Sichuan Chicken with Local Chicken and Peppercorns from Thousands of Miles Away!

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There is a sign at my local Whole Foods that says something to the effect of “We carry local products and coffee is no exception.” Unless climate change is even worse than I realized, New York has not yet become a coffee-growing region but I applaud their seeking out local roasters. Coffee is indeed on my list of foods that I’m not willing or able to give up despite the distance it has to travel. There are plenty of others as well like olive oil, some citrus, and almost every Asian seasoning I can think of. It is possible to find local ginger here in the Northeast but I don’t see it very often. And my favorite seasoning of all, Sichuan Peppercorns, are not likely to be growing in the Hudson Valley.

I’ve recently taken some classes in Sichuan cooking and have done an extraordinary amount of careful research involving eating authentic Sichuan dishes and then saying “Yum.” When it’s done well, it’s far more than just spicy. In fact, the slightly warm tingle that comes from Sichuan peppercorns is nothing like the sharp heat of chili peppers or hot oil and for me, it’s the most pleasurable part of good Sichuan cooking.

Even when cooked simply, local chicken can have a richer flavor than some cuts of beef or pork and some specialty breeds like Belle Rouge chicken from Violet Hill Farm are so rich and delicious that I feel like I’m at a celebratory holiday feast every time I take a bite of one. So when well-raised, local proteins combine with the intense flavors of Sichuan cuisine, the results can be ridiculously satisfying.

Some ingredients like black vinegar and Shaoxing wine can be hard to find outside of a Chinese supermarket so I suggest substituting balsamic vinegar and dry sherry respectively. If you can find the real thing, go for it.

The peppercorns however, have no substitute.

Sichuan Chicken with Local Chicken and Peppercorns from Thousands of Miles Away!

4 boneless chicken thighs (with skin)

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

2 1.5 inch pieces of peeled ginger

3 large cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon of dry sherry

1 tablespoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of corn starch

1 small eggplant

2 tablespoons of peanut oil

1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons of Sichuan peppercorns

 

Cut chicken thighs into 1 inch pieces

Grate 1 piece of ginger and mince garlic (setting aside one clove) for later and combine with soy sauce, vinegar, sherry, sugar and corn starch

Whisk together and pour over chicken thighs

Toss together and marinate for 1-2 hours

Mince second piece of ginger

Crush 1 tablespoon of peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or with a chef’s knife and leave other tablespoon whole

Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towel

Cut eggplant into 1 inch pieces

In a wok or large skillet, heat peanut and sesame oil over high heat

Add chicken and eggplant and stir fry until it has good color (around 4 minutes)

Add remaining ginger and garlic as well as the whole peppercorns

Cook for another 1-2 minutes

Add dried chili peppers and toss together

Cut into a piece of chicken to make sure it is cooked through and serve on a platter

Sprinkle crushed peppercorns over the top just before serving

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Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Scape Pesto

Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Pureed Garlic Scapes and Lemons (farmers market bill $18/2 servings= $9/serving)

When I say Cornish, surely you must think of everyone’s favorite Celtic language. Or maybe a taste that reminds you slightly of corn.  Not corn entirely but corn-ish. But when I hear the word, I think of the Cornish Game Hens that are popping up at farmers markets all over  the place. They are really just small chickens but their meat is delicate, they cook quickly, and they can take bold seasonings. I’m also seeing lots of garlic scapes hanging out at the farmers markets these days often for a dollar or 2 per bunch. And if there is a better way to blast a dish full of garlic flavor, I’m not sure what it is.

I like to puree the scapes in a food processor along with some lemon juice and salt. Herbs are great here too if you have any hanging around. Also, I love grilling some dandelion greens or even chard right alongside the birds.

Cook well and see you in Cornwall!

Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Pureed Garlic Scapes and Lemons

The night before:

Puree 4 garlic scapes, 2 cloves of garlic, and the juice from 1 lemon (reserve lemon halves for later) in a food processor.

Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pulse to blend together.

With a chef’s knife or kitchen shears, split hen down the middle

Put the halves in a large bowl and pour garlic scape puree over

Cover and refrigerate overnight

Preheat a gas grill with the flame on as high as possible

Remove hen from marinade and pat dry

Grill hens skin side down for 5 minutes and then rotate and cook for another 3

Turn heat to low and flip hen over

Baste with marinade and place lemon halves on top of hen

Close grill top and cook for 12-15 minutes and then check thigh temperature

When the thigh temperature reads 175

Remove hen from grill and let it rest for 10 minutes so juices have time to reincorporate.

Heritage Tryptophan

Most things worth doing in life will leave you tired at the end. That goes for working out, finishing the Sunday crossword puzzle or watching the six Star Wars movies in one sitting. Now that I think about it, doing that crossword may not be worth the fatigue that follows. But the drowsiness that follows a great turkey dinner should be worth it.

I’ve read more food articles in the last month talking about how the turkey can be only a supporting player alongside a cast of stuffing, gravy and potatoes. But there are great turkeys to be found and they are well worth a trip to the farmers market or even to the farm itself.

For the second year in a row, I’ll be roasting a turkey from Frantzen’s Scenic Acres in Berne, NY. The turkey last year was rich and meaty and needed no gravy or anything else to liven it up. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t enjoy the sauce that came about from a quick deglaze of the pan with local apple cider and some chopped onions, but the turkey more than holds its own.

Heritage turkeys are a bit more delicate and shouldn’t be cooked at very high temperatures. But we all love the dark and crispy skin so I like to pre-salt the turkey the night before cooking and also add a little bit of apple cider mixed with butter and baste the outside near the end of roasting. That assures you the color and crispy texture that you want without any chance of overcooking.

So have a wonderful Thanksgiving and by all means, write in if you have a turkey recipe or even a great farm you want to mention and I’ll put it up…As soon as I wake up from my post-Thanksgiving nap.

Cider Glazed Heritage Turkey

The night before the meal, sprinkle Kosher salt liberally over the turkey and leave in fridge uncovered overnight

Thanksgiving Day

Preheat oven to 325

Peel 4 carrots and 4 parsnips and place in roasting pan

Place an 8-10 pound Heritage turkey on top of vegetables and put pan in oven

Roast for 1 and ¼ hours

In a small saucepan, add a cup of apple cider and 4 tablespoons of butter

Cook on low, stirring to blend

After turkey has been roasting for 1.5 hours, baste the outside with the cider mixture

Sprinkle the outside again lightly with salt

With a meat thermometer, check the thickest part of the turkey thigh. Temperature should read around 165.

When bird has come to temperature, remove from oven. Remove turkey from pan along with parsnips and carrots.

Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from pan, place pan over 2 burners on stove and add a large chopped onion

Sauté for 5 minutes or until onion softens

Pour in a cup of cider and a half a cup of white wine and scrape bottom of pan with a wooden spoon

Simmer for 5-10 minutes

Season with salt and pepper to taste

Carve turkey and serve roasted veggies and pan sauce alongside

Duck, Duck, Summer Berry and Port Sauce

Duck, Duck, Summer Berry and Port Sauce

When the summer berries are in season, you likely think to yourself “I sure could go for a berry smoothie right now. On second thought, I’ll eat a duck.”

But summer berries are indeed wonderful with local, pastured duck. There are several very good duck farmers in the NYC area and their ducks make ideal main courses for nicer gatherings. The meat is rich though and the sweet and gloppy sauces that often accompany duck dishes makes the dish even heavier. Better to go with a simple pan sauce of fresh, local berries that will let the flavor of the duck come through.

One farmer at the Union Square Greenmarket sells a breed called ‘lola’ which is lower in fat but has a much meatier flavor. For a summer duck entrée, a roast lola duck is perfect. I do like to brush the duck with a sweet mixture to help with browning and I use whatever farmers’ market jam I have on hand cut with a little water. Not a difficult step but one that makes the finished dish crispier and more pleasing to the eye.

