Thursday, May 17, 2012

Grilled Chicken Sandwich on Ottawa's Best Bread

After seeing a photo of a sandwich posted on Art-Is-In Bakery's Facebook feed, I was inspired to roll by the bakery in order to pick up a loaf of their cheddar-jalepeño bread so I could make my own chicken sandwich.

What I came out with was a perfectly shaped loaf, just the right amount of uniform girth to allow me to form a nearly perfect sandwich.  All I had to do was slice it correctly and come up with the filling.  I started with a properly sized natural chicken breast (by properly, I mean like not those over grown chicken bits that seem to have been in some sort of Mr. Universe competition).  I marinated it for a few hours in about 3 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, chopped garlic and onions with a pinch of kosher salt and crushed black pepper.

I also sourced some local fresh mozzarella, sliced some of and pressed out some of the liquid by lined the slices between two paper towels and weighing them down.  After grilling the chicken on some lump charcoal, I let the breast rest for about 15 minutes while letting the grill chill to about 350.

I then sliced off about 6 inches of Art-Is-In cheddar-jalepeño bread and then sliced that lengthwise.  Now I was ready for assembly. I began with a smear of a roasted garlic tomato sauce that I made last weekend on the bottom piece and landed the grilled chicken breast over that.  Next I lined up 2 slices of the drained mozzarella and gave that a dusting of salt.  Fresh mozz is usually salt-less so you need to bring out the cheesy flavours with a touch of salt.

Another smear of sauce was added atop, and then some chopped fresh basil, sliced red onion, and super fresh field greens.  A touch more salt wouldn't hurt if you're using a store-based organic tomato sauce.  Those are usually low in salt which also means "under-seasoned".  Taste it before hand if you're unsure.

With both top and bottom of the sandwich facing up, it was time to lay them on a baking sheet and place them into the hot 350 degree oven.  I gave it about 15 minutes and released the sandwich out of the oven and married the top and bottom together.  After that amount of time, the bread had transformed into a texture that really enhanced the bite and crunch for a sandwich of this nature.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

KFC Herbs and Spices - the Thomas Keller Way

I needed a place to store this possibly, very important combination of ingredients like a found relic or treasure. This looks like a great place to put it. I'll need to refer to it when I next execute Thomas Keller's fried chicken recipe from Ad-Hoc and use this mix as the seasoning for the flour dredge. I made it once before and need to make it again, for more people. It came out that great.

“If there’s a better fried chicken, I haven’t tasted it. First, and critically, the chicken is brined for 12 hours in a herb-lemon brine, which seasons the meat and helps it stay juicy. The flour is seasoned with garlic and onion powders, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper. The chicken is dredged in the seasoned flour, dipped in buttermilk, and then dredged again in the flour. The crust becomes almost feathered and is very crisp. Fried chicken is a great American tradition that’s fallen out of favor. A taste of this, and you will want it back in your weekly routine.” — Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan Books)

Ingredients for Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken:

Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens (see Note on Chicken Size)
Chicken Brine (recipe follows)

For Dredging and Frying:
Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
1 quart buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish

Note on Chicken Size: You may need to go to a farmers’ market to get these small chickens. Grocery store chickens often run 3 to 4 pounds. They can, of course, be used in this recipe but if chickens in the 2 1/2- to 3-pound range are available to you, they’re worth seeking out. They’re a little easier to cook properly at the temperatures we recommend here and, most important, pieces this size result in the optimal meat-to-crust proportion, which is such an important part of the pleasure of fried chicken. Serves 4 to 6

Directions: Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. Pour the brine (recipe included at end of post) into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add in the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air-dry. Let rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

If you have two large pots (about 6 inches deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark and white meat at the same time; if not, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot. Fill the pot with at least 2 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320°F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.

Meanwhile, combine all the coating ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into the second bowl of coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.

Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp.

Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. (Putting the pieces skin-side-up will allow excess fat to drain, whereas leaving them skin-side-down could trap some of the fat.) Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks. When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat-side-up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine sea salt.

Turn up the heat and heat the oil to 340°F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat.

Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken.
Serves 4 to 6

Note: We let the chicken rest for 7 to 10 minutes after it comes out of the fryer so that it has a chance to cool down. If the chicken has rested for longer than 10 minutes, put the tray of chicken in a 400°F oven for a minute or two to ensure that the crust is crisp and the chicken is hot.

Ingredients for Thomas Keller’s Chicken Brine:
5 lemons, halved
12 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
½ cup clover honey
1 head garlic, halved through the equator
¼ cup black peppercorns
2 cups (10 ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
2 gallons water

The key ingredient here is the lemon, which goes wonderfully with chicken, as do the herbs: bay leaf, parsley, and thyme. This amount of brine will be enough for 10 pounds. If using another brand of kosher salt, use exactly 10 ounces

Directions: Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, thenchill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Makes 2 gallons.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Curing Bacon

In the interest of learning about Charcuterie, I picked up Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie tome titled simply, Charcuterie. The book begins with a primer on curing. It's a very interesting read about the history of food preservation using salt and how salt used to be a tradable currency.

Did you know that the word Salary actually comes from.... Salt?

From Wikipedia:

The Roman word salarium

Similarly, the Roman word salarium linked employment, salt and soldiers, but the exact link is unclear. The least common theory is that the word soldier itself comes from the Latin sal dare (to give salt). Alternatively, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder stated as an aside in his Natural History's discussion of sea water, that "[I]n Rome. . .the soldier's pay was originally salt and the word salary derives from it. . ." Plinius Naturalis Historia XXXI. Others note that soldier more likely derives from the gold solidus, with which soldiers were known to have been paid, and maintain instead that the salarium was either an allowance for the purchase of salt or the price of having soldiers conquer salt supplies and guard the Salt Roads (Via Salarium) that led to Rome.

Here's Ruhlman's Basic Dry Cure that I implemented:

1 pound kosher salt
13 ounces dextrose
3 ounces pink salt (I used Prague Powder from Canada Compound)

The first step in the curing adventure was to source some chemicals. Pink Salt and Dextrose. After reading Ottawafoodies, I realized that there was really only one place that an amateur like me could get his hands on these highly dangerous chemicals, The Canada Compound! Yeah, it's basically just sugar and another type of salt used for curing called Sodium Nitrite. It basically prevents bad stuff from growing in the meat that can KILL you.

Once the chemicals arrived, I went pig huntin'. Much to my surprise, getting a full pork belly isn't easy. You have to order that too. I spoke with my local butcher and she told me that it would take about 2 weeks for a naturally raised pig to show up at their doorstep and only then could she slice me a slab of belly.

It was worth the wait. When I finally purchased the 5 lb naturally raised pork belly from my local boucherie (butcher in Quebec), La Maison Bisson, I got really excited. I had everything to start making my own bacon!

I grabbed my trusty kitchen digital scale and started weighing out the basic dry cure. When you get into curing, it's very important to go by weight and not by volumetric measurements. Every salt has a different density, takes up more or less space in a cup. The ratio of Sodium Nitrite to Salt (sodium chloride) must be accurate. So Ruhlman says.

To be sure that my dry cure was perfectly homogenized I decided to use a mixer to properly blend everything. After mixing it all together, I had over 3 cups of dry cure. I thought I would have to use it all for the belly, only to find out from reading further in the method that I would be weighing out 50 grams. That's about 2.5 tablespoons out of the full 3 cups. I have a lot of dry cure left over.

Next all I had to do was rub that salt all over the pork belly. Incidentally, I left the bones in. According to chef Luke Hayes of Luke's Gastronomy in Kingston, when I tweeted to him whether or not I should take out the rib bones, he tweeted back to me "Leave them Tasty Bones In!". So I did. I have had this guy's charcuterie at his restaurant, and he knows what he's talking about.

So where is the belly now? It's resting in a glass baking pan in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap while the sugars and salts slowly draw out the liquid, brining and curing the meat for the next 7 days.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Pita Chips FTW!

Living in Gatineau, QC we have access to Ottawa's wonderful middle east artisans. The Middle East Bakery on Somerset is a well known treasure chest for ottawa foodies. They probably supply most of Ottawas schwarma shops with pita bread, because we've seen their label on the opened packages of pitas all over the city. Recently after coming back from Costa Rica, we were blessed with a taxi ride from the airport hosted by a driver who came from Lebanon and he gave us the secret to amazing pita bread in Ottawa. He told us to go to the Middle East Bakery on somerset on Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 3:30-4:00 ish and that is when THE freshest bread will be ready. He was not kidding. This stuff was amazing. After we used the fresh pita for a Falafel night, we used the rest to make pita chips. We have to submit that these were the best pita chips we've ever scooped our organic hummus with.

Pita Chips

3 high quality medium pita breads split horizontally in half
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. Cut each pita half into wedges and arrange the wedges evenly over 2 baking sheets.
  3. Brush each wedge with olive oil, sprinkle with the parsley (or chives, and other herbs)
  4. Salt and pepper to taste. (it'll all stick nicely to the oil)
  5. Bake for 12 minutes
  6. Let chips Cool and serve with hummus, baba ganoush or any other fantastic spreads or dips.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos with Roasted Red Peppers and Carmelized Onions

The first recipe that I've decided to take on from Rick Bayless's 'Mexico One Plate At A Time' was chosen because I picked up a 3 lb organic skirt steak from Saslove's Meat Market in the neighbourhood of Hintonburg in Ottawa, Ontario. I know that skirt steak is the prime cut for anything fajita, and I've even had it as a delicate and flavourful course at Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier so I know it is the meat to beat.
I found a recipe thanks to this blog....(add referen
ce).... and noticed that it was altered to suit the blogger-chef's needs so I thought that I could do the same since recipes are pretty much like open-source software

The recipe calls for poblanos, but in Ottawa, I didn't really have a source so I just went with a red pepper. They're flavourful when they're roasted anyway. I could already smell it in my head if that makes any sense. I also have lime juice on hand thanks to the day I juiced 20 limes, froze the juice in ice-cube trays and then vacuum sealed the cubes using a foodsaver.


lime juice
salt, pepper

Rajas (topping)
roasted red pepper
salt, pepper

skirt steak
marinade (above)

corn tortillas

sour cream
sharp cheddar
rajas (above)


Marinate the meat. Combine oni
ons garlic, lime juice, cumin and 1/2 tsp s
alt in the food processor to puree. Add marinade to meat in a ziplock bag or plastic sealable container. Marinate it for no longer than 8 hours. I gave it a good 5 and it was full of flavour and the perfect texture.

Creating the pepper and onion mixture or, according to Rick, rajas. Though he would have Poblano chilis. Those don't seem to be around Gatineau in December. Any pepper other than a green pepper will add tons of flav
our. Make sure it's not a green pepper. You're not making pizza here. Heat up a grill or put your oven on broil and place the pepper(s) a few inch
es away from the heat. Monitor it and turn it as the skin chars black. About 4-5 minutes each turn. Once the entire pepper has been charred, remove it, place it in a bowl and cover with plas
tic wrap to steam. 15 minutes later, remove all of the skin, the
stem, and seeds. Dice up the roasted pepper and place it into a bowl.
Slice up the onions and caramelize them. Use a cast iron skillet if you have one. If you don't, go frigging buy one as they are indispensable and will stay with you for LIFE! Lightly grease the pan, set it to med-low and add the onions when heated. Stir them until you see that they've softened and acquired a beautiful rich brown colour. If I had done this for 45 minutes, they would have been fit for pierogis.

Mix t
he onions with the roasted peppers, add some chopped cilantro, season with salt and pepper and you are ready to grill the meat!

Grilling the meat can be done either on a gas grill, a skillet or via oven broiling. I used a cast iron skillet with a grilled surface. I love the staggered charring effect. Remove the meat from the marinade and shake off whatever will drip off. Oil the meat or grill. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Place the meat over high heat. Turn it once after about 2 minutes or so. It depends on the thickness of your cut. Mine was pretty thick so I needed about 4 minutes a side. I was going for rare, as everyone should with a skirt steak. If you want to eat fully cooked red meat, have short ribs or a burger instead.

