Biryani, the storied Indian dish of fragrant layered rice, spices, and (usually) meat, if made well, is one of my favorite things. A good biryani is richly aromatic; indeed, a magnificently flowery aroma is an essential part of the dish. Biryanis are made throughout India, and preparation differs depending on the region. Some biryanis are made with coconut, some with ghee, yogurt, or buttermilk; spices may include cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, or mace, among many others. The intoxicating aroma usually comes from saffron, sometimes with a touch of rosewater or kewra (pandan syrup). The word biryani is said to be of Persian origin, a corruption of the word beriyan, which in Farsi means to fry before cooking, or birinj, which means rice. Biryanis are thought to have been brought to India by the Mughals in the 16th century, although some culinary historians believe the dish pre-dated the empire. Regardless of origin, the dish has proliferated—in Hyderabad alone, there are said to be over forty distinct versions.
As luck would have it, the very first vegetarian main I trialed for Thanksgiving was such a winner that I did not need to attempt others. This aubergine and lentil pie hits all the right notes: it is hearty and savory without being heavy, and it’s a touch exotic yet wholesome enough to complement a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It is also beautiful and can be cooked the day before you intend to serve it without losing any flavor or texture upon reheating. (I even thought the flavor improved after a day.) It is exactly what I was looking for – something special, festive, and autumnal for the vegetarians at the table. This pie is adapted from a recipe in Dan Lepard’s excellent home baking book, Short and Sweet. I have changed the spicing of the pie’s filling from Lepard’s original, but he deserves credit for the inspiration, the proportions, and the marvelous crust. Continue reading
Strictly speaking, the edible part of sea urchin – uni, as it’s called in Japanese – isn’t roe at all. It is the animal’s gonads, and will eventually turn into sperm (milt) or roe, depending on the animal’s sex. Uni is a delicacy, and an acquired taste. It is intensely briny, with a heady, floral, loamy aftertaste. In Japan, it’s served most commonly as nigiri sushi, on rice, and it is classified according to quality, based upon its color, flavor, and firmness. Uni is best eaten fresh, i.e., from an animal that you have just killed yourself, however you can also buy uni cleaned, packaged, and ready to eat. This dish – al dente linguine, served in a rich sauce made with fresh raw uni emulsified with melted butter and lemon – is a coastal Italian classic, and, cleaning of the sea urchin aside, it is quick and remarkably easy to prepare. It tastes like nothing you have ever eaten before in your life. Continue reading
This week I have been grappling with the Great Crustacean Controversy. Specifically, do the crabs, lobsters, and other crustaceans we eat feel pain, and if so, what is the most humane way to kill them? Or, as David Foster Wallace famously phrased it (far more articulately and precisely than I ever could), “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” At a more ignorant time of my life, I blithely tossed live lobsters into pots of boiling water, clapped the lid on, and equally blithely devoured them. Lobsters don’t scream when you cook them – that much is myth – but recent studies suggest that crustaceans do in fact feel pain, or at least they exhibit behaviors consistent with the avoidance of remembered pain, strongly supporting an inference that they experience pain. It thus is most humane to kill them before cooking them. But how? Maybe some of you remember the lobster scene from Mostly Martha, the 2001 film about a German chef who discovers her softer side thanks to her niece and an Italian sous chef. She sobs over the abstract suffering of the lobster, which in most circumstances is denied the mercy of a swift death. Even Gordon Ramsay kills his lobsters before cooking them. Continue reading
It’s good to have people in your life who push you out of your comfort zone. My lovely friend Nicola pushes me way past my comfortable depth (in positive ways), and leads by example. Thanks to Nicola, in early May, I found myself in a car with four people driving to a smallish unpretty town about an hour south of London, where, along with three other friends, we would cook overnight in the British Barbecue Society’s Grassroots Shake and Sauce competition. Continue reading
I do not fully understand the synergistic relationship between shellfish and pork products, but I do not question it. Clams are delicious with smoky bacon, and at Spanish restaurant Pizarro, I ate seared scallops, each of which was topped with a translucent sliver of Iberico pork lardo – pure cured fat – which softened and clung lasciviously to the scallop. It was seriously one of the most pervy things I have ever put in my mouth. Guanciale is unsmoked cured pork jowl. The fat in guanciale, of which guanciale is mostly comprised, is more delicate and tender than belly fat. Guanciale is the key ingredient in classic Carbonara sauces (until you have tried Carbonara with guanciale, you have not truly experienced Carbonara) and it is a remarkably fortuitous item to have in your fridge when you’re casting about for a new way to prepare mussels. Continue reading
I love summer food; love the shift from stovetop to grill and outdoor eating, the fresh vegetables, and the salads, berries, and summer fruit. But with the advent of warm weather, I have to set aside BRAISING, which is my favorite way to prepare meat. Braising, in which (usually) meat is (usually) first browned and then cooked slow and low in liquid, is the best way to cook cheap cuts of meat (unless you plan to barbecue them – more about barbecue and a fabulous weekend competing with friends at the British Barbecue Society’s Grassroots Shake and Sauce – and winning the prize for Best Newcomers! – in another post). But in hot weather, the thought of turning your kitchen into a sauna courtesy of a six-hour braise is only slightly less appealing than the thought of eating the stew that results. Moroccans, however, have mastered the hot-weather braise. I’m speaking, of course, of the tagine. Continue reading
Almost exactly a year ago, I ate at El Suadero, the Monday night Mexican pop-up at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle, which is where I had the unforgettable eponymous milk-braised veal brisket that inspired this dish. Sometime after I returned to London, I set about finding boneless rolled veal brisket, which is what I decided that I needed to recreate it. Starting from the premise that I would only buy free-raised veal, I bought two rolled veal briskets from the lovely people at the Wild Beef Company, which sometimes trades at the Borough Market, and excitedly told my father what I planned to make. My father, who is not a religious man but can have a cruel streak, intoned ominously, “Thou shalt not seethe the calf in its mother’s milk.” Continue reading
When we were all a little younger than we are now (i.e., college-aged), it seemed that everyone fell into two camps on the subject of New Year’s resolutions. We were ardent believers, list-makers, inquisitive interrogators (“what are your New Year’s resolutions?”). Or we were hardened cynics. New Year’s resolution haters. I have to confess I fell more into the first category. I was extremely anxious if I hadn’t identified my New Year’s resolutions by Christmas, and I took them very seriously. The problem is: the day after one of the most dedicated partying nights of the year is not the best time for personal fortitude. Nor was it possible (for me, anyway) to rectify personality defects by sheer force of will. By mid-February, if I made it that far, like almost everyone else I invariably had broken my resolutions.
Now that we are older and the gloss of our idealistic zeal has been tarnished by years of hard living, the best that most of us can manage is a dry January. That is why I propose that we take a leaf from the book of that lofty body the United Nations, and adopt the more gentle practice of making non-binding New Year’s resolutions. The high-minded sentiment is there, without the guilt. Continue reading
I had all sorts of grand plans for this to be the year that I posted wonderful holiday-themed recipes and tips in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, between work, illness, and an oven that was broken until yesterday, I just haven’t gotten around to making my holiday dishes. Instead, as usual, I will be making edible holiday gifts on Christmas eve, cursing myself for being a procrastinator, and probably blogging whatever works sometime next week. Thus today, instead of nutmeg and allspice scented fantasies, boozy dark chocolate and eggnog, I bring you … jellyfish. Continue reading