Monday, November 23, 2009

Apple "Kimchi", Soy-Simmered Burdock Root

The results of the burdock and apple experiments mentioned in the previous post: the burdock was good, the apple "kimchi" was fantastic.

The burdock I peeled, chopped, blanched, then simmered in a sweet soy mixture. It came out pretty much like the burdock (gobo) salad we get with our bento boxes at our favorite Japanese restaurant here,
Obento-Ya, which was good, that's what I was aiming for. It was nice alongside our soup noodles, or would be a tasty cold dish in a multi-dish Japanese or Chinese meal.

The apple "kimchi" didn't go as well with the soup noodles, but it had wonderfully complex flavors and textures that make me want to come up with other ways to use it. I keep putting "kimchi" in "quotation marks" here, because Korean kimchi is a thoroughly fermented product that generally keeps a long time, and this apple "kimchi" is lightly fermented if you let it sit a few days, not at all if you serve it the same day. Now I will drop the quotations, because you get my point.

As I mentioned last post, we took a brief trip to New York City a couple of weeks ago, and had lunch one day at chef David Chang's Momofuku Ssam Bar. It was great. There was a honeycrisp apple kimchi on the menu. We didn't order it. Instead we had the justly famous pork buns, a Sichuan beef tendon salad (authentically Sichuan flavors, NYC twist), and a "fucking dericious" (to steal one of Chang's signature phrases; sic) dish of deep-fried brussels sprouts with a fish sauce vinaigrette.

But the idea of apple kimchi intrigued me, obviously. Out at Bide-A-Wee that day, then, with nothing to guide me but the name, not wanting to try too hard, I tossed together this simple maceration of apples, piment, salt, maple syrup and apple syrup. The key elements, I think, are, well, all of them; as the ingredients are few, all are important. It's essential to use a firm, flavorful apple, and the piment d'espelette is distinctive, but the apple syrup was even more key in zapping up the tart appliness of the dish. To make it you just boil down fresh apple cider, proportions provided below.

I picked up the Momofuku cookbook the very day I made this, as it happens; turns out my apple kimchi is nothing like Chang's. His is a rather elaborate small plate that dresses fresh apple slices in puréed napa cabbage kimchi, and serves it with pork jowl bacon and a yogurt-maple sauce. Interesting that we both used maple syrup. Maybe I remembered it from the menu description--though I'd like to take credit for great minds thinking alike--but in reality I was just keeping it as local as possible, and I had maple syrup from our own trees, just over the hill from where I picked the apples. How fucking rocar-seasonar is that?

I found this NPR story that gives the recipe for the Momofuku dish at the bottom. Chang talks about how it came to be, noting that they tried to make straight-up fermented apple kimchi, but the results were not crisp enough. I didn't mind that some of the apple pieces broke down a bit in mine; most remained intact, and still had a nice crunch. Might not pass in the Big Apple. Good enough for Bide-A-Wee? You betcha.

I'm thinking my apple kimchi would go best with some kind of grilled pork, glazed with maple or hoisin. I'll get on it, and report back.

Bide-A-Wee Apple "Kimchi"

1 large firm apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 2" by 1/3" by 1/3" sticks, about 1 1/2 cups
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp piment d'espelette*
1 tsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp apple syrup**

Combine all. Let sit at room temp for several hours, or refrigerated up to three days before serving.

Piment d'espelette is a mildly hot, very aromatic ground red chili from the Basque region of southern France. It's available in gourmet shops or online. If you can't find it, use a couple of pinches ground red chili and a couple pinches sweet paprika.

** Apple syrup is reduced fresh apple cider. For enough apple syrup for this recipe, reduce a generous half-cup of cider to one tablespoon. If you do a larger quantity, refrigerate what's left. It will keep indefinitely. Use it in salad dressings or marinades.

Soy-Simmered Burdock Root

Burdock root, a large carrot's worth, peeled; about 1 1/2 cups chopped

Cut the burdock into roughly 1 1/2" by 1/3" by 1/3" batons. Place the burdock in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer 10 minutes. Drain.

1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 small fresh or dried red chili, seeded
1 scallion, chopped
1 cup water

Add all above to saucepan with burdock. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the burdock is tender but still a bit al dente. Remove the burdock with a slotted spoon into your serving dish. Reduce the remaining sauce until it starts to look a bit syrupy. Pour over burdock.

Before serving, add about one teaspoon of sesame oil, if you like.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Forage's End

It was another warm and gentle late fall day, November bringing us what we expected from October--a kind and lulling Indian Summer glow, but more somber, because the angle of the sun was that much lower, the woods that much grayer. I spent the morning gathering firewood, another kind of foraging.

