From the request lines…Chicken Marsala…with a twist…

I love my followers! Every once in a while, they give me direct inspiration for dishes that they want to see on the blog- and they toss me the occasional curve ball! Example: I just got a request for stuffed chicken Marsala. Sounds exciting to me! This is going to involve copious amounts of mushrooms, of course, in the true spirit of the dish…

First and foremost, you must have Marsala wine. NOT that bisulfate-laden swill they call cooking wine in the grocery store. I mean something you would actually consume yourself and/or feed to others. Without displaying the brand – take your butt to Total Wine and grab something like this:

And ensure that you have balsamic reduction, to counteract the sweetness. After all, you’re going to reduce an entire bottle of vino, and you don’t want all sweetness:

So when you start the reduction, along with the roughly chopped onions and mushrooms, it will start out looking like this:

We’ll come back to that.

Now, as far as the chicken to stuff, I chose to use the breasts and thighs, if for no other reason than their superior surface area and general tenderness. The catch: I removed the thigh bone, and left the rib bones in the breast. Why one and not the other, you ask? Well, if you leave the bone in the breast, it will improve the moisture, and it also keeps you from over-processing the meat. Removing the bone from the thigh enables you to roll the stuffing, also to preserve moisture. As shown:

As you can see, the breast is close to still being whole, so that all moisture will be kept inside the meat and the skin will keep the stuffing from spilling. You can use toothpicks or twine to bind- I just chose not to.

And the thighs, with bones removed, roll around the stuffing quite neatly.

Speaking of stuffing…simple. In your food processor, pulse walnuts, spinach, and Asiago cheese. This stuffing will not interfere with the sweet tang of the Marsala. Promise!

You don’t even need to add oil to this, as the walnuts provide enough. And their muted nuttiness balances the Marsala for the chicken.

After the sauce finishes reducing and thickening (after about 45 minutes on high heat) it should look something like this:

Notice how the mushrooms have soaked in the flavor, even as they shrink during the cooking process. They will be juicy with Marsala in each bite.

While I waited for the sauce to reduce, I browned the chicken, skin side first, in a cast-iron skillet and then sent to the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius). As you can see, the breasts opened some, but the stuffing didn’t move:

As it sits gently in the Marsala bath atop Mount Mushrooms:

And, a close-up of a stuffed thigh:

Shrimp Risotto, Part 2 – Love it when a plan comes together…

So…if you remember the last post, we got quite excited about the prospect of trying risotto for the first time. So much so that we pulled out the pressure cooker to make shrimp stock fresh for the occasion. We were then left with 3 pounds of shrimp awaiting the privilege of being seared for pleasurable consumption. But never fear, we have an answer for that! Brine your shrimp under ice in a mixture of sea salt, sugar, quartered lemons, water and white wine until time to sear. This will guarantee you the plumpest, juiciest shrimp for any recipe for which you choose to use them. Just remember to bury them under ice and cover them in the fridge until time to toss in the pan.

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All you need is about 20-30 minutes for that brine, which will give you time to make some creamy goodness called risotto…

Speaking of which…here’s some excitement for you:

Finely dice one large onion and quarter a small box of mushrooms as shown:

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You’ll need these to establish taste. Take the mushrooms and saute gently, in a pot with olive oil and butter, to get your flavor base started. Once they are gently browned, remove the mushrooms and replace with the onions. Watch these closely until they brown, and then add  to the pot 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice. (Note: it’s GOT to be arborio rice, because it has the necessary starch presence to absorb the shrimp stock – of which we’re about to use a LOT. ) Make sure you stir the rice and onions constantly – and DO. NOT. LEAVE. Because they will burn on you, and you don’t want that.

Once you smell the warm nuttiness of the rice, grab that 6 cups of warm shrimp stock we talked about in the previous post. One cup at a time (and ONLY one cup at a time), gently introduce  5 cups of the stock into the pan and keep stirring until each cup of liquid is absorbed into the rice. It should look fluffy and creamy at the same time at this point.  Re-add the mushrooms, and remove from the heat at this point. Take the remaining warm cup of shrimp stock, and add 1/2 cup of heavy cream. The heat should temper the cream so that it doesn’t seize. Add to the risotto. The results are spectacular. Watch it breathe:

And lest you think we forgot about those shrimp – grab a handful of those out of the fridge and towel-dry them before you throw them into the pan for a quick sear. Look at how plump the brine keeps them:

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And now, I can say that I had real-live shrimp risotto. It was everything that the readers told me it would be. Creamy, gentle, and almost buttery with the tenderness of the shrimp. Plated:

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Shrimp Risotto, Part One

NO, this is not going to be a post extolling the virtues of a pressure cooker…

Okay, I’m lying.

But it is also going to be a shout singing the praises of risotto!

See, before a couple of days ago,  I had never experienced the creamy bowl of heaven that is risotto (done correctly, of course). And I got royally ribbed by a couple of my off-line followers for waiting so long before having it – much less posting about it. BUT…they never told me how much fun it is to make with fresh (super fresh) shrimp stock! And what’s the best way to get shrimp stock quickly? Using a pressure cooker, of course! (Note: if you don’t have a pressure cooker in your life, do yourself a favor and get one. You’ll thank me later, I promise.)

