Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Crab Bisque

We don't have fish or shellfish very often. Not because we don't like it, we do. I just don't have a great deal of confidence cooking seafood. I splurged in February, using a gift certificate to a local seafood store and some of my own hard earned money and made a special crab leg dinner. But these were not ordinary crab legs, they were Bristol Bay Red King crab legs from Alaska. Red King is the most prized crab in the word, hailed for their sweet succulent flavor and jumbo size, not to mention the snowy white meat. And when I say jumbo, I mean jumbo. I have never seen legs this size before, so long they didn't even fit in our largest pot. We feasted on baked potatoes, a salad and ate crab until we couldn't eat anymore. I froze all the shells and a few days later I used the shells to make crab stock which I also froze. This week I used the frozen stock to make Crab Bisque. Bisque's are involved, time consuming soups, so making the stock ahead of time is a real time saver! When I was called upon to help provide some meals for two friends who had surgery this week I was grateful to have the stock tucked away in the freezer, ready to be used.

Seafood Stock

You can make this stock in advance and freeze it using any seafood shells (shrimp, crab, lobster)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups shells from shrimp, crab or lobster, or a combination of shells.
2 cups chopped onions
2 carrots, unpeeled, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup good white wine
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
10 sprigs thyme

Warm olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the seafood shells, onions, carrots, and celery and sauté for 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the garlic, cook another 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 quarts water, the wine, tomato paste, salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, simmer for an hour. Strain through a sieve, pressing the solids. You should have about a quart of stock, make up the difference with wine or water. Freeze if not using immediately.

Crab Bisque

You can use any shellfish you want.

*1 pound of cooked crab meat, in bite size pieces, reserve shells.
4 cups seafood stock
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup rice flour
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cream, half and half or milk, hot but not boiling! (I used cream)

I used a combination of canned crab meat and fresh. Because I was pureeing the soup I figured the quality of the most of the crab did not matter so I used 13 ounces of good canned crab and about a pound of fresh crab removed from legs which I steamed, reserving the shells. If you want a more economic soup skip the fresh crab in pieces you put in at the end.

Place the seafood shells and seafood stock in a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock. If you don't have four cups, add water or wine.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large stock pot. Add leeks and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, until tender. Add garlic and cook one more minute. Add cayenne and canned crab and cook over medium to low heat for 3 minutes. Add the Cognac and cook one minute, the add the sherry and cook 3 minutes longer. Transfer the crab and leeks to a blender or food processor and process until coarsely pureed. I am fortunate to have a vitmix and used this to puree my seafood.

In the same pot, melt the butter, add the rice flour and cook for at least a minute. Slowly add the cream stirring with a whisk or wooden spoon to make a roux, then add the seafood stock, slowly, thickening as you go along. Add the pureed crab, tomato paste, salt and pepper, puree again if you want a velvety smooth soup. Return to the pot and add the fresh cooked lumps of crab. Serve immediately. If you make this ahead of time, reheat slowly, stirring often over medium heat.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Budapest Reunion and GF Chicken Paprikash

I never got to try Chicken Paprikash while in Budapest and found myself pining over plates of it that were served to Tina and her students. Wheat flour, the everlasting travel downer was always used as a thickener in the fiery sauce. When Tina said she wanted to host a reunion dinner for her students I knew right away that Chicken Paprikash would be on the menu and that it would be gluten-free. Finally I would get to sample this quintessential Hungarian favorite. I also knew that I would have a very palate savvy audience, well acquainted with good traditional Hungarian dishes. Wanting to impress, I held a dry run with Tina and her brother. I read and read, contemplating the recipes at hand, tweaking as I went along, making notes of my changes. I held my breath as Tina took her first bite. "You got it babe, you got it exactly!" I was thrilled and grateful for the kilo bag of sweet paprika I bought home with me. The reunion dinner will consume several cups of my authentic Hungarian paprika.

