Tag Archives: star anise

PRESERVED MEYER LEMONS

This is the time of year when you can find Meyer lemons in abundance in California, especially in the Bay Area. They are delicious and very different from the usual Eureka lemons you find in the grocery store. At their best, Meyer lemons are large, nearly the size of oranges, and a beautiful golden-yellow color richer than store-bought lemons. They have a citrus smell that seems like a cross between lemon and orange, and they are sweeter than Eureka lemons, though not so sweet that you would eat one out of hand.

With the abundance and special qualities of Meyer lemons, California chefs – and even those in Santa Fe – go crazy with Meyer lemon curd, Meyer lemon pie, Meyer lemon cake – you get the idea.

On our recent trip to San Francisco, I found some beautiful Meyer lemons at the Marin Farmers’ Market in San Rafael. I bought a couple of pounds, and brought them home in my checked bag. I didn’t have any specific plans for them, so I leafed through some of my new Christmas-gift cookbooks from the Bay Area. Thomas McNaughton, chef at Flour+Water, had an interesting recipe for preserved Meyer  lemons in his book, so I thought I would give that a try.

I followed McNaughton’s recipe (sort of) with the plan of making a gallon of preserved lemons. I had to buy a gallon-size glass jar, and unfortunately I wound up not having enough Meyer lemons. I found some at our local Whole Foods, offered in little net sacks. The lemons were literally a pale comparison with my California beauties. They were yellow, small, and blemished with soft spots. Still, I bought them, and wound up needing about 7 pounds of Meyer lemons in total to complete the recipe.

Preserved lemons are a tradition in the cuisines of North Africa. The basic preservation method is brining, so most cooks wind up not using the flesh or juice, but just the peels, finely cut, to provide a citrusy taste to many things including meats and stews. (there are some recipes for using the flesh, but it must be incredibly salty.)  Cookbooks provide an abundance of methods for preserving lemons. Sandor Katz describes the basics in his encyclopedic, The Art of Fermentation and Deborah Madison gives a simple recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

McNaughton’s recipe calls for way more salt than I used. Even at that, the undissolved salt sits at the bottom of my jar of lemons as they preserve away in the coolness of the garage. Sugar and spices make McNaughton’s recipe unique, and I followed his guidance.

RECIPE

Preserved Meyer Lemons

Ingredients

  • 7 pounds large Meyer lemons
  • 6 cups pickling and canning salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 pieces star anise, broken into smaller pieces
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 large bay leaves, crumbled

Method

  1. Sterilize a 1-gallon glass container with non-reactive lid by boiling in water for 10 minutes or washing in dishwasher set on hot.
  2. Wash and dry the lemons.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the salt, sugar, and spices.
  4. Prepare the lemons by slicing them in half from the pointed end to the stem end, stopping ½ inch from the base. Turn the lemon one-quarter turn, and make a similar cut so that each lemon has four quarters joined together by the uncut portion.
  5. Pour ¼ inch of salt-sugar mixture into the bottom of the glass jar.
  6. With a tablespoon, sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of the salt sugar mixture into the cut lemons, one by one, and then arrange them, cut-side up, in the jar. Pack tightly.
  7. When you have a layer of lemons packed in the jar, sprinkle more of the salt-sugar mixture on the top, pressing down with a potato masher to express as much juice as possible.
  8. Layer by layer, continue packing the jar with prepared lemons and adding a layer of salt-sugar mixture on top of each layer.  Continue to press down each layer with the potato masher. Top the lemons with more salt-sugar mixture, seal the jar, and set it aside for 48 hours.
  9. At that time, add more salt-sugar mixture and, if necessary, lemon juice so that the lemons are completely covered. Seal the jar tightly and set in a cool, dark place for three months.
  10. When the lemons have been completely preserved, store them in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Notes

  • Other recipes call for less salt, and I think you could cut back on the salt.
  • Use pickling and canning salt. Regular table salt may leave a residue from the anti-caking agent that is used.
  • The lemons must be completely covered with liquid, otherwise they are likely to spoil.
  • Use tongs when removing lemons for use. Hands, no matter how clean, may introduce organisms that can lead to spoiling.
  • Rinse the lemons well before use, as they will be quite salty. Use the rind and discard the flesh – unless of course you want to experiment with it.
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BOUILLABAISSE

Live lobster

Fish soup or chowder in one of the true delights of an early winter evening this time of year. There are so many delicious soups that it is hard to list them: clam chowder – both New England and Manhattan – cioppino, fish stew, seafood gumbo, and on and on. Probably the most elegant of all, though, is bouillabaisse.

