If you haven’t noticed yet, I am a fan of Eric Ripert. Amy and I picked up a Roku for streaming movies and whatever else not too long ago, and on one of the channels I found his show Avec Eric. I had seen an episode or two of the show before, but now I can watch to my heart’s content. I started with an episode kind of at random, and saw a dish that sounded fantastic. It ended up being somewhat similar to the Poulet Basquaise that I made a while back, and still make from time to time. There were, of course, some significant differences as well. Some of the things went against the ideas I had about wine and food. I figured that Eric Ripert knows what he is doing, and I would go along with what he said. In this case red wine and fish together? Yes, yes indeed!
I frequently don’t follow recipes exactly. I do if it is something I am not familiar with, but if I have a fair idea of where things are headed I tend to fudge amounts, but follow the method and actual ingredients. Doing this also makes it very easy for me at least to adjust quantities to fit the number of people eating, so that I don’t have half a bell pepper laying around when I’m done cooking.
The recipe I had goes like this:
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup small diced Serrano ham
½ cup small diced red bell
½ cups small diced yellow bell
1 cup tomato, peeled, seeded
1 teaspoon chopped fresh
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
– fine sea salt and freshly
– Espelette pepper or cayenne
That is not exactly what I did of course. Mine ended up more like:
1 medium onion diced medium fine
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 red bell pepper medium fine dice
1 orange bell pepper medium fine dice
4 roma tomatoes seeded, medium fine dice
1 TBSP thyme
red wine (I didn’t measure, it might have ended up a cup)
Parsley, fresh chopped
salt and pepper
salt and white pepper
fresh thyme sprigs
2 cloves of garlic, halved
Got everything ready to go? Ok, in a medium skillet heat the olive oil. Then add the onions and garlic to the pan, and cook over medium heat until clear. Add the bell peppers, and cook until nearly tender and add the tomato and thyme. Cook until the tomatoes are almost tender and add the wine. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Simmer to reduce (don’t forget to stir from time to time) to almost a jam consistency, and stir in the parsley.
Now we can tackle the cod… Season it on both sides with salt, white pepper and cayenne. Heat a skillet, and add the canola oil. Start with the skin side up and sear the cod. Put in the garlic and thyme sprigs in the pan with the fish. Now, here is a place where this can go wrong. Once you put the fish in the pan DO NOT touch it! The fish will be stuck, and if you try to force it you’ll just make a mess. Leave it alone for a couple of minutes, with the heat on medium. Gently poke the fish, and if it scoots a little you can flip it. Be gentle with it. Flipping things too quickly can get you burned pretty easily. I know it is a bit counter-intuitive, but go slowly. Move the garlic and thyme, and get your spatula under a piece of fish, then hold it on the spatula as you flip it over, and place the garlic and thyme on top of the fish. Continue cooking over medium heat until the fish is cooked through. To test this take a metal skewer and insert it into the thickest part of the fish, and leave it there for about 5 seconds. When you pull it out it should feel warm when you touch it to your lip.
To plate this up I put some of the sauce on the plate, and place the fish on top. We decided to have some roasted potatoes with dinner that evening. This was an amazing dinner, and I can’t wait to make it again!
A lot of people say that they can’t cook because they have to use a recipe to make anything. They seem to be under the impression that a real cook can just throw things in a pot, and have it taste good. In truth you should be able to do both. Very often you will see people who for whatever reason are unable to follow a recipe, but can cook very well. Learning to use a recipe can help you learn to just throw things in a pot and end up with something that tastes good. Pay attention to what flavors work together and use that knowledge to help you with your own dishes.
Throwing things in a pot and making it taste great takes practice, and being willing to fail often. Eventually you will learn that some things just don’t work together. Using a recipe on the other hand is pretty easy, because everything you need to know is right there in front of you. All you have to do is follow directions. Of course, as we learned in grade school sometimes following the directions is the hard part.
With a recipe you can make anything. It really doesn’t make a lot of difference if you have ever eaten it before. The first thing to do is to read through the entire recipe. There may be ingredients or techniques that you are not familiar with. Now is the time to find out what you need to know, and not while you have things burning in a pot . While you read through the recipe you can determine that you have everything you need, or decide what to substitute for something that you are missing. Once you have made the recipe a few times you will probably feel pretty comfortable with it, and be able add or subtract things, or use it as a base for making up your own dishes.
Recipes can come in a lot of formats. The format will depend on the source. The recipes that you see most often on the internet, and in cook books generally list ingredients and quantities. This is followed by a description of the methods used to prepare each component, and the how to assemble them.
In some older cookbooks you may find a very different format:
If you pick up a copy of Escoffier you will find the same format. These books assume a certain level of knowledge and understanding. (I won’t tell you that I am always up to the challenge of these recipes. Some of them are very complex, and may require things that are not used frequently any more.) Although Escoffier and Larousse are old they are very interesting reference books. Some of the recipes you will be able to use, for instance coq au vin. Of course you can find recipes that are in the format we all know for coq au vin in lots of cook books.
Interestingly,you can also see recipes in a similar format to those in Escoffier and Larousse on Twitter. Both Eric Ripert, and Rick Bayless have posted recipes on Twitter. Rick Bayless even ran a contest using recipes in a single tweet. There is very little information given, but in many ways that is freeing. When you have a recipe that is that stripped down, you are free to make it whatever you envision the dish as being.
In a restaurant kitchen you may see recipes that are in a similar format to what you are accustomed to seeing, but often they leave out the directions. So you might get something that looks like my recipe for Shrimp and Basil soup.
Shrimp and Basil Soup
4 large onions large dice
½ cup garlic minced
1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons dry thyme
3 cups fresh basil chiffonade
1 #10 can diced tomatoes
½ bottle white wine
1.5 Gallon vegetable stock
2# frozen peas
2.5# 21-25 shrimp
salt and pepper to taste
That is the extent of the recipe. Since this is used in a restaurant a certain level of knowledge is assumed, just like Escoffier and Larousse. Obviously, this is not really a complicated recipe, but makes a lot of soup! If you have the rest of the information you will have no problem making this soup.
In a large pot sweat the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes in olive oil until the onions are clear. Add the thyme and basil. Sweat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the tomatoes, and wine, mix well, and bring to a boil. Add the vegetable stock, and return to a boil. Add the frozen peas, and shrimp. Bring back to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 10 to fifteen minutes until the shrimp are cooked through. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Assuming you had a pot large enough to make this recipe, lets look at it since we now have it in a format you are familiar with. First, look at the ingredients, is there anything that you don’t have? Anything you don’t understand? Now is the time to find out this kind of thing. It is a lot easier to solve problems before you have food in a pot. Do you know what chiffonade means? Do you have white wine? Do you know what 21-25 shrimp are? Do you know what sweating is? Whatever issues you may need to resolve should be done now.
Only after you know exactly what you need and what you need to do should you even start to do anything that remotely resembles cooking. This hopefully will only add a few minutes to the time it takes you to prepare your dish. Although, if you need to run to the store for something it may have added a little time, but nowhere near as long as if you had started, and realized too late that you needed a crucial ingredient, and then need to start over.
Once you know what you need to do start gathering ingredients, and then prepping them. If you have containers large enough to hold a single step’s ingredients put them together, and once you have everything ready to go into the pot, turn on the heat, and cook!
Some people have trouble with terms used in recipes such as “cook until tender,” “al dente,” “season to taste.” With phrases like this pretty much what you will have to do is fish something out, put it in your mouth, and see if it is tender, al dente, or if it is seasoned properly. These are things that may be hard to specify in a recipe, but are very important. They are pretty easy to check once you realize that all you need to do is taste your food. You should be doing that anyway!
Cooking is very easy once you realize that tasting and adjusting things is part of the fun. If you follow a few very easy principals you’ll have no problem. When you are eating you can take your time, and evaluate things that didn’t turn out quite as well as you would have liked, and remember them for later. The next time you make the dish you can make the changes you noticed. It can be helpful to take notes, and leave them with the recipe to refer to next time you make it.
