p2: Meringue

The Sweet

I did a project on eggs in my last year in High School, after reading its chapter in On Food and Cooking (amazing book, still need to read the rest of it). I was fascinated by it, the amazing complexity of structure, the enormous range of applications, the interesting and odd ramifications from the tiniest of changes in amount, cooking time, temperature, etc which have plagued egg-focused recipes for centuries. But no doubt my favorite aspect came in the egg whites, or to be more specific what happened when we kinetically agitated the protein chains (aka beat the crap out of them w/out heat).

As a brief review, and to show I’m not all bull, egg whites are mainly made up of water and proteins, which are individually bundled together in tight balls. As energy and kinetic force is applied, links in these balls disconnect, letting them unfurl into long chains. Continuing to be whipped around and mixed up, the chains cross and link back together with the help of more energy and other things. Chains form around and together in giant nets, creating a new tight structure which traps water and air firmly between them, thus creating Bubbles. Very solid bubbles which have been used with great success and popularity throughout our history of cuisine.

Origins are contested and unsure, but all study suggests the very first recordings of those to purposefully beat egg whites for something to be in, surprisingly enough, England (or the area around it) during Medieval times. I find it quite interesting and curious that, in the same Medieval times, a painting technique known as Tempera (very similar to tempura isn’t it?) originated, whereas the focus was on heavily beating egg yolks or whites before mixing with pigments. Maybe that lead to the discovery of how beautiful and fancy egg white foams looked, perhaps leading to the Elizabethan-era dish known as Snow, made by adding a bit of egg whites and sugar to cream before beating, is likely the true precursor from which meringue evolved. At the time, 16th century, any forks and whisk-like utensils were still to be discovered, thus all any cook had to work with were bundles of reeds and cleft sticks. Cream is extremely easy to whip to peaks by hand given enough effort, at the time being used as a decadent centerpiece for higher class tables. But the eggs’ temperament in this area thus meant it needed to wait before it could shine on its own.

5069cc5474c5b64af3000563__w_145_h_200_s_fit_The tipping point for this seemed to happen in two countries simultaneously after the turn of the 1600’s. French chefs introduced a much lighter version of Snow containing more egg whites and sugar, and a certain Lady Elinor Fettiplace documented a recipe for “White Biskit Bread” in 1604, the latter being described as a “beaten-egg-white-and-sugar-confection.” The advent of Forks and other tined objects around 1644 would catapult the techniques to destroy and re/combine ingredients and thus send Meringues on their way, with various excerpts and influences on the French and other sides throughout its timeline. One note of interest, as many site, is the supposed official invention in the Swiss town of Meringen by pastry chef Gasparni in 1720; its relevance to the name is debated, especially considering other reports of the confection’s connection to the Saxon (in England-ish area) town of Mehringyghen and the fact that many words entering France from Germany often ended in –ingue. So whether the name’s source is specific or purely random (there is no actual or partial translation to it, it’s its own word, which is pretty unique if you think about it) is officially up in the air.

Popularity in desserts rose, the technique was slowly refined with different ways to make it added, and the final nail in the coffin of its identity was hammered in by the legendary Antoine Careme, who was supposedly the very first chef to use a Piping Bag to shape the foam before baking, as opposed to spoons. Not surprising considering his work with cakes.

Highly beaten egg whites with sugar are used today in everything from decorating desserts to acting as the base for soufflé to piling on top of pie to poaching and eating with custard (which will be another post soon I assure you). But probably its most popular, and singularly known, uses nowadays is as a simple ‘baked’ Cookie, which is what I’ll be doing with it today.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

I find Meringue has been both the glorious highlight and bane of my culinary life; or really anything that involves whipped egg whites (do you know how much trouble I had with Souffle before getting it right?). Some of my best points in my culinary life revolve around that period when I had whipping egg whites with sugar down FLAT; getting the right amount in, adding it at the perfect time, and all that stuff needed to yield the perfectly smooth, fluffy, marshmallow-like egg fluff, which I mostly just use to pile on top of a dessert raw instead of baking (should try it sometime instead of whipped cream).

But then for whatever reason I lost it, haven’t been able to make a good, proper protein-sugar-chain in the last couple years. So I was very much looking forward to tackling this project head-on, re-learning the various important points to not only make a perfect fluff, but also the right kind for baking. It was a very relieving day… so now I get to yell at you and pound this delicate art into your brain like a drill sergeant.

First thing to learn, as every other person discussing meringue will tell you, is that there are technically 3 regional styles of meringue: French, Italian, and Swiss. Obviously we’ll be focusing on the first one, but it’s still fun to mention the other two. Italian meringue, often the ones with the highest stability when done right, is made by pouring cooked sugar (vs raw grain) into the whites while whisking. The unique Swiss technique, however, has one mixing the egg whites and sugar even before beating, in particular over a bain marie (double boiler) on very gentle heat until the sugar melts into it. Supposedly, as I haven’t tried this style much, it create a rather dense, thicker version of the style; marshmallowy, right up my alley I think.

But we’ll be sticking with the originator and most simple, and least stable, style; adding raw sugar to the whites while mixing. Now we have to choose between another two styles of meringue in general; Soft or Hard (so if one considers it, with the regional techniques, there are at least 6 different kinds of meringue one can make). The former uses less sugar, added at a time that turns it into a lighter, fluffy cloud-like thing, well known in Meringue Pies. The latter, and often seen in icings and our baked cookies, incorporates large amounts and yields that almost emulsified, smooth white cream.

20140717_105548Really. One of the first important points to learn, when making a firm baking meringue, is that you’ll need about Double the weight of sugar as the egg whites being used to get the right consistency. Considering that, it should be plain to see that, despite the disappointing loss in flavor, you should use the finest grains of sugar you can find. Not powdered sugar though, it’s got starch and other things in it; though I have heard there are some recipes that swap out a little bit of regular sugar for powdered for an interesting result.

The Process is as such:

20140717_112417Separate your whites from the egg yolks, very carefully; there is to be no trace of yolk or any other fat in the whites, otherwise the egg proteins will NOT come together; they’ll try, and many will, but that giant network will never form together properly. So keep your separating system organized and risk-free; crack over one bowl and organize the whites for whipping in another.

Despite the back of my mind always insisting on naturality and keeping things traditional, stabilizers have become key to the creation of these nowadays. In particular, Cream of Tartar; add a small amount, part of a teaspoon, in while the egg whites are getting somewhat foamy while beating.

As the proteins are destroyed and re-chain together, the resulting foam will go through two stages before breaking down again (or, in reality, the chains tightening up so much that their held water leaks out): Soft Peak and Stiff Peak. When the foam starts to take shape, turning completely into a mess of snow-like bubbles, but it still too weak to hold a firm, pointed peak (tested by pulling whisk/beater away), it’s at the Soft stage. This is when we need to add the sugar.

The key, simply, is a little bit at a time, and it should emulsify properly. I have seen a LOT of old, and even recent, recipes that say this should be ‘folded in, gently’… yeah, I tried that when I was young. It doesn’t do anything, just gets grainy and you can’t whip it into the proper emulsion after. I mean maybe if you did it a certain way it’d work, but I doubt it’d be any better than just blending it in on a lower/medium speed. Will ensure full incorporation anyways.

Push it all the way to the Stiff stage (it’s easy to tell, damn it gets firm…), and flavor; rule of thumb, any extract, liqueur, or hard spirit should add enough flavor while not requiring a lot (you only want to add a couple tablespoons of something at the very most so as not to mess with the structure). Also certain powders, such as cocoa, can be used in sparing quantities.

Now we bake; or, to be more accurate, we ‘Dry.’ Something I’ve been trying to figure for a long time… do I cook it at 350F for a short time and shut it off, can I do 225F for a few hours, do I gradually lower, can I even cut it short at all with high temp? I’ve found many recipes that will be convinced with using various temperatures, but all it’s done for me is browned my cookies and caused sugar syrup to leak from the bottom. So, really, don’t try and do it quickly. Turn your oven to its lowest setting, about 160 or 170F, and leave them in there overnight or a whole day. It’ll dry out, the eggs will technically cook (just very slowly) but nothing will brown and, so long as it’s stable, leak or denature in any way.

And thus you will be left with a perfectly crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth Meringue Cookie. See how simple that was?

Meringue
3 Egg Whites (about 3 oz)
¼ tsp Cream of Tartar
¾ cup/5-6oz Fine grained Sugar
¼ tsp Salt
1 tsp – 1 Tb desired Flavoring Extract or Alcohol

Directions

  1. Turn oven to a barely warm setting, 160F preferred.20140717_142408
  2. With electric mixer, beat Egg Whites until notably frothy and foamy. Toss in Cream of Tartar and continue beating.20140717_142605
  3. Whip until soft peaks form on blender after pulling away. While mixing on low/medium speed, slowly add in the Sugar and Salt.20140717_142828
  4. Continue beating until bright and glossy cream in appearance, and very stiff peaks form on blender after pulling away.20140717_143007
  5. Quickly mix in your Desired flavoring and transfer to a piping bag, piping out desired shapes onto a parchment paper lined pan.20140717_143249
  6. Move to oven and leave for a minimum 6 hours or, ideally, overnight.20140717_143821
  7. Remove, let cool slightly and pop into mouth, or a dry airtight container for storage.

My Thoughts

So I still need to do this one or two more times until I get it right. It’s so frustrating cuz I know the process and know I CAN do it properly, but there’s always one thing that keeps happening every time. The first cookies I made (a Bourbon Vanilla) I tried out one of those higher temperature recipe; you know, like the ones I previously mentioned you should flat out ignore (well now you know why). Well they overbrowned and the sugars cooked a bit. And my Kirschwasser batch took an extra tip of liquor, completely loosening and screwing up that perfect Stiff Peak consistency (I tried to fix it, but it was a no go).

