Sunday, December 11, 2005

cooking techniques (herb salts, beurre blanc)

I made dinner tonight, just for me and Natasa, and used a couple of cooking techniques that were new to me. I thought I'd pass them on to you (assuming there's any you out there!), in case you are interested in trying them.

The first comes courtesy of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It's herb salts, which are commonly sold commercially as "Mrs. Dash" or her competitors. Deborah doesn't suggest imitating the complicated ingredient list of Mrs. Dash, but instead gives some suggestions for simple herb salts that specifically complement particular dishes or types of dishes. So for example, she has a herb salt for Japanese cuisine with roasted sesame seeds and nori. I used another of her recipes, sea salt with fennel seeds and thyme, and used it to season some roasted root vegetables (potatoes, yams, turnips, shallots, garlic).

Here's the basic idea for a good supply of the stuff: Toast 1/4 c of fennel seeds in a small fry pan on low heat until aromatic and starting to lightly brown. Let cool. Grind in a spice grinder (aka, dedicated coffee grinder) with 1 1/2 T sea salt along with 1 t dried thyme and maybe 1 t dried marjoram. It was very good...

The second new technique for me was a classic French sauce, beurre blanc (that's "white butter" for any Francophobes...), from the New Joy of Cooking. I made a variation with lemon juice and black mustard seeds. It's a rich but mildly flavored sauce, which is apparently traditional on fish, chicken, and vegetables. Here's how that goes: Toast a teaspoon of black mustard seeds in a small fry pan on low heat until they start to pop. Remove. In the fry pan, reduce 3 T white wine, 1 T white wine vinegar, 1 T minced shallot, and some salt and white pepper, until only a tablespoon of liquid remains. Turn off heat and stir in a bit of cream (soy milk worked for me). Now, cut a half stick of unsalted butter into about 8 pieces. One or two pieces at a time, whisk the butter into the pan until the pieces melt. Avoid adding additional heat, or the butter will separate and your sauce will look funny. And then I added a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and the black mustard seeds.

I served that over a seared and steamed chicken breast (technique from Mark Bittman), and it was quite good, despite using frozen/thawed chicken breasts, overcooking them a bit, and then making them sit for 10 minutes while I finished everything else...

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