Tag Archives: family meal

FAMILY MEAL AT RICH TABLE

We are in the Bay Area to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family. Rich Table will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, and our family will take over the space. In the meantime, grandkids are out of school while their parents are working full-time, so I am baby-sitting in San Francisco and my wife is child-tending (The girls are too old to be baby-sat, they remind us!) in Silicon Valley.

Thus, I have spent some time at Rich Table during the past several days. It is always interesting to watch the rhythm of work in the kitchen during the day. Most of us don’t even think about all the preparation that is required for a busy evening in a restaurant, but the day starts before noon. All of the line cooks are there, and preparation is going full blast along with the music playing on Pandora.

The line crew prepping for the night ahead

The line crew prepping for the night ahead

Sarah and I are there to analyze a new dessert offering that has not yet made the menu because it is not quite right: too sweet, not enough tang, subtleties that evade my amateur palate.

The pastry crew has arrived even earlier, and loaves of the popular fennel-pollen-scented levain have already been baked and are sitting on the counter to cool.

 

Fennel-pollen-scented levain cooling

Fennel-pollen-scented levain cooling

Marrow bones have been roasted, and the unctuous marrow is being spooned out to make a puree for the yogurt and bone marrow dip that goes with beet chips and sorrel.

Marrow bones

Marrow bones

Today  it is Stephen’s turn to make family meal, the early evening dinner that the whole crew – cooks and wait staff – share right before service. Family meal is a chance for each of the cooks to show his or her stuff and to share his real family’s favorite foods with co-workers. The meal also builds the camaraderie that is so important for a well-functioning kitchen.

Commerial mandoline - a potentially lethal instrument.

Commerial mandoline – a potentially lethal instrument.

Stephen has chosen to braise a pork shoulder and turn it into pulled pork, to be served with freshly baked home-style biscuits. The braise includes Stephen’s own flavorings, including whole mustard seeds. He has offered me a sample which, of course, I do not refuse. It is delicious, and I only wish I could join the crew for family meal.

Pulled pork - braised pork shoulder

Pulled pork – braised pork shoulder

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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DR. D’S LOUISIANA ANDOUILLE AND CHICKEN GUMBO

During this Christmas holiday, we were fortunate to have visits from two of our children and their families. Christmas is always a time to enjoy old family favorites, and since our youngest spent most of her growing-up years in Louisiana, we decided to make gumbo for our first evening. We lived long enough in Louisiana to learn how to make some of its classic dishes. We also benefited from lessons from some great cooks among our friends, some of them Cajuns. Nothing says “Cajun” quite as much as gumbo, and the great thing about the dish is that you can make it with whatever you like: oysters, shrimp, a mixture of seafood, duck, alligator, or whatever. This version, chicken and andouille sausage, is one of the most popular because the ingredients are readily available and taste so good together.

I don’t know where I got this recipe. Certainly it has been influenced by my friends, Reggie Graves and Ronnie George, but over the years I have tuned it and tweaked it so that I feel like it is “mine”.

When our daughter, Sarah, was in cooking school at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, as with all of the students she was responsible for preparing one family meal for her classmates. She chose to make this gumbo, and it was so popular that it was included in the official recipe book of the school. They called it, “Dr. D’s Gumbo”, and so here it is. It’s really very simple, but there are a lot of individual steps. You can take shortcuts, but if you do, it just won’t be real Louisiana gumbo.

Chicken stock. First, you make your own chicken stock. Actually, you start out with commercial chicken stock, but with your own vegetables, seasonings, and chicken, it becomes home-made and doubly rich. You will need chicken, commercial chicken stock, yellow onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and fresh tomato along with salt and black peppercorns.

The Cajun Holy Trinity. Second, you need to prepare your vegetables – the so-called Cajun Holy Trinity of onion, green pepper, and celery – before you start to cook. When you make the roux, you will be skating on the edge of disaster. It must be just the right color – as dark as you can make it – but if it burns, you will need to start over. The cut vegetables serve several important parts of the recipe. Of course, flavor is a major purpose, but stopping the roux from further cooking is equally important. That’s why you need to have it at your elbow to dump in the pot just when you think the roux is finished.

Roux. Third, you need to find the heaviest pot you have and the biggest metal spoon. Undoubtedly you have made a traditional French roux for béchamel or as thickening for various soups and sauces. That is not Cajun roux. The whole idea is to get the roux as dark as you can so that the rich smokiness flavors the soup. That requires constant stirring in a heavy-bottomed pot until your level of fear overtakes you. Any black bits – in other words, if it burns – you have to start over from the beginning.

Thickening.  As the roux darkens,  the flour loses its thickening power while adding to its flavoring power. As a result, there are two other ingredients used to thicken the soup.

First is okra. In fact the OED says that the word, “gumbo” comes from the Angolan word for okra. Many cooks prefer okra in the gumbo during the growing season. In the winter, when gumbo is guaranteed to take the edge from a cold day, filé becomes the preferred ingredient. There are many Cajuns who prefer filé for thickening all year long.

Filé is ground up dried sassafras leaves. If you live in the US South, you probably know where there is a nearby sassafras tree, and you can make your own filé. Aficionados swear it is by far the best to make your own. For the rest of us, there are several Louisiana food companies that sell filé in bottles. Once you buy your filé, the first thing to do is to transfer it to an empty Old Crow half-pint whiskey bottle to serve as your decanter on the dining room table.  Tightly stoppered, the filé keeps for a long time, but if you notice it has lost some of its thickening power, buy a fresh bottle.

Sausage. Traditionally, gumbo is made with andouille sausage. The Louisiana version is made with pork; the French version is made with chitterlings (I think you know what they are) so be sure you know what you are buying.  These days, most large super markets have andouille in the meat section, but if you have a hard time finding it you can substitute Polish kielbasa.

Spice. Gumbo can be as mild or spicy as you like. most folks from Louisiana like it on the spicy side, but food sensitivities in our family dictate a mild version. Fortunately you can add your favorite chile sauce to give the gumbo you prefer. Traditionally, Tabasco is often favored, but it has a vinegary punch that some don’t like. There are any number of other Louisiana hot sauces you can choose, or you can opt for Cholula from Mexico, or the current popular hot sauce, sriracha.

RECIPE

Louisiana Andouille and Chicken Gumbo

Ingredients

  • 32 ounce container of commercial chicken stock
  • 1 whole chicken, giblets and neck removed
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved
  • 2 ribs celery cut in thirds
  • 1 large carrot, cut in thirds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 or 4 stems of parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 whole black pepper corns
  • water to cover
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • 1½ pounds andouille sausage
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery chopped
  • 2 large green bell peppers, seeds removed and chopped
  • 5 scallions with green tops chopped + more for garnish
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil (You may use lard if you want to be authentic)
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • Louisiana hot sauce (optional)

Method

  1. In a large stock pot, pour in the chicken stock. Add the chicken, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, salt and pepper. Add water to cover the chicken. Then bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the chicken is done, about 45 minutes. With your hand, squeeze in the tomato, seeds and all. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Remove the chicken to cool until it is easy to handle. Strain the stock into a large bowl, and set aside.
  2. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin. bones, and any veins you might see. Cut the chicken meat into bite sized pieces and set aside.
  3. Cut the andouille sausage into 1 inch sections and then quarter each section. Set aside.
  4. Combine the chopped onion, celery, green pepper, and scallions in a large bowl. Place next to the roux pot so you can add it quickly to the roux before it burns.
  5. Using a very heavy pot and long-handled metal spoon, place the oil over high heat. As the oil begins to shimmer and just before it smokes, sprinkle the flour gradually into the oil while stirring constantly. The flour should sizzle as it hits the hot oil. It will start to darken immediately. Constant stirring is essential, being ure to scrape the corners of the pot. You can stop whenever the roux is colored to your liking, but Cajun moms will push it until it is almost black (ALMOST black – if you get some black flecks, it means that you have burned the roux and need to start over)
  6. Immediately dump in the chopped vegetables to stop the roux from darkening further. Stir. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent.
  7. Stir in enough of the chicken stock to get the consistency you want. Return to the boil. Add the chicken and andouille and simmer for another 30 minutes to meld the flavors.
  8. Correct the seasoning with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
  9. Serve in a large soup bowl over a heap of cooked white rice. Pass chopped scallions, filé, and more hot sauce so that all can suit themselves.

 

A bowl of chicken and andouille gumbo

A bowl of chicken and andouille gumbo

 

File in the obligate Old Crow bottle

File in the obligate Old Crow bottle

 

Your choice of Louisiana hot sauces

Your choice of Louisiana hot sauces

 

Apot of gumbo ready to be served over rice

Apot of gumbo ready to be served over rice

 

Cooked chicken ready for the gumbo pot

Cooked chicken ready for the gumbo pot

 

Andouille sausage

Andouille sausage

 

Gumbo base simmering

Gumbo base simmering

 

The Cajun Holy Trinity stirred in to stop the roux from darkening too mucn

The Cajun Holy Trinity stirred in to stop the roux from darkening too mucn

 

Roux beginning to cook but it needs to get a lot darker than this

Roux beginning to cook but it needs to get a lot darker than this

 

You need the biggest metal spoon you can find to keep you from getting burned with Cajun napalm

You need the biggest metal spoon you can find to keep you from getting burned with Cajun napalm

 

The bowl of chopped vegetables ready to be dumped into the roux

The bowl of chopped vegetables ready to be dumped into the roux

 

Chopped vegetables

Chopped vegetables

 

The Cajun Holy Trinity

The Cajun Holy Trinity

 

Cooking the chicken to also make a double-rich chicken stock

Cooking the chicken to also make a double-rich chicken stock

This recipe should easily serve 8 to 12 hungry people

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SCALLION PANCAKES – FAMILY MEAL

One of the great traditions in restaurants – unfortunately tending to die out – is Family Meal. That’s when everyone takes a break from preparative work to gather together, talk about the evening ahead, and  share a meal prepared by one of the cooks. The meal is almost always comfort food made with leftover ingredients or inexpensive ingredients ordered just for the meal. The great thing is that the cooks rotate the assignment so the pressure is on to prepare something that everyone will enjoy. This is definitely not the time or place to embarrass yourself in front of your peers. Often Family Meal will feature food from childhood – a family favorite or Mom’s secret recipe. I have previously written about Sarah’s brisket and biscuits that became so popular the kitchen staff cheered when they appeared on the menu.

During a recent trip to San Francisco I got to spend the afternoon with Sarah in the prep room at Rich Table. That’s where Jonathan Tu whipped up his mother’s recipe for scallion pancakes. Nearly every Asian nation has its own version of this treat, but they all come down to a simple flour and water dough and chopped green scallions.  Kneading, layering with oil, and rolling out the dough a couple of times makes a flaky, multi-layered pancake rivaling puff pastry but without all the hassle.  There are a few little tricks or special touches in rolling out the dough, but in the end scallion pancakes are so simple and so good.

Jonathan served his pancakes with chicken sausage, rice, and a sauce of mustard, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili flakes, but it’s up to you to choose your favorite dipping sauce or topping.

 

RECIPE

Scallion Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • kosher salt
  • ½ cup chopped scallions, including green tops
  • sesame oil

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and water. Mix until it holds together and forms a ball. Continue to knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough becomes soft and shiny.
  2. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into four equal balls. On a well-floured work surface, roll out one of the balls to about 1/8 inch thick. Keep the remaining balls covered with a cloth until you are ready to roll them out..
  4. Drizzle the top of the rolled out dough with sesame oil. Sprinkle with ¼ of your chopped scallions and kosher salt. Fold it over and roll it out again.
  5. Roll up the flattened dough like a cigar. Divide the cigar crosswise into two pieces. Coil each piece like a snake or snail. Flatten the coil with your hand and then roll out into a circle with a rolling-pin.
  6. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough. You should have eight pancakes.
  7. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet to medium high or use a heated plancha. Lightly oil the cooking surface, and then transfer one of the pancakes to the skillet or plancha. Cook for two minutes. Then flip and cook the other side for two minutes. The pancakes should be a light golden brown.
  8. Repeat with each of the remaining pancakes. You may keep them in a warm (200°F) oven while you cook the rest.
  9. Cut each pancake into 6 or 8 wedges and serve with dipping sauce or accompaniments of your choice.

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