Cooked lobster

Lobster ready to go in the soup

In Volume I of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, Julia Child reminded us that bouillabaisse started out as a simple fish soup made from the catch of the day or from leftovers of the fish monger. These days, though, the soup has morphed into something special served at the best restaurants.  There are hundreds of variations of this French classic, and each is claimed to be more authentic than the next.

Fresh vegetables for the soup

Prepared vegetables

Whenever we visit our daughters, they always try to make something special and yet also play on one of our favorites. This year, we visited our daughter in Los Angeles during the Thanksgiving week. This is her version of bouillabaisse, based upon a recipe by Alfred Portale in his classic cookbook, “Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook”, Doubleday, 1997. It is filled with lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, and crabs. You can add any other fish you like, and squid is also a good addition.

Stirring the pot

Ready to be served to the hungry crowd

The recipe is lengthy, to say the least, but worth the effort and expense.

Serve it with a light salad. My daughter chose a salad of roasted golden beets, sugared pecans, and warm goat cheese on a bed of mesclun. She also served a crusty French bread for dipping after the shellfish and lobsters are all eaten.

Roasted beet salad with candied pecans and warm goat cheese

RECIPES

Ingredients

Bouillabaisse

2 live lobsters

1/2 Cup olive oil

4 Cups fish stock

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 Cup chopped fresh fennel

1/2 Cup chopped leeks, whites only

1 head garlic, cut in half

2 teaspoons ground fennel seed

2 teaspoons ground white pepper

10 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh tarragon

1 star anise

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/8 teaspoon red pepper

1 bay leaf

4 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 Cup canned tomatoes with juice

1 Cup dry white wine

2 Cups chicken stock

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

24 large, unshelled shrimp

24 Manila clams

20 mussels

8 ounces lump crab meat

2 Tablespoons Pernod

Bouilli Butter

3 three-inch strips of orange zest

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 large garlic clove mashed to a paste with salt

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

Kosher salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground star anise

1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed

1/4 teaspoon saffron

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

  1. Bring at 3 gallons (12 quarts) of salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Plunge the lobsters in the boiling water, cover, and cook for about 4 minutes.
  2. Remove the lobsters to a cutting board, twist off the large claws and return them to the pot for an additional 4 minutes.
  3. Separate the lobster heads from the tails. Cut the tails in half lengthwise and combine them with the cooked claws in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
  4. In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the oil and then add the lobster heads. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the lobster heads are bright red. Then add the fish stock, onions, fennel, leeks, and garlic. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the fennel seed, white pepper, thyme, tarragon, star anise, saffron, paprika, red pepper, and bay leaf. Cook for 5 minutes. Then add the tomato paste, tomatoes, and wine. Raise the heat to high and cook until reduced to about half.
  6. Add the chicken stock and enough water, if needed, to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.  Remove from the heat for 20 minutes. Then strain into a large container, pressing the solids to extract the flavor.
  7. Cook the fingerlings in  a large pot of salted boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside in the cooking water.
  8. In a large stockpot, heat the remaining oil over low heat. Add the onion and fennel, cooking until tender. Add the red and yellow peppers, cooking for another 15 minutes
  9. Add the strained stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the potatoes and add them to the boiling stock. Add the shrimp. clams, and mussels. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Then add the cooked lobster with its juices and the crab.  Cook until all the shellfish open, about 3 minutes.
  10. In the meantime, prepare the bouilli butter. Blanch the orange zest in boiling water for 1 minute, drain, chop finely, and combine with paprika, star anise, fennel, saffron, cayenne, and white pepper. Add to the softened butter and combine throughly. Place the mixture on a plastic wrap, shape into a log, and chill for one hour in the refrigerator.
  11. Strain through a large colander into a large bowl. Transfer the shellfish and vegetables to a large serving bowl. Pour the strained liquid back into the stockpot and bring to the boil. Add Pernod and 4 tablespoons of the prepared bouilli butter. Then pour the soup into the serving bowl.
  12. Serve in large, deep soup bowls with plenty of good French bread for dipping.

Serves 6 to 8

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