Maitake Madness

Our dearest friends Christy and Grant, who were largely responsible for this blog coming to be, are inveterate growers of mushrooms. They have fine crops of quite a few fairly exotic and more-often-found as wild varieties growing on their northern Minnesota spread. All that said, they still like to forage, and yesterday, they happened on a real treat and a rarity in their neck of the woods, a 10 pound Maitake mushroom.

Take note – that’s a 16″ ruler!

If the Japanese name for these beauties doesn’t strike a chord, you may know it as Hen of the Woods, Rams Head, Sheeps Head, or the Signorina mushroom. They’re widely prized for eating by numerous cultures. Maitake and its close cousin, Chicken of the Woods, are two of my all time favorite fungi; they have a bright, savory taste profile that even folks who “don’t like mushrooms” will likely dig. Grifola frondosa is the formal name for Maitakes, which are native to the northeastern US and Japan. They grow in clusters at the base of trees, and are particularly fond of oaks. As with all fungi, you should forage only what you can 100% positively identify. Note that Maitakes, like many fungus, becomes just too tough to eat when they get long in the tooth.

Chris asked for some recipe ideas, which we’ll definitely do, but first, a few words on preserving. If you’re lucky enough to come upon a big stash of wild mushrooms like this, you absolutely must preserve some to enjoy in the dark months down the road. Freezing or drying are both viable options.

For either freezing or drying, thoroughly but gently wash each head until the rinse water runs clear.

Separate the heads into smaller, cauliflower-like stalks, and rinse the remaining stalks thoroughly again.

To freeze, allow the stalks to air dry. Arrange stalks on a cookie sheet with room for air flow around each. Place in your freezer overnight.

Frozen stalks can be vacuum sealed, or tossed into ziplock bags that you then suck the air out of. Frozen mushrooms will keep for 4 to 6 months frozen.

To dry Maitakes, place them in a dehydrator, or separated on a cookie sheet in an oven on warm, with the oven door opened slightly. Dry until the stalks are light, shriveled and snap easily without bending, even at their thickest points. Drying has the added advantage of making a big batch of mushrooms much easier to store. Well dried mushrooms will store for up to 12 months.

OK, ’nuff on preserving, let’s cook; here are three recipes that will work wonderfully with Maitake, or dang near any other wild mushrooms you like, solo or blended.

Mushroom Pho

FOR BROTH:
1 Quart cold Water
1 Quart Vegetable Stock
1 Pound Maitake Mushrooms
8-10 Ounce package Rice Noodles
1 Sweet Onion
1-2 Serrano Chiles
3-4 cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Mirin, (Rice Vinegar OK for sub)
2 Tablespoons Black Peppercorns
1 Tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
3″ to 4″ fresh Lemongrass (1-2 tablespoons)
2″ piece fresh Ginger root
10-12 sprigs fresh Cilantro
Soy Sauce to taste

For Garnishing,
Radishes
Fresh bean sprouts
Fresh Cilantro
Fresh Mint
Fresh Basil leaves
Fresh Limes

Combine water and stock in a stock pot over medium high heat.

Rough chop onion and mushrooms. Fine dice chiles and lemongrass. Mince garlic, cilantro, and ginger.

Sauté onions and garlic with a little vegetable oil until they start to caramelize, then toss them into the stock pot.

Deglaze the sauté pan with rice vinegar. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce, allow to heat through. Add chiles, lemongrass, and ginger and sauté until the chiles start to soften. Add another tablespoon of oil and toss in the mushrooms. Sauté for about 5 minutes until heated through, then set mushrooms aside and toss the rest into the stock pot.

Combine peppercorns in a piece of muslin or a reusable tea bag. Toss them into the pot. Add the chopped cilantro and give everything a good stir. Add soy sauce if you need more; if it’s a bit strong for your taste, squeeze in half a lime instead.

Reduce heat to low and let simmer for two to four hours. Remove the peppercorns.

Boil the rice noodles in a separate pot per directions on the bag.

Thinly slice radishes, quarter the limes, rough chop cilantro, mint, and Basil.

Give every bowl a healthy dose of broth, mushrooms, and noodles. Everybody gets to add sprouts, radish, cilantro, mint, and basil as they see fit.

Serve with icy cold Singha Malt Liquor.

 

 

Savory mushrooms are incredibly delicious combined with wild rice and a delicate soufflé; the combination is sublimely flavorful and surprisingly hearty.

