08/11/11 12:17am

JOHN ROSS COURTESY PHOTO

“Poaching: A moist-heat cooking method that uses convection to transfer heat from a hot (160-180 F) liquid to the food submerged in it.”
Webster’s Dictionary of
Culinary Arts

On restaurant menus it is common to list ingredients and describe the cooking method. Thus we see “pan seared,” “roasted,” “grilled,” “braised,” “sautéed” and many more. It is important to remember that there are only two basic cooking methods: dry heat and moist heat. Heat is transferred to the food directly, as in placing a cutlet in a hot skillet (conduction), or indirectly by the currents caused by the movement of molecules in a liquid (convection).
Dry heat cooking methods include broiling, sautéeing, roasting and deep frying. They work best for tender cuts of meat, poultry and fish. A high quality steak is grilled at high temperature to make it palatable and flavorful, not to tenderize it. Moist heat methods include boiling, simmering and poaching. Braising is a combination method that requires browning at high temperature first and then adding liquid for long, slow cooking to tenderize. Simmering liquid such as water, stock or wine breaks down connective tissue in less tender cuts of meat, poultry and fish.
Poaching is a moist-heat cooking method that is unique in that small, tender portions of food are simmered gently below the boiling point to make them palatable, while retaining their innate flavor and texture. Fish and eggs are the most common foods that are poached, but fruit, vegetables and poultry can also be cooked using this method.
In classic French cuisine a “court bouillon” is used as the poaching liquid. Court bouillon is water simmered with vegetables, seasonings and an acid ingredient such as wine, vinegar or lemon juice. But aromatic liquids such as water with herbs or intense liquids such as red wine reductions are also good for poaching. When cooked properly, poached foods retain the delicate flavors of the food without adding fat. Here are some recipes for poached foods:

Tea-Poached Salmon with Curried Peanut Butter Broccoli Rabe
Purchase four 6-ounce salmon fillets and place them on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the contents of 2 tea bags (I used lemon tea) over the salmon and refrigerate while preparing the meal.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add 1 cup chopped onion along with 2 tablespoons curry powder. Combine 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter with 1 cup soy milk and add to the cooked onion mixture. Cut one bunch of broccoli rabe into small pieces (both leaves and stems) and add them to the sauté pan. Toss the broccoli rabe with the peanut butter sauce, cover and simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, spray a shallow pan with no-stick and place the tea-covered salmon fillets in the bottom. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a separate pan and pour it gently over the salmon. Place the salmon on medium heat and bring up almost to the boiling point. Remove the salmon fillets and serve over the broccoli rabe.
If desired, mix 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill and 1 teaspoon lemon juice to use as a garnish on the salmon.
Serves 4.

Poached Flounder in
Red Wine Reduction with Beets
Combine 1 bottle of merlot and 1 cup chicken stock in a saucepan. Add 3 peeled and quartered beets (reserve the beet greens and stalks), 1 chopped carrot, 1 peeled and quartered onion and 1 stalk of chopped celery. Season with 3 whole cloves of garlic, 1 bay leaf and 3 sprigs of thyme. Simmer until wine is reduced by half. Strain out the vegetables and reserve the beets. Reserve the reduced wine as a poaching liquid.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. When very hot, add one onion cut in long strips and cook until brown and caramelized. Add the chopped beet greens and beet stalks along with 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Add the reserved beets and season with sea salt and pepper. Moisten this mixture with 2 tablespoons of the poaching liquid and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of flounder into small fillets, cutting the large fillets down the lateral line. Season lightly with salt and pepper and roll into small paupiettes. Stick a toothpick through the rolls to hold them together. Place the flounder in a shallow pan and pour the red wine poaching liquid over them. Press a piece of foil down over the fish and bring to a simmer on the stove. Remove the flounder after about 4 minutes to avoid overcooking. Place the fish on top of the beet mixture and pour some of the poaching liquid over all.
Serves 4.

Poached Striped Bass
in Court Bouillon
Prepare a court bouillon by adding 4 cups water and 1 cup white wine to a saucepan. Tie together 1 stalk of celery, 6 parsley stems, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf with butcher’s twine or string. Place this bundle in the liquid with half of a peeled onion stuck with 2 whole cloves. Season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 8 peppercorns. Simmer 30 minutes and strain.
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of boned and skinned striped bass into 4-ounce chunks and place them in a shallow pan. Pour the court bouillon over them and bring to a simmer. Cook until the fish is opaque, about 10 minutes (do not overcook). Serve over fresh green beans or sautéed fresh corn. Garnish with parsley and lemon.
Serves 4.

Poached Fresh Peaches
in Rosé Wine
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of North Fork rosé wine with 1/4 cup sugar and 3 strips of lemon rind. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Add 4 peaches (leave skin on) and cook slowly until tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove the peaches and cool. Slip off the skin and cut into wedges. Reduce the poaching liquid to a thin syrup and pour over the peaches. Let mixture cool. If desired, add 1/2 pint of fresh blackberries before serving with vanilla ice cream.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

07/11/11 8:15am

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Flat-iron steak, right off the grill.

