything with chourico is easy because EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH CHOURICO! Morcella presents a little more of a challenge.

So I did a little research on all the different international types of blood sausage (as evidenced in the introductory paragraph of this entry) and came up with a number of recipes to work from. For my first morcella recipe on Chop Onions, Boil Water I chose a traditional French preparation but of course used Portuguese blood sausage instead of boudin noir.

The result? It is delicious! That's not just my opinion but also my wife Michelle's. Prior to eating this dish, she was NOT a fan of morcella but Morcella Especial made a believer of her. She liked it a lot. So did my mom, who proclaimed it the "Best morcella ever!"

Why is it good? It's all about the green apples. They balance and harmonize with the flavor of the morcella to create something really delicious and different. In fact, if you're a little evil, you might even serve this without telling anyone what it is and fool more than a few people. In doing so, you could make some people angry, but hey that's a risk you take. One can have too many friends!

Try it friends, you'll be surprised!

Morcella Especial

1/2 morcella link (7 or 8 ozs.)
2 large tart green apples (cored, peeled and sliced into 12ths)
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and sliced thin)
4 tablespoons sweet butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup white wine
2 Tbs fresh parsley (chopped)

Place the morcella in the freezer at least an hour before you are going to need it. This allows it to harden and makes it much easier to peel and slice.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Place a cast iron (or suitable facsimile) 10" skillet on a medium-high flame. Add 1 tablespoon of the sweet butter, allow it to melt and spread it around the pan. Immediately add the apple slices and sauté, turning frequently, until the edges of the apples begin to caramelize. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until tender (about 15 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a second skillet melt the remaining 3 tablespoons sweet butter over medium-high heat. Add the potato slices and fry, turning frequently, until they are golden on both sides. Add salt and pepper to taste and pour them over the baking apples.

Quickly deglaze the potato pan with the 1/4 cup of wine. Stir continually until the liquid is almost completely reduced, then pour the resulting liquid over the potato and apple mixture. Place the apple and potato mixture back in the oven and continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes.

While the potatoes and apples are baking, remove the frozen morcella from the freezer. Slice the link shallowly along its length and peel off and discard the skin. Slice the morcella in 1/8" slices and set aside.

When the apple and potato mixture finishes baking remove the pan from the oven and cover the entire apple and potato mixture in a layer of sliced morcella.

Place the mixture back in the oven and bake until lightly browned, crumbly and crispy on top, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve at once to surprised people.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Michelle's Thai Red Curry-Peanut Butter Chicken

This is one of my favorite recipes at the moment. It is one of my wife Michelle's dishes, who is, as of late, flexing more and more culinary muscle in the kitchen. She is becoming a great cook and hasn't served up a clunker yet. I do of course appreciate it. Some evenings I'm just not up for cooking and she comes through like a champ. She started off using Chop Onions, Boil Water to prepare some of our favorites and is now improvising and vamping her way to original recipes. She's cool like that. She's an angel and a saint. Just ask anyone who knows me.

All her burgeoning prowess in the kitchen however will not change a fundamental agreement in our marriage quasi-contract: I do the cooking and she does the dishes. So, while her cooking skills and endeavors are increasing, I am making no such inroads with my dish washing skills. In fact you could say my dish washing skills have even declined since my marriage. While I support and appreciate Michelle's cooking adventures, I'm not going to dare and upset the delicate balance that is our marriage by messing around and doing the dishes. No matter how much I don't want to anyway (do you get that?).

So, Michelle's Thai Red Curry-Peanut Butter Chicken, what can I tell you? I'll tell you that I love peanut butter and peanut butter flavored things. More often than not however, many promised peanut butter dishes tend to disappoint. They're never peanut-buttery flavored enough for me. At worse they often exhibit the unpleasant aspects of peanut butter food: grainy, dry, etc. Not so with Michelle's recipe! The peanut butter is there! In fact you could say it is slap-you-in-the-face peanut buttery and that is a good thing.

That's not to say that this is a one note dish. It isn't! There's also some Thai red curry or Thai chili-garlic paste, ginger, coconut, lime juice and all those other things that make Thai food spicy and wonderfully complex. It all works and it is all good!