4 oz. Wild Rice
1/2 Cup Maitake Mushrooms
1 1/2 Cups Half & Half
1 Cup Extra Sharp White Cheddar Cheese
4 Egg Whites
3 EggYolks
3 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Grains of Paradise

Prepare rice according to directions.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter, then add flour, salt and pepper. Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until you get a nice color to it.

Add the half & half, stirring constantly, until sauce starts to bubble. Add the cheese steadily in 1/4 cup batches, allowing each to melt completely before you add more. Once all the cheese is incorporated, remove from east and set aside.

In a chilled glass or stainless steel bowl, whisk egg whites until they hold a stuff peak. Set aside in the fridge.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until they’re thick and lemon colored.

Gradually add the yolks to the cheese sauce, stirring constantly so egg yolks don’t curdle.

Add the rice to the blend and incorporate thoroughly. Cool the blend in hand fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Lightly butter and dust with flour a 2 quart soufflé dish or individual ramekins.

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rice mixture. Gently pour the mix into the soufflé dish.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the soufflé has risen and is golden brown.

Serve piping hot with a fresh green salad and a nice Chardonnay.

 

 

Finally, here’s a fantastic mushroom pâté that’ll blow your socks off, as well as your guests’.

1 Pound Maitake Mushrooms
8 Ounces Chèvre
1/2 Cup fine diced fresh Shallot
1/2 Cup dry White Wine
3 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2-3 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh Parsley leaves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh Lemon Thyme (1 teaspoon dried, any variety, is fine)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black Pepper

Trim stems, wipe clean, and coarsely chop the Maitakes.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté, stirring steadily, until they start to go translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté and stir until the Maitakes are wilted and starting to brown. Add the wine, thyme, salt, and pepper, and continue to sauté and stir until the wine is nearly all absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and sauté for another minute.

Transfer everything to a food processor. Add the chèvre and process until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Transfer to a glass ramekin or bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 to 4 hours to allow pâté to set.

Cut a fresh baguette into round about 1/2″ thick. Rub the rounds lightly with a clove of garlic and toast them on both sides.

Serve pâté with toast rounds and a nice, cold hard cider.

Tomato Time

We’re up in northern Minnesota for a gathering of the Luthier Community, and the heirloom tomatoes at Grant and Christie’s, some 25 varieties, are coming ripe every day. I’ve been in hog heaven cooking for the gang, let me tell you.

Here’s a post over on Big wild Food for you to play with.

E & M

Corn, by any other name

Far and away, the questions I hear most often when it comes to cooking with milled corn products are these;

‘What’s the difference between corn meal and corn flour’,
‘Can I make the same recipe with either,’
‘What’s the difference between corn meal and grits, or polenta,’
‘What’s the difference between white and yellow corn meal or flour,’
‘What’s the difference between corn flour and Masa?’

The answer to the first is, the degree of milling – meal is coarser than flour, and to further confuse things, there is quite a bit of variety of meals out there. Steel ground yellow cornmeal, probably the most common variant found in the U.S., has the husk and germ of the corn kernel almost completely removed. As such, it’s kind of the equivalent of bleached, enriched wheat flour; a lot of the stuff that is good for you, along with a chunk of the taste, has been removed. Stone-ground cornmeal retains some of the hull and germ, and as such also has better flavor and nutritional properties. It is more perishable, but will store longer if refrigerated. White cornmeal, made from white corn, and also can be found in steel ground or stone ground variants.

The answer to the second is, technically, I guess you could, but you wouldn’t get the same results, and you probably wouldn’t like one of the variants. Recipes designed for meal want a different texture than those made with flour; think cornbread versus a biscuit, and you get the gist.

The answer to the third is, maybe nothing, but if there is a difference, it’s a pretty fine point of variance in the coarseness of milling. Google the difference between grits and polenta and you’ll see a firestorm of opinion akin to asking ‘What is real chili?’ I have the solution for you; avoid the controversy and go find a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits, also know as Polenta. Works great for both; debate over…

The answer to the fourth is, it depends on who you ask. Some will tell you that the only difference between the two is the the color; that may or may not be true, as there is more than one variety used for making the things we eat. In any case, the bottom line is that they are absolutely interchangeable in recipes.

