Tortilla Española, a Spanish omelette, dedicated to my long time friend, John. John is a childhood friend of mine, born and reared in Saint Paul, and now living with his lovely wife, Nancy, just outside of New York City. He’s always been a fixer of sorts, as he has an unmatched talent for sniffing out the very best food in the most unlikely of places. Want to know the best shop in NYC with hand pulled noodle soup? It sure as hell isn’t in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Want the best cappuccino you’ll taste stateside? John will take you shady unmarked storefront where the stodgy old patrons do business in Italian over coffee and cigarettes. That’s right, cigarettes…indoors…in NYC, of all places….Mafia. You’ll keep your eyes on the floor and feel like your walking on eggs. But damn, that cappuccino is spot on. If there’s anything you want, he’ll take you there long before the E-Gullet bloggers or Chowhounds have a chance to ruin it.
Every conversation we’ve had for the past 12 years has always included a discussion of what the other is cooking. His newest fascination has been Tortilla Española, the everyday utility potato and onion omelette found on every table in Spain. Tortilla recipes vary from region to region, from thin and dense tortillas to tall and fluffy ones. John’s recipe is based on one that he learned from a chef on his most recent trip to Spain, and is on the thicker side of things. I thought I’d try my own take on this recipe. And, true to my male tendencies, I thought I’d try to make it even bigger…and better – because they go hand in hand, right?
My first few versions of this tortilla were pretty thoughtless, borne out of needing a quick and easy way to make breakfast for a group of friends on a recent cooking weekend. Fry sliced potatoes, caramelize onions, add eggs, finish like a frittata. Done. For this latest version, I took a hint from my recent gnocchi making obsession and ran my potatoes through a food mill. The bottom of the tortilla was set on the stove top, the body was risen like a soufflé, and the top was browned under the broiler. The result? A thick and lighter-than-air tortilla that melts into eggy and carby goodness. It’s instant gratification for anyone with a penchant for savory things, a straight shot to the pleasure center of your brain, and a belly rub for your inner fat kid. I probably won’t be making this again anytime soon, as this was a pain in the ass to make. This was the most complicated way to make (what should be) the most simple of dishes. Well, maybe the next time John’s in town…
A simple apple tart, made from the first of this season’s SweeTango apples from Hoch Orchards in La Crescent, MN. If you haven’t had a SweeTango apple, they’re worth seeking out. They’re a cross breed of Honeycrisp and Zestar apples, and they very well might be the perfect apple. If you’re living in the MSP, don’t bother with the apples found at Kowalski’s – they’re waxed and polished to hell, and they taste tannic. Find the SweeTango apples from Hoch Orchard, which are sold at most Co-ops.
Wedding photography season is in full effect, so I’m rarely in the kitchen these days. I was pretty damn excited to get a call from Chad, the sous chef and charcutier at Heartland, and hear that that the wild boar proscuitti that he and I started over a year ago were ready for tasting.
Up next, the mangalitsa proscuitti that have been two years in the making. Be still my heart…
A good friend of mine in NYC recently emailed me with the subject line “Adobo Dreaming”. In the body of the email, he included Sam Sifton’s recent article in the New York Times about adobo. This spawned a small adobo craze among food intelligentsia including a nod from Michael Ruhlman, the current “it” author bridging the gap between chef and congregation. I’m all too excited and curious about this, since filipino adobo is something I grew up with on Saturday afternoons, its bold and tangy flavors served next to a pile of hot steamed white rice – and, if was lucky, a couple steamed blue crabs.
Here’s a quick 101 in adobo for those of you who are new to this dish: Everybody’s mom cooks adobo differently, and everybody’s mom’s adobo is the best. This is a title worth defending and ending friendships over. ”Your mom fries it in hoisin? Wtf?” or, dangerously “So, what you’re saying is your mom’s too goddamn lazy to fry it?” While adobo recipes are worth holding grudges over, the taste alone will bring grown men to tears thinking of mom. Undoubtedly the great filipino boxer turned world champion, Manny Pacquiao, could be brought to tears over his mothers adobo. But if he compared it to my mother’s adobo, damn right I’m taking a swing at Manny.
Despite these disagreements about how adobo should be made, all recipes start with these limiting reagents: chicken or pork or a combination of the two, vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaf. All of these ingredients are marinated overnight, and what happens from there is open for debate. Some will simmer the meat in the marinade and call it done. Some will simmer it and fry it like a reverse braise. My mom would use a combination of chicken, pork, and livers, and marinade them in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper, and bay. She’d simmer everything together until the meat was cooked through, then separate the meat from the marinade. The marinade would be reduced into a thick sauce while the meat was seared off in a screamingly hot wok.
