Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reminders of Spring

I always thought of strawberries and rhubarb as quintessential spring flavors- peaking in June and a faded memory by the time summer ends.  Not so for me this year!  Here it is, approaching mid-September, and my strawberry patch has produced a goodly amount of fruit, and my friend's rhubarb plant needs thinning...
To bring these two ingredients together with a seasonally appropriate flavor profile, I decided to make a crisp (you know, crisp like a fall day etc).  I made the streusel with brown sugar, flour, blanched almonds (ground coursely), and some powdered ginger to give a little zing.

I'm going to refrain from posting a proper recipe because, to be honest, I estimated everything.  But, I will suggest a few ideas that will help keep your next crisp, well, crisp:

- choose your thickener wisely; flour takes longer to thicken and loose it's starchy flavor than refined starches (such as corn or potato) do, and the faster you can secure your liquid, the less soggy your topping will be.
- if you're using a high moisture item (like rhubarb), think about macerating it with some of the sugar for about an hour, then draining off some of the excess liquid.
- consider baking your fruit mixture for about twenty minutes before adding the topping; this will reduce the overall moisture content in the filling.
- make sure to use enough topping to make a rather thick layer; there will always be a soggy bit right next to the fruit, so if you want any crunchy bits, you have to put quite a bit

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Urchin On My Hands

My hands are irreversibly stained.  The kitchen smells of the sea.  And everyone is full to the brim with luscious sea urchin.  Following are some photos of how to clean an urchin, and then my recipe for Sea Urchin En Cocotte.

First, you cut the shell.  At the top of the globe, there is a soft spot you can use to start the process.  Make sure to use sturdy kitchen shears- not a knife!  The shell of the urchin will dull a knife blade faster than you'd think possible.

You can either cut a round out of the top (the proper way), or cut down the side and split the urchin open (the faster way- especially if you're going to puree some of the roe).  This is what a peek at the roe is like:
Next, scoop out the roe with a spoon, then rinse in cold salt water to clean:

Now, you're ready for the recipe.

Sea Urchin En Cocotte
(all quantities are approximate)

two large sea urchins (about 2.5# total), cleaned
1/2 T shallot, finely minced
2 T heavy cream
1 T dry sherry
1 T butter
salt to taste
1 T chives, finely chopped
1 lemon
crostini to serve

1.  Preheat your oven to 500F.  Place two heavy ramekins in the oven to heat thoroughly.  
2.  Divide the urchin evenly in half- the pretty stuff and the less pretty stuff.  Keep the pretty stuff aside, and force the ugly bits through a medium sieve into a small saucepan.  Add the shallot, sherry and cream, and over low heat, bring just to the point where bubbles are starting to form around the edges.  Stir frequently and season to taste with salt.  
3.  When your sauce is ready and the ramekins are hot, add half of the butter to each ramekin (it should sizzle and melt very quickly).  Lay the remaining pieces of urchin in the hot butter.
4.  Spoon some of the hot sauce over each portion and return to the oven until just warmed.  Think of this as poaching, not baking.  It should only take about two minutes.  
5.  As soon as they come out of the oven, drizzle with a bit of lemon and sprinkle with chives.  Serve immediately with crostini.