Sunday, March 24, 2019

Iron Chef: Octopus

If memory serves me right, it has been a long time since I have stepped foot in Savage Bolek Kitchen Stadium.  My last challenger -- Radish Sprouts -- got the better of me.  While the three dishes each highlighted a certain creativity (for who would have ever thought of a radish sprout broth), the execution fell short of the expectations that I had set for myself. 

After that challenge, I decided to take a sabbatical from the Iron Chef battles. I needed to work on my creativity, my skills and my dishes.  As the days, weeks and months passed, I spent my time trying new foods, cooking with new ingredients, and honing my skills. 

But, as helpful as this time away from Savage Bolek Kitchen Stadium has been, the Iron Chef must return to face another challenger.  A challenger who could be as creative and crafty as the Iron Chef.  Coming from far away, this challenger will present the Iron Chef with many more opportunities to express not only his creativity, but his love for cuisines around the world.

Allow me to introduce the challenger ... OCTOPUS. 


The first course is a nod to Japanese cuisine, with Taku Su, a cold salad that combines octopus with cucumbers and seaweed.  All of the ingredients are tied together with a vinaigrette of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar with sugar and salt to round out the taste .

Recipe from Just One Cookbook
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the octopus):
1/4 pound octopus cooked, sliced thinly
1/2 English Cucumber
1/2 tablespoon dried wakame seaweed
1/2 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

Ingredients (for the vinaigrette):
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds

1.  Prepare the octopus. Slice the octopus very thinly.  

2. Prepare the cucumber.  Alternatively peel a 1/2 inch side strip lengthwise, leaving a strip intact.  With this method, the cucumber slices have some decorative dark green accents and a little bit of extra crunchiness.  Cut the cucumber into small pieces using the cutting technique Rangiri.

3.  Prepare the seaweed.  In a small bowl, soak the dried seaweed in warm water.  Let it soak for 15 minutes.  Drain and squeeze the liquid out.  Set aside.

4.  Prepare the vinaigrette.  In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

5.  Finish the dish.  Add the cucumber, octopus, seaweed and sesame seeds and toss all together.  Chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes.  Serve immediately.  


The second course takes its inspiration from Mexican cuisine, with the octopus being served with a sauce featuring the smoky heat of ancho chiles and the sweetness of honey.  Much like the Tako Su, the mild flavors of the octopus work as a tableau upon which the flavors of the sauce can show themselves.  The hardest part is making sure that the octopus itself, as the secret ingredient, is not eclipsed by that sauce. 

Recipe adapted from Tom Colicchio
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the octopus):
1/2 pound octopus tentacle, cooked

Ingredients (for the sauce):
2 dried ancho chiles
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons of honey
1/8 cup of grapeseed oil or vegetable oil

1.  Prepare the sauce.  Toast the chiles over moderate heat, turning, until fragrant and pliable, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the vinegar, honey and garlic and bring just to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and let stand until the chiles are softened, about 20 minutes.  transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.  With the machine on, add the grapeseed or vegetable oil until incorporated.  Season the sauce with salt.

2.  Prepare the grill or broiler.  Heart the grill or broiler.  Grill the cooked tentacle until the suckers start to crisp and brown around all of the edges, about 4 minutes.


For the final dish, I draw upon Hawaiian cuisine.  This is a play on the popular dish of Ahi Poke; however, instead of the rare tuna being the star of the poke, it is octopus.  The avocado, tomato and onions in this dish, combined with the lemon juice, provide a very bright background that allows the octopus to take the center stage.  The fish sauce provides that salty, umami flavor that rounds out the dish . 

Recipe adapted from Cookpad
Serves 2

1/2 pound octopus tentacle, cooked
1 avocado
1/2 tomato
1/4 onion
1 bunch green onions
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 clove grated garlic
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil

1. Prepare the avocado. Pit the avocado, peel and dice.  Put the diced avocado into a bowl and mix with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to prevent discoloring.

2.  Prepare the onion.  Cut the onion in half and slice thinly along the grain.

3.  Prepare the octopus.  Slice the octopus.  Put it in a bowl and mix with the fish sauce and garlic.

4.  Prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Cut the tomato roughly and chop a generous amount of green onions.

5.  Combine ingredients: Put the avocado, onion, tomato, green onions, sesame oil and white sesame seeds in a bowl and mix.  Chill in the refrigerator.