And finally, for question five, corn flour and masa harina are quite different preparations of corn. Masa harina is corn flour that is ground from dried hominy. White, yellow, or blue corn is used for making hominy, also known as posole or pozole. The corn is boiled in a solution containing powdered lime, then washed, dried, and ground to form masa harina. Masa is the only thing to use for making corn tortillas and tamales, far as I’m concerned. Untreated corn flour is basically fine-ground cornmeal. I use it in recipes where I want corn flavor without the gritty texture of corn meal. Corn flour contains no gluten, so makes a good substitute for wheat flours in pan and short bread and cake recipes, though the proportions may need a bit of tweaking to get just right. If you sub corn flour for wheat flour in a rising bread or cake recipe, you need to add vital wheat gluten, since corn has none.

While we’re describing the various things corn is made into, let’s not forget cornstarch. Cornstarch is obtained from the white heart of the corn kernel. It’s a tasteless, fine powder that is very useful as a thickener; it boasts twice the thickening power of wheat or corn flour. It’s best to stir cornstarch into water first before it is added to other foods, so that it can be incorporated without getting lumpy; use enough water to make a loose slurry as opposed to a paste when you mix it. One thing to note if you’re on the other side of the pond; cornstarch is referred to as corn flour in England.

There is a broad assumption that white corn meal is preferred in the South and yellow is preferred in Texas and the rest of the U.S. While that statement certainly was true in the past, it’s not so valid as it used to be. The population base that made that a fact has aged and died, frankly, and the following waves are more likely to experiment, mix, and match.

All your meals, flours, and masa should always be relatively fresh. Stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container, you can expect around 6 months of use from them.

As mentioned above, there are several varieties of corn used for making the stuff we eat and cook with. Here’s a brief primer that will help you get a better grasp on things. This is a fairly rudimentary outline. For many decades, corn in America, like beer and cheese, was reduced to a few basic varieties; that trend has changed radically in the 21st Century. Heirloom varieties have exploded in the last 15 years; this has tumbled out to the folks growing their own, as well as to small cottage industries. As such, varieties have expanded and reemerged in unprecedented numbers. This is most definitely a good thing.

Dent (Zea mays indenata)
Dent or Field corn may be either white or yellow, and is predominantly used for processed foods, industrial products, and as livestock feed often used as livestock feed. No-name, really cheap corn meal or flour may be made from this variety. Dent kernels become notably indented at maturity, hence the name for the variety.

Flint (Zea mays indurata)
Flint or Indian corn is used for similar purposes as dent corn, as well as for decoration come fall. This variety is distinguished by a hard outer shell and kernels with a wide range of colors. When you see blue, red, or white flours, meals, chips and tortillas, you’re looking at flint corn. The variety is named for it’s hard or ‘flinty’ exterior.

Sweet (Zea saccharata or Zea rugosa)
Sweet corn is the variety we eat as corn on the cob. It is also canned and frozen. Seldom used for feed or flour, this variety is named for its higher sugar content, (around 10%, versus maybe 4% for Field corn). THE thing to remember is that roughly half the available sugars in sweet corn degrade notably within 24 hours of picking; if ever there was a thing you wanted to get locally from a good CSA, sweet corn is it.

Flour (Zea mays amylacea)
Flour corn has a soft, starchy kernel that lends itself well to grinding, so it is the primary variety used by companies in the U.S. to make meal and flour. Flour corn is primarily white, although it can be grown in other colors, including yellow, red, and blue. One of the oldest varieties, flour corn was grown by Native Americans before the rest of us showed up here.

Popcorn (Zea mays everta)
Popcorn is a variant of flint corn, with a soft starchy center surrounded by a very hard exterior shell. When heated, the natural moisture inside the kernel quickly turns to steam and builds up enough pressure for the kernel to explode, exposing the white starchy mass we like to graze on. All types of corn will pop to some degree, but they won’t necessarily have enough starch to turn inside out, or an outside layer that will create enough pressure to explode. One of the oldest forms of corn, evidence of popcorn over 5,500 hundred years old has been found in New Mexico.

OK, so enough learnin’, lets talk about what you should have in your pantry if you want to build corn recipes. The bottom line is that corn flours and meals are cheap and readily available, so you should aim for stocking the same stuff I do. Remember that quality counts; opt for fresh and local whenever you can and you’ll never go wrong. I stock white corn flour, masa, and white and yellow corn meal, and grits/polenta.