I have discovered that gathering firewood may be the task for which I am best suited in life--it is among the most simply satisfying things I have ever done. I trudge up and down the hills with my trusty chainsaw, working at a measured pace. I'm not felling big trees, which is dangerous, especially with a couple of dogs running around, but harvesting down logs and branches, cutting the dead low limbs of oak trees. The odd small dead tree, shed of bark, not yet rotting, I will drop. A small oak like this, that lost the race to the sun to other trees, now fully air-cured, makes the best kind of firewood. I make a point of leaving larger dead trees standing, as homes for cavity-nesting birds.

I'll amass a cache of wood in a certain section of the woods, then gradually haul it back to the cabin in our little black metal cart or the black plastic ice fishing sled. I go from lumberjack to beast of burden. It is a full-body workout, and the steepest part of the journey is just before I reach the cabin, providing a test of will as well as strength--can I push on those last fifty feet, can I. Now I must dodge fallen apples, too, from the trees that overhang the path here, or take a very painful and discouraging spill.

I split the larger logs in the driveway at the cabin. I also bring back apple branches from last winter's pruning, now nicely dried, and reduce these to kindling. I gather these smaller sticks into faggots (not a word you hear often in a positive sense these days), ready to be popped into the woodstove (faggots for Haggis!) when we need fast heat.

As I watch my wood rack filling up with logs and kindling, my mind travels ahead to the next season: the cabin swaddled in snow, a well-laid fire in the woodstove springing into flame with one match, the cabin quickly warming, a savory pot set to simmer on top of the stove.

Our property comprises twenty acres but if you flattened it out we'd have forty. A few hours traversing of the hills, especially burdened with firewood, tuckers me out. My morning's work had left the woodrack much fuller than when I arrived; I felt I had done right by Bide-A-Wee, and earned a rest. But I found I still wanted to be outside and doing something, just working at a gentler pace. I remembered a big burdock plant that I had spied earlier in the summer, growing just beside the driveway. Burdock root is edible and pretty good when cooked properly. This plant had leaves as big a rhubarb leaves (the two plants are, in fact, related). I figured it would give up a decent root.

And so it did--a decent, but very odd, root. Burdock usually sends its long taproot pretty straight downward, often a couple of feet down. It takes some careful digging to extract intact. This plant was growing in particularly heavy clay, with impervious packed gravel not far below, and so compensated by multi-furcating, sending roots of different sizes off in different directions. I had to check the leaves, now frost-wilted, to be sure it was actually burdock.

Back at the cabin I cleaned up and peeled a portion of it, cut it up and set it to cook.

Then I went out to gather a few of the last apples still clinging to the trees, a sort of sentimental, ceremonial act to end the fruit season. I had no particular need for the eight or nine apples I snatched from the high bare branches with the apple picker. We have boxes of apples at home. The ground around the late-ripening trees is covered with fallen apples, but we leave those lie. The deer and grouse and probably any number of other woodland creatures nibble at them.

All summer long I had meant to make tea from blackberry leaves. In full procrastination mode, I let that activity slide until all but, let's see, eight leaves remained on the dark canes. We started with forty bazillion blackberry leaves; there should have been something special about the eight that remained.

I boiled some water and brewed up the leaves in the nifty new Japanese teapot--cast iron with an enamel interior--that I got for my birthday. The tea had a distinctive flavor--a little herby, more generally vegetal, a bit savory like nettles tea. It won't replace a good jasmine, sencha, or orange pekoe, for me. I suspect that it is reputed to be
good for you.

About this time I noticed a certain...lethargy, I'd call it, in my foraging. There was a quality of going through the motions, of doing this because the stuff was there, because I could. I recognized this not with annoyance, but simply with curiosity. I thought, well, that's an okay reason to do it. But I did have to wonder why I bothered with some dirty root from a noxious weed, when at home I still had lots of produce in the garden--leeks and carrots, beets, turnips and kale, fennel, chard, cabbage--as well as squash, celery root, potatoes and more from garden and market, stored in the garage.

It was just, as I say, curious. Maybe I just wanted to see what was under the ground.

Kicking through fallen apples and dried leaves, feeling a slight chill even in the bright sun, the calm air, I felt the sense of the season sink in, and then my mind traveled two ways--ahead to the winter that could descend any day now, lock in tight, white and cold until March; back to the abundant harvests and forages that had reached their peak just a few fleeting weeks ago. I thought of baskets of brilliant chanterelles, streams full of eager brook trout, the apple trees so laden the limbs drooped to the ground; I thought of the day I gathered a stunning still life of close to a dozen different wild fruits. This is not hyperbole in the service of nostalgia for a time long lost; this was the way it was, not long ago, at all.

