Thursday, January 23, 2020

Blackbeard's Breakfast

From a culinary and historical perspective, one might conclude that "Blackbeard's Breakfast" may have been something slightly better than what pirates typically ate while sailing the high seas in the 17th and 18th centuries.  For the average pirate, a meal might have included hardtack or a ship biscuit, a hard square of flour and water.  If there was meat, it usually took the form of salted and dried beef, which, after the curing process was complete, resembled bark off of a black oak tree

While pirates may have carved that "black oak" into belts or buttons, the brewers at Heavy Seas produced a thick black porter called "Blackbeard's Breakfast." The brewers describe it as a "robust porter with a new world twist." The beer is brewed with UK Pale, UK Amber, Vienna, Light Crystal, Dark Crystal, Chocolate and Dark malts, along with Target and East Golding Hops. The twist is that it is aged in bourbon barrels and brewed with Dark Sumatra coffee from a local roaster, Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company. The beer is then finished with house made caramel and salt.

Blackbeard's Breakfast pours pitch black, like that salted beef that would have been handed out to pirates as food.  The aromatic elements were a little difficult to ascertain, but there was definitely a hint of the roasted coffee.  

When it comes to the taste of the porter, the brewers describe strong notes of caramel and slight nut character.  With each sip, the character comes forward.  It is definitely worthy of a pirate, as the bourbon is very forward in the beginning, receding slightly as the beer warms (or as the pirate becomes more soused).  The roasted coffee notes become more pronounced as the bourbon recedes, with even a slight note of black pepper in the background.  

Blackbeard's Breakfast is an Imperial Coffee Porter that is brewed by Heavy Seas as a limited release.  The beer is usually available in February of each year. 


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Mushroom Bisque with Yellow Oyster Mushroom Garnish

Ludwig von Beethoven once remarked, "anyone who tells a lie has not pure heart and cannot make good soup."  So, I should be honest when I say that I don't really make a lot of soups. There are approximately two dozen recipes on this blog, but that is over several years.  Much of my cooking has been focused more on main courses, and, in particular, my interest in barbecue.

Nevertheless, I think soups are important.  For many people, a soup may be a main course. It may be the dish that is served to the family because, for whatever reason, there is not enough money to go to the market and purchase expensive ingredients, like most proteins. It is far more economical to scrounge around for or use one's money to purchase a few, cheaper ingredients. 

Yet, he use of simple, cheap ingredients can be combined together to produce something almost magical.  A dish that can nourish people, providing the sustenance or fuel for the hard work that they do, day in and day out. That is what I would like to think that the combination of mushrooms, onions, garlic, and rice can do when combined together to produce a mushroom soup. 

I found a recipe by Martha Rose Shulman on NYT Cooking, which served as the starting point for this recipe. While I could make a cucina povera version of mushroom soup, I wanted to use my creative skills to elevate the dish a little.  Those skills were primarily focused on the yellow oyster mushroom garnish. I came across the yellow fungi in a store and wanted to try to use them with this soup.  Hence, the fried mushrooms became the garnish.

Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking
Serves 6-8

Ingredients (for the soup):
1 1/2 pounds of  mushrooms (white or cremini) sliced 
1 leek (white and light green part only, 
     cut in half, cleaned and sliced)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup medium grain rice
4 1/2 cups of vegetable stock or broth
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons of dried thyme
1 Parmagiano Reggiano rind
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
1/2 cup milk or additional stock
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Ingredients (for the garnish)
Fresh yellow oyster mushrooms
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley leaves, chopped

1.  Saute the vegetables.  Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, leek and a pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Do not brown the onions or the leek.  Add the garlic and another pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring until they begin to sweat and smell fragrant, about 5 minutes. 

2.  Cook the soup.  Add the rice, stock, bay leaf, thyme, Parmigiano Reggiano rind and soy sauce.  Salt to taste.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and the rind.

