Salt Cured Egg Yolks

There’s no telling how long people have been preserving eggs. As one of natures most amazing sources of energy and great taste, there’s always been great interest in having them available whenever desired. Whether by brine, smoke, or chemistry, there are a bunch of ways to do it. And it’s a natural progression to go from preserving the whole egg to just focusing on the yolk, since that’s where all the really good stuff is – and if you’re going to do that, there’s nothing easier or more effective that a simple salt cure.

Egg yolks are a nutritional powerhouse. All the fat and roughly half the protein an egg possesses is in there, along with a very long list of other things – carbohydrates, amino acids, vital trace nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and yeah, a healthy shot of cholesterol, but that’s had a bad rap for far too long. Donald K. Layman, Professor Emeritus of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Illinois has gone so far as to say that, “cutting dietary cholesterol is almost irrelevant when it comes to promoting healthy blood cholesterol levels and heart health.” While that’s not an endorsement to go off and start an all Twinkie diet, it does get eggs and a bunch of other formerly vilified foods off the hook.

Century Egg - Seriously acquired taste
Century Egg – Seriously acquired taste

There are a raft of preserved egg and yolk examples out there. The Chinese alone have been doing this for hundreds of years, exemplified by the so called Century Egg, which appeared in Hunan province during the Ming Dynasty. This, like rotten shark, is an acquired taste to say the least – They make durian seem tame – and yes, I’ve tried one, and I won’t do it again. To be fair, it’s the smell more than the taste that’s severely off-putting – think of a multi-feline cat box unchanged for weeks, and you get close.

Smoked eggs are sublime
Smoked eggs are sublime

Smoked eggs are as they sound, done either with cold or hot smoke. They too are sublime – The smoke, and as such choice of wood used, adds a lovely depth and complexity to the egg – It exemplifies egg versatility to a surprising degree.

Salt cured whole eggs
Salt cured whole eggs

Then there’s the brined or salt cured whole egg, which is an entirely different experience – good ones are lovely, like a really good egg with over the top concentrated richness and umami. The star of course, is the yolk.

This whole exercise begs the question – why would I want to do it? Well, you either love egg yolk or you don’t – If you don’t, go out and play – if you do, read on. Egg yolk has a savory, smooth taste absolutely brimming with umami, and they’re pretty, to boot. If we can create a version of that which intensifies the umami, and makes them instantly usable whenever the whim hits, it’s worth doing.

There’s also the transformational consideration – Great food is all about taking something common and doing uncommon things with them – When the whole process is stunningly simple, it’s that much sexier in the end run – And salt cured egg yolks are very sexy indeed. What you end up with is something that you can and will grate, with a gloriously bright yellow color. Preserved yolk tastes like buttery cheese – rich but not cloying – with a high level of umami added to whatever floats your boat – And it will, believe me – On pasta, pizza, salads, veggies, you name it, a little grating of this is stunningly good.

On to the process. It is a very simple thing, albeit there are a couple of versions, and we’ll cover both herein. As with all things simple in cooking, the first and most critical consideration is ingredient quality. If ever there’s a time to buy the freshest, most local eggs you can, this would be it. Since we’re merely concentrating that which already exists, mediocre will certainly breed mediocre. What you want is a stellar egg, one with a lovely orangish-yellow yolk, as fresh as you can get. Ditto for salt – you don’t need fancy, but you do want pure – high quality, coarse kosher or sea salt, with absolutely nothing else in it, is the key. Once you’ve got these together, do the deed the same day – It doesn’t take long, and that way you’re assured of taking full advantage of fresh stuff.

Set yolks in the salt cure
Set yolks in the salt cure

As for specific methodology, as mentioned, there are two primary schools – One uses just salt for the cure with passive secondary drying, while the other employs a salt and sugar cure coupled with mechanical drying in an oven or dehydrator. Both work fine, so it comes down to your predilection, and how fast you want to get done. Again, it’s so simple, it’s highly worth trying a batch of each and making your own comparison. From there, you can tweak whatever you like best to make it yours. Here’s the drill.

In both methods, the first step is the cure. You need a bunch of salt for this, depending on how many yolks you plan to do. Again, it’s super easy to do, so start with maybe four yolks, try out the results, then try the other method, pick your fave. To process a dozen yolks, you’ll need a pound of coarse kosher or sea salt. If you use the sugar/salt cure, it’s a 50%-50% blend of each – Use regular old cane sugar for that – Nothing fine or fancy needed. That’s the only difference in the cures.

Once you’ve chosen your cure, get an appropriately sized container big enough to hold how ever many yolks you want to process, as well as a bunch of cure. I like food storage containers with a snap fit lid for this – It’s gonna go in the fridge for a week, so it’s nice to have something that’ll stand up to daily use and exploration. Word to the wise, if you’ve got a bunch of folks in your house, tell them what you’re doing and point out the container – that can go a long way toward not having your stuff tossed or played with.

Pour an even layer of cure about 1/2″ thick into the container, then form a series of evenly spaced divots to receive how ever many yolks you’re gonna cure.

Have a second airtight container ready for your egg whites. Carefully separate yolks from whites, (You can and should freeze the whites for a future endeavor.) Slide a yolk into each little depression in the cure.

Now carefully cover the yolks with a nice, even layer of cure – Here again, you want about 1/2″ or so of cure over the tops of the yolks.

Seal up the container and slide it into the fridge, and leave it alone for a week.

Once your week is up, pull the yolks. Fill a small bowl with warm water, and have a clean piece of cheese cloth handy.

Cured
Cured

Take each yolk out of the cure, and brush excess cure off. Dip the cheese cloth into the water and use that to gently clean as much cure off of the yolks as you can – At this stage, they’re still a little tacky, which is just fine – Don’t freak out if the cleaning process is taking a bit of yolk with it, but again, be gentle.

Now comes the division between finishing steps.

If you’re going the passive route, then all you need is some more clean cheese cloth. Wrap each yolk in a hunk of that and tie it off with kitchen twine.

After that, hang it from a shelf in your fridge so that each yolk has good air flow all around it. Leave them there for at least a week, and two is better. When that’s done, you’re done, and you can go to town with them.

If you prefer the faster mechanical method, then you’ll set your oven or an adjustable dehydrator to 200° F. Put the yolks on a silicone pad or parchment if you’re using the oven, onto a rack if you’re going dehydrator. Let the yolks dry for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temp before refrigerating.

Grated salt cured egg yolk
Grated salt cured egg yolk

Either way you choose, the yolks, refrigerated in a non-reactive, airtight container will last at least a month, (but they won’t, ’cause you’ll scarf ’em down.)

Salt cured egg yolk on house made pizza - Si!
Salt cured egg yolk on house made pizza – Si!

Now, back there a ways I mentioned that you can tweak things, and you can – herbs and spices in the cure are par for the course, so have some fun, use your imagination, and let me know what you come up with, yeah?

So You Think You Know Ketchup?

So, you think you know ketchup, huh? Recently, we posted on Salsa, as well as the most popular derivative thereof, Sriracha, and noted therein that both those condiments actually outsell ketchup in the U.S., which might surprise some of y’all. Yet the ubiquity of American fast food concepts has done much to spread the red stuff worldwide, which then begs the question – How popular is ketchup worldwide? The answer is very.

Ketchup, it's everywhere, and growing by leaps and bounds
Ketchup, it’s everywhere, and growing by leaps and bounds

Global market research by respected industry watchers pegged ketchup as a $4.15 billion dollar commodity in 2015. With an expected annual growth rate of 3.8%, sales of ketchup worldwide are expected to hit $5.6 billion by 2022 – Billion with a B – That’s a lotta ketchup, gang. And what are the biggest trends in that friggin’ huge market? So called ‘exotic ingredient’ ketchups, and organic offerings. Interesting, no? The Big Four primary derivatives of the ketchup trade are as follows – Tomato, mushroom, fruit and nut, and ‘other.’ The latter leaves quite a bit to the imagination. Ironically, these popular trends lead us in a perhaps unexpected direction – Backwards, to the origin of the stuff.

It should come as no surprise that tomato ketchup, far and away the most popular version today, was not the first one to be so named. In England of the 1700s, sauces called catsup, ketchup, or katchup were anchovy based things, seasoned with vinegar, shallot, ginger, clove, nutmeg, lemon, pepper, and wine. The results were more like Worcestershire sauce than the stuff we know today as ketchup. The name for these lovely things comes from, of all places, Indonesia, where kecap, (pronounced ketchup), means a dark, thick, soy based sauce, (And remains immensely popular there to this day). The leap from the East back to England occurred because that’s where the Brits got a lot of those exotic spices they threw in with them salty little fish. And not surprisingly, derivations of the stuff came out featuring, you guessed it, mushrooms, fruit, and nuts.

Tomato ketchup, on the other hand, took a while longer to circulate, as the ‘love apple’ was a native to Central and South America, and as such didn’t appear in Europe until (probably) the Spaniards brought them back over the big pond in the 16th century. Tomatoes were readily embraced by most countries around the Mediterranean, which it took somewhere around 150 years or so to spread and become accepted. That acceptance was not so forthcoming from the Northern Europeans, including the British, (who initially though the fruit to be poisonous). The first acknowledged tomato ketchup recipe came from the American colonies, during the revolutionary war, and the first published version came out while Lewis and Clark were traipsing west, in 1804, by physician/horticulturist James Mease. His version salted sliced tomatoes and let them sit for a day, then added mace, allspice, shallot, and brandy, and cooked it all down. Meade claimed the French loved the stuff, which is patently bullshit – More likely, given the spicing he employed, he’d been handed something from the Caribbean, because it sounds a lot like Sauce Creole. In any event, the stuff caught on in a big way, and the rest is history.

Ketchup, especially the tomato variety, came about as one way to preserve things through the cold months, and frankly, that’s why I’m writing about it here and now. A whole bunch of us have gardens, and what is almost guaranteed to be one of those crops you sew and then some time later are offering to any friend, neighbor, or willing perfect stranger you can find, due to relative overabundance? Yep, love apples. As such, it’s a great time to visit some recipes for the stuff. Sure, there are ‘natural’ and organic versions out there in the stores, as well as those exotics styles – But frankly, while the natural stuff is far better for you than the old standard, they’re not exactly using fresh, home grown tomatoes that could and should be several varieties – And that means you can make better at home. And as for the exotics, take a look at the prices, and you quickly discover that in this regard, you can make better at home for a hell of a lot less dough. So let’s do that.

First off, let’s address the elephant in the room – There are two, when it comes to ketchup making at home.
1. Making ketchup takes an incredible amount of tomatoes – True and not true – If you’re wanting to can a whole bunch in order to enjoy house made through the cold months, then yes, it will take a lot of tomatoes. If you’ve got them, and you’re of a mind to preserve, then you should definitely throw ketchup into the mix, along with whole and sauced. That said, what you’ll see below are small batch recipes that don’t take a whole lot of tomatoes – And frankly, making a batch to last a week or two is well worth the effort, especially if you’re growing your own.
2. Making ketchup at home takes forever – Well, not forever, but all day, yeah – As mentioned, the recipes we’ve got for you here are small batch stuff, and can easily be done in under an hour or twos worth of actual work, but some of the prep and cooking does take a long time – We’re radically changing the stuff we start with, and that just can’t be rushed – So, you’d best be planning for a whole day, but it’ll be a great day, guaranteed, (and you can do other stuff, or even take off while things are cooking, if you use a slow cooker, as noted). And finally, if you’re canning, it’s gonna be an all day thing, guaranteed – And always review proper method and cooking times when doing so.