After a second attempt. Well, several attempts actually using the original recipe I have concluded that for farinata to work you need to have a level oven. After a change of venue, using my oven, a skillet that has a nice flat thin bottom, and a pizza stone we got better results that the previous night. They were still not 100% satisfactory though.
For the sake of padding the word count here, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what I tried. As I have researched this I have found a wide variety of recipes, and they all call for the same ingredients, but in wildly differing quantities. All of them seem like they would make a rather thin batter.
2 cups of chickpea flour
4 cups cold water
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Whisk the water into the chickpea flour. I poured part of the water in, mixed it, added more, and incorporated the water and flour as I went. Once all of the water is incorporated, whisk in the salt, cover, and allow to sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Longer might be better. When you are ready to go, skim off the white foam on top, and whisk in the oil.
Preheat your (hopefully level) oven to 450F, and oil a 12 inch pan, and ladle or pour a thin layer of the batter into the bottom. The thinner the crisper you will end up with. Bake for 10-12 minutes. You should, at least in theory, end up with a crispy on the outsides, and soft inside flatbread. Some of the descriptions call it almost pancake-like. It never quite managed that for me, except for one tiny edge bit. I put a little bit of herbs, and sliced onions on before I baked mine. It didn’t taste bad to me, but the texture could be a little weird for some people. (That was what put Amy off!) I even tried one on the stovetop, but since I have an electric stove I have less even heat. This caused one spot to burn and stick, before most of it had really browned.
Once I get my oven level I will certainly try this again, although I must admit I was more than a little frustrated with having this much difficulty getting a recipe to work. I may also look at a few other recipes to see if one looks like it might end up with a thicker batter.
Farinata is still promising to me, but I think I will be taking a break from it for now. I have a few technical issues to work out before I try again.
I keep seeing these ads on TV for some steam in the bag dinner with like pasta and chicken, and veggies. They have this intro that says something like “who says sauteing, and chopping and peeling at the end of the day is relaxing?” These commercials bother me, a lot. Are we that lazy? Obviously, since I and at least some of you are on gluten-free diets we can’t eat these, but if you are looking for a quick meal like this there is a way to do it.
How many people do you have to feed? Figure one ounce of pasta per person. What do you like? Farfalle? Penne? Whatever. Cook that according to the directions on the box. Drain it, and rinse it with cold running water to cool it. Drain it, put it in a container to store it, toss it with some olive oil, and put it in the fridge till you need it for later.
At work we make a mix of tomatoes, white wine, fresh basil, olive oil, and garlic. It’s really simple, and works really well. Go. Do that! The easiest way to cut something leafy like the basil is to take the leaves, and kind of roll several of them together. Then take your knife, and slice through all of them. This is called chiffonade. Whatever you feel like is fine. This is going to be the sauce part of the pasta.
So, now you can pick whatever you feel like having in your pasta. Chicken? Peas? Broccoli? Mushrooms? The sky is pretty much the limit. The real key is to make sure that whatever it is will cook quickly. Something like chicken could be cooked ahead, and sliced or cubed so that when you put it in all you have to do is get it hot. Veggies will mostly go quick, so unless you have something like eggplant that will take some time don’t worry about them. Just cut them small enough that they are about the same size as everything else.
When it’s dinner time, get a skillet that is big enough to fit all of the stuff that you want to put in there, get it good and hot. Add some canola oil. (Now is NOT the time for you to use your nice extra virgin olive oil! You’ll be wasting it.) Once the oil is hot, add whatever will take the longest. Since I’m not giving a specific recipe, I can’t help you here. Once you have in the veggies, and chicken or whatever, and they are getting hot, add the tomato mixture. Carefully, and remember that you can always add a little more if you want, but its a bit tricky to take it out. You’ll see the liquid start to boil. Add the pasta, and toss or stir. This will get everything coated in your sauce, and heated through.
That’s it! Put it in your serving bowl or on plates or however you want to eat, and you’re done! Toss a little cheese on top, and everybody will be thrilled!