Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cooking with Herbs

[Here's another article that I have migrated from]

Here are some recipes and notes from a demonstration of cooking with herbs at Blandy Farm, the State Arboretum of Virginia, on Sunday October 10, 2004, a gorgeous fall day in a most beautiful location in Clarke County. Thank you to the volunteers at Blandy for all their help. I had a wonderful time and the audience was super, asking questions, tasting dishes, and tasting the herbs.

When I was asked to do this demonstration, I knew that on one hand, it would not be difficult for me to find dishes to do because cooking with fresh herbs is one of the key differences between restaurant and home cooking. But, on the other hand, it would be terribly difficult to pick just a few dishes to do, because most of our dishes involve fresh herbs. I tried to pick dishes that span a wide spectrum of cuisines and techniques.

I also need to preface this article by saying that these recipes are just guidelines, written after the demonstration. Those of you present know that I measured absolutely nothing. Here then are the dishes.

Veal Medallions with Prosciutto and Sage
Grilled Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin
Lemon-Dill Risotto
Thai Fried Rice with Roasted Pork
Corvina in Warm Vinaigrette aux Fines Herbes
Apples with Thyme and Honey

Veal Medallions with Prosciutto and Sage

I don’t really expect that you have access to good veal. If you do, good for you. If you don’t, use pork tenderloin, turkey, or chicken medallions. Also, you may not be able to make your own demiglace or have access to commercial demiglace. For a substitute, use a bit of any meat broth.

8 ounces veal tenderloin
Wondra or plain flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper
4-5 leaves of sage, finely sliced
2 slices prosciutto
2 teaspoons veal demiglace
splash of water

Slice the veal into medallions. Heat a sauté pan over high heat and film with vegetable oil. Dredge the veal in Wondra and shake off the excess. Place in the pan and cook for a minute. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add the sage and prosciutto. Turn the medallions and after 30 seconds, add the demiglace, stirring to melt. If the sauce is not liquid enough, add a splash of water. Remove the meat to hot plates and pour the sauce over.

If using meat broth rather than demiglace, after the medallions have cooked, remove them from the pan and keep warm. Continue reducing your sauce over high heat until it is a thick as you want it.

Grilled Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin

Although I cut the pork tenderloin into medallions and then marinated them at the demo, that was because I didn’t have a grill. This recipe was designed for grilling whole marinated pork tenderloins.

This is one of those freeform recipes in that it really doesn’t matter what herbs you use in the marinade. At the restaurant, we use whatever we happen to have on hand. Whatever mix we make, it is generally half parsley. We use assertive herbs such as rosemary and sage sparingly. There can never be enough garlic. We avoid licorice tasting herbs such as tarragon and chervil. I don’t think cilantro has any place in this recipe; you may disagree.

The mix I made at the demonstration consisted of parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, and chives.

1 or more pork tenderloins
1 cup assorted minced fresh herbs per tenderloin
black pepper
garlic, minced, one head per tenderloin
extra virgin olive oil

Mince the herbs and garlic. Add them along with black pepper and enough olive oil to form a fluid paste to a seal top plastic bag. Remove the silverskin from the tenderloins. Place the tenderloins in the bag and massage the herb paste all around them. Place in the refrigerator overnight or longer.

Grill on medium high heat, turning the tenderloin twice (they have essentially three sides), until done. Do not overcook. Medium to medium well is a good stopping point.

Lemon-Dill Risotto

This is a wonderfully subtle risotto that I use as a base for seafood, especially our house specialty caramelized scallops. Risotti are very easy to make, provided that you start with the correct Italian shortgrained rice. We use Arborio at the restaurant, but Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are just as good.

The canonical recipe for risotto is half a diced onion, 2 cups of rice, 1 cup of white wine, and 6 cups or more of other liquid. From here, it is merely theme and variation.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups warm water (or vegetable broth or seafood stock or chicken stock)
1 pinch saffron
2 tablespoons chopped dill
zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons grated cheese (Romano, Parmigiano, or any other grana)
2 tablespoons butter

Heat a pan over medium heat and add the oil and the onion. Cook the onion until it turns translucent, then add the rice, stir it to coat with the oil, and cook until the edges of the rice become translucent.

