Few as they may be I found out there are a few people who actually read this blog. Much to my surprise, some gave even told me that my posts have actually inspired them to cook more. Which is, really, all I would ever want out of this. If I can inspire a few good friends to cook at home more, to cook better, to try new things, and to get more confidence in their cooking then I’m doing something right. The life of a line cook might not be for me, but I still learned tremendously from my experience and if anything, have even more passion for food now. I want to share what I learned and what I continue to learn here with people that might be interested.
Following recipes exactly can be limiting in that people are scared to deviate from them for fear of ruining the food. I’m oversimplifying a bit, but I truly feel it all just comes down to proper ratios, familiarity with your ingredients and confidence. Which, of course, takes practice, failure and success. People get scared of cooking for fearing of fucking it up. The thing is you WILL fuck up sometimes, but take that as a learning experience. Start simple and easy and work your way up. Master a few easy things - roasting chicken, braising beef - and build on them. Once you have the techniques down, you won't really need recipes for things like roast chicken, and what you create can simply be dictated by your mood at the given time. Again, oversimplifying a bit but hopefully you get the idea.
In addition to trying to demystify a few recipes, I also want to break down some of the more “difficult” things I cook. My aim is, again, to hopefully inspire people and to not shy away from trying something intimidating. The more you take on the “harder” projects, the easier everything else you knew becomes. I don’t want to make a rambling blog about this one time I struggled through cooking an entire pig’s head for one recipe - I want to show you four different ways to cook a pig’s head. Things like bacon and pancetta require almost no effort, and, made at home, they will be the best you’ve ever had. Things like this, and the obligatory roast chicken, seem intimidating at first but after a few times become second nature. Then the real fun starts...
I could ramble on and on but these are all topics for future posts, but you’re probably not even reading this by now. So anyway...
My first post of the ‘new’ blog will be a revision of the first post of the ‘old’ blog - chicken pozole. This was a soup inspired by a pozole I had at Lula Cafe a few years ago. For the new version, I’ve applied some new techniques to really build up the overall flavors. Are they improvements? Is the soup better? Not necessarily - just different. The first version is perfectly good, damn tasty. Probably didn’t need much change. But at the same time the new version is pretty spectacular, using a lot of browning and toasting to build up a really nice broth (the cornerstone of all great soups). I borrowed some of those idea from making Vietnamese Pho. It takes a little more time and effort, so if it's intimidating and you actually want to try making this yourself, the original recipe is posted below as well.
1 large dried pasilla chile (substitutions: ancho or mulato)
8-12 oz tomatillos, washed. Let’s say around 3 cups.
3-4 lbs Chicken [Basically the meat from one whole chicken. I usually do this with a whole one, it's cheaper and you can roast the bones and make a stock.]
1 small white onion, 1/4 inch dice, save the end for the soup base
5 large cloves of garlic
1 32oz can hominy, drained
1 Medium Yuca, cubed
See Original recipe below for pickled red onions, fried tortilla strips and garnishes
As always, make sure meat has sat at room temperature for a bit (5-10 minutes steaks and chops, 30 minutes for whole chicken) before searing in the pan.
Pre-heat broiler. Halve tomatillos and season with salt and pepper, lightly coat with oil and place in broiler until they start to char a little. Those ends of the onion you saved? At least one will do, but place it on a really hot non-stick or, preferably, cast-iron pan over medium-high heat and char it along with two of the cloves of garlic, skin on. Should be dark and brown but not burnt.
Meanwhile, De-stem/de-seed the chile and lightly toast both sides in a pan over medium heat (roughly 30 seconds per side, but no more, because burnt is nasty. Be careful.). When tomatillos are done, remove from broiler and put in a blender with pasilla chile and charred onion and garlic (now without skin). Puree until smooth, pass through a sieve to strain out any leftover solids. Soup base complete.
Add some grapeseed oil (good because low flavor profile, high smoke point) or olive oil or, best, bacon fat to a large pot on high heat, and season chicken with salt and pepper (watch the salt if using bacon fat), and sear on both sides. Watch the heat, careful not to burn and lower if necessary. You may need to do this in batches. Set chicken aside, crank the heat a little and add chopped onion to the pan. The liquids from the onion will serve to de-glaze the pan and help you scrap up any brown bits of chicken that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Take the heat back down to medium and let the onions cook. A little brown is a good thing. Meanwhile, chop up/shred the chicken as you like. Now, add the remaining garlic to the pan and cook for half a minute-ish. Add your chicken stock, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, then add the chopped chicken and yuca. Bring to a boil, bring back down to a simmer, partially cover and let it cook for 20-30 minutes. You want the yuca to be done like a potato but not falling apart. Add the hominy, let it cook a little. Start tasting your soup, adding salt and pepper if needed.
Serve with garnishes listed below in original recipe:
3-4 lbs Chicken
9 Cups Chicken stock
1 small white onion
7 cloves of garlic (4 for soup, 3 for pickled onions)
3 cups worth of quartered tomatillos
hot sauce (preferred: Cholula)
1 32oz can hominy
1 Medium Yuca
1 small Red Onion
1/3 Cup Cider Vinegar
1/4 TSP Black Peppercorns
1/3 TSP Cumin Seeds
Approx 2-3 tbsp oregano
10 small corn Tortillas
1/2 Cup Corn Oil for frying
1 bunch Cilantro
Creme fraiche, crema or sour cream
Hot sauce (preferred: Cholula)
Goat cheese, chihuahua cheese, cotija cheese (used in new recipe)...
Step One: Pickled Onions
Slice 1 small Red Onion into 1/8" Slices
Peel 2 garlic cloves and cut in half
Place Onion in boiling salted water for 45 seconds. Put onions in a bowl or container or some sort, then garlic, cider vinegar, black peppercorns, cumin, salt and just enough water to cover.
Let this sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours. It should keep for a couple weeks. Don't worry, you'll have some other things to do to take up time.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot, when hot add chopped white onion for a few minutes, until sweated and opaque, then add the minced garlic. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then add the chicken, bring back to a boil and simmer for about half an hour.
Remove the chicken and let rest. Chop the yuca into bite sized chunks and add to the broth with the hominy. Then clean the tomatillos, quarter them and add them to the broth, Slice the jalapenos, and... wait for it.... add them to the broth
Boom, you have a soup going. Now shred that chicken. It should be easy now, just take two forks, use one to anchor the chicken the use the other fork to pull the meat off, shredding it. Add it to the broth and reduce heat to a simmer, and let it do it's thing for another 20-30 minutes (until the yuca is done).
Now make the tortilla toppings: Put the 1/2 cup oil into a skillet and hit over medium to medium high heat. Take your tortillas and cut them in half, then cut into 1/4" strips. When the oil is hot enough, place the tortillas in the oil in batches for 2 minutes. You know... you might wanna do a lot more than I said to make to, because they're gonna be good. Take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towl and salt them, then add the next batch to the oil.
When all the tortillas are done, rinse the cilantro, and pick the leaves off (or chop it or whateva)
Start tasting the soup and adding salt and pepper to taste.
Rest some pickled onions on the soup, spoon over some creme fraiche. Add a good sized pinch of cilantro. Add some of those crunch tortilla strips. Sprinkle on some of those goat cheese crumbles, and splash on some of that fancy hot sauce