Category Archives: cooking with wine

Tofu Clafoutis with Spiced Plums

or should I say "tofutis"? 

I discovered clafoutis a few years ago while looking for dessert ideas for Iron Chef IV: Battle Chickpea. The floofy name is a little misleading—it’s nothing fancy or elaborate, just a sweetened batter of egg, milk, and flour poured over a few handfuls of fruit and baked. I suspect only the reason that the French name has survived (although sometimes Anglophone menus and recipes drop the silent “s”) is that it doesn’t really have an exact analog in English. It’s somewhere between a custard and a cake, but usually has more flour than the former and more egg than the latter. The closest thing I’ve had is the puffy “Dutch oven pancake” or pannekoek sometimes filled with spiced apples. I’ve also seen it described as a “crustless pie” or “batter pudding.”

and given that it's substantially tofu and fruit and chick peas, you can totally justify eating it for breakfastClafoutis differs from pannekoek in that fruit isn’t just an optional addition, it’s the raison d’etre, the star of the show. The traditional version that hails from the Limousin region of France calls for un-pitted cherries, which supposedly impart a distinctive almond-like flavor, probably due to the same chemical found in peach and apricot pits, the source of “natural” almond flavor. They also all contain trace amounts of cyanide, which is Eric Schlosser’s primary example of why “natural” flavors are not necessarily superior—especially in terms of health—to “artificial ones.” According to wikipedia, the name “clafoutis” actually derives from the Occitan verb “clafir, meaning to fill’ (implied: ‘the batter with cherries’).” Apparently in France, when fruits other than cherries are used, it’s called a “flaugnarde” (which comes from an Old French word that means “soft”). But I’m sticking with “clafoutis” 1) because it’s more common in English regardless of the fruit involved, 2) because the etymology isn’t specific to cherries anyhow so as long as you’re filling it with something it’s no less clafir-ed and, 3) because if anything sounds more egregiously French than clafoutis, it’s flaugnarde.

Savvy readers may be wondering what any of this has to do with chick peas, perhaps imagining some sort of horrible pancake studded with whole chickpeas. The reigning Iron Chef I was competing against did actually make a dessert that basically consisted of a chocolate custard studded with whole chickpeas, so maybe that’s not so crazy. But I doubt he’s done that again since the competition. Also, he lost.

I'm not going to write all three variations every time, but of course chick peas also go by the name "garbanzo beans" and the flour is often sold as "gram flour" What I made—and liked enough to make again—was a clafoutis recipe that substitutes silken tofu and some chickpea flour for the eggs. I got the idea from the now-sadly-defunct blog Hezbollah Tofu, which was devoted to veganizing recipes by Anthony Bourdain to spite him for various incendiary slurs he’s made about vegans and vegetarians (the title is a reference to the quote from Kitchen Confidential: “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.”). Sadly, I didn’t save that recipe and none of the other, similar versions I found used chickpea flour, which was the genius of the Hezbollah Tofu version, and not just because it was the secret ingredient I had to use. Chickpea flour is awesome—it’s the basis of the gorgeous crepes called socca or farinata and an addictive crispy-creamy pan-fried polenta-type stuff called panelle. In this recipe, it adds color, flavor and protein to help make up for the absent eggs.

But using the basic proportions in the other recipes and substituting chickpea flour for the regular flour and then throwing in 1/4 cup regular flour when I remembered that there was something preventing the original from being gluten-free, I managed to reconstruct something similar. I’ve never made or tasted an egg-based clafoutis, so I can’t vouch for its verisimilitude. I suspect that the batter is grainier and the final product less fluffy. It does have a faint soya-like nuttiness/bitterness. However, it’s still pretty delicious.  The fruit and flavor extracts mask the tofu flavor pretty well and the texture seems pretty much exactly like the descriptions of traditional clafoutis—thick and custardy, but with more structural integrity than most custards. A bit like French toast or bread pudding or a crust-less quiche.

they were pretty. i was taken in.You can use any kind of tree fruit or berry, although if the fruit is very firm or under-ripe you might want to cook it a little first. For the Iron Chef battle, I used Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and poached in white wine until just fork-tender. If you want to make the traditional version but don’t relish the idea of spitting cherry pits out of your dessert or pitting a bunch of cherries, you could use thawed frozen cherries and a little almond extract (either synthetic or cyanide-laced). For this version, my inspiration for was a bunch of little plums I had purchased, which turned out to be sort of unpleasant to eat raw. They were sort of bland and sour and instead of getting sweeter over time, they just started to develop mold spots and become grainy. I figured cooking them would be one way to add some sweetness and coax a little more flavor out of them.

