Octopus: Don't be afraid

Cooking from afar can at times seem like overhearing an unknown language or watching an advanced martial art or accidentally walking into a calculus class. Enter the octopus. The lurking deep sea creature whose key to deliciousness and tenderness requires a copper penny, a wine cork, or a beating against rocks while standing in shallow water.

It turns out, octopus is really quite simple. It requires two steps: 1. simmering the octopus with tasty aromatics for a couple of hours and then 2. searing or grilling to crisp and serve.

When it comes to step one, the world is your oyster (or octopus). Start by adding a bit of olive oil to a large pot, then sweat some delicious flavoring agents in that oil. Onions, shallots, garlic, carrots, celery, leeks, chiles, orange slices, herbs, peppercorns - the possibilities are endless.  I like onion, garlic, celery, and orange peel. Then pour over a cup or two of dry white wine simmer for a minute and add enough water to the pot so that when you add octopus they will be covered. Bring that mixture to a simmer and add a hefty handful of salt. 

Bring on the octopus. This technique will work for any size octopus, but a 3-5 pound octopus is what I prefer. If the octopus you are using is bigger or smaller, adjust the simmering time longer or shorter. I remove the head from the octopus for this preparation, it's the tentacles that we are after. You can ask your lovely fishmonger to handle this step if you are squeamish. Drop the tentacles into the simmering water and check back in an hour or two. Stick a pointed knife into the thickest tentacle you can find and if it doesn't fight back, you are good to go.

All that's left is the crisping. Heat up a cast iron pan (or a grill) and add some oil and open the windows.  A little salt and pepper is all you need. Sear until crispy and golden. Enjoy with beans, salad greens, or a vinaigrette or garlic mayo. 

See? Nothing to be afraid of here. 


Crispy Octopus

Crispy octopus

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, rough chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 celery stalks, rough chopped
  • the peel and juice of one orange
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 3-5 pound octopus, head and beak removed and tentacles separated
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat a pot large enough to fit the octopus over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic, and celery. Sweat the vegetables until they are softened (about 10 minutes). Add the orange peel and juice along with the wine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add enough water to cover the octopus tentacles. When simmering, add a handful of salt and the octopus. Simmer for an hour and fifteen minutes and then check the octopus with a sharp knife. You should feel almost no resistance.

Carefully pull the tentacles out of the pot and let drain and with paper towels, wipe away any "skin" or bits from the octopus. Heat a cast iron or heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil and when it is nearly smoking, season the tentacles with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Let the tentacles sear on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Adjust the heat to keep the sear at a nice even tempo. Use tongs to flip and move the tentacles as each side becomes crispy. Remove from the pan and enjoy hot or cool and slice for a salad.

 

 

Almost Spring Fusilli

creamy fusilli with bacon, peas and lemon   

I'm on vacation!

Some people call two days off a weekend, but in this business two days is damn near a sabbatical. When I'm on vacation, I like to cook and eat. So my wife Rachel and I invited my sister-in-law Jenny over for dinner and we cooked up some smoky, "almost spring" pasta. Dinner with Rachel and Jenny usually involves dancing, squealing, wine, and cursing - it's pretty much my favorite thing to do. 

Like all great pastas, buy the best ingredients and don't add too much. At it's core, this dish is bacon, bacon  fat, cream, peas, and pasta. You can veer a bit from there if you wish. In this case, I wanted bright and hopeful and for me, that's lemon and tons of black pepper. Tip for Chicago life: when in need of spring eat lemon and black pepper. 


Creamy Fusilli with Bacon, Peas and Lemon

Serves 4-6

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 pound thick cut bacon, diced
  • 1/3 cup shallots, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 pound fusilli pasta
  • 10 ounces frozen peas
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1/3 cup parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
  • salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. While the pasta water is heating up, preheat a large sauce pan over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and the diced bacon. Render the bacon until crisp and remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towel. Pour off all of the remaining fat from the pan except for about 2 tablespoons (reserve the extra bacon fat for your eggs tomorrow). 

Return the sauce pan to medium heat and add the shallots and sweat for about 2 minutes, until just softened. Then add the garlic and stir until you can really smell the garlicky aroma, about 1 minute. Carefully add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate the bacon fond (caramelized bacon bits stuck to the pan) into the sauce. Simmer the wine for about 1 minute. Then add the cream and bring the whole mixture to a gentle simmer. 

Your pasta water should be boiling. Add salt to the water (it should taste almost like the sea). Add the fusilli to the boiling, salted water and stir. While the pasta is cooking, add the frozen peas to a fine mesh strainer and dip into the boiling pasta water to defrost. This should take about 1 minute.

Lift the strainer from the pasta water and drain well. Then add the peas to the simmering cream sauce and stir in.

Cook the pasta until al dente, about 10 minutes. Reserve a cup or so of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta, pouring off all the water. Return the empty pasta cooking pot to the stove over medium heat and add the drained hot pasta to the pot. Then pour the cream sauce mixture over the pasta. If necessary, add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid to thin the sauce. Stir the pasta over medium heat for a minute or two to combine.

Reduce the heat to low and add the cheese and mix well. Then add the zest and juice of one lemon to the pasta and stir in. Then add half the rendered bacon and plenty of fresh cracked black pepper. Taste the pasta for seasoning and if necessary add a little salt. Again, adjust the sauce with some pasta cooking liquid if the sauce has become too thick. the sauce should coat the pasta but it should not be stiff.

Plate the pasta in bowls and top with the remains crispy bacon and drink with wine and the Brown sisters. 

 

Fried Zucchini and Sausages for Breakfast?

Is it wrong to eat sausage and fried food for breakfast?  The batter had some rye flour in it.  And vodka.  And the aioli had garlic, raw garlic - that's good for your immune system. Right?

Pan Fried Zucchini and Red Onion with Garlic Mayonnaise

  • 2 small zucchinis, organic, cut on a bias in to 1/4 inch slice
  • 1/2 small red onion, 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/3 cup rye flour
  • 1/3 cup semolina flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Olive oil or grape seed or canola or rice bran oil for pan frying
  • Salt and pepper
  • Aleppo pepper (optional)

Quick Garlic Mayonnaise

  • 1/2 cup good mayo
  • 1 firm garlic clove mashed or passed through a press
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • Salt and pepper

To assemble the mayonnaise, combine the mayo, garlic and lemon.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the zucchini and onion, combine the rye flour, semolina flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Stir together egg, vodka and water.  Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and blend well.  Batter should be thick but still pourable, almost like a pancake batter. If it seems to tin, add a little more of the flours.  If it seems to thin, add a little more water.  Let batter rest for 10 minutes before using.

Heat a 1/4 inch of the oil in a sturdy frying pan or cast iron pan over medium heat.  When oil is hot and shimmering, dunk the zucchini and onion pieces into the batter and coat well.  With a fork, lift vegetables from the batter and carefully place into the hot oil.  You will likely need to or three batches - don't overcrowd the pan - leave about 1/2 inch between pieces.  

Adjust heat as necessary, you should hear an even sizzle, nothing too crazy and also not too quiet.  After about a minute and a half, carefully flip the vegetables (always flip away from yourself so the oil doesn't splash on you) and fry the other side for about a minute and a half.  Use your judgment, the vegetables are done when the batter is golden brown.

Remove from the oil and place on a rack or paper towels to drain.  Season with a little salt and pepper and Aleppo pepper if using.

Eat them immediately or keep warm in a low oven.  Serve with garlic mayonnaise.

Be sure to eat these for breakfast :)

Family Meal: Summer Sausage Fried Rice

 
Summer Sausage Fried Rice: SDC Family Meal

Summer Sausage Fried Rice: SDC Family Meal

 So at Sunday Dinner Club, we have a little secret - we don't always eat the same meal that our guests eat.  Sometimes we make something called "family meal."  This meal is intended to boost the spirits and feed the bellies of the hard working team at SDC.  The meal is usually humble, but often is used to test out some ideas for future menus.  We try and use what we have around and we try to get the most bang for our time - quick meals are preferred when we have hours of prep to tackle.  So, I present a favorite: Fried Rice.

Before I loved food, I loved fried rice. Before that, as a little kid I would cry unless I was eating pizza, burgers, or macaroni and cheese.  My parents and brother often wanted Chinese, and I would cry.  Somehow, I was ususally able to cry enough so my parents would drive through Wendy's and pick me up a burger on our way to Szechuan Garden.  I would happily eat a burger at the table while my family enjoyed tasty and scary Szechuan food.

One day, my parents must have toughened up.  No drive-thru on the way.  I cried the whole way, and sat defiantly in the green Szechuan Garden booth, arms folded.  I was a jerky kid.  My dad made a deal with me - if I tried a bite of the fried rice, we could get Wendy's after we left.  I pouted, but always amenable to a good deal, I took one bite.  I convulsed, thrashed, made like I was going to puke and choked it down.  

I got my Wendy's after the meal, but guess what - I was too big of a little bastard to admit it then and there, but I fucking loved the fried rice!

And still do.  Here is a version that we made this week at the dinner club.  We added some summer sausage, sweetened and funked a bit by sugar and fish sauce, along with our daily ration of green veggies.  Fried rice is perfect for experimenting with - the possible condiments are endless.  