I surely never hope to view
A steak as luscious as a stew.
The latter is the tasty goal
Of elements in perfect whole,
A mad assemblage of legumes
Exuding warm ambrosial fumes,
Each seasoning of proper length,
Proving in Union there is strength.
A steak is grander, it is true,
Yet needs no special skill to brew.
It is an art a stew to make,
But anyone can broil a steak.
Author unknown, 1880

There was a time when we only wanted the luxury cuts of beef for our steaks — those very tender cuts from the “muscles of suspension” such as the rib, the loin, the tenderloin and part of the sirloin. The ribeye, the New York strip and the filet mignon are examples of these cuts. They all come from the center section of the animal along the backbone, an area that doesn’t get a lot of exercise. We also tended to judge the steak by its thickness and weight. Thus a 16-ounce, bone-in shell steak was a great cut of meat. And all you had to do was fire up the grill, season it with some salt and pepper and throw it on. Add a baked potato, sour cream and a tossed salad, and you had the ultimate summer meal.

But now, as we learn more about the anatomy of the steer, we find that some of the cuts in the less tender areas, known as the “muscles of locomotion,” can be very tasty and surprisingly tender. These muscles in the shoulder, legs and diaphragm do get a lot of exercise, which develops flavor in the muscles but also develops connective tissue. It just takes a little knowledge and a little work to make these cuts palatable.

We also discover that marinades, rubs and some creative sauces transform these funny-looking (and funny-sounding) cuts of beef into a gourmet meal. The amount of meat consumed is smaller and so is the price. Here are some examples to try on the barbecue:

Flat Iron Steak
People are just beginning to learn about this delicious steak. It comes from the wholesale chuck or shoulder of beef, a less tender area usually used for ground beef, stew and pot roast. But the area just under the shoulder blade, listed in the North American Meat Processors guide as the “Top Blade Steak,” is actually the second most tender cut of beef next to the filet mignon. The only problem is that it has a tough streak of connective tissue running through the middle that needs to be removed.
Removing this connective tissue and trimming it into two rectangular steaks — each resembling an old-fashioned “flat iron” — was the work of two teams of researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. It has since become very popular among restaurateurs and is becoming available at supermarkets and meat shops. If you purchase an untrimmed top blade roast, you only need to split it in half lengthwise and remove the connective tissue with a sharp boning knife. The result will be two flat iron steaks that will weigh about one pound each and be enough to serve four people.
Preparation: Remove the line of gristle that runs through the center of a top blade roast (about 2 1/2 pounds). Cut the steaks in half to make 4 flat iron steaks. Make a simple rub by combining 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Rub this mixture into the steak and bring the steaks to room temperature. Spray them with no-stick and place them on a hot charcoal or gas grill. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until rare or medium rare, and remove. Let the steak rest for about 5 minutes and slice on the bias against the grain.

Hanger Steak
The wholesale cut called the plate is located under the rib section of beef. Within this cut a muscle literally “hangs” from the diaphragm. This striated muscle is called the hanger steak; it weighs about 1 1/2 pounds and is very flavorful but not quite as tender as the flat iron steak. It also contains a long inedible membrane going down the center that has to be removed. The result will be two small V-shaped muscles.
These steaks are best marinated first and then grilled over hot coals to a rare or medium-rare doneness. Cutting them against the grain is essential. I found that slow cooking hanger steak over hickory chips in a smoker grill created a delicious, easy to eat steak.
Preparation: Carefully cut a hanger steak lengthwise along the seam. You will expose the silvery connective tissue; slip a sharp boning knife under the gristle and cut away from you to remove it safely. If desired, tie the pieces together to make one thick piece of meat. This will work best if you decide to slow-cook the steak in a smoker.
Prepare a marinade by combining 1/2 cup red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Place the marinade and the steak in a large zip-lock bag or a shallow pan for 2 hours or more.
For slow cooking, place charcoal in the bottom of the smoker and heat until it begins to turn white. Wrap 2 cups of hickory chips in heavy foil and poke holes in the foil. Place this package on top of the hot coals. Then place a stainless steel bowl of water on the grate above the coals and put the top grate over the water. Put the marinated steak on this grate and cover tightly with the lid. It should cook at about 250 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The meat will still be medium-rare after this time, but it will be very tender due to the slow cooking.
Alternatively, cook the hanger steaks (separated) on a hot grill for about 10 minutes to produce a rare steak. Slice against the grain into small, thin slices.
Serves 4.