6.  Plate the dish.  Just before plating, add the octopus and mix well.  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Gochujang Chicken

This recipe is an experiment wherein an air fryer recipe never made it into the air fryer.   As readers of this blog probably know, my beautiful Angel and I recently bought an air fryer.  I am intrigued by air fryers, because I have basically given up on a deep fryer.  I did not want to deal with the leftover oil.  When one adds the negative health aspects of deep fried food, that made it easy for me to move on from a deep fryer or event the cooking process.  When I recipe called for deep frying, I would broil it or grill it.  

Last Christmas, I got an air-fryer cookbook.  There are a lot of interesting recipes in that book, including one for Gochujang Chicken. The Gochujang sauce got my attention. I wanted to make that sauce.  However, the recipe in the book called for the use of chicken wing sections.  I had bone-in thighs.  While I could have thrown those thighs into the air-fryer, I needed the cooking times for bone-in thighs in an air fryer.  After looking around the internet, I just decided to cook the thighs in a conventional oven. 

Overall, the recipe worked very well.  I was able to get the skin crisp, the heat from the sauce was present, and, there were chicken thighs, which are perhaps the best part of the bird.  This is the type of experimentation that I hope to do more in the future!

Sauce recipe from Urvashi Pitre, Every Day Easy Air Fryer, pg. 69
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the chicken):
1 pound of chicken thighs, with skin and bone
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon gochugaru
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Ingredients (for the sauce):
3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chile paste)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon agave nector or honey

1.  Make the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the gochujang, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, sugar and agave, set aside. 

2.  Cook the chicken.  Place the chicken skin side down and cook at 360 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 minutes.  Spread some of the sauce on the chicken and flip the thighs.  Spread more of the sauce on the skin and underneath the skin.  Continue cooking for about 6 minutes more or until the chicken is browned with crispy skin and with an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from the heat, let rest for about five minutes, and serve immediately.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Chicken Vesuivio

It is the early 1930s. The Great Depression has settled in, but, for some reason, you find yourself at the corner of East Wacker Drive and North State Street.  That intersection near the heart of downtown Chicago. At the corner, you watch Packards and Cords drive by. As you turn your head, something catches your eye. It is an Italian restaurant called Vesuvio.  The hunger pangs in your stomach tell you it is time for a meal.  You walk over to the restaurant and open the door.  Before any person can great you, the smells of Italian food greet your olfactory senses.

You take a step in to the restaurant and survey the wood-paneled walls and thick red curtains.  A host guides you to a table in the corner and provides you with a menu.  You can the offerings, which are traditional Italian-American fare.  One dish catches your attention ... Chicken Vesuvio. (A dish named after the infamous volcano in Calabria, even though the owner of the restaurant was from Turin, which is located in Piedmont.) You decide to order the dish.  What comes next is what becomes not only a traditional Italian-American dish, but a traditional Chicago dish as well.

Chicken Vesuvio was traditionally made with bone-in chicken or, quite frankly, an entire chicken deconstructed into pieces.  The chicken is prepared with potatoes sauteed in garlic, oregano, white wine, and olive oil.  This recipe includes a healthy twist, substituting the bone-in chicken (which would traditionally legs or thighs) with boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

In the end, this is a very tasty dish that provides a window into how Italian immigrants who came to the United States are able to create dishes that become their own traditions.  Now, I will have to try some other Italian-American classics, like Chicken Francese or Penne alla Vodka.   

Recipe from Cooks Country Eats Local, pp. 198-199
Serves 4

4 (6 ounce) boneless, chicken breasts, trimmed
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled, halved
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1.  Brown the chicken.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Brown chicken well, 3 to 4 minutes per side. 

2.  Continue cooking.  Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and heat until shimmering.  Add potatoes, cut side down, and cook until golden brown, about 87 minutes.  Stir in garlic, rosemary, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil.  Return chicken to skillet on top of potatoes.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender and chicken registers 160 degrees, about 12 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken and potatoes to serving platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil.

3.  Finish the sauce.  Increase heat to medium high and cook, uncovered, until sauce is reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes.  Stir in peas and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.  Off heat, whisk in butter and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Pour sauce over chicken and potatoes and serve. 


Friday, March 8, 2019

Ommegang's Bigger and Bretter

Brewery Ommegang is one of those breweries that I enjoy but which has not found its way into any beer review on this blog.  The Cooperstown, New York-based brewery produces some very good Belgian style and French style ales.  One such beer is the Bigger and Bretter, Ommegang's Biere de Garde that was brewed with Brettanomyces, or wild yeast.  