Mise en Place!

Watch the video below to see how easy it is to make and you can catch some of our deep thoughts about fried rice along the way.

Summer Sausage Fried Rice 

(serves 3-4)

* The ingredients below list the preparations for each component of the fried rice. Read through and prepare each part before following the final assembly instructions below.

  • 3 tbsp. or so of oil or fat, grapeseed, canola, peanut or lard
  • 1/2 cup diced and sweated onions, cook for a 3 minutes over medium low heat with 1 tbsp. oil until just softened
  • 4 cups cold, cooked jasmine rice
  • 1/4 cup chinese rice wine
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1 bunch of black kale (cavolo nero) shredded and sauteed for 1 min over high heat with 1 tbsp. oil
  • 1 cup sliced summer sausage, tossed with 1 tsp. good fish sauce and 1 tbsp brown sugar, roast in oven at 400 for 7 minutes and cool
  • 2 bunches scallions, sliced thin
  • 2 eggs, whisked together and cooked quickly in a medium high heat non stick pan with 1 tsp. oil, cool and chop.
  • Salt

Final Assembly: Heat a large saute pan or rondeau over medium high heat.  Add oil or fat and heat until shimmering, about 1 minute.  Add onions and sweat for a minute or so, then add rice and break up clumps.  Move the rice quickly through the oil, trying to coat each grain with a little hot oil.  Add rice wine and mirin and continue to move rice rapidly until any liquid is mostly absorbed or cooked off, about 1 minute.  You should be hearing a good sizzle, but not a crazy train.  

One note, too quiet in a saute pan means two things: not hot enough or already burnt!

Add the kale, sausage, scallions and eggs and toss together with rice until everything is hot, about 1 or 2 minutes.  Cut the heat off, and season with salt to taste.  Or try some MSG!

Roasting 101: Mushrooms

 

Hey Instagram!  I own this! Right?

Roasting vegetables is a delicate art.  But also quite simple if you follow some guidelines.  Most important is leaving space for your veggies to roast.  If you crowd them too close together, they will steam.  You need to expose as much surface area of the ingredient as possible to ensure even browning.  Make sure your knife cuts are consistent - the goal is to have all the food be roasted and cooked at the same time.  To accomplish this, make sure that all the pieces you are roasting are roughly the same size.  Chefs are not necessarily crazy about perfect knife cuts, but we are crazy about thinking through what the purpose of a knife cut is.  We don't mindlessly chop.

Take mushrooms.  High heat - say 425 degrees, well spaced, evenly cut.  Go easy on the seasoning, just a little grapeseed oil, salt, fresh cracked pepper and roast on a sheet pan until just beautiful.  The goal is not mush or to dry out the mushroom, we want them almost crisped on the outside and full and meaty on the inside.  Serve with some buttered noodles, next to a steak, some fish, or in a taco.

Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

1 pound

shiitake mushrooms

2 tablespoons

grapeseed or olive oil

salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Remove the stems from the shiitakes.  With a slightly damp paper towel, wipe the tops of the mushrooms one by one, removing any debris or dirt.  Handle them gently and don't submerge them in water.  Slice the mushrooms into 1/4 inch slices.

Place mushroom slices into a bowl and toss with the oil, salt, and pepper.  Lay onto a sheet pan, leaving plenty of space between each slice, at least 1/4 inch.  Use two sheet pans if you are feeling a little crowded.

Roast in the oven about 12-15 minutes, stir and flip the mushrooms halfway through.  Use your judgement on determining when they are done - and by that I mean taste one.  They should make you happy.  If they don't, cook them a little longer or if they are burnt to a crisp, next time pay a little more attention!

Poor Man's Dinner, Chef Style: Curly Endive and Tuna Fusilli

tuna, curly endive, fusilli
tuna, curly endive, fusilli

Tuna, Curly Endive, Fusilli (photos by Rachel Brown)

So I had curly endive in the fridge.  But you could use kale here, escarole, dandelion greens, whatever.  And I needed some protein - for that my wife and I always keep some wild caught tuna cans around.  I highly recommend doing that -

but buy wild albacore that is responsibly caught

- it's a buck or two more and if that's too much, eat something else you bastard.

Tuna Can
Tuna Can

This pasta is super easy and only takes about 1/2 hour from start to finish - a few more when you and your wife are trying to photograph the process. The most essential part of the dish comes right at the beginning.  Sweat and then slightly caramelize your aromatics. In other words - cook some onions, a little garlic and red chile if you like, really slowly in a decent amount of grapeseed or olive oil. Start low and slow, letting the onions get a bit soft - then up the heat and let them get a touch golden. Don't go too far, nothing bad will happen, but I like to still let my veggies have some integrity on their own to give another texture to dish. Mushy onions don't have much texture. 