I found a recipe for spiced plums roasted in orange juice and adapted that basic technique using white wine and a few different spices. The result was gorgeous—richly perfumed with the wine and a vanilla bean and just a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. After spooning the plums out of the wine, I reduced the remaining liquid to syrup, which was way more plummy than the plums themselves and I’ve been drizzling that over the clafoutis before serving it. I know every recipe for every tofu-based dessert ever makes this claim, and it’s only sometimes true, but for real: you will not believe this dessert is made substantially from tofu.

they turned more golden as they roasted, and the sauce turned pink, like it leached that pigment out  "rustic" I think is the word 

Recipe: Tofu Clafoutis (adapted from Vegan Visitor and Nom! Nom! Nom! Blog

Fills one 10” pie pan and three 4-oz baking dishes; can be halved for a thinner clafoutis tofu and sugar in the food processor

  • one package silken tofu
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups milk (soy, nut, dairy, whatever)
  • 1 cup garbanzo bean flour (chickpea flour or gram flour) (I may reduce this to 3/4 cup next time since I remembered belatedly that there was also regular flour and it was a little firmer than it needed to be)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour + more for coating baking dish
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 t. vanilla or almond extract
  • 1 1/2-2 cups fruit (whole berries or cut up apples or pears)
  • cooking spray, shortening, lard, or butter for greasing baking dish
  • powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 415F. Grease and flour the baking dish(es).

2. Place the fruit in the prepared baking dish. 

3. In a blender or food processor, blend the tofu and sugar until smooth.

4. Add 1 cup of milk and the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Then add the remaining cup of milk and blend.

fruit in the pie panbatter clafir-ed with plums!

5. Pour the batter over the fruit and place in the oven.

6. Bake for 15 minutes at 415 and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake another 20-30 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown and the center only wiggles slightly when you shake the pan.

7. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, dust with powdered sugar, and serve. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraiche if desired.

poofed

Recipe: Spiced Plums enameled cast iron works well for this because you can transfer it directly to the stovetop, but any oven-safe dish will do(adapted from AllRecipes)

  • a dozen or so small plums, or half-dozen larger ones 
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 3/4-1 cup white wine
  • one vanilla bean (or 1 t. vanilla extract)
  • zest of one small lemon or orange
  • dash of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and/or cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Halve and pit the plums and place them cut-side up in an oven-safe pot or baking dish.

2. Sprinkle the sugar over them evenly and add the wine.

I use the back of a knife to scrape the seeds outand put the bean in a jar full of sugar to make vanilla sugar, which is great for homemade hot cocoa

3. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into the pot (save bean for another use). Grate the citrus zest, nutmeg and cinnamon directly into the pot or add pre-ground spices.

  microplanes are so awesome. I don't even remember how I zested lemons before I had one.this nutmeg was whole when I started, so that's about how much I used.

4. Bake for 20-40 minutes or until the plums are the desired texture—less time if you want them to retain their structure, more if you want to turn them into something like a compote or sauce. If desired, you can remove the plums and boil the liquid to reduce it further.

these would be great on their own with ice cream or creme anglaise or in a cobbler, too  I reduced it until it was thick enough that a path remained for a few seconds when I dragged a spoon through it

Coq au Vin, or really ambitious and somewhat disappointing adventures in amateur meat preparation. Also: how to break down a whole chicken into pieces

mmmm frenchy

I wouldn’t normally cook two chickens in back to back weeks, but last month I ordered two chickens from a local farm with a stand at the farmer’s market and then basically forgot all about it. The day after I roasted Larry, I got a call letting me know they’d killed my birds and I could pick them up Saturday. We were still working on Larry’s leftovers, so I decided to do something other than simple roasting with at least one of the local birds.* I’d been wanting to try Coq au Vin, the "classic" French treatment for old roosters, and even though my just-butchered birds were relatively small, young chickens, I decided to give it a go. many, many hours earlier

The reason "classic" gets scare quotes is that there’s some debate about whether Coq au Vin is actually the ancient, peasant dish it’s often alleged to be or something more modern. The most compelling evidence on the side of "ancient": the ingredients and methods are typical of many other age-old European cooking traditions—it’s basically a fricassee in wine with mirepoix (onions+carrots+celery), mushrooms, herbs, and some salt pork or bacon. There are also dozens of regional variations based on different varietals of grapes and mushrooms. For example, in the Alsace region, there’s a recipe for cooking roosters that uses Riesling, morels, and cream (the epicurious version is here). Additionally, since it’s basically a time and labor-intensive way of salvaging a tough piece of meat, it seems to exemplify the ideals of frugality and resourcefulness associated with old, "peasant" traditions.

