The Joy of Spatchcocking

Okay, I’ll admit that to the uninitiated that title may sound a little off, but trust me, it’s totally legit and the results are thoroughly delicious.  Spatchcocking is just another way to roast or grill a whole chicken, and frankly it’s my favorite.  My chef instructor taught me how to truss in the French tradition, but why truss when you can spatchcock?  Besides, it’s a much cooler word.

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Basically a spatchcock is a chicken that has been flattened out but is otherwise intact.  To accomplish that, simply cut out the spine with your chef’s knife or some heavy duty kitchen shears, turn it breast side up, and press it down until you hear the breastbone crack and the chicken lays flat.  Lay the legs out to the sides and tuck the wings underneath.  That’s all there is to it.  You’ll get a fast, even roast and a very juicy finished product with this method.

To cook your bird, here’s a suggestion:  line a large baking sheet with foil and place a rack on top of it.  Place the bird on the rack and season to your heart’s content.  Tonight I rubbed this one with olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt, cracked pepper, paprika and dried thyme.  For extra crispy skin you can carefully loosen the skin from the flesh by sliding two fingers underneath, and rub a little salt between them.  Bake your bird in a 450° oven for about 40-45 minutes, then rest it on a cutting board covered loosely with foil for 10 minutes.

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While the chicken is resting you can make a simple pan gravy from the drippings.  Pour them into a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk in a roughly equal amount of flour to make a roux, and then start stirring in chicken stock until you hit the consistency you like.  Season with some salt and white pepper, and you’re in business.

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We were extremely pleased with the results, which came together in about an hour, maybe a bit more, and we munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces.  I hope you will too.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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The Foods of Kaua’i

Earlier this month I spent a week on Kaua’i as part of my 25th anniversary trip with my lovely Lolly.  The island is unimaginably beautiful and scenic, and our week was full of hiking, scuba diving, kayaking and snorkeling, and of course several afternoons on some of the most stunning beaches you will ever hope to see.

But in between all that we ate.  Man oh man did we eat!   Yeah, we did some of the fancy-schmancy places and lots of super-fresh seafood of course, but as much as possible we tried to sample the truly local fare — dishes that are unique to Kaua’i when possible, but at least part of the broader Hawaiian repertoire.  For today’s installment I thought it would be fun to share a few of our discoveries.

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For starters we have that mouth-watering delight of questionable provenance known as saimin, a local noodle specialty that can be found in several small mom-and-pop establishments around the island.  As we discovered, what passes for “Hawaiian” food actually derives from a variety of culinary traditions, and saimin is an example of that.  Depending on who you ask, they will say it is Chinese, Japanese or Korean in origin, and it bears a strong resemblance to ramen dishes of southeast Asia — but it’s still totally Kaua’i.  A hearty meat broth loaded with plenty of long noodles, topped with smoked chicken, julienned radish and scallions.  Toss in some hot chili sauce and you have a true feast on your hands, wherever it comes from.  A shout-out to The Noodle House in Kapa’a for the best on the island, in my humble opinion.

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At another stop on the north shore, in the village of Hanalei, is another quaint local joint with some truly butt-kicking nosh.  They did their own version of saimin (pictured above), but they are famous around Kaua’i for their chili pepper chicken, which is deep fried and drizzled with a spicy-sweet, soy-based sauce that will have you begging for more.  There’s an expression on Kaua’i for food that is super good:  “Grinds broke da mouf!”  I think they invented the phrase for this dish.

And oh, by the way, your eyes were not deceiving you — that second bowl of saimin does indeed include Spam.  Evidently cooking with Spam is totally a thing on Kaua’i.  The local WalMart carried nine — count ’em, nine — different varieties of Spam for your dining pleasure.  Who knew?

Moving on, we have an amazing local specialty called Manapua.  These are little pastry balls stuffed with a variety of sweet or savory fillings.  We happened to try them for breakfast a couple times (Noodle House, you rock yet again!), and we found them both stupidly delicious and very filling.  One of these with a cup of joe will hold most mere mortals for hours.  I asked the lady at the shop for the recipe, but she made it clear that some secrets will never be allowed to leave the island.