Now, I’m an exception to the rules of engagement in the adobo wars. I have a second loyalty when it comes to adobo recipes, and that loyalty is to the recipe we’ve created for family meal at Heartland. We’re somewhat limited on ingredients for our marinade, since soy sauce and other asian pantry items aren’t locally produced. We’ll usually start by searing off the toughest sinew laden pieces of “trim” that we have on hand (this IS the good stuff if you know how to handle it) and braise it in white vinegar, garlic, ginger, chiles, brown sugar, and molasses (to approximate soy sauce). For those of us working the day prep shift, we’ll usually start it around 11am and it’ll be ready by 4pm family meal. The flavor is much more bold, spicy, sweet and more complex than traditional adobo, which can sometimes be a little flat and two dimensional. For those of us who are used to sampling big flavors at work all day, this over-the-top version of adobo is as tasty as it gets. It’s what we like to cook for ourselves when we’re not cooking for the restaurant.
As it seems that the point of adobo is to create your own version, I thought I’d make a hybrid “best-of” adobo that combines the sublime flavors of staff meal adobo without limiting myself to provenance specific ingredients. Here’s what I came up with…
2lb chicken wings, split and marinated in…
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2T fresh ginger, minced
2T total (when ground) black pepper, coriander, allspice
3 bay leaves
2 whole Thai chiles, chopped
1/2c coconut milk
1T dark shrimp paste
2T palm sugar
2:1 cane vinegar to soy sauce, enough to cover the meat.
Marinade overnight, covered in the refrigerator. Transfer everything to a deep saute pan and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, but not falling off the bone. Separate the chicken from the marinade and spread the chicken out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 450 degree oven until the wings are sizzling and crisp on the edges. Meanwhile, reduce your marinade over high heat until it’s thick and syrupy. Check it for seasoning and adjust it as needed. Transfer the wings to a large bowl and pour some of the sauce on top. Toss and flip the wings with the sauce to coat them evenly. Serve on a large plate and garnish the adobo wings with some thinly sliced spring onions.
You might notice that I replaced the usual frying step with baking the wings in a hot oven. I have a couple reasons for this. First, I like the way the dry heat crisps up the skin of the chicken. Second, Type II Diabetes runs rampant in filipinos born in PI and living in the US for the simple reason that filipino food is simply not healthy. So, this is a wake up call to all of my aging Titos and Titas to find ways to cook a little healthier without sacrificing flavor.
Give this recipe a try. If something in my ingredient list sounds unappealing to you, go ahead and leave it out. Add something that sounds good to you. It’s adobo, after all. Just don’t tell me that yours is better than mine.
Summer dies and swells rise, the sun goes down in my eyes… -Third Eye Blind ”Motorcycle Drive By”
When things go quiet… It’s hard to imagine putting a lot of effort into cooking at home when you’re cooking only for yourself. I now see how easy it can be to thoughtlessly backslide into eating nothing but an old tin of almonds or a wedge of cheese for dinner. I ate like this for the better part of the last couple weeks, but soon enough it got to me. How could I get around this when I’ve spent so much time improving my everyday eating habits? Worse yet, what would I write about? And what fun is photographing Mr. Peanut?
Make the problem the solution, right? Keyword: thoughtlessly.
Braising is thoughtless, especially when you have the ingredients on hand. To make a long story short, braising is a two step cooking process where you sear your food over high heat then add a variable amount of liquid and allow it to finish cooking over low heat. Generally speaking, the longer you can braise something over low heat (without burning it) the better it gets. Braising is the best way to use cuts of meat that, by any other cooking method, would be tough or unpalatable. In this case I seared off some spareribs in a heavy dutch oven and deglazed with an aging half bottle of Three Buck Chuck. I added a few spices and some orange zest, threw the lid on and popped it in the oven at 275deg for five hours…the perfect amount of time to take a motorcycle ride along the river road then come home to brood over Radiohead and Low records. And by the time you get through the last track on “The Great Destroyer” your home will smell like a hunting lodge. Whip up a quick batch of champ (crushed potatoes with cream and green onions), take a quick picture aaaaaaand…you’re done. And really, you’ve only put in 15 minutes of actual cooking. The rest is thoughtless…