Now, mealy haws, some shriveled grapes (yet now at their sweetest), these last apples.

I guess I was ready for the change, but missing already what was barely past. Held between the two as if trapped in amber the color of the late afternoon sun. I might still find a variety of wild foods before the snows come. Indeed, one December day a few years ago, hunting in the snow, I happened upon a hen of the woods mushroom, frozen but otherwise fresh-looking. I took it home (this "hen" the only "fowl" in my game pocket that day), thawed it, enjoyed that big 'shroom over several meals. I could find butternuts, black walnuts, nannyberries. I might dig another burdock root before the ground freezes hard, or go looking for jerusalem artichokes. I might not. I know it's coming to an end, coming to a change. I'm good with that.

I simmered the burdock with in soy sauce, rice wine, and maple syrup, with a little chili and chopped leek. I made an apple "kimchi" based on an idea from David Chang's Momofuku Ssam Bar restaurant in New York (we had lunch there on a recent trip). We're going to have those dishes tonight alongside soup noodles. I'll pass along the recipes if they're any good.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Monday, November 16, 2009

Shaved Carrot Salad, Sambal Dressing

Extremely simple, equally delicious. Make it with local, after-the-frost organic carrots. If you don't have frost where you live, well, I'm sorry for you. (I'm sorry for you now; you be sorry for me come January....) We've had it twice in three nights. It's going to have a regular spot in the winter salad rotation, I think. The addition of tangy, hot sambal oelek chili paste distinguishes it from the typical carrot slaw.

We went West with it the first time, serving it along with a plate of cheeses and patés with fresh bread for an easy baking-night dinner. We went East in the Sunday night meal pictured--potstickers (guo tie) and boiled dumplings (shui jiao). A Torres Sangre de Toro washed it down nicely the first night; a Martin Codax Albarino stood up remarkably well to the spicy salad and hot-sweet-sour dumpling sauce the second night. The first night I used black pepper, the second night ground, roasted Sichuan pepper (hua jiao).

I'm giving a range for the sweet and hot elements; you take it from there. The sambal gives a really appealing, savory sort of heat. It builds to a mild burn, fades before causing pain--I mean, depending upon how much you use. In the range given here, it will be mildly piquant on the low end, noticeably warm on the other.

Using a vegetable peeler to reduce the carrot to shavings or chips gave an interesting texture to the salad. But if you're lazy you could grate the carrot or slice it thin with a mandoline.

Shaved Carrot Salad with Sambal Dressing
serves 2

1 large organic carrot
1 very small shallot (the size of a very large garlic clove)
2 good pinches salt
1 Tbsp canola or grapeseed oil
1 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 tsp sambal oelek chili paste
1/2 to 1 tsp honey
ground black or Sichuan pepper

Peel the carrot, then use the vegetable peeler to whittle the carrot away into chips--into a bowl, of course, not onto the porch floor. Slice the shallot as thinly as you can into translucent rings. Toss it all together, and let sit at room temp for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve as a salad in a western meal, or as part of a multi-course Chinese meal (or as veg complement to dumpling dinner!). Zhen hao chi.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Two Birds at Bide-A-Wee (Part Two: Pan-Roasted Grouse in Cider Cream Sauce)

Annabel, our senior griff', is eleven years old now, and though she has slowed down quite a bit, and gets up a little gimpy from her frequent naps--a touch of arthritis, most likely--she can still find and point grouse. She sort of moseys through the woods now, not looking particularly intent on anything, but when her nose detects the scent of a bird, everything changes. Very few pointing dogs actually assume the "classic" pointing pose, front leg lifted and cocked. In fact, when one of my dogs stops on a hunt with her foot in the air like that, I pretty much know it's not a serious point.

Instead, they will stop with all four feet planted, stop as soon as they catch the scent of a bird, and turn their heads toward the scent. Then it's my job to find them, frequently in thick cover (an electronic beeper collar helps here), figure out exactly where the bird is, maneuver to gain the best angle for a shot, walk in to put the bird up, and knock it down with my 20-gauge side-by-side shotgun.