Mind you, they both tasted damn good, were crunchy and crumbly, sweet and delicious and meltable and all that jazz nonetheless. But not that annoyingly just-out-of-reach perfection that keeps teasing me. Oh, and their texture doesn’t stand up that well over the days; I’m wondering if that’s due to the mistakes made or if it would still happen with a perfect French Meringue. I bet one would have to do a Swiss style (using cooked sugar syrup over raw grains) to get a similar result as those packaged store cookies; their stability and density is just so much better.20140718_093831

Possible Pairings

This is a hard one, there’s not really that many elements to this one would normally use when matching with drinks. Though it’s crunchy, there’s no real texture or chew to them. The body is extremely light. It’s sweet, but that disappears quickly along with the rest of the meringue itself, dissolving fast in the mouth. There’s ultimately not that much presence left during or after eating which one could then use to make a solid flavor integration with alcohol.

So then, I’d say, the best use would be to switch the focal point, having one’s desired drink as the main attraction while using these little cookie bites as a crunchy snack on the side. The best option from there would be to stick with those drinks that reminds us of “dessert;” Cocktails of Chocolate, Fruit, and/or Mint; simple chilled glasses of Liqueurs or, even, your favorite Fruit Brandy. Match the flavorings you used to the drink: have a Lemon Meringue with Limoncello; drink a shot of the same Kirchwasser we used in the cookie; set a basic vanilla next to a shot of Vodka at the end of the meal (if you’re so Russian-inclined); or just a nice simple glass of Sparkling Wine.meringue drink

Thus taking an initial leap from my first sentence, one actually could have quite some fun here. For though there’s barely anything that really CAN ‘pair’ with this, one could then say that there’s barely anything that really CAN’T. It’s an open book, drink with it what tastes best to you at the end of the meal. Or just get drunk off meringues and booze in the afternoon, I won’t judge (so long as it’s the good stuff).

p2: Coconut Blancmange

20140419_183610The Sweet

The first time I ever heard of “blancmange” was in watching a British “mini-series” following super-chef Heston Blumenthal and these special “Feasts” he did (if you’ve never heard of him, look him up and some of the shows he’s done, it’s amazing!). The particular dish in question was a “frog blancmange,” served as an early course in a Middle-Ages-themed dinner as a pseudo-dessert, Englanders at the time often eating puddings and other savory versions of sweet dishes as “appetizers.” Soon as I saw it I wanted to make it, doing some brief research to try and figure out what it was and what the little “tricks” were to making it… well, “it.” Suffice to say my recipe and history digging back then wasn’t quite as thorough (well, that words makes it sound like I’m not lazy, and I still am… “refined” maybe?) as it is now.

Dishes of similar name are found throughout the European continent, all of them translating similarly to “white food” or “white mush.” Which country was first to offer the original version is currently up in the air, though it’s said it started through the introduction of rice and almonds via Turkish or other Arab travelers. Grimod de La Reyniere said it originated in Languedoc, a likely candidate due to its closeness towards Mediterranean trading routes.

It was the Europeans’ use of these ingredients that brought up the road to today’s blancmange, and its Caribbean Coconuty version. The first iterations simmered milk with the rice, almonds, and shredded chicken or other such white meats, often flavored with just a bit of anise and caraway (a separate legacy of the Turks). Despite the use of proteins, these “meat jellies” would still be served as sweet dishes, though other puddings based on honey, milk and almonds also emerged to influence blancmange’s history.

Coconut_Flan_1Sooner or later the rice pudding refined itself, taking away the particular starch in place of other thickening substances such as powdered stag’s horn or concentrated, jellied stock. These were mixed with thoroughly ground and steeped almonds (aka almond milk), dairy, and any very subtle flavorings and sweeteners desired. Once set, they yielded a delicately tender, subtle flavored jelly fit for French royalty, at early times being referred to as “blandmange” not as an insult but a testament to its beautifully light flavors.

And as the French took over Martinique and Guadeloupe, as mentioned with my post on Cod Accras, the dish followed, mixing and intermingling with the culture for them to twist into their own version. A Coconut milk heavy dish, thickened with what’s popular at the time (nowadays we just used gelatin) and served alongside tropical fruits. Thus is the long but seemingly quick and simple evolution of this dish from the Middle-Aged-Arab pudding to today’s Coconut Jelly.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Picking a recipe for this, I found I had to take quite a few things into consideration. First and foremost being the base which I was to later thicken and gelatinize. Intriguingly, there are quite a few recipes which, along with their coconut milk flavoring, also add milk, cream, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated, etc. At first it made me quite anxious in picking the “right” combination, only to quickly turn around as I remembered “Hey, they didn’t use some of this crap back in the day.” You gotta keep it simple if you wanna stay traditional, that and maximize coconut flavor. As such, my ‘favorite’ recipe was the one that was almost all coconut milk with a little addition that allowed for other milk products. With a nod towards blancmange’s origins and usual non-coconut composition, I used Almond Milk for this particular mix percentage (sadly, not homemade… too much work if it’s not the main player).

Second consideration was the Gelatin. As it was, quite old recipes, if they wanted to turn this into that particular jelly/pudding, would either cook the lactic mixture down with rice (that was before refinement), or later on mix it with a very concentrated stock (as stocks made from bones often contain a large amounts of collagen, they can become quite gelatinized when cooked down a certain amount) or the powdered stag’s horn thingy, which I’m just not doing, sorry. Though this stock method may work quite well, and be something I’d very much like to do to get the proper and traditional texture and flavor of a regular blancmange, the delicate and sweet coconut version probably won’t wanna taste that good with fish or chicken flavoring.

So what do we do? The main methods nowadays for the simple cook-at-home revolve around the use of gelatin (either powdered or sheet) or cooking with cornstarch and possibly eggs. However, this latter actually involves, again, cooking the mixture on high heat, risking a broken ‘custard,’ plus the texture afterwards looks like it’s somewhat odd. Furthermore, I’ve found most of the recipes that use the technique are “Brazilian” coconut blancmange. Thus, we stick with gelatin, which is the closest thing to the natural pectin medium as we can find anyhow. I suggest using sheet, but powdered is all I had on hand, and is usually the easiest for most people to get, so no shame in using it.20140417_155115

There are a couple things needed to know, though, if one is using powdered gelatin, especially if this is your first time (jello doesn’t count, we’re getting the base unflavored version). We can’t just add it in, first we need to “bloom” the gelatin in the liquid of choice, COLD (believe me, it won’t happen if the liquid is hot, I’ve tried). It should be sprinkled into the liquid slowly, gently from high up, bit by bit… much like trying to thicken a sauce with flour, one doesn’t just dump it in. It needs to be carefully added in so nothing bunches up. If you’re adding a high proportion of gelatin-to-liquid, much like in this recipe, it helps to mix and swirl the setting top in every now and then. Once everything is added and the grains thicken and bloom up, we transfer to heat and it melts fast.

Don’t need any fancy molds either. I ended up using a small round Tupperware for a big personal serving and a funnel cake pan for a fun centerpiece; the jelly comes out pretty easily from any mold one chooses, though the cake pan needed just a bit of “persuasion” beforehand. Oh, and I decided to add a bit of lime zest to the original recipe for an added flavor, sorta like using vanilla in most French pastry such, but for the Caribbean!20140417_161347

Coconut Blancmange
400ml (1.7 cups) Coconut Milk
100ml (.42 cups) Almond or other Milk
2/3 cups Sugar
Zest of 1 Lime
2 Tb/Packets Gelatin Powder
1 tsp Vanilla

Directions20140417_154931

  1. Mix Half of the Coconut and Almond Milk with Sugar and Lime in a pot. Heat on Medium-Low, stirring often, until sugar dissolves.20140417_160808
  2. While this is happening, gently sprinkle Gelatin over remaining, COLD milks, allowing it to “bloom” and thicken.20140417_161502
  3. Transfer bloomed milk into the pot with the rest, stirring together until the gentle warmth melts/dissolves the gelatin.20140417_162341
  4. Remove from stove, stirring in the Vanilla, and strain liquid into the prepared “moulds.”20140417_162539
  5. Cover and move to fridge or other cold area, leaving to set for a couple hours or more.20140419_183240
  6. Carefully unmold, running a rubber spatula around the edge, or if needed heating up the bottom in a warm water bath (or, you know, maybe a blowtorch…).20140419_183427
  7. Portion and serve with desired fruit garnish, such as Mango Coulis, Rum-soaked Mango Cubes, and Pan-fried Banana Bread.20140419_184438

My Thoughts

Tasty, a fun dessert to use as a flavor base and build a palette through various garnishes, especially if you’re just coming off wisdom teeth surgery! (that was an interesting weekend)

When eating it as-is, though, there are a couple things I think I’d like to change for the next batch. Firstly, the coconut aspect isn’t quite AS strong as I’d like when cold; when warm it comes out, but cold I feel the almond milk flavors become more forefront despite its minimal use. Thus I would suggest pulling the amount of it back and replacing it, and some of the other coconut milk, with coconut CREAM, which should give a nicely thicker consistency and more flavor. Speaking of consistency, also am I not too satisfied about how firm it was; it really did feel like Jello, a little too much “bite.” If I were to properly keep this to the idea of blancmange I have in my head, I’d like it a little looser, tender and svelt. Thus, maybe I’ll try 1.5 Tb (well, I did a double batch myself, so 3 packets instead of 4) of gelatin. I’m curious about trying the use of those condensed and evaporated milks too, so those might help!

Finally, didn’t get the entire lime flavor I wanted, so either up the anty, let them steep longer, or no straining them out.

That said, I still really liked this fun Caribbean version of a French dessert, it tasted delicious at the end of the meal (especially with all the garnishes), and have grown quite the interest towards the art and idea of “blancmange.” I hope to be able to play with the recipes at some other point, maybe even make my own almond milk from scratch!

20140419_185402Possible Pairings

Much like the Cod Accras, it’s the Caribbean, so Rum Cocktails galore! Maybe a creamy, coconut-heavy Pina Colada, or just some straight shots of Coconut flavored Rum. Not much more to say there.

It’s hard for me to figure what other drink I’d want to enjoy with this besides the rum, but I’ll give it a shot. Certain Fruit Wines could do well, so long as they still have a bit of sweetness, are well balanced, and compliment the chosen fruit garnish. We have quite a few wineries here in Minnesota that still maintain a strong focus on this non-grape alcohol, and I find it can be fun to get into.

Thinking of islands, my mind also wanders towards Madeira and Marsala, two very historical Fortified wines based on islands off of Italy and Africa. They’re sadly not as appreciated today as they were in the far past; most places only sell the cheap cooking versions, even the decent wine shops can only get what are the more “basic” of styles, the upper crust of what used to be a set of very deep and intricate layers. With their foray out of the limelight, navigating even these simple bottle selections can be somewhat daunting. So the ones I would suggest buying, which should be light enough in power and flavor concentration while still containing some sugar, are as such.

For Madeira_WineMadeira: Rainwater, anything with Sercial or, even better, Verdlho on the labels.

For Marsala: The decent ones usually have multiple things on the label (like going through German wines, though thankfully not as insane). Good keywords are Secco or Semisecco, Ambra or Oro (preferred), and Fine.

Other Island pairings could be fun too. There are plenty of Italian islands that make tasty regular and fortified sweet wines with moscato; they’ll usually have Muscat on the label/regional name somewhere, so they’re easy to spot in the dessert section.

Oh, and Grappa might not do too badly either; same with Kirschwasser and other distilled fruit brandies (again, so long as they match any fruit pairings used).Minchilli_grappa_5-6_post

p1: Cod Accra

My folks headed out on a Caribbean trip a little while back, which gave me the perfect excuse to make the only two Martinique items on my French 44 list. The dessert post should be up pretty quickly.

The Dish

Martinique and Guadeloupe certainly aren’t the first regions we think about when France comes into conversation, their culture still being heavily Caribbean in nature, though French customs do come into play. But it remains that Rum is the productive drink of choice as opposed to wine, with bananas and other uniquely Caribbean food products serving as the base of their economy, truly anything even resembling French ingredients needing to be shipped overseas. “Martiniquan Creole” is the main language, a heavy conflagration of French, Carib, African, English, Portuguese and Spanish, and something traditional French people refuse to try and understand due to its intense differences. Though I hear its syntax and other such things are slowly transverting closer to Standard French.

Both of these islands were originally acquired in 1635, after Columbus’ discovery and passing on (Spain wasn’t too interested in this either place). The French Company of American Islands told two of their men, Jean and Charles (their last names are too long for me to want to bother… though not as long as this little sideswipe, huh), to colonize any of the isles of Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Dominica. They chose the first, apparently due to “Martinique’s inhospitable nature,” yet oddly enough a Mr. Belain d’Esnambuc landed in the same year and claimed Martinique for the French King. Then again, he was driven off his own island of St. Kitts by the British, so he probably didn’t have much choice.

And from there, both islands swapped back and forth between the French and British due to various wars and whatnot. The two were finally traded back and settled as French owned at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War (though they lost Canada… darn), and here we are. Okay, some more stuff probably happened before and after that, but I’m getting bored of history, food now!

enhanced-buzz-5151-1385795528-5I would have very much enjoyed writing something on the history of Salt Cod or the Fritters known as Accras, or Acra, or Akra, or… whatever, it’s got lots of name that all sound like the same damn thing. But for the life of me I couldn’t find ANYTHING in my books, online, my searches yielded nothing but recipes on the matter. Maybe it’s hard to quantify the proper path that fried batter dough has taken through various cultures, either that or most inland French people are too snooty to ever consider this Caribbean dish important enough to ever affect them enough or be apart of any interesting cultural event/situation.

Which is a shame, no matter the reason, for they are awesome and delicious and crispy and oh god I want to make more right now. But I have lawn work to do soon, so I should finish this up and get to it. Let’s start with the Fish!

A Word On…

Salt Cod:Heavily salted, air dried, this ingredient has held itself as one of the most important in history, at least for Europe, for its ability to keep over winter (and probably year round too) and over travel. I’ve been wanting to play with it for quite a while, but had yet to find the excuse to go to one of the good seafood/meat markets to grab the frozen pine wood box of goodness (frozen too, really? There must really be almost no one buying it if most places that have it need to freeze this as well… I mean I’ve seen videos of it sitting in open-air markets with no problem). Obviously I need to make more sopa verde.20140415_223843

Luckily it’s not that difficult to find outside of the most basic stores and markets (though no luck in Whole Foods or certain Co-ops either, depending). It’s preparing it that comes the trouble. There’s a reason it’s called Salt Cod… it tastes like salt. It practically is salt, with a bit of fish to hold it in. But when you get it out… one has a bundle of firm, nicely chewy cod fish that’s great for cooking in whatever. The task to turning it into this stage is simple, but long, taking at LEAST 24 hours to soak in cold water, which should be changed multiple times. After 24 hours, it should be ready for fritters, since we’ll be cooking it in a separate liquid bath before using, though if using for soups I would suggest lending it out another full day.

As a Minnesotan, I can’t help but be reminded of Lutefisk… only more of a firm texture instead of fish jelly.

What it is:Unlike other fritters, I’ve found the more traditional recipes for this in fact do NOT revolve around just mixing every ingredient together in a large bowl. Instead, a simple batter of flour and liquid (maybe eggs) is made on the side, mixed into the fillings, and then one folds in some heavily beaten egg whites, sorta like making a mousse or soufflé.

Now, there seems to be no real consensus on the use of other fillings; I’ve seen a simplified fritter of purely cod and green onion, and ones loaded with herbs, spices and strong aromatic veggies. I like using the cultural flavors to flesh it out, but I didn’t want to get bogged down in excess, so the question became what do we keep?

The few ingredients I keep seeing used in most fritter and Caribbean recipes are green onions, some scotch bonnets, a big thing of parsley, shallot or garlic, and of course limes. Spices vary, but the main flavor I’ve found in use is Coriander, aka dried Cilantro seeds. It’s so popular some recipes switch out the Parsley for the herb version instead, which I debated doing… but I stuck with both spice and parsley. As always, those making this should make it however they want, but I think the mix I got is pretty darn close to traditional flavors and balance.

Scotch Bonnets:Basically, Habaneros. One of THE staple ingredients in Caribbean cooking, you can find them used in many a recipe. As such I found that, if I were to mix various greens and aromatics and such into the fritters as I did, some habanero was a must; it gives an interesting fruity tart spice that I love with the green onions and other things. I definitely suggest playing with it in some form, at least in the side sauce.

20140417_164301The main note when doing so, though, is to be sparing and handle it carefully. If you haven’t heard the lecture about hot peppers yet, wear a damn pair of gloves. Or, if you can’t find any (I swear I had some, but… disappeared…) do everything possible to avoid touching the peppers directly; some plastic wrap or other item to hold the habanero while you carefully de-seed (some may argue the flavor loss with other peppers, but you really don’t wanna risk it with habanero and hotter level peppers) and slice. Oh, and don’t bite into it directly… ask Alton Brown, this is not a lollipop!

20140417_153620Milk and Water: One of my weirdest quandaries in figuring out the recipe I was to use for my fritters was the debate in using milk or water, for both poaching the fish and as the liquid in the batter. On the one hand, using the fatty milk does seem like quite the French go-to, but then again my main French book reference details a light poaching in a water steeped with bay leaf and other aromatics, also a pretty typical cultural technique and great expression of gentle cookery. Similarly with the batter, I couldn’t quite figure if a French milk enrichment or water purety was the better for structure.

Whatever decision you make is up to you, I guess on any old day I’d just stick with milk and maybe some cream too. But for this I decided to compromise; a typical stock-reminiscent water bath and some creamy milk batter.

Sauce:Well they’re little fried balls of fish dough, can’t eat it without lubrication! From what I can tell, there’s nothing particularly typical so long as it suits the Caribbean theme. Mojos, Jerk Sauce, Papaya coulis-thingy, a bottle of tasty hot sauce, whatever; though I’d say anything that’s nicely tart, a bit spicy, and not really “heavy” would work best. I decided to stick with the sauce recipe attached to the French 44’s Acras link, “Dog Sauce.” The ingredients and flavors matched the ones in my fritter, so it worked.

Cod Accra
½ lb Salt Cod
2 Bay leaves
3 Garlic Cloves
Salt and Pepper
2 Shallots
½ or 1 small Habanero
3 Green Onions
2 Tb Parsley or Cilantro
Juice and Zest of 1 Lime
1 tsp Coriander Spice
3 Eggs
1 cup Flour
¼-3/4 cup milk

Directions

  1. Soak Salt Cod in Cold Water at least 24 hours in advance, changing it a minimum 2-3 times throughout.20140415_224117
  2. Drain and lightly simmer in water bath with Bay Leaves, crushed Garlic, Salt and Peppercorns until fully cooked, about 10 minutes.20140417_151624
  3. Remove, shred with fork and/or fingers.20140417_160711
  4. Finely chop Shallots, Habanero, Green Onion, and Parsley, mixing with cooked cod alongside the Lime (juice+zest), Coriander, and seasonings.
  5. Separate the Egg Yolks from the Whites, reserving both. Mix two of the yolks with Flour and enough milk to make a THICK Batter.20140419_164015
  6. Heat oil for frying up to 375F, or 385-390F if using a smaller pot (it’ll drop fast anyways).
  7. While heating, mix the cod in with the batter.20140419_164339
  8. Beat all the egg whites, electric works easiest, to soft peaks. Fold into the fritter batter.20140419_170456
  9. Drop a few large spoonfuls of batter into the oil at a time, cooking until deep brown and crispy, 5-10 minutes depending. Turn halfway through cooking.
  10. Move to paper towels to drain oil, transfer to serving platter and serve alongside Dog Sauce (recipe follows) or other tart and/or spicy condiment.20140419_172246

Dog Sauce
2 Green Onions20140417_165201
1 Clove Garlic
1 Habinero
2 Tb Parsely
Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
¼ cup Water
2 Tb Olive Oil
Salt n Pepper

Directions

  1. Finely chop Onions, Garlic, Habinero, and Parsley, mixing with the Lime Zest.
  2. Boil water, pour over the veggies, mixing around and letting steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Add Lime Juice, Oil, and seasoning. Mix and serve, or chill overnight.20140417_170041

The Verdict

Surprisingly eggy, but in a good way; it wasn’t like the rubbery or other overcooked/otherwise too much egg flavor. It was noted, but small, adding a different flavor and texture than I normally think about with fried foods; a French flavor. It’s weird to say, but it’s actually my favorite aspect of the whole thing.