Brett beers are for those beer aficionados who also love to gamble. The reason is that some beers brewed with Brettanomyces have very strong aromas and tastes.  Think of descriptions "barnyard funk" or "horse blanket." The wild yeast does a number to these beers, which only a fan of Brett beers can love.  Other Brett beers are more mild, evoking rather tame descriptions such as "earthy" or "floral." These are the examples of beers brewed that wild yeast that should be tried by a wary beer lover.  The reason is that it provides an opportunity for that person to try a beer style that he or she would not otherwise try ... out of a fear of horse blankets.  The thing is that one will not really know where the Brett beer will fall on this scale -- from barnyard funk to floral -- until the bottle or can is opened.  That is why it is a gamble. 

Fortunately, the Bigger and Bretter finds itself on the milder side of the scale.  The beer pours a orange color, with copper or bronze tones.  As the beer rests in the glass, aromas of cherry pie and cinnamon, along with the yeast, rise up to greet the nose. Those elements also include some herbal notes, which could be expected from a Brett beer.  When compared to some of the Brett beers that I have had in the past, the aromas of this beer were more modest and restrained. 

Not only were the aromas more restrained, but so were the flavors. The flavor of the Bigger and Bretter features tart cherries, but the beer lacked some of the "funk" that seems to set Brett beers apart, such as Les Deux Brasseurs or Orval

This beer is a good Brett beer for those who are reluctant to try a beer brewed with wild yeast.  Unfortunately, for those people, Brewery Ommegang has retired this beer.  For those who love Brett beers, you can still find Orval, which is perhaps one of the best Brett beers out there.   

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Chicken Shawarma

My beautiful Angel and I recently purchased an air fryer.  I have been intrigued by air fryers for quite a while.  Generally, I do not like to deep fry foods, and, for that reason, I do not own a deep fryer.  Moreover, when a recipe calls for something to be fried in 2 to 3 inches of oil, I find a different way to cook it.  Often times, I use the broiler, the grill or a wok.  It was my effort, however little, to try to cook in a healthier way.

Last Christmas, I got an air fryer book from my parents as a gift. The book has a lot of great recipes, which I want to make. Recipes such as African Piri-Piri Chicken drumsticks, Gai Yang (Thai-Style Cornish Game Hens), and Tandoori Chicken.  It is not just chicken, there are interesting recipes like Dukkah Crusted Halibut, Char Siu (Cantonese BBQ Pork), and Nem Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausages. Needless to say, I have a lot of cooking ahead of me. I have started a label, "Air Fryer Recipe," to keep track of all those recipes and my cooking.

For the first air-fryer recipe, I decided to make Chicken Shawarma. This is obviously not the classical shawarma, as the air fryer does not come with a vertical spit attachment.  There is also no layering of marinated meats, such as chicken, lamb, beef or even goat.  Instead, this recipe calls for the use of a spice mix that recreates the smells and flavors of shawarma. The mix used in the recipe was the classic set of ingredients: oregano, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ground pepper, cayenne (or hot) pepper and salt. (To be sure, other recipes may add ingredients like cardamom, but the mix in the recipe was very good.)

More importantly, Chicken Shawarma was probably the easiest recipe to make in the book. It was culinary equivalent dipping your toes in the shallow end of the pool.  A quick way to try out the air fryer to see how it worked and whether the end result would be delicious.  I am happy to say that the result was very delicious.  I can't wait to try some more of the recipes in this book.

Recipe from Urvashi Pitre, Every Day Easy Air Fryer, pg. 63
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the Shawarma Spice):
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Ingredients (for the chicken):
1 pound, boneless, skinless, chicken thighs (or breasts), 
     cut into bite-sized chunks
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1.  Prepare the chicken.  In a small bowl, combine the oregano, cayenne, cumin, coriander, salt, cinnamon and allspice.  In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, vegetable oil, and shawarma spice to coat.  Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. 

2.  Cook the chicken.  Place the chicken in the air fryer basket.  If using dark meat, set the air fryer to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If using white meat, set the air fryer to 350 degrees for 10 minutes (turning the chicken half way through) and then set the air fryer to 400 degrees for 2 minutes.

3.  Finish the dish.  Transfer the chicken to a serving platter.  Serve with tzatziki and pita bread, or with rice.