Olive-Brined Chicken Thighs

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My girlfriend recently told me about her tried-and-true recipe for fried chicken, which begins with marinating chicken in pickle juice. I have been so intrigued by that and curious about the flavor the juice imparts. She’s promised me to make it when I visit next time, and I can’t wait.

I started thinking about pickle juice when I was perusing my jarred items in my refrigerator the other day (doesn’t everyone do that?!!) and I saw a jar of brine saved from olives. I do this for my son-in-law, who is the dirty martini drinker of the family.

My mind went from olive juice to chicken, as in, marinate chicken in the brine, and then follow my friend’s second step which is to marinate with buttermilk.

I have 3 friends who swear by marinating chicken in buttermilk, and it’s a popular Samin Nosrat recipe as well. There’s something about the acid in the buttermilk that tenderizes the chicken, whether you’re planning on frying or roasting or whatever.

So, this is what happened with my olive brine and buttermilk experiment.

Olive Brine, and Buttermilk Marinated Chicken Thighs

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 2 1/2 pounds total
Salt and pepper
12 ounces olive brine
12 ounces buttermilk
Garlic pepper
Olive oil


Place the thighs in a baking dish or ziploc bag. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the olive brine and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Remove from the brine and pat dry on paper towels. Place in another baking dish or ziploc bag, and fill with buttermilk. Refrigerate for another 24 hours.

Remove the chicken thighs to paper towels to drain.


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F while the thighs warm up a bit.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a baking dish that will comfortably fit the thighs. Season them with garlic pepper. Right before baking, drizzle some olive oil over the chicken thighs.

Bake until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees F. This took my oven approximately 25 minutes. If you want more browning, use the broiler for a few minutes.


Remove the baking dish from the oven, and place the chicken on a serving platter. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic pepper, if desired.


I made some carrot and pea fritters to pair with the chicken, mostly for some color and texture.

I mixed together 75% crème fraiche and 25% Kewpie mayonnaise for a creamy condiment. A little Sriracha was tempting, but I decided to keep everything mild in order to highlight the chicken.

Have you ever tried Remoulade in a tube? It is excellent.

No condiment is really necessary. I just like condiments.

The chicken was super moist, and tasted just like olives. It doesn’t look like much, but wow.

I didn’t realize the olive brine would impart so much flavor!

The marinated chicken could have also been grilled.

I’m certainly convinced about what buttermilk does for chicken as a marinade. But I also like olive brine’s part in this chicken. Next time? Pickle juice!

Ligurian Focaccia

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I surprised myself when I ordered Samin Nosrat’s cookbook soon after I heard about it. I usually take the wait-and-watch approach, like I did with Ottolenghi. That worked out well for me! I missed out on a few years of fabulous recipes. Maybe I’ve learned my lesson?

No, most likely it was because I happened upon Salt Fat Acid Heat the show on Netflix, that endeared me to Ms. Nosrat so much that I just had to have her book. I’d also like her as a friend, cause she gives great hugs and says “wow” a lot!

The title of this cookbook, which is the 1918 James Beard award winner, among others, is all about using four elements in order to create great food. “Salt, which enhances flavor; Fat, which delivers flavor and generates texture; Acid, which balances flavor; and Heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food.”

Her introduction begins, “Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious.”

When you buy this cookbook, if you haven’t already, read the introduction. It tells the story of how she became an employee of Alice Waters, working at the famous Chez Panisse, after saving money for months in order to dine there. And the rest is history.

In this post, I’m making focaccia the Ligurian way, which Ms. Nosrat learned herself in the first episode of Salt Fat Acid Heat. Oh, and she speaks fluent Italian.

In the episode, she visited olive orchards in Liguria, watched an olive harvest, the pressing of the olives, followed by an olive oil tasting.

Then she met with a focaccia expert, Diego, who walked her through the traditional recipe. This recipe isn’t in the cookbook, but it intrigued me because of a surprise step at the end.

Ideally you’d need some Ligurian olive oil, but I had to substitute what I had opened presently, which is Cortina, from Puglia, Italy.

