Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wild Wild Cranberries

The Hamptons, and East Hampton in particular where Steve and I have our house, get a lot of play in the press for the flashy exploits of the cast of characters who make it their summer playground.  Too bad the real picture isn't as well known. On the southern fork of Long Island, Southampton Town and East Hampton Town comprise 200 square miles of land surrounded by Atlantic beaches, bays, harbors, ponds and wetlands.  Since the late 1600's this unique strip of land has been home to farmers, fishermen and whalers.  The whalers are gone but the farming and fishing live on, as do many tracts of preserved woodlands and waterfronts.  Yeah, less so than in years past, but there's still plenty of beautiful outdoors to explore year round.

Beach plum season having passed, it's time for the wild cranberry bog at Walking Dunes in Napeague.  Every year this valley nestled in a series towering horse-shoe shaped dunes produces an abundance of wild cranberries.  We had a lot of rain the night before, so the bog was boggy -- but no matter, gathering two quarts of ripe berries was 45 minutes of time spent with our friends Gena and Kevin.

When you take the trouble to pick your own cranberries, you really want them to shine.  Cook only the briefest amount of time so the berries are intact, just burst open. And better still if not all have popped. You want this to be rustic.

The second "Wild" in the title refers to the addition of fresh jalapeno for some heat and crunch, crystalized ginger for the zing, orange rind to add its subtle flavor, and a bit of honey for a homey sweetness.  All used sparingly -- the cranberries are center stage and the others are the chorus backing up the star. Continuing with this metaphor, I guess the little bit of dried cranberries included in the recipe would be the stage crew -- they're there to make sure the show runs smoothly.

Cranberry sauce can't get any more spectacular when made with berries you plucked from the wild.  But this recipe does work perfectly with store-bought too.   

Wild Wild Cranberries
8 c. wild cranberries, washed
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. dried sweetened cranberries, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, diced
zest of 1 large orange (the Rosle zester makes the longest, thinest shreds that cling to the berries)
1 T. finely chopped candied ginger

Bring the water, sugar and honey to a boil in a large wide skilllet, making a sweet syrup. Add the dried cranberries, jalapeno, orange zest and candied ginger. Stir so the ginger and cranberries don't stick together in clumps. Add the wild cranberries, keeping the syrup at a boil.

Almost immediately you will hear small popping sounds, the cranberries bursting open. Continue to stir gently. The goal is to cook until about half of the cranberries have broken open. Watch carefully, this only takes a few minutes (and this is why you want a skillet rather than a pot, it's easier to keep your eyes on things). Take off the heat while there're still many berrries intact. More will burst in the residual heat as the skillet cools, and as you stir a little more before serving.

Cool to room temp and serve the same day you make it (this is preferred).  But you can also refrigerate or freeze until ready for unveiling. Choose your most elegant crystal bowl for presentation at table. Wild Wild Cranberries deserve nothing less.

One last thing -- while this recipe could be easily home-canned, the extra cooking it would undergo during the boiling water bath would reduce the integrity of the barely-cooked berries, so you'd end up with more pedestrian results.  Freshly made is best.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Warm Salmon Salad with Crispy Scales

The topping on this hot-fish-over-cool-salad is a thin crust of potato slices decoratively layered to evoke the scales of a fish. This recipe does utilize the holy trinity of the salmon...thick, flavorful fillets, the remarkably rich skin and the sparkling orange roe. BTW, salmon's unrivaled richness and versatility has earned it the nickname 'bacon of sea' in our house.

Start this show-stopper by prepping your dinner plates. Plain white or ones with simple bands around the rim work best. Boil a whole peeled carrot 'til soft but not mushy -- six to eight minutes should do it, with an immediate plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Thinly sliced carrot circles become the playful pattern around the rim and provide a neat little moment of discovery when guests realize that they're more than the china pattern, they're part of the meal.

We didn't have anyone over last night, so this recipe serves two. But it is easily scaled up (ha ha) to serve more, just bump up the ingredients proportionately.

