Fair warning, this post is going to be a lengthy one. Lions, tigers, and bears, there will be a recipe; our advocating cooking by mass; and a review of a kitchen scale. Seemingly disparate subjects, there is a connection.
We accepted an inexpensive digital scale to test with our “everyday cooking,” so used it to measure the ingredients to make arctic char crudo with which we made “cowboy” maki rolls (translated: deep fried “tempura” maki rolls). It seemed the thing to do…
To begin, home cooks are losing what makes them cooks, the skills and experience to…well…cook. While popular, the Food Network is more a game show than cooking channel, replete with gladiatorial “reality” food programming. Tricked out home kitchens with induction ranges, convection ovens, and marble counter tops sit idle as busy living keeps us eating ready-made dinner solutions, frozen entrees, takeout, and delivery. Moreover, single young professionals are ditching the ritual that is “dining in,” eating whenever and wherever they can. Finally, cookbooks are more and more photography-heavy collections of paint-by-number instruction.
Sheer word count demonstrates how granular recipes have become. Recipes, a generation ago, assumed a level of basic kitchen skill that is unrealistic today. Now, dishes have to be quick and easy. Ingredients need to be readily available at the larger chain supermarkets. Technique has to be simple. Think “slapchop,” not brunoise. Forget cooking by taste.Lest we become enslaved to “almost homemade” convenience food, we need to change our cooking habits. This is where digital kitchen scales come to play.
In smaller quantities measuring ingredients by volume tends to be accurate enough. But, what happens when irregularly-shaped ingredients don’t neatly fit into cups or spoons? What happens when ingredients can be packed together densely? Think flour. What happens when you need to double or halve a recipe?
Case in point, dry cured and beer finished arctic char.
Arctic Char Crudo
Stephen Beaumont and Brian Morin’s take on “gravlax” in The Beerbistro Cookbook has become our go to recipe for cured fish. Accordingly, a 2 kg skin-on fish fillet is cured in 450 g of large grain salt (we use Kosher), sugar (we use raw), freshly ground coriander, and citrus zest (we use orange). The cure is made according to the following ratio 210 g salt: 250 g sugar: 1 tsp coriander: and zest of a citrus fruit. The fish is cured skin-side down for 12 hours. Then, it is partially submerged in beer, trying not to wash off the surface cure. To finish, it is left to soak for a further 24 – 36 hours.
So why cook by mass? What happens if the fish monger provides you a fillet that weighs more or less than 2 kg? Mother nature doesn’t consult with cookbook authors on portion control. Fillets tend to be irregularly shaped.
Consider a 278 g fillet of super fresh arctic char. Working with the ratio by mass, we made approximately 65 g of cure (a 7th of the original), adjusting the coriander and citrus zest by eye. Needless to say, it worked.
This batch, we finished the fish in local microbrewery Kichesippi‘s flagship Natural Blonde. A malt pale ale, its hints of spice, citrus, and caramel already work well with fish. For the crudo, the ale bolstered intended flavours and contributed a pleasant but slightly bitter notes.
Eat Smart Digital Scale
The teardrop-shaped smart “Precision Pro” digital scale we received from Eat Smart is light, owing to its plastic construction. Measuring 8″ x 6″, it takes up very little space. All grey, we hazard to imagine a kitchen in which it would clash.
Simply constructed with two “plasticy” buttons, “on/off/tare” and “unit,” the Precision Pro is easy to use. It has a large easy-to-read LCD display. Pressing the unit-button toggles through the available measurement units: grams, kilograms, ounces and pounds. The scale is graduated to the nearest gram and 0.05 oz. The in-package “heavy duty” zinc chloride AAA batteries are more than enough to power the scale. Ours have been going strong for months.
Should you over burden the scale with anything weighing over 5 kgs (approx 11 lbs), it will question your age. The overload error message is “O_LD.”
Compared to our old scale, The Precision Pro is actually more decisive. Whereas our former scale, with its molded-to-fit removable plastic bowl, waffles between readings, accurate to the nearest tenth of a gram or oz, the Precision Pro does not. Though, the Precision Pro’s tare button can be unresponsive. Successive presses can turn the scale off, a minor frustration.
In general, we prefer digital over spring loaded mechanical scales because spring(s) wear out. Furthermore, digital scales with tare buttons allow you to “zero out” what is already in your container. This way, you can continue measuring additional ingredients in the same container.
Retailing for $26.95 on Amazon.ca, the Precision Pro is priced to compete with other value-oriented kitchen scales on the market. It competes well.
