February 22nd, 2014

Gastrique Mystique

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Gastrique.

What is it?

Over the past several months, I have come across the French term on menus and recipe sites. I knew that it meant a kind of sauce, but in my years of cooking, I’d never made a gastrique. A little research dispelled some of the mystique: It is a reduction of sugar, vinegar, and a defining ingredient: be it herb, fruit or vegetable, wine, juice, or even hot sauce. You could call it sweet-and-sour, a la Francaise.

That sweet-sour sauce is more akin to a syrup. It can take on any ingredient; give it a boost. And it does so, with little effort. Sugar paired with your choice of vinegar, caramelized and slow-simmered with whatever ingredient you wish to showcase, becomes an intense tangy glaze.

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Our Third Thursday Community Potluck became the happy beneficiary of my gastrique experiments. Since my co-host Gigi (who doesn’t eat fish) couldn’t attend (a first in almost 5 years!) I decided to feature steelhead. (“When it comes to food, I just don’t like the ocean,” she says.)

Steelhead trout is not salmon, although it is in the same family. Steelhead is Rainbow trout that migrates to the sea, returning to spawn in fresh water. Unlike salmon, it survives spawning. But its appearance and taste are very similar, hence steelhead is gaining in popularity. Recipes for it and salmon are interchangeable.

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Before I roast the fillets, which cook quickly in a hot oven, I like to begin introducing flavor in the form of oil and spiced salt. When you brush the (cleaned and dried) fish with good olive oil and dust it with this savory mixture, you are in effect laying down the first layer of flavor.

This spiced salt rub consists of 5 ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry. You’ll combine S+P with paprika, and 2 kinds of seeds (yellow mustard and coriander) that you’ve freshly ground together.

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In this fashion, you can season the fish hours before you cook it, if you like. The olive oil ready absorbs into the fillet, a sealant in a sense that also holds the spice rub in place. Refrigerate until a half hour before you want to roast it.

Meanwhile, you can make the gastriques.

I chose to make two: one with Sriracha hot sauce and one with white wine. Each has only three ingredients, but what amazing taste!

The hot sauce gastrique packed plenty of fire, that was amplified and yet tempered by the sugar and vinegar.

The white wine gastrique was almost like honey.

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After the gastriques cooled, I poured them into squeeze bottles. You can really control how much and where, with a deft squirt and squiggle.

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Roasted simply with the spiced salt mixture, the steelhead was very good, without question. But the intriguing overlays that the vigorous striping of gastriques brought to fish elevated it to something extraordinary–imbuing unexpected pops of sweet heat and pungency. Even served at room temperature at potluck, the dish was devoured with gusto by our group.

A new world of cooking possibilities afforded by these infused syrups! I’ve scarcely scratched the surface. I love considering gastriques using different vinegars, like sherry or red wine, married with figs, or blackberries, or even tomatoes.

In my research, I found this luscious sounding recipe for Gorgonzola stuffed Chicken Breasts with Strawberry Gastrique on Cooking Light’s website. It is still winter, but this week, there have been hints of coming spring. And, in Tennessee, that means strawberry season is soon to follow.

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ROASTED STEELHEAD TROUT WITH SPICED SALT RUB, AND TWO GASTRIQUES
3 pounds boned steelhead trout fillets (or salmon)
3 tablespoons olive oil
spiced salt rub (recipe below)
Sriracha gastrique (recipe below)
white wine gastrique (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse off the fish fillets and pat dry. Lay onto a baking sheet, skin side down. Brush the tops liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with spiced salt mixture.

Roast the fillets for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let them sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Place on a bed of sauteed spinach greens. Stripe the fillets with both gastriques and serve.
Serves 10-12

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SPICED SALT RUB
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds

Place salt, black pepper, and paprika into a small bowl.
Place yellow mustard seeds and coriander seeds into mortar, and coarsely grind them together.
Add the ground mustard and coriander seeds to the salt mixture and blend well.

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SRIRACHA GASTRIQUE
1/2 cup Sriracha (or other choice of hot sauce, such as Louisiana Hot, or Tabasco)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar

Place the three ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved into the mixture.
Bring to a simmer, (uncovered) stirring occasionally. Simmer until the mixture reduces by half—this could take 20 minutes.
The gastrique will deepen in color, and acquire a glazy sheen. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

WHITE WINE GASTRIQUE
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine

Place the three ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved into the mixture.
Bring to a simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture reduces by half—-this could take 20 minutes.
The gastrique will become syrupy, with a glazy sheen. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

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Posted in Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Sauces | 21 Comments »




June 18th, 2013

Some of Dad’s Favorites

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Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream

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Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice

Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.

That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.

First I decide on his chocolatey treat, before formulating the rest of the menu. Sometimes I make mousse; sometimes, pots de cremes. Last year, I made chocolate sorbet.

This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.

For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.

My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.

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Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.

The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.

While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.

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Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).

I’ve had this recipe, courtesy of Cooking Light, bookmarked for quite some time, and earlier this year, my friend Faith over at An Edible Mosaic made a variation on the theme with chicken.

I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.

The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.

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To round out the plate:

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I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.

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We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.

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MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks

Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.

Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.

Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.

Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.

Serves 4

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BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped

1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.

Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.

Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.

Makes 6 individual ramekins.

*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.

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Who wants to lick the spoon?

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables | 24 Comments »