22 February 2007

Homemade Rillettes

Rillettes - decadent, a once-a-year maybe kind of treat. The final result is pâté-like in texture but without any kind of organ meat flavor. It's a cold, salty, fatty paste spread onto slices of bread, toast or crackers. I realize this doesn't sound very appetizing but it's inexplicably simple and good.

So what is rillettes and how do you make it at home? Rillettes may best be explained by how you make it at home, which is something like this:

1 lb pork belly, skin removed (this is hard to find, try your local Chinese grocery meat counter)
2 Tbsp fresh lard (I cut some of the fat off the extra pork belly, rendered it, and chilled it)
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 large bay leaf
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 whole cloves
1/2 to 1 C water

Cut the pork into 1" square pieces and set into the crockpot. Add everything except the water -- pour about 1/4 -1/2 C of water in, just enough to prevent anything from sticking. Cook on high for 1 hour, stirring occassionally, or until the meat has a pale golden hue. Reduce heat to low and cook for an additional 8-9 hours. During the long cooking time, remove, strain, and reserve the liquid fat, discarding the spices. Add water as necessary to prevent sticking.

Let the meat cool completely. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the meat to a smooth consistency, adding reserved liquid if necessary to aid the process. Transfer the paste to a suitably sized crock or jar and refridgerate until completely cold. Warm the reserved fat/liquid and pour enough of the reserved liquid over the top of the chilled paste to form a seal. Chill.

When ready to serve, slice some French bread (toast it or not), scrape the fatty seal off the top of the rillettes, and spread over the bread. Serve with some French cornichons and champagne.

Honestly, it doesn't taste like pig fat, it tastes like a very mild, salty pâté. Impress your friends with this super easy delicacy. HOWEVER...

This is a heart attack in a jar. Be sensible about how much of this you eat at once. Perhaps the saltiness of it alone will be enough to help you minimize your intake. Be sure to get in some exercise, too, if you're going to eat this.

15 February 2007

Caldo verde

Caldo verde is a Portuguese soup that makes a quick weeknight dinner when it's cold outside, which it has been here for the last few days with wind chill temps around zero farenheit and 3 inches of ice and snow.

Anyhow, caldo verde (I probably am spelling that wrong) features linguiça, a specialty Portuguese sausage. If you can't find it, use a mild or spicy Italian sausage instead. Slices or crumbled, brown the sausage in a sturdy soup pot, remove the meat to papertowels to drain. Add 1 large yellow onion, chopped, and 3 cloves of minced garlic over medium heat until wilted but not browned. Potatoes: use about one and one half pounds of small red or white potatoes cut in half, and then cut into thin semi-circles. Add the sliced potatoes to the pot and stir to coat with the grease, adding a little olive oil if needed, and then cook about 2-3 minutes. Add one pound of washed and chopped kale. This will be voluminous in the pot. Using a wooden spoon, gently turn the greens with the potatoes from the bottom. Once it's all well incorporated, add low-sodium chicken broth (about 8 cups). Bring your pot nearly to a boil, then put the lid on slightly ajar and let simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

We had pear clafouti for dessert. Sounds fancy right, but it's way easy! I even cheated and used pears from a jar. So butter a baking dish and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. If you are using real pears, make sure they are slightly firm but scented and ripe. Peel and core the pears. Put each pear half or quarter or slices of pear into the prepared baking dish. Make the batter: 3 whole eggs, 1/3 C granulated sugar, 1 C milk, 2/3 C all-purpose flour (sifted), 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon zest (optional), 1/4 C pear liqueur such as Poire William or pear schnapps (optional, but if you leave it out, add a 1/4 C milk). This should be about the consistency of pancake batter (that is sort of what the recipe is anyway). Pour the batter over the pears and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven about 45 minutes or until the batter starts pouffing and very slightly browning. The middle should be just a little custardy next to the pieces of fruit, similar to a not-too-eggy flan in texture in the middle. You can do the same recipe with any fruit in season, substituting the appropriate fruit liqueur for the Poire William. For example, make this with fresh cherries (pitted or not, but warn your dinner guests if not), and use kirsch. Cherry clafouti is the traditional version of this not-too-sweet dessert. Serve with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream or even some natural plain yogurt. A dessert with a fancy name is just as simple as sliced fruit and pancake batter!

01 February 2007


José Andrés' original tapas restaurant and bar, Jaléo, in Washington, DC is still a standout after many years. (See also my previous entry on Zaytinya, another José Andrés restaurant.) Being within a few short blocks from the Verizon Center arena and the DC theater district, it's bound to be full most evenings. The crowd makes for an atmosphere bustling and exciting with anticipation, not only for the fine food and drink but for the events that the diners will be attending nearby. It helps that the inside feels authentically Spanish, too, with tiles and mosaics and murals of Spanish flamenco dancers (and live ones certain nights of the week). A little piece of old Madrid right in the heart of Washington.