Ligurian Focaccia
Adapted from Diego with the help of Josey Baker
printable recipe below

For the dough:
2½ cups (600 grams) lukewarm water
½ teaspoon active dry yeast
2½ teaspoons (15 grams) honey
5 1/3 cups (800 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (18 grams) Diamond Crystal Kosher salt or 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
¼ cup (50 grams) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan and finishing
Flaky salt for finishing

For the brine:
1½ teaspoons (5 grams) Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
⅓ cup (80 grams) lukewarm water

In a medium bowl, stir together water, yeast, and honey to dissolve. In a very large bowl, whisk flour and salt together to combine and then add yeast mixture and olive oil.


Stir with a rubber spatula until just incorporated, then scrape the sides of the bowl clean and cover with plastic wrap. Leave out at room temperature to ferment for 12 to 14 hours until at least doubled in volume.

Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons oil evenly onto a 18-by-13 inch (46-by-33 cm) rimmed baking sheet. When dough is ready, use a spatula or your hand to release it from the sides of the bowl and fold it onto itself gently, then pour out onto pan.

Pour an additional 2 tablespoons of olive oil over dough and gently spread across. Gently stretch the dough to the edge of the sheet by placing your hands underneath and pulling outward.

The dough will shrink a bit, so repeat stretching once or twice over the course of 30 minutes to ensure dough remains stretched. Dimple the dough by pressing the pads of your first three fingers in at an angle. Make the brine by stirring together salt and water until salt is dissolved.

Pour the brine over the dough to fill dimples. Proof focaccia for 45 minutes until the dough is light and bubbly.

Thirty minutes into this final proof, adjust rack to center position and preheat oven to 450°F (235°C). If you have a baking stone, place it on rack. Otherwise, invert another sturdy baking sheet and place on rack. Allow to preheat with the oven until very hot, before proceeding with baking.


Sprinkle focaccia with flaky salt. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes directly on top of stone or inverted pan until bottom crust is crisp and golden brown when checked with a metal spatula. To finish browning top crust, place focaccia on upper rack and bake for 5 to 7 minutes more.

Remove from oven and brush or douse with 2 to 3 tablespoons oil over the whole surface (don’t worry if the olive pools in pockets, it will absorb as it sits). Let cool for 5 minutes, then release focaccia from pan with metal spatula and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

To store, wrap in parchment and then keep in an airtight bag or container to preserve texture. Gently toast or reheat any leftover focaccia before serving. Alternatively, wrap tightly to freeze, then defrost and reheat before serving.

This focaccia? Outstanding. It’s like none other I’ve eaten or made myself. It has a crunchy crust, and a soft interior. I was so excited to try the brine, but concerned about the total salt. Not an issue.

And all of the olive oil on this focaccia? It’s just meant to be! I even dip a quick olive oil dip for it. Without balsamic, cause my husband….


I truly can’t get over how good this is. You’ll have to try it…

 

 

Curried Pumpkin White Bean Soup

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My first introduction to pumpkin was probably like every other American’s – pumpkin pie. I had no idea that this lovely pie was made with a vegetable! The horror! I was married and just learning how to cook when I figured this out.

Pumpkin, the squash, does not taste like pumpkin pie. It’s kind of plain, really, but with some sweetness. But boy does it lend itself to all things sweet and savory.

When my kids were little, I snuck canned pumpkin into just about everything, from oatmeal and pancakes to soups, stews, and pastas. To me, the pumpkin just increased the nutrition of whatever I was making, and the girls never minded the color. Puréed spinach is a different story!

The only way to get canned pumpkin in the “old” days, was in cans. Nowadays, I purchase puréed organic pumpkin in cans or aseptic cartons. I learned a long time ago not to buy inferior brands of pumpkin. They are tasteless and watery.

If you want to be a purist, grab a cooking pumpkin, chop it in half, remove the seeds. If desired, drizzle the flesh with a little olive oil and season (if you’re using the pumpkin for something savory.) Cover the halves securely with foil, then bake in a 350 degree oven for 2 hours.

After the pumpkin has cooled, remove the flesh and place it on paper towels or a clean dish towel to remove the water. This step takes a couple of hours. If you want to expedite this, place a heavy baking dish over the paper towel-wrapped pumpkin flesh. This isn’t as critical of a step if you’re using the pumpkin purée for a soup.

Baking a pumpkin from scratch is an important thing to do once. It’s fun. Afterwards, you figure out it’s much easier to buy good puréed pumpkin! Plus, you know the weight of the pumpkin in the can, if you’re using a recipe.

You might have noticed this post published the day after America’s Thanksgiving event. That is because pumpkin to me is something that can be used year around. It isn’t just for autumnal dishes.

Curried Pumpkin White Bean Soup
serves 4
printable recipe below

2 tablespoons butter or ghee
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1” piece of fresh ginger, sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled, halved
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 – 15 ounce can pumpkin purée
1 – 15.8 ounce can Great Northern beans, well drained
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 – 1/3 cup heavy cream, or other options, below

Heat butter in a stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes; a little browning is okay.

Add the ginger and garlic and sauté gently for about 2 minutes.

Pour in the chicken broth, let boil, then reduce the liquid by about half.

Add the pumpkin and beans and stir well. Add the seasoning and taste. Let cool before adding to the blender.

Now you’ve got curried pumpkin and white beans and you have options.

1. For a less creamy soup, use broth to blend the pumpkin and beans to your desired consistency. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche.

2. Use heavy cream to blend the pumpkin and beans for a super creamy and rich soup, and serve with cilantro and cayenne pepper flakes.

3. Use either of the above liquids, and top your soup with bacon bits or slices of grilled sausage. And the curry powder ingredients are optional, of course.

Because I’m a sucker for rich soups, I opted for number 2, using heavy cream. You can use 1/2 and 1/2, evaporated milk, or even goat milk. They will all work.

Stop blending when the soup is as thin as you want it; I prefer thicker soups, especially during cold months.

If you haven’t used white beans in a soup before, they’re a miracle worker. They thicken, just like potatoes, but they also add a creaminess and healthy fiber, without adding any significant flavor. It would be like adding tofu for creaminess, fiber, and thickness, which also works well.

Once you use white beans for a soup, you’ll be hooked. I promise.

 

 

Pickled Shrimp

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Would you ever think to name a restaurant based on your childhood nickname? Well Gabrielle “Prune” Hamilton did exactly that. She is chef-owner of Prune, the restaurant, which has been successful since its opening in 1999. The cookbook, Prune, was published in 2014.

I enjoyed reading the recipes in Prune; they all seem unique in some way. But one recipe that grabbed my attention, was pickled shrimp. This was definitely a new one for me.

When I serve a shrimp appetizer, I typically serve it marinated in a garlic-infused olive oil, an oil blended with herbs, or both!

Ms. Hamilton’s recipe has you cooking the raw shrimp in a spice and herb boil, followed by a 24-hour pickling. I just had to make it.

Pickled shrimp
Printable recipe below

2 pounds shrimp in shell

Boil
10 bay leaves
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 cup kosher salt
6 branches fresh thyme
1 unpeeled head of garlic
8 cups cold water

Pickle
1 cup paper-thin sliced lemons
1 cup paper-thin sliced red onion
1 cup thin-slivered garlic
1 cup inner celery leaves
3 tablespoons celery seeds
3 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
12 fresh bay leaves
3 cups extra virgin olive oil
3 cups rice wine vinegar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt, Pepper

Peel the shrimp, devein, and leave the tails on. Oops, I forgot to leave the tails on.

Combine the boil ingredients in a large stockpot with cold water and bring to a boil.

Add the shrimp and cook for just a minute or two until the flesh turns pink. You can pull one out and test if it’s finished before you pull out the whole batch.

Remove the shrimp with a spider. Ice down the shrimp to get them to stop cooking, but don’t let them soak in the melted ice after they are cooled or you will waterlog them and undo all that nice seasoning.

Combine all the pickle ingredients, rub the fresh bay leaves between your hands to open them up a bit, toss with the cooled shrimp, and marinate for 24 hours in the refrigerator. (I only had dried bay leaves.)

Let recover to almost room temperature before serving. To plate, place 4-5 shrimp and a little of all of the goodies, in a neat jumble, in a small, shallow bowl.

Note: The shrimp will continue to “cook” in the pickle marinade, so take care in the initial blanch to keep them rare; we don’t want to end up with mealy, over cooked shrimp after the pickling.



These shrimp were so good that you can almost see the number of shrimp dwindling as I photographed them!

These shrimp require some time and also a lot of good ingredients, so I recommend making 6-8 pounds of pickled shrimp. Then it’s definitely worth the effort and expense.

Gabrielle’s first book, Blood, Bones, and Butter, was published before her cookbook, in 2012.