Alright, now we’re ready to cook. Here’re my go-to recipes for corn bread, tortillas, grits, and polenta.

Urb’s Corn Bread
1 1/2 Cups Yellow Corn Meal
1/2 Cup Corn Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Cup Whole Milk (or, in order of rising decadence, Half & Half or Buttermilk)
1 Egg
4 Tablespoons Lard (Unsalted Butter is fine)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

Optional Additions:
Add 1/2 Cup extra sharp Cheddar or Pepper Jack cheese.
Add 1 – 3 seeded, cored and diced Jalapeño chiles.
1 ear of corn on the cob, cut down to kernels

Preheat oven to 400° F

Pour cornmeal into a bowl and add the milk; mix well and allow to sit for 15 minutes. This is a biggy in terms of making moist cornbread.

Mix remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Melt the fat, then combine all ingredients and mix by hand to a nice, even batter consistency.

Place the pan(s) you’ll do the bread in into the oven, with a small dot of fat in each pan, (Or a tablespoon full if using a single pan).

When the fat is melted and sizzling, remove the pan, pour in the batter and return to the oven.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve Hot with, as Julia Child would say, ‘lots and lots of butter!’

Corn Tortillas
2 Cups Masa Harina
1.25 to 1.50 Cups hot Water

In a mixing bowl, combine the Masa and water by hand and blend until you get a nice, consistent dough that does not stick to your hands. You don’t want the dough too dry, either; shoot for a dough that holds together, isn’t sticky, but feels moist to the hand.

Roll the dough into 12 equal balls and allow to sit for about 10 minutes.

Whether you use a pin or a press, cut a gallon plastic storage bag into two equal sheets and place a ball of dough between them, then press or roll to roughly 6″ around.

In your pan or comal over medium high heat, cook the tortillas until you see that nice brown blistering form on each side. Each side will get 30 to 60 seconds of cooking time.

Stack your finished wrapped tortillas on a warmed plate under a clean towel to keep them warm.

Grits
1/2 Cup Bob’s Red Mill Grits
1/2 Cup whole Milk, (Half & Half, Whole Cream, and Buttermilk all work even better)
1 3/4 Cups Water
3/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Pepper

Options:
1/4 Cup grated Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
2 Slices crisp cooked, thick cut bacon, chopped

In a saucepan over medium high heat, combine milk, water, salt, and pepper and bring to a rolling boil.

Shake grits into the center of the pan, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.

As soon as all the grits are incorporated, reduce heat to low and cover. You want your grits to cook at a low simmer, so keep an eye on that and adjust heat as needed.

You’re going to cook your grits for 20 minutes, but set a timer for 5 minutes and stir the grits, (So, you’re going to stir every 5 minutes for a total of 20 minutes).

After 20 minutes, taste your grits; if they’re not tender enough, cook for another 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes.

If you’re adding cheese and bacon, you can toss it in for the last 5 minutes of cooking, or offer it at the table with butter.

Leftover Grits?

Spread grits about an inch thick in a glass baking pan or oven proof skillet and refrigerate until firm to the touch.

Cut grits into roughly 4″ squares, season lightly with salt and pepper, then dust both sides with Wondra flour.

Fry in 2 ounces of butter and 1 ounce light vegetable oil, turning once, until golden brown. Served with red eye gravy, this is the bees knees.

Red Eye Gravy (Serves 2)
1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 smoked ham steak, (About 1/2 Pound)
1 1/2 Cups brewed Coffee
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper
1-2 shots Tabasco Sauce

In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, heat oil until shimmering.

Fry ham steak until nicely browned, remove to a warm oven.

Deglaze skillet with the coffee, stirring to incorporate all the juices and little bits of ham stuck to the pan. Season with salt and pepper

Bring liquid up to a high simmer and cook until gravy reduced by 1/3 and nicely coats a spoon.

Serve with grit cake, game and a over medium egg for a true little slice of breakfast heaven.

Basic Polenta
6 Cups Water
2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Corn Polenta
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper
1/2 Cup hard Cheese for topping, (Parmesan, Romano, Asiago)
1/2 teaspoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a large, deep sauce pan over high heat, bring water and sea salt to a boil.

Add polenta gradually, stirring constantly to blend.