Beverages on the menu include a couple cavas (Spanish sparkling wines), several different types of sherry, and sangria traditional or sparkling. I haven't tried the sparkling sangria yet but the regular leaves nothing to be desired so why switch? I think the brandy in it must be the secret ingredient. Sangria in Spain meets its match at Jaleo.

The tapas menu has some very traditional items and many very inventive and original tapas, which is Andrés' forté. If you are an adventurous eater, all the better because the menu is sure to delight you. One of my favorites is a cold dish of julienned apples with julienned manchego tossed with a little extra virgin olive oil and garlic. The color of the apples and the cheese match so closely that it's hard to tell what you have on your fork until it's in your mouth and bursting with sweet and tart and salty and crispy and chewy, and that's the lovely surprise of it, that something so simple could be all those things at once. But we didn't have that the other night. We tried a few new things, things on the specials menu and a couple of old tried-and-trues (we ate A LOT! but skipped dessert). Unfortunately I don't have the exact names of the items but will try to explain them well enough that you could order them if you go.

From the specials menu we had:
- a cheese which looks like cheddar because it's quite orange in color, but is actually a sharp goat's milk cheese; somewhere between smooth and crumbly in texture, it has a subtle smokiness from the Spanish paprika that lends its color to the cheese. The marriage of the cheese with the fig paste served as accompaniment was good, but the cheese alone spread on a chunk of crusty bread, even better.

- a dish of setas, or wild mushrooms with roasted potatoes in a creamy sauce that incorporated a light blue cheese. The mushrooms and potatoes are meaty enough to stand up to the rich and flavorful sauce, so you get a blend of earthy flavors, each distinguishable from the other.

- black rice with calamari (squid)and aoili -- in this beautiful and perfectly balanced dish, the risotto is made black by squid ink. I suppose it's more for effect or to not waste something that's edible, but the ink doesn't add flavor, only drama and intrigue. Who doesn't like a little drama and intrigue when it comes to rice?! Add a few bite sized pieces of calamari cooked to perfection, top with a little aoili, and there you have it.

From the cold tapas menu
- Pan con tomate y jamón serrano -- Spanish imported cured ham with a paste of sundried tomatoes spread onto nice crusty bread. Yum.

- Endibias con queso de cabra, naranja, y almendras -- Leaves of endive containing orange segments, sliced toasted almonds, and tiny crumbles of goat cheese. Refreshing.

From the hot tapas menu
- Butifarra casera con 'montgetes' or homemade grilled pork sausage with white beans - the casing was snappy and the beans were somewhere between smooth and toothsome. The sausage had a good pork flavor without being "piggy" if you know what I mean.

- Espinacas a la Catalana-- spinach sauteed with pine nuts, raisins and apples-- sounds like it would be sweet but it's not. The spinach is just barely wilted and so it's sharpness is softened by the creamy pine nuts and the natural sweetness in the raisins and apples. This dish glistens with olive oil without seeming drenched in it.

- Mejillones al vapor -- mussels steamed in their own juice with fresh bay leaves and olive oil. A really simple dish, this allows for the briney natural flavor of the mussels to really shine. Dip your crusts of bread in the juice for a treat.

From the seasonal menu
- Rabo de toro estofado al vino tinto -- braised oxtail with garlic mashed potatoes. The potatoes are more pureed than mashed so it doesn't feel so heavy. The meat is succulent and the sauce rich.

Also on the menu, some entrees and paella. Although we've had the paella here before and enjoyed it immensely, it's the tapas and sangria that keep us coming back (and the valet parking which will keep your car until after the show -- BONUS!) The service is also nothing to sneeze at. The wait staff are well versed in the dishes and keep the food coming at a proper pace. If you're seeing a show, let them know when you place your order.

OH! And although we did not order dessert the other night, the flan is an all-time fave. I don't recall I've eaten it anywhere else where it has been as smooth and luscious and luxurious in the mouth as it is at Jaleo time and time again. Get the flan! The regular coffee is also an aromatic rich, dark coffee like they serve in Spain - mmmm.

I was going to make this a joint entry about seeing Richard III at the Shakespeare Theatre right next door after eating at Jaleo but this entry is already long and so I will sign off here and save Richard for another day. If you haven't read or seen Richard III (or even if you have), rent the 1995 version of the film starring Ian McKellan and Kristin Scott Thomas. This version uses WWII as a backdrop which is quite fitting as a parallel but obviously not historically in context.