It’s an award-winning memoir – the story of Gabrielle’s upbringing, her entrée into the culinary profession, and her reluctance to embrace her hard-earned skills and success in the kitchen. I could not put the book down once I started reading.

 

 

The Briner

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My sister-in-law and I share a serious love of cooking, so her gifts are always spot on. For my birthday she sent me something really unique, called “The Briner.” It’s a large, plastic container designed for brining meat.

As you can see in the below right photo, there is an inside “lid” that holds meat down inside the container and keeps it submerged in the brine. It’s ingenious!

To quote from The Briner website, this patented product “resolves the #1 challenge to successful brining – floating food! Simple design, easy to use, easy to clean, works great.”

Previously, I’d used my largest, deepest pot for brining, and had to stack heavy plates on top of the meat in order to keep it from floating, especially the few times I brined a whole turkey or chicken.

Not being an expert briner, I looked to Paul from That Other Cooking Blog, who is obviously a proponent of brining. I’ve followed Paul for years now; his blog is also a great resource for sous vide cooking. Plus, his professional photography is featured in a cookbook entitled, “The Essential Sous Vide,” published in 2016.

Isn’t that one gorgeous photo on the cover??!!

So I asked Paul some basic brining questions. In a nutshell, here’s what he said.

“Everything is brinable.”

Paul said a lot more than that – he’s quite generous with his knowledge, but that’s the gist of what he said. And I guess, why not?!!

He also brines and then uses his sous vide. That almost hurt my brain to think of how exceptional protein could turn out with everything going for it!

And again, why not?!! So I decided to brine with The Briner, and sous vide a pork loin chunk.

Those of you who don’t own a sous vide machine, I highly recommend you look into one.

This is the model I own. (above) It’s half the size as the commercial sous vide, less expensive, and perfect for a small family.

To me, it’s an essential appliance, especially for tough cuts – brisket, flank and hanger steaks – and easy-to-overcook cuts, like pork and chicken.

Here’s what I did for the brine.

1 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
8 cups water
1 1/2 pound pork loin
2 oranges, quartered
1 onion, quartered
A few smashed garlic cloves
Rosemary
Thyme
Sage
Bay leaves
Star Anise
Cloves
Some crushed juniper berries

Using a large pot, combine the salt and sugar with the water and heat until dissolved. Set aside the pot to let the mixture cool.

Place the pork loin in The Briner, or a large pot. Pour cooled brine over the top.

Add the remaining ingredients, squeezing the orange pieces a bit into the brine.

If the meat is not covered by the brine, add some more cold water.

Then add the lids to The Briner, place in a cool place like a cold garage or refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours.

After brining, rinse the pork, and dry off well.

Vacuum seal the loin and keep chilled until the sous vide is ready. You can season the pork, add more herbs, and even add butter to the pork before sealing, but I did not.


Preheat the sous vide to 135 degrees. The pork will be done after 12 hours. Plan according to whether you will be removing the pork and immediately browning it and serving it, or if you plan to refrigerate it overnight first.

Here’s what it looks like after the sous vide process.

Brown the pork in a little oil, seasoned with a good garlic pepper or seasoning of your choice. You can brown the whole chunk of loin, but I decided to slice it into serving pieces first.

Honesly, the pork is ready to eat after the sous vide’ing, but most people are put off by pink pork!

I served the pork with a creamed spinach.


Then I tasted the pork. Oh my.

I tasted the brine ingredients!

I could taste the onion and orange, specifically. The depth of flavor was tremendous.

And, of course, the pork was super tender from the sous vide process.

So young Paul was right. Why not take advantage of all the tools and tricks we have to create the best food possible!

Pickled Salmon

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I adore salmon, in just about every way. Hot smoked, cold smoked, raw, grilled – you name it. And I’ve always wanted to make my own gravlax. But then I came across this recipe for pickled salmon recently, and I knew I had to make it first.

It’s from one of my favorite series of cookbooks that I still refer to – the Foods of the World series by Time Life. This recipe is from American Cooking: The Northwest. Sorry for the blurriness.

IMG_5614

Now, this recipe can’t replace gravlax, which is cured salmon. This recipe is pickled salmon, so I’m still promising myself to still make gravlax soon.

