p2: Nougat de Montélimar

The Sweet

Mnougatsom just came back from a business trip to Italy, thought it’d be fun to make some sort of Italianish-French, or at least European, treat as a welcome home gift! And she loves almonds. My first thoughts were Macarons, but since, as with most of my inspirations for what and when to do these recipes has been lately, it was rather last-minute, I couldn’t quite prepare the proper ingredients and recipe in time. That said, my plan for doing a ‘double post’ a-la my Duck yielded to a surprising and craving revelation; see, I was going to stuff the macaron with the French Almond Nougat, which I had thought was that marzipan-y almond paste snack you see all over each country. To my surprise did I find out it was actual nougat, which until now I hadn’t realized is what one of my favorite Christmas-time recipes for Divinity basically was. It would NOT have made a good delicate macaron filling, but damn is it good, has almonds, and is a candy seen in one form or another throughout Europe, especially the Mediterranean.

Nougat on its own has a few interesting points in its history that stood out; did you know that the confection itself, basically the original mixture of heavily whipped egg whites with cooked sugar, started in the Middle East? Which I can sort of see, I can imagine some of the finer cultures, known for many of their sugar/honey sweets mixed with nuts and sesame, mixing big pots of cooked sweet stuff with the nut of choice to be served for royalty. What’s rather cool, in my opinion, was the candy, and as such interest and technique, spread with the Phoenicians, known as tradesmen who traveled all through the Mediterranean. These were the same people who originally spread wine and grape vines to Europe, and now apparently candies.

Then there’s the name; originally, this kind of treat was named ‘Halau,’ a derivative of their word for ‘sweet,’ and further proof it was probably one of, if not THE, first candy techniques ever developed; at least in the Middle East. Nougat came from the Latin term ‘Nux,’ which meant Walnut, a popular and mostly used ingredient at the time. It was only in the 1700’s when a certain agronomist planted Almond trees in France, apparently FOR nougat, that the Nougat de Montelimar was born.

The candy itself is made very much like Marshmallows, but without the Gelatin. Egg whites are beaten until stiff, have a lot of super-hot sugar added in, and continued to whip until it cools down and starts to get hard, in which one adds in nuts and transfers to a pan to set up, to which it gets hard and can be cut in big slices, bite-sized squares, or whatever. Montelimar style, as compared to Italian Torrone or US Divinity, is distinctive in using Honey as a major sugar and flavor source, and sometimes incorporates Pistachios.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Now, there are two main styles of ‘nougat’ here; there’s a softer, chewier version, sometimes first, but easily breakable that’s often simply termed nougat or nougat de montelimar. And then there’s ‘Nougatine,’ a much harder, cracking version that’s made with caramelized sugar; before I heard the name distinction, I was much debating if I should make it classically hard or soft, but since the latter isn’t pure ‘nougat,’ as I like to seek, it can be held off for another personal fun time.

20150725_104557Another intriguing requirement for this particular candy, in order to fit the regional designations that allow business to certify it as ‘de Montelimar’ Nougat, is Ratios. Not only does it have to use those certain ingredients mentioned, they have to be put in to a certain amount so as to characteristically fit the required bill. If I remember correctly, Honey had to compose 25% of the candy, and 30% had to be the nuts; either 28% Almonds and 2% Pistachio, or all of it Almond, but nothing else. I can’t say the recipe that I chose to base my own off of got these exactly right, though it seemed very close; besides, not many others were that close either, and some of the ones that really talked about it would then include all these other practices that just seem blah to me.

For instance, the use of corn syrup or glucose in with the cooked sugar. Hey, I get the use of that for candies nowadays, the stability is awesome, especially for home use. But this should be a TRADITIONAL recipe, a treat indicative to something made for at least a couple centuries on bright spring days after the honey. This was kept simple, made in an old pot with just a giant mound of sugar, cooked carefully in the way it should have been. So a recipe that only used sugar next to the honey was the way to go.

20150725_215630I did make some adjustments however; firstly, the recipe itself called for just cooking the sugar on its own, dry… which is possible to melt properly in a pan without immediately caramelizing brown, but oh so damn difficult. Better to just add some water and let it dissolve first; we need this clear at the hard ball stage of 285F to get the perfect texture, otherwise it’ll just get too damn tough. That and of course mess with the flavor.

Secondarily, this popular recipe had us start out cooking the honey and sugar separately, as all good recipes do, but then added the hot honey into the sugar to cook them both up to the 285F range together. At first, this seems harmless, rather logical; you know you can make a caramel out of pure honey too right? The issue is, when one cooks honey up to that range, it starts to brown and oxidize/caramelize/other-stuff a LOT sooner, and this reaction apparently speeds up when it’s mixed with regular sugar; or only happens when mixed with regular sugar, can’t remember. Either way, if one did this it would end up creating a nougat that’s distinctly darkened in color, not to mention would skew the final flavors. I don’t like that, so I decided to follow the lead of other recipes which, instead, heated the honey itself to 250F, add that into the whipped egg whites alone first, and then the sugar later. Not only to we preserve this amazing honey flavor without changing the color, but it helps to sort of ‘prime’ the egg whites for the much-hotter sugar syrup.