Reduce heat to a low simmer; you’ll cook polenta for about 30 minutes, so set a timer to stir and check the progress of the dish every 5 minutes. Make sure to stir gently but thoroughly, all the way to the bottom to check for sticking and burning.

When the polenta is very thick, stir in the butter and then season with salt and pepper.

Oil a glass baking pan; spoon the polenta into the pan, even out with a spatula, and allow to set for 15 minutes, until very firm to the touch.

Cut polenta into thick slices and serve hot.

Top with freshly grated cheese.

 

Pommes Anna

I love potatoes, and you should too. This fancy sounding dish is actually simple as simple can be, the sign of a truly wonderful, timeless dish. Great with breakfast, brunch or dinner, the minimalist approach lets the flavor of the spuds shine. Yukon Golds are perfect for Anna; they crisp up beautifully and have that to die for creamy center we all love.

 

In our take on this recipe, we use Sel de mer for a truly French salt flavor note, and grains of paradise for pepper influence at its most elegant level. The cast iron adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the flavor as well.

Trust us, do it just like this, and then you can try your own variants. Don’t add anything else to Anna, just vary the kinds of salt and pepper used; you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the notable differences in each.

Build this recipe in the exact order I’ve shown here; you really need to minimize the time the potatoes go from sliced, to ice water, to oven in order to allow them to maintain their flavors without oxidizing.

6-8 Yukon Gold Potatoes
4 Ounces fresh, unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Sel de Mer
Fresh ground Grains of Paradise

Rinse and peel the potatoes. Using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade or a mandoline, slice them very thin, (About 1/8″is perfect), transferring them as they are sliced to a large bowl of ice cold water.

Melt butter in a small sauce pan and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 425° F.

Drain the slices and pat them dry between paper towels.

Generously brush the bottom and side of a 9″ or 10″ cast iron skillet with half a tablespoon of the butter, using a basting brush.

Arrange the slices in layers, overlapping each slice slightly; brush each layer with butter, a sprinkle of sea salt and a few twists of grains of paradise.

Cover the layered potato slices with parchment and gently but firmly press down on the assembled potato cake.

Bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes.

Remove the parchment and continue baking for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the slices are tender and golden brown.

Remove from oven and turn the Anna onto a cutting board and cut it into 4 to 8 wedges.

Serve with crème fraîche and freshly made scrambled eggs for a real treat.

Stuff Them Peppers!

I love peppers, and I love chiles. Notice I separate chiles and peppers? Lots of us do, even though that’s technically incorrect; sweet peppers are the same genus and species, (Capsicum Annuum), as the hot peppers referred to as chiles.

When it comes to cooking, I most often use chiles for heat and the fruity, earthy flavors they provide. Sweet peppers to me are for salads and stir-fries, soups and breakfasts, (I love them with eggs), and especially for stuffing. Sweet peppers certainly do have flavor, even if it’s a relatively minor note compared to the knockout punch of a hot chile.

Just as hot chiles have expanded in variety over the last couple of decades, so have the sweets. If you’re my age or older, then you probably remember back when you might find green bell peppers in the grocery and nothing else like it, (and their flavor was, uh, shall we say, lacking… ) Now you can find sweet bells in green, red, orange, purple, yellow, and even brown and white, as well as some great non-bell sweet types. My favorite options lately are the bags of small, sweet peppers we’re seeing quite often in stores. They’re perfect for salads, salsas, roasting and even stuffing.

Sweet peppers are not only tasty, they’re good for you. In addition to containing notable amounts of Vitamins C and E, they pack abundant carotenoids, including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin, (Trust me, those are all good things).

Here’s a little primer on what’s out there these days, both for shopping and growing.

Green Bells.
These are the peppers so many of us grew up with. They too have grown up, and there’s a bunch of varieties out there to grow and enjoy. From the store, they have a slightly bitter, grassy flavor that goes great in salads, or as part of an aromatic base for sauces, stews and soups.

Purple & Chocolate Bells.
The least sweet of the bells other than green. They’re great raw in salads and probably are best left to raw uses, as that pretty purple hue turns to mud real quick when they’re cooked. They also tend to be wildly expensive, so if you love them, grow them.

Yellow & White Bells.
Mildest flavor of the bells. You may see whites as either a Bell variant, or referred to as a Hungarian Stuffing Pepper, (note that the white bells are often silly expensive…). Lightly sweet, with a nice hint of the grassy notes greens are prized for. These are great as part of an aromatic base, and for stuffing and roasting.

