Monday, July 25, 2011

Huachinango a la Veracruzana

Veracruz lies nuzzled in the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico, not too far away from Cuba and Hispaniola from where Cortéz sailed in 1519. The area was one of the first conquered by the Spanish, and has long had quite a distinct character, as I suppose so many port cities do. The mix of the indigenous history, European culture, African slave elements and even the strong ties to Cuba's recent history make this a fascinating place.

The heat of the city in June is pure oppression, with the pavement scorching and baking, and helados half-melted before they are even paid for. My first trip there, I resolved to spend evenings in the Zocalo watching elderly couples dressed in white dance like swans, as I waited until it had cooled enough to consider a meal.

So around 10 o'clock every night, Juanita cooked for me in her little restaurant two blocks from the square. She gave me this recipe, which varies little from many others you might find in any given book but for the fact she chars the tomato to begin. Also she preferred a single red chillie, rather than a pickled jalapeño as is more commonly used (incidentally, jalapeños are from Veracruz state, and named after it's more northern city, Xalapa).

Huachinango a la Veracruzana
Red snapper in tomato, olive and caper sauce

1 red snapper, about 1kg
2 egg tomato
1/2 small white onion, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons capers, with a little of the brine
8 green olives
2 sprigs thyme
a pinch of dried Mexican oregano
cracked black pepper
1 small red chillie, cut in half
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil

  1. Trim the fins from the snapper, and score the sides with a sharp knife.* Rub salt into the cuts, then rub the juice of half a lime. Leave to sit for one hour.
  2. Char the tomatoes on a comal or under a grill. When soft, blend with 50ml water.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a pan until hot. Place the fish in the pan, and cook for around three minutes until the skin is nicely coloured.**
  4. Turn the fish over and cook the second side to the same degree. Remove the fish to a baking tray.
  5. Lower the heat and ad the onion to the pan, cook for around one minute, then add garlic and bay leaves. Cook a further minute, then add remaining ingredients including blended tomato and lime juice. Bring to the boil then simmer for two minutes.
  6. Pour over fish and bake for 15 minutes at 190º.
  7. Serve with red rice and a little olive oil.

*My snapper was a little monster and wouldn't fit in the pan, so I trimmed the fillets off. It's not as hard as it looks: Use a sharp knife to cut into the fish near the backbone, then just slowly follow the contour of the bones, peeling the fillet back as you go. If you get stuck, change direction and keep cutting until you have removed it cleanly. Flip the fish over and repeat the process. You may find the second try will be a little easier, but just go slowly and please, use a sharp knife or you will just destroy the little fellow. Pictures of my simple process below.

**To cook fillets, seal the flesh side first after seasoning well. When nicely coloured, flip over gently and cook skin side until crispy. Remove from pan to a plate, cook the second fillet the same way, then remove. Follow step 5 of the above recipe, but reduce the sauce a little further, then pour over the fillet.

Cut in slowly along the backbone, peel the fillet away so you can see the bone you are cutting the flesh from.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dear Mrs Harvey

Pretty excited about the sweet sweet candy up there.

On May 21st of this year Karin and I got married. We were not able to invite everyone we would have liked, as it was a small event without all the space that would have been required. Sad as that was, Simon and I cooked the whole menu ourselves so I was glad there wasn't too many more.

It is a chef's curse to cook at one's own wedding, and I know more than a few who have done it. I decided to go back to my first culinary digs and cook Italian. Slow, tasty, hearty and simple. The recipe from the braised short-rib follows along with a few photos of the day, including the piñata which was the only thing Mexican on the menu.

Thanks to all our friends who made it, and those we couldn't invite but remembered on the day.

Karin & Travis Harvey

Braised Beef short rib in Sangiovese

1kg organic beef short rib (or shin)
1 cup diced brown onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
5 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 bayleaf
4 sprigs of thyme
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tin whole peeled tomato (400g or 12oz approximately)
300ml good Chianti, Sangiovese or Shiraz
Chicken stock
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Good extra virgin olive oil (Cobram Estate was used)

  1. Cut the short rib into portions, trim any thick fat then season well with lots of salt.
  2. Heat a pan with a decent amount of olive oil, then sear the meaty surfaces of the rib until nicely coloured. Turn the rib and sear all sides evenly. Remove from the pan to a cast iron or braising dish. If much fat renders into the pan, pour some off but use the rest to finish sealing the meat.
  3. When you have finished searing the ribs, pour out the excess fat and add a good slug of olive oil, add the vegetables and cook gently without colour.
  4. When they have softened, add the garlic and other herbs and spices. Cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and wine and bring to the boil stirring frequently.
  5. Add the tinned tomato and season. It should seem a little under-seasoned, and will balance out during cooking with the beef.
  6. Pour the liquid over the ribs, and top up with chicken stock until nearly covered (but not quite).
  7. Place a lid on the cooking dish and bring to the boil before placing in the oven at 160 for 2½ -3 hours.
  8. When the beef is really tender but still clinging to the bone, carefully remove it from the liquid with tongs. Pass the liquid through a sieve and reserve, pressing all the juice out of the vegetables before discarding.
  9. Any remaining vegetables you may have had after measuring out the braising quantities, can now be sautéed gently in a little more olive oil. When they are soft, add the liquid and adjust the seasoning and consistency. Now reintroduce the beef to the sauce and heat gently to serve. Serve with soft polenta, orange gremolata and a little more very good olive oil.

Menu and place settings.

Soft Polenta

1 cup polenta
3-4 cups water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
100g Butter
100g freshly grated Grana (or Parmesan)
lots of salt

  1. Bring the water to the boil in a large pot with garlic and salt (about 2 teaspoons).
  2. Rain in polenta, whisking all the while. Bring to the boil again, then turn down the flame to a very low heat.
  3. Keep stirring or whisking for as long as specified on the packet (instant will take about 10 mins, traditional polenta about 50).
  4. Add butter and parmesan and mix through. Check seasoning and serve.

Menu with details: click to read.

Orange Gremolata

3 cloves garlic
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1 orange
1 lemon
cracked pepper

Method 1 (simple)
  1. Peel the garlic, pick the parsley leaves and zest the orange and lemon with a microplane or peeler.
  2. Roughly chop it all, then place in a small food proccesor with pepper and 100ml extra virgin olive oil. Blend till smooth.
Method 2 (hard but better. And prettier)
  1. Pick parsley and chop finely, Reserve.
  2. Peel garlic, then slice 1mm thin on a mandoline. Stack the slices of garlic slices to a hieight of four slices, then cut a julienne of the same width (1mm). When finished, turn the julienned garlic around ninety degrees and cut again, achieving a 1mm dice of garlic. Add to the parsley.
  3. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the rind from the citrus. Fillet any white pith from the strips with a paring knife, then use a cooks knife to cut a julienne of the same size. Repeat the garlic process to achieve a fine dice.
  4. Your proportions should be one part garlic, one part zest, two parts parsley. Add a little cracked pepper and mix well.

Simon, after cooking with me for two days.