After purchasing a golden bamboo plant for the backyard and finally receiving a new bamboo Retro 51 in the mail, it seemed an appropriate time to explore the long nagging questions I had for preparing and eating bamboo shoots. Fortune would have it that we would come across some fresh bamboo shoots while making groceries this Sunday. I had never seen fresh shoots before, so I wanted to grab some. Ming actually beat me to it... since she's had them prepared many times, but never made it herself she wanted to try. That was cool with me, because then I could just observe and learn.
We can always find shoots at the Asian grocery (and use them quite often), but they've already been boiled and kept in water. This is a step that Ming forgot with these fresh shoots when she cut and marinaded them for the grill. After some time, I tried them and they were pretty bitter. She had to spit them out... but to me the bitterness was less that that of bittermelon (which we both eat and tolerate). I couldn't understand the extreme intolerance she had. After a bit more cooking, they hit an amazing balance of bitter and sweet, but she still found them overbearing. The first bite yielded that nice bamboo texture with initial sweetness then slowly as it was macerated, developed a tinge of bitterness that perfectly equaled it. It was amazing. Is the bitterness more perceptible to some than for others?
I found that the Japanese boil the shoot for 20 minutes with rice bran and chilies. Ming did a second run boiling in water alone, and the bitterness was non-existent. It became soup later. These she could eat.
I'd like to spend more time with these. Since I've been triple bamboo'd, maybe it's a good time to explore.
Retro 51's are the best. I've been using them since about 1998, and gone through a couple of dozen. They take an ass-whooping in the kitchen, and for around $20 you don't have to feel too bad when you screw one up. I've killed a few by dropping in a stockpot. Most of them have been lost. I somehow just keep buying more.
I have never met Uwe in person, but have know him through email and our blogs for a few years now. I also have had the pleasure of snail mail gifts of the strangest Christmas cards and something 'not of this world.' I speak of Pop's magic ham. Uwe... I've always had the feeling that if I met you face to face, you would be sitting on a mountain in the lotus position contemplating the zen of fatback. Then we'd just drink beers. Thanks for sharing a bit of your dad's skills with us. The gesture is much appreciated.
The expectation of the ham is first seeded by email. "The package is on the way." Then come the couple of days of wonder... will it get here today? What if it gets lost in the mail? Holy shit, what if it gets lost and expires before I can partake of it's glory?
But then it shows up...
... with easy to follow instructions.
You see, Pop's doesn't make his ham with the ass-end (not that I don't like the ass-end). He uses the loin. This may seem strange, but the quadrupled trickle-smoked meat is just dry enough and the thin white layer of clean fat hugging the top is just creamy enough for a perfect balance. This is the product of generations of German charcuterie passed down with a kick of Texas 'slap yo momma' added in. It's just good.
I linked Uwe's post on the ham up top, but read more about the smoking process here. Eating a few thin slices revealed a perfectly swirled blend of smoke flavors... where one ends and the other begins is hazy bliss.
This 2010 ham (it's been over 2 years since the last of which I was also lucky enough to receive a chunk of) was definitely worth the wait. I wanted to use it in a dish, but stayed as simple as possible out of respect.
olive oil deep-fried eggs, crab chorizo griddle cakes, Pop's Magic Ham 2010 passed lightly on the grill
I wouldn't normally 'cook' a ham like this, but I discovered that a second or two of heat on each side really pushed the smoke flavor, released some of the ionically-bonded salts, and turned the thin layer of fat into a readily-melting jamboree of lip smackin' juiciness.
The eggs are incredible also. We spend so much time focusing on cooking everything as slowly as possible these days that we forget how nice quick cooking can be. These eggs fry up crispy and lacey in under a minute.
The crab chorizo griddle cakes were for a recent demo at Macy's. We've done quite a few variations of these. Whatever you put into them, use a ton of cilantro and let the batter sit overnight.
Admittedly, I had never before heard of 'burnt ends.' It sounds like an accident or something derived at unintentionally instead of an authentic piece of culinary nostalgia. When our friend, Mark, in New Orleans sent a query to Chef K about burnt end beans, it immediately caught my interest.