To serve the tacos, I used store bought corn tortillas for convenience, but if you want to take this further, make the corn tortillas yourself. I'll do that another time and blog it. For now, get some soft corn tortillas and heat them by either placing them in a dishcloth and steaming them, or put them in some foil in the oven at 350 for about 5-10 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain and then mix it in with the pepper-onion mixture. Place a portion in the warmed taco and add whatever condiments you'd like. We used a top-quality sour cream, sharp chedder, cilantro and some home made pickled jalepenos.

Bon appetit, or should I say, Buen apetito!

Cooking through Rick Bayless's 'Mexico: One Plate at a Time'

I've been a fan of mexican cuisine ever since my first taco night way back in early eighties. I discovered tacos at a friend's house when we used to have many eat-overs between the neighbourhood kids. I remember coming home excited to tell my mother that we have to make tacos! Considering that this was in Kingston, Ontario, tacos were really a product by Betty Crocker branded as Old El Paso.

On trips across the border to a town called Watertown, NY, I then discovered the more authentic mexican food of Taco Bell. I'm not lying when I say that I made specific trips to Watertown with some friends to specifically eat at Taco Bell. There was nothing like the Big Beef Burrito Supreme in our part of Canada.

Fast forward to today where I've been playing with mexican flavours for the last 10 years in the kitchen and every time I have learned something new. From enchiladas sauces to roasting my own cumin, I've given up on Old El Paso and I make my own taco season on-demand. My own chorizo, and I'm about to tackle the ultimate, my own Mole!

Anyone who's a fan of Top Chef would have definitely watched Top Chef Masters where actual top chef's battled in the kitchen to become THE Top Chef. I was amazed every time that I saw Rick Bayless on screen, talking with passion about food, flavours and his philosophies. I was inspired by him. He blew the judges away, along with his competitors with one dish, a Oaxacan mole. I realized that I had to learn this.

I became a follower of Rick Bayless on Twitter recently when I found a post of his on another blog. I sent him a tweet asking which of his books I should jump into to learn THE mole. He pointed me to 'Mexico One Plate At A Time' which I promptly ordered from Amazon and decided to crack it open over the christmas holidays, where I have the luxury of time to experiment and explore the flavours that Rick has documented within.

So I'm going to start sharing my adventures in this book on this blog since it sorely needs some content. If anyone would like to contribute with their versions of recipes from the book, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, please send me a message.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Joël Robuchon - MGM Grand, Las Vegas

While enjoying Joel Robuchon's more casual L'Atalier restaurant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas only yesterday, we were invited to experience the flagship and 3 Michelin star property, self titled, Joel Robuchon.

We were treated to a corner booth table and thankfully so, not only could we see the action but also, we were seated for a 5 and a half hour culinary journey so the comfy velvet sofa was extremely appropriate.

Entering the restaurant, we were greeted by name. All the staff we encountered knew who we were and where we came from. What a nice touch, since there's no real reason they should know us from anyone else. You quickly come to realize that this was the start of many fine details that are carefully attended to. Love is in the details and Joel Robichon and his staff overlook nothing. Mike placed his napkin on the sofa while using the rest room and it was quickly replaced. The table was pulled out each and every time we needed to get up or return to the table. This was hand's down the most attentive staff I have ever experienced.

The ambiance is decadent. Deep purples, black, white and pops of orange. Gorgeous chandeliers, art, flooring, wall coverings and decor. Beautiful piano tunes played throughout the night and it was a nice reprieve from the dings and rings of the Vegas casino floors.

Onto the meal.

We were first presented with a bread cart with about 15 different kinds of bread offerings. We selected a brioche, an olive baguette and a bacon bread. The waiter then proceeded to carve off ribbons of fresh butter from a large block and sprinkled it with fluer de sel.

The Amuse Bouche was called Osetra Caviar on a coral gelée.

This was presented as though it were simply a jar of fine caviar, but digging into it revealed a layer of gelee and a luscious crab and creme freche layer. Of the many, many..... MANY courses to come, this one still remains one of my favorite of the night.