3.  Blend the soup.  In batches, blend the soup until smooth.  Fill the blender less than half way and cover the top with a towel pulled down tight rater than airtight with the lid because hot soup will jump and push off the top if the blender is closed airtight.  Return to the pot, taste and adjust salt, add pepper and the sherry. Add the milk and another cup of stock and heat through, stirring.  If the soup seems to thick, thin it with a little more water or stock, but check the seasoning.  

4.  Make the garnish.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.   Line a baking sheet with foil and place in the oven as it preheats.  Remove the oyster mushrooms from the main stem.  Toss the mushrooms in a bowl with the oil and garlic powder. Remove the baking sheet, spray with non-stick cooking spray Spread them onto the hot baking sheet so that there is one layer.  Bake in oven for about 30 to 40 minutes or until all mushrooms are brown and crispy to taste.  

5.  Finish the dish.  Pour the soup into a bowl.  Add the crispy oyster mushrooms garnish in the center of the bowl.  Sprinkle the parsley around the crispy oyster mushrooms. 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

ត្រីខ្ញីកម្ពុជា (Cambodian Ginger Catfish)

Fish plays an important role in Cambodian cuisine, it is one of the primary proteins in the diet of the Cambodian (or Khmer) people. Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia has a large system of waterways (including the Tonle Sap and the Mekong Rivers) that provide access to freshwater fish, as well as a 280 mile long coastline along the Gulf of Thailand, which provides access to saltwater fish. In all, Cambodians have access to a large variety of fish species, including snakeheads, gourami, and carp. 

Yet, demand for fish is very high in Cambodia. One estimate is that this demand has increased from 52 kilograms (115 pounds) per year to 63 kilograms (139 pounds) per year. This increased demand presents a threat to the native populations that swim through the rivers or can be found in the Gulf of Thailand.  

The Cambodian government has responded to the increase in demand for fish by encouraging the growth of a domestic aquaculture industry, specifically fish farming.  The government has looked at creating incentives for domestic fish farms, such as lowering energy costs or cutting imports on fish feed (as Cambodia does not have its own fish feed production sector).  The focus on aquaculture has resulted in an increase in farmed fish, from 74,000 tonnes or about 11% of total fish production in 2012 to 172,500 tonnes or 22% of total fish production in Cambodia. 

One of the fish cultivated in Cambodian aquaculture is the catfish.  For example, there is a project in the town of Koh Khorndin, which is located in the Stung Treng province. The goal was to establish a fish farm for African catfish, which would provide a food source for the local population of about 100 families, as well as water storage for their crops. After the first round of fish farming was completed, it was determined that 35 families showed the ability to pursue a profitable business of selling fish and vegetables, with enough to feed their own family members.  

In some sense, this recipe reflects the increased emphasis on sustainable aquaculture.  The catfish is the protein, surrounded by ingredients that are central to Cambodian cuisine, such as ginger and fish sauce.  I prepared this recipe for the Savage Boleks' New Year Open House; and, it appears to have been the most popular dish of the event.  Perhaps it will also serve as the springboard for a Cambodia challenge as part of my quest to go Around the World in 80 Dishes

Recipe from AllRecipes
Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound peeled, matchstick-cut fresh ginger
4 catfish fillets (about 4 ounces each)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1/4 red bell pepper, cut in thin matchsticks
1/2 bunch green onions, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

1. Prepare the fish. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook and stir ginger in the hot oil until slightly softened and brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add catfish fillets, cook until firm, about 3 minutes per side.  Remove fillets from the skillet to a plate and set aside.  

2.  Finish the dish.  Stir fish sauce, soy sauce, and oyster sauce together in the skillet.  Add onion and red bell pepper.  Cook and stir until softened, about 4 minutes.  Return catfish fillets to the skillet and spoon sauce and vegetables over the fillets.  Continue cooking until the flesh of the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 3 minutes more.  Garnish with green onions and serve immediately.