Now, back to the “testing” …
Cowboy Maki Rolls
With the arctic char curing overnight, we decided to approach cowboy maki rolls, borrowing from legendary Wild Chef Martin Picard’s “Sugar Shack Maki” recipe. So, we made cretons.
[Adapted from "PDC Cretons" from Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack by Martin Picard]
What You’ll Need:
- 400 g chopped par-cooked pork belly (details of how to make this in the prep)
- 250 g chopped yellow cooking onion
- 10 g chopped garlic
- 20 g lard
- 70 g bread crumbs
- 325 mL of milk
- 750 g lean ground pork
- 6 g cloves (ground)
- 8 g cinnamon (ground)
- 5 g all spice berries (ground)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Take 6 rashers of thinly sliced pork belly and place them on a rack, set over over a roasting tray.
- Place the rack and tray into a cold oven.
- Set the oven to 350F.
- After 45 minutes, remove the pork belly slices. They should be cooked, but not crisped. Fat should have rendered out. If the slices are not cooked, place them back into the oven and continue roasting.
- Let the par-cooked pork belly cool until handle-able.
- Combine the bread crumbs and milk in a separate container and set it aside. The crumbs will hydrate.
- Measure out approximately 400 g of par-cooked pork belly and place it in a food processor.
- Pulse the par-cooked pork belly until it is well chopped.
- In a large sauce pan, set over medium heat, sweat the onion and garlic in the lard.
- Add the ground pork to the pan.
- Pan fry the meat mixture until everything is cooked through.
- Add the milk and crumb mixture to the pan.
- Continue cooking until a paste forms.
- Drain the mixture using a wire whisk, reserving the “drippings.”
- Add the drained mixture to the food processor.
- Add the spices to the food processor.
- Pulse everything until combined. If the mixture is dry, add some of the reserved drippings and pulse again.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Line a strong-walled container with plastic wrap. The container will act as a mold.
- Place the cretons into the container, evenly distributing it to ensure there are no air pockets.
- Let the cretons “set” (solidify) overnight in the refrigerator.
- Slice and serve chilled.
Final assembly involved steaming some calrose (aka: sushi) rice and seasoning it with, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. I made 1 cup of uncooked rice. So, to the cooked rice, I spooned on 3 tbsp of rice vinegar in which I dissolved 2 tbsp of granulated white sugar and a pinch of salt.
Then, I sliced the cretons and crudo into slivers and assembled the maki rolls with sheets of nori.
I battered the uncut maki rolls in a batter consisting of 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 cup corn starch, 2 tsp salt, and enough low sodium club soda (or other non-mineral sparkling water) to make the mixture thin enough to pour like pancakes. This would be the same batter used to make the Chinese “happy meal” from the Fall 2012 edition of David Chang’s Lucky Peach.
To fry the maki rolls, I brought several cups of vegetable oil to 350 F. Then, I lowered no more than two rolls at a time to fry for 2 – 3 minutes. Please note, if you want the fish to stay raw, use a thinner batter, something that will set and crisp after 30 seconds in the oil.
What have we learned here?
- My idea of testing kitchen equipment with “everyday cooking” is different from most people’s.
- Cook by mass whenever feasible.
- If you want deep fried maki, it is likely more worthwhile to go out to a restaurant than make it yourself.
Belated Friday Appendix: #GoodEatsBlogs
Regarding preserving home cookery, here are recipes from some inspired local food bloggers.
Click here for a recipe for crock pot braised beef from Crystal of “Ottawa Valley Moms.” Pulled braised beef is so versatile. It can be used in myriad dishes both ethnic and otherwise: salads, flour tortilla wraps, tacos (both hard and soft), empanadas (pasties)…
Speaking of ethnic-inspired fare, click here for a marinated and roasted coconut lime chicken from Jo-Anna of “A Pretty Life in the Suburbs.” This recipe would work beautifully on a grill. Consider de-boning or using boneless cuts of dark meat chicken for tacos.
Speaking of tacos, how about a quick burrito for dinner? Click here for a chicken, black bean, and sweet potato recipe from Andrea of “A Peek Inside the Fish Bowl.”
Something sweet? Click here for a wheat-free oatmeal chocolate chip cookie that is extremely high in fiber from Alanna of “Fridays Off.”
Tags: #GoodEatsBlogs, beer, Charcutepalooza, cretons, featured, Kichesippi, Martin Picard, sushi