Speaking of sugar some more, this recipe also had the technique where, along with the nuts and vanilla, one dumps in some powdered sugar at the very end to mix in. God I debated whether or not to do this so long, because on the one hand I know that is not a really ‘traditional’ step, it can’t be. That said, making any kind of changes to sugar content can really mess up what I wanted to make. Luckily, I found an excerpt that explained the results of this, basically the sugar would get in and interrupt the long ‘strands’ of sugar to create a candy that broke easier, almost make it ‘softer’ in a certain sense. I actually preferred the idea of a nougat that would bend more, be chewy. Then I realized that of course it shouldn’t really affect it, since the sugar ‘requirement’ for the exact texture result would be all in the cooked; any powdered sugar added last-minute wouldn’t try ‘bolster’ this. So yah, doy me. And end of the day, another step bites the dust.

Of course I had to get pistachios in here; we had a large handful in the pantry that had still to be consumed, so it was the perfect recipe to toss them in. No I did not measure, but at the end of the day, unless REALLY trying to following the ratios, which one can figure I also had to not be too hung over for once just to make sure I make a proper nougat, having more or less nuts just determines how much more or less crunchy things one has in their whipped-egg-sugar-treat.

One final note, this one of warning. Candy making IS quite the bitch; recipes are simple, but getting the timing an temperatures right takes a lot of focus and staying in the kitchen the whole time, not to mention knowing what you’re doing the whole time. But if anything, you want the right equipment; do not, and I stress do NOT, attempt something like this, at least on your first time, without a decent stand mixer. Hand mixers don’t cover ground properly, whisking by hand is going to hurt like hell and be all but impossible to keep up the speed needed, and both cases take away the use of one hand for most of it, not good.

Now, I’ll say right now I had some not-so-idealistic results in my final candy, so the recipe that follows has been adjusted to something that should have a much better chance of success.

Nougat de Montélimar
500 grams Almonds
50 grams Pistachios
200 grams Honey
275 grams Sugar
2-3 Tb Water
2 Large Egg Whites
1 tsp Vanilla

Directions

  1. Pop Almonds and Pistachios in 400F oven for up to 6 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove, placing back in a warmed oven when close to fabrication20150725_215658
  2. Prepare desired pan, spraying it evenly with oil before pressing in a lay of Wax paper
  3. Place Honey in one saucepot and the Sugar+Water mixture in another with candy or other suitable thermometers, turning heat to medium/medium-high20150725_220135
  4. Stir often in both until they start to boil; start stirring constantly in honey and remove spoon completely in sugar, brushing the sides of the pan down with cold water if crystals start forming on the sides20150725_220452
  5. Place Egg Whites in stand mixer with the whisk attachment and turn on high, looking to beat to stiff peaks right before the first addition20150725_220522
  6. Once honey has reached 250F, remove and quickly, yet gradually, pour into the egg whites while the machine whips on medium-high. Once half has been added you can start adding in faster20150725_220827
  7. Whip fast until smooth and seems fully incorporated, and turn mixer down to medium speed to ‘stand by’ for the next addition20150725_221311
  8. Watching it carefully the whole time, remove sugar once it has reached 285F, immediately transferring over to mixer to pour a slow, steady stream into egg whites, beating them on high once more20150725_221537
  9. Once every bit of sugar has been added, continue beating egg whites on high speed for a MINIMUM of 6-8 minutes, likely much longer, until the nougat has almost very noticeably cooled and started to get notably thick in the stand mixer20150725_222248
  10. Very quickly add in the Vanilla and nuts, mixing in thoroughly; at this point one may need to fold in by spatula or try to quick transfer to the paddle attachment20150725_222422
  11. Using a rubber spatula that has gotten a quick spray of oil, quickly pour and scoop nougat out and into your prepared pan20150725_222449
  12. Cover with wax paper and attempt to smooth the top out with a rolling pin or other handy item
  13. Let sit at least 3 hours or overnight20150726_150710
  14. Once set, remove onto cutting board and cut into desired sized chunks
  15. Wrap in wax paper or melted chocolate for longer-term storage, or just shove into your mouth and enjoy

20150726_183842

My Thoughts

Okay, the flavor is awesome, and I heavily worry about my daily calorie intake as I work my hardest not to keep eating these nutty-sweet sugar bombs. I absolutely love that you can actually taste the honey, that little undercurrent of distinctively floral-sweet flavor we know and love beneath full-roasted almonds. Sort of makes me want to experiment with getting a really good honey, those ones that taste like different things like molasses or lilac or marshmallow, and seeing what I can create with it.

I did make a boo-boo though. And know, I’m not just talking about the fact that I think I over-toasted the almonds; I mean, not burnt, they were AWESOME, right before that edge of too-dark, me and my mom love them. But I’m sure this recipe wants them still white in the middle, just lightly toasted for some aroma. To be fair, I did turn the oven off at the right time, it just didn’t cool down as fast as I expected… should have taken the nuts out for some time between.

20150726_150137No, my nougat ended up quite sticky, barely firm at all, as you can see in the pic to the right; I had to set it in the fridge for a few hours just to make sure I got a more decent chance at cutting it smooth. And I know where I screwed up. First was when I added the honey in earlier; I still stand behind the reason for it, but I completely looked over the fact that by doing that, I was taking just over half of the sugar source that was going to get cooked to 285F and then mixing it in at a much cooler, softer stage, thus it didn’t have quite near as much hard sugar to form that firm density later. In retrospect, I should have reduced the honey, at least by a little, and added more regular sugar.

Secondly, and I think the true culprit to costing me what would have at least been a really SOFT, but still handle-able, nougat: I under-beat the bastard. After adding in my sugar (which by the way I’ve realized I really need to begin with MORE sugar that what recipes call for, I always lose some that end up hardening up inside/on-the-lip of the pan or the sides of the bowl before integrating), I only whipped until it was notably cooler but still warm, like 8 minutes. I was afraid that if I kept going until really thick, I might not have been able to mix the nuts in well, plus I know how much of a bitch transfer would have been. And if anything, I figured it’ be BETTER to under-beat; less air bubbles, more thick sugar stuff. But it did not occur to me that, despite how much whipping and beating it had taken so far, that ideal sugar-egg-white structure still needed time to develop to a certain stiffness, probably also to stretch those sugar strands thin so they set up in a more fragile and not-bendy thing. Or something like that.

-Sigh- Oh darn, always hope my attempt for these posts can be perfect, but I’m too damn lazy to make a second batch right afterwards. Maybe on the holidays…

P20150728_115524ossible Pairings

Not sure about you, but I just want something honeyed with this; maybe a really good, sweet glass of mead if I can find it. And my first thought towards regional pairings were fully negative, as many of the famous southern France dessert wines are quite port-like, darker renditions; but there IS the Muscat Beaumes de Venice, either in Rhone or Roussillon I forget, which is always nice and classically sweet, nectar-y, perfect for this!

Or some super-nutty, aromatic liqueur like Frangelico, served ice cold. Come to think of it, we got a bottle of special Pistachio-Liqueur in the basement… maybe it’s time we crack it…

p3: No-Knead Bread

#12, No-Knead Bread

no-knead-bread-revisitedGoing into Saturday still without any real thought on what, or even if, I wanted to make for bread this week, especially with some other time-killing things I had in my schedule. But with a stroke of luck, my boss happened to bring up the idea of “No-Knead Bread,” a recipe made insanely famous by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, who seems to use the dough for just about everything in the shop. We watched the Youtube video of Mark Bittman going over the recipe with him, and of course I now just had to try it myself out of pure curiosity, simply to see what the end result was actually like.

So how does one actually make a bread without properly developing gluten? The secret is multi-fold. First, it relies on a VERY large bulk fermentation process, minimum 12 hours, to develop all those beautiful pockets and holes in the final bread, while also keeping the dough itself tender. There follows a step where one ‘folds’ this really soft and sticky dough over itself; I expect this helps to layer the air pockets to make a more thorough interior, making multiple smaller bubbles instead of just a layer of huge expanding holes. Finally, this bread is actually baked in a hot cast iron pan in the oven, helping it not only keep that thick and round bread shape instead of flattening out, as well as provide an environment for natural ‘steaming’ to expand it up while also assisting with the moist dough and crispy crust development. Though that’s all my theories backed up by no solid research (you know, cuz I’m lazy), so take them as you will. I’d like to just get to some quick-to-make hot bread.

Recipe 20150719_233245
3 cups Flour, AP or Bread
¼ tsp Yeast
1¼ tsp Salt
1 5/8 tsp Water

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, turning it into a thick batter. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave to sit 12-18 hours, until greatly increased in size and top is dotted with bubbles.20150720_124603
  2. Carefully pull out, using fingers or oiled spatula, onto a very thoroughly floured counter, dusting the top heavily and making sure it goes flat, pressing lightly if it doesn’t do so naturally.20150720_124729
  3. “Fold” dough edges over, in a way as to sort of make 2-4 ‘layers,’ and cover with plastic or cloth. Leave to rest 15 minutes.20150720_124856
  4. Uncover, dust hands, counter, and dough with more flour and ‘shape’ into a general ball form. Almost like making a Boule, but with no actual effort in trying to make it the top smooth and tight; it just won’t cooperate.20150720_131629
  5. Transfer to a cloth/towel heavily dusted with cornmeal, wheat bran, or more flour. Pile more of this on top, cover with another cloth, and leave to proof 2 hours, until doubled in size.20150720_152320
  6. Place a large, cast iron dutch oven, or suitable substitute, in oven and turn to 500F.20150720_152523
  7. Turn towels upside down, take off the bottom, and quickly dump the dough, so it’s seam-side down, into the hot pan.20150720_154953
  8. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue baking in oven 10-15 minutes, until dough has darkened to a deep, rustic char.20150720_160637
  9. Remove from pan, upending onto cooling rack or cutting board, and enjoy as desired.

What Have I Learned This Time?

Might help to used oiled spatula or other tools for pulling and moving the dough next time, quite sticky.

20150720_152439Flour dusting… flour dusting, flour dusting, flour dusting. The recipe originally claims, after the rest period, to only put ‘just as much as needed to coat.’ Well f*%# that, it doesn’t work; you need a s*%#load, either just super-cover it initially so it almost turns into a smooth-topped dough, and/or keep doing it on everything. Even with a decent amount, this dough just keeps sticking to the counter and thing; which makes sense as there’s NO GLUTEN! I even put what I thought was a good, even, thorough coating on the cloth which it proofed on… well, you see the results of that. Though there is part of me that wonder if it would have resulted in something a little more manageable, as it seemed in the video, if I had used All Purpose Flour instead of Bread.