House made tomato ketchup - All other bow before it.
House made tomato ketchup – All other bow before it.

Classic Tomato Ketchup
2 28 oz cans Peeled Tomatoes, (Any version is fine so long as they’re peeled)
3/4 Cup Distilled White Vinegar
1/2 Cup Bakers Sugar
1/2 Cup Water
1 1/2 teaspoons Pickling Salt
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 teaspoon granulated Garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground White Pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground Mustard
1/8 teaspoon Celery Salt
1 whole Clove

In a slow cooker set to high, add the tomatoes. If you found ground, peeled tomatoes, you’re good to go. If you have whole, or crushed, you need to process them first. Pulse with an immersion blender to achieve a nice, rough sauce consistency.

Rinse each can with a quarter cup of water and add that to the cooker, along with all other ingredients.

Cook uncovered for 8 to 10 hours, giving the sauce a good stir roughly every hour.

When the sauce is reduced in volume by roughly 50%, and is quite thick, turn off the heat and process the sauce again with the stick blender until very smooth.

Run the sauce through a single mesh strainer, into a nonreactive mixing bowl, removing any bits of skin, seeds, and the clove.

Allow to cool to room temperature.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper balance as needed.

Transfer to a clean glass jar and refrigerate. It’ll last a good week, (if it survives that long.)

Mushroom ketchup hardens back to Medieval English sauces
Mushroom ketchup hardens back to Medieval English sauces

Mushroom Ketchup (NOTE: This recipe requires advanced prep for the shrooms, so plan accordingly)

1 Pound fresh Mushrooms, (Portobello, Shiitake, button, or wild, of course)
2 Cups Water
1 1/3 Cups Champagne Vinegar
2 medium Shallots
1/2 Ounce dried Mushrooms
2 Tablespoons Dry Sherry
1 Tablespoon Pickling Salt
1 small clove Garlic
6 Tasmanian Pepperberries
2 whole Cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground Ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
1 Bay Leaf (California or Turkish as you prefer)

The day before you plan to cook the sauce, carefully wipe shrooms clean with a damp cloth, and trim away any bruised bits.

Slice mushrooms to roughly 1/4″ thick. Toss shrooms into a nonreactive mixing bowl, add the tablespoon of Pickling Salt and toss gently to incorporate.

Cover the bowl with a clean, dry cloth and allow shrooms to sit for 24 hours. Stir gently 3 or 4 times through the rest. Note that the shrooms will become quite dark during this process, and that A-OK.

An hour or two before the end of the 24 hour rest, heat 2 cups of water to about 110° F. Pour that into a mixing bowl and add the dried mushrooms. Stir to incorporate and let them steep until their nice and soft.

Trim, peel and mince garlic and shallots.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the reconstituted dried shrooms to a blender vessel or food processor. Carefully pour the soaking liquid into the blender, leaving any pooled gritty stuff out of your pour. Process the blend into a smooth mix, and transfer that to a large sauce pan.

Dump the salted, fresh shrooms into the blender, (don’t rinse it first), and process that to a smooth mix, then add them to the sauce pan.

Add 1/3 cup vinegar, the garlic, and shallots to the un-rinsed blender vessel and process to a smooth purée. Add this to the sauce pan, along with the rest of the ingredients, except the sherry, and stir to incorporate.

Bring the mix to a simmer over medium high heat, then lower heat to barely maintain the simmer. Cook for 1 to 1/12 hours, until the Mushrooms are very soft and the sauce has thickened notably.

Now’s the time to test for proper consistency – remove sauce from heat and take a spoonful of the sauce and place it on a clean saucer. Let that sit for 10 minutes – If at that point the sauce has remained homogeneous, it’s thickened enough. If a notable amount of liquid leaches out of the sauce, more cooking is needed. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes and retest until you reach proper thickness.

Run the sauce through a single mesh strainer to remove the whole spices, then process in a blender or with a stick blender to a nice, smooth consistency.

Return the sauce to a clean sauce pan over medium high heat and heat through, stirring constantly. When the sauce simmers again, add the sherry. Cook on a low simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Transfer sauce to clean, sanitized half pint jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes, (Again, consult CFHFP for more specifics and altitude adjustments).

Allow sauce to marry for at least 8 weeks before use. The well sealed jars will last all winter, (but probably not!)

Green walnuts are a summer crop that make a wonderful earthy kethcup
Green walnuts are a summer crop that make a wonderful earthy kethcup

Walnut Ketchup
This one goes way back to ketchup’s English roots, right down to those salty little fish. It’s admittedly a lot of work, but the reward is huge. Canned in half pint jars, they’re an amazing house warming gift – The taste of the 17th century brought to life. Green walnuts are a summer crop, usually available only from June through August, and maybe into September some years, so plan ahead.

45-50 Green Walnuts
3 1/2 Cups Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 Cups Malt Vinegar
1 Cup Dry Sherry
1 large Sweet Onion
1/4 Cup grated Horseradish, (straight – not mixed ‘sauce’)
2 ounces Anchovies (in oil or salt)
2 teaspoons ground Black Pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground Chile (hot or mild as you like)
1″ fresh Ginger root

The tough stuff goes first! Opening walnuts, especially green ones, isn’t easy, and it’s messy – Keep in mind that wood stains are made with these guys, so dress and guard your kitchen surfaces accordingly – They WILL stain hands, counters, etc, and it will NOT come off your skin! Some folks use a knife, others a hammer – Choose your weapon and cut, crack, or crush those things.

Place nuts in a nonreactive container, (a 1/2 gallon mason jar is perfect), and cover completely with the vinegars. Tightly cover your container and let them steep for a week – 7 full days.