Warm Salmon Salad with Crispy Scales
1 carrot
1/4 stick butter
1 large Idaho potato
salt, white pepper and cracked black pepper
Two wild salmon fillets cut from the thick end, skin on, about 6 oz. each
4 oz. salmon roe
1 small head frisee
1 Belgian endive
1 small head bibb lettuce
2 scallions
1 T. capers
5 Kalamata olives, pitted
1 plum tomato or half of a larger one, seeded
1 t. whole grain mustard
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. white wine or champagne vinegar
1/4 c. of your best olive oil

Boil the carrot, slice and decorate the serving plates, set aside.

Make the scale crust: Trim the peeled potato into a cylindrical column. The smaller the diameter, the more elaborate your scale pattern can be. Slice thin thin thin on a mandolin, almost to the point of translucency but not quite -- the disks need to retain a bit of integrity to avoid fragility issues later on.

Melt the butter and brush a heavy baking sheet well. Lay down the disks shingle-style in organized rectangles sized to cover the salmon fillets. Press gently to ensure good contact on the overlaps. Butter the top of the "salmon scales", sprinkle with a pinch or two of white pepper and a bit of salt. Bake the scales in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Your scales will be appealingly browned and crunchy.

While that's going on, prepare the salad. Tear the washed and dried frisee and bibb into small pieces and toss with the endive sliced cross-wise into 1/4" pieces. Everything else going into the salad should be sliced or chopped into tiny pieces -- the white and light green of the scallions, the tomato, the olives. If the capers are tiny use as is; larger capers should be chopped. Prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and olive oil with just a pinch of salt (the salmon roe is plenty salty so hold back from what you'd normally use) and a good grind of black pepper.

Score the salmon skin. Here are two cooking options to get a crispy skin: Skin-side up under a pre-heated broiler for eight minutes or so for medium-rare, depending on thickness. Alternatively, place skin down in a heavy, cold skillet on a cold stove. Turn on the stove to medium-high and cook for 10 minutes. Once they get going, cover the pan for two minutes so the top is nicely cooked also.

Meanwhile toss the lettuces and vegetable bits with the vinaigrette as soon as the salmon starts cooking so the salad has a few minutes to relax into the dressing.

Assembly is easy: on the decorated plates, heap the salad neatly within the rims. Place the hot salmon skin-side down over the salad. With a spatula transfer the scales to lay on top, then spoon blobs of roe evenly over the greens surrounding the fish.

Serve at once to enjoy the wonderful contrast of warm crunchy potato, hot crispy-skinned salmon and cool salad strewn with luxurious salmon caviar.

This has been a favorite of ours for years. I first started making it in the 80's, when potato-wrapped fish was all the rage. My initial encounter with this paring was at Jean-George Vongerichten's first Manhattan restaurant, Lafayette. He was a big deal from the very beginning, earning four stars from the Times right out of the gate. After an incredible dinner there I came up with my approximation to great success. Come to think of it, this recipe or something like it may well be in one of his cookbooks. But it worked so well from the get-go I never looked any further.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fruits de Mer: Violets

At the risk of sounding all Gwynethy/Goop about this, I do want to share an exquisite delicacy that's extremely rare -- and yet so spectacularly delicous it should get its own PR firm. I'll do my best.

You know those fabulous brasseries in Paris with all the shellfish displayed outside? And the wonderful towers of fruits de mer laden with oysters and all other manner of shellfish? Next time you find yourself in such a place, see if they have Violets ("vee-o-lay" -- but you already knew that). If you love oysters and savor the lusciousness of Uni (sea urchin roe), you'll find the Mediterranean shellfish Violet heavenly. But if you haven't yet worked your way up to Uni in the sushi spectrum, proceed with caution, they're a bit of an acquired taste. Lonely Planet describes them as "rubber dipped in ammonia". Cretins.

Roughly the size and shape of a smallish potato, the Violet's exterior is dark and leathery. Cut in half, the strong, briny, orange innards are scooped out with a special little spoon. Whether consumed in concert with the other treasures of a grand plateau or just on their own, Violets are truly sublime.

I've never seen or heard of them outside of France, and even there, not many restaurants or markets I visited had them. Many people had never even heard of them. I did a little digging and found that Violets have many aliases depending on the region, including Viourlet, Biju, Patate de mer, Figue de mer, and in Italy, limone di mare and uova di mare. They are also prized in Korea, Japan, Australia and Chile.

