Thursday, November 21, 2019

Green Hatch Chile Hot Sauce

Most people know that I love hot sauce.  If one were to open my refrigerator, he or she would find at least four different hot sauces in there.  Walk a few feet to the cupboard, and he or she would find another two or three hot sauces on the bench.  At one point in time, I went through a 5 fluid ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce every several days.  

Given my love for hot sauce, I have always wanted to make my own.  I have looked through many different recipes, using a wide range of peppers.  However, I never made any of them.  As much as I wanted to make hot sauce, there was always something else that I ended up making.  I needed something to get me to do it.

That "something" was a bunch of fresh Hatch chiles. I bought a bag of those chiles at a local grocery store.  My intent was to grill the chiles or roast them, serving them as a side.  However, there were a lot of chiles in that bag.  As time went by, I decided I had to do something with those chiles. Given the Hatch chile is my favorite chile, I decided to make that hot sauce. 

The only question is what type of hot sauce to make.  Given my love of Tabasco sauce, I decided that I would make a more vinegar-forward sauce.  I went back through those hot sauce recipes and found a good recipe at This Mess is Ours.  

The Hatch chiles that I had were not very spicy, so I was looking at making a very mild hot sauce.  I could have easily slipped in a habanero or scotch bonnet pepper, and, no one would be the wiser.  I have to admit the thought crossed my mind.  

In the end, I wanted to make a pure Hatch chile hot sauce.  Three ingredients - the chiles, distilled white vinegar, and Kosher salt.  As pure of a hatch chile hot sauce as one can get. 

I don't regret that decision. Although the sauce is very mild in my opinion (as most of the hot sauces I have tend toward extra hot), it was a great first effort.  

Recipe from This Mess is Ours

1 pound of fresh Hatch chiles
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons of Kosher salt

1.  Prepare the chiles.  Rinse the chiles and dry them.  Slice off the stems of the chiles. 

2. Puree the chiles.  Place the chiles in a food processor with the Kosher salt.  Puree the chiles until a coarse puree is created. 

3.  Slightly ferment the chiles.  Transfer the chile puree to a glass jar with the lid loosely screwed on.  Let sit at room temperature for 12 hours to allow for a little fermentation.

4. Continue the fermentation.  Add the vinegar, stir the contents, and loosely screw the lid on again.  Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours but up to 7 days.

5.  Puree the mixture.  Add the contents to a food processor, process until the mixture is smooth.  

6.  Strain the mixture.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, using a spatula to make sure that all of the liquids are extracted from the mixture.  

7.  Finish the hot sauce.  Bottle the liquid and refrigerate for up to four months.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Karas Classic Red (2016)

Who knew that Armenia made wine? As it turns out, the country of Armenia stakes the claim to being one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. In fact, the oldest winery -- dating back approximately 6,100 years -- is located in the village of Areni. For centuries, grape vines have been cultivated in the valleys of the South Caucacus, producing wines that seem to receive little fanfare.

Perhaps part of the problem is that, at least in more recent times, the grapes don't always go toward traditional wines.  During much of the twentieth century, when Armenia was the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, a larger proportion of the grapes went to the production of brandy or sherry, as opposed to table wines.  Moreover, much of the production was destined for other parts of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with very little making its way outside of the Iron Curtain.

Since it regained its independence, there has been growth in the production of red wines.  Many of Armenia's provinces -- from Aragotsotn to Voyats Dozr -- have vineyards and wineries, producing wines from grapes seldom heard outside of the Country of Stones.  Grapes such as Lalvari, Kakhet, Areni and Khndogni.  Winemakers also cultivate more well known varietals, such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Tannat.  I came across one such wine on my birthday, when I ordered a bottle to accompany a dinner of kebabs at a local Persian restaurant. 

The wine is the Karas Classic Red (2016), which is produced in the Armavir region of Armenia.  Due east of Armenia's capital of Yerevan, the Armavir region holds a special place in the country's history.  It has a long history, but the central event in that timeline is the 1918 Battle of Sardarabad.  The battle pitted the Ottoman Empire, which sought to take advantage of the collapse of the Russian Empire, by attacking the Armenians. The Armenians fought back at that battle and stopped the Ottoman advance.  It is said that the Armenians' victory at Sardarabad saved the Armenian nation.

The history of Karas wine is not as long or contested.  Karas is the Armenian word for "amphora," the vessel used in classical times to store wine.  The family that owns Karas had left Armenia long ago as part of the diaspora, finding their way to Argentina.  However, they made their way back to their native Armenia, returned to the Armavir region, and established Karas, producing a range of wines, including the Classic Red.

With that background, the Karas Classic Red is a blend of 35% Syrah, 35% Cot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Tannat. The Karas pours a deep ruby red.  The aroma gives hints of bold red fruit, such as juicy cherries and strawberries.  Wafts of something more earthy, more expected from someplace with the nickname of "Country of Stones" can be found on the nose.  Some slate, some pebble, some kind of stone can be found in the aroma.

As for the taste, this wine is relatively bold, presenting a taste that is full of ripe, red cherries in season.  Indeed, the cherries are so bold that, in some sense, they take on a candied note.  That note is somewhat softened by other dark fruit on the palate, such as a little blackberries. 

The taste, along with the aroma, was quite the surprise to someone like me, who had no idea of Armenian wine.  This Classic Red left me wanting to learn more about Armenian wine, as well as searching out a few wine stores that carry bottles of this blend.  (Fortunately, I have found a couple in my area.) If you find a bottle, which goes for between $14.99 and $16.99, you should buy a bottle and learn a little about Armenian wine.  Until next time...


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Cape Town Lamb

Like many countries, South Africans have developed their own style of barbecue, which is called "braai" or "grilled meat."  Although that term is Afrikaans, the word has become so eponymous in South Africa that each of the twelve official languages recognizes "braai" as what many would call  barbecue. Not only has the word been adopted into all of the languages of South Africa, but the social custom of a braai is enjoyed by all social classes, from the rich to the poor.   

The subject of barbecue is one that is near and dear to my heart.  I have spent a lot of time learning about different barbecue styles across the United States and around the world.  When I came across Steven Raichlen's recipe for Cape Town Lamb, I decided that I had to look a little more into the South African barbecue generally, and, this recipe in particular.  

There is a lot of information out there about the social custom of a braai.  A braai is like a potluck, centered around a wood fire over which different meats are grilled over direct and indirect heat.  The meats include sausages, kebabs, marinated chicken, pork chops, lamb chops, and even steaks.  If the braai takes place near the coastline, it is not uncommon for fish to appear on the grill. Once the meats are finished, they are served alongside side dishes and salads. 

I could go more into a braai, but that may very well end up as part of my culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, to prepare a main dish from South Africa. 

Unlike the braai, I had a much more difficult time learning about the history of the Cape Town Lamb recipe.  Every thing I found ultimately led me back to Steven Raichlen and his Barbecue Bible book.  With that said, I turned to the recipe itself.  There is some information in that recipe that provides some insight.  The use of soy sauce and Chinese hot mustard is a nod to the Asians who have made their way to South Africa, as is the use of ginger, as the largest producers of the root include China and India. In other words, the use of these ingredients gives us a glimpse into the diversity of the people who call the Rainbow Nation their home. 

I made a couple of changes to the recipe.  Although this recipe calls for a bone-in leg of lamb, I decided used a boneless leg of lamb, which was tied up so that it was a tight ball. This helped to ensure that the meat cooked evenly. It was also a necessity given my second change.  The recipe calls for indirect cooking. I decided to go full-on barbecue, smoking the meat with a combination of apple and pecan wood. I smoked the lamb in my Weber Smokey Mountain, and, a boneless leg of lamb fits better int that smoker than a bone-in leg of lamb.

In the end, I think this recipe produced a very tasty lamb barbecue dish that, much like barbacoa, opens one's eyes to how different peoples approach a common cooking technique.  

