Tuesday, May 26, 2009

FROM THE MENU: Goat Shank Tagine

Gorgeous, grass-fed goat is in from Marin Sun Farms. These guys gently graze the hills of Point Reyes sustainably "managing" pastures. I also have a dozen fragrant bulbs of Spring fennel courtesy of Terra Sonoma in Sebastopol, and lemon I quickly preserved to save from ruin. I'm craving intense spices these days, and our menu could definitely use some as well. All of which promptly leads to tagine in my book. I quickly consult my Paula Wolfert.

I had a revelatory 16th birthday dinner at Dar Maghreb in Los Angles, and visited Morocco itself briefly in my early 20s ...the astonishing flavors of the place immediately etched themselves into me, and I had to figure out how they worked. Wolfert - one of the first food writers I turned to for authority - had lived in Morocco, and was a brilliant guide into those layers of saffron, ginger, garlic, sweet onion, green coriander & preserved lemon. Tagines have become an essential piece of my food lexicon. I crave them habitually as I crave any faithfully made pozole or bouillabaisse; any sating, true stew.

Fennel in the index of Wolfert's Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco gets me Lamb Tagine with Fennel, a "fragrant meat tagine," which I learn, as a group, usually involve preserved lemon, olives and vegetables. I substitute our newly arrived rich goat shank for the lamb shoulder, augment dried ginger in the recipe with beloved fresh, add a little tomato for some bricky earth, cinnamon stick because I can't resist its perfume, and a spoonful of honey to pull on the sweet notes of the melted saffrony onion. So, while I've ultimately made my own way in the recipe, both in ingredients and technique (French training and restaurant kitchen Batterie de cuisine!), Wolfert is always lingering in the background, too. The braise hums madly. Serve on couscous with lemon, chickpeas and scallions.

Goat Tagine with Fennel and Olives

6 meaty goat shanks

Sea Salt

Freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, sliced in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise

2 medium bulbs of fennel, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise

1 large pinch of saffron threads, lightly finger-crushed

6 medium garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons freshly toasted, ground coriander seed

1 teaspoons freshly toasted, ground cumin

2 teaspoons freshly toasted, ground fennel seed

3 tablespoons honey

3/4 cup fresh tomato peeled and chopped, or good boxed/canned chopped tomatoes

4 cups of chicken stock or water

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), stem and all, tied with butcher string

1/2 cup oil-cured olives

1 large preserved lemon, rinsed and quartered

Preheat oven to 375. Salt and pepper the goat shanks. Brown them over medium-high heat in a large, deep casserole that will fit all the meat and go in the oven. Remove shanks from the pan and add olive oil, onions and half the fennel and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the saffron, garlic, ginger and all spices and cook another 5 minutes. Add the honey and tomatoes and cook a few minutes. Add stock and tuck shanks back into pot along with the cinnamon stick and tied cilantro. Bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in the oven until tender, about 3 hours. Check every so often; add more liquid if necessary. Add olives, lemon and remaining fennel to the stew the last 15 minutes of cooking. It is finished when the fennel is tender and the meat is buttery and falling off the bone. Taste and season as necessary.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Devil's Gulch Head Cheese "Piggy Confessional"

Here’s the head cheese (post to follow) I made from said animal in my Pig, Winnie & Me post, apparently my own personal “piggy confessional,” as Sara Dickerman ingeniously coined these scribed adventures a while ago in Slate.  I don’t know if I actually "(came) face to face with (my) own fleshly and mortal nature in the 'mirror' of the pig,” as Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft claims we bloody confessers do in the recent wonderful Pig Issue of Meatpaperor if I felt my butchery sins had been absolved by the end of my piggy scribblings, but close enough to the bone and utterly hilarious.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Feast: South India


Okra and Lotus Root in Fenugreek Masala 

Prawn Varuval - Chilie Prawns

Sweet Mango Curry with Cumin Basmati Rice 

Pork Vindaloo with Rice Idlis and Cilantro-Chickpea Chutney 

Bagare Baingan - Tamarind Stuffed Eggplant

Mint & Cilantro Raita 

Our pal Rohini fashioned an Indian feast for us last night.  Oh yes she did.  Her husband Ravi chose perfect, outlandish wines for the whole rollicking shebang from his rife cellar too: blissful bony Chablis, petal-steeped Meursault and an earth-singing Pinot Noir from Oregon (he even insanely tossed in a `96 Les Forts de Latour for post-dinner sipping!)... enough liquid elegance to animate any fiery fete. 

Rohini, originally from Mumbai, is stumped when I ask her to name a good Indian restaurant in San Francisco.  And, truly, I have never had Indian food like hers anywhere.  It is both utterly layered and pure. She uses fragrant herbs unabashedly - curry leaves, fenugreek, cilantro, mint - and is rightly adamant about freshly toasted, ground spices. She tells me that Indian families often mix their own unique masalas and that her mother sends her bundles of the new family cache every few months (which she proprietarily flashes from a deeply perfumed drawer).

Our dinner was Southern: extravagantly spiced, popped with heat, vegetable rich, rice-inflected (spiced basmati and classic Southern idlis of rice and dahl).  I have been known to groan over Sambar with Idlis in my (clearly deprived) past, yet I’ve never tasted idlis as fine as these.  I loved the sour-tender crumb of it; the way its neutral fermented tang worked against the sweet, bitter, cool, hot fusion of the entire plate.  I could tease out each gorgeous flavor of our dinner separately and then taste them, too, mingled together in their own magnificent manna.  Rave on Rohini. Recipes to come...