I loooove, like really really love, seafood. After all, I was born and raised on an island in Southeast Asia. About 3 weeks back, PJ started the Louisiana Foods Total Catch to sell some of the less popular fish choice, which is very refreshing. Salmon and catfish have their place but I honestly find them quite overdone and boring. What about the almaco jack, the drum, and the blue runner? And while we’re at it, don’t forget the squid. Thankfully, PJ’s got them all.
But more intriguing than my experiment with new varieties of fish were my experimentations with parts of fish we tend to discard. Most of the fish we eat come as fillets while the rest of the fish gets discarded. Could there possibly be a use for the head, the bony underbelly, the guts?
Really, this isn’t that new a concept. Chinese have been known to consider dried fish maw (swim bladder) a delicacy. Cantonese people also regard the the bony underbelly as the tenderest and most delicate part of the fish too. How about trying to apply the nose to tail concept not just with our favorite livestock but with fish too?
And so we begin experimenting.
(Warning: some slightly stranger images might follow but I assure you, it’s all perfectly normal food.)
I was at a party about a week ago and there was a vegetable platter. There was some purple cauliflower which to my surprise was rather foreign to most.
The purple in purple cauliflower isn’t caused by dying but by the presence of anthocyanin. From what I read, they have high antioxidant properties but I’ll leave the food scientist types to explain that to you. I believe this pigment is also present in wine, eggplants and purple corn. Purple cauliflower is quite a lot like regular cauliflower, although I’ve read that some people have difficulties achieving the same crunch when roasting. The color also tends to bleed when boiling.
Anyway, I made a simple purple cauliflower dish, utilizing not only the floret but the leaves that came with the head of the cauliflower as well.
My first brush with brining came a few years ago while watching an episode of the beloved Good Eats, watching Alton Brown was brine a turkey. In my mind, I was thinking this was an earth shattering way of cooking. Why haven’t I heard of this before? I made a brined turkey for a thanksgiving dinner with my college friends. This was by far the juiciest turkey I’ve ever had. I was determined to keep this culinary method my exclusive secret.
But as time went by, I started reading more about brining as a cooking prep method. I’m not sure if it’s because I was reading more about food or if it was a food trend that was picking up. Either way, it seemed like it was the talk of the town to me especially during thanksgiving. I believe that one of the top search terms on Google was ‘Alton Brown brined turkey’ or something to that effect. And while I do enjoy certain brined applications (my favorite being duck in orange juice, another Alton Brown inspired recipe,) I probably do not do it more than a few of times a year. I just find that it takes up too much time and fridge space.
As some of you know, I’ve been involved in this blog movement Charcutepalooza. In the past month, it was all about brining beef and so I guess it was time to revisit this cooking technique.
Outside of learning and trying to perfect some basic cooking techniques, I’ve also been exploring the creative process (not just mine) when it comes to creating a dish. Why do some new dishes work and some don’t? I’ve had a hard time articulating it and putting it on paper.
And then I chanced upon this video by Grant Achatz. Awesome.
I’m a sucker for cheap cuts of meat. I guess it’s a carry-over from one of those habits I had when I was in college. I would spend quite a bit of time walking around the meat section, familiarizing myself with cuts of meat and trying to pick the one that was the best bang for the buck. Then, I’ll scratch my head and figure out the best way to cook it. In fact, just a couple of days back, a door to door meat salesman (yeah, that apparently exists) came over to try to sell us some very nicely packaged cuts of meat of filet, sirloin, and rib eye. It was then that I realized how long ago it was since I bought a cut of meat like that – it must have been a year.
I love ‘off-cuts’ of meats such as short ribs, ox-tails and hanger steaks because I feel that they tend to be really flavorful yet cheaper than their more tender counterparts. (Unfortunately, the rising popularity and ‘coolness’ of nose-to-tail is starting to drive the prices of some of these parts up.) What makes them tricky though is the misconception that they are hard to cook. Yeah, chances are you can’t just throw it into a foreman and expect a good result but that doesn’t make it hard.
And so I chanced upon this concept of preparing a short-rib very simply by just seasoning it with salt, pepper and onion powder before dumping it into a crock pot. This was counter-intuitive to me. I’ve always been taught to brown your meats before stewing to add flavor the final product. Wouldn’t simply leaving the meat in a crock pot give you a grey and dull tasting mess?
But unlike caramelization, browning meat involves the interaction (Maillard reaction) of more than just sugar molecules but proteins (amino acids) as well. Unlike caramelization, you don’t necessarily need a specific strike temperature for the reaction to occur. Low moisture helps with the reaction as well. (It is also influenced by the pH level. I’m no scientist so I won’t go too deep into detail.) So technically, you could cook it low and slow in little moisture and still achieve a similar browning effect.
And that is what I was achieved here. After a good 8 hours, the ribs were indeed soft, tender on the inside and brown on the outside. The collagen and fat within meat prevented the meat from being overly dry but honestly it wasn’t THAT moist. Also, taste wise, something was missing. There was too much of a ‘low note’ to this dish. It tasted one dimensional to an extent. Kind of like a water-soaked beef jerky.
In an attempt to spike things up, I skimmed the fat from the leftover juices and deglazed the fond (brown stuff stuck to the pot) with a tiny bit of sweet vermouth. Then I added drippings from a smoked chicken dish I made a few days ago. That made things a little more interesting.
Overall, I would say the dish was ok, but not anything to write home about. The sauce did it for me but there was something up with the meat. I’m still intrigued by this method of low and slow cooking and this is definitely something that I’m going to keep experimenting with. We’ll see what transpires.