But those traditions are often invented rather than discovered. What makes Coq au Vin questionable is that despite the long history of French culinary publications, the first written reference to "Coq au Vin" doesn’t show up until 1913. A decade later, when the first recipe for "Coq au Vin" appeared in print, it presented the idea as a truly novel. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, aside from the cockscomb, which was prized as a garnish, the cock was historically regarded as indigestible.

Whether or not it’s ancient, it’s certainly a "classic" in that it’s become part of the popular canon of French cuisine, on par with other dishes like ratatouille and coquilles St. Jacques, if not quite as iconic as the baguette. In The Next Iron Chef Season 2 Episode 2 earlier this month, Coq au Vin was one of the "classic inspirations" contestants had to use as the basis for an elimination challenge (along with things like boulliabaisse, pasta puttanesca, and Greek dolmas). Although its modern popularity is a little ironic, given the difficulty most cooks would have securing the titular rooster, it’s easy to see why it would be a winning flavor combination. What wouldn’t be delicious after marinating overnight and then simmering long and slow in a lot of wine infused with the richness of mushrooms, bacon, garlic, mirepoix, and fresh thyme? I’m almost tempted to try it with an old belt or pair of worn out shoes.

That gets at the main reason I was ultimately dissatisfied with the results: it was tasty enough, but the chicken is basically expendable. As a meal, it was no better than this mushroom bourguignon and way, way more time consuming. It’s not that it’s hard, but it just doesn’t quite seem worth it. So unless I happen into some old rooster meat, I’ll stick to roasting my chickens—which is not only easier, but tastes better and takes advantage of their juicy, tender, young meat better.

*I will never get over the delightful double-entendreness of birds and women, and because I am intellectually thirteen, I will never give a chicken a classically feminine name. The idea of a "bird named Larry" just tickles me on so many stupid levels. I named this one "Biff."

Recipe and pictures below the jump

Recipe: Coq au Vin, adapted from Alton Brown

  • ~20 pearl onions
  • one whole 4-lb chicken, or 6-8 servings worth of pre-cut chicken pieces
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 T. water
  • 6 oz. salt pork, chopped into 1/4" cubes
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms (also sold as "baby bellas")
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 750-ml bottle red wine, preferably cheap**
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped in 1-2" chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped in 1-2" chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 T. dried thyme or 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 4 cups chicken stock

Boil a small-to-medium pot of water (large enough to submerge the pearl onions), cut off the root ends of the pearl onions, and cut an "ex" in each one (I’m not sure the "x" is necessary, but it probably takes less than a minute for the whole bunch. Then, blanche the onions in the boiling water for 1 minute and remove to an icewater bath. Let cool for a minute or two and then drain. The skins should slip right off. I suspect that frozen, peeled pearl onions would be a completely adequate and way more convenient substitute if you wanted to skip this step entirely. possibly-unnecessary "x"blanched and denuded

Cut the chicken into 6-8 pieces. I was nervous about this and tried to find a guide online, but after wading through a guide to butchering chickens en masse starting with the kill and gutting, which suggested that the actual carcass breakdown was "pretty intuitive," I decided to basically start hacking at it with a sharp knife at all the places where it seems natural to hack at it. That actually worked pretty well.

I started by removing both of the wings, which separate from the body at a joint and then the legs and thighs—also connected at a joint. I had a harder time finding the hip joint, but after wiggling around with the knife a little I managed. Then I sliced the breast meat off as close to the ribs as possible, a lot like you do when you’re carving a roasted bird. And that’s it—you’re left with six pieces of meat and a carcass. Amazingly easy and indeed, pretty intuitive. Good to know, given that whole chickens are often cheaper than buying already-cut pieces, and you get a bonus backbone with enough meat on it to make a nice soup or stock sometime.

 this is biff. de-winged   de-leg/thighed biffde-breasted biff Biff is soup of the future

Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper and then coat with flour by placing them, a few pieces at a time, in a plastic bag with the flour and shaking. Remove and set aside.

wheee FLASH

Meanwhile, cut the salt pork into small cubes and add to a large skillet along with 2 T. water. Cover and cook until the water evaporates. Apparently this step removes some of the salt, and perhaps a little bit evaporates, but especially if it’s covered, most of it would stay in the pot, so I’m not sure if that step was necessary either. But you do need to render the fat, so water or no, cook until the pieces are crispy and brown and sitting in a pool of hot grease. While the pork cooks, you can prep the other vegetables: quarter the mushrooms, chop the celery, the medium onion, and the carrots into big pieces, and peel and crush the garlic. The mushrooms and pearl onions are the only things that remain in the stew for serving, so you really don’t need to worry about making the vegetables bite-sized. A very rough chop will do.

When the pork is crisp, remove it to a container large enough to contain the pork, onions, and mushrooms (the latter two will cook down—a 2-3 cup container should be big enough). Next, saute the peeled onions until golden brown and remove those to the same container. Then, fry the chicken in batches for a couple of minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Does this matter when it’s just going to get simmered for hours? I don’t know. The skin is not going to end up crisp in the final dish, but perhaps the browning adds some depth to the flavor. It’s probably not strictly necessary.

 bitsy onions half of Biff, browning

As they finish browning, put the chicken pieces in a large oven-safe pot (preferably enameled cast iron according to AB, although a very well-seasoned Dutch oven or other covered casserole dish might work as well).

The last ingredient getting the saute treatment in the pork fat is the mushrooms. If there isn’t enough fat left in the pan, you can add a tablespoon of butter. Once the mushrooms start to release their liquid, remove them to the same container as the bacon and onions, cover and refrigerate.

Pour about 1 cup of white wine into the skillet and stir well to deglaze, meaning dissolve all the brown bits remaining in the pan. Add the tomato paste and stir to dissolve, adding more wine if necessary. Add the deglazing mixture to the chicken, along with the rest of the bottle of wine, the other vegetables, the herbs, and the stock. AB calls for two bottles of wine but my pot wasn’t nearly big enough and that seemed excessive for one little chicken. I did double the amount of stock he uses, though. The idea is to have the chicken and vegetables entirely submerged/floating in a pot full of liquid. Cover it and refrigerate overnight.

the dream of the hoover administration deglazing

The next day, preheat the oven to 325F, place the pot in the oven and cook 2-2 1/2 hours or until the chicken is done through (155-165F). When the chicken is done, turn the oven down to warm, remove the chicken to a separate casserole dish, cover and place in the oven.

Then, strain out the vegetables and aromatics and discard them (you’ve already gotten as much flavor out of them as they have to give). Bring the remaining liquid to a simmer on the stovetop and reduce by at least 1/2, which will take about a half an hour. Assuming you’re serving the meal with a starch (egg noodles seem standard, rice or potatoes would also be good…eh, as noted, almost anything drowning in this sauce would be good), try to time it so it’s ready around the same time as the sauce.

When the sauce is reduced and thickened, add the pearl onions, bacon, and mushrooms and cook just until heated through. If the sauce isn’t as thick as you’d like it, whisk together equal parts flour or cornstarch and water or stock, and add that to the sauce. Start with 1 T. each and increase if desired. Let the starch heat through before deciding if you need more.

to strain, I just spooned the solids into a colander held over the pot finished stew

I added al dente egg noodles directly to the pot to finish cooking in the sauce, which may have improved their flavor slightly but made for somewhat gummier leftovers than would have been ideal. In the future, I’ll keep the noodles and sauce separate. Well, and I’ll also omit the chicken entirely.

Here’s the pared-down version that I think would hit most of the key flavor elements with minimal time and effort, very similar to the mushroom bourguignon linked above and easily made vegan.

Recipe: Coq-less Coq au Vin

  • 1 bottle red wine, cheap**
  • 1 package frozen pearl onions
  • 1-2 lbs mushrooms, any variety, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 2 cups stock, vegetable, chicken, beef, or mushroom
  • 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 t. dried
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 T. butter or vegetable oil or ~6 oz. salt pork or bacon, diced
  • 2 T. cornstarch or flour

Either cook the bacon and remove, or heat the butter or oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sweat the garlic and onions in whatever fat you’ve chosen until the latter are golden or browning. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add herbs, stock, wine, and tomato paste and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until liquid is reduced by more than half. Add the pearl onions and simmer another 10 minutes or until they’re tender. Whisk cornstarch into 2 T. water or stock, add to pot and stir well.

**The reason to use cheap wine while cooking is that, much like delicate or aromatic oils, the subtle flavors aren’t going to survive the heat, especially when cooked for a long time the way they are in this dish. A few years ago, Julia Moskin reported for the New York Times on the results of a series of experiments she did to test the theory that you should "never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink." Even in double-blinds, she and her tasters consistently preferred classic dishes made with cheap wines rather than expensive ones:

Over all, wines that I would have poured down the drain rather than sip from a glass were improved by the cooking process, revealing qualities that were neutral at worst and delightful at best. On the other hand, wines of complexity and finesse were flattened by cooking — or, worse, concentrated by it, taking on big, cartoonish qualities that made them less than appetizing.

It wasn’t that the finished dishes were identical — in fact, they did have surprisingly distinct flavors — but the wonderful wines and the awful ones produced equally tasty food, especially if the wine was cooked for more than a few minutes.