Thursday, September 23, 2021

Michael Symon's Grilled Oysters

Few things are more sublime than the raw oyster, whether it is the iconic Kumamoto from Washington's Puget Sound or the lesser-known Chincoteague Salts from the Chesapeake Bay. There is something, in my humble opinion, about taste of oysters, especially those that have a briny little bite to them, that just speaks to me. 

For this reason, I usually order raw oysters in the restaurant; or, even better yet, I purchase some from a local aqua farm and shuck them myself.  And, as is evident to anyone who follows this blog, I usually serve them with a mignonette, such as my Peach Champagne Mignonette, or as shooters, like my gazpacho, Andalusian-Style Oyster Shooters.

Recently, I purchased a new grill and I decided it was time to try grilled oysters. So, I purchased some Chincoteague Salt oysters and set out to find a good grilled oyster recipe on the Internet. Fortunately, I was able to find a recipe from one of the few chefs that I admire. That chef is Michael Symon.

One of the many reasons that I admire Chef Symon is his ability to simplify recipes and the cooking process to enable people to make really good food in a way that is easy to understand. His 5 in 5 cookbooks are great examples of his ability. More recently, drawing upon his personal experiences, Chef Symon has used skills to author a cookbook entitled Fix it with FoodThis book is designed to help people with autoimmune issues (Chef Symon has publicly acknowledged his rheumatoid arthritis and discoid lupus conditions). The recipes enable people to cook simple and delicious recipes that are targeted to address their triggers (whether it is meat, dairy, etc.). Chef Symon has another Fix it with Food book coming out in the near future with an appropriate subtitle, Every Meal Easy. That book is set to be released on December 7, 2021.

Source: Food Network

This grilled oyster recipe is an excellent example of Chef Symon's skills terms of communicating and teaching a recipe in a way that makes it easy to prepare and produces a very delicious meal. Each element and technique is straight forward. A quick sauce consisting primarily of butter, shallots and garlic, with some crushed red pepper and some parsley.  A quick roast of the oysters over a hot grill. Once the oysters are done, dress them with the sauce and the dish is ready to be served. The recipe is easy enough; however, the hardest part is waiting for those oysters to open. I have to admit that I watched them carefully, worrying that they may end up overcooked. In the end, I pulled a few off before they opened and just opened them with an oyster knife. 

In the end, I still prefer my oysters served raw with a side of a mignonette or some freshly grated horseradish.  If I decide to have some cooked oysters, this grilled oyster recipe is the way to go.

MICHAEL SYMON'S GRILLED OYSTERS

Recipe available at Cooking Channel

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 16 oysters
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • Cracked black pepper
Directions:
1. Prepare the sauce. Heat a saucepan over medium low heat.  When hot, add the butter and olive oil.  Add the garlic and shallots and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the parsley, lemon zest, and juice, chile pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.

2. Grill the oysters. Place the oysters on the hot grill until they pop open, about 2 minutes.  Carefully remove the the top shells (BBQ gloves make this much easier, a thick kitchen towel is a good substitute). Spoon some sauce over top of each oyster and serve.

ENJOY!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Gabon

With many African countries, there is always two stories (at least) when it comes to the cuisine. There is the story about the cuisine of the indigenous people; and, there is the other story about the influences inserted into that cuisine during the colonialist period. I often struggle with those two stories, wavering between those stories when pursuing my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in in 80 Dishes. More often than not, the emphasis tends toward the indigenous peoples.  (After all, if I want to do a personal culinary challenge that involves English or French culinary influences, I could always do a challenge for the United Kingdom or France.) But, that is not always the case. Sometimes, I have to take both stories into account. 

Take, for example, the country of Gabon. It is situated in west-central Africa along the Atlantic Coast. The territory had long been the home of various Bantu groups, including the Fang, Punu (or Bapunu), Teke (or Bateke), and the Bakota. Its southern reaches were part of the Kingdom of Loango, whose obscure origins get lost in the beautiful art, such as intricately carved ivory tusks, along with a developed society and economy. 

Then came the European explorers and colonizers.  The Portuguese arrived first in the late 15th century. The Portugese provided the name, Gabao, which translates to "a coat with sleeves."  The French followed and stayed, establishing a protectorate in the area between 1838 and 1841. Several years later, the French freed a slave vessel and transported the persons to an area near a French post.  The freed slaves established Libreville (Free city), which would eventually become the capital of an independent Gabon. That independence would not come until 1960. 

While Gabon achieved its independence, it still embraces the French influences, especially when it comes to the country's cuisine. Beignets and brochettes are popular among the Gabonnais. Indigenous foods are also present, taking advantage of local ingredients, such as cassava and atanga. The most common proteins are chicken and fish, but beef, goat, lamb and other meats can be found as well. I decided to focus on the use of beef for this particular challenge, because I found a recipe that I could not resist to make. 

MAIN COURSE

Before I get to that recipe, I wanted to make an observation.  As I have pursued my Around the World in 80 Dishes, one of my favorite challenges involved a sandwich, the Chivitos al PanI made that sandwich to complete a main course from Uruguay. That was ten years ago.  I think it is time for another sandwich challenge.  Rather than a heart clogging conglomerations of steak, ham, bacon and cheese stuffed between two buns, I decided to take on some central African barbecue. 

That barbecue is known as Coupe Coupe. The name comes from the past participle of the French word, coupe or "to cut." Coupe Coupe is a catchall for a type of barbecue that is common throughout central Africa, including Gabon, as well as in neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo. 

As to how one could describe this barbecue, I think the best description comes from Barbecue: A Global History (at page 74), by Johnathan Deutsch and Megan Elias. Deutsch and Elias describe Coupe Coupe "represents a fusion of indigenous ingredients and techniques with colonial influences." They do not go on to explain that characterization, which I guess leaves it to the readers' imaginations to fill in the blanks. 

Coupe coupe is quintessential street food in Gabon. Men and women work in small food stalls to prep the meat and cook it.  When it comes to cooking the meat, which is usually chicken or beef, the methods differ with the cooks.  Some grill the meat, while others slow roast or smoke it. Either way, the cooks have to start early so that they have enough for the lunch crowd. Once the meat is ready, the cooks slice, chop or pull it, thereafter stuffing the meat into small foil packets that are served to hungry customers with a section of a baguette.  The meat and bread are also served with toppings, such as grilled peppers and onions, or sauces, such as a hot pepper (pili pili) sauce. 


COUPE COUPE

Recipe adapted from Global Table Adventure and Congo Cookbook

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon powdered chicken bouillon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 pounds of flank steak
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Grilled poblano peppers, skinned and cut into strips
  • 1 onion, sliced and grilled
  • 1 baguette
  • 2 cups of hickory chips
Directions:
1.    Prepare the fire.  Soak the hickory chips for at least 15 to 30 minutes, or if you use hickory chunks, for 30 minutes to 60 minutes depending upon their size.  Start a fire in a chimney and get it ready to be placed in the smoker. 

2.  Prepare the flank steak.  Place the powdered chicken bouillon, garlic powder and cayenne, as well as salt and black pepper, in a small bowl and stir until well mixed. Apply some oil on the flank steak and then apply the spice mix.  Once the steak is covered, wrap it in plastic and allow it to marinate for at least a half hour to an hour in the refrigerator. 

3. Smoke the steak. Remove the steak from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.  Once the smoker registers 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, place the steak on the grill and add the hickory chips/chunks to the fire. Smoke the meat until it registers about 145 degrees Fahrenheit as an internal temperature.  Remove the meat and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. 

4. Finish the dish.  While the steak is the smoker, grill the poblano peppers, remove the blackened skin and slice.  Grill the onion and slice that as well.  Place the baguette on the grill to toast for a minute or two and remove. Once all of the ingredients have been prepared, lay slices of the flank steak on the bread, top with the peppers and onions, and serve immediately. 

*    *    *

While it is always hard to top a sandwich like the Chivitos, with multiple different types of pork and beef, as well as an egg, I have to say that the Coupe Coupe came in a very close second. Quite frankly, this challenge has gotten me into thinking about more street food as part of my personal culinary challenge. Only time will tell. Until next time ...

ENJOY!

Friday, September 10, 2021

Longevity Chardonnay (2019)

A few months ago, I was strolling through the county liquor store, perusing the wine selection.  This trip was intentional, because, I was on the lookout for some new wines to try.  I was particularly focused on new regions or varietals. However, one thing caught my eye. It was three letters: "BLM." The letters stood for "Black Lives Matters," and, as it turns out, the county liquor store was highlighting African-American owned wineries and vineyards.  The one that got my attention was a Chardonnay from Longevity.

Longevity Wines is a family owned winery located in the Livermore Valley of California.  It is a certified minority owned winery, run by Debra and Phil Long.  As their website explains, Debra Long chose the name Longevity as a play on their last name, as well as an expression of the love she shares with Phil and producing wine. 

The Longs produce their wines using local grapes from the Livermore Valley.  The valley is one of one hundred and forty-two (142) American Viticultural Areas or AVAs located in the State of California. The Livermore Valley AVA is located around, as the name suggests, the city of Livermore in the Tri-Valley region.  There is a relatively long history of winegrowing in the area, with the most popular varietal being Petit Sirah. However, that is not the only varietal grown in the AVA.  There are over thirty varietals grown there, and, the list reads like an around the world tour of wine grapes including varietals typically associated with France (like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and others), Germany (such as Gewurztraminer), Italy (including Barbera and Sangiovese), Spain (Tempranillo) and even Portugal (such as Souzao and Touriga Nacional).

But, it is the Chardonnay from Longevity Wines that got my attention. Not just the fact that the winery is owned by an African-American (which is notable), but also the wine itself.  This is one of the few wine reviews that I have done where both my beautiful Angel and myself have actually tried a couple of the bottles of the wine. (Usually, I do a review based on the first bottle.)

