Monday, May 20, 2024

Crying Tiger (Suea Rong Hai) with Jaew Sauce

One can trace the origin of this recipe -- Crying Tiger (Suea Rong Hai) -- to its principal range, which extends from northeastern Thailand into Laos. One could find cuts of beef, usually brisket, marinating in a mixture of herbs and spices that balances sweet, spicy, sour, and savory.  Cooks then grill the marinated meat over charcoal. Once the meat is grilled, the cooks slice it thinly and serve it with a dipping sauce.

There is a lot to learn about Crying Tiger, but some of it is shrouded in mystery, like the name.  There are at least three different versions of where this recipe got its name. The first one focuses on the meat itself. It is said that cooks used cuts of beef that were so tough that they would make tigers cry when they chewed them.  The second focuses on a farmer's cow. A tiger came out of the jungle and stole the cow. The tiger then proceeded to eat most of the cow. The tiger eventually was too stuffed to eat the brisket. The tiger looked at the juicy piece of meat and began to cry because it could not finish it. Finally,  there is the story that the fat marbling on a brisket looked like tiger stripes and, when the brisket was grilled, the fat dripping off the meat looked like a tiger's tears.

Whatever the origin of the name, this dish represents some of the best qualities of Thai cuisine, especially given the balance of flavors that I mentioned above. That balance is reinforced with the jaew sauce, which is one of many nam jim (or sauces) that are served alongside Thai dishes. The jaew sauce comes from Isan, the northeastern Thai region that borders Laos. The one ingredient that sets jaew sauce apart from other nam jin is the use of toasted rice powder. The powder adds an element of toastiness to the sauce, as well as serves as a thickener. The other ingredients -- lime juice (bitter), tamarind (sweet), chile pepper (spice), and fish sauce (sour or umame) -- provide a level of balance to the entire dish.

In the end, Suea Rong Hai with Nam Jim Jaew provides a multi-dimensional balance of flavors that makes one of the best beef dishes that I have made or had recently. It gets me to thinking about what other recipes are lurking out there, waiting to be discovered.


CRYING TIGER (SUEA RONG HAI) WITH JAEW SAUCE

Recipe from Thai Caliente & The Wanderlust Kitchen

Serves 4

Ingredients (for the steak)

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 pound of beef (such as rib eye, sirloin or strip steak)
  • 1 lime, juiced

Ingredients (for the Jaew Sauce):

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • 1 teaspoon ground toasted rice
  • 2 teaspoons ground Thai chile peppers
  • 2 teaspoon coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon water, if needed

Directions:

1. Marinate the beef. Combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. Whisk the ingredients. Add the beef and allow it to marinate for 30 minutes to 45 minutes at room temperature. 

2. Prepare the Jaew Sauce. Combine fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind, toasted rice powder, chile peppers, sugar, cilantro green onion and, if necessary, water.  Adjust the sauce by adding water to dilute it or lime juice, sugar, or fish sauce to balance the flavors.

3. Grill the beef. Heat a grill or cast iron skillet over the stove to hot. Pat steaks dry, season with salt and pepper, and place steaks on grill or skillet. Cook for a couple minutes on each side until desired temperature (medium rare) is reached.  Allow the steaks to rest for 10 minutes. 

4. Finish the dish. Slice the steak and serve immediately with the Jaew sauce and condiments such as lettuce leaves, cucumber slices and rice. 

PEACE.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Around the World in 80 Dishes: The Gambia

My Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge reaches another milestone ... the fiftieth (50th) challenge. This particular challenge takes us to The Gambia, which is the smallest country by square mileage on the African continent. 
A narrative would describe this country as a sliver of land, beginning along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, at the estuary of a river that shares the same name as the country. That river, the Gambia River, snakes its way inland, as does the country, which extends from north and south along the river. Yet, at its widest point, The Gambia spans only thirty-one (31) miles from north to south. To put that in some perspective, that distance is shorter than the drive down Interstate 95 from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington, D.C.
Agriculture figures prominently in The Gambia. Around seventy-five percent (75%) of the population is involved in one way or another in agriculture, and, their combined effort results in agriculture constituting twenty-five percent (25%) of the country's gross domestic product. One could find a wide range of crops grown along the Gambia River, such as cassava, yams, tomatoes, rice and lentils. However, if you truly want to know more about The Gambia, you need to know more about gerte ... or peanuts. Those groundnuts play an important part in the economy, the culture and the cuisine of the country. 