And as a follow-up, raw dough is a bitch to try and clean off of towels and other fabric.

Any Thoughts?

20150720_160942The final product certainly showed some distinctive traits. The crust acts as the sole flavor element, cooked to a very deep and charred, but not in an unpleasant fashion, way. As a result of its minimal gluten development, it also gets a uniquely crispy-crackling texture; heck, it was making rice krispy noises when I took it out of the oven. Thin and brittle as compared to the thick and crunchy hearth breads, but significant and enjoyable all the same in its own way. The inside has almost no bread flavor to itself, though when cool one can get just a BIT of that little yeastiness, but that’s not what we focus on. Instead we look at that beautifully bubbly crumb, displaying a visual right out of a photo shoot. Texture was interesting… if there’s any bread that feels almost ‘spongey,’ this is it; I mean, plenty of them do in one way or another, but there’s ‘fluffy spongey,’ ‘chewy spongey,’ ‘soft and buttery spongey,’ etc. This really does have that very light, springy give. All in all, a combination of things that can be seen as good or bad depending on what one’s looking for. At the end of the day, this no-knead bread truly puts itself into a category of its own.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

Surprisingly, yes, but I don’t think this one really counts

p3: White Sandwich/Loaf Bread

#11, White Loaf Bread

64Been craving a simple, big chunk of toasted white loaf bread for a while; well, to be more specific, I think I’m craving Sourdough, but I still need to plan a specific week to set enough prep day time aside for that. But really good white bread works too, and it’s been a while since that Wheat Bread, so I think I’m in the clear to bake some off.

I didn’t realize that this is actually what Milk Bread is (though it also goes by Pullman, Pain de Mie, and other terms), so long as it’s made with milk of course. Which comes to the fact that my book offers three variations, which basically just change out water for milk/buttermilk/etc and butter for margarine/shortening/vegetable oil/etc. White breads can be made with any variation of these ingredients at the same weight and ratio, but there will be obvious stylistic changes to the final product.

For my own interests, I tried Variation number 3, the only one that actually changed the Method as well, adding in an extra ‘Sponge’ stage with the flour and yeast, since I want to try getting as much of that yeasty-developed flavor as I can. The author mentions that this effect is likely minimal, if not seen at all, but no harm in trying right? Besides, it should help the crumb as well with the extra fermentation. I’m also going to use purely milk and butter with this, just cuz I like the idea of making ‘milk bread.’

Finally, I’m testing out the theory today that my Loaf Pan is so big it needs a whole recipe, or at LEAST 2lbs, of bread dough to make a properly shaped final product. Plus this keeps me from needing to cut this in half and deflate the dough even further.

20150713_112901White Milk Bread, Sponge Version
4 1/3 cup/18.75oz Bread Flour
2 tsp/0.22oz Dry Yeast
1¼ cups/12oz Whole Milk, Lukewarm(I don’t think this is accurate, just lean more towards the actual weight)
1½ tsp/0.38oz Salt
3 Tb/1.5oz Sugar
1 large/0.65oz Egg Yolk
¼ cup/2oz Butter
1 Egg beaten w/ 1 tsp Water

Directions

  1. Combine 2½ cups of Bread Flour, the Yeast, and Whole milk together into a batter. Cover with plastic and let bloom about an hour, or until doubled in size and more foamy20150713_123936
  2. Transfer to stand mixer with Salt, Sugar, Egg Yolk, an Butter, mixing slowly and thoroughly to bring it all together20150713_124608
  3. Switch to a dough hook, letting the dough beat around at medium speed for around 3-6 minutes, depending, until it completely clears the side of the bowl, just SLIGHTLY sticks to the bottom, and passes the windowpane test20150713_125316
  4. Move to a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover top tightly in plastic, and Bulk Ferment 1½ – 2 hours, or until doubled in size20150713_150804
  5. Turn onto a floured, or non, counter, gently shape into a Boule as depicted Here, lightly mist with Spray Oil, and let rest on the counter while covered with plastic or a towl. This can be done as a single big loaf or cut in half beforehand for two 1lb loaves, if using puny, feminine bread pans. That’s right, I laugh at you!20150713_151016
  6. Once rested, shape into a simple loaf roll as described Here and transfer to your loaf pan/s. Mist lightly again with spray oil, cover, and let proof for an additional 1-1½ hours, until doubled in size and just over the lip of the pan20150713_153921
  7. While this is happening, preheat oven to 350F20150713_165858
  8. Make your egg wash, gently an thoroughly brush a light layer of it over the top of the bread. Optionally, you may make a slit down the middle to give that classic sandwich bread crease in the final product20150713_174530
  9. Move to oven and bake 40-50 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the top and sides have developed a deep and even golden brown, and it sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom20150713_174730
  10. Take out of pan and let cool on rack, or do the smart thing and slice immediately for heavenly pieces of super soft, tender bread and crunchy crust slathered in butter20150714_101936
  11. Enjoy as desired, like simply toasted for breakfast with even more butter. Butter! It makes the cows smile when you eat it! Don’t ask what expression they make when you go for rump roast…

What Have I Learned This Time?

