Tuesday April 15, 2014
Since the first Christians formerly celebrated Passover, it's obvious why feasting on lamb crossed over to the celebration of Easter. But how did the decidedly not-Kosher ham find its way onto many an Easter table? Culinary historians cite that lambs were pretty scarce in the New World, but pigs were much more common. Pigs were slaughtered in the fall to feed a family through the hard winter, and because refrigeration didn't exist, pork was salted and cured. A ham wouldn't be properly cured until the Spring, which coincided with Easter, and so a baked ham became the meal of choice.
Most hams purchased in the market are already cooked, but their flavor benefits from braising and baking, in particular, which helps cook out some of the water added during packaging. Do check the label before you buy a ham; the less-expensive hams are often pumped up with water by almost 50 percent and have the texture of a sponge. You should also buy a bone-in ham. It's a little more difficult to carve, but like all meats, the bone adds flavor and can, of course, be later used for soup.
Friday April 11, 2014
Statistically, Americans eat less than one pound of lamb per year, and probably most of that consumption happens on Easter, when it's either lamb or ham on the dinner table. New Zealand lamb gets all of the good press, but American lamb is equally delicious, Colorado lamb in particular. Lamb is a lovely meat to roast or grill, and you really don't need much in the way of flavoring. (I love it broiled with a smattering of Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.) Butterflied leg of lamb is the simplest of all to cook and it's a breeze to carve, since you don't need to manipulate your knife around that knobby bone. Here are several recipes for you to try and enjoy Easter day.
Monday April 7, 2014
One of the most common dishes you'll find in France and Belgium is steak frites -- grilled, broiled or sautéed steak and -- what we (unfortunately) call French fries. It's often served with mayonnaise (in Belgium, particularly) or sauce Bearnaise.
If you've never made your own fries -- or the thought of deep-frying puts you off from making them yourself -- they're really quite easy. To get that special crunch that all fries must have, the potatoes are fried once until tender, drained, then fried again for a couple minutes. Once you've scooped out the fries to drain on paper towels, sprinkle them with salt and, in this recipe, minced garlic and parsley. Venison sirloin steak is an excellent substitution for the steak -- which, in France, is not an expensive cut -- and is tender (when sautéed quickly) and delicious with a red-wine and butter sauce. You could, of course, make this recipe with a hangar steak or bavette steak too.
Thursday April 3, 2014
Sous-vide ("under vacuum" in French) is a cooking method that, until recently, was used in high-end restaurants and wildly promoted by celebrity chefs, like Top Chef's Richard Blais. The meat, poultry or fish that is to be cooked is vacuum-sealed and then slowly cooked in a regulated low-temperature water bath, which allows the protein to be cooked evenly and retains its natural succulence and heightens its flavor with a minimal addition of herbs, spices or fat. Once the protein's desired internal temperature is reached, it's unsealed and finished by a quick searing or grilling.
Of late, there are a number of sous-vide water ovens on the market for the home cook. They're not too expensive, as they once were, but they're not cheap either. However, a sous-vide set-up is a good investment for your kitchen and could very well change how you cook meats. A cautionary note, though, there can be a food safety issue with sous-vide cooking, and in this Sous-Vide FAQ article, I answer some of the questions you might have.