Though it’s a close 1st place, with the gloriously strong and complex Caribbean flavors of onion, scotch bonnet, and cilantro accompanying the tender and firm cod fish. It was glorious, and once again another dish to come in and make me debate it as my favorite so far. Then you add the tart and poignant “sauce” and we go to happy land.

20140419_173617The only downside is that I was unable to get that perfect crispy texture on all of them, or all over the ones I did for that matter. Always one of the issues when having to fry in a small pot while conserving oil… and trying to change batches quickly to cook them all (was serving them for a party, so had to make a whole platter of the fritters). Wasn’t able to hit the high oil temperature all the time sadly. Well, just take it as a lesson; there are consequences to not being able to hold that high temperature.

Not that they still didn’t taste amazing.20140419_173902

Primary Pairing Vinho Verde

Since the “region” of Acras’ origin is quite a ways off from mainland France, I think I’m definitely free enough to use non-French wines in the pairing. In particular, I like the idea of going off Spain and Portugal, what with their large historical trade importance and history with Salt Cod. That said, I just had to grab something from either Vinho Verde(in the North of Portugal) or Txacolina(an interesting set of regions in northern Spain). Though neither is known for any sweetness to battle the hot habinero notes, the razor-sharp and intense acidity of a high quality Vinho Verde more than makes up for it, dealing with both the fat while dancing with the spicy notes in an interesting fashion. With a naturally lower body, simple and singular flavors, and a bare and bright little fizz of effervescence (bringing a nice bit of tannin to go with the light fish texture), Vinho Verde has become well known as one of the perfect food wines. It’s a shame we rarely if ever get any of their Reds in (though I did see a rose at a tasting recently).

20140419_170655My Bottle:2011 Broadbent Vinho Verde

Most of the vinho verde one finds in liquor stores is really cheap, somewhat generic crap version that hasn’t helped to build it any reputation in the US. If one goes to any decent wine store, though, you should be able to find at least one really good quality. The great thing is even though good ones, like this Broadbent, clock around only $11-$14, depending (sota like the Greek Retsina, which also wouldn’t be too bad a pairing with accras).

Broadbent is just what I was craving; limey, strong and acidic wine that goes down easy, an almost gulpable affair to drink with the crispy, eggy cod fritters. I didn’t have to think about much, there was fun little frizz, and a bare bitterness also quite characteristic of the region, all the aspects contrasting the hot pepper-oniony-lime flavor in the food. Either way, it made me happy.

20140419_172859Secondary Pairing – Rum Cocktail

Cuz it’s the Caribbean! Need I say more?

Okay fine. Rum, besides being the distilled beverage of the islands, has a natural sweetness which counters the hot qualities nicely. And the caramelly notes in the darker and/or spiced rums goes well with the fried brown crust. Mix it with some ginger ale, coconut, pineapple, or other typical mixers, and you calm it down for easier pairing while increasing the “Caribbean feel” of the meal. Oh, don’t forget the lime!

 

p1: Cassoulet

We keep trying to say goodbye to winter this yeenhanced-buzz-2144-1385793782-0ar, but it just keeps coming over and over again. At the least, it gives me one more chance to make a last rich, hearty dish perfectly suited for a cold night indoors, and say one more farewell to this dreaded season of snow and winds.

The Dish

With a name based on the round clay dish it’s baked in, the “cassole,” Cassoulet adds itself very firmly into the long history that preceded and ended up forming the typical Casserole. Much like how we consider our casseroles today, the origins of this French peasant dish, attributed to the Languedoc region to the south (though it has spread from there quite nicely), stick around the idea of people at one time throwing whatever they had into a pot to the cook, usually some beans, sausages, preserved meat, etc. In fact there are many who even equate the ORIGINAL compilation as being during the siege of Castelnaudary in the Hundred Year War, with everything being mixed and eaten out of a giant cauldron, bolstering the soldier’s spirits and bellies to lead to victory! But really that’s just a story.

images8BMWL302In fact, true origin, or inspiration may be the better phrase, lay to Arab traders (or immigrants? Either way they traveled there, the south is right next to many an intercontinental connection) who introduced a stew of Mutton and Fava Beans. Which is interesting to note, that despite its long-held popularity with white haricot-style navy beans (and similar), the French never actually had any of these during the time of this dish’s supposed creation. Instead fava beans, and possibly lentils, were one of the only styles they could actually get their hands on. It wasn’t until Columbus’ journey back from America in the 1800’s that the popular dried white beans were introduced to Europe, spreading to France through Spain (French Queen Catherine de Medici facilitating the particular product) and thus exploding in popularity in both the dish and culture. France now has quite a few delicious white bean species to call their own.

Now, cassoulet is treated with an almost Holy reverence; in fact, the main Three Regions (and thus three main styles) in the Languedoc that make the dish each name their cassoulet after the Holy Trinity. Castelnaudary’s cassoulet is the “Father,” Carcassone’s the “Son,” and Toulouse’s the “Holy Ghost.” Quite a few other variations, some known from the regions that bore them, have popped up since these three, and the southern France is now filled with an army-full of slightly different recipes and methods for this. In fact the idea can, and has, spark quite the heated debate among Frenchmen of different beliefs to their practically-religious stew, lighting the flame of inspiration for many a quote to describe it. 2014-03-27 11.49.28In fact, in 1966 the Etats Generaux de la Gastronomie Francais, in light of all these inner arguments, officially decreed proper Proportions to what constitutes an actual cassoulet! They are: 30% Pork, Mutton, and/or Preserved Goose, and 70% Haricot Beans, Stock, Pork Skin, Herbs and Flavourings (and after reading this I think I’m technically off in some proportions, but mine tasted damn good so there!). It still leaves quite some room for personal interpretation, so the fun in creating that dish to warm your own heart, soul and stomach lives on… hopefully with less people hitting each other with a chair.

A Word On…

“What it is”:As somewhat stated in the opening, there are quite a few different kinds, and following that just as many different way of composing the dish. I’ll discuss the meat selection in a dish later, but figuring out how one wants to put everything together can be a daunting task. Final, little decisions are up to the cook, since the end dish will still end up reminiscent of some random region’s “style” of cassoulet anyways I’m sure, so here are the main things to remember.

Despite all the many tiny details in putting together this dish, at the end of the day cassoulet is a very simple thing. It’s Dry White Beans, cooked and mixed with Pork (or Mutton) Stew, baked in a Casserole dish with other meats and a crispy Breadcrumb topping. The beans can be cooked separately or with the Stew; traditionally with, which is what I do just to get all those flavors mixed around and all that good stuff. Finally, much like the Coq au Vin it’s always best to extend the making of it out by a day or so, letting the stewed flavors marry together.

If there’s anything in this whole post that you should pay attention to, I think that’s basically it. It can be big and confusing and overly complicated at times, and I know my writing style doesn’t help with this, but sometimes we just have to step back, take a deep breath, and look at a dish in its most basic, simple components. Good Luck.

Oh, one last thing. When it comes to things like duck confit and sausage, I’ve seen some recipes that layer them with the beans in the cassoulet, whole or sliced, while others just mix it in roughly. I say do what feels best for yourself in that regard, it’s all good.

C2014-03-30 14.30.42ooking Fat:Oh, fat is a VERY important part of this meal, and what you use to cook and sear things ever much so. One needs to sear all the meats in the stew, the sausage, sprinkle it over the breadcrumbs, etc. Butter and oil will only get you so far; if you really wanna keep this rich and traditional, I say make sure you have a lot of reserved, rendered animal fat, like of the Pork variety. I just used all the Duck Confit Fat I had leftover.

Garlic:A southern France dish, garlic is another very important ingredient in the cooking process. This can be added in multiple ways, easiest being to just sauté it with the other veggies, roast and top, blend in raw, etc. I liked this one recipe I found where they cook the whole heads IN the stew, removed and squeezed out (they get so soft), blended with raw garlic and then re-added before baking.

CAM00032Beans:Though the origin lay in the giant favas, White beans are the name of the game, and the French white bean to try and imitate is known as “Tarbais.” I have no clue where to find it, but I was able to pick up a different French white(ish) bean at whole foods on my shopping trip called “Flageolet.” Known as the “caviar of beans,” I’m not sure if cassoulet is the best dish to bring out their innate qualities, but they have a great creaminess, good texture, and are small! Which is a nice factor to have in this big hot mess of baked meat and starch.

Though of course, Navy Beans work just as great a substitute, along with Cannelini and other white beans. Just make sure you’re using Dried pods, unless you need to make a very quick, one-day version of this recipe, then you’ll need canned/precooked versions. Otherwise, you need at least 2 days to soak and cook the beans PROPERLY; lotsa issues with the dried stuff.