I need to remember that grilled cheeses made with THICK slices of bread need time in the oven to actually get the cheese nicely melted; and as such, the first side should be flipped a little early so it doesn’t get overly dark and crunchy. But that has nothing to do with making the bread. Because I’m not sure what else new I learned this time.

Well, I guess all the stuff about the different names, and that I can make some easy substitutions to these recipes without RUINING it, just getting a different outcome. Thus a reason to retry this style for the blog; perhaps I can then do a smaller loaf and some sort of buns just to switch things up a bit.

Any Thoughts?

You know what I wanna talk about is the flavor. Besides the whole simple white bread thing, there’s a certain, sorta-subtle taste in here that I’m not usually used to with sandwich bread. And it’s not just simple yeasty; that bread development on its own is easy to pick out after having experienced it in other things. No, if anything, this reminds me mostly of flavors I’d seen in the Portuguese Sweet Bread, just much more toned down. Obviously I think part of that can contribute from the fact they both had an egg wash on the crust, but as for the inside, I’d have to assume that result is due to the combined flavor impacts of the yeast with the enriching ingredients; aka, the egg yolk, the butter, but I think most importantly the milk since it’s the only one with any noted presence. The former two really only had the tiniest amount in there. I find the result intriguing, exciting, and the next time I make this bread I plan on using just Water and Shortening, potentially without the sponge stage, and seeing if it makes an obvious difference, which it should.

But at some point, I also REALLY need to make a bread with buttermilk; I’ve seen it as an option a few times already, and I reeeeeeeeaaaaaallllyyyyyyy want to see what results it gives.

By the way, didn’t mention this earlier, but recipes like these can also be used for Dinner Rolls, Hot Dog Buns, and other such things. Just need to divide smaller, shape differently, and bake at 400F for usually 15 minutes.

Oh, and what the hell, I swear I’ve got better crumb an bigger holes in a damn sandwich bread than I’m getting in my baguettes and ciabattas! What’s up with that!?

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

I’ve convinced the Sandwich Breads to be on my side! Now if only they can help me convince the hearth breads to not be so stuck up…

p1: Navarin d’Agneau

Tffa22dd9403391d6b99e3d6445b1a0b4he Dish

I was going to do some more in depth research on this week’s recipe, but I’ve written SO much in my ‘A Word On…’ section that I think I’ll just cut this short, for both of our sakes. This week I’m doing Navarin d’Agneau, or Navarin of Lamb, normally a Springtime-ish dish of, of course, Lamb(or Mutton too, but I keep seeing lamb in recipes so there), stewed slowly and accompanied by fresh, sweet spring vegetables. It’s been compared to the south’s version of Bouef Bourgignon, but made with lamb, white wine, and more green veggies.

It’s often popular around Easter time (damn my timing and hunger for a lamb dish this weekend), a time when it developed; likely as a followed enthusiasm for the popular, rich and heavy mutton stews enjoyed in the winter. Once spring comes around, the only meat available is new, young lamb and the lighter, sweeter spring vegetables. These then coalesced into a stew deserving its own name; of which, many have at one point acclaimed to honor the Battle of Navarino in 1827, but more likely an evolution of ‘Navet,’ or ‘Turnip,’ which is and should be used boldly in this deliciously svelt stew.

A Word On…

Lamb: it seems most recipes are rather in agreement that lamb Shoulder cut is the way to go, either as the sole cut or always included in a mix of them. I also found one very traditional-looking recipe that used lamb ‘neck,’ saying that you could cut it into good sized whole slices (not something I’ve seen any neck, unless it was something as big as a cow, able to do, but hey who knows what part of the neck it was from). I of course stuck with shoulder, but as with any stew, any really flavorful and tough section of the lamb would work wonders; parts of the leg like the shank could be as potentially tasty (and even cheaper), one may just need to ensure it gets enough braising time. Speaking of which, I don’t like the idea of using a heavy beef stock with what is a lighter lamb, especially if it’s supposed to be a more spring-time stew. So instead I use chicken and will sear and stew the lamb bones from the shoulder, or whatever cut used, in with the meat.

Vegetables: Despite the humongous potential in people utilizing an insanely large variety of different vegetation in all these different recipes, I actually found most kept to similar lines and made it easy to narrow down exactly which ones I wanted to use as the ‘minimum base’ for a very traditional navarin d’agneau.

First up, obviously, is the Turnip; gotta have this (though some evil recipes tried substituting it out with potatoes, the bastards), followed by the Carrot. We then see two very green elements, Green Beans and Peas. I ended up getting some Haricots Verts, based on an older French strain of the bean, at the store, along with a package of fresh English peas, which wasn’t my initial plan. I was originally going to go for Frozen peas, which are actually one of the best versions one can get in the store due to peas tendencies to have a VERY short life while not frozen. But this seemed a fine opportunity to keep that spring freshness in tender little bites; plus it was fun to utilize (got a lot left over I’ve been putting in lunches and stuff!).

Finally, the Onion, which deserves some extra consideration. I would say, if we’re talking pure and perfect ideal, we’d want to go for “Spring Onion,” which looks like a green onion but with big, bulbous white end (like a bigger pearl onion, but fresh and with the green shoots). I wanted to do this, but of course none in store. If you’d like to keep that flavor and feeling without going to my following alternatives, I’d say try using Leeks. But with that eliminated, favorite course is usually to turn, much like many stews, towards Pearl Onions. Which I was ALSO gonna do, but then I found a bag of Ciopollini, which are very much like the pearls, but like flat saucers, and usually sweeter and more flavored. It might not be classic, but I sort of couldn’t help myself in playing with these guys for that extra special addition! Just note for preparation that you indeed need to let them boil in water for 1-2 minutes, makes them much easier to peel off nicely.

20150706_152609Tomatoes: Most recipes use an addition of tomatoes and garlic to the stew, either in sautéing beforehand or adding raw to the pot just before leaving to boil (I’m choosing the latter, since I feel I wanna keep the ‘fresh’ and seasonal flavor of all the vegetables here). ‘Crushed’ tomatoes are often the case, and whereas one can just as well and easily use some canned tomato sauce, paste, or crushed versions (nothing wrong with that, especially depending on the quality of tomatoes one can find), I can’t help but want to stick to going for fresh. This requires one to then skin and de-seed them, which is often done through a particular staple technique called ‘Concasse,’ my second reason for pursuing the fresh route; I haven’t done tomatoes concasse in quite a while, thought it’d be nice to do it for once.

20150706_144839This involves a few steps. First, the tomato has an X scored into one end, while the core is cut out of the other; this technique focuses purely on taking out any undesirable element of the tomato and only leaving the tender flesh to work with. So the core must go, and scoring will help promote the skin removal.

To do which, we basically just blanch it like the vegetables; pop in boiling water, but really for only 10-15 seconds at the MOST. At one point the skin will start to split from the cut, and this is when it is to be removed and quickly chilled in ice water (though I once saw a French chef who completely abhors the ice water bath, saying it only removes a little bit more of the flavors). From here, one will easily be able to peel these skins off.

20150706_151311

Following up, we have to deseed; which one could cut the tomato in half or quarters to accomplish, but it’s much easier to ‘peel’ the outer section of flesh off with a nice, almost like you’re trying to cut the thick peel off a grapefruit. As you can see, this easily reveals the big clusters of seeds in the core, to which we can easily just scrape off with our thumbs, and any seeds sticking to the very smooth outer ‘peel’ inside curves. Then we can do whatever we want with them. In order to ‘crush’ them, I basically diced my tomatoes as small as possible, from which I used the flat of my blade to push and scrape across the cutting board, repeating the actions of dicing/slicing and then scraping until it turned into sort of a big wet paste. Basically the same procedure to making minced garlic paste, for those familiar, just much bigger.

Wine: White, always white; I don’t think it strictly has to be white or fantastic, but this feels like a dish where using something super-cheap vs with a nice drinkable can make a noticeable difference. So I myself grabbed a decent and fun, not too distinctively flavored (like sauvignon blanc) dry white with some body that I had in my rack for a while and happily drank the rest with family.

Caramelization: We know how to sear by now, but I found a couple recipes, both from my Larousse and others, use an interesting technique that I’ve never heard before. After the lamb chunks are seared nice and golden, one sprinkles some sugar on them, starts stirring, and cooks on high to get an even FURTHER level of browning and caramelization. Basically it’s combining both sugar caramelizationa and maillard reaction (though I bet when they did this decades back they had no idea it was a separate thing). I’ve got to try this now, right?

20150706_155534They also had us dusting flour in too, very standard when making a stew so the stock can turn into a thick gravy when it reduces. Found another recipe thought I’d try that says, after sprinkling in, moving the pot to a 450F oven helps to promote really good browning of the flour evenly without burning (a technique proven well for making really dark rouxs for things like Gumbo, as seen on Good Eats via Alton Brown).

Stewing Strategy: This is where I had the most doubts and annoyances, figuring out what I wanted to do. I mean, obviously stewing the lamb is straightforward; sear it, add the wine and stock, cook on low heat for a few hours. The main issue came in two forms. First, do I simmer the stew mostly on the stovetop or in the oven? I don’t think there’s any classical reason against either method, so I went for the latter; it just seemed appealing to me, and I do like the idea of it harking back to times when one would start a dish like this in the morning, put the pot in an oven/fire all day, and find it ready and waiting come dinner time.

The second and bigger issue came with the Vegetables. There are SO many different little versions of how these are treated (except for the peas and green beans, those are always just blanched and stirred in the last five minutes to heat and finish the light cooking they need); blanched and sautéed golden and added closer to the end, onions and stuff sautéed WITH the lamb in the beginning, added raw halfway through, trying the ‘glazing’ technique on carrots/etc, blanched and non, etc. It got quite confusing. But there are a few factors that helped me narrow down to what seemed most pure for me. Firstly, this is a dish that, to me, really celebrates the feeling of Spring, the natural freshness to ingredients, everything is young and green and bright, so I think I can cut out anything that requires the vegetables to caramelize.