Source: Aramco

The Portuguese originally introduced the peanut to the region during the sixteenth century. But, it was the British turned who turned it into a cash crop, Today, with the shackles of colonialism long gone, peanuts continue to be the cash crop of The Gambia, grown on one-third of the country's arable land. Those crops support approximately one-quarter of The Gambia's population. It is not just growing the crop, but also processing the peanuts into goods for sale, namely, peanut butter. 
"Every child in The Gambia learns that we depend upon groundnuts." -- Musa Loum
Yet, despite the rather heavy emphasis on agriculture, the country produces only about half of the food its people need to eat. Moreover, food insecurity. poses a significant threat to the people of The Gambia. There are many reasons to explain why there is not enough food, from low crop yields to the exports of the production to countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. For example, approximately sixty percent [60%] of the groundnut production is exported.) According to the World Food Programme, about twenty-seven percent (27%) of the population faces food insecurity, and nearly double that percentage -- 53.4% -- live in poverty. 

There is a even larger threat looming on the horizon ... climate change. Groundnuts, like peanuts, require a certain amount of water. That means there needs to be a certain amount of rain or precipitation. However, growers in The Gambia find that total rainfall has decreased by 8.8 milliliters since 1960. That may not seem like a lot. But for a grower of a subsistence crop, or even a crop destined for export, that change in the amount of rain means something. The reduction in rain has resulted from more erratic rain patterns. Those uncertain patterns result in smaller peanuts and, by extension, smaller yields, creating greater issues for a very small country and its people. 

MAIN COURSE

For this challenge, I draw my inspiration from the peanut. I prepared the national dish of The Gambia, which is known as Domada. The name -- Domada, or perhaps more appropriately Domodah or Tigadena -- means peanut butter sauce. That is an apt description of the reddish-orange stew, whose aroma and taste feature peanut butter. Domoda is typically prepared with whatever vegetables are available, along with tomato paste, chicken stock and maggi cubes (bouillon cubes). It also features some protein, usually beef or chicken.   

DOMADA (GAMBIAN PEANUT STEW)

Recipe from Daring Gourmet

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef steak or chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 can (3 oz) tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup of natural, unsweetened peanut butter
  • 4 Maggi or Knorr tomato bouillon cubes
  • 3 cups water
  • Scotch bonnet chiles, diced, according to heat preference
  • 4 cups pumpkin or sweet potato, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:

1. Prepare the stew. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Sauté the onions until golden. Add the beef (or chicken) and garlic and continue to sauté until the beef is no longer pink (or the chicken is browned). Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, chiles, peanut butter and stir to combine. Add the water and bouillon cubes.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add squash, cover and continue to cook for 35-40 minutes or until the pumpkin or sweet potato is tender, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper.

2. Finish the dish. Serve hot with rice.

*    *    *

The preparation of Domada was fairly easy and the resulting dish is very delicious. The hardest part of this challenge is preparing the national dish of The Gambia while knowing that so many Gambians live in poverty and suffer from food insecurity. That knowledge has been weighing a lot on me lately as I explore cuisines and cultures where the people are struggling to survive. Until next time ...

PEACE.

Monday, May 6, 2024

On Count Rostov's Plate: Chicken Saltimbocca

1922, sometimes referred to as the "year that sealed the fate of Russia." It had been five years since the October Revolution, which led to the overthrow (and execution) of the Tsar and his family. The revolution turned into a civil war between the "reds" (the Bolsheviks, who supported Marxism) and the "whites" (those who favored other ideologies). However, by 1922, the civil war was over and the Bolsheviks and their Communist Party had control over Russia for almost one year. The leader of the Communist Party, Vladimir Lenin, had been looking back over the year and making plans for the future. the tide clearly favored the reds by 1922; and, their leader, Vladimir Lenin, was making plans for the future. He laid out those plans at the 11th Congress of the Russian Communist Party met between March 27 and April 2, 1922. 