Matters do not often unfold in exactly that fashion for me. I miss my share of birds, or they flush wild or fly low through the brush or disappear behind trees. Then Annabel will break her point and run in crazy circles, barking in excitement, or frustration, it's hard to tell which. This is by no means "classic" bird dog behavior, either. In fact, even if I do manage to hit the bird, she still runs around barking at the sound of the gun, and she is of almost no use in helping me find the down bird. Lily is much better. Every bird I've shot with her in the field, she has been right on it. She doesn't retrieve, but that's fine by me. Having a bird in a dog's mouth for any amount of time does nothing to improve the quality of the meat.

On a rare warm day in October, I went out with just Annabel to hunt a smallish state hunting ground near Bide-A-Wee. We started late morning with the temperature climbing toward 60. We hadn't gone far into a stand of young aspen before my moseying dog stopped at the edge of a clump of dogwood within the aspen, and as I approached her a grouse flushed and escaped low behind thick cover. As I watched it go without firing a shot, a second bird got up and disappeared into a grove of white pine before I could locate it.

That was encouraging, and as we worked our way through that patch of aspen we located a couple more grouse as well as two or three woodcock. I think I missed on one of each, and had no shot at the others.

As we left the aspen stand and started up a little knob of a hill covered in dogwood, small oaks, prickly ash and assorted scrappy cover, Annabel stopped--again at a juncture of aspen and dogwood. I moved around to her right, to try to get the bird between us, and just as I crossed an opening in the trees, the grouse flushed. I hadn't expected the bird to be that close to my pointing dog, but the opening in the trees gave me a perfect shot. I turned to my left as I raised the gun, and brought the bird down with the first shot.

Annabel began running around, barking.

I had shot the bird at quite close range, and thought I had seen where it fell, but these animals are extremely well camouflaged. It took me a couple of minutes to find the bird. Annabel was no help whatsoever, but I certainly would never have shot that bird without her point. When I found the bird I called her over, and we engaged in a sort of dog-and-hunter high fives. "Whatta you know, we got one," I said. "Good girl, good dog." But she was off already to look for more.

It was nearly noon then, and getting hot for hunting, so we called it quits shortly after. In just an hour we had moved at least eight ruffed grouse and four or five woodcock.

I gutted the bird as soon as we got back to the cabin, and plucked it a day or two later back in Saint Paul, let it air dry in the fridge, and took it back out to Bide-A-Wee to cook for dinner the following weekend. I had thought I might grill it, then finish it in a cider and cream sauce, but October had returned to its chill, wet, blustery ways, that sun-washed morning in the woods a distant dream, so we fired up the Haggis and got out the cast iron.

First, I want everyone to appreciate the superb job I did plucking that bird. I know that anyone who has ever tried to pluck a grouse will be impressed by how clean that bird is, how intact is the skin. The skin of a grouse is delicate, and often torn by shot or dog tooth. It's no mean feat to wind up with a bird that nice. It's a tedious process, but it's worth it to me, and then, I'm not usually burdened with dozens of grouse to pluck in a season. A lot of hunters don't bother with plucking. They'll usually skin the bird, a quick and simple process. Others will "breast out" their birds in the woods, leaving behind everything but the boneless breast meat. This is both illegal, for a variety of reasons, and a terrible waste of excellent meat and bones--the carcasses of grouse produce a spectacular stock, and there's a decent amount of meat on the legs, too.

In preparation for cooking, the well-plucked bird is cut in half, seasoned with salt and pepper, smeared with butter. It's a very lean meat which benefits from a little added richness. It also benefits from bacon, but then, what doesn't? I rendered off a couple of tablespoons of lardons from our home-smoked bacon, and in that fat I browned an apple, cored and cut into eighths, not peeled.

Some sliced red cabbage and onions, sautéed, then simmered with a bit of water and cider, cooked on the Coleman stove. A handful of fingerling potatoes I grew at Bide-A-Wee were boiled separately and kept warm on the side of the wood stove.

Then I browned the grouse. Threw in some chopped leeks.

Added a cup of chicken stock, a half cup each of Cedar Summit cream and our own apple cider, a few sprigs of thyme (we can reach out the window and snip it from our potted herb garden on the south side of the cabin!). I finished cooking the grouse in the slowly reducing sauce--it was barely bubbling--for ten or fifteen minutes. Towards the end I put in the precooked potatoes to warm up.

And we served it forth. A well-cooked grouse is among the most exquisite things you can eat. This bird, well, I'd say it produced some of the finest meat I have ever tasted, lean but moist and tender, with a flavor both pronounced and subtle (but I'm not going to say it tasted wild...).

Just a really fine thing to eat, and a celebration of the land and the season. That said, there's no reason you couldn't do the same thing with cornish hens, or chicken.

Thanks, Annabel.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw