Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Foie Gras

The old, and controversial ingredient. This delicacy comes to us from south-west France, particularly now from a region called Perigord, but it is a very old ingredient with records dating back to the Roman period.

Foie Gras is nothing more than the liver of a duck or a goose. In Mexico at least when you mention Foie Gras most people think of a pâté some sort of paste done with the liver and tasting much of liver, and you can even find these sort of pastes labeled as Foie Gras in some supermarkets. But this paste cannot even begin to approach the flavor and richness of a fresh untouched Foie Gras.

A normal duck of goose liver is a small sack containing some fat, but in order for it to become Foie Gras a special technique must be used to feed the animals. This is where all the controversy spins around. Gavage, as it is called, is a technique dating back to 2500 B.C. It uses a food paste fed forcibly to the animals in order to fatten them. The process is not pretty, in order to feed the animals a tube is inserted in their throats for a few seconds while the food is deposited, and this is done up to three times per day. Traditionally this tube is made out of metal, but more modern farms now use flexible tubes which are not as damaging to the animals. The ducks live for around three and a half months, which is a lot more than a regular chicken's three and a half weeks. However is only for the last month of their lives that this force feeding takes place. The rest of the time they spend in sheds just like chickens do.

The tradition of making Foie Gras in France is considered to be part of their protected cultural heritage, and as with a lot of other traditions its is not up to modern "standards" and is seen in many other parts as cruel and unethical. It however, has a taste that is very special, it is hard to describe how smoothly it melts in your mouth as it coats your tongue with all this buttery goodness. It is one of the truly unique foods that I have ever tasted.

Foie Gras is sold in different presentations, with the highest quality products being the fresh livers, down to fully cooked blocks. French law controls very strictly what each of the presentations should contain. There are thre main forms:

Foie Gras Entier, this is the whole liver which can be made of one or two lobes. It can be either Frais (fresh), Mi-Cuit (Partially Cooked), or Cuit (cooked).

Foie Gras, this is made of pieces of liver reassembled together.

Bloc de Foie Gras, this is a moulded, fully cooked block that must contain at least 98% Foie Gras. There are other presentations of these blocs which can contain a mix of duck and goose livers and its is this presentation that we usually find outside of France.

Finding Foie Gras is a different story, in France this dish is usually consumed in the winter and is not easy to find any other time except in the producing regions. Outside of France is hard to find the fresh presentations at any time. I was lucky to have found some Foie Gras Entier at the Frankfurt Kleinmarkthalle, an excellent market by the way, so I bought one lobe.




You can do a lot of things with the fresh Foie Gras, but I just love how it tastes when it is simply seared. As you would expect the fat content on it is very high, so you have to serve it in small portions and paired with something that helps cut through the fat. Something sweet and acidic. Gordon Ramsay has some excellent videos on recipes for seared Foie Gras, and I decided to give it a try, check out the video below for the process.




Foie Gras with Caramelized Apples

1           Lobe of Foie Gras

3            Apples
1 Tbs     Sugar
2 Tbs     Butter
1/8 C.    Calvados
1 sprig   Chopped Tarragon
Salt and pepper 

For the Caramelized Apples

  1. Melt 1 Tbs Butter Over medium high heat
  2. Add the Apples and season to taste
  3. Add the sugar and caramelize
  4. Add the rest of the butter
  5. Add the Calvados and flambe
  6. Remove from the heat and add the tarragon

For the Foie Gras

  1. Heat a pan over high heat.
  2. Cut the Foie Gras into 4-5 pieces around 2 in. thick.
  3. Season the Foie Gras.
  4. Add the Foie Gras to the pan and sear for 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat if necessary and baste with the pan juices.
  5. Once its colored on both sides remove from the heat and let rest before slicing.











Saturday, December 15, 2012

Risotto

Strangely I became a fan of Risotto after first tasting the dish as a meal in an airplane from Guadalajara to Atlanta. Strange because normally airplane food is horrendous and this was an unexpected surprise. The serving was small, but the dish was creamy and had a clear taste of Lime, as this was supposed to be a Lime Risotto. My complements for the Delta Chefs on this one. Sadly this was a clear exception to their usual dry chicken and icky pasta dishes.

But what is Risotto? So many times I have asked for Risotto in Restaurants and get this dry white rice plate that has no business being called Risotto. Risotto should have a creamy texture that comes from the starch released by the rice during the cooking process. A misconception is that this creaminess comes from the addition of cream at the end, and while its true some chefs will add cream at the end the rice should already have this creamy texture before this is added.

Risotto finds its roots in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, where rice has been cultivated for a long time. At first it was grown for the medicinal properties, but in time, the dish became a popular addition to dinner tables of the region. Today the region of the Pianura Padana or Val Padana is Europe's largest rice producing region.

The quality of the dish is directly related to the quality of the ingredients used and to the technique used to cook it. Risotto is made by slowly cooking the rice in a broth. Adding one ladleful of stock and waiting until it is absorbed. It is this process that helps the rice release the starch it contains, and produces the characteristic creamy texture.

The rice is a key part it must have a high starch content. The most widely available variety used is Arborio rice its grain is usually short and round, with a whiter center than the edges. Other varieties are also good for Risotto but a harder to get outside of Italy, and each produces a slightly different result. Some of these are Padano, Carnaroli, Maratelli, and Vialone Nano, with the last three considered to be the best for Risotto.

Another important component is the broth. The rice is cooked in the broth and it absorbs a lot of its flavor so it is essential that the quality of this broth be excellent. The kind of broth to use will depend on the flavoring that you want to give the final dish. For example use a mushroom broth for a mushroom risotto, or a fish broth for a seafood risotto, or a beef broth for a risotto that contains meat. What ever your choice keep in mind that this is the liquid the rice will cook in and that the final flavor will depend a lot on this. The stock should be kept simmering while you cook the risotto because if the stock is added cold, it can stop the cooking process and result in the rice not cooking evenly.

For the final flavoring I can think of as many different kinds as I know ingredients. You can make risotto out of almost any thing you can think of. Wild mushrooms, grilled shellfish, asparagus, lime, cheese, I have even found a recipe for a chocolate risotto (given I have not tried it so I have no idea if it is good)

The way to add the flavor varies by ingredient, some are added at the end, some in the beginning, and some even added at the beginning, then removed and then added back at the end. You have to keep in mind how the ingredient will behave during the cooking process. For example mushrooms you can add at the beginning of the cooking when you fry the onion or shallot. But if you leave them in there to cook with the broth they will become soggy. So you must remove them and then add them back aft the rice is done. For other ingredients like chorizo you may want to add it at the beginning and leave it to simmer together with the rice so it's flavor is added to the broth. Delicate flavorings like truffle are better left to the end, after the risotto is removed from the heat.

So with all that said, I had always wanted to try a truffle risotto, and the other day I came across some black truffles at the market in Frankfurt. So below is my take on a truffle flavored risotto, enjoy!

Tools
     Medium Sauce Pan for the Stock
     Large Sauce Pan for the Risotto 
     Ladle
     Wooden Spoon
     Microplane Cheese Grater


Ingredients
     Makes about 2 servings

     1    C       Arborio Rice
     1.5 L        Chicken Stock
     1/4 C       Extra-virgin olive oil
     1/2 C       Minced Shallots
     1    C       White Wine (Riesling)
     2    Tbsp  Unsalted Butter
     1-2 Tbsp  Black Truffle Oil
     1/2 C        Freshly Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
     Salt and Pepper to taste
     Black Truffle Shavings



  1. In a sauce pan heat the broth and keep it simmering while you cook the rice. If the stock is added cold, it will disrupt the cooking process of the rice and it will not cook evenly.
  2. In the larger sauce pan heat the oil over medium heat.
  3. Add the shallot and sauté until softened.
  4. Add the rice and stir until it is well coated and you can see the edges are translucent and the center has a white dot.
  5. Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed.
  6. Keep in mind that the rice has to be stirred constantly during the whole process
  7. Start adding the stock one ladleful at a time. Wait until the stock is absorbed before adding the next. But don't let the rice dry completely.
  8. When the rice is almost done (after about 20min) remove it from the heat add the butter, about 1/4 cup of stock and stir to combine until the butter has melted.
  9. Add the truffle oil and Parmigiano Reggiano and stir to combine until the cheese has incorporated.
  10. Check the seasonings and adjust if necessary (usually my stock is seasoned so this is not necessary for me)
  11. Divide the rice into shallow bowls, shave the truffle over each serving and serve immediately.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Camarones al Ajillo with Tiger Shrimp

Camarones al Ajillo with Tiger Shrimp
The other day while I was shopping groceries at our local supermarket (EDEKA) I came across these huge Tiger shrimp!, I had never seen shrimp so big! Penaeus monodon is the Scientific name and native to the Indo-West-Pacific Ocean however in the past few years they have been found as far away as the waters of the Mississippi River. This species of shrimp can grow to 33cm long (13in) and weigh between 200-320g. This to me is more like a lobster rather than a Shrimp!. You can compare the size to the pan and the my 10" Chef's knife below.

I bought 4 of the shrimp and decided to cook them in an easy but very tasty way, Camarones al Ajillo. This plate originated in Spain where it is called Gambas al Ajillo. It is typically found in the south and center of the country and is usually served as a Tapa in Bars. In Mexico it is usually prepared with the addition of Chile Guajillo to give it a slightly hot and spicy taste.

