Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Joseph had decided our next cooking collaboration should be Cioppino. Boy, was I game! I frequently dream of the blackened Le Creuset pots filled with the piping hot sea stew that they serve at the Sea Chest in Moonstone Beach, just a few hours up the coast from Los Angeles.

We needed a solid recipe that could compete with all the fabulous Cioppinos that Joseph has eaten by his father's side. If you look around, you'll notice there are tons of recipes for Cioppino. We were searching for something sparkly with a touch of wow-factor.

Strangely, right at the start of our quest, Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles' revered Pulitzer Prize winning food-writer, put out a call for questions from his fan-base on Facebook. He promised to try to respond regarding all manner of subjects from Los Angeles restaurants, to baking tips, to courtship advice, and even Rodarte's fall line.

Ambitious man!

Here was our ticket to the perfect Cioppino recipe. I immediately requested the best Gold had to offer. And guess what. He responded!

He recommended a Tadich Grill recipe that appeared in Saveur magazine a few years ago. Gold emphasized that this was in no way his Tuesday-night Cioppino, but a far more luxurious Saturday-night affair.

Cioppino is actually something of a poor man's fish stew originating out of fisherman culture in the late 1800s in San Francisco. Cioppino was originally made with the odd bits and leftovers from the day's catch. If you've made it yourself, you'll realize that it costs a fair bit more than a poor man's pay to actually make this dish.

In typical Joseph and Jacqueline fashion we went overboard. Big time. Jonathan Gold mentioned showcasing the beautiful Alaskan halibut that is just coming into season. I was with him completely. And it wasn't until we were paying that I realized that a pound and a half of that beautiful white flesh cost us fifty big ones.


I can't even tell you how much we spent on the crab legs. But it was a dazzling success of a dinner. A bubbling cauldron of red, overflowing with plump sea scallops, sweet shrimp, first of the season halibut(!), briny manila clams, lump crab meat and king crab legs, is a decadent stew well worth sharing.

Jonathan Gold conspiratorially advised against mentioning the two sticks of butter in this dish to anyone. And truth be told, we didn't whisper a peep about it to our guests. Of course, I have to be straight with you. Let's face it, that is no small serving of butter. There is no denying however, that it produces a stunning velvety effect.

The stewy broth takes a bit of work -- plenty of chopping and two hours of simmering -- but that kind of care develops a deeply flavorful base for this Cioppino. Dredging the seafood in flour and browning all of it is the kind of last minute, pain-in-the-assiness that I often steer clear of the night of a dinner party, but when you've got a three-man team working on the production, it's no big thing.

Our dear friends and family were delighted, and we were very pleased. I feel good about recommending this recipe to you, despite the fact that I have a couple of reservations.

In the end I am more of a soupy Cioppino girl. This recipe is best suited for those of you who enjoy a thicker, stewier Cioppino. Now, I may have allowed the sauce to reduce a little bit too much or perhaps we could have used a slightly lighter hand with our dredging. The butter likely contributed to this thicker, richer experience as well. I might tinker with the recipe a touch to arrive at a brothier outcome.

Those qualms could easily be due to user error. The only other issue I had was with the use of green bell pepper. And that is definitely just a personal preference issue. I'm not a big fan of green bell peppers any more. This recipe only calls for one, but the flavor is distinctly there in the forefront of every bite. It brought a definite cajun jambalaya/gumbo flavor to the Cioppino that I did not love or think really belonged. I might substitute a red pepper or omit the bell pepper all together in the future.

Just two other small notes. We added king crab legs, giving a half of one to each guest. For me this was a revelation. At thirty-eight years old, I'm not sure how I've missed these my whole life, but wow! The crab meat was incredibly sweet and tender and so easy to get at -- a really great addition to the dish.

And finally, back to the fifty-dollar halibut. I feel like a less fabulous fish, would do just as well in this Cioppino. The flesh falls apart too much to fully appreciate the halibut's wonderful texture and taste.

Other than those bits of nit-pickiness, I can whole-heartedly suggest you make this quite spectacular Cioppino for your next spendy dinner party. Your guests will be in for a real treat. Just don't forget to serve it with a crusty sourdough boule, and some Irish butter (conveniently available at Trader Joe's these days!).

Tadich Grill Cioppino

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 leek, white part only, trimmed, cleaned, and chopped
1/2 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
2 28-ounce cans crushed Italian tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 pinches cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds halibut filet, cut into large pieces
16 sea scallops
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 pound raw bay shrimp, if available, or smallest shrimp available, peeled
1-2 cups flour
12 ounces crabmeat, preferably dungeness, picked over
2 cups dry white wine
16 manila clams, scrubbed
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

Warm 1/2 cup of the oil and 8 tablespoons of butter in a big pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring frequently add the carrots, celery, peppers, leeks, and fennel, cooking for approximately 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, 4 cups of water, the dried herbs and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours stirring every so often.

Heat the remaining 1/2 cup oil, and 8 tablespoons butter in a large heavy pan over high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute. Dredge the halibut, scallops, and both sizes of shrimp, in the flour. Be sure to shake off any excess flour. In two batches, cook the seafood until golden, approximately 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the sauce pot and add the crabmeat. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the wine to the pan and heat over high heat. Scrape up any browned bits from the seafood. Add the clams and cover. Cook until all the clams have opened, approximately 5 minutes. Toss out any clams that do not open. Add the clams and the broth to the pot. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Serve in large bowls, garnished with the chopped parsley.

Serves 8

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bagna Cauda

When we had dinner a couple of months ago at Mozza for their Tuscan beef night, one of the standouts of the evening had nothing whatsoever to do with cow. The bagna cauda that kicked off the evening was spectacular. It has been haunting me ever since.

Bagna cauda basically translates from the Italian to hot bath in English. From Piedmont, Italy, it is a pungent hot dipping sauce composed of olive oil, butter, garlic, and anchovy. From there it is open to interpretation. I added lemon zest and lemon juice and I'm glad that I did. Raw vegetables are dunked into the bath and furiously gobbled up.

There are plenty of dishes where anchovies are used to great advantage and the recipe will tell you that your guests will never even guess that anchovies are in the dish. This is not one of those. It is all about the anchovies and garlic. And holy smoke, married together in melted butter and olive oil, they make an addictive pair.

I tried to finagle the recipe for Mozza's version out of Chef Chad Colby to no avail, but in the end it really isn't complicated. It requires a bit of mashing and melting. That's all. The lemon zest and juice that I added, gave the dish just a hint of zing and brightness.

You can use almost any kind of vegetable. Celery and cardoons are classic. I went with baby fennel, chiogga beets, celery, baby carrots, cauliflower and radishes. Vegetables never tasted so good!

The bagna cauda was the start of a crazy Cioppino dinner party that we had last weekend. The raw oysters and the Cioppino were divine, but the bagna cauda was hands down my favorite part of the meal.

Bagna Cauda
3 cloves, peeled and chopped
10 imported anchovy fillets, chopped
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt to taste

Using a mortar and pestle mash the garlic and anchovies to a paste.

Place the butter and olive oil in a smallish saucepan. Add the paste and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer for five minutes or so. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Season with salt, if needed.

Serve with raw vegetables.

Serves 6 (This was actually plenty for 8 of us, with some left over, but really it depends on the kind of people you hang out with.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sriracha Butter

I bumped into a review of Randy Clemens' The Sriracha Cookbook on MattBites a week ago. I immediately opened another window in Safari and raced to Amazon. Given my penchant for all things spicy, I was punching the Two-Day One-Click button with no hesitation.

I am a lover of Sriracha. Obviously great with pho or ramen, or spring rolls, I adore it on eggs. My usage of this garlicky hot sauce has been primarily to complement Asian food. This compact cookbook appears to promise a whole host of other possibilities for the famed rooster sauce.

I've had The Sriracha Cookbook in my mitts for less than a week, so I haven't had much of an opportunity to test it out. I am anxious to try the Maple-Sriracha Sausage Patties, the Bacon-Sriracha Cornbread and the Piquant Pulled Pork (enthusiastically reviewed here).

Randy Clemens has a lot of creative ideas for condiments like Sriacha Tzatziki and Sriracha Pesto. I decided to test the waters with his simple yet rather brilliant recipe for Sriracha Butter.

Compound butter in general is a very good thing to have on hand. It lends excitement to steak, corn-on-the-cob, pasta or a ho-hum chicken breast. But truth be told, it would never have occurred to me to add Sriracha to the mix.

The ingredients and the process are simple. Butter, minced garlic, chopped parsley and Sriracha are all you need. A Kitchen-Aid is helpful, but you really just need to mash the ingredients together thoroughly to get the job done. You roll the butter up in plastic wrap and chill it and that's all. It keeps in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks and in the freezer for far longer.

Now you have a dinner-enhancer at your disposal. I sliced off two rounds to top our rib-eye steaks last night. And, wow! The butter is far mellower than a big squirt of Sriracha. It is richer and more complex. It imparts heat, but not the mouth-burning variety. The parsley adds a fresh element. And the garlic, well let's just say that a first date after a pat of this butter would be a very bad idea, indeed.

Sriracha Butter

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Using a wooden spoon or in the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, blend the butter with the Sriracha, garlic, and parsley until completely combined.

Scoop the butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Roll the plastic around the butter, forming a log about 1 inch in diameter. Wrap up tightly.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Once hard, the butter may be sliced and served on meat, sweet potatoes, corn-on-the-cob or tossed into hot pasta or rice. The butter keeps in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for 6 months.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Seared Lamb Chops with Preserved Lemon, Artichoke Hearts, Fresh Mint and Feta

After willingly preparing ample stashes of preserved lemons, some folks have wondered what else to do with their bounty. I've mentioned sautéed lima beans and suggested jazzing up greens with garlic. A bracing salad is always a super idea, but people are clamoring for more.