Burnt ends traditionally are the obscure shaped thin pieces at the ends of a brisket that get more than their share of smoke and char during the bbq process. It's rooted in KC barbeque (an area quite familiar to Chef K since he spent the majority of his youth and beginning culinary career in that part of the world) and has been integrated into a variety of dishes. Think of the over-smoked chunks of beef in the same way as a good seasoning ham, fatback, or ham hocks. While burnt ends were originally a by-product of smoking brisket, they are commonly made intentionally by throwing pieces of the brisket back into the smoker for an extended run.
I decided to make my own. I used 2 cuts of beef: some old pieces of bbq brisket from the freezer and some fresh chunks of ribeye cap. While the brisket came out nice, I was really impressed by the flavor, fat, and chew in the cap after extended smoking and drying.
I am sort of 'in between grills' at the moment, so this little Smokey Joe has been my best backyard friend. Mesquite charcoals and chunks are my favorite flavoring... although it may be more akin to TX BBQ than KC.
Burnt end beans are basically BBQ beans... sweet, salty, and smokey. The burnt ends are added for flavor and the wet beans benefit the beef as well. While burnt ends aren't bad on their own, they are a bit dry and over-smoked if that's not what you're into. It only makes sense to use them in stewed or braised preparations.
So, what else can we use them for? The possibility of sous-vide preparations allows for good transference of flavor. What other 'word play' can we use... 'charred sui.'
Tis the season to be thinkin' bout brisket. Burnt end reubens, anyone? Burnt ends and cabbage?
We commonly utilize a variety of Peruvian chilies (or aji). While these can usually be bought frozen, dried, or jarred I've never seen them fresh. Not sure if they're just not available at all or just hard to find. Maybe they're illegal to grow here. A listing with descriptions and photos can be found here.
Chef K and I were given 3 pepper seeds (limo, rocoto, and amarillo) by an amazing Peruvian lady who works with us. Wrapped in paper towels and stuffed into envelopes, I planted them yesterday.
These are aji rocoto seeds.
Planted to sprout.
Not sure how they will fair with the growing season here. They would typically need a cooler environment such as the mountains of Peru. Hopefully the drawn out cool weather here will prove promising.
Once they grow, we will use some of them and reserve most for seed-saving. It would be great to have these chilies available on a large scale.
This is Yu-Tsai. It's eaten as a leafy vegetable in Taiwan. Ming bought the seeds and we planted them. They eventually grew taller and produced small yellow flowers and later on, thin pods.
I found out later that the yu-tsai is rapeseed (from Ming translating a Chinese website). Mostly known as an oil pressed (or chemically extracted) from the seed and also for it's low acid hybrid used to produce canola oil, I could find very little mention of it's other edible parts... the leaves and stems. The plant itself is named for the Latin word for turnip.
That leaves me wondering about the pods. They taste great raw. Aside from the high erucic acid content and whatever harm that causes, is there any health risk? They produce a good quantity of these.
We haven't had the budgeting to buy any major equipment for awhile. However, when our Berkel vacuum sealer caught on fire (twice), we determined that it was more feasible to purchase a new unit than to have the expensive repair work done.
Not sure if anyone has had the 'fire' issue with their cryovac's. This was a first for me. I've used various machines since 1995 (when I first was introduced to them) and I really miss those old sealers with their needle pressure gauges and buttons for manually activating the vacuum. Sure, these new machines are badass, but I miss the interactive option. Today we plan on going through the operating manual with our engineer so we can take full advantage of all that Multivac has to offer. Hopefully, this machine will really suck!
Since moving here in 2005, we've had less involvement with the SoBe Wine & Food Fest this year than any other year before. Typically we would participate in the Grand Tasting event, but decided to digress for various reasons I won't get into here. Instead, Chef K and I had the privilege of assisting Chef MichaelLaiskonis with the dessert for the Daniel Boulud Tribute dinner (Well, if you call cutting out 600 3.5" square doilies from brown paper 'assisting'... seriously, once you witness how detailed and meticulous Laiskonis is, it's no surprise that the man leaves very little to chance. He is thorough enough and experienced enough to eliminate as many last minute variables as technically possible). So aside from exercising our paper cutting skills, we served as hands and eyes during the 600 cover plate-up (see the menu here). We also enjoyed drinking a couple of beers afterward with Chef Laiskonis and catching up on what's going on in NY.
