Monthly Archives: July 2009


Whisky To Marrow

Is a dimly lit pub is worth a handful of words and a couple of bleary-eyed iPhone photos?

marrow

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(photos by wm. christman)

(photos by wm. christman)

When it’s the Alembic Bar on Haight Street in San Francisco, that answer is yes.

Roasted bone marrow with garlic confit and caper caponata. Heirloom tomatoes with burrata, serrano ham and arrugula (not pictured). Magnolia Gastropub brewed Aerodrome Ale with a hint of yuzu. And more whiskeys than you could even drink in an evening or maybe in a week.

If you haven’t been…you should.


Wet, Cold, Wet, Cold.

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

I received a mystery call early this afternoon tipping me off to the presence of cold udon noodles in refrigeration unit 1A. The caller said that there was a half liter of the white, chewy strands along with some Grade B+ rocket fuel to sauce them with. No other details except “be careful”.

The valley had been in El Scorcho mode for the past 72 hours. Because the home dwelling is painted flat black and is hermetically sealed, it collects all light (except black) and heats up like a mutha f… Time to put the refreshment-nourishment plan into effect.

The rail ride home was cool enough but the prospect of eating in the heat with a lack of accompaniments was daunting. I needed heft, richness, and it has to be savory. Then it struck me: a trip to old Doc Cheung’s rickety, old, mega tea-roasted meat house was in order.

Doc is usually good about filling my needs. Today was no different as he had chicken units slow-sauced with soybean product. The lacquered birds shone from their hooks. “I’ll take one,” I said. “And make sure you include the head, and hey, you have any of those young chicken units?”

“Just finished steeping a batch; how many you want,” he said in a sing-song voice. “Gimme four…,” I toned. “Buy five, get one free,” he offered. “Done,” I said without hesitation. Mrs. Cheung gave a huff as she had already rung up the chicken unit and now she had to add the young’uns to the bill.

Climbing back on the rail, the trip through the sweltering city to face the boiling hot dwelling was uneventful. Cracking open all of the doors and windows helped make the kitchen bunker just a little less than 100 degrees – just enough to break sweat 1.3 second into chopping some hydroponically grown green scallions.

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

“Let’s see…,” I said to no one in particular. “Noodles, sauce, chicken, tea-eggs, ice water, beer, salad…yep, that should do it.”

Three hours later, swimming in a small pool of my own sweat and lying on my side to catch a cool waft from the glowing plasma unit, the dwelling had cooled to a barely tolerable 94 degrees but I was fully sated for the evening.

They said that tomorrow will be the same. I should be fortunate enough to receive another mystery caller with an equally interesting ingredient and start it all over again.


Flat Out Oven Stoned

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

One of my favorite tools in my kitchen is my baking stone. You may know it better as a pizza stone but I use it for so much more than just the occasional loaded round of house-made pizza. My stone definitely shows its age with stains from cream, fat, oil, cheese, burnt flour and cornmeal – you could consider it well-seasoned. I always trust it to turn out great baked goods. And it does.

For the 4th of July this year, I decided to finally exorcise the flatbread demons that had taken up residence in my brain. Not that I have issue with making flatbread; I just needed and craved to apply hand to dough and dough to stone as a sort of perverse therapy. And once this boy gets the dough making itch, it’s difficult to get him away from confessing his innermost doughy thoughts to that hot stone in the oven.

So…if you know how to make pizza, then you already know how to make flatbread. And even if you don’t, it’s as simple as rolling out dough (you can cheat this – read on…), adding a thin layer of something moist or slippery, then piling on one or two ingredients, preferably ones that will crisp up under high oven heat…and applying some high heat. And you don’t even need a baking stone (although it helps).

well-used and well-seasoned baking stone (photo by wm. christman)

well-used and well-seasoned baking stone (photo by wm. christman)

This July 4th flatbread mania was further fueled by the bacon episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network. This episode caught my eye because one of my favorite chefs and salumi-creator, Chris Cosentino, was on talking about his Boccalone operation in San Francisco and about San Francisco’s Dynamo Donuts and their amazing bacon-apple-maple donut. That was enough to keep me watching when a segment about San Francisco’s Nopa restaurant appeared. Nopa consistently features at least one flatbread on their menu and the one in this segment was a fresh bacon, garlic confit and seasoned crema flatbread. At that point, I was running for the kitchen…

I had just finished curing and roasting a five pound slab of bacon the previous evening and it was in the fridge, wrapped and ready to go. And I always have garlic confit and cream on hand and I was well stocked with flour and water. It didn’t take much more prompting to get the oven fired up to 500° with the goal of getting my version of this flatbread on the table for dinner. The most involved part was making the crema. It took sweating some Vidalia sweet onion and fresh garlic in a sauce pan, then adding a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes and about a cup of heavy cream. Stir, simmer and reduce then strain all of the solid bits. What was left was a thick savory cream with a slight pepper bite.

the prep for flatbreads one (fresh bacon and garlic confit) and two (Andouille sausage and clam) (photo by wm. christman)

the prep for flatbreads one (fresh bacon and garlic confit) and two (Andouille sausage and clam) (photo by wm. christman)

Beyond that, dough was rolled, garlic confit applied, fresh bacon cut and strewn about. I added some sliced green onion for extra flavor and color. A proper high-temp baking on the stone for about 20 minutes yielded a browned and sizzling flatbread “pie”. I liberally squirted some of the seasoned crema across it and left it in the oven for another two minutes or so. Dandelion greens were piled on top for crunch and bitter counterpoint. The flatbread never made it off the dinner table. I’m not sure there were even any crumbs left on he serving dish either.

the finished bacon, garlic confit, seasoned crema flatbread ready for service (photo by wm. christman)

the finished bacon, garlic confit, seasoned crema flatbread ready for service (photo by wm. christman)

Flatbread number two, a Andouille sausage and clam version (see the picture at the top of this article), was a bit of a cheat. Since this was a work day, there was little time or desire to shop for ingredients so all of it was up to whatever the fridge would disgorge. I had some pushing-the-expiry-date pre-made garlic-and-herb pizza dough and needed to do something with it pronto. A further scan showed some Andouille sausage and some pesto and creme fraiche. And I really wanted a briny component to compliment the smoky, peppery Andouille and a spare can of chopped clams was the best choice.

The M.O. for this flatbread was the same: roll out the dough, slice up the sausage and render some of the fat out by blanching it in boiling water for a few minutes so it would crisp up in the oven, drain and dry the clams, and mix up some of the pesto with creme fraiche for moistness. Brush, layer and scatter then bake at 500° for about 20 minutes. I used the rest of the dandelion greens from FB1 for garnish. Actually, dandelion greens are a great addition to this as they stay relatively crisp on top of the piping hot flatbread and give a real nice bitter edge to the end flavor.

My wife Janet noted that unlike pizza, the flatbreads don’t have that cheese-heaviness to them which makes for a lighter meal which is especially important to her (and me) in the summer. However as much as I like eating flatbread, I almost get even more pleasure out of designing and making them. Indeed, flatbreads may usher in a change in course for me and this is just the beginning of some real balls-out experimentation for the rest of this year.