It was also at the 11th Congress that Josef Stalin began his rise through the ranks, being appointed as the Communist Party's first Secretary General.  One month later, Lenin would suffer a stroke, and Stalin would take over Lenin's health care. Thus, by May 1922, Russia's path toward a communist economy and totalitarian state was sealed, as was its fate. 

Just one month later, so was the fate of the (fictional) Count Alexander Iliych Rostov. Summoned before the Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the Count had to answer for his past and his status. The committee ultimately found that the Count guilty of succumbing to the corruptions of his class, and, it sentenced him to house arrest. (For more details, you should buy and read the book.) The Count would live out the rest of his life at the Metropol hotel.

After returning to the hotel, and after having been shown his new arrangements, the Count made his way to the Boyarsky restaurant. The restaurant had Moscow's "most elegant decor, its most sophisticated waitstaff, and its most subtle chef de cuisine," Chef Emile Zhukovsky. The maitre d' sat Alexander at a table and he waited for his first meal since being confined to the hotel. 

The Boyarsky

Sitting at his table, Alexander waited for his first meal. Yet, to put it in context, Author Amor Towles excellently laid the groundwork for readers as they also waited. As Towles wrote: 

In the Revolution's aftermath - with its economic declines, failed crops, and halted trade - refined ingredients became as scare in Moscow as butterflies at sea. The Metropol's larder was depleted bushel by bushel, pound by pound, dash by dash, and its chef was left to meet the expectations of his audience with cornmeal, cauliflower, and cabbage - that is to say, with whatever he could get his hands on.

(Pg. 27.) That was the life of most everyone in 1922. Still reeling from years of war, the early days of Communist Russia were often characterized by shortages, especially when it came to food. 

This scarcity meant that, while Alexander may have ordered a specific dish, the meal he received may not be entirely consistent with his expectations. This point was underscored by Towles' description of the meal served to the Count:

a saltimbocca fashioned from necessity. In place of a cutlet of veal, Emile had pounded flat a breast of chicken. In place of prosciutto de Parma, he had shaved a Ukrainian ham. And in place of sage, that delegate leaf that binds the flavors together? He had opted for an herb that was as soft and aromatic as sage, but more bitter to the taste.... It wasn't basil or oregano, of that the Count was certain, but he had definitely encountered it somewhere before....

(Pg. 27.) The herb was nettle. Substitution became an essential part of cooking and eating. Unable to get the necessary ingredients, due to the lack of trade, the chef had to make due with what he could find. Rather than complain, the Count made the best of his circumstances and enjoyed the dish.  

Stinging Nettle Leaves (Source: Food52)

For my first post, I wanted to prepare the chicken saltimbocca in the same manner as Chef Zhukovsky. The chef had to make three substitutions: (1) chicken for veal; (2) Ukrainian ham for prosciutto; and (3) nettle for sage. I found myself in the identical position as the Chef, but for entirely different reasons. I did not face any shortages of veal, prosciutto or sage. I could easily go to any store and purchase those ingredients. I faced a shortage of what Chef Zhukovsky had on hand, namely Ukrainian ham and nettles. I made some efforts to find these ingredients, but with no success.

In the end, I decided to take a chicken saltimbocca recipe from the New York Times and made some modifications to produce a recipe that, if I had the ingredients, I could make. I nevertheless made the recipe anyways, using what I have on hand. Hence, a saltimbocca made with chicken, prosciutto and sage. 

CHICKEN SALTIMBOCCA

Recipe adapted from The New York Times

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of boneless chicken breast cut into 4 ounce pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped nettle, plus 24 large nettle leaves (substitute sage)
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • 6 thin slices Ukrainian ham (substitute prosciutto or other thinly sliced ham)
  • 6 slices of fontina cheese

Directions:

1.  Prepare the chicken. Using a meat mallet, pound the chicken to flatten a bit. Salt and pepper each piece on both sides and place on a plater. Sprinkle with chopped nettle (or sage), garlic, red pepper flakes (if using) and olive oil. Massage in the seasoning to distribute, cover and marinate at room temperature for one hour, or refrigerate for up to several hours). 

2. Crisp the nettle (sage). Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and add 3 teaspoons olive oil. When the oil looks wavy, add the nettle (sage) leaves and let them crisp for about 30 seconds. Remove and drain. 

3. Brown the chicken. Brown the chicken breasts in the oil for about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to a baking dish large enough to fit them in one layer.

4. Broil the chicken. Top each piece with 2 sage leaves, a slice of Ukrainian ham (or prosciutto) and a slice of cheese. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling. Garnish with the remaining nettle (or sage) leaves. 

P.S.: I know the chicken breast is a little thick for chicken saltimbocca. I could not find my meat mallet. Apparently, it had been seized as property of the people and now it is lost. 

P.S.S.: On a more serious note, by the end of 1922, the Soviet Union emerges with the compact between Russia, Belarussia, Ukraine and the Caucusus states (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan). Stalin is also on his way to consolidating power. 

Until next time...

PEACE.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

On Count Rostov's Plate: An Introduction

It all began when I came across a recipe for Latvian Stew. My mind immediately turned to my Around the World in 80 Dishes project. I quickly checked my blog and realized that I have not had a challenge involving a Baltic country or, for that matter, Scandinavia. I started researching the recipe and discovered that its origin does not come from a cookbook, but a work of fiction. 

The recipe for Latvian Stew was based upon a dish referenced in A Gentleman in Moscow, a work of historical fiction by Amor Towles. Fiction does not figure among my reading choices. If one were to peruse the shelves at my home, they would see mostly works of historical non-fiction, cookbooks and even historical books about cooking, such as such as Anya Van Bremzen's Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. It is Van Bremzen's book that ultimately opened the way for me to read Towles' book. Van Bremzen covered the entire history of the Soviet Union, beginning with its early Leninist and Stalinist days. I was quite intrigued with what life was like for ordinary citizens during those days, especially with the struggles they had to feed their families and hold on to their traditions as they weathered the turbulent changes to their government, economy and society.

The story in A Gentleman in Moscow begins during the early days of the Bolshevik revolution, as Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov -- recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, master of the Jockey Club, and Master of the Hunt -- faces the Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Ordinarily, titles associated with nobility often led to the person standing straight against a wall facing a firing squad. However, the committee spared the Count's life (for reasons you can read in the book), but sentenced the Count to house arrest at the Metropol, a hotel where he had been staying for the past few years. If he leaves that hotel, then the Count would be shot.

The main facade of the Metropol Hotel (Source: Wikipedia)

The Metropol Hotel stands on Theatre Square, which is in the center of Moscow, within eyesight of not just the Kremlin, but also the Bolshoi theater. Thus, the hotel served as the place for not just Russians (who had dollars, silver or gold), but also international diplomats and other visitors. 

Not only is the Count confined to the hotel, but he is relegated to the attic, which used to house the guests' servants. Yet, the Count is able to make his way throughout the hotel, including its two restaurants: the high-end Boyarsky and (as the Count refers to it) the more down-to-earth Piazza. As I followed the Count's life through the hotel, page after page, I found myself paying particular attention to when Count Rostov dined in the restaurants. Not only did I come across the reference to Latvian Stew, which has a very interesting part in the story, but I also noted other dishes that graced the Count's plate. I began taking note of those dishes, with the thought of preparing them myself. 

Those thoughts have led to this project, On Count Rostov's plate. My goal is to step into the shoes of the fictional chefs and kitchen staffs that worked in the Boyarsky and the Piazza. I hope to create the meals that they prepared for the Count at various points during his confinement. As of right now, I am planning to make the following:  

  • Saltimbocca
  • Okroshka
  • Latvian Stew
  • Ossobuco
  • Roasted Whole Bass with Black Olives, Fennel and Lemon
  • Chicken Marechal
  • English Roast with Yorkshire Pudding
  • Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Reduction and Cucumber Soup 
  • Bouillabaise
  • Braised Veal with Caviar Sauce 
  • Kotlety

Each post will feature one of those dishes, as well as a little context surrounding it. (If you want the whole picture, buy Amor Towles' book and read it, it is an excellent book.)

You can follow along with this project by clicking here to see the posts that I have completed to date. Until next time ...

PEACE.