Secondly, in an effort to make sure the colors and flavors are kept to that attractive freshness, I’ll be blanching every single vegetable (again, boiling water for a bit, then shocking in ice water like w/ tomatoes); not sure if it’s really necessary to do this, besides for the beans and peas, but I wanna try it here. This will invariably reduce how much time they can spend in the stew, so adding in only the last half hour or so. And I WILL be letting the stew do all the cooking; I could try ‘glazed’ vegetables, which would be yummy and pretty, but doing so would mean only adding them in at the end, making them Garniture. Which, in itself, is a classic way to treat vegetables in stews like Boef Bourgignon, but I really want some of that flavor mingling happening, and I’ve found a recipe that relies on the complete vegetable cookery with the lamb (sort of an in between stage between garniture and start-to-finish, soft vegetable+meat stews), and they still get that nice, whole, glazed look to them.

Potatoes/Can-I-Get-a-Side Here?: Stews like this can be served with any number of starch; rice, a side of baguette, pasta (like in Coq au Vin), however I’ve been seeing a lot of mashed potatoes under this one. And when I don’t, often there are potatoes being cooked along with or in place of (tut tut, the one recipe buzzfeed has doesn’t even use these? For shame) the turnips. So to keep that traditional, southern French, sort of rustic feel (and cuz I love stew and mashed taters), that’s what I’ll be doing, and what I suggest anyone ELSE does.

20150706_160202Navarin d’Agneau
2lbs Lamb Shoulder, bones included
2 Tb Oil
1 Tb Sugar
3 Tb Flour
1 cup decent White Wine
2 cups, give or take, Chicken or Beef Stock
2 Tomatoes, prepared Concasse
2-3 Garlic Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
1 Sprig Rosemary
½ bunch of Parsley
1 small bunch Garden Carrots
3 small Turnips
8oz Pearl or Cipollini Onions
1 handful Haricots Verts or other nice Green Beans
¾ – 1 cup Green Peas, frozen or really fresh

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set Dutch Oven, Cast Iron, or other suitably heavy duty large pot on medium-high heat20150706_154319
  2. As this heats up, debone and portion Lamb (helps to have a nice boning knife for this) into even, good-size chunks, about 1-2” size
  3. Coat bottom of hot pan in oil and, in two batches, add your lamb pieces and bones, letting sit in smoking hot oil for about 1-2 minutes until deep brown, flipping over and repeating until at least two sides are evenly golden20150706_154538
  4. Remove all lamb to separate bowl (the first half should be here already after finished browning) and pour off some of the fat in the pan so only a couple tablespoons remain20150706_155125
  5. Sprinkle lamb (and bones) with Sugar and transfer back to hot pan, stirring very often, but not constantly, 2-4 minutes, until a deeper caramelization has occurred and coated more of the meat20150706_155244
  6. Quickly dust with flour, stirring to evenly coat, and move to hot oven. Let sit 3-5 minutes to darken further20150706_155349
  7. Transfer back to hot stove, turning oven down to 350F, add in Wine and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze all the tasty bits and fond, letting the wine cook briefly20150706_155730
  8. Add in enough Stock to just cover, and while it comes to a boil, finely chop and crush both Tomatoes and Garlic into a paste of sorts (sprinkling kosher salt on board helps), toss this into the pot along with a Bouqet Garni of Bay Leaves, Rosemary, and some Parsley Stems (just tie them together with string)20150706_160221
  9. Stir this in and move to the now-reduced oven, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours20150706_145127
  10. While this is going, prepare the vegetables; peel Carrots and Turnips, cutting the latter into 6-8 pieces and carrots as desired, and snip the ends off of the Green Beans. Working one vegetable at a time, blanch each of these, and the Peas, in rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (green veggies should develop a nicer, deeper color, carrots should turn a bit brighter, and turnips are a guess) before dunking in an ice water bath20150706_150606
  11. For the Onions, let sit in boiling water 1-2 minutes, let cool slowly and carefully peel off the outer husk so the whole, tender onion is now revealed. Hold this on the side along with all your other blanched vegetables20150706_153057
  12. Remove stew from oven and strain the liquids into a bowl, using the chance to remove all the bones, bouquet garni, and as much chunks of garlic and tomato from the meat as possible. Return sauce and bare lamb to the pot20150706_170047
  13. Nestle and stir in the carrots, turnips, and onions into the stew so they’re all glazed in some sauce. At this point one may need to add just a bit extra stock if it’s already rather reduced and gravy-like20150706_174125
  14. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes before removing and setting on stove as you wait for service (at this point, the stew can be refrigerated for 1-2 days before the meal)20150706_181133
  15. When getting close to service, cut green beans in half and heat stew up to a boil. Mix in the beans and peas and let cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes
  16. Chop remaining Parsley leaves as fine as desired, add to stew, and serve20150706_183721
  17. Spoon over mashed potatoes, rice, or serve with crusty baguette, and Enjoy