Skirt Steak
This classic steak is most famous for its use in preparing fajitas. It is located opposite the hanger steak in the diaphragm; it’s a little tougher than the hanger but a little easier to handle. It should be all trimmed and ready to cook when you purchase it.
Preparation: Make the following marinade for 1 1/2 pounds of skirt steak: Combine the juice from 3 limes with 1/4 cup tequila, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Marinate the steaks for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Cut a green pepper, red pepper and yellow pepper into slices and place in a bowl. Add 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1 minced jalapeno pepper, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 2 teaspoons sea salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Prepare a charcoal grill and wait until the coals are white. Cook the vegetable mixture in a perforated grill pan placed over the coals with the lid on top. Stir and cook until just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove and cook the marinated steaks until browned and rare, about 5 minutes. Slice the steaks into thin pieces across the grain and serve with the cooked pepper mixture. Serve with 8-inch corn tortillas, guacamole, tomato salsa and sour cream.
Serves 4 to 6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

06/12/11 4:51am

O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command. With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the true North strong and free! … From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
Excerpt from the
Canadian national anthem

Although I’ve lived on the North Fork for most of my life, I was born in Canada and have a warm spot in my heart for our Canadian neighbor. On a recent visit to Ontario, to my home town of Chatham, I found much in common with the North Fork: the rural landscape on Lake Erie with lots of farming of fruits and vegetables; the nearby freshwater fish of Lake Erie and the not-far-away fish and shellfish of the Atlantic Ocean; the local wines from the Niagara Peninsula and the regions along the shore of Lake Erie; and finally, the near proximity of Toronto and other population centers to provide consumers of the local produce.
The popular local freshwater fish include Great Lakes perch, pickerel and pike. They are sort of like our flounder in that they are a prized local product that is available, but not in great abundance.
Much of the fresh Atlantic seafood we eat on the North Fork actually comes from Canada. We are all familiar with Prince Edward Island mussels or Nova Scotia farmed salmon, but we are not often aware that a large percentage of our live “Maine” lobsters, fresh harpoon-landed swordfish and white-fleshed halibut also come from the northern waters of Canada. As wild supplies of our local fish have dwindled in quantity and become more expensive, we rely on steady supplies of fresh seafood from Canada to round out our seafood menu and get us through the season. Here are some recipes for these delicious products:

Poached Halibut with Leeks,
Shallots, Snap Peas and Mussels
Purchase 1 pound of halibut, about 2 inches thick, and 1 pound of Prince Edward Island mussels. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a shallow soup pot and add 1 chopped leek (white part only), 1/4 cup minced shallots, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley. Cook, covered, at low heat until vegetables soften.
Cut the halibut into 4 thick chunks and place on top of the vegetables. Add 1/2 cup sauvignon blanc and the rinsed mussels. Raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Season with freshly ground pepper and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Add 2 cups sugar snap peas (or green beans), cover and cook until the mussels begin to open and the fish turns opaque. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme and continue cooking until fish is fully cooked and mussels are open.
Serve over brown rice and garnish with lemon and chopped parsley.
Serves 4.

Sautéed Perch with Corn Sauce
Purchase 2 pounds of perch fillets. Dip them in 1/2 cup buttermilk and roll them in 1 cup cornmeal. Season with coarse salt and pepper and set aside.
Scrape the kernels off 4 ears of corn and sauté them in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter with 1/4 cup shallots, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme and the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Place half of this mixture in a food processor and purée. Add the purée back to the kernels in the pan and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 3 tablespoons canola oil. When shimmering hot, sauté the perch fillets until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Place the corn sauce on 4 plates and the sautéed fish on top. Serve with steamed kale and pan-roasted fingerling potatoes.
Serves 4.

Cedar Planked Canadian Salmon with Maple Glaze
Soak 4 cedar cooking planks — available in fish stores or gourmet cooking shops — in water for at least 30 minutes. Cut 2 pounds of fresh Nova Scotia farmed salmon into 4 portions. Prepare a marinade of 1/2 cup pure maple syrup, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Marinate from 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
While the fish is marinating, boil 4 Yukon Gold potatoes in their skins until tender. Cool briefly and peel off the skin. Push the peeled potatoes through a ricer and finish with 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add 1/4 cup milk to thin the potatoes out. Place them in a pastry bag or an improvised one made from parchment paper.
Remove the planks from the water and spray with no-stick. Place the marinated salmon on the planks and brush with marinade. Pipe the mashed potatoes around the salmon on the edges of the plank. Put the planks in a covered char-grill, but not directly over the coals. Cover and cook until the salmon is opaque, about 15 minutes. While the planks are cooking, in a saucepan reduce the marinade to a glaze and serve with the salmon.
Serves 4.

Butter-Poached Canadian Lobster with New Potatoes
In a large soup pot, heat 2 quarts of water to boiling. Add the juice of 1 lemon and two 1 1/4-pound live lobsters. Turn off the heat, cover and steep the lobsters for 5 minutes.
Remove lobsters from the water and rinse under cold water. Twist off the tails and cut through the membrane with scissors to remove the tail meat intact. Break off the claws and crack them with the back of a chef’s knife. Remove the partially cooked meat, using a paring knife if necessary. Save the bodies to make lobster bisque.
In a large, shallow saucepan, bring 2 tablespoons water to a boil and whisk in 4 ounces cold butter, cut into chunks. This will form an emulsion. Continue to whisk in cold butter at medium heat until you have used a total of 3/4 pound of unsalted butter. Do not let it boil.
Cut the lobster into 2-inch chunks and place chunks in the butter sauce along with 1/2 pound of small, unpeeled, sliced new or fingerling potatoes. Add 2 ears of very fresh corn on the cob that have been broken in half. Cover and simmer at low heat until the lobster is just cooked, about 4 minutes, and remove lobster. Continue cooking the potatoes and corn at low heat for another 10 minutes.
Serve the lobster in small bowls or ramekins and ladle the butter sauce over it. Surround the lobster with the potatoes, corn and fresh green beans.
Serves 4.
Note: This recipe was made famous by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