The dessert was a play on the classic vacherin (which was in homage to Chef Boulud's home in France). We did not witness the entire meal or taste much, but we did get to eat this course in entirety. As expected, the balance of flavors and textures were spot on. The bulk of the dessert consisted of the most amazing praline and vanilla. Pain de genes and hazelnut were placed above, then coconut sorbet and the most delicate crisp meringues (for south Florida humidity) you could imagine.
Chef Eric Ripert gets credit for opting to do dessert again... for the 2 main reasons that he has a badass pastry chef and it alleviates him from having to get involved in the prep. His sense of humor is constantly on. When walking the room for the plate-up, he looked to his chef and said, "give me something to sprinkle." He actually barely made it in on time having to fly back earlier to LeBernardin for a VIP function that required his presence. These guys have really logged in some miles over the last month. As a team, they are phenomenal.
Logistics: Witnessing the grand tribute dinner 2 years in a row revealed some interesting logistical changes. Chef Laiskonis decided to build his dessert in a glass to speed up the plate-up process. The bulk of the dish was already composed and only the most volatile elements were added at the end (sorbet, meringues, and vanilla salt dropped 10 minutes before pick-up... not as simple as it sounds when you're talking 600 plates). Nobu apparently was struck by the same inspiration. His dish of wagyu tataki appeared to be 'pre-shingled' on bamboo leaves leaving only the genmai salsa and last minute sauce to be added before pick-up. Another interesting note on the dessert... the final dish had the glass sitting off to the side of the plate so that a spoon could be placed on it also. This is actually a huge time saver because it eliminates a banquet staff step of resetting the tables for dessert... the tables only needed to be cleared of the entrée.
This year's tribute dinner was refreshing in the sense that there were none of the over-exposed FNTV faces participating. Every chef in the line-up was a badass, and it was unbelievable how down to Earth they were with zero ego. It was also very uplifting to see Chef Gordon Maybury's name on the menu for the entrée. Chef Gordon deserves so many props for not only pulling off a beautifully cooked juniper-infused venison loin for 600, but also for taking on the daunting task of organizing such a dinner. Seeing him in control over an army of cooks, interns, and visiting chefs was beautiful. Not an easy feat.
We also crept into the banquet hall for Boulud's ending speech. I guess it's not ground-breaking news that he announced his plans to open a restaurant in Miami. What will be interesting is seeing how he adapts his cuisine to work in our scene (and if his cuisine will remain supreme). I would definitely put my money on him, though. A very short an interesting comment made when he introduced his participating chefs from his restaurants was directed towards Zach Bell (of Café Boulud in Palm Beach)... he gave him credit for not only being a great chef, but for 'understanding' Florida. Perhaps this will be what separates Boulud from others who have attempted to conquer our market. He definitely has a knack for putting the right people in the right places.
So, in closing... here are some 'fly on the wall' shots.
Chef Gordon addresses his crew on the details of the plate-up.
Thomas Troisgros (son of participating chef Claude Troisgros) explains their dulce de leche topped scallop to a cook.
The demo plates used during the pre-meal line-up. Chef Gordon's venison dish in the middle.
Nobu's wagyu tataki. We actually did get to taste a bite of this dish... amazing quality. The tartness of the genmai salsa was spot on for balance. I've been a fan of genmai tea for a few years, and always wanted to incorporate it into a dish. Nobu's use of the Japanese toasted rice was very inspiring.
When I say an army of cooks were used, I mean it. This was the 'hot' plating room for the 3 hot courses in the middle. Obviously, most of these plates had to be constructed a la minute which requires a lot of hands. A sous chef stood at the end of each plating row to inspect the dishes for consistency, and the visiting chef stood behind them as added insurance that the plates were acceptable. A banquet captain directed servers one by one towards each table once they were ready to be carried off.