Archive for the ‘recipe’Category

John Watling’s Distillery revives Bahamian rum

John Watling Distillery in Nassau, Bahamas
Pepin Argamasilla, co-owner of John Watling’s Distillery (johnwatlings.com), comes from a family of Canadian master blenders. Yet he has his own unique way of testing each product. “I call it the hangover test,” he says. “I drink a 250 ml. bottle and see if I wake up with a hangover. I do it with everything I launch.”

Pepin Argamasilla, co-owner of John Watling's Distillery in Nassau, BahamasArgamasilla (right) and his partners opened John Watling’s Distillery in 2013 to draw on their expertise from big manufacturing to create a micro-distillery with a true Bahamian spirit. They named their operation after the colorful 17th century pirate John Watling, whose treasure may still be buried on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. And they based their operation in the storied Buena Vista estate in downtown Nassau. The property perches on a hill above the harbor and was built in 1789 for a representative of King George III. By the mid-20th century, the graceful old estate had become a hotel and restaurant popular with celebrities. It even popped up briefly in the 2006 film “Casino Royale,” the first to feature Daniel Craig as James Bond.

The property was sold to Argamasilla and company in 2010 and underwent an extensive restoration to return it to its gracious “old Bahamas” look and feel. At the same time, production facilities were built behind the main house. Free tours of the property (daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.) include the production facilities as well as the store and tasting bar in the main house.

Art of aging


John Watling uses only hand-cut sugar cane molasses. “We ferment and distill on other British Caribbean islands,” says Argamasilla. “Then we bring it here for aging and blending. This is where the art happens.”

rum at John Watling's Distillery in Nassau, BahamasJohn Watling currently makes Pale Rum (aged 2 years), Amber Rum (aged 3 years), and Buena Vista Rum (aged 5 years). The rums are aged in white oak whiskey barrels from Jack Daniels. “We want the product to breathe through the pores of the wood, to oxidize and become smoother,” says Argamasilla. Aging and bottling are done by hand and women on South Andros and Cat Island weave the sisal plait that adorns each bottle.

Argamasilla is convinced that rum is about to experience a resurgence similar to that enjoyed by other spirits such as bourbon. “It’s beginning,” he says. “The United States has a negative connotation of rum left over from Prohibition and college rum and cokes.”

Proof in the glass


The tasting bar is one of the best places to dispel those negative images. In addition to three rums, visitors might sample such experiments as a four-year-old rum with raisins or vodka infused with guava shells. Rum, of course, is a great mixer. Not surprisingly, the bar has an extensive cocktail menu. I passed up a Mojito and a Goombay Smash to try the Rum Dum. This island classic was first concocted by legendary mixologist Wilfred Sands for members of the exclusive Lyford Cay Club. Sands put the drink on the map when he won an award at a 1971 culinary competition.

Sands was lured out of retirement to head the mixology program at John Watling. The distillery, after all, has brought rum back to the Bahamas after the closing of the last distillery in 2009. The simple Rum Dum highlights the rich qualities of the rum, without masking it with other flavors. Mixologist Shawn Sturrup (above right) crafted my drink and Argamasilla shared the secret of the Rum Dum.

“Once you’ve floated the amber rum on top,” he said, “don’t mix it in. As you drink, the layers of flavor evolve.”

Here is Wilfrid Sands’ recipe:

JOHN WATLING’S RUM DUM


John Watling's Rum Dum1 1/4 ounces Pale rum
1 ounce egg white
1 1/4 ounces lemon juice
A splash of simple syrup or a teaspoon of sugar
1/2 ounce Amber rum

In a cocktail shaker, mix the Pale rum, the white of an egg, lemon juice, and simple syrup or sugar. Shake vigorously and pour into a short glass full of ice. Gently top it off with an Amber rum floater.

24

02 2017

77° West establishes New World flavors at Atlantis

main dining room at 77° West
Patti and I had barely sat down at 77° West when a server delivered a bowl of tortilla chips and four salsas to sample while we studied the menu. The combination of pico de gallo, roasted tomatoes, roasted tomatillos, and guacamole telegraphed the kitchen’s culinary bent.

empanadas at 77° WestThe chefs at 77° West, the newest fine dining option at Atlantis (atlantisbahamas.com), work in an open kitchen to create dishes that fuse South American and Caribbean flavors and cuisines. My meal felt like a whirlwind tour through South America. For example, I couldn’t resist the empanadas starters. The flaky turnovers are among my fast-food standbys when I’m in Spanish-speaking countries. The chefs at 77° West elevated this staple of hand-held cuisine by filling the flaky crust with duck, cotija cheese, and chorizo. A pineapple and avocado crema was the perfect accompaniment.

moqueca at 77° WestMoqueca is one of Brazil’s best-known dishes. The chefs at 77° West build on the base of the Bahian moqueca, which shows up at casual fish shacks and fine dining restaurants alike. This version placed an oven roasted grouper fillet atop the signature stew of coconut milk, onion, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and palm oil. A bed of coconut rice helped trap all the flavorful broth. This moqueca was a perfect synthesis of Portuguese and African culinary influences.