05/30/11 10:07am

Argentina in the mind. How things fetch up,
Flotsam along a coastline stretching
To a land of fire where one may find
Glaciers, ice like glass, permafrost, snow.
The surreal is important because it is true.
Disparate things connect. Life is a palimpsest,
And lost images below show through.
—Margaret Wilmot

Argentina is one of the world’s biggest exporters of beef and Argentinians are huge consumers of meat. The Argentine barbecue, or asado, is the most popular way to enjoy it. This involves using a wood-fired grill, various cuts of meat and the signature sauce called chimichurri. The following recipes are for an Argentine style mixed grill using both charcoal briquettes and hickory wood chips.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Delicious mixed grill

Mixed Grill
Purchase 2 pounds of beef short ribs, 2 pounds of skirt steak, 1 whole chicken and 2 pounds of fresh chorizo sausage. Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and bone out the breast meat. Slice the boneless breast meat lengthwise to make 4 cutlets, leaving the skin on. Place all of the meats in a shallow pan and brush them with chimichurri sauce as a marinade. Marinate from 2 hours to overnight.
Serves 6-8.

Chimichurri Sauce
Place in a food processor 1 cup fresh cilantro, 1 cup fresh Italian parsley, 5 cloves garlic, minced, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, 2 tablespoons minced shallot, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and the zest from one lemon, 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 3/4 cup canola oil. Process to a finely chopped consistency, but do not turn it into a purée. Use about half of this sauce to marinate the meats (above) and save the rest to serve on the side.

Barbecue Instructions
If you have an outdoor barbecue smoker, place charcoal in the bottom, light it and wait for it to form white coals. Soak one pound of hickory chips in water for 15 minutes, drain and place over the coals. Place a bowl of hot water on the shelf above the coals to catch the drip. Above the water, place the grill with the beef short ribs, chorizo sausage and legs and thighs of the chicken. Cover and cook for 3 hours at low heat, allowing the hickory smoke to permeate the food. When the smoked meat is cooked, remove and set aside in a warm spot. Remove the water pan, add some fresh coals to the grill, and lower the grill so that it is directly over the coals. At service time grill the skirt steak and the chicken breasts to desired doneness. Place all the meats on a platter and serve with chimichurri sauce.
If you do not have a smoker, you can use your charcoal grill by placing a pan with water in it under the food. Rake the hot coals to the side of the grill, allowing space for the water pan. Place the soaked hickory chips on the coals and cover the grill.

The accompaniments:
Argentine Style Potato Salad
Scrub 6 Yukon gold potatoes and place them in boiling water to cover (do not peel). Simmer until they are just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove, cool and cut into half-inch chunks, leaving the skins on. Boil 4 eggs until hard, about 12 minutes. Cool, peel and chop. Trim, peel and dice 4 carrots. Trim the ends off of 1/2 pound string beans and cut them into half-inch pieces. Steam the carrots and beans together until just cooked, about 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water and set aside.
Trim and cut 6 scallions into small slices. Cut into quarters 1/2 pound of pitted olives, preferably almond stuffed or garlic stuffed, and set aside. Combine the potatoes, chopped eggs, cooked carrots and beans, sliced scallions and quartered olives in a large bowl and toss together lightly.
For the dressing, combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons chopped dill, the juice from 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon ground mustard, 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper. Toss the dressing with the potato mixture and check for seasoning.

Spinach Salad with
Bacon Vinaigrette
Mix 2 bags of baby spinach with 1 can of drained and rinsed chick peas and 1 cup diced red bell pepper. For the dressing cook 4 slices of bacon in a sauté pan until almost crisp. Transfer bacon to a paper towel and chop. Add to the bacon fat in the pan one sliced red onion and 1 teaspoon sugar. Cook until onion is soft and add 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup cider vinegar. Season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss with spinach mixture and serve.

Grilled Tomatoes
Slice 4 large beefsteak tomatoes in half and remove the cores. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper. Place on the outer edges of the charcoal grill while the meat is cooking. Serve alongside the meat on a platter.

Empanadas
Make a dough by placing 2 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Add 1/3 cup chilled butter that has been cut into small chunks. Add 1/3 cup chilled shortening cut into small pieces. Pulse about 12 times to form a coarse meal. Add 1/2 cup ice water and pulse to form a dough. Remove onto a floured surface and knead briefly into two balls of dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Make the filling by cooking 1/2 pound of ground beef in a skillet. Remove with a slotted spoon and clean out the pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan along with 1 cup diced onion, 1 cup chopped red bell pepper, 1 small minced jalapeno pepper and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Combine the ground beef and vegetables in a large bowl and set aside.
Peel one large potato and place in boiling water with two eggs in the shell. Simmer until the eggs are hard cooked and the potato is just tender, about 15 minutes. Dice the potato and add to the meat mixture. Peel and chop the eggs and add to the mixture. Add 12 chopped green olives along with 1/4 cup raisins, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Stir all ingredients together and refrigerate while rolling out the dough.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Mark out 6-inch circles in the dough and cut them out. Place 2 tablespoons filling on the side of each circle. Brush the edges with a little water and fold the dough over the filling and crimp with a fork around the edges. Make a slit in the top and place on an ungreased sheet pan. Repeat with all the dough — you should have 8 empanadas. Place them in a 400-degree oven and cook until the filling is bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve as a first course.
Serves 8.

The Wine: Argentina is the largest producer of malbec in the world. The full-bodied red wine is especially good with rich, marinated meats as in the above recipes. These dishes would also be very good with a North Fork merlot.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

05/16/11 12:05pm

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Are you getting hungry staring at this quiche? Go make it yourself.

Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold,
This sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting
To a deeper green than ever they were alive, this green, this life,

Harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the table munching
On this message from the dawn which says we and the world
Are alive again today, and this is the world’s birthday. And

Even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we
Will never be young again, we also know we’re still right here
Now, today, and, my oh my! don’t these greens taste good.

“The First Green of Spring”
by David Budbill

It has been one of the longest winters in memory and the signs of spring have been slow to come. But as the weather warms, we begin to search for the first local things that stimulate our appetite and give us hope that another good season is on the way. One way to ensure that you will be able to enjoy fresh local food every week is to join one of our many CSAs on the North Fork. Community supported agriculture began in the 1960s in Germany, Switzerland and Japan as a way to guarantee safe, healthy food that was grown organically and biodynamically. Having a group of subscribers (a community) pay up front in the spring gives the farmer some much-needed cash to start the season, and it gives the consumer a steady supply of the freshest local food available. Along the way the farmer and the consumer get to know each other and develop a relationship that everyone enjoys. This system has become so popular that there are more than 13,000 CSAs in North America alone.
But what to do with that box of veggies every week? It sometimes looks overwhelming and too repetitive. The secret is to keep an open mind and focus on each ingredient separately. Should it be eaten raw in a salad? Should it be slightly wilted and served under an entrée? Or should it be fully cooked and incorporated into the main dish? These variations can transform a leaf of spinach into three completely different experiences. Here are some ideas:

Asian Style Slaw
with Field Spinach
Rinse and remove stems from one bag of spinach, 2 heads of baby bok choy and 1 head of Napa cabbage. Make sure the leaves are dry and slice them thinly, julienne style. Toss them together in a large bowl and add 1 thinly sliced red onion and 6 thinly sliced scallions.
For the dressing combine 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/4 cup soy sauce. Add to this 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Toast 2 tablespoons sesame seeds in a dry sauté pan and add them to the dressing. Whisk in 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1/4 cup canola oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Toss at the last minute with the greens and serve.
Serves 6-8.

Sole with Wilted Spinach
Sprinkle 1 1/2 pounds of flounder, lemon sole or fluke fillets with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Dredge them in 1 cup flour and set aside.
Rinse and remove the stems from 1 bag of local spinach to make about 8 cups. Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When oil is hot, cook the fish in batches to a golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. (Do not crowd.) Remove the fish fillets and keep warm. Place the rinsed spinach in the same pan and cover. Cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove to a colander.
Divide the spinach between 4 plates and place the fish on top. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the hot pan along with 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Stir with a spoon and pour over fish.
Serves 4.

Spinach Quiche with
Catapano Goat Cheese
Prepare a pie crust by combining 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Cut 3 tablespoons shortening into chunks and pulse into the flour mixture. Cut 5 tablespoons unsalted butter into chunks and add to processor. Pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup ice water until dough forms. Flatten into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate while preparing other ingredients.
Thoroughly rinse 2 bags of field spinach and pick the leaves off the stems. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a large soup pot and add 1 teaspoon sea salt. Add the spinach and cover. Cook for 2 minutes and drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out all the moisture you can and chop with a chef’s knife. Set aside.
Whisk 4 eggs in a bowl with 3/4 cup heavy cream and 1 cup milk. Stir in 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and the juice from 1 lemon. Add the chopped spinach to the egg mixture along with 4 ounces of Catapano goat cheese broken into small pieces.
Roll out the pie crust and place in a 9-inch pie tin with high fluted sides. Pour in the spinach mixture and top with 2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese. Place in a 375-degree oven and bake about 40 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.
Serves 6-8.