On Day 8, transfer nuts and liquor to a large stock pot over medium high heat. Add all remaining ingredients and stir to incorporate. When the mix starts to boil reduce heat to maintain a vigorous simmer and cook for 45 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Process the sauce with a stick blender to a nice, smooth consistency.

Run the sauce through a single mesh blender to remove any solids.

Carefully pour into clean, sanitized bottles or jars with air tight lids and seal.

Will last a good 6 months stored in a cool, dry, dark place.

Cranberry ketchup is amazing on pork, chicken, or roasted Brussels sprouts
Cranberry ketchup is amazing on pork, chicken, or roasted Brussels sprouts

Cranberry Ketchup
2 Cups Canberries, (fresh or frozen)
11/2 Cups Raw Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 large Navel Orange
1 small Sweet Onion
2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1/4 teaspoon Allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground Black Cardamom
1/8 teaspoon Sea Salt

Peel, trim and fine dice onion.

Zest and juice orange.

In a large sauce pan over medium high heat, add cranberries, onion, and cider vinegar, stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook until cranberries are popped and soft, about 4-6 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and process with a stick blender to a smooth consistency.

Return sauce to heat and add balsamic, orange juice and zest, allspice, cardamom, pepper, and salt. Stir to incorporate. Cook on a low simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until sauce is notably thickened.

Remove from heat and process again to smooth the sauce out. You can run it through a single mesh strainer if you prefer a liquid, smooth sauce, or leave it rustic – It’s incredible on chicken, or pork, or roasted Brussels sprouts.

Store in a clean, nonreactive container, refrigerated. Will last a couple weeks, easy.

Spring Cleaning Your Freezer

For 25 points, identify the following protein:

Didn’t think so…

Spring is the perfect time for deep cleaning. Shaking off the dust and cold and mold of winter, letting fresh air in – We do it to our homes, (hopefully), and we need to do it to our freezers as well. Whether you’ve got just a small one adjacent to your fridge, or a stand alone separate unit, it’s time to thoroughly clean that beast, inventory what’s there with a critical eye, toss what needs to be tossed and cook what must be cooked before it too goes to the great beyond.

This line of reasoning naturally brooks the question, “Can food go bad in the freezer?” The answer to which is a definite ‘Yup!’

Keep in mind that freezing does not kill bacteria, yeast, mold, etc –  it just pretty much keeps them from multiplying. In other words, if there was something funky prior to freezing, it could indeed reappear when thawed. Additionally, freezing does not do any favors for food quality, taste, etc; over time, great stuff will become good and good stuff becomes that image up yonder.

Before we abandon the ‘how long’ question for the stuff in the freezer, let’s review – When does quality starts to degrade? Depends on what it is, and how well it was packaged fro freezing, frankly. For answers to this and other burning freezer questions, (Sorry), hop on over to the USDA’s Food Safety site and read for yourself; there’s a handy chart at the bottom of this freezer article that details recommended freezer storage guidelines. You’ll also find the National Center For Home Food Preservation a wealth of good info, so scope that out too.

In general terms, when cleaning out your freezer, look for things like the pic above, the obvious victims of freezer burn, poor packaging, etc, and single them out for further inspection. If flesh looks substantially different than it usually does when thawed, (Darker, off color, dried out, etc), then you should give it the heave ho; trust me when I say if it looks funky, it’ll taste funky, and could be dangerous.

When you package for freezing, head back to the NCHFP site and read up on best practices.

The time to clear out your freezer is also the time to clean the bugger; this should be done at least annually,
and naturally, the best time do the deed is when stocks are low, AKA, the end of winter.

Pull everything out and put it into a fridge or cooler(s) while you clean.

Turn off, unplug, and thoroughly defrost your unit.

Once it’s to room temp, clean the insides thoroughly; I like Clorox cleanup for the job, but dish soap and water works fine too. Remove and clean all the shelves, racks, drawers, etc as well.

Do a rinse wipe with a solution of 2 Tablespoons of baking soda to a quart of warm water, then wipe that down with a clean, dry cloth.

Don’t forget the unseen parts! Pull the freezer from it’s normal locale and clean underneath. Inspect the back and clean that as well, (And the top), and dust the coils if your unit has exposed ones.

If you don’t already have one, buy a decent but cheap inside-the-unit thermometer and place in an easy to see spot. Our commercial units have thermometers on them, usually digital, but we don’t trust those; every unit, reach in or walk in, has a stand alone thermometer inside it. Optimal freezer temp for food storage is -15ºF to -5ºF; it should never go above 15ºF for any extended length of time.

Fire ‘er back up, let it get fully cold and then put your bounty back in. mark the calendar for the same time next year.

OK, that about covers it; now go have a celebratory beer or two, ya done good!

Oh, and stay tuned – Next post will cover building the perfect stew with all that lovely meat ya done kilt and gathered!

E & M

Mail Call!

OK, now, seriously – We will get to the rest of the mother sauces, but frankly, the mail bag has just been far too good to ignore!

First off comes this from Dean, over in Wisconsin –

Here's Dean, just back from stalking the wily wild garlic!
Here’s Dean, just back from stalking the wily wild garlic!

Eben,
I hope you are well.
Just a reminder about keeping summer greens for winter soups, stews and special breads. We cut the green tops off of our onions and cut up and froze in ice cube trays, and later store in a bag like you suggested green peppers one time. Also freeze beet tops, carrots tops etc. for winter greens….
Love your blog!
Dean

That is brilliance worthy of note, gang. This covers two really important points, here at this time of year when gardens overflow with good things. First off, we all too often don’t use everything we could and should from the stuff we grow, and greens are a perfect example. Dean’s email is spot on in that regard, because far too often greens and tips are tossed out as waste – Sure, they’re good for compost, but they’re far better for eating. Secondly, saving such stuff for winter is another must do. The cold months make it that much harder to get good fresh tastes, let alone all the good things they harbor.