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Next we have GENUINE Hawaiian pizza.  What makes it “genuine”, you ask?  Kalua pig, baby, Kalua pig.  What is “Kalua pig”, you ask?  Only one of the most flavorful, succulent ways you will ever indulge in the wonders of good pork.  Kalua pig is a traditional Hawaiian dish that involves slow-roasting a whole pig in an underground oven called an imu, which traps the smoke and infuses it into the juicy and incredibly tender meat.  We had Kalua pig several different ways during our visit to the island, and it was far and away our favorite culinary discovery.  As an aside, we found this pizza at a north shore restaurant/bar called Tahiti Nui, which made an appearance in the George Clooney film “The Descendants” (totally worth watching, by the way).  We included a pic of my Lolly enjoying an appropriately themed adult beverage at the aforesaid bar.

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Another local culinary wonder is the world-famous Puka Dog.  I’m not kidding about the world-famous part — it is featured periodically in a show on the Travel Channel.  It’s a hearty Polish sausage (a veggie dog is also available, but why?) stuffed into a uniquely shaped bun and loaded up with home-made sauces and relishes.  You simply have to experience one for yourself to understand.

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And after all of that, I hope you saved room for dessert.  First we have the inimitable Hawaiian shave ice (not “shaved” ice, thank you very much).  Unlike the crushed ice of a mainland snow cone, shave ice is exactly that — shaved off a large block of ice into light, delicate flakes, piled high over a bed of macadamia nut ice cream, and topped with your favorite fresh syrups.  We shared a mango-pineapple-passion fruit variety.  And I emphasize “shared” — what you see in the picture is the small size.

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And for the piece de resistance, the coup de grace, or whatever French phrase you prefer, we have the ultimate in daunting desserts — a true Intimidator — known as Hula Pie.  We watched entire tables of four people struggling to tackle one of these monsters.  A quarter of a solid macadamia nut ice cream pie (did I mention that everything there has macadamia nuts?) built on top of an Oreo crust, with a hard chocolate shell, topped with hot fudge and, you guessed it! — macadamia nuts.  We made it our special mission one night to do a light dinner so we could bring the smack-down on this bad boy — and we got it done.  The valet had to haul us out to the car in separate wheelbarrows, but it was well worth it.

There you have it, a quick culinary tour of Kaua’i for those with a hankering to try some new delights in between trips to the beach and bottles of Longboard.  Until our next time together:   Aloha!  Eat well, my friends!

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Monday Night Improv

So it’s Monday night, and I have a couple salmon filets, some arugula and leftover asparagus.  What to do?  Well, here’s what I came up with as a reasonably healthy but still decidedly yummy solution.  We have a simple arugula salad with a drizzle of sweet balsamic vinegar, topped with some chilled asparagus and a honey-Dijon salmon filet.  This is so simple it really doesn’t need a recipe.

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Just start with a bed of salad greens with whatever you want to add.  In my case that was some English cucumber, plum tomato and red onion slices.  Blanch some asparagus but let it cook through to a nice al dente, then shock it until it chills.  Season the cooked asparagus with some kosher salt, cracked pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and lay it on top of the salad.  Next, drizzle with some good quality thick, sweet balsamic vinegar.

For the salmon, season a couple filets with sea salt and white pepper.  Mix a glaze of equal parts honey and Dijon mustard, about 2 tbsp. of each per filet.  Heat some olive oil in a skillet and add the filets skin side down.  Put about half of the honey-mustard mix on top of the filets.

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After a few minutes, turn the filets and you will find that the skin should peel off easily.  Coat the second side of the filets with more of the honey-mustard mixture.  After a few minutes turn back to the original side until the filets are seared to a nice medium and the glaze shows a little char on both sides.  Top the salads with the cooked salmon filets and you’re ready to serve.

That’s how you wing it on a Monday night.  This whole dish should take only about 20 minutes to pull together, and it is both delicious and chock full of green veggie goodness.  All that remains is to munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  Until our next visit to the kitchen together:  Eat well, my friends!

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Baking Day

Ah, the joys of the weekend!  Today that means baking bread.  No recipes in this post, since the formulas and methods I used here are already given in my earlier bread baking posts (just click on the Homemade Bread tag to find them).  No, I just wanted to share my passion for making delicious loaves on a fine Saturday morning.