Pan Seared Sea Scallops
over Spring Mirepoix
A mirepoix is a mixture of aromatic vegetables used to flavor a dish.
Wash and cut the stems off of 1 bunch of asparagus. Cut into half-inch pieces and add to a large bowl. Trim 1 bunch of radishes and chop into quarter-inch pieces. Add to the asparagus. Trim 6 scallions and cut into quarter-inch pieces, using both the white and green parts. Add these to the asparagus along with 4 carrots that have been peeled and diced. Stir in 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves.
Dust 1 pound of fresh sea scallops with 1/2 cup of flour. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter to a large sauté pan. Heat until butter is frothy and add the scallops one at a time, being careful not to crowd. Cook at high heat until golden and remove. Keep warm.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pan and add the chopped vegetables. Sauté at medium heat until they begin to soften. Toss in 2 cups of lightly chopped spinach and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and the zest and juice from 1 lime. When the spinach is wilted, place the mixture on plates for service.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the same sauté pan and heat until it begins to brown. Quickly add the juice of 1 lime and 1 tablespoon Roses lime juice. Toss the cooked scallops in this mixture until they are hot and place on top of the cooked vegetables.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

05/01/11 5:02am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Pete Danowski, pictured above, is one of the founders of Riverhead's annual horseradish fest.

For the past 30 years Peter and Sue Danowski have welcomed spring with the simple ritual of preparing horseradish. Over 20 bushels of the brown, craggy root are brought to the barn in a field off Herricks Lane in Riverhead. Groups of local volunteers sit on stools and peel the roots, then pass them on to others, who cut them into chunks. At this point there isn’t much aroma, but the next group of hearty volunteers run them through meat grinders and the pungent, sinus-clearing, eye-watering chemical reaction begins.

The chopped horseradish is taken to the food processors, where a new group adds vinegar and lemon juice and processes the mixture to a coarse meal. This is when the air becomes full of the beautiful smell of a spicy spring experience that cries out for oysters, clams — and kielbasa. People line up with glass Mason jars to get their freshly prepared horseradish. Amazingly, there is no charge. You just have to know Peter and Sue Danowski and find their barn on the Wednesday before Easter. Here are a few ideas for using your horseradish, and if you missed the festival, how you can make your own.

Prepared Horseradish
Peel one fresh horseradish root and trim the rough spots. Cut it into half-inch cubes and place them in a food processor (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). Pulse to break up the cubes and add 1/4 cup cider vinegar and the juice from one lemon. Process until smooth, adding a little more vinegar if it appears dry. Add a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon sugar if desired. Place in a glass Mason jar, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Apple Horseradish Relish
Peel 4 Granny Smith apples and grate into a bowl. Toss apples with 2 tablespoons cider vinegar to prevent browning. Stir in 1/4 cup of prepared horseradish (above) and 2 tablespoons white wine. Season with a pinch of salt. Serve with pork chops, roast pork or chicken.

Cold Horseradish Sauce
for Smoked Fish

Whip 1 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold in 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup shredded fresh horseradish, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Serve with smoked bluefish, trout or salmon.

Ale Batter Shrimp
Peel and de-vein 24 jumbo shrimp, leaving the tails on. Dredge the shrimp in 1/2 cup flour seasoned with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Break 1 egg in a bowl and whisk in 1 can of beer or ale. Continue to whisk in about 1 cup flour until the consistency is like pancake batter. Season with 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
Add canola oil to a saucepan to a depth of 3 inches and heat to 350 degrees. Dip each shrimp in the ale batter and swirl it around until it becomes coated. Place in the hot oil and hold the tail until it just begins to cook (this will keep it from sticking to the bottom). Repeat with all the shrimp, keeping them warm when cooked. They will rise to the surface when cooked, about 2 minutes each.
Serve with Horseradish Marmalade Sauce (below) on the side.

Horseradish Marmalade Sauce
Place in a food processor 1 cup orange marmalade, 1/4 cup orange juice, the juice and zest from 1 lemon, 1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish and 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger. Purée until smooth.

Boiled Fresh Brisket
with Horseradish Sauce

Cut in half one whole fresh brisket of beef, trim excess fat and place both halves in a soup pot. Cover it with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer, remove the scum with a slotted spoon and add 3 bay leaves, 8 peppercorns, 4 cloves and 1 teaspoon thyme. Simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 2 hours. (Pierce with a cook’s fork; if it goes in easily it is tender.) Add 2 carrots cut in large chunks, 2 parsnips, 4 small potatoes and 4 small peeled onions. When these vegetables are cooked, add one bunch of kale with stems removed and cut into 3-inch pieces. Remove everything from the pot and reserve the broth.
When cool enough to handle, slice the meat against the grain into thin slices. Serve with the vegetables and moisten with the broth.
Make a horseradish sauce by melting 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan and stirring in 3 tablespoons flour to make a roux. Whisk in 1 cup of the cooking broth and season to taste with salt and pepper. When slightly thickened, stir in 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish or grate 1/4 cup fresh horseradish into the sauce. Garnish the meat with chopped parsley and serve the horseradish sauce on the side.
Serves 6.

Slow-Roasted Pork Loin
with Horseradish Crust

Purchase a center cut pork loin and trim all fat and silverskin. Make a slit down the middle and open up the meat like a book. Chop 1 tablespoon fresh sage, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary and 1 tablespoon fresh parsley. Place the herbs down the center of the pork and fold it back up. Tie with butcher string and set aside.
In a small baking dish place 20 unpeeled cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup olive oil. Cover with foil and roast in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. When garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves into the oil and discard the skins. Place the oil and garlic in a food processor and purée along with 1/2 cup freshly grated horseradish. You will end up with a smooth paste. Rub this over the meat and sprinkle with 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs. Season the meat with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Cook the roast in a 300-degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until internal temperature is 155 degrees. Let sit 20 minutes before carving and serve with above apple horseradish relish.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

04/18/11 8:45am
Steamed and roasted Long Island duck.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Steamed and roasted Long Island duck.