Here is the Recipe:

Tiger Shrimp
Ingredients for Camarones al Ajillo

Camarones al Ajillo
1        Dry Chile Guajillo cut into strips seeds removed.
2        Minced Cloves of Garlic 
2  Tbs Butter
1  tsp  Coriander
1 Lime cut into halves or quarters for serving
Salt and Pepper to taste







  1. Melt the butter over medium heat
  2. Add the minced garlic sauté until the garlic is tender
  3. Season the Shrimp
  4. Add the Chile and Shrimp
  5. Cook until the shrimp is cooked through turning once.
  6. Serve the shrimp with the lime wedges, sprinkle with coriander and drizzle with the cooking liquid.

Half way through cooking, Note the size of the shrimp in comparison to the 10in sauté pan!

Almost done!

Finished and Plated!




Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Black Beans

Black Bean Soup
Beans are one of the ingredients that Mexican food is known for. However all of the bean dishes I have seen outside of Mexico have no resemblance to what we eat. Take for example Chili con Carne, mention that plate to any German and they will immediately think of "Mexican" food. But mention that to any Mexican and unless they have traveled abroad a lot I doubt anyone would even know what it is.

Beans are one of the staple pantry items in the Mexican kitchens, several types are common. Pinto beans, red beans, bayos, and black beans are some of the types commonly found in stores throughout Mexico.

Refried beans, are normally done with bayo or pinto beans, however in some places they are also done using black beans. Black beans are the most commonly associated beans to Latin American cuisine. The history of them goes back some 7000 years to Peru. Since the beans are easy to grow in warm weather and have such a long shelf life they quickly became one of the main foods in the culture.

Black beans have a very high nutritional value, high in fiber, antioxidants, proteins and vitamin B when paired with whole grains they can make a whole nutritious meal. In Mexico it is common to see construction workers feed themselves with beans and tortillas a very cheap balanced and tasty meal that they easily prepare over a wood fire in a make shift grill.

But black beans can be found also around the world and they are a very easy meal to prepare. The basic recipe has very little ingredients and the process is strait forward. You just have to take care that you clean the beans thoroughly and remove any stones that may be left between them. A process that I remember doing together with my mother and grandmother several times on the kitchen table.

There are several ways of cooking beans, traditionally you would boil them for a long time. I on the other hand are not patient enough for this and I tend to use all the gadgets that technology can give me, so for me this is a prefect job for a pressure cooker. Also the preparation of the beans varies, some people may soak the beans overnight to soften them, this reduces the cooking time and is supposed to give a more uniform cooking. But you can also do with out the soak, specially if you will blend them or mash them afterwards.


Ingredients for Black Beans

Basic Black Beans

2   C           Black Beans
2   Tbs        Lard
1                Medium size White Onion
Salt to taste.


  1. Clean the beans and rinse them under running water until it is clear.
  2. Put the beans in a pressure cooker, add water to cover by ~2 inches. (~5cm)
  3. Cut the onion in quarters and add it to the beans.
  4. Add the lard.
  5. Close and lock the lid of the pressure cooker as per the instructions.
  6. Once the pressure is reached, Cook for about 25 min on the high pressure setting. 
Black Beans


This yields the basic beans in a rich bean broth that even if eaten like this has a great flavor profile. You can just add some cilantro, maybe a bit of crème fraîche and eat them like this. You could also mash them and then fry them with some more lard or oil in a skillet to make refried beans. These beans could also be drained and used in other plates. But to really take them to a whole new level, you have to try the Black Bean soup below, its creamy with a smoky flavor to die for.



Black Bean Soup

                   Basic Black Beans
1                 Chipotle Chile in Adobo
Salt to taste


  1. Take the onions and beans with some of the water and puree them in a blender.
  2. Add bean broth as needed to give then the desired consistency
  3. Add the Chipotle a little at a time until the desired level of hotness is reached.
  4. Serve the soup with bread and a dollop of crème fraîche.
  5. Garnish with chives, green onions or cilantro.

Finished Black Bean Soup










Friday, November 23, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese

Today I was feeling like eating some confort food, and what better than a Mac and Cheese. But not the ready to eat pop the box in the microwave type, no!, I wanted to make my own version of it...

Interesting challenge since I dont think I have ever eaten a real Mac and Cheese before. So I took on to the internet, started researching and thanks to Pinterest, found an excellent tutorial for making your own.

For my take I went to the supermarket here in my hometown of Aschaffenburg in Germany to look for ingredients. If there is one thing they have here are cheeses, and with the proximity to Italy, Switzerland and France, there is no shortage of great cheeses.