Add the wine and let it all but evaporate. Add enough liquid to barely cover the rice and adjust the flame so that the rice is barely boiling. Add the saffron. As the liquid is absorbed into the rice, add more liquid by the ladleful until the rice is cooked to your liking. Stir frequently to keep from sticking. We stop cooking the rice when the center is just cooked through, about 20 minutes or so.

When the rice is just done, stir in the dill, lemon zest, cheese, and butter. If the rice is not a fluid consistency, add a bit more liquid. Stir very well to incorporate all the ingredients. Taste for salt after adding the cheese, which has a lot of salt. Serve immediately.

Thai Fried Rice with Roasted Pork

Here’s a dish that shows off some non-Western European herbs that are very simple to grow at home: cilantro and Thai basil. No two batches are the same because this is another clean out the refrigerator dish.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon essential fried rice paste
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup each of various ingredients (diced carrots, green onions, cherry tomatoes, roasted pork, etc.)
3 cups cold long-grained rice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and then add the oil. Then add the paste and black pepper. Stir well and cook for a minute or so. Then add any raw ingredients that you want to cook (such as carrots). When they are cooked, add the rice and any ingredients that just need to be warmed. Stir well. Add fish sauce to taste. When done, stir in the fresh herbs off the heat and serve immediately.

The white and black pepper kick in a surprising amount of heat. Should you want more, make some nam prik, sliced Thai bird chiles in fish sauce, to spoon over according to your tolerance for heat.

Essential Fried Rice Paste. Many Thai dishes start with a paste fried in oil and this dish is no different. The pastes are made in large granite mortars with heavy pestles. I use one at home. At the restaurant, we use the huge Vita-Prep which will liquefy anything in seconds. At your house, do your best with what you’ve got, although a household blender or food processor isn’t going to do a great job.

1 bunch cilantro, preferably with roots
1 bunch Thai basil
3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 T white peppercorns (or 1 T ground white pepper)

Remove the stems and roots from the cilantro and Thai basil and roughly chop. Reserve the leaves (for the fried rice recipe above, for example). Pound all the ingredients to a paste in a mortar, or do the best that you can with a blender (in which case, start with ground pepper). If you need to add liquid to get the blender to work, add vegetable oil.

Corvina with Warm Vinaigrette aux Fines Herbes

I love to make fish this way: sautéed and finished with a vinaigrette. I actually came up with this idea during the middle of another demo. But, there’s nothing original in the cooking universe. A quick search of the Internet shows that this has been done time and time again by countless chefs. Here’s my take.

Corvina is a lovely small-flaked sweet white fish in the drum family, the same family that includes grouper and croaker. Customers seem to prefer corvine to grouper. Substitute any white or non-oily fish that you like. I would stay away from salmon and char, however.

Fines Herbes is a classic French combination, traditionally of four herbs. Years ago, I used to be certain what the correct four herbs were; however, the older I get, the more things tend to gray, not only my hair. Each chef has a preferred combination of fines herbes. Herbs that are more or less traditional are parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon, and perhaps dill. My combination is parsley, chervil, chives, and dill, in equal proportion.

1 tablespoon vinegar (rice, white wine, sherry)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (pure olive, soy, canola, grapeseed)
2 tablespoons minced fines herbes
2-4 fish fillets

Mix your vinaigrette by whisking the vinegar, oil, herbs, and salt to taste. Sauté the fish fillets until they are done. Pour over the vinaigrette and cook for 30-45 seconds. Serve immediately.

Apples with Thyme and Honey

I just wanted to show that apples respond well to savory seasonings. Think about all those German and Alsatian dishes of apples with caraway and/or juniper berries. Thyme is probably my favorite herb and would always be number one on the list of the five herbs I could take with me to a desert isle. I’m not going to give quantities here—they really don’t matter.

Key here is the quality of the apples. I used Blushing Goldens because they are one of the finest cooking and eating apples that I know. Look for a crisp apple with good flavor and excellent acidity. Hint: go to a farmer’s market. You are not going to find such an apple at the supermarket.

When we cannot get wild local honey (winter), we use honey from Virginia Honey in Berryville. Remember to shop locally.

apples, in slices
fresh thyme

Melt the butter in a sauté pan and brown the apple slices. Add fresh thyme, salt, and honey to taste.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog is such a treasure trove of the inspirational, yet practical. Thanks so much for this gift of repeatable culinary creations.

    Happy New Year and best wishes for continued success in 2009.