When we purchased the first bottle, both my Angel and I thought that this wine was truly unique.  We both sensed flowers and some fruit in the aromas.  Flowers are not something that I would ordinarily expect from a Chardonnay.  But, there may be a reason for our initial impression.  Both my Angel and I have been leaning toward unoaked Chardonnay wines.  Those wines tend to be lighter and crisper, while oaked Chardonnay wines tend to develop more mellow tones, such as vanilla and butter.

When it comes to Longevity, the winemakers note that the wine is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes, which underwent "nine (9) months of fermentation in 20% new French oak barrels combined with 100% malolactic fermentation." The time spent in those barrels give rise to aromas and flavors that those winemakers describe "rich, complex, well rounded and full of ripe fruit and crisp acidity."  "In other words," they add, "think of aromas as apricot, pineapple, Asian pear, sweet vanilla and butterscotch."  

With our second bottle, the oaked presence seemed to become more pronounced. I could definitely sense the apricots and pears, as well as that vanilla and butterscotch. While those elements are definitely present, they are not overpowering, as some oaked Chardonnays can get.  For the price of about $12.99 a bottle, this is definitely a wine worth keeping around the house, either for guests or just when you want a glass while you are cooking. 

ENJOY!

Friday, September 3, 2021

Rago Suya

It is the most popular street food in the largest city, Lagos, of the most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria. Large chunks of meats strung on skewers that are drizzled with groundnut oil and then rubbed with a spice mix known as yaji or suya. The kebabs are known as Rago Suya. To find them, one need only follow the scent emanating from steel-drums-turned-grills behind makeshift stalls or food carts all across Lagos.

The vendors are usually men, often referred to as mai suya or mallam.  The title comes from the fact that it takes some skill to make suya, whether it is the slicing of the meat or the preparation of the spice blend.  Every mai suya has his own recipe for that spice mix. Yet, there are some common ingredients, such as ground peanuts, ginger and chiles. Vendors may also vary the proteins.  Although most suya is prepared with beef, some vendors use lamb, chicken and even offal, such as kidneys, livers and chicken gizzards.

While Suya is popular in Lagos, it originated amongst the Hausa in northern Nigeria. The skewered meat, with the spice mix, spread throughout Nigeria.  The seemingly omnipresence of the food stalls or carts of the mai suya, as well as the affordability of the grilled and smoked meat, has given this dish the power to unify a nation that is divided in so many ways. 

The skill and expertise of a mai suya or mallam can be divided into five steps.  The first step involves the protein, purchasing it from a local market.  The second step is to skewer the meat.  It would seem, based on my research, that a more authentic suya would involve sliced meat, but there are many recipes that call for the meat to be cut into bite-sized chunks.  The third step is to apply the suya mix to the meat on the skewers.  The skewers then marinate until the meat begins to change color, turning a dark red. The fourth step is to grill the skewers, preferably over charcoal. The final step is to apply some additional oil during the cooking process. Once the skewers are cooked, the meat is removed and cut into smaller pieces. 

I am not a mai suya or mallam but, I nevertheless came across a recipe for Rago Suya. I had some lamb that I thought would work well with the suya spice blend. The recipe basically follows the five step process, except for the use of bite-sized chunks rather than sliced meat, as well as the omission of the fifth step (the applying of oil during the cooking process), which I was okay with. After I completed this recipe, I realized why so many Nigerians love these skewers.  They were perhaps the best skewers that I have ever made. The experience made me want to become a mai suva or mallam and open my own cart in my neighborhood.  

RAGO SUYA

Recipe adapted from National Dish

Serves 2-4

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 5 tablespoons roasted peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground garlic
  • 1 medium onion cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium red onion cut into large chunks
  • 1 large tomato, cut into large chunks
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander/cilantro, roughly chopped for garnish
Directions:

1. Prepare the marinade.  Add all of the marinade ingredients (peanuts, cayenne pepper, chile flakes, chile powder, paprika powder, sea salt, ginger, garlic) into a spice grinder and blitz until as powdery as it can be made without turning the peanuts into a paste. This spice mix is called Suya.  Remove a third of the Suya mix and set aside.  Place the remainder of the Suya into a mixing bowl along with the lamb and make sure that it gets fully coated.  Allow the meat to marinate for 30 minutes. 

2. Prepare the kebabs. Heat up a grill on medium high heat. Take pre-soaked skewers, load them with an onion, pepper and piece of lamb. Repeat until there are 3-4 pieces of lamb on the skewers.  Repeat with the rest of the skewers. 

3. Grill the kebabs. Grill the kebabs for about five minutes, turning every couple of minutes, until the lamb is cooked and the vegetables have a slight char. 

4. Finish the dish.  Remove from the heat and serve on the skewer or remove and serve with Jollof rice, garnished with the chopped coriander/cilantro.

ENJOY!

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