Friday, January 28, 2011

sous-vide steak

It seems that I have been in the mood for steak lately. I satiated that need today with steak cooked the way I like it. I got the steaks from Prime Cuts in Salmiya. 

When I look for steaks, I like them to be marbled with fat to keep them moist while cooking. The fat also adds flavour to the steaks and, yes, sometimes you get a sense that the cows lived happy lives, eating the freshest grass off the field. So how do I get the feeling that I did the cow justice, that its life wasn't in vain? I cook it properly. I want a steak that has the same colour from as close to one edge as the other. It should also have a nicely caramelized, charred surface.

Sous-vide cooking involves cooking an ingredient in a sealed environment in a water bath. The item should be vacuum-packed in preparation for being placed in a body of water that is heated to exactly the temperature that you want the ingredient to be cooked to. Sometimes, additional flavouring can be added prior to vacuum-packing to infuse the ingredient with seasonings and aromas. I saw this technique used on Iron Chef about eight or nine years ago and thought that it was a show-off technique - at the time I was really trying to learn more about flavour combinations - however, a couple of years ago, I tried to do it myself. And I'm more than glad that I did. Honestly, I don't want my steak cooked any other way. While researching this technique for cooking, I found that steak, eggs (for poached eggs) and salmon are typically considered, ingredients that require very delicate cooking to ensure a desired effect.

While I do not own an automatically controlled water thermal bath, and I have been told they are sold in Kuwait in medical / laboratory supply shops, I have figured out how to regulate the temperature myself. It involves a large pot of water, an accurate thermometer and an adjustable stove-top. Luckily, I have both gas and electric hobs to work with, and today I started on the gas then moved to electric, with better and more consistent results (due to lower temperatures).

I like my steak cooked to medium-rare, about 130 degrees F. I have read on other food blogs that others tend to agree with cooking to that temperature. However, I would have to trust the source and handling conditions of the meat to be able to eat it at that level of doneness.

As it goes on, you can see the colour change. The cooking process for steaks as thick as I selected them, or any other steak really, is about an hour. What's good about this technique is that you can be flexible with the cooking time, as you cannot exceed the temperature of the water bath.

There is a limit, however, as excessive heating even at these temperatures will result in a denaturing of the meat and eventually turn it mushy. This limit, though, is several hours, so you place your steaks in the water bath about an hour before you intend to serve... and if dinner is delayed a little bit, you don't have to worry because all you have to do before serving is sear the steak. And it won't go cold while you're waiting. I do this on a very hot griddle pan so that you can achieve the crusting treatment that you want without heating the steak too deeply. I want the meat to maintain the same colour and texture from as close to the surface as possible.

After taking the meat out of the bags, I just cover with freshly crushed salt and pepper and then sear. With this particular cut of steak, I let the trim of fat go first and then sear each side until I see the sear lines that I like. What's nice about cooking the steak sous-vide is the consistency of doneness throughout the steak as well as having the fat cooked as well - it is quite juicy and edible rather than how it usually turns out with surface cooking.

I may consider placing a lifting device (maybe a steaming vessel) or something similar so that the heat of the bottom of the pan does not affect the steak. I have been fairly successful so far in maintaining the temperatures that I require without over-cooking my steaks, but I imagine a fully automated water thermal bath may give some ease of mind as I can just put my steaks in there and forget about them for a while. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

parmigiano reggiano

A couple of years ago I was given one of the best gifts I have ever received, a barrel of 36 month aged organic parmigiano reggiano from a boutique farmer in the region. Well, it was brought to me by a relative who lives in Italy and understands how fundamentally important it is to me. 
To this day, I remember the mature creaminess and flavour. What they say about this cheese is true: it imparts a sensibility of umami, the other sense of taste; it just lifts everything it touches with a beautiful aroma that seems to work with almost everything. When I am given 5 kilos of this delicacy, at first I think of how I could lavishly splurge with the ingredient. I could eat it raw, shaved and dispersed over a dish, or eat a dish in which it is a key ingredient in the cooking. I elected to, of course, eat the pieces that broke off as I was chiseling the barrel into portions for storing, but then I made one of my favourite dishes, parmesan risotto. So plain - rice, the aroma of the stock in the background and the parmesan and butter that are used to finish off the dish. To achieve this simplicity, you need two tools in your arsenal: proper cooking technique and perfect ingredients. Thankfully, this barrel provided me with the latter. 

Biological = organic.

This particular cheese reminded me of some kind of geological formation. With beautiful shards and crystalline-seeming arrangements, this cheese certainly didn't disappoint. It may have been slightly stronger than the "parmesan" we get in Kuwait (which is usually gran padano sold as parmesan). Gran padano is made in pretty much the same was as parmigiano reggiano, but because it's made outside of the designated zone it can't be called parmesan - however, it is more commonly available and seems to me slightly more mellow in flavour and aroma than this cheese.

Friday, January 21, 2011

korean lunch

For a while, I've been wanting to try out a Korean restaurant I heard of in the city, Koryo Kwan. I went in only with the recommendation of a couple of friends. Having tried Korean food before going to college, quite a few years back, I wasn't sure what to expect. Because I only sampled one of their dishes, I will not classify this post as a review of the restaurant, but rather a description of the experience.

The restaurant is located in the Carlton Tower Hotel, behind Rakan tower, next door to the building that holds my favourite thai restaurant. Through the antiquated lobby, you see the restaurant's frontage, a mostly wooden door with some characteristic Korean signage, only a glimpse of what's to come.