So if you find yourself in Paris, make sure to hit L'Atlas Brasserie:
11 rue de Buci at the corner of rue de Seine
(6th Arr., off Blvd Saint-Germain, Odeon Metro Stop)
Paris, France
01 40 51 26 30 P.S. These were the only pics of Violets I could find. If you have a better one, please share it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Majestic Kugelhopf Surprise

"A Taste of Alsace" by Sue Style was published in 1990. Wonderful pictures of the region and conversations with the people, many intriguing recipes: rabbit terrine; ravioli of snails with poppy seeds; paupiettes of veal stuffed veal kidneys; baby asparagus mousse.

A better known regional specialty is Kugelhopf, usually a sweet yeast cake studded with raisins baked in a swirly-sided bundt pan. A folk tale traces Kugelhopf's origins back to the three Maji and is the probable link to Kugelhopf's frequent appearance at Christmas time. However the sweet cake is wonderful year-round.

Ms. Style tracked down the elusive, savory Kugelhopf au Lard, and better still, its ultimate incarnation: Kugelhopf Surprise. In the book, the recipe outlines the plan for a tower of finger sandwiches of thinly sliced ham or proscuitto. I've found that smoked salmon is a wonderful upgrade, bringing the K.S. to a whole new level. You may already have been clued in to the inherent porkiness of the bread by the "au Lard" in the title. Bacon is involved in the Kugelhopf loaf so ham or proscuitto results in a bit of a one note song. Smoked salmon delivers a brighter contrast between bread and filling while not compromising a bit of richness. I also layer in hot-house cucumber slices for a welcome, moist green crunch.

Upon presentation of an early Kugelhopf Surprise, one fellow exclaimed "Wow, that looks like something from the midnight buffet on a cruise ship!" High praise indeed and the rave reviews confirmed that this is truly worthy of the Spectacularly Delicious mantle. I just made one for a party at my friends Tom and Craig -- again, a remarkable hit, every crumb devoured. The caterers asked for the recipe. And good to know that once assembled, wrapped tightly in foil, the Kugelhopf Surprise travels well.

It's best to plan this as a two-day operation. Bake the Kugelhopf au Lard on day one, assemble and serve the next day. You'll want to be able to take your time that first day, the two risings can vary widely. Don't be a prisoner to the clock -- it's all about letting the dough grow to optimal volume. The wonderful Laurie Colwin's books taught me this -- yeast doughs operate on their own time schedules, it's best to let them be until they announce themselves ready.

Kugelhopf pans (8" diameter) are easy enough to find and the distinctive pattern they create is essential.

Kugelhopf au Lard

3 1/3 all-purpose white flour
1/4 oz. rapid rise dry yeast
1 t. salt
10 T. unsalted butter at room temperature
3 eggs
7 oz. milk (just shy of a full cup)
1/4 lb. finely diced bacon
1 small onion, finely diced
12 walnut halves to decorate the crown of the loaf
1/4 c. chopped walnuts

In your heavy duty stand mixer, using the bread hook, slowly blend together the flour, yeast and salt. In goes the butter, bash it around until evenly distributed. Mix the eggs with a fork and add them, then slowly pour in the milk. It will be soft and sticky.

Beat very thoroughly for 10 minutes. By then it should start to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If not, add small teaspoons of flour until the dough forms a ball. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel and leave to rise until it doubles in volume -- at least 1 1/2 hours, likely longer, let it really swell up.

Meanwhile over low heat in a heavy pan sweat the bacon, careful not to brown or crisp it. Remove the bacon, and in the remaining fat slowly cook the onions, 'til translucent but again, not browned.

Grease the Kugelhopf pan well, especially the central column. Pam spray works well. Place a walnut half in each of the runnels at the bottom of the pan.

Knock down the dough and again using the bread hook, work in the bacon, onions and chopped walnuts until well distributed. Turn out the dough into the Kugelhopf pan, stretching it evenly around the ring. Cover again, leave to rise again until it climbs above the rim of the pan. An hour or longer.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40 - 45 minutes, the top will be golden and the loaf will sound hollow when tapped. Turn over onto a rack, let cool a bit, then remove from the pan. Any sticking is likely to happen around the center column, use a knife to loosen and knock the sides of the pan, it will drop out. Cool thoroughly, wrap, and keep at room temp until ready for phase 2.