Ingredients for the Mac and Cheese



I found a piece of Italian Parmigiano Reggiano, Swiss Emmental, Swiss Gruyere, and Gouda. As the tutorial says all you have to do is make a Bechamel Sauce base and add the cheeses and spices then add the pasta. I have to say this mix of cheeses made this dish have the consistency and taste of a great Swiss Fondue rather than a Mac and Cheese, but what would I know I dont know Mac and Cheese, but on the other hand I love Fondue so this was ok with me.

I used the Emmental, Gruyere, and Gouda on the sauce, and the Parmigiano for the crispy topping. The result was a silky smooth sauce with a sharp cheese taste and a crispy topping that my wife loved more than the dish itself. The only thing I think I will change the next time are the egg yolks. 


Finished Mac and Cheese

Here is my recipe:

2     C        Pasta
1.5  C        Grated Gruyere
1.5  C        Grated Emmental
1     C        Grated Gouda
1.5  C        Parmigiano Reggiano
2                Egg Yolks
1     C        Bread Crumbs
2     C        Milk
2     Tbs     Butter
2     Tbs     All purpose flour
                  Salt to taste
                  Freshly ground black pepper to taste



  1. Boil the pasta in salted water until done.
  2. While the pasta is boiling, cook a Roux in a separate sauce pan.
  3. Melt the butter over medium heat
  4. Mix in the flour a little at a time until it has the consistency of wet sand. 
  5. Then mix in the milk and simmer until it thickens.
  6. Whisk the yolks together with some of the sauce and then incorporate into the sauce
  7. At this point mix in the cheeses. (Emmental, Gouda, Gruyere)
  8. Adjust the seasoning (salt & pepper)
  9. Drain the pasta and mix with the sauce. 
  10. Transfer the mac and cheese to an oven safe container
  11. Top with the Parmigiano and bread crumbs
  12. Bake in the oven at 375 degF (190 degC) for 20-25 min



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Welcome to Culinary Intelligence

About me, I was born in a suburb of Mexico City, moved to Guadalajara, Jal. Mexico when I was 13, and I am currently living abroad in Germany. Software Engineer by day, I only started cooking a few years ago during an extended business trip to Huntsville, Al. Where I decided I've had it with the "Mexican" food served by all of these so called "Mexican" Restaurants that thrive everywhere outside of Mexico. I wanted to show my co-workers that what they knew as Mexican Food was not even close to the real thing, so I decided to make my first dish completely from scratch.... Mole Poblano!

For those that don't know. Mole Poblano is one of the flagship dishes of Mexican Cuisine. It is a complex dish made up of sometimes more than 30 ingredients (as was the case with my recipe) that is, as some say, an acquired taste. The recipe, as is the case in many Mexican families, came form my mother.

Cooking this dish outside of Mexico is always a real challenge. The ingredients that it uses are not readily available outside of Mexico. How ever as it turns out the US has now a lot of small Mexican stores that sell most of them in small quantities, even in Huntsville, Al. The process itself is not so difficult it's just tedious because all the ingredients either have to be roasted, toasted or fried and before you fry them you have to clean them and dry them. Once you have everything ready you grind everything together. As I was living in an extended stay hotel I did not have much to work with, so I went down to Walmart and bought the cheapest blender I could find. After I was done the ingredients were not the only thing that was toasted, so was the cheap blender.

The origin of Mole is most commonly said to be in the convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla, where the nuns are said to had come up with the dish during a surprise visit of the archbishop. The nuns were poor and did not have much to offer him, so they threw together their ingredients and killed one of their turkeys and Mole Poblano was born. It is said the original recipe had more than 100 ingredients!

The word Mole comes from the Nahuatl mōlli meaning sauce, or chīlmōlli for chili sauce. The term now refers not only to one specific sauce but to a whole family of sauces that range in color from green to dark red, and with main ingredients such as dried chiles, or nuts (pipian). But the key, or secret ingredient, in Mole poblano is the Mexican chocolate it uses to sweeten the sauce.
The sauce is served together with chicken or turkey to create a poultry dish or it can be served with fried tortillas, fresh cheese and some cream fraise to make a plate called Enchiladas.
As it turned out, Mole was not an immediate hit with the audience in the US. But after tasting it a second time some of them started to like it. Or so they told me anyway!

So this is the start of this blog, a blog created to help me learn, remember and document everything related to food, and hopefully in the process entertain and teach the readers a little from my experiences. During the next few weeks I will tweak the format and design of the blog and add more features as I see the need. So hello, nice to meet you, and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Coming Soon!

In the next few weeks this space will come alive and hopefully bring as much instruction and information to the readers, as it will teach me.