I figured I'd go back to the first time that I remember cooking with preserved lemons. I've eaten plenty of Moroccan food that features their salty tartness, but it wasn't until 2007 that I ever actually cooked with them.

It's all thanks to Nancy Silverton's (of La Brea Bakery, Campanile, Mozza fame) funny little book, A Twist of the Wrist. The subtitle is Quick Flavorful Meals With Ingredients From Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes. That entire concept would normally have me running the other direction thinking of some phony-baloney, fly-by-night, Food Network star, but this book is different. Considering all the other wonderful things Silverton has brought to our lives here in Los Angeles, it really isn't much of a surprise.

Silverton focuses on high quality packaged or jarred ingredients and creates meals that even super-foodies will find delicious. A Twist of the Wrist was a huge help when I was working full-time and it still comes in handy when I've been running around with Fe. all day and have not a clue what to cook for supper.

Silverton teaches you how to intelligently stock your pantry for just such occasions. She also asks other chefs like Suzanne Goin, Jonathan Waxman, Mario Batali, and Ruth Reichl to contribute their quick and easy favorites. Dishes like Boneless Pork Chops with Creamy Polenta and Fennel Pollen or Egg Papardelle with Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive Oil-Fried Egg do not disappoint.

The recipe that I return to frequently is her Seared Lamb Chops with Preserved Lemon, Artichoke Hearts, and Fresh Mint. It's impressive. I've made it for guests and I've served it for just A. and myself, eating the rest the next day. Everyone likes it.

The flavors are unusual and compelling. The saltiness of the lemon and feta is offset well by the bright and refreshing mint. I tend to go a bit heavier with the herb, usually using a few tablespoons. And when there are plenty of preserved lemons in the fridge, I'll often up the amount to at least half of one.

The lamb gets a coat from a tin of purchased lamb rub. The artichokes hearts are jarred. I've splurged every time I've made this dish, springing for the long stemmed numbers in the deli case at Whole Foods. To me they taste so much better and look far prettier. However your standard marinated artichoke hearts will work well here too.

The dish comes together quickly, although it does require a little bit of concentration. At least, I always find that it does. I like to have my mise en place ready to go. The chops cook quickly because what I believe Silverton calls for is individual rib chops. That is what I used last time and it works. Perhaps slightly more successful, if you really like medium rare chops that have a good sear on them is the double-bone rib chops. Using the double chops of course adds to the cooking time. Not as fast!

After searing the chops, garlic is added and the pan is deglazed with the wine. The artichokes, broth, and lemon are added and cooked together for mere minutes to meld the flavors. The resulting sauce is a bit of a stunner -- tangy, salty, meaty -- dramatically savory.

The presentation is handsome, verging on restaurant good-looks, if you take care with your plating. The sprinkling of mint and feta over the lamb chops, while successfully rounding out the flavors also adds a lot to the visual beauty of the dish.

As Silverton suggests with ingredients like lamb, mint and artichokes, this is a perfect dish for spring. It is also rather perfect for digging deeper into your jar of preserved lemons.

Seared Lamb Chops with Preserved Lemon, Artichoke Hearts, Fresh Mint, and Feta

3 tablespoons lamb rub
16 bone-in lamb chops (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup canola oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
3 large garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup vegetable broth
4 whole marinated artichoke hearts, quartered (from the deli case or 2 6 1/2-ounce jars)
1/4 preserved lemon, pulp discarded and skin finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
Kosher salt
Lemon for squeezing over the lamb
2 ounces feta (preferably the French brand, Valbreso)
High-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Massage the rub into both sides of the chops.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the canola oil in a large skillet over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until almost smoking. The oil should be fragrant at this point. Add half of the chops, reducing the heat to medium. Cook for approximately 2 minutes. Turn the chops over and cook them for 30 seconds for rare or 1 minute for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of canola oil and cook the remaining chops in the same manner.

Drain all but 1 teaspoon of the oil from the pan. Add the garlic and swirl the pan away from the heat for about 1 1/2 minutes. Bring the heat to high and add the wine. Simmer for about 2 1/2 minutes, stirring, until the wine has nearly completely evaporated. Add the broth, artichoke hearts and preserved lemon, stir and simmer until the sauce is reduced by a third, approximately 2 minutes. Season with kosher salt, if needed.

Spoon the artichokes and sauce onto four plates. Place four chops onto each plate, fanning them out. Drizzle with the juices from the plate. Squeeze a little bit of lemon juice over the chops. Crumble the feta over and drizzle them with the olive oil. Sprinkle the mint over the dish.

Serves 4