I’m typing up the recipe as it is in the recipe book, and I did pretty much follow the recipe. However, instead of a large side of salmon, I used a smaller, frozen filet (thawed first) that was barely over a pound, and crudely adjusted the other ingredients accordingly. I mean, what’s 2 bay leaves divided by 5?

This salmon is super easy to make, and can be enjoyed within one week when it’s stored in the refrigerator, which it must be. I served mine with crackers, quite simply. If you love anything that’s pickled, you’ll love this pickled salmon!

Pickled Salmon
To serve 12 as a first course

2 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 small onions, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rings
2 medium-sized bay leaves, crumbled
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 pounds fresh salmon, boned, skinned and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon salt

Combine the vinegar, water, olive oil, onions, bay leaves, mustard seeds, cloves, and white and black peppercorns in a 2-3 quart enameled saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer partially covered for 45 minutes.
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Meanwhile, spread the salmon pieces in one layer on a strip of wax paper. Sprinkle the fish evenly with the salt and let it rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
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Then drop the salmon into a colander and run cold water over it to rinse off the excess salt.
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Pat the fish dry with paper towels and pack the pieces tightly into a glass jar.


Pour the hot vinegar-and-spice mixture over the salmon, a little at a time, allowing the liquid to seep down slowly to the bottom of the jar before adding more.
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Cool to room temperature, tightly cover with foil or plastic wrap, and refrigerate the salmon for at least 24 hours before serving. Tightly covered, it can be safely kept in the refrigerator for about a week.

Before serving, I poured off the liquid. I didn’t want the salmon to be watery.

I added a little marscapone to the crackers before topping them with the salmon, and it was really nice. The marscapone toned down the vinegary flavor, but the salmon was good.

note: I kept the salmon in one piece to do the salting part, rinsed it and dried it, and then sliced it up. Way easier. I also decided to include a few of the pickled onion rings along with the salmon.

Szechuan Peppered Steak

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I first learned about Szechuan peppercorns and Szechuan pepper salt from the Chinese Cooking cookbook of the Time Life Foods of the World Series. The pepper salt was made as a “dip” for Szechuan duck. Now, I like pepper and salt, which are the ingredients in Szechuan Pepper Salt, but dipping meat into this mixture might even be a bit too much for me.

But the pepper salt is unique and very versatile in cooking, so I decided it was time I made it again.

Szechuan peppercorns aren’t really peppercorns, but they’re called that because of their resemblance to peppercorns. That’s just an assumption on my part. They’re sort of crinkly brownish-black peppercorn-looking balls the size of peppercorns, which have a very aromatic smell to them that I can’t quite categorize. There’s a sweetness, a smokiness, an earthiness…..

So here is the recipe for the pepper salt.

Szechuan Pepper Salt

5 tablespoons coarse salt
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns*
1 teaspoon black peppercorns**

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Place the three ingredients in a large skillet and toast everything over moderate heat until the peppercorns just begin to smoke. You will love the smell of these peppercorns – they smell like aromatic smoke from a campfire that you’re smelling while sitting outside in the Alps with hot toddies. Seriously.

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Remove the skillet from the heat, but continue stirring until the mixture is cooled down.

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Place the mixture in some kind of spice blender and grind until finely ground and smooth.

pep2

Using a sieve, strain the mixture. This will catch the skins of the peppercorns and other miscellaneous bits and pieces.

pep1

Place the pepper salt in a jar and seal. Mine always kept indefinitely.

pep

To test out the peppersalt, try using it for steaks. I coated both sides of two filets with the peppersalt and brought the steaks to room temperature.

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Brown the steaks in hot oil of choice until they are brown on both sides, and continue cooking until rare or medium rare. My steaks were only about 1″ thick, so I didn’t need to use my oven for this result.

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Let the steaks rest, as usual, and then serve. I also sprinkled a little more pepper salt on the cooked steaks. You could also sprinkle pepper salt on grilled veggies instead of the steaks! But I wouldn’t recommend it on everything on your plate because it’s a bit strong.

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verdict: Oh, I have missed you peppersalt!!!

* The original recipe calls for only 1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns, but I prefer this ratio. Otherwise everything ends up too salty.

** The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns, but I upped mine to a whole teaspoon. Only do that if you like pepper. But the flavors of the real peppercorns and the faux ones are dynamite!!!