Then you throw in some washed greens - in this case the aforementioned curly endive.  Give everything a toss and think: "How pretty."

Sprinkle some Alepo pepper into the dish.  It's awesome - adding both a zing and a bit of bite. Sweet and tangy and only a hair spicy.  From Aleppo in Syria, pray for them - they are having a really shitty time over there. 

Be sure to cook your pasta al dente, toss the whole thing together with the tuna.   Chef trick - always add some butter to finish your pasta.  It does a couple of things: one it adds fat which is a great carrier for flavor - all that time you spent on those onions earlier?  Yeah, add some butter so you can taste that. The butter also starts to melt when it hits the hot pasta and the water that still clings to the pasta, along with the warm oniony, curly endivey juices in the pan emulisfy or come together with the butter to form something like a sauce. 

When you are done, season the dish up, make sure you can really taste it. If not add some more salt. And last but not least, squeeze half a lemon into the dish and toss one last time. It'll brighten the whole thing.

Curly Endive, Tuna and Fusilli

2 tbsp.

grapeseed oil or olive oil

1 large

onion

, peeled, quartered and sliced thin

3 cloves

garlic

, peeled and roughly chopped

1

red jalapeño

, stemmed, seeded and julienned (slice thin)

1 lb. f

usilli

(I used some colorful stuff)

1 bunch

curly endive

, washed and roughly chopped

1 tsp.

Aleppo pepper

1 small can

wild caught tuna

, drained (water or oil, both work)

1 or 2 tbsp.

butter

juice of 1/2 l

emon

salt and pepper

to taste

Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.  Set a large saute pan over medium-low heat and add the oil and let it get hot.  Add the onions, garlic, chile and a pinch of salt.  You should hear a little sizzle - not too much.  Sweat the onion mixture slowly, about 8 minutes until softened.  Then increase the heat to medium-high for a minute or two, just until the onion mixture starts to brown a bit.  

Add a handful of salt to the now boiling pot of water and carefully drop the fusilli in and give it a stir.  Cook until just al dente.  

While pasta is cooking, add the curly endive to the onions and stir together over medium-high heat, just until it wilts, about 1 or 2 minutes.  Add the Aleppo pepper and toss.  

Strain the pasta and do not rinse.  In fact, leave a little hot water on the pasta, don't shake it too much when draining.  Return the pasta to its empty but still hot pot and set over medium heat.  Quickly add the onion and curly endive mixture to the pasta and toss together.  Break up the tuna and add to the pasta along with the knob of butter.  Gently stir the butter and tuna into the pasta over medium heat, about 1 minute.  Cut the heat, squeeze in the lemon juice and stir again.  Taste.  Needs more salt right?  Add some, and if you like pepper or a little more Aleppo - go for it.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 for Dinner 

Skinny People Booths

Visited the Violet Hour on New Year's Day for the first time.  Not sure why I had never been before.  Had a great time with friends, and guess what - the Violet Hour was great!  I didn't get turned away at the door - I fit into the booth - just barely.

Our server was so good at his job that I wanted him to be my friend.  And the drinks: thoughtful, exciting, and like a great but simple bite of food - you can tell when care has been infused along with the kefir lime leaf. Oh, and sad Leonard Cohen filled the room - not a alt/hipster wispy peep heard all night (although this video is something).

My drink at the Violet Hour?  The Presbyterian.  I always go for the religious beverages.  It's absurdly simple - ginger, bubbles, sweetness, whiskey, lemon, ice cube (or if you are the Violet Hour, one gigantic, phallic ice cube).  Make sure each item is the best you can get and you will be quite happy, at least for a little while.  I like to throw in a little molasses for some extra bite.

Josh's Presbyterian

Ginger Syrup
1 large knob of ginger, unpeeled, washed
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 TB blackstrap molasses
1 tsp lemon juice

For the Cocktail
Ginger Syrup
Good Rye, Whiskey, or Bourbon
Soda Water
Lemon Peel

Make a ginger syrup by grating the ginger (or just slice it thin if you prefer a little less gingerness).  Combine the ginger with the water, sugar, molasses and lemon juice in a small sauce pot and stir.  Bring to a simmer for a moment and then reduce heat to a bare simmer for a half hour or so until delicious.  Strain syrup to remove ginger bits and cool.

To make the drink, fill a 12 oz glass with ice (or the above mentioned ice phallis).  Add some ginger syrup, it's a preference thing - about a tablespoon.  Add a shot or two of whiskey/bourbon/rye.  Add soda to fill and run a little lemon peel around the rim of the glass and drop it in.  Have a nice day and lose some weight.