Touching the R Spot

Repost of article written by Mark Pastore, business partner of Incanto in San Francisco.

The article is about clarity in the California foie gras ban.


Leave a comment

Filed under Meat, Uncategorized

Wine Braised Spring Lamb Shanks

I love lamb, almost as much as I love pork.

I love lamb shanks yet so many recipes I see or have eaten tend to use red wine as a marinating and braising component. The problem is my wife is not crazy about red wines so I decided to give it a twist. I wanted to have a braise that resulted in a not-too-heavy handed flavor as red wine can sometimes do as lamb is so rich as it is already. This dish starts with an overnight brine, leads to a good sear then a long braise but still retaining a browned meat at the end. The celery and carrots in the dish is served with the lamb in form of a thick stew. To balance the richness of the meat, I made a relish with Persian cucumbers quick pickled in cider vinegar with just enough heat to balance the dish.

The lamb and brine:

*This recipe is geared for two people

  • 2 Lamb shanks, washed well
  • 1/2 Cup of kosher salt
  • 1/2 Cup of sugar
  • Black peppercorns
  • Canola oil (for searing)
  • Kosher salt (for seasoning before searing)
The braise:
  • 1/2 Large yellow onion
  • 2 Medium celery stalks, chopped on bias in 1/2″ slices
  • 2-3 Medium carrots, chopped on bias in 1/2″ slices
  • 2-3 Cloves of garlic, mashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • Several parsley sprigs, tied
  • Small pinch of thyme (or 1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme)
  • Small pinch of oregano (or 1-2 sprigs of fresh oregano)
  • 2 Dried chile de arbol
  • 1 Tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 Cup of tomato sauce
  • 3/4 Cup of dry white wine (I used a Chardonnay)
  • 3/4 Cup of chicken stock (use more if needed)
The relish:
  • 2 Persian cucumbers, diced into 1/8″ or 2 -3mm cubes. (English or any low-seed/seedless cucumbers can be used instead). If using English cucumber, then just 1/2 should do.
  • Crushed chile flakes
  • 1 Clove garlic, minced
  • 3 – 4 Sprigs of cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 Cup of cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tsp of lemon zest
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 3/4 Tbsp of sugar
  • Fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400F.

Let the shanks sit in brine overnight. Take out and remove from brine, rinse, pat dry and sprinkle with kosher salt liberally before searing. In a hot pan or dutch oven, pour enough canola oil to lightly coat the bottom. When oil is hot, sear the shanks on all sides. Take your time and turn each piece to make sure you get a good browning, almost char on the meat. Remove from pan and reserve.

Reduce heat to medium (add oil if needed) and add onion, celery and carrot to pan and cook until it begins to soften. Add wine to deglaze pan and reduce by half (be sure to taste to check that liquid does not taste like raw wine before continuing). Add all other ingredients except chicken stock, stir well and bring to simmer for a minute. If using a dutch oven, put shanks back into pot, nestling it in the vegetables. Add chicken stock to pan, the liquid should come up and just about cover the meat but not drown it. Cover tightly and place in oven for 45 minutes, check and turn the shanks. Add more chicken stock if needed. Check again in 45 minutes, uncover pan to brown the meat for another 30 minutes.

While the braise is in the oven, make the cucumber relish.

Trim the ends of cucumbers then dice into small cubes about 1/8″ (2 – 3mm) square. Place in bowl add salt, sugar, vinegar and lemon juice. Taste for saltiness, acidity and sweetness. Adjust to your liking then add the rest of the ingredients, stir well then refrigerate. It is best if the relish can sit for at least half hour before use for the flavors to blend.

When the braise is done, you should be able to insert a skewer into the meat and glide in and out without resistance. Plate, give the lamb a fresh crack of ground pepper, add relish, garnish and serve.


P.S. If you can’t find any ingredients or have questions about anything in the recipe, feel free to comment or contact me and I will answer as best I can. Thanks for visiting.