Meat: When initially starting this adventure into cassoulet, I thought forming/deciding on a recipe would be relatively simple; boy was I wrong. Not only is the options for protein inclusions long, but at times it can be quite indecisive recipe to recipe; it became very difficult figuring out what was “necessary” and what was an additional thrill. Just looking at the Holy Trinity alone (as mentioned above) shakes up the field one is trying so hard to narrow down: the Father contains pork loin and ham along with the sausage, with only a bit of goose; t2014-03-27 11.54.35he Son sticks purely to a leg of Mutton and maybe some partridge; and the Ghost uses everything in Father’s, adding in Lard, Mutton, and Duck/Goose. It was enough to make me lose faith that I’d ever make anything decent.

After much thought though, and reading up in my Larousse Gastronomique, I think I’ve come to figure out a tiered system to follow when trying to make as authentic a cassoulet as one can.

ABSOLUTE Requirements:

Shoulder of Pork and/or Mutton

Pork Skin/Rind

Sausage (pork)

Almost Absolute, or Strongly Considered options:

Duck/Goose Confit

Ham HocksSAMSUNG

Pancetta

Personal/Fun additions, Unrequired:
Pork Leg                                             
Ham                                     
Other Poultry Meat
Salt Pork or Fresh Lard                  
Pork Loin                            
Pork Belly
Prosciutto                                          
Etc

I always make sure to get my cooking pancetta cut nice and thick!

I always make sure to get my cooking pancetta cut nice and thick!

My decisions here are mainly based off the fact that you NEED to make a stew, thus needing pork shoulder (or mutton if following other regional styles). Pork skin has been deemed required of ALL cassoulets, as mentioned earlier in the 1966 decree. Sausage is very strongly traditional, whereas the Duck Confit is indeed regionally traditional but not used as fundamentally. Ham Hocks seem to make their way into a lot of recipes I’ve found, and are always a great addition in any soup or stew. Finally, though not discussed in any article I’ve found yet, it seems the addition of SOME form of Cured Pork is also quite popular, about at the same level as the Ham Hocks. Pancetta is seen in more recipes to fill that role, and I like the fat content it has and simpleness in comparison to Prosciutto.

Sausage:Definitely one of the required proteins, the traditional sausage used is from and called “Toulouse,” so if you have any butcher that makes Toulouse-style sausage then you’re good. If not, then no problem, luckily for us it’s a VERY easy sausage to find a substitute for. It’s basically just an all-pork sausage (continuing the piggy theme) that uses a lot of garlic as its spice/flavoring. So just try to find a garlic-pork brat or something (though I found that not as easy to find a quality version, had to visit 3 stores to get a tasty, coarsely-stuffed Ukranian) and you should be good.2 - Fruitpig Toulouse - Uncooked

Cracking:There’s a particular practice in the baking of this thick, crusty casserole that emphasize its wonderful top, so-called “Cracking the Crust.” The idea is simple, yet brilliant and wonderful. As the dish bakes, and the breadcrumby-top browns and gets crunchy, one takes a spoon (or other utensil) and smacks this against the surface, breaking the layer that’s starting to form. This is pushed down into the dish, the newly broken top is sprinkled with more duck fat (maybe more breadcrumbs) and left to bake another crust. This is broken again, and the process repeats, as many times as one wants. Very classic, traditional French recipes are said to do this at least 7 times; I find if one wants to use this practice then at least 3-4 times makes a good result. Not sure how many times I ended up doing it, properly at least, but it made a yummy looking, crunchy top.

The Dish:The whole recipe is named after a casserole dish, one should make sure they have a good dish. From what I remember, the “ideal” dish is something that is VERY wide, not actually that deep, so as to get the maximum crust to filling ratio. Though really any good ceramic or clay casserole dish would work.

The real thing I wanted to mention was just to not do what I did, and fill it all the way to the top, that baby WILL bubble over while it cooked (you’ll see what I mean in some pictures). Keep at least half an inch of space for safety.

Gotta strain that confit fat as it warms up, lotsa little meat and cooked bitties still floating around in there.

Gotta strain that confit fat as it warms up, lotsa little meat and cooked bitties still floating around in there.

Cassoulet
1 lb dried Flageolet Beans
6 oz Pork Skin
Salt and Pepper
Duck Fat (lots of it)
1-2 Ham Hocks (unsmoked)
1 lb Pork Shoulder, cubed
1-2 oz thick-slice Pancetta, cubed
1 large or 2 small Heads of Garlic, whole
1 small Onion, large dice
2 Carrots, large dice
2 Bay Leaves
1 small can (6-8oz?) Whole Peeled Tomato, good quality
1 cup Red Wine
4 cups Dark Poultry Stock
½ a Duck’s worth Confit Meat (or two whole legs and thighs)
1 large or 2 medium-sized Garlic Pork Sausage + 5-8 cloves
¾-1 cup Breadcrumbs (home-made preferably)A Word On…

A Word On…

Directions – Day 12014-03-27 11.53.46

  1. Place Skin in large pot, covering with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer for half an hour, or until “tender”  and bends easy.2014-03-27 12.17.44
  2. Remove, letting cool briefly on the cutting board, reserving some of the cooking liquid in the fridge.
  3. Slice into large ribbons, carefully roll up into tight bundles, and tie with string (Note, should really make sure it’s not the colored, “wax” based ones… not good later on). Reserve.2014-03-27 13.19.49
  4. Take the chilled, reserved skin-water and cover the dried Beans by a couple inches (they will expand). Place in fridge overnight.2014-03-27 22.39.20
  5. Combine Ham Hocks and Pork Shoulder in bowl, tossing in a generous coating of salt and pepper. Cover and move to fridge overnight.2014-03-27 12.01.40

Directions – Day 2

  1. Heat up large Dutch Oven or similar pot to a medium-high temperature, tossing a nicely even layer of Duck Fat to coat the bottom.2014-03-28 13.34.42
  2. Pat Ham Hocks and Pork Shoulder dry. Lay in the Ham Hock/s and as many of the skin bundles as you can fit into the hot oil.2014-03-28 13.43.34
  3. Sear hocks on each side for 1-2 minutes, turning when browned. Roll the skin around occasionally to lightly crisp the edges and color the flat side. Remove both from pan.2014-03-28 13.59.37
  4. Lay the dried Shoulder into the pan, in batches if needed, touching and turning only once the side is browned. Remove once meat is well caramelized, about 5 minutes of cooking at most.2014-03-28 14.02.51
  5. Toss in chopped Pancetta, stirring around in the hot fat until golden (will not take long).2014-03-28 14.09.20
  6. Add in Onions, Carrots, Garlic Heads, and Bay Leaves, coating in fat and stirring every so often until edges are lightly caramelized.2014-03-28 13.32.42
  7. Remove Tomatoes from can, squeezing out as much of the juices as you can (reserve, don’t throw away). Crush in fingers and throw in with the veggies, cooking about 1-2 minutes.2014-03-28 14.10.48
  8. Deglaze pan with Wine, reducing the liquid by half.2014-03-28 14.15.18
  9. Re-add the removed meat and cover with tomato juice and 2 cups of Stock. Cover pan, bring to a simmer, and cook at least 1 ½ hours, or until “tender” (well, getting tender, don’t think it really matters).2014-03-28 14.22.47
  10. Drain and rinse the Beans thoroughly, adding them to a pot of boiling water. Simmer 2-3 minutes, drain and rinse once again.2014-03-28 13.32.56
  11. Add beans to simmering pot, cooking for 2-3 hours or until tender and cooked through.2014-03-28 17.24.52
  12. Remove from heat, let cool on counter and move to fridge (or other similarly cold area, bit pot…) to sit overnight.

Directions – Day 3

  1. Remove Hock, Shoulder meat, Skin, and Garlic Heads from the cold stew.2014-03-29 13.48.20
  2. Peel skin and meat from hocks, reserving skin on the side and Chopping/Shredding the meat along with the shoulder.
  3. Unroll and clean the skins (including the hock), slicing into flat rectangles. Transfer to line the bottom of a large, wide casserole dish, which you would have brushed with duck fat, covering the bottom and partway up the sides. (Sorry, I thought I got a picture of this but… guess I didn’t).2014-03-29 14.08.07
  4. Finely chop any skin leftover, mixing them back into the stew with the other chopped meat.
  5. Add another cup or so of Stock to the beans and meat, moving it back on the heat and bringing to a simmer.
  6. While this heats up, squeeze out the soft, cooked garlic pulp into a (mini) food processor. Add in the raw garlic and puree until smooth.
  7. Fold this into the stew, let simmer about 15 minutes.2014-03-29 14.03.51
  8. Ladle some of the hot mixture halfway up the casserole dish (or, halfway to how much you want to fill it).2014-03-29 14.08.03
  9. Reheat the Duck Confit: roast in baking dish at 375-400F. Once excess fat has melted off and starts sizzling, remove from oven.2014-03-29 14.33.11
  10. Pour melted fat into large sauté pan heated to medium, use to cook your Pork Sausage through (time will depend on size, I suggest covering pan).2014-03-29 14.33.05
  11. Remove skin from duck and pull meat from bones, shredding the larger pieces. Layer this evenly on top of the stew in the casserole, and cover in the other half of the mixture.
  12. Let cooked sausage rest on cutting board, slice on a bias, and arrange on top of casserole.2014-03-29 14.47.11
  13. Gently spread a final thin layer of remaining meat and beans over the sausage. From here, either move to finish the dish or cover and transfer fridge, reserving for the next day.

Directions – Finishing (possible Day 4)

  1. If having spent night in the fridge, remove in the morning, letting it naturally warm to room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 350F.2014-03-30 14.36.25
  3. Sprinkle a thin, even layer of Breadcrumbs over the top, carefully pouring some of the duck fat over them.
  4. Move into oven at least 2 hours before service.
  5. Check ever 15-20 minutes; when the top is browned and starting to crust, push it down with a spoon, dragging in any really caramelized and crispy bits that may form on the edge of the dish.2014-03-30 16.42.26
  6. Sprinkle on a bit more breadcrumbs and duck fat to re-fill in the spaces, close the oven and repeat at least 3-4 more times, until satisfied. I suggest a total of 3 hours cooking to yield the perfect evenly browned, deeply colored top.2014-03-30 18.09.04
  7. Remove from oven, let rest 5-10 minutes and serve, scooping carefully to get every layer of sausage, confit, skin, and stew.
  8. Enjoy the result of your long efforts.

The Verdict

I have been wanting to make this guy ever since I started planning the Duck Confit itself, but the multi-day prep kept me needing a certain kind of work schedule for the week, things kept coming up, and a recipe I had hoped to make one or two weeks after the maillard got pushed back over a month. And let me say, it was worth the wait.2014-03-30 18.40.18

It wasn’t quite as intense and overpowering in the fat and richness department as I actually thought it’d be, which I certainly don’t mind. Instead the flavor filled and flowed through the palette, a gently powerful warmth and fullness perfectly characteristic of any proper, winter-derived casserole. The beans were soft and creamy, banishing any negative memory I’ve had of legumes forever, replacing with the delicious perfection of white haricot heaven.

Soft meats, chewy sausage, rich chunks of pork skin and confit round the mouthfeel up, bolstered by a thickly crunchy top and spicy garlic undertone. All of it combining into a deeply satisfying mouthful to get you through any part of the cold months.

Primary Pairing – Cahors

2014-03-30 18.39.22Despite its oft tendencies for concentrated, super-dark wine, Malbec rarely has that much going for it in the tannin and, often, acid and body content. Which makes the hot, hot Southwestern region of Cahors PERFECT to eat with this area dish. Did you know that Malbec was originally a French grape, and only travelled to Chile and Argentina due to certain immigrants? It wasn’t that well liked by the growers though, so when they found their chance to get rid of it (via vineyard replanting after a bad freeze), they took it, with the vine being decimated in numbers. Cahors, though, still sticks to using their regional grape, pressing and fermenting it out into the inky, higher alcohol glass-fillers, sometimes even adding a bit of the supper-tannic and fellow inky grape Tannat.

And this dish needs a good amount of body and richness to stand up with the strong, meaty and beany stewed flavors, but the only actual texture to be found is from the slightly chewy sausage. So though tannin is much requested, we don’t want a lot, which is where the Malbec comes into its element, pairing amazingly with these oddly disjointed requirements.

If you can’t find a Cahors, Madiran would be my second main pick; it’s close and just as dark, using pure tannat grapes. Other southwestern regions could offer some greatly suitable options, but it’s harder to find anything besides those two. Bordeaux wines would serve an easier to find and similarly good pairing, preferably the darker varieties from the Left Bank; though the Right Bank St. Emilion and similar would offer a nicely refreshing, slightly acidic possibility to cut through the dish quite deliciously. Finally, South American Malbec is generally NOT a good substitute, unless it’s a good quality, concentrated and oak aged version.

My Bottle:2009 Château Eugénie Cahors (Cuvee Reservée de l’Aïeul)

There wasn’t all that much to this particular bottle, but it suited its purpose just fine. A bit of tart perfume on the nose and some plummy cassis in the mouth and that was it; the delight in this guy stuck, as many French wines do, in how it filled the mouth. And fill it did, along with a good mouthful of cassoulet, the two standing poignantly side by side, neither of them standing down or messing with the other, simply letting me enjoy the flavors and components of each without issue. Let me just say that the bottle didn’t last long past dinner in our house.

Secondary Pairing – Dopplebock

Something about the absolute rustic-ness, soft meat-heavy and browned stew of this just makes me crave a nice foamy glass of beer. After another consultation with my beer friend, she made the perfect suggestion of picking a Dopplebock, which was soon followed by my own reaction of “Of Course! Makes so much sense!” At least I was close, my tastebuds craving something on the darker, hoppy amber-malty side.

For those who don’t know what a dopplebock is, it’s basically a beer made with Lager Yeast, generally used for those really light, pale, fresher styled fermented items. Unlike other lagers, such as pilsner or certain wheat beers, Dopplebocks use MUCH darker roasted malts(barley), resulting in a drink of amber to dark brown complexion. This thus ends up as a very malty, nicely caramelized and sorta rich flavor, much more so than lighter lagers (or the simple “Bock”), which retains a certain freshness and cleanness in its character from the delicate lager yeast and fermentation process (which is cool, slow and gentle). With the hop level being at a low-ish strength, one has a very refreshing drink with a scrumptious texture and body, perfect to match the cassoulet’s chew much like the Cahors Tannin, with the light hops and distinctive clean character standing up to through the fat and flavor.

2014-03-30 18.39.57Coincidentally lucky for me, I actually still had a couple bottles of my homemade doppelbock in the fridge! So I was able to enjoy a glass of wine and beer with this delicious dish, and they both behaved very nice and similarly. I’ll admit it wasn’t the best quality dopplebock vs what one could find in a store, but all of its flavor and technical notes held and shone through in the mouth without detracting from the food. Put simply, both beer and cassoulet could be tasted at the same time without any aspect being destroyed or lowered in quality; a perfect pairing.

Other beer substitutes, if one can’t find a decent dopple or want to try other things, would probably be a good, darker colored Rye beer, maybe one of the Belgian Trappist Ales, or Porters.

Honorable Mention for your Consideration– Young Red Banyuls, Maury, and other VDN

mauryOr “Vin doux Naturels,” are Fortified Sweet Wines made in the same or similar technique as Port, and are a specialty of many regions in Southern France, especially those found in Roussillon (next to Languedoc). The frontrunner in known popularity is Banyuls, though others such as Maury, Muscat Beaumes de Venise (in Rhone), etc can make options that are just as good. Besides the sweet, orange colored Muscat wines, most of these (again like Port) are made with red grapes, almost exclusively Grenache, yielding liquid that’s dark, fruity and tannic in youth ageing to deeply brown, smooth amber elixers when aged (at the winery, not at your house, won’t happen sorry).

Of course, these are all Dessert wines, something one would never usually consider along with anything but a sweet treat at the end of the meal, or as a digestif to sip and contemplate on a lonely night in front of the fireplace. Used correctly, however, I think these are wines that could do beautifully with certain savory dishes, of which I think Cassoulet stands out as a strong contender, considering certain requirements are met. The well aged, rancio white and dark brown versions are of course out of the picture, but the dark young reds still have great potential. Same with the Vintage Ports, they possess a richness in body and chewy tannins that, on their own, go amazing with any rich and heavy foods. A strong enough acid base is required in these wines to stand up to the sugar content, and this can cut through the fatty skin and stew meat with little to no problem.

When we deal with Sweetness in wine, it’s usually contended by pairing with similarly just-as-sweet dishes so the wine doesn’t overpower and disrupt its non-sweet flavors (somewhat complex process, don’t even know the specifics myself haha). On the other hand, we can ALSO use sweetness to cut through certain kinds of senses; in particular, it’s used quite successfully with Spicy and Salty foods. When done a certain way, with the confit and sausage and seasoned beans and etc, cassoulet can naturally have a strong Salt backbone to it (not like “oh my god so much salt” of course, but in the sense of bacon and cured items have on their own). Thus, I believe it can stand up to these hot, dusty sweet wines from one of its home regions, and make a very unique and beautiful pairing. I could talk more about what kinds of flavors and aromas one could get from these Grenache-centric fortified bombs and how it’d go with cassoulet, but I’ve already written enough s#$& as it is.

My main suggestion, particularly for the everyday shopper, is to try and find a Maury wine; they’re the same style as Banyuls, though usually seen at lower quality (definitely more Rustic) and often offer a better deal price wise. The Maury region also has a dry style, “Maury Sec” AOC, and Banyuls has a separate dry AOC called Colliures, so one could also get a powerful dry wine from either region if they don’t want something sweet.

p2: Chocolate Mousse

The Sweet

When one thinks of French Desserts, they invariably at one point think of Chocolate Mousse; when one thinks of any hoity-toity restaurant dessert we think of chocolate mousse (just done in some super-pretty, sculptured, towering, surrounded-by-things-that-don’t-look-edible way). When we think of Mousse in general, chocolate is the first one seared into the frontal cortex (or whatever cortex that works that).

Which makes it sort of odd that the first “mousses,” a word translating to “Foam” btw, were most likely savory creations. Theorized (but not really recorded) to have originated during the 1700’s, most likely when they started playing with aerating egg whites in meringues and other things. These would be folded with shredded and pureed meat to be baked, poached, steamed, etc.

Using the technique with desserts probably wasn’t so long of a wait; folding meringues or similarly fluffy and aerated frostings with cooked/pureed fruit or other seasonings would have been quite the logically accessible feat for various pastry toppings or simpler sweet tooth treats. Bringing in chocolate to the occasion, on the other hand, would be a different matter entirely.

classic-chocolate-mousse-6461Despite being introduced via the Spanish in the early 1600’s, the use of chocolate in dessert was a long way off. As an import item from the Americas, France’s only way of getting it in at the time being by Spanish trade or their recent acquisition of the Martinique island, cacao was quite the luxury. And being so expensive and rare, even the royalty was wary in having it used in any other way than the simplest version to which they knew: as a Drink. Its original use, as many are probably aware, was as a hot, often spiced (at least in the Americas), SAVORY drink, very similar to coffee. In fact, the first businesses allowed to sell the cacao to the public in France were Cafes, well those and Apothecaries, since it was also seen as medicinary.

And it stayed like this for a couple centuries, even with all the advancement in surrounding countries in converting the bean to a sweet solid, to be used in various dessert preps. The French just stuck with their fancy drink until, finally, they either did some development of their own or chose to buy the delicious sweets from Holland or wherever. By the 1850’s, it was melted and folded with meringue, making France’s first chocolate mousse. From there, like many of the desserts in this list, it spun and grew to a dessert every professional and home cook has made at least once. Not to mention paired with everything from seasonal fruit to sea salt and olive oil.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Mousses in general, I find, are a pretty easy and fun thing to put together! There are a lot of ways one can make them, and like soufflé you can use whatever kinds of flavor you want. Only with a mousse, all that’s important is getting a concentrated, intense flavor; don’t need to worry about the “base’s” viscosity and thickness TOO much. So long as it can be folded into something, you’re good.

As for what we fold it into, we have a few options: whipped cream, egg whites (simply beaten or fully “meringued”), sabayon, a combination of all or none, anything with air incorporated. You can add and adjust it however you want, with more or less cream, butter, egg, sugar, etc. So long as it’s fluffy, you’re good.

Talking about the Chocolate, now, we can get to a few fun subjects. The main strategy is to melt the chocolate, and it should be a GOOD quality 60-70% bittersweet (gotten at a co-op/whole foods/baking supply store), with some cream/milk and/or butter, basically making a ganache. Any flavors can be added via booze, herbs, or spices. This is then folded with whatever aeration device one chooses until “fully incorporated,” though I like leaving a few white streaks for effect (it’s pretty! Plus it doesn’t harm the final product flavors).

There’s even this method of making it where, basically, one just melts the chocolate with some water (huge taboo, you NEVER want to get even a drop of water into melting straight chocolate, usually), then whisking it vigorously over an ice bath. Simply put, aerating the chocolate on its own before it cools and re-sets.

Personally, I love making my chocolate mousses with just whipped cream, really keep that rich, chocolatey ganache characteristic with a thicker, marshmallowy consistency. Maybe getting in a LITTLE whipped egg whites, which bring in a lighter, delicate mousse factor to the equation. But that’s my preference.

The FRENCH method, as I’ve researched, is quite interesting, and pretty singular across the board. Though amounts and certain practices may vary recipe to recipe, most posts on a “French Chococolate Mousse” I’ve found have a few main things in common. None of them use Whipped Cream, folding only with beaten Egg Whites. The only time heavy cream is used is to melt with the chocolate, which is made sure to be done VERY gently. Finally, they always incorporate Egg Yolks, usually just by “tempering” with the warm, recently melted chocolate.

SAMSUNGThough that’s not always the case. Julia Child had a very intriguing recipe for hers, in which she basically made a thick, fluffy sabayon out of the egg yolks (-cough- and booze), which theoretically should add another layer of thickness and aeration to help the mousse along. She, like others, also used a bit of coffee to help boost the chocolatey flavors. As such, I felt compelled that, if I were to follow a specific French(ish) recipe to make a certain version of chocolate mousse, this would be the one I tried. If anything, it required a lot more effort to do the yolks right, and it was a little fun and unique.

Chocolate Mousse (a la Julia Child)
4 Large Eggs, separated
2/3 cup + 1 Tb Sugar
2 Tb Brandy/Cognac
1 Tb Water
6oz Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped or chipped
6oz Butter, cubed
¼ cup Dark Brewed Coffee
Pinch of Salt
½ tsp Vanilla

DirectionsSAMSUNG

  1. Combine Egg Yolks, 2/3 cup of Sugar, Liquor and Water in bowl and move over lightly simmering water/double boiler.
  2. Whisk vigorously as it heats, keeping it over until it’s light, fluffy, and has “aerated” as much as it seems it will go.
  3. Remove and place over a bowl of ice water. Working quickly, replace its spot over the water with a bowl of the Chocolate, Butter, and Coffee, turning off the heat and keeping them covered with a towel to melt slowly and gently.SAMSUNG
  4. Continue whipping the yolks as it chills, getting it as stiff and voluminous as possible.SAMSUNG
  5. Stir the chocolate every now and then until it’s completely melted and silky, taking off the heat once done.SAMSUNG
  6. Let cool a couple minutes, using the time to whip the Egg Whites (and also ensure the yolks stay aerated).SAMSUNG
  7. Combine in bowl with Salt and Vanilla, whipping with stand or hand mixer until it’s turned fluffy and starting to keep shape (not yet at “soft peak” stage). Sprinkle in the remaining tablespoon of Sugar and continue working to Firm Peaks.SAMSUNG
  8. Take the chocolate, slowly pouring it in a slow, steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, folding it in until mostly incorporated.SAMSUNG
  9. Working with 1/3 of it at a time, gently add and fold in the whipped whites (may need to move chocolate to a bigger bowl to complete, there’s a lot), adding in the next mound of meringue when the previous is mostly mixed in.SAMSUNG
  10. Fold until no trace of white can be seen and transfer to the desired holding vessels, whether it be cups, chocolate bowls, or even a pie shell!SAMSUNG
  11. Let chill in fridge at least an hour and enjoy, preferably with whipped cream and crunchy topping.

My Thoughts

SAMSUNGYeah, overall I really think I prefer using just whipped cream and maybe some meringue for folding, just love the richness and that fluffy feel to it. Not that this isn’t a good mousse, just… different. The texture is somewhat springy, maybe spongey-reminiscent, you can tell it’s affected by the egg yolks but I can’t quite describe how. It’s good, quite good, and sorta craveable in its own right, just not how I translate my “ideal” mousse.

The flavor is nice though, dark and concentrated chocolate, great to have with the whipped cream. I would actually make a couple adjustments to Julia’s formula though. First, a little less sugar, maybe use only ½ cup, because it’s pretty sweet (like, overly). Second, though I love and understand the concept of using just a bit of coffee to act as an undertone, actually INCREASING the flavors and personality of chocolate in our minds, there’s also too much of this in the recipe. I eat it, and it doesn’t taste like chocolate mousse; it tastes like chocolate-coffee, which is not what you want. Cut yours in half just to be safe.SAMSUNG

But none of that really stopped me spooning as much of it as I could in the middle of the night like it was fat-free pudding. And at least it tasted good in pie!

1Possible Pairings

A while back I purchased and read through a relatively well known book on pairing wine, which I loved. Besides chapters on particular regional pairings, discussing components, etc, it also had a few pages on “special subjects,” like cheese pairing and other difficult ingredients. One page discussed dessert, and had a whole thing on chocolate with wine. I just loved going through this particular section, because the author talked about the different levels of chocolate, and making sure you kept different kinds of chocolate desserts in mind, and basically the fact that you have to use all these different wines depending on the situation… and then basically just used some form of Muscat/Moscato for every chocolate situation.

Of course, they were all really different kinds of muscat wine, but the irony I think is just hilarious. That said, it’s at least a great starting point; I think a really good quality, sweet and bubbly, singularly refreshing Moscato d’Astiis a great wine to go with this. They’re both aerated, and despite its chocolate-ness the mousse doesn’t need that heavy or concentrated of a dessert wine to go with it. Other simpler, not too aged, syrupy, or oxidated Moscato dessert wines can work well; maybe even a Muscat de Setubal (from Portugal).

DSCN0375We could also enjoy some form of Raspberry dessert wine; there’s a local Minnesotan vineyard that makes one that tastes great with chocolate dishes such as this. Though really any sort of good fruit-based wine or Liqueurcan go with this, it just depends on one’s tastes and flavor preferences.

I harken to wonder if any full-bodied spirits like Cognac, Rum or Aquavit would actually be appropriate, though their inclusion in the recipe opens the door, and the mousse’s intensity in flavor (and sweetness) most likely allows for it to work on a certain level.

Finally, to start with a wine and end with one, I might choose some form of Coteaux du Layonas a good French accompaniment. The many desserts of Bordeaux should work too, but I like the idea of the calmer, spritely fruit and botrytis that clings to Loire’s sweet creations (vs the denser, syrupy Sauternes).

p1: Piperade

enhanced-buzz-29342-1385771009-2A Valentine’s Weekend Brunch concept lead me to search out a dish that was rich in holiday spirit (or, you know, close-ish) and breakfast-reminiscent. What better dish to pick than the Hot, teasingly Spicy, Red stew of Peppers known as Piperade, cooked with Eggs and eaten on Crusty Bread.

The Dish

The Pinnacle of Basque Cuisine, the recipe known as Piperade is shared in the small region crossing both French and Spanish borders. Its beginnings, however, trace towards the French side in the far south-western region of Bearn (also known for béarnaise sauce… huh, that’s two relatively well known mother sauce adaptations they’ve invented), where the end of summer heralded and abundance of ripe, concentrated Tomatoes and Peppers, brought over from the New World and now used to make a sauce.

Which is what it started as and is still often used today, a sweet and rich sauce to go with various meals, sometimes cooked with beaten eggs a-la omelet. But it didn’t stay that way, the newly popular flavor combination moving across the border where they shared use of the same ingredients. Its influence grew, acquiring ingredients in its slow spread and popularity. Onions and Garlic from the Midetteranean, Ham and a Hot Ground Pepper from the Border, and it wasn’t long before the simple sauce turned into a cavalcade of sensational activity. Not only that, the stew’s mixed colors of Red (tomatoes), White (onion+garlic), and Green (peppers) stood representation of the Basque Flag, much like the Margherita Pizza does for Italy.

A simple dish packed full of flavor, Piperade truly stands tall as one of the typical foods of Southern France.

A Word On…

Peppers: Overall, the recipe is pretty easy. It’s just onions, garlic, tomatoes and peppers cooked together; and the traditional ingredients reflect that. Bell Peppers, that’s it; usually Green to reflect the “Basque Flag Color,” though there are many recipes that discuss adding a variety of bells for a beautiful color mix. Just stick with this and you already have the classic. No need to do the whole “roasting the skin and peeling off” thing, just keep it fresh before cooking.SAMSUNG

There is one fun option we have though; the main Buzzfeed recipe link uses these little gems, and I just love adding them to dishes whenever I can. Preserved, Roasted Red Sweet Peppers. If you’ve had these in restaurants, maybe on an antipasti plate, you know why I adore these things. They’re soft and rich, smokey and sweet, and just concentrated with that essence of cooked peppers. You can find a can or jar of these, the already emptied casings sitting in an acidic mixture of vinegar and verjus, in any decent supermarket (co-ops, whole foods, etc). Just slice them up and toss in a little later than the other veggies; and I do still use it alongside bell peppers, so I can keep the classic feel and flavors of the dish.SAMSUNG

HOT Peppers: With the sweet peppers we need the Heat. This comes from a little guy called the Espelette pepper, a Southern French product with its own AOC. Finding this in our market, though, is a damn difficult task.