I grew to love dulce de leche during a visit to Buenos Aires where cooks use this mixture of caramelized sugar and milk in almost anything sweet. 77° West offers an elegant dulce de leche cheesecake with a thick topping of tres leche cream and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. It made a rich and delicious ending to the meal. The following recipe, developed once I got home, is simpler but preserves the signature flavors and creamy texture. The photo, however, shows the restaurant’s beautiful presentation.

INDIVIDUAL DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKES


Serves 6dulce de leche cheesecake at 77° West at Atlantis

Ingredients

3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon flour
13.4 ounce can dulce de leche (Nestle La Lechera is good)
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel finishing salt

Directions

Set oven to 325°F.

Mix graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and salt in bowl. Add melted butter and mix thoroughly. Divide into 6 paper (or silicon) muffin liners and press down to compress. Set aside.

In large bowl, place cream cheese and sugar. Beat until well blended. Mix in vanilla and egg whites and beat until very smooth. Spoon into muffin liners (about 3 tablespoons each).

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

While cheesecake is cooking, prepare the topping. Heat dulce de leche gently in small pan until warm. Stir in egg yolks until smooth. Slowly bring mixture to a simmer, stirring all the while. Remove from heat.

When individual cakes cool enough to shrink slightly in the liners, reheat the dulce de leche and spoon over the top of the cakes. Smooth surface. Continue to cool on rack. When room temperature, sprinkle with fleur de sel and refrigerate until served.

20

02 2017

Café Martinique at Atlantis dresses up humble conch

Chef de cuisine Lisa Rolle of Café Martinique at Atlantis“I trained by watching other chefs,” says Lisa Rolle, who worked her way up through the kitchens of the Atlantis resort (atlantisbahamas.com). Now she’s the chef de cuisine at Café Martinique, perhaps the resort’s top fine dining establishment.

Understated and elegant, Café Martinique nonetheless has an air of mystery and mystique befitting the fanciful world of Atlantis. A birdcage elevator carries guests to the second-floor dining room. The venue recreates the 1960s restaurant where James Bond met his eye-patch wearing arch-nemesis Emilio Largo in the 1965 film Thunderball.

Today’s Café Martinique is part of the culinary empire of French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Although Vongerichten develops the recipes, Rolle injects local flavors. “The base of a dish is local,” she says. “A lot of the items we use are local.” Herbs and greens are grown by local farmers. Rolle also makes wonderful use of fresh-caught seafood. She might serve a roasted Bahamian lobster tail with fried plantain, oregano, and chili. Or she could prepare local snapper with braised fennel, lemon, and olive oil.

conch on ice at Café Martinique at AtlantisRolle was born and raised in the Bahamas. Her roots definitely show in Café Martinique’s cracked conch appetizer. (That’s raw conch on ice to the right.) The dish of fried conch with a dipping sauce is an island staple that you might munch on in a bar while watching a televised cricket match. Rolle brings it into the fine-dining realm by accompanying the mollusk with avocado and pickled vegetables, all dusted with kaffir lime and chili powders. She serves the plate with a dipping sauce of chili citrus mayonnaise.

Admittedly, conch is a specialty of the tropics and subtropics, though more northerly fishmongers will often stock it. It’s also available via overnight shipment from many fishmongers on both the east and west coasts. In a pinch, substitute sea clams or surf clams, but discard the bellies. Here is my adaptation of Chef Rolle’s Café Martinique recipe for cracked conch.

CRACKED CONCH À LA MARTINIQUE


4 appetizer servings cracked conch plate at Café Martinique at Atlantis

Ingredients

For conch

1-1/2 pounds conch meat
lime juice
salt
hot pepper sauce
rice flour
oil for frying (peanut, canola, palm, or a blend)
salt

For chili citrus mayo

2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups grapeseed oil

For pickled vegetables

2 shallots
1 small carrot, peeled
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon Thai chile pepper, minced

For kaffir powder

1 kaffir lime leaf

For lime vinaigrette

1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grapeseed oil

For plating

frisee or other light salad greens
avocado, peeled and cut in 8 slices
chili powder

Directions

Prepare conch by “cracking” it. Using a hammer-style meat tenderizer or the flat bottom of a cast iron frying pan, pound conch meat until it is matchstick thin. Sprinkle with lime juice, a little salt, and a few dashes of hot pepper sauce. Reserve.

Make chili citrus mayo. In food processor, combine egg yolks, juices, sriracha and salt. Puree. With motor running, drizzle in the oil. Refrigerate until serving.

Pickle the vegetables. Cut the shallots and carrot into matchstick-sized pieces. Add to a saucepan with vinegar and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and season with minced Thai chile pepper and salt. Let cool to room temperature.

Make lime vinaigrette. Combine juice, salt, sugar, and mustard in small bowl. Whisk in oil. Pour mixture into a screw-top jar so it can be shaken before being poured on salad. (There will be a lot left over for use on other salads.)

Make kaffir powder by drying the leaf in microwave, then grinding it to dust in a spice grinder or with mortar and pestle.

To cook conch, heat about 1/4 inch cooking oil in heavy, deep frying pan. (An old-fashioned cast iron chicken cooker is ideal.) Dredge pieces of conch in rice flour and fry until crispy and lightly golden. Drain on paper towels and dust with salt.

To assemble, toss salad greens with a little lime vinaigrette. Cover plates with dressed greens. Top with fried conch, avocado, and pickled vegetables. Dust with kaffir and chili powders, and place mayo dipping sauce in a bowl next to each plate.

17

02 2017

Living the Atlantis fantasy on Paradise Island, Bahamas

Pegasus fountain at Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas
It takes a certain audacity to create a resort themed to the lost city of Atlantis. Royal Towers was the first hotel built on the 171-acre property of Atlantis (atlantisbahamas.com) on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It still embodies that fanciful vision of lost glory. Much has been written about Atlantis since it opened more than 20 years ago, but you do have to see it to believe it. It’s so over-the-top that it is almost impossible not to be caught up in the tale of the drowned city first related by Plato.

Grand Lobby at AtlantisThe sunny Bahamian weather certainly doesn’t hurt, but it was the artwork that drew me in. As soon as I stepped out of a taxi, I was greeted by a gigantic fountain with leaping bronze figures of Pegasus (above). I walked past the winged horses to giant green doors flanked by larger-than-life relief sculptures of stylized seahorses and whales. But I was still unprepared for the soaring Great Hall (the Atlantis version of a hotel lobby). Eight enormous murals tell the fictional story of Atlantis from its creation until it sank into the sea. The scale of the aptly named space is enough to make a visitor feel either insignificant or fortunate to be the momentary ruler of all that towers above.

Underwater "dig" at AtlantisAs they say on late-night television—wait, there’s more! In the Dig on the lower level, I wandered through an imaginary version of the walkways and tunnels of the sunken city, all the while surrounded by tanks of fish that might float through the watery grave. Among the lionfish, piranhas, moray eels, clownfish, and seahorses were grouper and spiny lobster—species that might make their way to the dinner plate.

In a place that thinks so big, it’s not surprising that Atlantis boasts 21 restaurants that range from ultra-casual to ultra-swanky dining. And that’s not counting the 19 bars and lounges. It’s an almost overwhelming number of choices. Many world cuisines are represented, but given my short visit, I decided to focus on local foods and flavors.

open kitchen at Bimini Road restaurant at Atlantis

Colorful, casual Bimini Road is perhaps the best place to start. The bright murals on the walls almost distracted me from the open kitchen (above) and the displays of local fish and shellfish on ice, including snapper, lobster tail, and the Bahamian “national food,” conch. This spiral-shaped whelk is common to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The meat is firm and chewy like calamari, though Bahamians consider it more flavorful. It’s also very versatile. Bimini Road serves several variations of conch favored by islanders. Conch salad, similar to ceviche, features minced raw conch with peppers, onion, and citrus juices. Cracked conch is deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce. Bimini Road also serves conch fritters, and for good measure, conch nachos.

But I settled on another island classic, conch chowder. The chowder was thick with pepper and tomato and was served with a wedge of johnny cake, the island’s signature baking-powder bread that was perfect for sopping up the last of the broth.

Johnny cake is ubiquitous and it’s always good. It made a delightfully simple accompaniment to chowder, especially at Atlantis, which is otherwise a temple of the unrestrained imagination. The johnny cake recipe below is courtesy of Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board.

JOHNNY CAKE


Serves 9-12Conch chowder and johnny cake at Bimini Road at Atlantis

Ingredients

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
2/3 cup milk

Directions

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or your hands, working the mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk and combine until you have a soft dough consistency.

Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then transfer into a greased 9×9-inch pan.

Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes, until the edges of the cake begin to turn a light golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack before serving.

14

02 2017

Tenderness and restraint are key to pizza love

Executive chef Rosario Del Nero at Medford branch of Bertucci's
We had always assumed that good pizza required a certain amount of drama. Showboat pizzaiolos sometimes toss the dough into the air, spinning it to stretch to size. In Naples, guys slap the dough around back and forth on the counter as if they were Jack Nicholson working over Faye Dunaway in Chinatown (“she’s my daughter, she’s my sister…”).

That’s no way to treat a lady.

Rosario Del Nero shapes pizza dough “No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” says Bertucci’s executive chef Rosario Del Nero, “Dough is a living thing. You must treat it gently.” He slips a bench knife under a half pound round of pizza dough and carefully transfers it from the covered proofing box to a bowl of flour. Turning the dough over to coat the surface, he moves it gently to a marble counter. He begins to prod the dough with his fingers, stretching the round into a flatter piece. “I’m transferring the heat of my body to the dough,” he explains.

“Once the dough is fermented and rested [see previous post], you can’t reshape it,” Del Nero explains. “It’s full of air. You don’t want to disturb the structure.”

With the heat of his hands, he pushes from the center out to the edges, turning the dough all the time. In seconds it stretches a little, then a little more. “It’s best when you use your body heat,” Del Nero says. “You can use a rolling pin, but the texture will be a little different.”

He scatters some semolina meal on a long-handled wooden paddle and lays the pliant dough on top. (Bertucci’s has three sizes of peels and three weights of dough to make the three sizes of pizza on the menu.) Then it’s time for the fun part: topping the pizza.

Getting dressed for the show


Bertucci’s has dozens of toppings, all neatly arrayed on the counter of the open kitchen. But Del Nero says, “When it comes to toppings, less is more. You don’t want to overwhelm your pizza.”

Rosario Del Nero slices pizzaHis personal favorite combines chunky tomato sauce, a sprinkle of pecorino Romano cheese (in part for its saltiness), freshly roasted thin slices of eggplant, and some small balls of fresh mozzarella crushed between finger and thumb. When it comes out of the beehive brick oven (about three minutes), he sprinkles it with a chiffonade of fresh basil and brushes the bare edge of the crust with olive oil. “The oil releases its aroma when it touches the warm bread,” he says. Bertucci’s uses an olive oil that volatilizes at 140°F—about the temperature of pizza crust as it comes from the oven.

Under Del Nero’s direction, we made a similarly restrained pizza with tomato sauce, artichoke hearts, crushed cloves of roasted garlic, and the same small balls of mozzarella. He guided us to wiggle the soft pizza off the paddle onto the oven floor, then to use a metal peel to retrieve it from the 600°F oven. The oven is so massive, he says, that it takes two days to get up to heat. At home, the best (though still not adequate) substitute is to use a pizza stone and make sure it is preheated a long time.

In the glass


Del Nero endorsed our artichoke and garlic pizza, bestowing the Bertucci’s black olive seal of approval. As we sat down to eat, he said that he prefers wine with pizza. “Beer is too yeasty,” he believes.

We tasted a few of the wines he was about to introduce with some new menu items. Both were from the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The “Votre Santé” pinot noir is named for Coppola’s grandmother, who grew up in French Tunisia and always offered the classic toast when she raised a glass. The Diamond Collection “Claret” is a Bordeaux-style blend dominated by cabernet sauvignon and lightened by petite verdot. The fruitier pinot noir was spot-on with the eggplant, while the more austere claret cut through the unctuousness of the roasted garlic.

Given that both Coppola wines are widely available and reasonably priced, we may try the same combinations at home. They won’t be the same, of course, without the brick oven—or the passionate good company.

10

02 2017

Perfecting pizza, one ball of dough at a time

Melissa Surber delivers chicken marengo pizza at Bertucci's in Medford
Rosario Del Nero bites into a slice of pizza and savors it for a moment. “It’s not Neapolitan, it’s not Roman,” he says. “It’s rustic, provincial Italian pizza. It’s not as wet as Neapolitan, which is what most people have, or as thick as Roman.”

He is not even considering the toppings. Del Nero focuses on the dough that cooks up into the crust. It must be just so. “Flour, water, yeast—it’s simple,” he says. “But the secret ingredient is time. You cannot rush the yeast.”

He pulls out a piece of paper and a pencil and draws a graph. “X is quality,” he explains. “Y is time.” He draws a curve that peaks at about 40 hours. “Anywhere between 36 and 48 hours of slow rising in the cooler, the dough makes perfect pizza.”

Rosario del Nero enjoys a slice of Bertucci's pizzaA native of the Valtellina valley in Lombardy, Del Nero was the original chef of Bertucci’s when the chain began expanding beyond the original pizzeria with bocce court in Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts. After more than a decade away from the group, he returned to Bertucci’s last August as executive chef and culinary vice president. Ever since, he has been infusing the 85-restaurant group with his passion and his discipline to make a superb and consistent product. He invited us to the Medford, Massachusetts, location for a lesson in his philosophy and practice of pizza.

The wrong way


Del Nero certainly turned around our perceptions of pizza crust. Given that we use a home gas oven that works hard to reach 550°F, we thought we had experimented sufficiently to make a pretty good home crust. It used 210 grams of mixed white and whole wheat flour, a teaspoon of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of instant dry yeast, and 150 grams of ice water. We would whirl it up in a food processor and let it sit at least 10 minutes before adding three-quarters teaspoon of sea salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. We’d whirl it up again, then let it rise in an oiled quart container all day, pressing it down when it threatened to spill out.

Listening to Del Nero, we quickly learned that we were doing a few things right and a couple of critical things wrong. Using very little yeast was a plus, but oiling the dough was a no-no.

“You have plants at home? Trying oiling their leaves and see how fast they die,” he said. “Dough is the same way. It has to breathe.”

The right way


Rosario Del Nero inspects pizza dough at Bertucci's Our biggest mistake was rushing the dough. “It has to rise very slowly so it forms tiny air bubbles. The flavor won’t be as good if the dough is rushed,” he said. “You don’t want to punch it down. That’s fine for bread, but you want pizza to be soft and pliable. Punching it makes it tough.”

We felt as if we’d been beating our kids. At home the next Friday, we made dough and let it rise in the vegetable crisper drawer of our refrigerator until after lunch on Sunday. We left it covered on the counter—because “the dough hates air,” as Del Nero told us. It warmed to room temperature in time for us to shape it into pizza for dinner.

The resulting pizza was a revelation. The same recipe was easier to shape and cooked up with a crisp but not crunchy texture. It also tasted much better.

So we went back the next week for more instruction.

06

02 2017

Cradle of Mexican cuisine, Oaxaca relishes mole negro

Onion seller at Oaxaca market
No one escapes untouched by Oaxaca. This lyrical, magical city has been a powerful cultural and trade center for millennia. It is also arguably the cradle of Mexican cuisine. You can always eat well in Veracruz, Mexico City, and Puebla. But in Oaxaca, you feast. Every dish is a taste revelation.

Tomatoes and chile peppers were domesticated in northern Oaxaca around 4500 BC—presumably to spice up all those meals based on beans and corn, which the ancient Oaxacans had domesticated 3,000 years earlier. And Oaxaca continued to expand its larder.

ruins of Monte Alban outside OaxacaBy the time the high culture of Monte Alban (right) arose around 500 BC, the Oaxaca Valley was a crossroads of trade between South and North America. Foodstuffs poured in from as far north as Mexico’s Central Valley and from as far south as the Andes. A millennium later–nearly a thousand years before the rise of either the Aztecs or the Incas–the Zapotec people of Oaxaca were processing peanuts and cacao. They had all the ingredients to make mole, the chile-nut-spice sauce that distinguishes the Oaxacan mother cuisine.

Oaxaca cathedralThe Spanish also influenced the complex cuisine of Oaxaca. Monte Alban had been abandoned for at least seven centuries when Hernán Cortes took the Oaxaca Valley by force in 1521. He soon built a city where he would live out his life as the self-styled Marquéz de Valle de Oaxaca. Despite their cathedral (above), the Spaniards never fully succeeded in conquering the native Zapotec and Mixtec cultures of the surrounding countryside. As a result, Oaxaca is really native Mexico.

But it’s native Mexico with sesame seeds, saffron, pigs, cows, and chickens—thanks to the Spaniards.

Timeless Oaxaca comes to the market


selling tomatoes and fruits at Oaxaca market The ancient face of Oaxaca persists in the Mercado de Benito Juarez, the fresh food market named for the local son who was president of Mexico when Lincoln was president of the U.S. The market occupies two entire city blocks south of the zócalo. (One block farther south is the 20 de Noviembre market, which has amazing food stalls, including a section devoted to grilled meat.)

People start arriving from the countryside before dawn. Some come by truck, some by pack animal, and some on foot. They bring the food they have grown and lay it out for all to see. One seller might have big bunches of onions and herbs, like the woman at the top of this post. Others might display tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and little limes. Another vendor might lay out rows of delicate squash blossoms, fleshy and yellow. It’s hard to speak with anyone, since most of the country people have Zapotec or Mixtec as their first language. But the beaming pride in their wares really needs no translation.

apple seller in OaxacaA few might even walk in with baskets on their heads, like the woman at right, who was selling the apples she had picked from her trees. To an American or a European foodie, the market looks like a cornucopia of plenty. The Oaxaca Valley is a fruitful land.

The corner of the market where dried chiles, cacao, and nuts are sold also has several mills. Shoppers who know what they are doing will bring a mixture of chiles, cacao, nuts, and spices to be milled into a paste. You can also buy pre-ground pastes to serve as the basis for making mole. In most cases, you simply dilute the paste with some meat broth and simmer long enough to smooth out the raw flavors. Mexican chocolate available in the U.S. replicates the chocolate of the market. It consists of ground cacao nibs, sugar, ground nuts, cinnamon, and often some other spices.