Recipe from Barbecue Bible
Serves 12

Ingredients (for the lamb):
1 bone-in leg of lamb (6 to 8 pounds) 
     trimmed of any papery skin
6 cloves of garlic, cut into thin slivers
6 thin slices of peeled fresh ginger, cut into thin slivers
(Optional: apple and pecan wood for smoking)

Ingredients (for the glaze):
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons hot Chinese style mustard
     or one tablespoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  Prepare the lamb.  Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, slits about an inch deep all over the surface of the lamb.  Insert a sliver of garlic and ginger into each slit.  Place the lamb in a non-reactive roasting pan and set aside while you prepare the glaze.

2.  Make the glaze. Combine the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, mustard, lemon huice, minced garlic adn ginger in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Cook the glaze until thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.  Remove the glaze from the heat and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Let cool to room temperature. 

3.  Continue to prepare the lamb.  Pour half of the cooled glaze over the lamb in the roasting pan, brushing to coat it on all sides.  Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator, for 3 to 8 hours (the longer the better).  Refrigerate the remaining glaze, covered.

4.  Prepare the grill. Set up the grill for indirect grilling (preferably, you'll have built a wood fire; let it burn down to glowing embers), place a large drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium.  Toss the wood chips on the coals.  

5.  Cook the lamb.  When ready to cook, place the lamb on the hot grate over the drip pan and cover the grill.  Cook the lam until done to taste, 1 to 1 1/4 hours for rare (internal temperature of 120 to 125 degrees); 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours for medium rare (130 to 135 degrees); 2 hours for medium ({145 to 150 degrees).  Start brushing the lamb wit the remaining glaze during the last 45 minutes of grilling, brushing it two or three times.  If using a charcoal grill, you will need to add 10 to 12 fresh coals to each side every hour. 

6.  Finish the dish.  Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and brush it one last time with glaze, then let it rest for 10 minutes for carving.  While the lamb rests, heat any remaining glaze to serve as a sauce with the lamb. 


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Vietnamese Mussels

I am a very big fan of mussels; and, fortunately, the bivalves can be found on menus at many restaurants. The prevalence of mussel dishes takes on interesting dimensions when they are found on the menus of different ethnic restaurants and, to a somewhat lesser degree, when they are found on the menus of American cuisine restaurants who are dabbling in ethnic cuisine.  Really, if you want to see how a mussels are used in Italian cuisine (for example), the best thing in my humble opinion is to order the dish at an Italian restaurant.  Likewise, if you are like me and really looking to go outside the box, you would be perusing the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant to see if there are any mussel dishes.

The thing about eating mussels at restaurants is that most mussel dishes are overpriced. There are two reasons for this reality.  First, mussels have been relatively popular in recent years. Second, mussels are perhaps the most difficult shellfish to deal with. They tend to die very quickly.  While working as a cook at a crab house, one of my initial prep tasks was to go through the bags of mussels and discard the bad ones. Oftentimes, I would discard a quarter of a bag.  In other words, supply and demand.

However, one can buy a one or two pound bag (which would be upward of $7.00 for a bag), grab a few ingredients lying around the kitchen, and make a mussel dish that could sell for $12.00 to $15.00 at a restaurant. That is what I did in this case, after finding a recipe for Vietnamese Mussels. The recipe requires only a few ingredients, such as a carrot, scallions, a lime, fish sauce and sugar.  The end result is a great appetizer.

Recipe adapted from
Serves 2

2 pounds of fresh mussels
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/2 cup of water
4 teaspoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 bunch of scallions, green parts sliced

1. Prepare the mussels.  Rinse the mussels under tap water.  Tap any mussels that are open and throw away any mussels that do not close after being tapped and rinsed.  Set aside.

2.  Prepare the steaming liquid.   In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine the carrot, lime zest and lime juice, water, sugar and fish sauce.  Bring to a boil.  

3.  Steam the mussels.  Add the mussels and cover with a lid.  Turn the heat to high and cook until steam pours out from under the lid and the shells are open, 5 to 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit covered for about a minute.  Discard any mussels that do not open.

4.  Plate the dish.  Plate the mussels, pour any of the liquid form the pot over the mussels, and garnish with the scallion greens.