For the shrimp stock, I shelled 3 pounds of Argentine red shrimp. I chose this particular breed due to its size (which meant sizable shells to boil out the shrimp essence – yes!) and meaty texture, that would stand up to a quick brining. So, the shrimp stock ingredients included:

  • Shells, legs and tails from 3 pounds of shrimp as described;
  • 12 fl. oz of Chardonnay;
  • 4 lemons, quartered
  • One large bell pepper, roughly diced;
  • One large sweet onion, roughly diced;
  • 20 cups  (160 fl. oz) of water;
  • 1/4 cup  (2 oz) sea salt;
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) sugar
  • Olive oil, as needed…

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the olive oil in the pressure cooker until shimmering, almost sizzling;
  2. Saute the pepper and onion, stirring gently, until translucent and fragrant;
  3. Add the shrimp shells and saute until gently browned, releasing the flavor;
  4. Place all other ingredients into the pressure cooker and bring to a gentle boil;
  5. Seal the pressure cooker and bring to pressure according to manufacturer directions;
  6. Allow the stock to cook under pressure for 15-20 minutes, and then quickly cool by placing the pressure cooker in a sink full of chilled water;
  7. Once the stock has cooled, strain the liquid into a bowl using a sieve lined with cheesecloth.

Yields 12 cups of super-concentrated stock that you can freeze for later usage. But, for the sake of this conversation, extract about 6 cups of stock for our fabulous risotto, which is coming up in the next post!

Pineapple Ribs…

Yes, you read that right.

Bored with the typical heavy, sweet sauces that we like to put on our ribs…I decided to do something totally different and not add any sugar or extra salt to the sauce I was going to create/use. In short- it only took 4 ingredients:

3 cups (24 fl. oz) pineapple juice

2 cups (16 fl. oz) agave nectar

1 cup (8 fl. oz) high quality tequila

1 cup (8 fl. oz) lime juice

Set all these to a rolling boil and allow for at least 2 hours for reduction into a glaze that you can brush on two racks of ribs. Now as for those ribs, at 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) they will caramelize nicely after 2 hours when you cover them with the following:

  • Lemon powder
  • White pepper
  • Cilantro
  • Thyme
  • Celery seeds (NOT celery salt)
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Cumin (will add an additional smoke to the flavor

For absolute best results, take these ingredients and relieve some stress by mixing them with a mortar and pestle. Cover your racks of ribs thoroughly with this blend and allow to air-dry in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before you commit them to the oven. You can opt to grill them if you choose, as well.

Once the time is up, you should remove the ribs from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before you slice them into individual ribs. The glaze should also be ready at the same time (best practice is to start the heat on both simultaneously).

The results:

Brainstorm of the day…

Pork chops Benedict…must get some more kitchen testing, but this is what the first rendition looks like…(recipe and better pictures coming in next post – I just wanted to get this out there to see what the people think!)

Musings…cutlery, part deux

“You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.” -Miyamoto Musaashi, The Book of Five Rings

This quote from one of the greatest swordsmen accurately parallels the warrior’s blade preference, with the feeling I have about my cutlery. I collect those weapons that suit me. I think all chefs feel this way. There is no other piece of equipment that translates a chef’s soul, as does his/her favorite knife. That said, one cannot have enough favorite knives in one’s collection, because that soul can express itself through slicing and dicing.

Pertinent example: I have a favorite knife that I use for cutting up home fries and vegetables.It’s the knobby-handled Global, fifth from the left. With that, I make home fries that turn out like this:

But recently, when in my local Sur La Table, I ran across a Wusthof with which I got to practice on a potato – blade and results attached:

I can’t wait to get hold of some potatoes and render them into home fries with this.

So you see, the spirit of the kitchen warrior can manifest itself through many blades. But the soul of the warrior will always pour through the cuts as long as the weapon of choice is suitable to YOU.

Non-stick is NOT evil…

… especially when it comes to flipping omelets. And when I say flipping, I mean the entire omelet. As in, get a little bit of air. I am a person that likes to do things the “right” way, so, after watching a chef flip an omelet at a recent trip to a hotel, I was determined to duplicate the feat upon my return home. Never mind that the gentleman had most likely spent years learning the art. I was bound to get it right…that night.

So I learned, the hard way:

  • Non-stick is NOT evil;
  • Butter is not evil (but olive oil might be);
  • You must brown your ingredients first;
  • Think frisbee when you click your wrist;
  • Keep your spatula close;
  • Give. Yourself. Time!

You can do it!

Fresh vs. Dried, World Series of Herbs…

As far as I am concerned, fresh wins every time! And that feeling was brought forcefully home when I spent some time recently in a kitchen, watching a brother blend FRESH green herbs (examples: rosemary, thyme, parsley) and olive oil into a marinade for the best ribs I have had in a long time. Even better than mine, I am forced to admit. Due to NDA, I am unable to give you the remaining ingredients, but I will say this: Fresh is always best!

“Usually I don’t do this…but…”

Even though I no longer endorse R. Kelly…I have to borrow his phrase for this post. Usually I do NOT throw out product endorsements in my blog but…I have to say this…Dalstrong Knives has made a winner with their Gladiator series 10″ chef knife! It’s balanced such that it feels like an extension of your hand. Makes food look like it’s falling away from the blade. Now, you’re not going to use this work of art to chop through bone, but I can tell you it ran through the joint of a chicken leg quarter like a knife through butter. (Gosh-awful play on words, I know, don’t shoot me.) It’s light enough to chop onions, garlic, scallions, mushrooms, and still split lemons like the aforementioned butter. (Chuckles) And most important for you- no fatigue! Equally important- it’s relatively inexpensive. I fully endorse this knife as the first one you can use to start your collection. More to come as I get my money up and check out more of their collection- but first, some video on the results:

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