Most people prefer to make their moles from scratch. We’ve written previously about mole amarillo, which is traditional for the Day of the Dead. But one of the deepest flavored moles of all is mole negro, or black mole. There are many recipes for the dish, including some that deliberately burn the chile seeds and then steep them in water for some of the liquid. Traditionally, the dish is made with chilhuacles negros, a black chile grown in the Oaxaca region but not widely exported. Even cooks in other parts of Mexico use a combination of guajillo and mulato chiles to get a similar flavor.

Like many moles, the sauce is fried because water boils at 200° F in Oaxaca due to the altitude. The sauce needs to get up to about 240° F to cook through. Note that our recipe below calls for lard, which is traditional. Peanut or corn oil will work, but the flavor is less authentic. Bacon drippings are a better substitute.

MOLE NEGRO OF OAXACA


Oaxaca style mole negro with pumpkin risottoThis mole is often eaten plain over tortillas that have been dipped in the sauce and then rolled. A sprinkling of queso fresco or crumbled feta complements the flavors.

Ingredients

3 ounces dried mulato chiles (about 5), stems and tops removed
3 ounces dried guajillo chiles (about 8), stems and tops removed
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/3 cup sesame seeds
6 whole cloves
3-inch stick of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole anise seeds
1/2 cup lard
1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup coarsely chopped white onion
6 cloves garlic
6-ounce can tomato paste
4 teaspoons salt or bouillon powder
6 ounces Mexican chocolate (two tablets Ibarra or La Abuelita), grated
up to 2 cups chicken stock

Directions

Toast chiles in hot frying pan or griddle until softened. Remove seeds, stems, and at least some of the veins. (The veins and seeds contain most of the heat.) Place in medium bowl with boiling water and soak one hour.

Toast sesame seeds in dry skillet over medium heat until golden—about two minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool. Combine cloves, cinnamon, coriander, and anise seeds in skillet. Toast until fragrant (20-30 seconds) and remove to cool.

Heat lard in large cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Add almonds and cook and stir until brown. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add raisins to pan and cook and stir until they puff up—about 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon.

Process raisins in blender until finely ground. Coarsely chop almonds and add to blender and process until finely ground. Add raw onion and raw garlic and process until finely ground.

Grind sesame seeds in spice grinder. Add to blender. Grind clove and spice blend in spice grinder and add to blender.

Add chiles, about a cup of soaking water, tomato paste, and salt to blender. Process until smooth.

Reheat lard in deep, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add mole mixture. Stir to cook through and sweeten the raw flavor of onion and garlic. Add chocolate to melt. Stir in chicken stock to reach desired consistency. Cover pan and place in 325° oven for one hour. Remove, stir sauce, and place back in oven for an additional hour. This allows thorough cooking without burning the mole onto the bottom of the pan.

Roll soft corn tortillas in mole and serve with sprinkling of crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese. Pumpkin risotto makes a nice side dish. If drinking wine, choose an assertive and somewhat acidic white, like a young Chilean sauvignon blanc.

03

02 2017

Valpolicella Classico matches chocolate-spiked ragù

Valpolicella with chocolate-spiked ragù
We discovered a Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013 nestled among bigger reds in our limited wine storage. Not having a lot of room to hold wine means drinking bottles when they’re ready. With the 2014 already in the market, we figured this welterweight red was ready to go.

Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013But what dish would do it justice? The Marchesi Fumanelli family (www.squarano.com) has been making top-flight Valpolicella wines since 1470 at their estate just outside Verona. Perhaps the age of the vineyards (up to 40 years) accounts for the clean flavor and deep fruit expression. The blend has a backbone of 40 percent each of Corvina and the bigger clusters of Corvinone. The rest is Rondinella, which deepens the color and gives the wine more body. The finished wine is aged 8-10 months in French barrique—most of it second and third passage.

We prefer this approach to Valpolicella Classico over the increasingly common practice of adding the pomace from an Amarone pressing to the fermentation of the Valpolicella grapes. (Both wines use the same grapes, but those destined for Amarone are partially dried to concentrate the sugars.) We think the lingering toasted, caramelized Amarone flavor in what is properly called Valpolicella Ripasso often masks shortcomings in the Valpolicella itself. The Classico Superiore approach at Fumanelli lets the grapes speak for themselves.

Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore is a fine red for sipping, though the hint of ash in the finish (typical of Corvina) cries out for food. A brilliant ruby red, it presents a nose of black cherries and blackberries. Those flavors carry through on the palate—along with the bitter almond or ashen note. It’s velvety in the mouth with a long, satisfying finish.