 

Roast Lola Duck w/ Summer Berry and Port Sauce

Farmers Market bill $35/5 Servings= $7/serving

For jam mixture

Stir together ¼ cup jam and ¼ cup of water and set aside

 

For Duck

Preheat Oven to 375 (convection if you have it)

Trim the extra fat off a 4-5 pound duck

Pierce the skin in several places with a fork

Salt the outside liberally and let sit for 2-3 hours

Roast the duck in a large roasting pan breast side up for around 45 minutes

Carefully turn duck breast side down and roast for another 30 minutes and then check temperature in thigh

If thigh temperature is lower than 160, resume roasting and check every 5 minutes

When thigh has come up to temperature, flip duck again and brush outside with the water/jam mixture

Increase heat to 450 and roast for an additional 5 minutes or until outside darkens

Remove duck from oven

 

For Sauce

Pour all but 2 tablespoons of duck fat from pan and put roasting pan over 2 burners set to medium heat

Add a cup of summer berries along with a sprinkling of salt and some black pepper

Sautee for 3 minutes or so while stirring gently

Remove from heat and add a tablespoon of port and a pinch of sugar if desired

Return heat to medium and sauté for another 3 minutes or until alcohol taste is gone

To serve, carve duck as you would a chicken or turkey and spoon berry mixture over meat. I like the thighs the best but it’s all good. Thanks so much to my friend Francesco for the great photo. You can see more of his work at  francescobertocci.com.

What am I, chopped liver? If so, hopefully from pastured, local chickens.

When I was home in NH, I visited the Concord Farmers Market. NH has a great list of all the markets in the state by date and season so it’s not at all hard to find a market near you. Especially when you’re in NH. That’s partly because there are tons of great markets but also because NH is around the same size as the average flat screen television. At the Concord, NH market, I found a farmer selling his own pastured chickens.

In NYC, the poultry farmers often sell out of livers before I’m able to get there. Some of them go to restaurants and others to the many home cooks who love them. But I’m not sure if I know anyone in NH who likes liver. I vaguely remember my dad saying “That’s the one food I won’t eat. Too strong. Ok, I’m going out to chop some wood.” To be honest, I was repulsed at the thought of eating liver in any form up until a few years ago. But I decided to go for it at the market. “We don’t have livers because they’re sitting at home in my freezer. They just don’t sell,” the farmer told me. I asked if he could bring a few in the next Saturday and we would buy them then. He agreed and we came back the next Saturday at noon. “Sorry. I don’t have any livers. I brought them in but they sold out first thing in the morning.”  I guess there was something of a liver revolution going on in NH but unfortunately, it requires one to be at the market early in the AM.

I made it a point to get livers back in NY and was fortunate enough to find some from John Fazio, a farmer known for his ducks and rabbits. He recently started raising chickens (which are also very good) and sells the livers separately. Livers taste ‘meaty.’ I liken them more to a very rich sausage than anything else. With good local onions and some toasted bread, you’re good to go.

I have not given up on the livers from NH, but unfortunately the weekly farmer’s market does not return until the spring. When it does reopen, I will take my place on the front lines of the NH liver revolution. Live free or die eating good livers from local chickens.

Chicken Liver and Onions $9/6 Servings = $1.50/serving

Trim 3/4 pound of livers and blot dry with paper towel

Chop 2 large local onions

Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat in cast iron skillet

Salt and pepper the livers heavily and add to pan

Saute, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes

Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and add onion to pan

Increase heat to high and saute for another 5 minutes

Turn heat off and add livers back to pan along with 2 ounces of bourbon or cognac

Turn heat to low and cook for 3 minutes or just until alcohol is cooked out

Pour contents of pan into food processor and run on high until mixture forms a smooth puree

Spoon mixture into ramekins and refrigerate

To serve, toast 6 slices of bread

Spoon or spread liver onto toasts and enjoy

Affordable (and delicious) Pastured Chicken

Roast Pastured Chicken

My apartment smells very good right now. I went to the farmer’s market a couple days ago and loaded up on carrots, parsnips, and potatoes. I also bought a chicken from a local producer who sells poultry, game, and venison. We ate much of the chicken a couple night ago and tonight I threw the carcass into the stockpot with a couple carrots and onions and it has been simmering for about 4 hours.