Course two was a moan-inducing carppaccio-style potato/frois gras/white truffle dish with what I deduced was a truffle vinaigrette. Finely julienned radishes garnished this beautiful plate.

Third course was actually three courses in one, a trio of mushrooms. Truffles and mushrooms on a thin crispy bread that absolutely tasted like perfection to me. My meal could have ended then and there and I'd have felt treated to a special experience. There was a bright green puree that I can't recall, but it was over a frois gras puree and topped with sliced mushrooms. Absolute heaven. The third version was a ginger tea with gold leaf and mushrooms that could be consumed as either tea or soup and the taste was right in between both. Very interesting and unique.

Fourth course (sorry no picture) was frogs legs served over a paella. Succulent pieces of scallop, shrimp and squid within perfectly al dente rice. Although this dish was amazing, we were quickly realizing that this meal is a marathon, not a sprint. That in order to complete the full service we needed to take a break. We requested 15 minutes between the 5th and 6th courses lest we explode.

Fifth course was again, three courses in one. This time showcasing shellfish. Rubichon's signature languastine ravioli with black truffle with a side of savoy cabbage and creme fresh was the stuff of genious. Absolutely wonderful. Second was lobster served on a lemongrass skewer on top of a green curry with what I think was fried finely sliced lemon grass. This Asian influence was a nice surprise, that would repeat itself later in the meal. The third offering on this plate was hands down, the bite of my evening, sea urchin over potato puree topped with foam and coffee. Had I been standing I may have fallen, it made me knees weak and I had to turn to the wall so no one in the restaurant could see my pleasure face.

Fifth course was a welcome reprieve, a nice light course of chestnut and frois grois velute finished with bacon foam. The break and the airiness of this dish set us straight and gave us the confidence to continue.Sixth course was pan fried sea bass with a lemon grass foam and stewed baby leeks. Beautifully presented and portioned with a zesty and refreshing flavour. Sorry about the photo of a half-eaten plate.

Seventh course was a melt-in-your-mouth sauteed veal chop accompanied by an intense herb gel that complimented the veal in such a surprising way. On the side was zucchini ribbons wrapped around whole pistashios topped with fried zucchini flower pedals. So simple but so exquisite.

Eighth course absolutely delighted me. The absolute genius of it made me giggle as I ate it. It was presented as a risotto, but a bite of it revealed that it wasn't made with arborio rice, but rather with bean sprouts, chopped to the size of rice and cooked to simulate the al dente tooth feel of a risotto. The creamy, mushroom sauce felt very risotto-like, but was beautifully light and refreshing in a way that traditional risotto isn't.

We were thrilled to have made it through the entire savoury portion of the meal and were anxious to move onto dessert.

Little did we realize that even dessert would be several courses!

Ninth course was a refreshingly sweet and beautifully presented. Cool mango, kiwi and other fruit topped with sorbet and gold leaf. Just what the full belly doctor ordered.The next dessert course (10th course) was a caramelized apple confit with vanilla creme freche and crispy morsels of pastry, crunchy goodness. It was like a deconstructed apple crisp. Wonderful.11th course was another cart presenting ice cream. Mike chose an unbelievably creamy vanilla ice cream and I chose a raspberry sorbet. (Sorry no picture). As we gladly gobbled down the ice cream, the 12th course arrived. A dessert cart from Heaven. Hand-made delectable treasures, the likes I couldn't even dream of. I requested the waitresses choice as long as it included some chocolate. She didn't disappoint. A variety of truffles and gelles were plated for us and we savoured them over an espresso and cappuccino.
As we were finishing up our 5.5 hour meal, I was presented with a Joel Rubichon colour photo book and a box of treats. See? Love is in the details. How nice!There is absolutely no restaurant that can compare to this. The food is of course genius, the ambiance is decadent, the service staff is attentive, professional and went above and beyond in every way. And if you're lucky enough to be there while Mr. Robochon is there, he'll make you feel the the most important guest he's had. Hospitality runs through his veins the way that truffles and frois gras run through his kitchen.

Here's hoping you get to have this experience in your life as well. Definitely add it to the "To-Do-Before-You-Die List."

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