Pan-seared trout with buerre blanc

IMG_9985As you can see, the first gardenias of the year have just come into bloom — a noteworthy occasion to me, since gardenia is one of my favorite smells of all time. This being a food blog rather than one about horticulture, however, I couldn’t just get a picture of my favorite flowers without including one of my favorite dishes: pan-seared rainbow trout with buerre blanc.

“Buerre blanc” in French translates simply as “white butter,” and while it isn’t considered to be on quite the same level as classic sauces like hollandaise or bernaise, it’s still a simple, yet versatile addition to your culinary repertoire. The sauce is formed by the creation of an emulsion, one of our favorite food tricks that forces oil (melted butter in this case) to mix with liquid (a white wine reduction). The result is a luscious, tangy sauce that won’t overpower our fish, but will add a great deal of flavor. I especially like it with trout, because while trout is a wonderfully flavorful fish, it isn’t a very fatty one — and the addition of this buttery sauce is exactly the kick it needs. To cook your trout, simply heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a skillet, pat your filet dry, then salt and pepper both sides. Start skin side down, flipping the fish when the edges begin to brown, then turning again after about 3 minutes — simple as that. Now, the sauce:

Buerre Blanc

  • IMG_99954 tablespoons white wine. The traditional wine used is Muscadet, which shares a home in the Loire Valley of France with this sauce. I used a semi-sweet Mount Bethel wine, and pretty much any wine that pairs well with fish will work here.
  • 4 tablespoons white vinegar, rice vinegar, or lemon juice. Depends on how tangy you like your sauce.
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots.
  • 14 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces. Keep it chilled until you are ready to use it!
  • Salt and pepper. Some folks like to get fancy and use white pepper, so do that if you want.

IMG_9987Put your wine, vinegar, and shallots into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cut the heat down to a simmer, and allow the liquid to reduce to approximately a teaspoon and a half of liquid. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in two pieces of the chilled butter, whisking so that the butter does not melt but rather emulsifies with the wine reduction. The tricky part of this sauce is the balancing act that takes place now: you must keep the sauce warm enough to slowly melt the butter, but not hot enough to cause the butter to separate — which will break the sauce. I place the sauce pan on a very low flame and swirl the butter in one piece at a time, raising the pan off the burner whenever the butter seems to be getting too frisky. The end result should be a light, airy sauce that coats food well. The tangy flavor and velvet mouthfeel of this buttery concoction are fantastic.

If you need to hold the sauce you can put your saucepan into a larger pan of warm water. The addition of herbs such as tarragon or dill to the reduction can take this sauce into entirely different (and wonderful) directions. Some people prefer to remove the shallots for a smoother sauce, but I like the stronger flavor that comes from keeping them in. Good luck, and happy cooking!

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Beer-braised chicken with fennel

IMG_9950 (640x427)Any of you who have kept up with this blog for awhile know that Jess and I love our beer. And while drinking the stuff is normally just fine with us, we also like to cook with beer. Brown ales and porters are some of our favorite cooking beers, and tonight’s dish uses Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale as the base for a braising liquid that it quite potent and savory. Sammy Smith’s might be a little bitter for some of you out there, so feel free to substitute any other brown ale, amber ale, or porter in this dish — pick something without a strong hops profile that you like to drink and you’re guaranteed a good dish. The addition of fennel to the mix adds a nice layer of complexity to the sauce, not to mention a tasty addition to the finished dish.

Beer-braised chicken with fennel

  • IMG_9955Four chicken thighs, skin on.
  • One bulb fennel, julienned.
  • One bottle brown ale.
  • One cup chicken stock.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • Two tablespoons cider vinegar.
  • Two tablespoons butter.

Salt and pepper the chicken thighs. In a deep skillet, brown the thighs on both sides until they’re nice and golden brown. Remove chicken to a platter. Deglaze your pan with the chicken stock, then add the beer and fennel. Add the chicken back to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and let the chicken work until it’s nice and tender. Remove chicken and add the vinegar, cooking the liquid until it has reduced by half. Adjust seasonings to taste, then swirl the butter into the finished sauce for a nice, glossy look and luscious taste. Serve with sweet potatoes or over wide egg noodles. Happy cooking!

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Reverse-seared Freckle Face pork chop

IMG_9631Some days, it feels like Hillcrest Artisan Meats invented pork. I know some of you out-of-town readers might not understand that, which means you need to get to Little Rock quickly and have lunch at the place so that all will become clear. Today was one of those days —  I stopped into H.A.M. to grab a pork loin sandwich (breaded pork loin, Dijon, aioli, LTO) which was, of course, fantastic. As I stood at the counter waiting on my order, I took a look in the fresh meat case to see what goodies might be found…and I saw some of the prettiest, thickest, most delicious looking pork chops ever to exist on this planet or any other. And like any good impulse shopper, I had Brandon wrap a couple up for supper later that night. Turns out that both the chops and the pork loin in my sandwich came from the same local grower, Freckle Face Farm in McRae. I’ve talked to Mitchell from Freckle Face a couple of times, and he’s one heck of a nice guy in addition to raising some of the best food around. Freckle Face is on a lot of menus here in Little Rock, and their meat is also available at several of our farmers markets, at fine establishments like H.A.M. and also online. Since these were thick chops, I used a method known as “reverse searing” on them, a method that turns the usual way of cooking meat on its head by starting in the oven and finishing in a hot skillet. It’s a fantastic way to get a thick piece of pork completely cooked while not drying it out.

IMG_9638To reverse sear your chop (or steak, but we eat our steaks so rare that a regular sear is enough), pre-heat your oven to 225. Salt your meat and allow it to come to room temperature. I know that bringing meat to room temperature seems like a gross violation of the Laws of Food Safety, but the salt is going to slow the growth of any nasties, it isn’t going to be nearly enough time to spoil — and room temperature meat cooks more evenly. Take your chops, pat them dry, and season with some fresh-cracked black pepper. You might be tempted to add some sort of bottled seasoning or some chili powder: stop yourself. These pigs are raised right. They have flavor. Don’t cover it up.

Put your chops in a cast iron skillet and let them cook in the oven for 30-45 minutes. The chops will be pretty much cooked through, but they should still be quite juicy. For you science folks out there, what we’re doing is allowing enzymes known as cathespins to break down the connective tissue in our meat, which will make it more tender. These enzymes don’t work above about 125 degrees, so low heat is vital. In addition, lower heat will cook without a lot of moisture evaporating, so our meat stays juicy — it’s a win/win.

Of course there’s another science term involved in good meat, and that’s the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction occurs when dry heat reacts with sugars and amino acids in meat to make that delicious caramelized crust that’s so good on steaks and chops. Cooking at low heat won’t give us this, so this is where the sear part comes into play. Remove your chops from the skillet and add a glug of olive oil (the more pungent, the better). Pat your chops dry, and when the oil is hot, sear them until they’re nice and brown. Let them rest for a few minutes and then serve. Savor the flavor of excellently raised free-range pork and don’t worry about anybody seeing you gnaw that bone. Happy cooking!

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