The term “Long Island Duck” is famous throughout the world and still seen on many restaurant menus. And indeed, by the late 1960s Long Island was producing up to six million ducks annually. Eastport became the center of duck processing and distribution because of the proximity of the railroad and farmlands to good drainage and easy access to water.

As the population moved eastward, duck production declined. Today, the Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue, owned by the Corwin family, is the only duck farm left on the North Fork. They, however, remain very active, breeding, hatching, growing and processing all of their ducks right here on the North Fork. Crescent Duck Farm produces about 5 percent of the commercial ducks in the United States. The quality of these ducks ranks among the best in the world and they are purchased by the most discriminating chefs and restaurants.

The breed of duck used on Long Island is the Pekin duck, with its characteristic white feathers and orange feet. The first Pekin ducks came from China on a clipper ship in 1873. One drake and three females survived the voyage from Beijing to Long Island Sound. The ducks readily took to the sandy soil and tidal ponds of eastern Long Island and multiplied to create a booming industry and a name that would live on for many years.

The breed, Pekin duck, should not be confused with the famous duck dish, Peking duck. In the Peking (or Beijing) duck recipe the crisp skin is separated from the roasted duck and served with Mandarin pancakes, scallion brushes and hoisin sauce. The duck meat is served on a separate plate. Peking duck is famous in China and served throughout the world in Chinese restaurants. The authentic recipe, which requires inflating the duck with air and hanging it to dry in a cool breeze, is a little too labor-intensive for most home cooks, but here are some recipes that capture some of the flavors and style of that famous dish:

Steamed and Roasted
Long Island Duck

Remove the giblets and fat from the body cavity of a 6-pound duck and trim the skin around the neck area. Cut off the tail and trim the wing tips. Rinse under cold water, dry and prick the skin with a sharp fork. Make a spice rub by combining 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder with 2 teaspoons sugar and 2 teaspoons coarse salt. Stir in 1 teaspoon soy sauce to make a slurry and rub it over the duck and in the cavity. Place in the cavity half of an unpeeled onion, half of an unpeeled orange, 1 tablespoon sliced ginger and 1 tablespoon sliced garlic. Tie the legs and wings against the body with a piece of string. Place the duck in a V-shaped poultry rack and set it in a roasting pan. Place the pan in a 400-degree oven and pour boiling water in the bottom so that it comes up the sides one inch. Cover tightly with foil and steam in the oven for 1 hour.
While duck is cooking, combine 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar in a saucepan. Reduce by half and set aside.
After 1 hour remove the duck, still in its rack, and set on a sheet pan. Pour the water from the roasting pan and place the duck back in it. Brush the duck with the reduced glaze and return, uncovered, to the oven to roast for another 1 hour at 400 degrees. Baste with the glaze every 15 minutes. When the joints wiggle easily the duck is fully cooked. Remove and let rest before serving. It should be a deep mahogany brown and very flavorful. It does not need a sauce, but would go well with long-grain wild rice or a barley pilaf.
Serves 4.

Twice-Cooked Duck Legs
with Mandarin Pancakes

Trim excess fat from 4 duck legs (about 2 pounds). Cut each leg in half through the joint to make a thigh and a drumstick. You will have 8 pieces of about equal size. Rub the duck pieces with 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder and place them in a soup pot. Add cold water to just about cover, along with 1 cup soy sauce, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tablespoon sliced ginger, 1 tablespoon sliced garlic, the peel from one orange and 6 black peppercorns. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Remove from the cooking liquid, pat dry and cool.
For the Mandarin pancakes, place 2 cups flour in a bowl and quickly stir in 1 cup boiling water to form a dough. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 3 minutes. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Divide the dough in half and form into two balls. Roll these out into quarter-inch-thick pieces and, using a rocks glass, cut them into 3-inch rounds. Brush the rounds with sesame oil on one side and place them, oil side in, together with another round to form a pancake. Sprinkle with a little flour and roll out these rounds to a diameter of 6 inches. Set aside and cover with a damp towel.
At service time heat about 2 cups canola oil in a shallow pan to 375 degrees. Deep-fry the duck pieces until dark and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels and keep warm.
Heat a heavy sauté pan to medium and cook the pancakes until lightly browned on each side, about 3 minutes each. When cool enough to handle, peel them apart and serve on a plate. Cut the meat and skin off of the duck pieces with a sharp knife and cut into thin julienne pieces or slivers. Serve these in a bowl.
On a separate plate serve one bunch of scallions that have been cut in half crosswise and then cut into thin strips. Serve a dish of hoisin sauce on the side to spread on a pancake; add duck and scallion slivers and roll it up to eat as you would with a Peking duck.