Creating the Kugelhopf Surprise

5 oz cream cheese with garlic and herbs, I use the Boursin brand
1 c. sour cream, creme fraiche or quark if you can find it
3 T. finely chopped capers
1 lb. thinly sliced smoked salmon -- ask for the smokiest, strongest flavor
1 hot-house/English cucumber

With a good serrated bread knife, take a thin slice off the top of the loaf, the walnut halves intact. Continue to slice the loaf thinly into 10 rings and keep track of the them from smallest (at the top) to the largest, leaving a last ring at the base. You'll end up with the decorative ring for the top, a firm ring at the bottom for the base, and 10 thin rings from the middle to make the sandwiches.

Mix the herbed cheese, the sour cream and chopped capers. Slice the cucumber on the thin blade of your food processor.

Starting with the largest sandwich ring, spread the filling on one of each pair of slices. Top with the salmon, then the cucumber slices. Use the last of bits of the filling to dot the tops of the cucumber slices so they will grip the sandwich tops. Make five sandwich rings.

Place the base on a serving plate -- you can garnish as you wish, I used watercress this time, decorative leaves are also lovely. One by one, starting with the largest, put each sandwich ring on a cutting board and slice evenly into eight or so wedges, whatever you think will be easiest to handle. Smaller sandwiches are good for finger food, make them larger if you will be serving onto plates. Transfer the sliced ring onto the base and continue slicing and stacking until you have rebuilt the Kugelhopf to its former glory. Place the nutty crown on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


A Nice Little Tool to Have

If you've ever wondered (and you may well never have) how the little cornichons served with pates in restaurants are sliced so thinly then decoratively fanned out, here's the key: a cornichon slicer. Multiple sharp blades just millimeters apart make the cuts straight and true. It's not something you'll use everyday, but when the opportunity arises, it's just the thing for that last elegant touch. It works on radishes too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beach Plum Jelly

Wild beach plum bushes are found in the scrubby dunes around the bays out here on the East End. A little larger than a cranberry, they ripen to a reddish purple at summer's end. Our tradition is to go picking on Labor Day weekend. Once you find a nice thicket of them, it takes the two of us about an hour to collect a gallon and a half of the fruit needed for this recipe.

Wash them, picking out leaves, branches, and wizened or otherwise unappealing plums. They need to be cooked over low heat for a good long time to release the juice. I use a family-size crock pot (no snickering, it does an excellent job). I keep them on low for a good six hours. Higher heat on a stove might be faster, mashing and stirring as you go, but the crock pot is so easy.

Strain the juice from the skins and pits through a jelly bag. You'll have about 6 cups of juice. Add 7 cups of sugar, bring to full boil, add a pouch of Certo and boil good and hard for another minute. Then into sterilized jars, finish in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Plummy, tangy and sweet. Hand-picked from the wild, hand-made and home-canned. A wonderful holiday gift. Splurge on pretty labels at


We love having guests out for the weekend. Steve is extrememly accomplished in the breakfast baked-goods category, thanks to those years running our B&B here in East Hampton, Georgica Bend. He hasn't written his tell-all memoir yet, though he's got the title ready: "Yesterday's Muffins."

So who doesn't love hot pancakes, or a toasty waffle, perhaps rich and eggy French toast or the elegant crepe? No one, of course, but then again, though those are scrumptious, always welcome and appreciated, when the occasion merits a little dazzle, nothing beats the Aebleskiver.

"The what?" you may ask.

Here's the story. As kids we'd go on family ski vacations, now this is really back in the day, circa 1970 or so. Unquestionably our favorite place was Aspen's Christiania Lodge. We'd pile into our cabin (there are five of us brothers) after a day on the slopes, Dad would grill steaks on the deck while we skittered down the snowy, icy path to plunge into the well-heated outdoor pool -- a miracle of modern engineering.

But oh, the breakfasts! Served family style in the main lodge. I'm sure the proprietors, a reserved Scandinavian couple, shuddered when they saw us tromping in, the guests already enjoying breakfast undoubtedly grateful for their headstarts.

We fortified ourselves for the day with yet another wonder -- a perfectly spherical pancake studded with apples. The Aebleskiver. As round as and the same size as a tennis ball. Dusted with powdered sugar, then slathered with butter and heavily dosed with syrup.

Poor Mrs. Chritiania or whatever her name might have been -- we ate until she either ran out of batter or gave in to exhaustion.

Mom bought an Aebleskiver pan there, blue enameled cast iron. Back home, once in a blue moon, perhaps Easter or some other special day, she take down the pan which was decoratively hung against the blue checked wallpaper of the kitchen, and dedicate herself to the considerable feat of an Aebleskiver breakfast. These pans make just seven Aebleskivers at a time. Mrs. Christiania no doubt had mulitples and I actually have two, sadly not the iconic blue original, another brother must have snagged that one at some point. No matter, the pans aren't hard to find.

This dish merits Spectacularly Delicious status on three key points: the need for specialized equipment, the wow factor ("How can they be so perfectly round? Have you ever seen such a thing?"), and they are truly wonderful. Round, browned and fluffy and puffy, almost souffle-like inside. Nothing quite like them that I'm aware of.

Happily, I do have a xerox of Mom's hand-copied recipe passed on from the Christiania. It's really not so hard -- just requires a little attention. Worth it!

Aebleskivers - Christiania of Aspen

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups flour

3 eggs, separated

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. baking soda

2 T. sugar

4 T. melted butter

1 Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled, sliced into very thin wedges no more than 1/2" - 3/4" long

Vegetable oil to brush the pan.

First place the Aebleskiver pan on medium heat. Put a baking sheet in the oven at 275, this is where you'll stockpile the 'skivers until you're ready to serve.

Beat egg whites 'til stiff.

Thoroughly mix the other ingredients (except the veg oil). You want the batter to be on the thin side, so that it pours rather than drops out in blobs. If needed, add milk a little at time -- you're not going for watery. Lastly, fold in the beaten whites.

The pan should now be evenly heated. Brush each hemi-spherical indentation (from here on I'm calling these the bowls, it's just easier) with the oil, make sure to get all around the sides. Pour in 1/4 cup of batter in each, which should just come to the top of the bowl. There should be a little sizzle when the batter hits the pan.

The technique: keep your eye on the batter around the edges of the bowl. They will develop a ring of bubbles like a pancake would. When those bubbles start to break, take a skewer (the original Christiania recipe called for a knitting needle -- quaint, right?) and stick it in so it grabs the cooked side touching the pan and rotate it up 90 degrees, so you have half of the ball rising straight up from the pan. The batter inside will flow down and refill the bowl. Cook a bit more, watching the bubbles, then skewer them all the way over. You now have perfectly round balls in each bowl. For another minute or so, use the skewer to spin them around, evenly browning them and giving time to cook the centers through. Batter-in to Aebleskiver-out takes about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, tops. Into the oven with batch number one and do it all again, making sure to oil the bowls well each time. This recipe makes 35 Aebleskivers.

Serve hot with butter and maple syrup. You needn't get any fancier than that -- blueberries will stain the exteriors of the Aebleskivers and really anything else would also detract from the admittedly odd but cute balls.

I just Googled the Christiania, evidently the place has been built up into luxury condos. Though the original has given way to the inevitable march of progress, the small yet mighty Aebleskiver lives on.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Remnants to Rapture: Crepes a la Orange

I didn't set out to make a tried and true recipe last night, what happened is just a reminder that sometimes the makings of a spectacular dessert can be rustled up with a search through the freezer and pantry.

When Mom was here this summer, she whipped up a wonderful breakfast of crepes. Our good French crepe pan provided even browning and uniformity in size -- a little harder to accomplish with a regular skillet. Leftovers tightly wrapped and stored in the freezer.

In high school, I worked at The Magic Pan -- anyone remember it? My title was "Crepe Assembler." A cute girl in a dirndle was positioned in the dining room in the center of this large carousel of crepe pans. She'd batter up each pan, they'd ride around the cooking track encircling her, upon return she'd stack 'em up and pass through a tile-framed window into our assembly kitchen. Important lesson learned: crepes are surprisingly durable and stack and store easily. Anyway, one assembly line was the savories: spinach souffle, beef bourginon, Seafood St. Jacques (shrimp, real crab and scallops). The other line was the sweets: ripe peeled peaches soaking in ginger ale (don't judge, it's a neat trick), strawberries macerated in brown sugar, ice cream with freshly made chocolate fudge, chocolate mint and mocha sauce. The rolled savories were dressed with a band of sauce or cheese, the sweet crepes topped with the sweet sauces (save the fruit crepes, which were dressed with freshly whipped cream post-browning), savories and sweets alike into the hot salamander to finish. Then crepes back through the window and delivered with edges crisped, sauces bubbling.

So back to last night: crepes resuscitated from the freezer, folded into triangles then browned in butter. Home-canned orange conserve (marmalade style, candied rinds in thick sweet orange sauce) poured over, everything brought up to a good simmer. A final flambe with Hennesey: 1/4 C. heated in microwave for 20 seconds first, carefully ignited, gently poured into pan, flames admired 'til they died down, then spooned it all onto pretty dessert plates. A final dollop of whipped cream would have been very Magic Pan, but alas no cream on hand. No matter: quick, simple, unexpected, unique, the drama of the flambe -- spectacularly delicious.

If there's a moral to this story, it's crepes in the freezer are a good insurance policy; home-canned sauces save the day time and again; flambe is easy and always a crowd pleaser, and improvisation needn't equal compromise.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Melon - Peach - Pignoli Jam

If you're going to take on home canning as a hobby, which I strongly encourage, the key is to ferret out or develop unique recipes, interesting combinations. Yes farmstand fresh strawberry jam has timeless appeal, but something like this -- a melon and pine nut jam -- isn't something you'll find in stores and is a very luscious combination.

Perhaps it would be logical to go about this in a more organized fashion, collecting all my interesting jelly, jam, pickle, relish and mustard recipes in a group. However, melons are in their last flush of the season and getting this jam into the jar is too important. Made a great batch this weekend. Original recipe is from a British book "Clearly Delicious" -- I've substituted pignoli instead of the original call for slivered almonds. Toasted lightly, they add deeper, more distinct nuttiness. And the Brit version says to go it alone without commercial pectin, which gives looser, more liquid results than I like, so I add in a pouch of Certo to thicken things up.

Keep in mind that home canning sugar- or acid-heavy fruits and vegs doesn't come close to the perils of processing meats, fish, low-acid produce. That's pressure canner stuff. Easily sterilized jars (boiling water or sani-cycle in the dishwasher or hand wash then dry in a 250 degree oven) and lids (just simmer in a pan) and a quick 10 minute boiling water bath when the jars are filled is so easy. Takes more thought to write it out than to actually do it.

A really good, large copper confiture pan produces excellent results for fruit preserves. Obvs copper isn't good for high acid concoctions, you'll want enameled cast iron for that.

Melon - Peach - Pignoli Jam.

2 lbs. fresh, peeled, roughly chopped peaches
2 lbs. really ripe cantalope, chopped into 1/2 - 1 inch pieces (they kind of break down in the cooking)

Cover in a non-reactive bowl with 7 cups of sugar, let stand overnight.

Bring all to a nice hard boil for 20 minutes. Add a pinch of ground ginger and 3 T. lemon juice. Stir to keep from scorching. After 20 minutes, things should be pretty syrupy. Add one pouch of Certo and keep it at a full on boil for another minute. Remove pan from heat, skim off any foam that might have developed.

Stir in 1 cup lightly toasted pine nuts.

Ladle into 10 sterilized 8 oz. jelly jars, seal and process.

If the pine nuts aren't evenly distributed when you take them from the water bath, let them sit til you hear to pop of the top as the jars cool (which means the seal has set), then turn the jars over for 5 - 10 minutes and the nuts will migrate up through the jars so that when you turn them right side up again, and the jam has thickened more, the nuts will float throughout the jam.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Word About Roast Chicken

The world is certainly not lacking for roast chicken recipes. Whatever the herbs and spices, rubs with lemon juice, olive oil and/or butter, we've found unparalled results with the vertical roaster. Crisp crisp skin all the way around, top to bottom. Roasts evenly. Try it!

Black Paella, a.k.a. Paella Negra

I've always had a weakness for foods and recipes that have proper names: Bouillabasse, Croquembouche, Ropa Vieja, Kugelhopf Surprise, Oysters Rockefeller, Aebleschivers... recipes for which will be coming as we move forward. Last night was the night for Paella -- more specifically Black Paella, or Paella Negra if you're inclined to use the Spanish name. An early issue of the fabulous Saveur magazine first introduced me to this dish (alas, my copy of that issue is long gone and their website doesn't have their version posted).

A true Paella pan is necessary, and authentic, imported Spanish Paella rice is non-negotiable for this dish. A popular brand is Bomba. Paella rice, shortgrained and round, has been developed for maximum absorbency, while still maintaining individual integrity of the grains. Arborio rice is not suitable, as that variety lends itself to creamy smoothness and Paella calls for plump, individual grains. Paella Rice is much more absorbent than other rice; in fact, the ratio of rice to broth is 1 - 4, versus the 1-2 formula for our standard American long grain rice, or the 1 -3 used to produce a creamy risotto.

So, Black Paella. The secret is squid ink. If you're lucky enough to find whole, uncleaned squid to harvest your ink sacks fresh, more power to you. Nowadays squid is sold already cleaned, tentacles separated from the bodies, skins removed, heads, beaks, quills and ink sacks discarded. Luckily it's not to hard to find packets of squid ink, which work just fine.

This is a high drama dish -- black rice studded with rings of squid, surrounded by a circle of shiny black mussels. Taken to the table in the Paella pan it's been cooked in, I bet no one's seen anything quite like it, and it is really, really delicious. Black and briny, evoking the depths of the mysterious deep sea. This recipe serves four.

BLACK PAELLA - serves 4

- 1 lb cleaned squid. Cut the tentacle rings in half (four little legs per piece) and slice the body into rings

- 2 dozen scrubbed mussels

- 6 T. olive oil

- 1 shallot chopped fine

- 1 medium onion chopped fine

- 4 cloves garlic chopped fine

- 1/2 t. hot pepper flakes

- 2 large tomatoes, pulp only. (Cut tomato in half around the equator. squeeze out seeds. Rub the halves through a box grater, down to the skin, which will protect your hand from getting scraped. The result will be perfectly smooth, seedless and skinless thick fresh pulp. My beefsteaks yielded 2 cups of pulp.)

- 1 cup Spanish Paella rice

- 2 packets squid ink (4 grams each)
- 4 cups broth: 2 c. bottled clam juice, 2 c. chicken stock

- .5 gram saffron

- 2 T. chopped parsley

- saffron sea salt if you have it

Preheat oven to 425. In a sauce pan combine the clam juice, chicken stock and saffron, bring to a very low simmer, covered, and keep it at that temperature. The saffron will color and flavor the broth. Watch that it doesn't come to a full out boil.

Place the Paella pan over medium heat, slick it with the oil and saute the shallots, onion, garlic. Slowly, not too hot, don't brown, go for that translucent look. Give it a little salt and pepper, easy on the salt, since there's more saltiness to come. Takes about 10-12 minutes.

Add red pepper flakes, heat them up, then add the rice and stir around so it's coated with the oil and other stuff in the pan. Again, careful not to brown the rice. Add the squid and the tomato pulp. Cook and stir for 5 minutes, it will cook down a little, but don't worry that the tomato will not be completely absorbed.

Stir in the squid ink and evenly distribute. It's fun to see this thick black paste spread thoughout the pan. Keep stirring.

Increase heat to medium high. Add 2 cups of hot broth, stirring risotto style, until most of the liquid is absorbed by the rice.

Add the remaining 2 cups of broth, or as much as will fit into the pan. Ring the pan with the mussels. Into the hot oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Out of the oven and cover with foil for 10 minutes to rest. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley, and if you have saffron sea salt, a pinch or two of those course grains as well. It's served warm from its little bit of resting time, not steaming hot.

Spectacular and very delicous -- perfect!

Note: An extra level of excess would be dollops of orange flying fish roe (Tobiko), when you want to go over the top. Worry not, the straight forward Black Paella with a sprinkling of parsley is bold and beautiful as is.