Two things of importance regarding this dish:

1.) It contains a lot of peanuts, if you're allergic to peanuts you may want to not eat too much or pass on it altogether.

2.) I'm not going to wash the dishes.
Michelle's Thai Red Curry-Peanut Butter Chicken

Chicken and Marinade

1-2 lbs. boneless chicken breast (trimmed and pounded slightly)
1/2 cup chicken stock
1-1/2 Tbs soy sauce
1 clove garlic (chopped)
1-1/2 tsp Thai fish sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp fresh lime juice (there is no substitute)
1 Tbs fresh ginger (chopped)

Mix all the ingredients except the chicken in a large bowl. Add the chicken, cover the bowl and place it in the fridge. Allow it to marinate for 1 to 2 hours stirring occasionally to evenly distribute the marinade.

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce

2 Tbs peanut oil
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts (chopped)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup coconut milk
1/2  cup water
3 Tbs fresh lime juice (there is no substitute)
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs fish sauce
2 Tbs Thai chili garlic paste or Thai red curry paste (You want it spicier? Add more.)
1 Tbs fresh ginger (minced)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
1 Tbs palm sugar

Place a skillet over medium heat, add the peanut oil.

When the oil begins to shimmer add the ginger and garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn it.

Reduce heat to low and stir in all other ingredients except the cilantro. Bring to a medium simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is simmering, spray a grill pan with oil and preheat the pan over medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.

Grill the chicken about 5 minutes per side or until just done. Remove the chicken from the pan and allow it to rest for a few minutes.

Cut the chicken into 1" strips and add it to the sauce mixture to coat well.

Add about half of the cilantro to the sauce just before serving and then use the rest as garnish on the plates.

Michelle says to "Serve it hot over Jasmine rice or your favorite pasta and enjoy! The kids like it on ramen noodles."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Recipe: The World's Best Favas

Favas be big beans-BIG BEANS! It's a dish that seems to be an acquired taste. Which basically means that cowards or the uninitiated don't care for it. I like it however. I like it quite a lot and the recipe below is responsible for more than a few converts to the dish. Most recently, my beautiful wife who LOVED them. It's one of those meals that can be had in as many variations as the number of families that make it. This is my version of course and I am telling you that these are the World's Best Favas. THE WORLD'S BEST FAVAS!

One little Portuguese cooking trick that I use in this dish may seem like it wouldn't make a big difference, but it really does help to create THE WORLD'S BEST FAVAS. That trick is sweating the onions and garlic instead of sauteing them. You'll notice how profound that difference is when you pop the cover off the pan at the end of that 20 minutes. The aroma is HEAVEN! HEAVEN PEOPLE! Which incidentally is where they probably serve a lot of these favas because if I haven't mentioned it yet: THESE ARE THE WORLD'S BEST FAVAS!

What else can I say about this recipe?

How about this: IT'S GOT CHOURICO IN IT!

Chourico, as in EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH CHOURICO. Including these favas which happen to be THE WORLD'S BEST FAVAS!

Pay attention to the details at the end, the bread, sweet butter and chilled Dao are MANDATORY!

'Nuff said on my part.

The World's Best Favas

1lb. of dry favas beans (soaked then simmered or pressure cooked to tenderness)
2 Tbs Portuguese olive oil
4 onions (halved and then thinly sliced)
8 cloves of garlic (minced)
3 sticks (about 20+ ozs.) of chourico (sliced in 1/4" disks)
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
3 tsp hot crushed red pepper (the wet stuff)
4 Tbs fresh parsley (chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a large saucepan over low heat.

Add olive oil and spread it around the pan. Add the onions and garlic and sweat them covered in the pan for 20 minutes. Don't open that cover. Keep the flame on low and don't burn it!

Add the chourico and mix in well. Raise the heat a little and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes and crushed red pepper and continue at a good medium simmer for about 45 minutes.

Add the fava beans and continue cooking for 30 more minutes or until the beans are tender and creamy inside.

Add all but 1 tablespoon of the parsley to the favas and mix throughout. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with the last tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley and serve with a good crusty peasant bread, sweet butter and some chilled red Dao wine (that's right I used "chilled" and "red wine" in the same sentence! DO IT!).

It's even better the second day!