The Mad Chef

One man's search for sanity through the creation of tasty vittles

Monday, December 20, 2004

Paella Night!!

First, I have to say that I feel fairly good about how the whole thing turned out.
I pretty much just used the base recipe to get the procedure right, but I had to tweak a few ingredients. For one thing, we're not getting lobster tails anytime soon. For another, part of the fun was just seeing what people brought. We ended up with goat, andouille sausage (no chorizo to be found), crawfish, clams, mussels, and shrimp. I was not able to find Valencia rice, but I think the Arborio I found worked very nicely. I used chicken broth instead of water, definitely had more than 4 cloves of garlic, and doubled the tomatoes. And I added one secret weapon that I picked up from a jambalaya recipe: clam juice. Other than those items, the onions, peas, saffron, and parsley remained approximately the same. I did forget to cut the lemons, though, so I have about 6 of them in my fridge right now. Oh, well, one should never be without lemons.
The goat arrived in slabs, which was very exciting. Apparently my pal was allowed to enter the "exotic meats freezer" at Cliff's Meat Market, where he finally tracked some down. I don't actually know the lady who writes that blog, I just did a lot of chain-reaction web-searching for Cliff. Hell of a guy, who actually turns up in a surprising number of blogs. And the legend of Cliff grows. . .anyway, my bud is back there in the freezer where Cliff produces a frozen goat haunch. He takes it out to the bandsaw/meat-slicing-apparatus and proceeds to slice off 4 thick slabs of goat, then says "Ahh. . .lets call that a couple pounds." Great guy, I made my first butcher purchase ever from him. I think I was 10.
Well, the slab form forced some improvising, but we seasoned the meat with salt, pepper, paprika, and fresh oregano, then put them all in a baking dish. Some flat champagne and two bottles of under-ripe chile beer were poured in, and we popped it into the oven. In retrospect, I should have covered it with foil, but it was still right tasty.
The whole process of making paella is just about building layer after layer of flavor, and then letting all of those layers blend together at the end. You cook the sausage first, and then your meat of choice. Then you cook the onions, garlic, and parsley, which pick up the flavors from the sausage and the seasoned meat. Then you add the tomatoes, and then the rice which cooks with all of those other flavors before you add the liquid. I used more of a risotto method for adding liquid, doing it in batches rather than all at once. This was a technique choice, as well as being the only way I could keep my pan from overflowing. The recipe also said to wait and add the saffron when you return the meat to the pan, but I added it with the liquid. It's saffron, might as well get all you can from it. Most of the cooking time is spent stirring rice and adding more liquid, as the shellfish all cook rather quickly. Paella is supposed to have a layer of toasted rice at the bottom, but you do have to work to keep it from burning. The crawfish came pre-cooked, so we just steamed them with lemon juice & water to heat them back up. Shucked and ate a few, and then Erik, his lady Diana, and my cousin set about shelling the rest and pulling the meat for the main dish. Once the texture of the rice was almost there, we added the clams and mussels. Just tucked them down into the rice, and coming very close to spilling paella all over the cooktop, and let them steam in all that goodness. Once they all began to open, I topped it with parsley, green peas, crawfish, and shrimp. Cut the heat, sliced the goat, and stood back to see what people thought.
I have to say, this is a very visually impressive dish. And it's darn tasty, too. I think it carries a fair intimidation factor with it, and it does take a fair bit of work. But as long as you have the method straight in your head, and someone else is paying for all the meat, it's well worth the effort. My paella pan is no longer just a wall decoration, it has become a functional part of my kitchen arsenal. And now, for your viewing enjoyment, here is a picture of our paella we had in Barcelona, and a picture of my paella in progress:



Next up: The Mad Chef attempts to cook Christmas Eve dinner for his in-laws!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Saucetastic

OK, so this is slightly old news, but still worth sharing. Maybe. I think. Doesn't matter, I didn't cook last night so this is all I have to talk about. Anywho. . .my boss and his wife came over for dinner this past Saturday night, and I was going to grill steak (and shrimp for my lovely and talented wife, who is still not a steak fan). I had already selected a large, lovely sirloin to cook for them, but he informed me that he would provide the beef. Not wanting to offend, I agreed. Friday night, he called to tell me that he was holding 5.01lbs of aged beef porterhouse, in the form of three steaks. My knees grew weak, I even swooned a little. Fortunately my lovely and talented wife was kind enough to steer me towards a seat, otherwise it might have been slightly embarrassing. Then it hit me: I have to come up with a sauce that is worthy of these steaks.