Today I made three loaves with Italian herbs and olive oil.  I have already done the official sampling of the results, and yes indeed, they are as yummy as they look.  One of these is for me and Lolly, and the other two are to share with friends — one of whom will be surprised when I give it to her because she doesn’t expect it.  All of us will munch them down with a big happy grin on our faces.  Believe it!  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

Tomato-Garlic Shrimp with Herbed Polenta

Wow, it has been far too long since my last post.  Between some technical problems (i.e. shipping my computer off for warranty repairs), followed by an extended vacation with my beautiful bride in celebration of 25 years of wedded bliss, it seems like a small eternity since we last got to hang out in the kitchen together.  Anyway, those things are in the past now, so it’s time to dive back into the world of skillets, chef’s knives and fresh ingredients where we belong.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been taking an interest in the Mediterranean diet both for its health benefits and to satisfy my own culinary curiosity.  Today’s offering draws on that theme, this time with some Italian influences.  We’re doing two recipes in this installment:  a tomato-garlic shrimp dish and a side of herbed polenta.

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I’m going to start with the polenta side dish.  Because of the time needed to chill the polenta after cooking, you will want to make this well in advance of your shrimp dish.  Polenta is a common Italian staple that keeps well for a few days when it’s molded and chilled, and this recipe will make enough for two meals.  I used a 9 oz. box of Delallo brand polenta meal as the base, so my recipe is scaled for that amount.

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. minced shallot
  • 4 1/2 cups cooking liquid (water, milk or white stock)
  • 9 oz. polenta meal
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves

In a 2 quart sauce pan, heat the oil and sweat the shallots for a minute or two, but do not brown them.  Add your liquid and bring it to a boil.  You can use any combination of the liquids listed above to suit your preference.  I used equal parts water and milk.  Depending how much milk you use, you may need to take special care not to let it scorch.  When your liquid is boiling, gradually stir in the polenta meal, making sure it does not clump.  Reduce the heat to low, then stir in the salt, pepper and dried herbs, and cook the mixture for a few minutes until it thickens, which shouldn’t take long at all, and remove it from the heat.

At this point your polenta looks like porridge, which is not useful for our intended purpose, so we will need to mold and chill it.  To do that I recommend a glass baking dish of about 9″ x 9″, either greased or treated with nonstick spray.  Pour the cooked polenta mix into the baking dish and spread it evenly with a wetted spatula, making sure it settles all the way into the dish.  Pop it into the fridge and let it chill for a couple hours, after which it will become solid like a heavy cake.  You can then turn it out of the dish and slice it into the desired shape and size — I did simple half-inch slabs, but feel free to get creative.  It’s your dinner, after all.  At this point you can grill it, pan fry it or whatever suits your fancy.  I browned mine over medium heat in a bit of whole butter until it developed a nice crisp texture.  You might want to finish it with some fresh grated parmigiano for good measure.

Now it’s time to move on to the shrimp, which will come together quickly.  To make 4 servings of this dish you will need:

  •  2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cracked pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil

On the selection of tomatoes, my personal preference is for cherries because they burst after a few minutes of cooking and release their juices into the sauce.   If you choose grape tomatoes, I recommend slicing them in half because they tend to stand up to the heat better and may not burst as easily when cooked.

Start by heating the oil in a large skillet over medium-high flame and cook the shrimp for about 1 minute on each side, just long enough to cook it through, then remove it from the heat and set it aside.  You will probably want to cook the shrimp in batches to prevent overcrowding.  In the same skillet, stir in the garlic and cayenne (and a little more oil if needed) and cook for about half a minute, then add the wine and let it reduce by half.  Next add the tomatoes and let them cook for about 5-10 minutes until they become very tender.  You may need to give them a little press with a wooden spoon to make them burst.  If the pan begins to dry out while the tomatoes are cooking, an extra splash or two of wine will fix that.  Next, season with the salt and pepper, adjusting as needed to suit your taste, then return the shrimp to the skillet to heat through for a minute or two.  Lastly, stir in the basil and you’re ready to serve it with some of that delicious polenta and your favorite veggies.

There you have it, more Mediterranean-inspired yumminess to tickle your palate while maintaining a nice healthy balance.  I hope you’ll give it a try and munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

 

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