Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Braised Sausage

New cookbooks on home cooking by Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal will soon hit bookstore shelves in the United States. These offerings promise to rank as the most exciting cookbooks of the year. However, I predict that these books from the internationally renowned chefs of elBulli and The Fat Duck will get a run for their money from an outstanding new cookbook by a former Bar Tartine line cook and a UC Berkeley doctoral student. Together, for only four Thursday nights, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz operated a pop-up food stand out of a rented Guatemalan snack cart on San Francisco’s Mission Street. Mission Street Food [2011] chronicles this experience and its happy aftermath. Wonderfully heartfelt and idiosyncratic, Mission Street Food easily makes my shortlist of the best cookbooks of 2011. Do yourself a favor and buy this book.

Mission Street Food does not lend itself to easy categorization. It bills itself as “Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant”, but it is much more than that. Myint and Leibowitz tell the story of how a brief street food/fine dining experiment served as the catalyst for a series of successful, unique and exciting San Francisco restaurants. The book contains three main sections: The Taco Truck, The Restaurant, and The Food. Each section employs a range of styles: traditional prose, two-person dialog and comic book/graphic novel illustrations. The book’s quirky design reflects the playful quality of Myint’s delicious food and the married couple’s restaurant projects. In the section titled “The Food”—the book’s longest—Myint and Leibowitz share the recipes and cooking techniques that underpin their book.

Why do I like Mission Street Food so much? The book both delights and educates. (I particularly enjoyed reading Myint's expert advice on how to portion a rib roast and salt, temper and cook the meat.) Mission Street Food perfectly captures the current zeitgeist among a creative community of young, talented and generous San Francisco cooks. I applaud Myint and Leibowitz for building a philanthropic component into each of their projects. (Slow Food USA gets a portion of the proceeds from the book’s sales.) At the cookbook’s outset the couple present a tongue-in-cheek business plan for Mission Street Food. Under the heading “Unprofitable Agenda” they write: “If The Restaurant earns any profit, The Management will distribute it to unrelated nonprofit organizations.”

But in the end, what is the test of a good book, cookbook or otherwise? For me, reading it brings me insight and joy. After arriving home with my copy of Mission Street Food I spent the next couple of hours reading it through cover-to-cover. I cannot remember the last time I’ve done that with a standard-issue cookbook.

The first recipe that I tried from the book remains my favorite, a simple recipe for Braised Sausage. Myint writes: “Braised sausage is a luxurious and uncomplicated dish, but is surprisingly uncommon on the West Coast.” A perfect dish for an informal gathering, you can even set it up in a slow cooker. Here’s Myint’s recipe (and asides) from Mission Street Food.

  • 8 uncooked sausages of any kind (I prefer a neutral variety, like Bratwurst)
  • 3 onions, sliced thin
  • 1 cup stock, cider, or water
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 2 cups sauerkraut, drained over a colander (optional)

1. Brown the sausage in a pan with some animal fat or oil.

2. Place the browned sausage in a deep ovenproof pan or in a slow-cooker pot.

3. Brown the onions briefly, then add them to the pan with the browned sausages.

4. Optional: heat sauerkraut in a pan, and add on top of the onions and sausages.

5. Add a combination of stock/wine/cider/water/beer to just cover the contents.

6. Cover with a layer of parchment and two layers of foil.

7. Braise at 300°F for a few hours, until the sausage is extremely soft.

And how good are these sausages? They taste rich and satisfying. I served them to my father-in-law who grew up on the shores of Lake LaBelle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He knows a thing or two about bratwurst and these braised sausage suitably impressed him.

I suggest adding the sauerkraut; I wouldn’t make it any other way. I used beer as my liquid and braised the sausages for 3 hours.

Normally I buy my bratwurst from Usinger’s in Milwaukee; they are the best I’ve tasted in the United States. However, for this recipe I tried a locally made bratwurst from Taylor’s Sausage in Oakland, California; they tasted delicious. If you plan to go to Taylor’s, call ahead because bratwurst is not a regular offering in their meat case. If available, buy them and also pick up a few of Taylor’s boudin blanc sausages for another meal. You won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice

Worldwide shipping and high-tech storage technology permit a yearlong availability of formerly seasonal fruits and vegetables. Even so, certain dishes demand a flavor that only produce that is truly in season provides. Otherwise, you risk a bland imitation of a flavorful dish. We all have a list of favorite seasonal fare. My summer collection includes a deceptively humble offering: tomatoes stuffed with rice.
Tomatoes came late this year in my corner of the US, so it is not too late to share one of my favorite summer dishes. If you tend a garden, you might already have ripe tomatoes and fresh basil and parsley at hand. (If gardenless, visit your farmer’s market or any good market for local produce.) A well-stocked pantry often holds the dish’s other ingredients (Italian risotto rice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper). These common ingredients come together with great produce to create something both simple and sublime.
Countless variations of stuffed tomatoes exist in Spanish, French, Italian and other Mediterranean cooking traditions. I clipped the following Italian version from Saveur over ten years ago and it continues to impress me.
  • 8 firm, ripe medium tomatoes
  • ½ cup Italian risotto rice (preferably Vialone Nano)
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Position oven rack in top third of oven, then preheat oven to 400° F. Pull stems off tomato tops, then trim about ¾” from bottom of each one and set aside. Working over a medium bowl, use a small spoon to carefully scoop out inner pulp without puncturing the walls of the tomatoes. Arrange scooped-out tomatoes in a medium baking dish, and set aside.
2. Pass tomato pulp through a food mill or pulse in the bowl of a food processor to a chunky purée, then transfer back into bowl. Add rice, parsley, basil, garlic, and oil; liberally season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Spoon filing into prepared tomatoes (there may be a little filling left over), and place a reserved tomato end on top of each stuffed tomato. Drizzle a little oil over tomatoes, and bake until rice is swollen and tender and tomatoes are soft and well browned, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Ayumi Horie

A few notes and thoughts. Do not forgo this dish if you do not have or cannot find Vialone Nano rice—Arborio or Carnaroli rice will also work. Why use Vialone Nano? It cooks more quickly than most risotto rice and retains its characteristically round, short shape.

I must admit that I can take or leave the garlic here. I often leave it out and substitute a shallot or a bit of red onion.

I fill the uncooked tomatoes with the rice mixture until each is about three-quarters full; I then skim liquid from the rice mixture to top off each tomato. This extra liquid helps the rice to properly cook.

This dish, although simple and comforting, can hold its own at either a family meal or a more considered party. Serving these baked tomatoes at room temperature makes this a particularly convenient dish when entertaining. After preparing, let them rest on the counter until serving. This allows you to spend more time with family, guests and those with whom you choose to Bunbury.