Marinated Duck Breast
Trim excess fat from 4 duck breasts with the skin on and score the skin with a sharp knife in a crisscross pattern. Make a marinade by combining 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup hoisin sauce, 1/4 cup honey, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Place the breasts in the marinade and refrigerate for 2 hours.
At service time, heat a heavy sauté pan to high and cook the duck breasts skin side down until brown. Turn the duck, reduce the heat and cook for another 5 minutes or until medium rare (130 degrees). Remove and keep warm.
Pour off all fat from the pan and make a sauce by adding the marinade, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon hoisin and 1/4 cup white wine. Dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in cold water and stir into the sauce. Bring to a boil, taste for seasoning and strain into a serving bowl. Slice the duck breasts and serve over brown rice or noodles.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: johncross@optonline.net.

04/05/11 12:14pm
Ice cream made with Tahitian vanilla beans.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Ice cream made with Tahitian vanilla beans.

Karen Wells was born in Greenport in 1953, the daughter of a bunker fisherman by the name of Mason Wells. After graduating from Southold High School in 1972, she and a couple of friends went backpacking around Europe for a couple of years. In 1981 she took a trip to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas and ended up signing on the locally famous schooner Rachel and Ebenezer as the cook for the return trip to Greenport. Thus began a career as a seagoing chef that lasted the next 27 years.

Former seagoing chef Karen Wells.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Former seagoing chef Karen Wells.

Karen cooked on a number of private luxury yachts and traveled the world. She has crossed the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. She has passed through the Suez and Panama canals. Most recently, she just returned from Tahiti and its surrounding Society Islands. It was on one of these islands, Tahaa, that she visited the famous vanilla plantation that produces some of the world’s finest vanilla beans. And it was from this island that she brought me a package of those aromatic beans as a gift. This article and its recipes emanated from those beans.

Vanilla is one of the most desirable flavors in the culinary world. It is an essence that comes from vanilla orchids native to Mesoamerica. The Aztecs are thought to be the first people to use the essence of vanilla as a flavoring for their cocoa drinks. Today, Madagascar is the world’s largest producer, but Indonesia, Mexico and Tahiti also export vanilla. Tahitian vanilla is the most aromatic and has a soft, flowery aroma reminiscent of root beer.

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice, behind saffron. This is because vanilla has to be hand pollinated during a very short window of time, as the flower only lasts one day. The seed pod that develops takes nine months to mature. After harvest, the pods have to be heated to stop further growth. Then they have to be cured for the next five months, using a very labor-intensive process. Finally, they are placed in chests to cure like a fine wine.

I used to believe that vanilla was vanilla, and it didn’t make much difference whether you used beans, pure extract or even imitation vanilla. What I have discovered is that vanilla is indeed like wine; a cheap jug wine has a coarse taste and no aroma while a fine hand-crafted vintage wine has a delicious bouquet and many subtle nuances of flavor to follow.

One of the purest ways to enjoy the vanilla bean is to make homemade vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla Ice Cream
Combine 2 cups heavy cream, 1 cup whole milk, 3/4 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Cut a vanilla bean in half and split each half lengthwise. Using a small knife, scrape out the seeds into the cream mixture and toss the pods in as well. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon.

In a separate bowl, whisk two large eggs and gradually whisk 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the eggs. Now pour the egg mixture slowly back into the saucepan, whisking constantly. Cook on medium heat until the custard thickens lightly and reaches a temperature of 175 degrees. Strain the custard through a sieve and refrigerate overnight. (Do not throw out the used vanilla pods, as they make great vanilla sugar when dried and placed in a sealed jar of sugar.) Also be sure to place the bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer overnight. The next day, start the ice cream maker with its frozen insulated bowl and pour in the chilled custard. Allow it to run for 20 minutes, as it will thicken to a desirable consistency. Serve immediately or place in an airtight container for freezer storage.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Caramel Rum Pineapple Sauce
Cut a whole fresh pineapple into bite-sized chunks. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and stir in 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. When sugar dissolves, add 1/4 cup dark Myers’s rum and a vanilla bean that has been split and scraped. Add the pineapple chunks and place over high heat, stirring occasionally. The pineapple will throw off a fair amount of liquid and the high heat will evaporate the liquid and caramelize the sugar. When the mixture is almost dry, remove it from the heat and cool. Serve over vanilla ice cream.

Coconut Vanilla Sea Scallops
Purchase 1 pound of fresh sea scallops. If they are large, split them in half horizontally. Season them with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons canola oil. When it shimmers, add the scallops one at a time and do not crowd them. Turn them quickly and remove as soon as they are golden brown on one side. Do not overcook.

Reduce the heat, pour off any excess oil and add 1/2 cup dark rum to the pan along with 1 split vanilla pod. Reduce by half and stir in 1 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup coconut milk. Reduce again by half and remove the vanilla pods. Add back the sea scallops and check for seasoning. Serve over rice.

Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

Vanilla beans curing in the sun on the island of Tahaa, one of the many islands surrounding Tahiti, and the primary source of Tahitian vanilla.

KAREN WELLS PHOTO | Vanilla beans curing in the sun on the island of Tahaa, one of the many islands surrounding Tahiti, and the primary source of Tahitian vanilla.