The Verdict

20150706_183829It’s been a while since I’ve felt REALLY satisfied with the results of a stew without having to take extra cooking time and other further manipulations to get it looking decent. Lamb came out tender, the stock reduced into a beautiful gravy, got a nice sear on the meat beforehand (actually loved that trick of adding the sugar, you could really see this deep, even burnish of caramelization spread out through the lamb), vegetables were all tender and still had the bite where appropriate, lending their sweetness while at it quite nicely. And of course the flavor was rather delicious, it all came out quite cohesive, that sort of medium-rich body and flavor depth I was looking for; not excessively deep and heavy like super-beefy, usually red wine-based stews can get to (like the Coq au Vin). The only thing I’d say is that I didn’t get any of the flavor from the haricots verts I wanted; texture yes, but either I didn’t get the best quality to begin with (they looked good though… and came from Trader Joes…), I perhaps did some little screwup on the blanching, or I just expected more than what was realistic; they are green beans after all. Either way, the pot I made didn’t last the night; even if it was bigger, I don’t think it’d last the night. And I’m using my leftover blanched veggies tomorrow in some oatmeal lunchie. God I’m really happy about this after waiting a while since my last French 44 recipe.

Primary Pairing – Beaujolais

I’ll give Buzzfeed props for hitting their wine suggestion in the ballpark for this one; a Pinot Noir (though they really do need to specify further than just varietal, pinot noirs come out insanely differently depending on who’s making it and where). Since this dish is cooked in white wine, and the lamb can come out VERY tender when done well, one can easily argue a case for being able to pair with either white or red wines; but if doing the latter, it should be a rather lighter style, with only a small to medium amount of ‘tannins’ since the lamb has barely any chew to it now. Pinot noir fits well, and is often seen as a nice red with very vegetable-heavy dishes.

20150706_183125But I want to find something better still, which is why I looked to the nearby regions. Did you know that the wine we know as Beaujolais is actually a part of the Burgundy region? Yet it’s so far south, and the soils have changed so much, that it’s almost like an extension of the Northern Rhone? The area and wine almost fits more into the character of this South-Eastern region of France, like this dish, than the NE ‘Burgundy-Alsace-Alps’ mentality (it’s on much flatter, hillier ground). And it fits perfectly with a dish like this.

For due to the result of an often-practiced technique called ‘Carbonic Maceration,’ which I won’t get into detail about, the main grape of the region (Gamay) turns an extremely, almost confected fruity nose, and a palette that is really, REALLY low in body and tannin, the perfect kind of level to go with a stew. It also comes out very distinctly lilac-purply in color, unique! Despite the very expressive nose, the palate rarely has  the flavor to back it up, like many a French wine. Instead it holds structure, for us to better enjoy and quaff down alongside our food. And this almost sweet-smelling, plain savory-bodied, low-tannin, decent-acid wine offers up a great opportunity to consume alongside potentially funky, tender lamb and a butt load of sweet vegetables.

But we ideally need something with just a BIT more character than the mass-market Beaujolais and ‘Noveau’ (-shudders-) that we’re used to, which is why I got…

20150706_182829My Bottle: Chateau Thivin, 2011 Côte de Brouilly

There are three classes of Beaujolais. “Noveau,” the cheapest and lowest quality, made super-fast and as early as possible for the masses of people who got dragged into the hype that THIS is the wine that needs to be consumed at holidays; “Villages,” a little better, standard wine from the region, still focusing almost purely on carbonic maceration and its distinct effects; and “Cru Beaujolais.” These last are wines that come from 10 select villages on the top of the single hill that occupies the entire region, and though they all still use carbonic maceration as is tradition, one sees a lot more further fermentation in barrels, long oak aging, and other more traditional and quality-focused practiced. These result in wines that have similar balance and those unique noses of Beaujolais, but with more depth towards ACTUAL wine aromas and flavors, almost as if they were crossed with a nice Burgundy.

And the best part? For French wine, often really GOOD quality French wine, the prices on these Cru are amazing. I got mine for, what, $16-18, the REALLY good regions can reach up to around $30, and it’s worth every penny. All the money is really from the work and quality that’s going into the wine, and not just the added prestige of what supposedly well-renowned subregion from a French wine region can get you. (why I normally hate navigating Bordeaux and Burgundy; so hard to find something that’s WORTH the price unless you know beforehand).

And this one did not disappoint. A little bit more in terms of savory and deeper fruity, slightly toasty flavors helped to mingle with the meaty lamb while we savored the nose in between bites. The distinctly fake-fruity notes aren’t too forward, so I could enjoy them mingling in with the vegetables as a poignant accent. But I’ll very much be looking forward to enjoying the rest of the bottle on its own for the next couple of days, navarin leftovers or not.

LYONESS 2015-05-19 14_04_33Secondary Pairing – English Cider

This IS a dish cooked in white wine, and really tender when done well, so having a white wine as a pairing is not just not out of the question, but it could be argued as the most desired if you can find the right one. But, since I’ve already used my one ‘wine slot’ for the Beaujolais, time for a substitute. Cider is a substitute. Cider tastes good, and has very similar balances to white wine; not to mention lamb is also quite popular in the UK, so going for English Cider with a dish like this is almost regional. They usually come with a little bigger bodies than some of our really light and crisp ciders we’re used to, letting it stand up to the richer lamb, an acidity to cut through this medium richness, and the fresh apple flavor help evoke the feeling of spring even further. And what’s more, the hint of sweetness carries through with the naturally sweet vegetables. And now I’m wishing I had cider instead of wine… talking about it always gets my cravings going…