Don't toss those greens!
Don’t toss those greens!

Turnip greens hold more vitamins and minerals than the turnips do. Beet greens are rich in vitamins K, A, C, B1, B2, B6, and E, as well as a raft of trace minerals. Spring onion tops offer vitamin C, plus hefty antioxidants. Carrot tops are rich in vitamins and minerals as well, and contrary to old wives tales, they’re not toxic – In fact they’re a market vegetable in many parts of Europe.

Greens should be frozen to last until winter, and as such,they’ll do well with a quick blanching. As with so many things, freezer burn can be an issue, so getting as much air out of whatever you store them in is key. Alternately, you can sauté greens with a little. Olive oil, salt, and pepper, and freeze them that way, or use them to make stock for soups and stews. As Dean noted, greens are a perfect thing to freeze in ice cube trays, so that you can pull out one or two to liven up a cold month meal.

 

The second note we got came from Israel, where Udi was kind enough to send this,
Just to let you know that my 10 month old daughter adores sloppy joe made according to the recipe on your blog. I serve it mixed with an equal amount of rice, mash it up a bit with a fork and she just cant get enough. You should see her. She’s like a junky, taking one bite and her entire body moves and she shakes her hands till the next bite is served.

And as you can see, he wasn’t exaggerating at all.

This young lady loves her sloppy joe!
This young lady loves her sloppy joe!

This young lady loves her sloppy joe!

We get a lot of mail, and I try to answer it all – now and again, something really touches home for me, as these do. Thank you to all of you who subscribe, write, email, PM, or call – This is why we are here.

Blanching & Freezing Fresh Peas

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Received this PM earlier today, from alert and hearteningly honest reader Sarah, who lives in the wilds of Cleveland, Ohio.

‘Recently saw the photos of your wife’s garden. It just so happens that I planted peas for the first time this year, and lo and behold, they actually grew! I ended up harvesting a big pot, and then realized that I really don’t know the step by step for preserving these things! Naturally, I though of you, so, what do I do?!’

Well, Sarah, first and foremost, I hope you know how much it thrills us that you thought of us first with such a great question. Secondly, good on ya for asking, and third, your timing couldn’t be better – Monica and our two lovely Granddaughters picked a whoppin’ big bowl full of fresh peas last night – They’ve headed for the park, and I’ve been tasked with pea processing – so let’s get after it!

Freezing really is the best thing to do with fresh peas. You didn’t mention the variety you grew, so first we’ll touch briefly on the three most common versions, shell, snow, and sugar snap. Shell, (also called garden, English, or Sweet), are thin skinned peas with an inedible shell. Snow peas, (also called Chinese pea pods), are smaller peas with a thicker, edible pod. Sugar snaps, (or just plain snap), peas are a cross between the former and the latter, with a very thick, edible pod and relatively large mature peas.

Snap, Snow, and Shell peas, respectively.
Snap, Snow, and Shell peas, respectively.

For both snow and snap varieties, while you can and should eat some whole when they’re just picked, it’s best to remove the fibrous strings that run along the seams before you do so.

Regardless of what variety you’ve grown, you’ll want to freeze them. Canning peas is laborious, and frankly, doesn’t yield very good taster or appearance. Shell peas must, of course, be shelled prior to freezing. Snow peas can be frozen whole, as long as they’re blanched first – If you don’t do that process diligently, you’ll end up with nasty, mushy results.

With snap peas, I’ve found that whole peas just don’t freeze very well; they’re really delicate things, which is why their freshness is so fleeting. For my mind, it’s best to eat and cook whole peas at the peak of their freshness, and to shell anything you’re going to freeze. Don’t toss the pods however; sauté them in a stir fry, or better yet, make a pea stock, which makes a phenomenal base for split pea soup. Here’s how.

Fresh pea stock is great for split pea soup
Fresh pea stock is great for split pea soup

Snap Pea Stock

10 Cups Water
4-6 Cups empty Snap Pea Pods
1/2 Cup Sweet Onion, rough chopped
1/4 Cup Carrot, rough chopped
2 Tablespoons Celeriac or Celery Leaf
1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 Bay Leaf

Put everything in a large stockpot over medium high heat.

As soon as the stock begins to simmer, cover and reduce the heat until you’ve got a very slow simmer; cook for 45 minutes.

Pour the stock carefully through a chinoise, or a colander lined with cheese cloth into a clean mixing bowl.

Allow to cool to room temperature.

Transfer to clean glass jars, or a freezer bag. May be frozen for up to 4 months, or refrigerated for 3-4 days prior to use.

Pea stock is surprisingly fragrant and lovely stuff to boot
Pea stock is surprisingly fragrant, flavorful, and lovely stuff to boot

To preserve those peas, you’ll need to shell them. As with all production cooking processes, set yourself up an area where you can have everything arranged right at hand. To shell fresh peas, grab one and turn it wide seam side up, with the stem away from you. Grab the stem between thumb and forefinger, and zip it back toward you – that’ll remove the fiber along the seam. Now zip your thumb nail along the seam and viola, your pea will open up like a book. Push the peas out of the pod and into a mixing bowl.

Now it’s time to blanch. There are a lot of questions about blanching, and most, if not all of them are answered here at one of my favorite cooking sites, serious eats. Blanching is a short, high temperature cooking cycle done in boiling water, followed by an immediate plunge into ice water. We blanch for three reasons when – To
destroy enzymes that begin to break produce down once they’ve been harvested, to preserve great color, and to keep them crisp – All very worthwhile pursuits, indeed.

The fine print for blanching is that you want two things without question – First, you need water at a steady boil through the relatively short cooking time, and secondly, you need to plunge what you blanched into ice water immediately after cooking. Those things are non-negotiable for the success of the process.

The old adage about using lots of water to blanch really doesn’t translate all that well to home kitchens – The logic ran that a relatively large volume of water won’t lose temperature as drastically when food is introduced. That’s true for commercial stoves, but not so much for home cooks – If you’re blanching in small batches at home, a pot with one quart, (4 cups), of water will actually recover a boil far faster than larger volumes.

Second issue is salting. The sages say ‘salt heavily’, and to some degree, that’s true. You want water about as salty as the ocean, or about 3%. The wonderful website Pickl-It has a super handy brine calculator that’ll let you dial that right in, (and its 1 ounce of salt for 1 quart of water). Now, this requires weighing, because the fact is, all salt weighs differently. I can’t recommend a small kitchen scale enough – They’re cheap, easy to use, and if you get at all serious about baking, you’ll want to have one anyway. I’ll give you a cheat and tell you that 1 ounce of the most popular kosher salt is roughly 5 teaspoons. While Harold McGee notes in his epic reference volume, On Food and Cooking, that salt tenderizes veggies by interacting with natural pectins, this also means that too much can make your peas soft.

Finally, there’s time. I don’t know how many folks I’ve heard say that you ‘blanch for about a minute,’ and frankly, that dog just don’t hunt. Blanching time varies depending on what’s being blanched, and you should pay attention to that. The Reluctant Gourmet has published a great blanching time list, so head over there, read and heed.

OK, now we’re ready. It’s possible I just made blanching sound really laborious, but it’s not at all. Set up a station so everything is close at hand. You’ll want a stock pot of salted water, a large bowl with ice water, and a single mesh strainer handy.

Everything set up to blanch
Everything set up to blanch

Shelled peas do indeed blanch for about a minute. For peas, corn, and a whole lot of veggies that are small individual things, I add about a half tablespoon of butter to the blanching water. It doesn’t impart much taste, and it helps them freeze without turning into a block of peas or whatnot.

A little butter in salted blanching water helps frozen veggies seperate
A little butter in salted blanching water helps frozen veggies seperate

Once your water is boiling merrily, throw in those shelled peas and count off a minute. As soon as the time is up, carefully pour the peas into a single mesh strainer and immediately into the ice water. Work the peas around gently with a slotted spoon to help them cool. Let them sit in the ice water for about 3 minutes, until they’re thoroughly cooled. Scoop off any remaining ice, pour the peas back through the strainer, then transfer them to a clean mixing bowl. Viola – bright, crisp blanched peas.

Blanched peas drained and ready for the ice water bath
Blanched peas drained and ready for the ice water bath
Plunge blanched peas into ice water immediately
Plunge blanched peas into ice water immediately
Fresh peas ready for the freezer
Fresh peas blanched and ready for the freezer

Now it’s time to package for freezing. A vacuum sealer is the bomb for such things, but not everybody has or really needs one. Next best thing is a nice, heavy freezer ziplock style bag. Portion the peas into bags based on your anticipated use – I portion for two, as you can always whip out an extra bag for guests. Seal about 90% of the bag, then suck all the air out that you can, and zip it all the way closed while you’re still sucking. That’ll do about as good a job as possible to deter freezer burn and keep things fresh. Label your stuff with the date, pop them in the freezer and you’re good to go.

Fresh peas ready for the freezer
Fresh peas ready for the freezer

So, there you go, Sarah – Maybe more than you asked for, but hey – You got me started! Happy preserving.

Fresh Berries!

Fresh berries are in season here in the Pacific Northwet. Driving pretty much anywhere, you’ll come across roadside stands offering blueberries, strawberries, raspberries – Not to mention cherries as well. While you might think you’d be better off in a store, it ain’t necessarily so. Stop by a few of these stands and you’ll quickly learn to spot good from bad, (and most are quite good). A roadside table put out by the growers themselves is almost always a sure winner for price, freshness, and truly supporting local small businesses.

Fresh berries are a catch!
Fresh berries are a catch!

Of course, the chief and oft unspoken danger of such stuff is not being prepared to store, preserve, or use what you buy – I don’t know how often I hear about great produce going to waste, but it’s all too often. As such, have a plan or plans in mind for what you intend to do. Canning, freezing, and quick use are all good ideas, but be sure you have the time set aside, and the equipment you’ll need – Last thing you want to do is find that you’re out of rings and lids after doing up a batch of preserves, right?

We freeze a lot of berries, because it does a good job of preservation, is relatively easy and quick to do, and lends itself to spur of the moment use down the road. Keeping in mind that berries are quite delicate, here’s what we do to get the best quality out of a batch.

Gently rinse berries in cool water, then place them in a colander lined with clean paper towels and allow them to dry a bit.

Cover a clean baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper, gently spread the berries evenly across the sheet.

Freeze fresh berries on a lined baking sheet.
Freeze fresh berries on a lined baking sheet.

Put the sheets into your freezer and allow a nice hard freeze before removing them, at least 3-4 hours, or more. Transfer berries to hard containers or plastic bags, mark them with the date, and you’re done.

We do different sized containers based on the amount needed for intended use – enough for a pie, a batch of ice cream, etc, and mark that volume on the bag or container as well. If you have a vacuum sealer, you certainly can and should package hard frozen berries that way, as it will minimize air contact, freezer burn, etc. if you don’t have one of those toys, sucking the air out of a filled ziplock will do a pretty good job as well. Carefully packaged and sealed berries will last 6 to 9 months in a freezer, no problem.

So, what about that immediate use? Try this amazing ice cream recipe – You can thank us later. The bourbon, for the record, adds a nice little hint of smoky, woody sweetness, but more to the point, it’s a fantastic little trick for home ice cream makers – The little bit of high proof booze keeps your scream from turning into a frozen brick, that all too common malady.

Blueberry, Vanilla & Bourbon Ice Cream

1 Quart Heavy Cream, (at least 30% milk fat)
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons local Honey
1 Quart fresh Blueberries
1 Tahitian Vanilla Bean
2 Tablespoons Bourbon

In a sauce pan over medium heat, add the berries, 2 tablespoons honey, and the scraped seeds from the vanilla bean, (put the remaining bean in some sugar, or vodka, and let it steep for future projects).

Stir steadily as the berries begin to simmer and pop. When roughly 3/4 of the berries have burst, remove the blend from the heat and transfer to a blender, (or use a stick blender if you prefer). Pulse until you have a smooth, uniform purée.

Pass the purée through a single mesh strainer into a smaller mixing bowl; send the skins, etc to your compost bucket.

Place the purée bowl in larger bowl 1/2 filled with ice and water, and allow it to sit, stirring occasionally to aid cooling.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cream, 1/2 cup honey, and bourbon. Whisk briskly until uniformly incorporated.

Blueberry, Tahitian Vanilla & Bourbon Ice Cream
When the ice cream is close to done, add the berry purée

Process the cream mixture in an ice cream machine or churn. When the ice cream is well formed, slowly add the puréed berry mixture. When it’s uniformly incorporated, send it to the freezer.

Blueberry, Tahitian Vanilla & Bourbon Ice Cream
Blueberry, Tahitian Vanilla & Bourbon Ice Cream

House Made Stock

Nephew Ian put in another topic request, this one for making homemade stock. If we had to pick one thing that separates really good restaurant quality food from most home cooked stuff, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to chose the making and judicious use of homemade stock.

Homemade Stock

The difference between homemade and anything store bought is night and day; you’ll enjoy far greater depth and breadth of flavor, as well as the common sense step of keeping and using the stuff you need to make stock with, instead of throwing it away – Everything from the ends of trimmed veggies, to fish racks, bones, and carcasses are the stuff of great stock. Making stock at home is neither particularly laborious or complex. Once you get in the groove of thinking about using your leftovers accordingly, it’s a pretty simple process.
First things first, let’s define stock, vis-a-vis its thinner cousin, broth, and thicker progeny, demi-glacé. In simplest terms, stock comes from bones, while broth comes from meat. Think of stock as the deeper and more complex root of superior soup, sauce, risotto, and a thousand other variants. When the first taste of one of those dishes blows you away, it’s a safe bet there’s rich, house-made stock at the core. There’s an enhanced mouth feel and richness to stock, brought forth by the gelatin released from bones, that you just don’t get anywhere else.
Preparation for making stocks begins with saving the ingredients; Don’t throw out the bones, carcass, etc of your last wonderful roast, chicken, turkey, ribs, etc – Keep ’em and freeze ’em and set ’em aside for future use. You can also certainly ask for beef/veal/etc bones from your butcher; with a resurgence in small, local butchers in full swing across this country, do your due diligence and see if you’ve got one close by – They’re sure to be prepared and happy to get you what you need.

Beef Stock
For hundreds of years, the go-to restaurant stock was veal, or beef. Nowadays, Dark Chicken Stock has replaced those more traditional variants as the root of great soup, sauce, etc.. It’s probably healthier for you than beef or veal, and frankly, it’s far more versatile; we use it almost daily in our kitchen. For the record – The sole difference between light and dark chicken stock is whether or not the bones have been roasted. Also, If you prefer to do beef, veal, pork, etc, you’ll want about 3-4 pounds of bones to substitute for the chicken carcasses used herein.
What you’re going to do is a three part process – slow roast, simmer, clarification. The slow roast will breakdown and deepen favors from the carcasses or bones and a trinity of aromatic bases, (in this case, mirepoix – onion, carrot, and celery), and a touch of tomato paste. The slow roast works on everything, breaking down cartilage, marrow, fat, skin – drawing out the essence of the veggies with slow caramelization. The tomato paste enhances color and flavor, and the acid therein helps break down connective tissue in the bones, aiding in the production of usable gelatin for your stock.

You’ll need the following to build a good stock pot worth of the real deal.

2-4 Chicken Carcasses
2 medium Yellow or Sweet Onions
3-5 Carrots
3-5 stalks Celery
Small can Tomato Paste
Olive or Avocado Oil
Sea Salt
Fresh ground Pepper

Mirepoix, the classic aromatic base

Decent Cheesecloth, (60 to 90 pound is best)
3+ Gallon Stock Pot
Colander, Strainer, or Chinoise
Slotted or perforated Spoon

stock 1

Preheat oven to 250° F.
Have carcasses or bones defrosted and close to room temperature.
Rough chop onion, celery, and carrots to a final mirepoix of 50% onion, and 25% each celery and carrot – You don’t need to be exact. Rough chop means fairly uniform pieces of each, about 3/4″ big.
Spread the mire poix evenly across a rimmed baking sheet.
Season veggies with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of oil.
Break down carcasses minimally, just enough that you can evenly cover the mire poix.
Using a spatula, dab a thin coating of tomato paste over the carcasses; this doesn’t have to be thick – use a whole, small can for a batch of this size, evenly spread.
Slow roast everything for about 3 hour, flipping once about half way through, until bones have browned, and veggies are caramelized.

Roasted carcasses and mirepoix

Remove everything from the oven and carefully transfer into a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add water until you’ve got a good two inches over the top of everything in the pot.
Add,
3-4 Bay Leaves
Teaspoon of Sea Salt
10-12 whole Pepper berries

Homemade Dark chicken stock.jpg

Once the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and continue simmering for at least 6 hours, (and as much as 8.)
As fat and associated scum rises to the surface, (If you see Dick Cheney, push him back under), skim that off with a slotted or perforated spoon.
You’ll lose water to evaporation; keep adding fresh to maintain that couple of inches over the contents.
Remove pot from stove, and allow the stock to cool to room temperature. You can place the whole pot in an ice bath, (50% – 50% ice and water), to cool it faster; this is also safer than simply waiting it out.
Cover and refrigerate overnight, (Or stick it out on the back porch, covered, if it’s cold enough out).
In the morning, you’ll find a nice, solid layer of fat has formed on the top of your stock; carefully ladle that off and discard.

Skimming fat off fresh stock

Now comes clarification;
Set up a colander, strainer, or chinoise, with a large mixing bowl beneath.
Pour the contents of your stock pot carefully through; this first pass will remove the big chunks from the stock.
Discard the bones, veggies, etc.

Clarifying homemade stock
Now you’ll need decent cheesecloth at this point, as it’s time to really clarify.
Line your straining device with a layer or two of cheesecloth big enough to drape over the edges somewhat; place the stock pot or mixing bowl underneath.
Slowly pour the stock through the cheesecloth.
After each pass, rinse the vessel you poured from, and the cheesecloth, before making another pass.
You’ll want at least 6 – 8 passes to get to reasonable clarity, something like this – beautiful, flavorful house made stock.

Glorious Homemade dark chicken stock

We freeze stock in quart sized freezer bags; this is a good size to use as the basis for soups and stews. You can store some refrigerated, in an airtight container, for up to 5 days. Some should most definitely be further reduced into demi-glacé, and here’s why.

Homemade dark chicken stock ready to freeze

In his epic tale of back of house whackiness, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain wrote of demi-glacé, “Freeze this stuff in an ice-cube tray, pop out a cube or two as needed, and you are in business – you can rule the world.” And when you’re right, you’re right. If you knew how many amazing sauces spring from this one source, you’d be gob smacked. While demi-glacé is traditionally made from veal or beef stock, you certainly can and should make it from chicken stock – Like the stock, chicken demi-glacé is amazingly versatile. Traditional demi-glacé is served over beef, veal, or lamb – chicken glacé not only works on those proteins, it’s amazing with chicken, pork, veggies, potatoes, and rice or risotto.

Reducing stock to demi-glace
There’re a myriad of ways to make it; doing so with fresh stock is one of the easiest and most satisfying, and it only makes sense, when you’ve already been working through stock production. You can, if you like, simply return some stock to a sauté pan over medium heat, turn it down to a bare simmer after it gets bubbling, and reduce that by roughly 50% – What you’ll have is a more concentrated, intense iteration of the stock you just made, and that is indeed demi-glacé, no matter what pretentious foodies tell you. That said, putting a few more refinements in the mix will pay big dividends. Here’s how.

2 Cups fresh Chicken Stock
1 Cup Old Vine Zinfandel
2 Tablespoons minced Shallot
2 teaspoons Lemon Thyme
1 teaspoon Grains of Paradise, (Black Peppercorns are fine)
1 Bay Leaf

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, combine all ingredients, except the butter.
As the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by roughly 50%.
Test thickness by pouring some of the demi-glacé from a spoon; it should leave a noticeably thick, even coat on the spoon.
Remove from heat and cool to room temp, (again, a mixing bowl in an ice bath does a great job).
Transfer demi-glacé to a pop-out ice cube tray, filling evenly. Slip the tray inside a gallon freezer bag, press excess air out, (I suck all the air out to avoid freezer burn), and freeze.

Freeze cubes of demi glace and you own the world

When you want an amazing pan sauce, pull out your tray, pop out a cube or two, and melt over medium heat. Finish with a thumbnail sized hunk of butter, and viola. You can also add a cube to boiling water for rice or veggies. A cube add to your regular gravy ingredients is especially delightful – Potential uses are as broad as your imagination.

Herbs R Fresh

 

If you like herbs like we like herbs, then you plow through more than the average American. There are also likely fresh favorites you keep around pretty much all the time. For us, that would include cilantro and parsley. Both have subtle, lovely flavor profiles that go great with many dishes.

That said, both can get long in the tooth quite quickly. They're highly perishable, and can be hard to keep fresh after even a couple of days in your fridge. Considering the handling such foods receive as a part of modern distribution and sales, it's no wonder, really. A little handling and preserving work can go a long way toward having these indispensable always at hand.

When you get delicate perishables home, inspect them first and foremost. Get them out of the plastic produce bags, and better yet, don't put them in those things in the first place and reduce your plastic throughput. Remove any off colored or bruised stuff and toss it in your compost.

Give your goods a gentle rinse in cold, running water. Shake them dry, gently but thoroughly; excess water is not a friend to successful storage.

Remove any rubber bands or twist ties; all they do is bruise the goods and promote rot.

Place the washed produce on a clean paper towel and let them air dry a bit. Wrap the goods in the paper towel and store them in your crisper drawer just like that. If you use what you buy steadily, and pay attention to FIFO, (First In, First Out), in your fridge, your cilantro, parsley, green onions, radishes, etc will stay fresher, longer.

Consider drying some of those staple fresh herbs. It's a given that fresh is better than dry, but house dried herbs from a good fresh source are far better than store bought or none. Those faves of ours will dry thoroughly in a dehydrator in less than 30 minutes. I've tested both cilantro and parsley and found that our home dried stuff retains reasonably potent flavor for up to a month when stored in glass, in a cool, dark, dry spice cabinet.

Finally, and especially as the winter months are upon us, plant a fresh herb window box. An 18″ x 6″ x 6″ box will allow you to grow a full raft of your faves, and reasonable tending will sustain them through the season. There's nothing cheerier in the dark months than fresh, bright herbs growing in your kitchen.