Orange Bells.
A bit less sweet and slightly more tangy than a red, orange bells are great raw in salads or roasted and stuffed.

Red Bells.
Far and away the most popular sweet peppers. Reds are genuinely sweet and fruity in flavor, and are fabulous in salads, with rice, or roasted.

Mild Hatch or Anaheims.
If a New Mexican chile lover reads that heading, I’m gonna get roasted…. Fact is, these long green and red chiles do come in mild form, but again, you need to take care when cooking with them, because hot ones can sneak in there. They’re wonderful for roasting, stuffing, salsa, and especially green sauces.

Red Pimento:
Sweet, yes, but some of these can be as much heat as sweet, so ask and try before you buy! Pimentos have an intense flavor base that holds up beautifully to roasting and preserving, (pickled peppers). They also are fabulous in aromatic bases, given their depth of flavor.

Sweet cherries.
While called sweet, these little round guys can also pack a bit of fire in them, so if you’re not a lover of such, taste before you cook! They have a dense sweetness that is perfect for roasting, salsa, and other Mexican sauces.

Sweet Cubanelles.
These long, slender chiles look a bit like a Serrano or an Anaheim, but are a notable lighter pale green color, (If you’re growing them, they will turn red if allowed to mature on the plant.) Cubanelles have a light, grassy sweetness that is great for roasting and stuffing.

Sweet Banana.

Same warning as the other non-bell varieties; there are hot bananas as well, so be careful, and test before you eat. They have a nice veggie flavor with a hint of heat, which makes them great for stuffing.

Notice how many of those guys up there I noted were great for stuffing? All the glory a sweet pepper has to offer comes out when you stuff ’em with wonderful things. Doing so and then slow roasting deepens the sweetness and intensifies minor flavor notes. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that this only works at home; you can slow roast on coals with aluminum foil, a Dutch oven, or a cast iron skillet. The sky is the limit on what you stuff with, but here’s a couple of my favorites to get the creative juices flowing.

1 Pound ground protein, (Beef, Chicken, Pork, Ground Turkey, Tofu, Cheese, or any combination thereof)
1/2 Cup Wild Rice
1 Cup Water
6 Sweet Peppers, (Bells, more if you’re using Cubanelles, Anaheims, etc)
2 large Tomatoes
1/2 Sweet Onion
1-2 cloves Garlic
1 Tablespoon extra virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Oregano, (Hungarian is my favorite, it’s sweeter and milder than Mexican)
1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet Paprika
Splash of wine for deglazing, (Anything you’re drinking is fine, and if your drinking bourbon, etc, that’s fine too, if you’re willing to spare some…)
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper

Place rice and water in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Cut protein into bite sized chunks.
Lightly salt a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat, and cook the protein until evenly browned.

Set the protein aside and leave the pan as is.

Field strip the peppers and keep the tops if you’re using bells. Arrange the peppers hollow side up on foil, or in a baking dish or Dutch oven. You may need to even out the bottoms a bit if you’re using a pan; thats just fine, but don’t cut through the peppers.

Dice tomatoes and onion, and mince the garlic.
Toss the olive oil into the pan you cooked the protein in. Once it’s heated through, toss in the onion and sauté until they’re starting to get translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute or so, until the raw garlic smell is gone.

Time to deglaze. Splash whatever booze you’re drinking into the pan, (and it’s high proof and you’re cooking over flame, step back so you don’t burn your face off). Get a fork and work all the little bits of this and that loose in the pan; that’s some serious flavor you want in whatever you’re making. Any time you sauté an ingredient and then add that to a dish, deglaze, otherwise, you’re leaving good stuff out.

Add the tomatoes, rice, and protein to your pan and mix well.
Add oregano, paprika, salt and pepper; taste and adjust seasoning.

Remove the pan from heat and spoon the mixture evenly into your peppers, then pop the tops back on the peppers.

Roast in, ideally, 325° F heat for about 45 to 60 minutes, until the peppers are fork tender. If you’re doing this on a campfire, put the pan or foil bundle over low coals and let them work. If you’re on a grill, spread the coals or adjust flame and place your roasting pan on the side of your grate.

Serve with crusty bread, a green salad, and maybe a nice Wollersheim Prairie Sunburst Red. This winery is in Wisconsin and grows all their own stuff. Yes, Wisconsin, and they rock!