So this Friday 20 students who spent a month studying math with Tina in Budapest will come together for a reunion, showing pictures, telling stories and remembering the month they had in January. I am cooking all week, it is a big undertaking. The menu includes Chicken Paprikash, Hungarian Beef Stew, Hungarian Style Green Beans with dill, and potatoes (I don't have time to make enough spaetzle). For desert we will have Hungarian Shortbread Tart, raspberry and apricot.

Here is the recipe for the Chicken Paprikash I finally settled on.

2 tablespoons bacon grease (I used three pieces of bacon to get two tablespoons)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
2-3 pounds of whole chicken cut unto pieces (I used a combination of boneless breast and thighs, both pounded *
14.5 ounces caned diced tomatoes (I used about 2 quart size cans of my own canned tomatoes drained, reserving half a cup of the liquid)
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons rice flour
8 ounces sour cream
2 bay leaves

* Most recipes call for bone in chicken. Tina said most of the Chicken Paprikash they had in Budapest was made with pounded chicken breast. Use whatever you want.

Heat bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and paprika. Stir together cook until onion is translucent. Add chicken pieces, bay leaves and pour in the chicken broth. Cook over medium heat for 40 minutes, longer if using bone-in chicken, adding more broth if necessary. Remove and discard bay leaves. Remove chicken, add tomatoes to the pot. Puree the sauce in a blender, food processor or using an immersion blender. Return sauce to pan. In a medium bowl blend rice flour, sour cream and reserved tomato juice together. When well blended add mixture to the tomato sauce and return chicken to the pot. Stir until thick and headed through.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hungarian Gulyás

My soup night guests are in for a real treat tomorrow evening as I am throwing a Hungarian inspired evening. I've written about our soup nights before, initially weekly gatherings for 8 weeks in the fall during which we served soup for friends and family every Tuesday. The idea came out of a desire to create community and a regular gathering when I took a weekend position at work. We have hosted the gatherings for the past 9 years, this year going to a monthly evening over the course of the fall and winter. My love affair with soup began in my early 30's when my mother was dying of lung cancer. My mother had the most amazing friends, women who were strong role models for me. One of them brought homemade soup to our house once a week for nearly 18 months. I learned quickly that soup was a source of comfort and solace and I wanted nothing more than to master the art of making good homemade soup. It is perhaps one of my strongest suits in the kitchen. I love planning and preparing for soup night during the long dark days of fall and winter.

When we are in Budapest we devoure Hungarian Gulyás at almost every meal, savoring every bite. I am not a student of Hungarian cuisine but I have learned a thing or two about this classic dish. For starters, everyone in Hungary has their own idea of how to make Gulyás which is actually pronounced GOO-yash, no L. Some insist that an authentic version never contains flour or tomatoes, others insist that it is a soup, not a stew. It is probably somewhere in between and my standard is that it must have authentic Hungarian paprika. The name comes from the Hungarian word for cattle stockman or herdsmen who cooked the dish in a large cauldron called a Bogrács over an open fire in the countryside

While looking for a recipe to work with I stumbled upon a version from Sue Doeden, a food writer and chief living in Bemidiji, MN with a Hungarian background. I was drawn to her version because of the slowness of cooking she describes. Sue claims that the dish can not be rushed, good results come from patience. It took me more than half a day to make Sue's Gulyás. I must admit, the flavor is remarkably reminiscent of the Guláys in Budapest. Thanks Sue for a great addition to my repertoire, my guests are in for a real treat!

Sue Doeden's Hungarian Gulyás

4 slices bacon, chopped
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, trimmed and cut into bit-sized pieces
1 large green bell pepper, chopped (I used red)
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons caraway seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
4 cups beef broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I cut mine into 1/4-inch)
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
kosher salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large, heavy Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add chopped bacon and fry until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Add chopped onions to the hot bacon grease. Cook until translucent and tender. Increase heat to high, add beef and cook, stirring once or twice until meat is lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add green or red pepper and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant. Stir in paprika, caraway and marjoram. Add beef broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer gently for an hour, covered. Add diced tomatoes with juice and carrots, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add cubed potatoes, cover and simmer another 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. An overnight in the refrigerator gives the flavors a chance to mingle and develop, a wait that is worth it.