I figured I could go 2 ways with this, the simple or the complex. The simple was easy enough: Garlic, shallots, thyme, salt, pepper, paprika, butter, and brandy. Just popped that one on the side burner while I grilled, gave it the occasional stir. Safe, good, and would simply serve as an accent to the beef itself. But my soul wasn't satisfied, it wanted something to match the beef, as well. I wanted to start with the same base so they wouldn't clash with each other, so I started a pan with butter, garlic, and shallots. I added some fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme from the porch and I salted, peppered, and searched for inspiration to complete the sauce. That inspiration came from whence it so often does: Beer. More specifically, my blackstrap molasses porter. I grabbed a 12oz bottle from the fridge, and added it to the softened aromatics and herbs. A little worcestershire sauce to add depth, and I let it simmer while everything else cooked.
I had prepped a few veggies to grill, mostly the fan favorites: asparagus with oil, salt, and pepper, corn with rosemary-garlic butter, and sweet peppers and onions with a little more worcestershire. Then it was safe to unwrap the steaks.
I had been afraid to look upon them until everything else was ready, lest I lose control of myself and fling my panties at them like the rock stars that they were. I was wise to wait. These were more than just steaks. Any bovine on this planet would be proud of their noble death if they knew it would produce something like this. Dark red, slightly marbled, perfect. I was almost ashamed that I thougt I could make a sauce to match these. However, expectations were high, and I intended to deliver.
The steaks received only the olive oil, salt, and black pepper treatment before they went on the grill, and I actually had to grill them in two batches. My boss's wife prefers her steak north of medium, and he likes his around medium-rare & 1/2. I like mine to still be begging for mercy when I cut into it. I put theirs on at the same time, rotating for those pretty grill marks. Once those were done, I closed the grill and cranked up the flames. Using my watch to time, my steak received about 3 minutes on each side over high flame, and I nearly soiled myself. And, of course, I gave it pretty grill marks. I know they really don't effect the taste, but I really felt like I needed to do everything I could to do justice to these steaks. I let them rest while we tended to the sauces, and the moment of truth had arrived. The beer sauce smelled amazing, and I honestly think it was worthy condiment. My lovely and talented wife's shrimp (sauteed in the grillet with lemon, garlic, and shallot) were just right, the veggies did their thing as the sideshow, and the beef owned all.
I was, shamefully, only able to eat about half of the steak, but the rest became part of the two best sandwiches I ever had. Thin-sliced, rare beef on sourdough bread with leftover asparagus and peppers & onions, topped off with Basque red pepper mustard, and I relived the whole thing in my office on Monday.
Well, without the panty-throwing. Until paella. . .

Thursday, December 16, 2004

"He's gonna fight! Daniel LaRusso is gonna fight!"

I'm back! Mostly! A few trips to the ER, some morphine, percoset, vicodin, muscle relaxers, being confined to bedrest for a week, using up all my vacation time after I ran out of sick time (no extended holiday vacation this year, looks like I'll finally get caught up on my filing!), a cortisone shot, new anti-inflammatories, aquatic physical therapy, and a new medication that costs more than I make in a year (woohoo health insurance!!) later and I'm back in the saddle!!! Who knew how exciting Thanksgiving could be!?!?!?!? Anyway, enough of that.
The turkeys turned out great, but now they all want me to make them every year. That kind of backfired. Yams of Death rocked the house, probably the best batch I've made yet. I think the texture made the difference, as well as being a little more focused on the seasonings. Good stuff all around. Now, I'm getting ready for Paella Night. . .
We've got about a dozen people coming, and it looks like we'll have some interesting ingredients to work with. I heard a rumor that my best friend is bringing goat, and my cousin is planning to contribute crawfish. Plus we have two more pounds of mystery shellfish that I'll probably find out about when they walk through the door. I'm very excited by all of this, should be an excellent time. Now I just hope I don't screw it up. Never having actually made paella before, this is a slight concern. But I have been doing my research! Well, I just wanted to get this started again, but I must get back to work now. I will definitely report back with more paella developments! Until then.