Leave a comment

Filed under Dinner, Meat

Velvety Chicken and Baby Bok Choy with Black Bean Sauce

Whenever I eat at a good Chinese restaurant, I am always impressed at how their stir fried chicken is just perfectly cooked. It has a supple texture, it is moist and most importantly it is not overcooked. As much as I have tried in the past, I have never been able to replicate it, until now. Now I have heard of the term and technique of “velveting” chicken (as well as other meats) before but admit I really didn’t know what it was all about. Moreover, most of the descriptions I have read left me wanting. It was not until I was watching an episode of Chopped where a chef executed this technique that it gelled in my mind (I am a very visual person).

So I decided I had to give it a try especially with chicken breast that is generally so bland and lacking in texture. If I could pull it off with chicken breast then it could work with anything.

This recipe is geared for two people.

Mise en place

The chicken:

  • Brining solution of 1 part kosher salt to 1.5  part sugar. It should be enough for you to taste both salty and slightly sweet.
  • 1  chicken skinless breast (I made cracklings with the skin of the whole chicken I took the breast from; no waste).

Brine the chicken for a minimum of two hours or overnight. Remove chicken from brine, rinse, split breast so thicknesses are the same then cut into 1/4 inch thick strips.

Velveting mix:

  • One egg white
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp of potato or corn starch (corn starch is traditional though I used potato starch in this dish)

Whisk all ingredients together in mixing bowl large enough to hold chicken strips. Mix well to ensure all chicken surfaces are coated and marinate for 5 to 10 minutes in refrigerator.

The vegetables and sauce:

  • 3/4 lb Baby bok choy
  • Wood ear fungus, soaked in hot water and rehydrated. Reserve soaking water for later use.
  • 1/2 Yellow onion, sliced into 1/4″ crescents
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp of ginger, minced (Hint: Grind together with garlic in mortar & pestle)
  • 3 green onions, sliced thinly on bias for garnish
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Fresh jalapeno or serrano chile, sliced thin on bias (Optional)
  • Dried chile flakes (Optional)
  • 1 Tbsp of Garlic Black Bean sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee brand)
  • 1 – 1.5 Tbsp of reserved water from soaking wood ear fungus
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp of toasted sesame oil
  • Canola or vegetable oil for stir frying

Velveting the chicken:

Heat large skillet or wok to high heat. Pour in enough oil to thinly coat pan. Just as oil begins to smoke, carefully place chicken in pan and stir fry, moving the chicken to make sure that all surfaces of meat gets contact with hot oil in pan. The chicken will turn white, show caramelization at edges and become firm when ready, do NOT over cook. Remove from skillet and reserve.

Add sesame oil into pan, swirl to coat then put in onion and woodear mushroom and stir fry until onion starts to caramelize at the edges. Add bok choy, garlic & ginger combination and fresh chile (if using). Continue to stir fry. When bok choy stems begin to turn translucent and green parts are wilted, add black bean sauce and soaking water from wood ear fungus. Continue to stir fry and coat all ingredients with sauce until bok choy is tender but not soggy. It should still retain some crisp in the stems.

Plate vegetables onto serving plate. Transfer chicken on top of stir fried vegetables and garnish with green onion, cilantro and chile flakes.


Leave a comment

Filed under Meat, Stir Fry, Vegetables

Fish Decadence: Salmon Belly

Many people know what toro or tuna belly is, few people ever mention salmon belly or know how incredibly rich and delicious it can be.

One of the items that Laura and I picked up yesterday at the Asian market was a tray of beautifully cut, fatty, luscious salmon belly. This is an ingredient that I usually make as a snack or a starter. I usually simply salt it then grill over charcoal, broil in oven or as today, pan fry. The belly strips are simply sprinkled with kosher salt and sugar then left in the refrigerator for about an hour for a quick cure.

After the time is up, I heat up a heavy non-stick skillet then pour just enough oil to lube the strips. The salmon will give up a lot of fat when frying so you don’t need much oil. If you prefer, you can forego the oil as well but be sure to just start at a lower heat to render out some of the fish oil before turning it up to get the skin to be crisp.

I start with the skin side down at medium high heat until it turns golden brown. Carefully flip the strips and cook for about another minute or so until you get some nice color on it. Be sure not to over cook or the meat will get dry. It should still be moist inside, very buttery while the skin should be crispy.

Skin side down first

Crispy golden skin

When the fish is done, place on paper towel lined plate and salt generously. Transfer to serving plate and serve with a wedge of lemon or lime, soy for dipping (wasabi optional) and some pickled ginger.






1 Comment

Filed under Fish & Seafood

Moule en bierre (Beer steamed mussels)

Laura and I were on our way back from an appointment yesterday and I suggested we popped into a 99 Ranch Market that was on the way to see what was good. We ended up buying a bunch of food that wasn’t really planned and found two items that looked especially tasty: Live black mussels and salmon belly strips. There was no hesitation and both items (among other things went into the basket). We decided to add the black mussels to the menu for dinner (salmon belly strips for the next day; recipe to come).

The Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs (1Kg) of live mussels. Check to see that the shells are closed and they don’t smell funky. They should smell like the sea, not fishy or stinky.
  • 5-6 Cloves of garlic, crushed. I prefer to use a mortar and pestle to grind into a rough paste (increase the surface area and get the essentials oils out).
  • 1/2 Cup of parsley, chopped.
  • 1/2 Cup of stock. Fish/seafood is best though I used chicken stock in this one.
  • 3/4 bottle of lager beer. I used Beck’s for this but any light colored beer will work.
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp of good olive oil.
  • Pinch of salt. The mussels will be salty already so go by your taste.
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Dried chile flakes (optional)
  • Crusty bread

Prepping the mussels:

If the mussels have beards (stringy seaweed like stuff that they use to attach to rocks, etc.) then carefully pull them off. Mussel shells are thin so don’t yank it to avoid breaking. Rinse the mussels with salted water until the water runs clear.


Pour stock and beer into pot (I prefer a shallow wide pan because it is easier to stir mussels for even cooking) and heat on high. Meanwhile, crush the garlic, chop the parsley (reserve a bit for garnish) and combine all other ingredients (except pepper and chile flakes) into pot. When the liquid comes to a bubbling boil, carefully put the mussels in the pot. Stir with tongs or wooden spoon so that the mussels cook evenly. It will only take a couple minutes. When the mussels are all open, they are ready. Use a slotted spoon to scoop mussels to serving dish or bowl (overcooked mussels will be like chewing on rubber bands). Let steaming liquid boil for about another minute to reduce. Pour steaming liquid over mussels. Sprinkle on reserved parsley, chile flakes and fresh ground black pepper. Serve with crusty bread for dipping into broth. Enjoy!

1 Comment

Filed under Fish & Seafood

Fish Heads, Fish Heads Rolly Polly Fish Heads…

Laura and I were  in Han Kook Korean market yesterday and as we passed the fresh fish counter I spied large fresh fish eyes staring at me. They were beautiful salmon heads already split in half. I grinned and turned to Laura, “Broiled fish heads!” She smiled back and the head was in the cart. We both love fish cheeks no matter how small or large. This was going to be a treat…

This recipe was done with salmon but you can do this with almost any fish. The head should weigh at least a pound. If it is not split already, you could ask the fishmonger to do it.

The Fish Head:

  • 1 medium to large fish head, split

The Brine:

  • 3/4 cup of kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • enough water to cover head pieces completely

The Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup of dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup of mirin
  • 1/4 cup of sake (if you don’t have sake handy, a dry white wine would work too)
Salmon head in brine

Salmon head in brine

Dissolve the salt and sugar in room temperature water by stirring. On cold days, I sometimes microwave just a little water and pour into the dry mixture to help get it started then use tepid water for the rest. Put fish heads in brine and let it sit in refrigerator for at least 1.5 to 2 hours.

When time is up, remove heads from brine, rinse in cold water quickly then place in a clean mixing bowl. I prefer a shallow wide bowl for this step. Pour the marinade into bowl, turn heads to coat evenly. Every ten minutes, spoon marinade over fish to make sure all surface get a good coating. Marinade for at least 1/2 hour to several hours.

Preheat oven to 500 F.

Take heads out of marinade and sprinkle (from a good height; 12″ above) well with kosher salt.

Using a heavy skillet or roasting pan, smear the bottom with a bit of butter (don’t be shy) to help prevent sticking. Place head flesh side down in skillet then salt the skin side well. I tend to salt the eyes and gill covers well to get them crispy. Take a sharp knife and poke some holes into the skin so that when it gets hot it doesn’t balloon up and pop. It will help render out fat too.

Put in oven for 10 to 12 minutes at 500 F then switch to broil for the last 3 to 4 minutes. If you want, you can baste the skin with a bit of melted butter before broiling. It will help brown the skin and get a bit of tasty char.

Broiled salmon head

Broiled salmon head with lime and roasted green onion

Remove from oven when done and serve on a warmed plate with lemon or lime.


Leave a comment

Filed under Fish & Seafood

scent memories

Isn’t it interesting how a flood of memories can be triggered by something so simple as a familiar sound, the feel of something that reminds you of someone, or especially how smells can bring you right back home? For me, the smell of cumin puts me back in my mother’s kitchen, takes me back to a childhood spent watching, learning basic cooking techniques, learning how to care for people with good food. Of course as a child, I hated the smell. I hated opening the cupboards and feeling like I was being assaulted by the musky, heady odor. It can be quite powerful. But now, I like nothing more than the fact that my kitchen smells so much like how I remembered a kitchen was supposed to smell. Cumin also reminds me of one of my parents’ favorite comfort foods: it’s a simple sopa de fideo, fast, easy, very adaptable in that you can mix in whatever ingredients you have on hand. When my mother became ill in 2004 and not able to do basic housework let alone any cooking, I took over that task. I also worked three jobs at once and had to rely on fast and easy meals. Cooking was utilitarian, not adventurous like I tend to approach it now, but when I cooked sopa de fideo, it was more than just a meal to fill our bellies. It was comfort at a time when good feelings and comfort were hard to come by. Now, the weather here in Wyoming is becoming colder and snowier and with my work days feeling longer, I’m craving this dish, which I haven’t, until today, made for so long. If you want something quick and just pleasant to eat, this dish is both of those things.

Sopa de Fideo

  • ground beef
  • diced white onion
  • a jalapeno or serrano chile, diced (you can eliminate some of the heat by de-seeding the pepper if you want)
  • a large garlic clove, finely minced
  • a medium sized tomato, chopped
  • a good sized handful of fideo noodles (I used maybe half a 7 ounce bag. I am particular to the angel hair but you use whichever you want)
  • cooked pinto beans, 1/2 to 3/4 cup or so (I like a lot of beans in my fideo)
  • chicken stock
  • ground cumin
  • ground coriander
  • salt
  • pepper
  • rough chopped cilantro, for serving
  • warmed corn tortillas
  • lime wedges, for serving

Cook your ground beef with a bit of the diced onion, until it is well browned and cooked through. Season with salt, pepper. Drain if there’s too much grease in it; set aside in a bowl. In a soup pot, heat up a tablespoon or so of oil (olive, canola, whichever). Saute the rest of your diced onion, garlic, and chiles. Add in the fideo noodles and let those cook until they’re toasted (lightly browned). Add the tomatoes, cooked ground beef, beans, and enough chicken stock to cover everything. Season with cumin, coriander, and more salt if needed. Let this simmer altogether until the noodles are tender. Serve with cilantro and corn tortillas. There. How easy is that? You can add squash and zucchini if you want, chayote even or corn, make it more soupy, whatever you want.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized