Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Braised [Baby] Octopus

Love, love, love octopus (two-pound octopi pictured above; baby octopi pictured below).

Can't exactly pinpoint what it is about octopus, but I absolutely love it.  Octopus tastes like the sea -- salty and briny.  Reminds me of everything I love about the sea.  The smell of the ocean.  The sound of the ocean.  The emerald-turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean.  The calmness/tranquility engendered by the sound of waves crashing.  An overall sense of peace and happiness I feel when I'm near the water.

When I see octopus on a menu, I almost always order it (can't seem to get enough of it).  Grilled would be my first choice (like they do so well in Greece), but am not all that picky when it comes to octopus.  I enjoy it Galician-style (pulpo a la Gallega), boiled, thinly sliced, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and dusted with smoked Spanish paprika and coarse sea salt.  When properly cooked, octopus is not chewy, but rather tender with just a bit of bite.

Despite my affinity for octopus, it's not something I buy very often (sadly, because it's not all that easy to find).  Usually stick to squid (caught right here off the shores of Long Island, NY), as it's more readily available.  Where are all the octopus??

But when I am so fortunate as to come across octopus, it's hard to pass it up.  Saw some at a local fish market in Brooklyn a few weeks back and kept thinking about it.  Knew it was just a matter of time until I went back,  I couldn't resist.

I've cooked many whole octopus in my time, but this is my first time with baby octopus.  I simply braised them with tomato (passata), red wine, onion, and garlic for a good 35-40 minutes until tender and delicious.

Octopus gives off a fair amount of  water, but as it cooks down and reduces, the flavors concentrate and you're left with this thick, flavorful sauce that coats the octopus.  This preparation also works well with squid; I've made a similar rendition with my other favorite cephalopod.  Should you prepare this dish with squid, seek out uncleaned (aka 'dirty' squid).  Uncleaned squid, which by the way are very easy to prep/clean, are considerably more flavorful than they're already cleaned counterparts.

I served the braised octopus with fregola, Sardinian toasted pasta (you could always substitute couscous or spaghetti), finished with toasted, whole-grain bread crumbs (for some crunch) and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

The baby octopus are sold in two-pound frozen blocks ($6.99 per pound here)...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chilled Strawberry Soup

Caught the tail end of strawberry season here in New York.  Seems like just a few weeks ago when these lovely red orbs announced themselves at the Union Square farmers' market.  Sadly, in the seeming blink of an eye, they are just about gone.  That's how it goes when you eat with the seasons and the "window" of a particular item is relatively short.  Luckily, I was able to snag a few pints just in the nick of time.

I first made this soup a few years back.  I've been slowly going through my old posts and updating recipes (mostly for the photography, which was a bit dismal back then).  When it comes to photography and, for that matter, cooking, I continue to learn each and every day.  Life is all about learning and self-discovery.

This dessert -- a chilled strawberry yuzu soup -- is light and summery.  It's simple to make (just toss all the ingredients into a blender), yet elegant at the same time.  Something you could easily whip together in advance, chill in the refrigerator, and serve in minutes.

The fruit salad on the side makes for a nice presentation while keeping with the theme of simplicity. Nothing more than mixed berries, sliced apricot, vanilla ice cream, a few sprigs of mint, and some toasted pine nuts. Toasted or caramelized nuts such as pecans, walnuts, or almonds would also be nice.

I realize that yuzu juice may not be a mainstream ingredient, at least in the United States, but it's worth the hassle of tracking down.  Yuzu has a unique flavor and aroma -- kind of like a lemon met a mandarin orange met a grapefruit (it's hard to put a finger on the exact flavor and aroma).  Yuzu juice will keep for several months in the refrigerator.  In addition to strawberries, it also pairs well with shellfish and fish.  Yuzu vinaigrette + oysters (or seared or sashimi tuna) = divine :-)

The salad includes thinly sliced apricots, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, mint, pine nuts, and vanilla ice cream.

How beautiful are these guys? Juicy, sweet, and deep red in color, like a strawberry should be.

The strawberry soup is just strawberries + yuzu juice + honey + ice + a pinch of sea salt...

Licked the bowl clean...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Burdock Root (Gobo) Salad

This is a simple little salad that I was turned on to a few weeks ago at a Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.  By looks alone, it -- kinpira gobo (braised burdock root) -- might not seem all that impressive.  However, there's more to this salad than meets the eye.  Let your taste buds be the judge. This salad has a lot going on flavor-wise (salty, sweet) and texture-wise (slightly crunchy).

One of my goal's with this blog is to introduce people to ingredients that might otherwise be overlooked simply due to unfamiliarity.  Someone introduced burdock to me; hence, I wish to introduce it to you.  So be brave.  Try something new.  Life is all about new experiences.

Kinpira gobo or braised burdock root salad...

The burdock (along with carrot) is julienned, stir-fried until softened, and then simmered in a dashi broth with soy sauce, mirin, sake, and small amount of sugar.  I added a dried red chile for a bit of heat and finished the salad with a dash of sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds.

I find burdock at various farmers' markets (Whole Foods too).  Check Asian markets as well.

Some interesting tidbits about burdock...

Burdock is in the Asteraceae family (aka aster, daisy, or sunflower family), which is comprised of more than 1620 genera and 23,600 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees.  Members of the Asteraceae family include artichokes, dandelions, endive, salsify, sunflower, thistle, and wormwood (the source of the oil used in absinthe).

Burdock has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, primarily for its blood cleansing and skin healing properties.

Burdock has been shown to possess strong antioxidant activity and to have prebiotic properties that can improve health (and maintain a healthy digestive system).

The twiggy looking root pictured below is burdock.

Along with burdock, I julienned a bit of carrot for this salad...

Burdock oxidizes quickly.  To prevent browning, have a bowl of acidulated water (water + lemon juice) ready.

This is my favorite gadget for julienning vegetables.

Blistered shishito; shiitake mushrooms braised in dashi, soy, mirin, and sake; and seasonal vegetables to accompany the burdock salad...

All-purpose dashi...

You'll need to make a basic dashi stock for the salad.  Making dashi is simple and takes but a few minutes.

Ingredients needed: 1) bonito flakes (aka katsuobushi), 2) kombu (seaweed), and 3) water. 

In a pinch, you could use instant dashi; look for MSG-free brands. 


Kombu is a type of sea vegetable, otherwise known as kelp (from the family Laminariaceae).  Am not one to harp on the health benefits of food, though I will say that sea vegetables are exceptionally good for you.  They provide the broadest range of minerals of any food and contain virtually all the minerals found in the ocean.  Kombu has a high concentration of glutamic acid, which provides that umami taste -- a briny, almost mushroom-like flavor.

Bonito is a type of mackerel that is steamed and dried to a wood-like hardness, and then shaved into flakes.  Bonito has a smoky component to it, which imparts a subtle (but nice) note to the dashi broth.