Walking in, I was greeted by a very friendly waiter and was asked to choose my seat. Only one other table was occupied, as they were about to close for their lunch break. For a moment, I truly felt like I was outside of Kuwait.

I looked through the menu and wasn't sure what to order. So I asked for a recommendation and went with the beef rib dish. Turns out it was a Korean-style barbecue meal, shown in the picture above. A bowl of seaweed and beef soup and rice were in front of me. On the left were the cold vegetables: seaweed, kimchi, potatoes with sesame, a crunchy root vegetable with similar spices to the kimchi, spinach and battered zucchini with pieces of chili; there was also a spicy dipping sauce. Then the rib meat was already cooked, smothered in a tasty garlic/ginger/sweet sauce with some sesame garnish - apparently this is served raw in many places and you control the cooking; it was served with romaine lettuce and a sauce that also tasted a bit like kimchi.

The portion I had could have probably fed two people, but I did my fair share of work and ate all the beef. I sampled everything else. Interesting that this may be where the low-carb, lettuce-wrapped fad emerged from.

Would I try this place again? Yes. There is another Korean restaurant in Kuwait that I will also try at the New Park Hotel in Maidan Hawalli.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

vegan udon

It may be due to the weather, but I've been craving udon lately. However, not since my visit to Japan a couple of years ago have I had a worthy udon soup. There it was duck and green onion udon with the typical dashi (broth), and I had it several times. With my selection of ingredients, I wouldn't even try to recreate it. But, I did try a vegan udon soup today that turned out brilliantly.

Sultan centre has some of the ingredients that are key to making this dish work, including the noodles and miso paste. I got dried shitake mushrooms, sold as dried black chinese mushrooms, in a shop in the city.

First the broth. I covered the dried mushrooms with boiling water. I wanted to extract as much of the flavour as possible. It resulted in a beautifully golden broth that had such a nice aroma. Strained through a fine sieve and kept it on the side. In one pan, i boiled the noodles for 6 or 7 minutes until they were still a little al dente. In another, i sauteed some garlic and ginger in some sesame oil. Then added the vegetables (eggplant, fresh mushrooms, the rehydrated mushrooms, sweet red pepper, then the broth, about a tablespoon of miso paste, soy sauce and let it cook until the vegetables were almost done. Then I added some tofu and cooked for a couple of minutes more. To serve, I put some noodles in a bowl, poured over some broth and vegetables, then what you see above is what I got.

It was really enjoyable and a soup I'm sure I'll make again and again. If I could find some kombu (kelp) to give some extra aroma to the stock, I think that would perfect this dish.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

artichoke and eggs

Artichokes are great. I like them in all kinds of ways. Simply steamed, with each nice fat leaf plucked and dipped into melted butter with garlic. Or, surprisingly, raw in a salad with some nice raw mushrooms, rocket leaves and shreds of parmesan (as done by Pasta e mani in Rome). Or used as a vegetable along with others in a nice pasta sauce.

Or as I had it on one of my first vegan "cheat" days... a Southern US classic, eggs sardou. Artichoke heart, sauteed spinach, poached egg and hollandaise sauce. With my spicy potato hashbrowns on the side. So satisfying, a perfect balance of tastes. Although, I think the best thing that goes with poached eggs and hollandaise is nicely toasted brown bread. So perhaps I need to put in a thin layer of carbs in there somewhere. Always good to have something soak up the tasty juices that come out of such a dish.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Foodie Family

I must promote my sister's blog
In it you'll find the adventures of taste, both culinary and visual.

I also have to promote my other sister's blog
It showcases all that's up and coming in the world of november - from the bakery to events, gifts and more.


Vegan apologies

I have not been the most active blogger for the last few months. I started the blog as an experiment and have been thinking of ideas on how to make it more effective. Look out for a restaurant review soon of a place I've heard much about and am eager to try.
The last few months have been a culinary experiment for myself. I've been mostly vegan. Judging by the content of this blog I know that it's not expected, but it's been a good change for myself. Along with a lot more exercise, I'm feeling much better. I've reached a point, though, that maintains a mostly vegan diet, with the exception of when I feel like having something else. Like a piece of cheese or a nice juicy steak. At the end of the day, I'm listening to my body. I've honestly been afraid of disappointing you, my fellow readers, with food that you may typify as boring. I have to disclaim right now that my vegan trials have had no political background and are simply for the sake of making myself feel better. And it has, for the most part, worked... with the exception being when I feel like something else. But in truth, I can't consume the same quantities of non-vegetables as before.
What it has done, however, is forced me only to eat food of the quality that I envisage. And it's made me try even harder to perfect the techniques for cooking some of the basics. The other day I felt like having a steak. I was in fact craving it. I cooked it sous-vide, where it is cooked in a vacuum-packed pouch in a water bath at the temperature I wanted the steak cooked to. It was just cooked less than medium, the flesh was beautifully red and some of the marbling remained. But i wasn't completely satisfied. That steak should have been medium rare, cooked at around 130 F, instead of the 135-140 that I had cooked mine. I've become more picky.
And for that I'm really happy. I've stopped 95% of processed foods, i can't help but use condiments, soy sauce, (organic) ketchup... it's been much better.
So in the spirit of all things good, I will relaunch my blog with full interest of developing what I consider good food.