We have options though, just have to find a fresh or SAMSUNGchili pepper with similar Scoville units. And at only 4,000 (which is pretty darn low), we have a couple options. Guajillo Chilies are probably the easiest to get your hands on, and very close at 5,000 scoville; it’s what I got. Other decent options, if you can find them, are Mirasols and Fresno Peppers.

These aren’t added in as-is, which brings our second SAMSUNGconsideration. Normally, the espelette is ground into a French Paprika/Pimento. To make your own with whatever chili you get (if you get a “fresh” pepper, though, just slice it up and add in as-is), start simply by toasting the dried peppers (deseed first). This is simple, really; just heat up a pan, put in the whole peppers and press down with a spatula for about a SAMSUNGminute each side, until those essential oils start to bloom and you can smell it. The skin should start to darken to around the edges.

Move it to your handy-dandy spice grinder (basically, a coffee grinder, cleaned) or food processor. It’ll be soft while warm, so let cool a bit to crisp up, and grind untilSAMSUNG beautifully powdered. This can be used as is, for this or whatever, but I like to still add some decent Spanish/Smoked Paprika to edge the final spice flavors a little closer to the original.

Tomatoes: I’ve talked about quality tomatoes a bit in one of my other Posts, and when it comes to getting the BEST ones for such a tomato-focused cooked dish, then stay away from “fresh.” Unless you can really get those rich, concentrated, deep red organic/home grown fruit right from your own garden (or a quality farmer’s market), then stick with canned. It sounds counter-intuitive, but think of it this way; organically canned tomatoes are picked and preserved at their PEAK of flavor and sugars, keeping them at their best flavor.SAMSUNG

You have to know which ones to buy though. I love the Italian San Marzano tomatoes (well, everybody does, haha), and there are also some really great local, Whole Roasted Organic options. Whole Foods has a great stock on these options.

Cured Pig (and Focal Points): Traditionally, one cooks this dish wish an Air-cured meat called “Jamon de Bayonne” (from the Bayonne region of course). Finding this in the non-Chicago Midwest, much like the Espelette, is next to impossible. The main substitutes to it, for our concern, would be Italian Prosciutto and Spanish Serrano Ham. Which iteration one pics of these, then, is dependant with how it’ll be used.

SAMSUNGI like to think that there’s a bit of a tug-of-war battle between the Egg and the Ham, each vying to see which one will act as the main showcase with the different recipes. Do you tone down the amount of eggs and top it with big chunks of fresh sliced or sautéed Ham; or do you keep the meat in with the veggies as it stews, the flavors mingling and overriding any subtle and delicate flavors it might have had.

Focusing on the Brunch aspect, I chose a cheaper prosciutto, which holds a very rough and simple personality but has a stronger flavor to stand up with the stew. This I had Sliced Thick, sautéed and mixed back in right before baking (I still want to ensure one can taste it). If one were to HIGHLIGHT the ham, then I think Serrano is the better choice: lighter and finer flavors, a little more of that cured pork fat still attached, and much closer in personality to the Bayonne. What I’d actually do is make a nice, refined veggie “sauce,” poach the egg on the side, and stack on the plate with a couple fresh, delicately thin slices of the Serrano.

Two extremes with many a variation in between if one explored them. The choice is up to you.

Eggs: Nowadays baked along with the stew, the original French dish was more closely tied to an omelette, or “frittata” style, with the tomato-pepper sauce cooked in. However, changes in preferences and styles have introduced baking of the eggs as a viable and now classic substitution, and the one which I chose to follow at the time.

Piperade
4oz Prosciutto, Serrano, or similar meat, Thick Sliced
1/3-½  cup Olive Oil
1 Onion
½ Head of Garlic (5-7 medium cloves)
1 Large or 1 ½ Small Bell Pepper/s (any color)
2 Tb Guajillo (or similar) Chile Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp crushed Thyme (fresh or dry)
Salt n Pepper
1 cup Roasted Sweet Peppers
1 pint Can Whole San Marzano Tomatoes
2 Tb Fresh Parsley, chopped
5-8 Eggs

Some good, Crusty Bread, sliced and Grilled

DirectionsSAMSUNGSAMSUNG

  1. Turn oven to 350F.
  2. Cut your dry-cured meat into even-sized cubes (or julienne sticks, depending), turning the cooking pan to Medium heat.SAMSUNG
  3. Once hot, add Olive Oil; it should start Shimmering quickly. Toss in cubed meat, sautéing until colored and lightly crispy around the edges.
  4. While this is going, slice your Onion, Garlic, and Bell Pepper into thin strips.
  5. Transfer cooked prosciutto to paper towels for draining, SAMSUNGreplacing them in the warm pan with your sliced veggies.
  6. Gently cook on Medium/Med-Low until they start to get soft, making sure they don’t get any color. Toss in the Guajillo, Paprika, Sugar, Thyme and Seasonings, continuing so they “bloom” in the warm oil.SAMSUNG
  7. Slice Roasted Sweet Peppers, adding in as the veggies get closer to full softness.
  8. Remove whole Tomatoes from the can, chopping them into thin pieces. Add, along with the can sauce/juices, simmering for 5 or so minutes until SAMSUNGlightly reduced and “incorporated.”
  9. Stir in the chopped Parsley and Cooked Prosciutto.
  10. Ready your Eggs, carefully cracking into small bowls/ramekins for easy transferring.
  11. Carefully make a few “wells” into the cooked veggies and peppers with the back of a spoon or spatula, gently easing the whole eggs into each of their new resting places.SAMSUNG
  12. Transfer to the hot oven, letting the Eggs and Stew bake until the white is set, 6-8 minutes.
  13. Remove, scoop onto a plate, and serve alongside drinks and some good Toasty Bread (and maybe a sausage if it’s breakfast, num).SAMSUNGSAMSUNG

The Verdict

I really love how this recipe turns out. Really tart, tomatoey-pepper rich stew, firm chunks of salty pork, and a fatty egg yolk to round it all out. The heat is low and gentle, the paprika-chili pepper flavors notably present but only offering the barest hints of capsaicin. Enough to arouse the palette without being too needy. Everything had its own strong, distinctive notes that just make you crave it throughout the day. It was all the beauty of a typical Chinese meal, designed to hit all 5 points of flavor (and the soul and SAMSUNGelements and whatnot): Sweetness from the Peppers, Acidity from the Tomato, Umami from the Egg and Garlic, Saltiness from the Prosciutto, and Bitterness from the Charred Bread.

Ultimately it was a fun brunch, and a delicious thing to put on top and soak into that crunchy garlic bread.

Primary Pairing – Sagardoa (Basque Cider)

Again, a Cabernet Sauvignon with this dish? I think Buzzfeed must have been in a red wine coma when they put this particular article up. Not only is there no real texture to require the deep red’s tannins (crunchy bread doesn’t count), but much like the cheese we have another culinary pitfall for wine: Eggs. To be specific, egg Yolks, the fatty substance which is noted for having the tendency to coat and impede the palette, obstructing and inhibiting flavors from wine and drink. That and some compounds that can change flavors into the negative, tannic and more complex wines like Cab are immediately a no-go with any dish that highlights this ingredient.

So what kind of drink do we pair with this odd ingredient? Why, we just have to look at the rest of the dish; tart, strong, with little “weight” but still having singular flavor identity to it that, though not really complex, isn’t boring either. There are many White Wines that fit this diagram quite well (Rias Baixes, Vinho Verde, Txakolina, Sancerre/Pouilly Fume, Mosel Riesling, etc), but there’s only one thing that stands out at the top around the Basque Region. And that’s their Cider.SAMSUNG

Cider’s a beautiful thing. Low alcohol, deliciously tart and acidic, with an intensely unique, piercing flavor. It can cut right through the coating fat of the egg yolk, its personality simple and strong enough to not be displaced and confused by the twisting placebo compounds. And just a refreshing glass to have for brunch; who needs a Mimosa? (please oh please god do not tell my Mother I said that)

My Bottle: 2011 Isastegi Sagardo NaturalaSAMSUNG

Was so happy to find this unique little item in a local store. The acidity matches perfectly with the tomato-pepper stew while still pushing through the difficulty of the egg, with a bare off-dry sweetness to counter the light salt of prosciutto. Then it gives a fun little muskiness, as should any good cider, to keep you excited and wanting more. I think the best way to describe its qualifications is that it has the same amount of “satisfaction” in it as the comfortingly poignant piperade.

Secondary PairingGaillac or other SW France Rose

This was actually going to be my primary choice, I mean it was Valentine’s weekend; but then I found I could actually get a Spanish Cider (and cheaper), so I just had to go with my other option.SAMSUNG

It’s a bit surprising, I know, since apparently us “wine snobs who roll their eyes at the mention of rose” must HATE the idea of using this very versatile and food friendly style when it comes to pairing. But I guess sometimes even we deem to lower ourselves to -gasp- “enjoy” a wine that tastes delicious and refreshing. Just a bit of those red-reminiscent fruit flavors and aromas to be mentally appealing next to the distinctive tomato-pepper stew, while holding the piercing tartness and personality of a white to stand next to the dish’s difficulties.

They’ll have some more body than the cider, probably along with a bit of “heat” and musk/earthiness that reminds one of Mediterranean Basque. A great regional pairing fully incorporated with the French side of things.

If you can’t find any rose from the SW of France, there are some great offerings from Provence and Southern Rhone at decent prices, just ask an employee about their suggestions to lead you to the right bottles.