Many people are justifiably surprised by the price of pastured chicken. It is usually far more expensive than even organic and free range birds. It helps to look at ways to use proteins more efficiently to help keep the cost under control.

This chicken cost around $15. I used to get a whole chicken labeled ‘Natural’ for around $9 and use it for 2-3 meals. That’s between $3-$4.50 per serving. Here’s one way to handle the more expensive (and much better) bird:

Roast the chicken 1 night. It’s enough for 2-3 good servings.
The next night pick the remaining meat off the bones and sauté with a can of tomatoes (around $2) and some pasta (about $2). Let’s say this serves 2 people comfortably.

Your food cost is now up to $19 but you’ve served 5 meals taking you to around $3.75 per meal.

Now toss the carcass in the stockpot and add about $3 worth of raw veggies and a can of white beans ($2). Take it out a few hours later and you have a wonderfully rich soup that can easily serve 3 more people.

Total food cost up to $24 but you’ve now served 8 meals. FINAL PER MEAL COST: $3.

I’d love to hear other ways that people make their proteins last. Please feel free to post tips and recipes.

Eat well.
Jeremy

Flying Duck

I’m never sure if a dish qualifies as ‘local’ if it has to be transported more than 200 miles after it has been cooked. But I wanted to make a somewhat local Christmas Eve dinner for my sister and her husband. I thought duck ragu might fit the bill as it would be easy to carry. I went to the Union Square Greenmarket to buy a couple duck legs but found that the farmer was out of legs and had only an entire duck. Because I was covered with sleet and didn’t want to hike to another market, I bought it and carved it up at home. Ragu is a great dish because it requires the less expensive parts of the duck (thighs and legs) and also because it allows you to roast the rest of the duck separately as we did a few nights ago using the following recipe:

Salt and pepper the duck and then poke holes in the flesh with a fork.
Place in a frying pan with about an inch of water
Steam/boil the duck for about 30 minutes to render out most of the fat

Preheat the oven to 400
Mix 2 Tbs Jam and 2 Tbs water in a small dish and drizzle over duck
Roast Duck for about 20 minutes or until skin is dark and crispy

For the Ragu:

Take the skin and fat off the legs and thighs
Brown in a tablespoon of olive oil for 5 minutes per side
While the duck is browning, chop up whatever winter veggies you can find at the market
I used parsnips and carrots but turnips would be delicious as well
Toss in veggies and brown for 5 minutes
Pour in a cup each of stock and red wine along with a couple cloves of garlic and a small can of chopped tomatoes
Cover and simmer for an hour
Remove legs, cool and remove meat
Shred the meat with a fork and add back into sauce
Cover and simmer for two or more hours

This is where you need to trust your palate. Taste the ragu and see if it needs salt or pepper. It might need more wine if it’s dry or even some olive oil if it doesn’t taste rich enough to you. Have fun.

I froze this ragu in a freezer bag and checked it onto my flight to Boston. To serve, I cooked about a pound of fresh egg pasta from the market for about 3 minutes while I warmed the sauce. I tossed the pasta with the sauce and shredded a tiny bit of parmesan cheese over the top.

This is really good. I realize it’s not quick or even that easy but it does serve 4 plus the 2-4 that the roast duck served before. I also have the carcass in the freezer and will probably make a ginger and scallion soup with it. Maybe with tofu. We’ll see. Recipe to follow as well as some early New Year’s Even dinner plans.