Finding a dinner dish


Maybe it’s the season, but it seemed a good companion to dark chocolate. But we wanted a savory dinner dish to accompany the wine, so we did a little digging. Savory chocolate often means Mexican mole poblano or mole negro, but both dishes would overwhelm the Valpolicella. Then we stumbled on a recipe that’s been kicking around in magazines and online for the last few decades. It’s a ragù of browned pork, onion, red wine, and tomato, slow cooked and finished with just a little dark chocolate and cinnamon. Said to have originated in Abruzzo, it’s usually served with fresh egg pasta called chitarrina. The pasta is rolled out in sheets and cut on a box frame strung with fine wires like guitar strings.

We’ve made some adjustments to the basic recipe given by Michele Scicolone on page 173 of her masterpiece 1,000 Italian Recipes (Wiley, 2004). Michele calls for using a pound of fresh tagliarini. We made our own fresh pasta (1 1/3 cups flour, pinch of salt, tablespoon of olive oil, 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk), and cut it with the tagliatelle rollers. It weighed about 10 ounces and made two generous dinner entree servings. If you use a pound of pasta, you could serve a less saucy pasta course to four diners. Just don’t forget the Valpolicella Classico.

ABRUZZESE BITTER CHOCOLATE RAGÙ


Ingredients

1 onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 pound ground pork
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of cinnamon

Directions

In heavy saucepan, cook onion in olive oil over medium heat until onion begins to turn golden. Crumble in the pork and continue cooking. Break up meat with spatula. Cook until pork begins to brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Don’t skimp on the pepper. You need the flavor to round out the dish.)

Add wine and bring to a simmer for three minutes to burn off the alcohol. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. Bring to a simmer and cook slowly for about an hour, stirring now and then. Sauce should thicken.

Stir in chocolate, sugar, and cinnamon until chocolate melts. Keep sauce warm while cooking pasta. Add cooked, drained pasta to sauce all at once and toss to coat. Add extra cooking water if necessary to achieve a saucy texture. Serve immediately.

31

01 2017

Whitby’s Magpie Cafe famed for fish and chips

Diners wait to enter the Magpie Café in Whitby, United Kingdom
Back in November we wrote about John Long’s Fish & Chips, the eatery that’s almost an institution in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s been around since 1914 and does a bang-up job with the United Kingdom’s signature fast food.

Much as we relished the Belfast version, nothing beats eating fish and chips by the sea. One of the best places we’ve discovered is the Magpie Cafe (14 Pier Road, +44 1947.602.058, www.magpiecafe.co.uk) in the seaside town of Whitby. It’s in North Yorkshire about 250 miles from London.

Ruins of a medieval abbey loom above the village of Whitby in North Yorkshire, home of Magpie CafeWhitby’s long, sandy beach makes it a favorite destination for British vacationers. The ruins of a medieval abbey and an ancient graveyard perch high on a bluff and add atmosphere to the tidy town. A busy fishing fleet lends a lively sense of purpose—and guarantees plenty of fresh catch for lovers of fish and chips.

Duncan Robson’s family has operated the Magpie Cafe for more than 50 years and he feels a great responsibility to uphold the standards of what he calls “a quintessentially British dish.” Drawing a comparison that visitors from the United States are sure to appreciate, Robson calls fish and chips “the English equivalent of a hamburger—quick and easy.”

Fast food, however, need not be slapdash. The Magpie always uses fresh fish, much of it from the local fleet. Once diners have settled in the 1750 building with windows looking out on the harbor, they are offered a choice of cod or haddock for their fish and chips. Cod is considered the “meatier” of the two fish and is served with skin and bones removed. The stronger-tasting haddock is served without the bones, but with the skin intact to boost the flavor. The fish is dipped in Magpie’s secret-recipe batter. Both the fish and the thickly cut potatoes are deep-fried in beef tallow. Its high smoke point produces a crisper, more flavorful fry than vegetable oil.

Fish and chips is the most popular dish at the Magpie Café in Whitby, United Kingdom The Magpie offers “small” and “regular” portions, which is Yorkshire-speak for big and bigger. The small portion is more than enough for most diners, particularly when served with a side of mushy peas. Virtually unknown outside the British Isles, these “marrowfat peas” are a large-seeded version of the green garden pea that is allowed to fully mature before being dried. Mushy peas are made by soaking the peas overnight, then cooking them with seasoning until their texture more or less resembles oatmeal. They are admittedly something of an acquired taste, but nonetheless an indispensable accompaniment to a traditional fish and chips meal.

It’s a good idea to leave a little room for dessert as the Magpie offers about 20 choices. One of the most popular is another British classic: sticky toffee pudding served with crème anglaise or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Robson kindly shared the recipe that has been on the Magpie menu for more than 30 years.

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING


Duncan Robson’s father Ian tells with mock horror of a restaurateur whose idea of sticky toffee pudding was to slice up a Jamaican ginger cake and cover the slices with sauce. Says Robson, “There’s no substitute for the genuine article.”