If you prefer a stuffed pepper with a little more pop, try our recipe for classic Oaxacan Chiles Rellenos. Trust me, it’ll knock your socks off in a good way!

Ghost Chile Madness

It’s not a disease really; wait, maybe it is… Heat and the pursuit of such in food. Not physical heat, spiritual heat. That brings us to the legendary ghost chile… It’s no longer the top puppy on the Holy Shit Ridiculous heat scale; a new kid in town has displaced it. 

My friend and fellow cook/luthier David Berkowitz brought these to mind today, so let’s have him put them in their proper place on the scale of Capsaisin Pain for you:

“A jalapeño is around 5-10,000 Scoville units ( a measure of heat). A Habanero, 100,000. The Ghost pepper, 855,000 – 1,041,427 Scovilles. Trinidad Scorpion Maruga up to 2,000,000!”

So there you have it, or, as a waiter at a serious Thai restaurant once told me, “The stars for heat aren’t additive, they’re exponential…”

It may not be the hottest, but trust me when I tell you that these aren’t for amateurs. They’re serious shit, indeed. A friend of David’s was graced with a case of these bad boys, and I pitched in on what do with them. That said, these suggestions will work for any hot chile, and if you’ve not done these things, ya aughta.

On top of being ridiculously hot, like the Scotch Bonnet, Ghost chiles are very fruity and fragrant so, with a bit of taming, they’re really nice even for the fainter of heart; brining, marinated or pickling will do the deed for us.

To brine chiles, thoroughly mix 1/2 Cup kosher or sea salt, (NEVER iodized!), with 4 cups water. You can leave the chiles whole or chop off the stem ends. Immerse fully in the brine for 24 hours, (weight with a plate if they want to float). Pour out brine, rinse thoroughly, and you can then pickle, freeze, vacuum pack, or cook them as you see fit.

To pickle, use a ratio of 1.5:2 vinegar to water, and 2 tablespoons of pickling or canning salt per quart of water. You can use white, red, or cider vinegar as you please; white will give a more sour pickle, red and cider a sweeter. If you like sweeter yet, add honey or agave nectar, but never reduce the brine ratio, so that you avoid the potential for spoiling.

For a quart jar, about a tablespoon of spices will do; use stuff like whole peppercorns, coriander, mustard seed, juniper, fennel, cumin, bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon stick – whatever floats your boat.

Bring the blend to a brief boil with whatever spices you like, then allow to cool completely before pouring over the chiles. For spices, you can add fresh or dried directly to the jar.

You can fridge pickle for quick results; just pack chiles in glass jars, cover with brine and refrigerate. Allow at least 48 hours prior to eating. For long term preserving, chiles require pressure canning techniques, which further require specialized equipment and experience; check it out here if you’re interested in learning more.

So, what else to do with a bounty of chiles? Here’re some options for ya.

1. Dry some, both whole and to grind up – just a little shot will add a lovely je ne sais quoi to many things.

2. Smoke some prior to drying as well, for your own version of chipotle.

3. Freeze some whole and raw,

4. Roast and freeze some,

5. Salt ferment some for a ghost chile sauce, Louisiana style,

6. And of course, I’d make sauce for now!

And a note to ALL – WEAR GLOVES AT ALL TIMES WHEN HANDLING THESE BAD BOYS...

Here’s my quick sauce recipe, and again, this’ll work with any chile.

6-8 Ghost Chiles
3-4 Roma Tomatoes
1 Yellow Bell Pepper
1 small sweet Onion
6-8 stalks Cilantro
2-3 cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
Pinch of Sea Salt

NOTE: Feel free to roast all these for about 15 minutes in a 275° F oven, for a more intense flavor profile.

Field strip and dice chiles; leave the seeds if you’re sadistic, remove if not – It’ll still be way hot, believe me.

Rough dice all other veggies.

Throw everything into a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat. Once the mix starts to simmer, reduce to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until all veggies are cooked through and soft.

Remove from heat and process with an immersion or standard blender until smooth and uniform in texture.

Store in a glass jar or container. Refrigerated, it’ll last a month, easy.

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and continue to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until all veggies are cooked through and soft.

Remove from heat and process with a stick or regular blender until smooth and uniform in texture.

Store in glass, refrigerated. Will last about a month as such.

Great with chicken and pork, especially.