9 servings

Ingredients


For the sponge cake (or “pudding”)
1 1/2 cups pitted and chopped dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups boiling water
5 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup superfine sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the toffee sauce
1 1/2 cups (firmly packed) dark brown sugar
10 tablespoons butter (1 stick + 2 tablespoons)
1 cup heavy cream

Directions


For the sponge cake, place dates and baking soda in a bowl and cover with boiling water.

Set oven to 375ºF.

In a separate bowl, mix together the butter and superfine sugar. Then beat in the eggs one at a time and add the vanilla extract. Beat in the flour and baking powder. Stir in the date mixture. (This will produce a very runny batter.)

Pour batter into a greased 8-inch-square ovenproof dish and bake at 375ºF for 40 minutes, or until the sponge cake springs back when pressed.

While the sponge cake is baking, make the toffee sauce. Place brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream in a heavy saucepan. Stirring well, bring to a boil for three minutes.

When the sponge cake is cooked, prick with a skewer several times, then pour the toffee sauce over the sponge cake. Serve immediately with crème anglaise, whipped cream, or ice cream. Serve any extra sauce on the side.

27

01 2017

London meat pie saves pretty penny at lunch

pie sign
I sometimes find myself doing business in big international cities where the cost of living far exceeds my budget. The challenge at lunch is to eat well without breaking the bank. In Paris that could be a croque monsieur or a sidewalk hot dog on a baguette. I’d opt for a square of pan pizza in Rome. My preference in Madrid is a thick wedge of tortilla española (Spanish potato-onion omelet) and a beer. In London (and many other British cities), the solution is a meat pie.

Back when Simple Simon met a pie man, a British meat pie cost a penny. In the cafe of a department store like Selfridges, Marks & Spencer, or John Lewis, a meat pie will now set you back about £10. That’s a bit over $12 at the current exchange rate. A meat pie is one of the cheapest full meals in London. As a general rule, they have a flaky crust filled with plenty of meat, vegetables, and thick gravy. On cold and rainy days (which are so rare in London, right?), they are gastronomic revelations that make a Yank sorry for every mean thing he’s ever said or thought about British food.

Outstanding meat pie spots


Not all department store pies are bargains, but the Welsh lamb shank pie in the Gallery restaurant at Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly, London; +44 20.7734.8040; www.fortnumandmason.com) justifies its £19.50 price tag ($24). Deeply savory and encased in a delicate puff pastry crust, it is a very civilized way to partake of what is basically a workingman’s dish. You get to sit at a real table with linens and metal cutlery, after all.

eating in London pubFor a superb compromise between a humble pie and an exalted one, it’s hard to beat the Coal Hole (91-92 Strand, +44 20.7379.9883, nicholsonspubs.co.uk). This classic high street Victorian pub boasts a serious kitchen and a cellar full of cask ales. In the last year, Coal Hole has embraced a new culinary identity as a “speciality pie house.” That means the kitchen downstairs in the old coal cellar bakes a variety of meat pies, most of them selling for £12.75 to £13.95 ($15-$17). On my last visit, I enjoyed a beef and ale pie and a pint of ale. That’s another good thing about British gastronomy: a “pint” is 20 fluid ounces.

CHICKEN, LEEK, AND BACON PIE


homemade pieThis classic British meat pie is a distant cousin to an American chicken pot pie yet tastes completely different. This version can be made in a springform pan or in a souffle dish. It serves four with a salad. For less messy serving, prepare one day ahead and refrigerate. Remove pie whole from pan and cut into quarters. Reheat each quarter in a separate serving dish.

Ingredients

Pie crust
2 cups flour
10 tablespoons butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
pinch salt
ice water

Filling
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon olive oil
2 leeks, white only, thinly sliced
4 strips bacon, chopped in 1-inch pieces
2 cups diced roast chicken (about 12 oz.)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

For crust
Place flour and butter in a food processor with steel blade. Process until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add egg yolk, a pinch of salt and just enough water just to bring dough together (about a tablespoon). Pulse until mixture comes together. Remove from food processor, roll into ball, and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes. (Refrigerate if kitchen is warm.)

For filling
Meanwhile, make the filling. Place butter and olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add bacon and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Stir in chicken and thyme,

Place flour in bowl. Slowly stir in chicken stock and whisk to dissolve. Stir in milk. Add mixture to pan with chicken, bacon, and leeks. Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously until sauce thickens. Set aside to cool.

Set oven to 400ºF.

Divide dough into four pieces. Combine three pieces and roll out to 11-inch circumference. Line 6-inch springform pan, draping extra dough over edge. Spoon the chicken and leek mixture into the pie case.

Roll out remaining dough into 7-inch circle. Lay on top of filling. Crimp the edges of the pie and place in the oven over a drip pan to bake until pastry is golden and crisp and filling is cooked through, about 30-35 minutes.

24

01 2017