Beets, more beets, and vegetable confit

Yes I love beets, and I think they are underappreciated, so I’m always looking for more things to do with beets. From Cook’s Illustrated the article on “Turn the Beet Around” has some suggestions: Charred beet salad among some others. If you search Kitchn for beets you get lots of recipes. Some look good, others, maybe not so good. I have found beet hummus in the grocery store (a reputable brand that does do good humus) and, explorer and beet lover than I am, I did try it. It’s good, and should I find it again (it’s since disappeared) I would buy it again, but make it? I don’t think so. Just as I’m unlikely to make pickled beets. However, chocolate beet bundt cake, might just be a possibility. I mean we do eat carrot cake, so why not?

I do have a beet liqueur that I love, too.

However, cold beet soup is still a summer favorite, and easier now that it is possible to buy already cooked beets or frozen sliced beets. I’ve griddled beet slices and the caramelization that takes is a whole new level of flavor from them

Stahlbush Island Farms

My latest discovery of beets is poached beets. Yes, no kidding. I was reading my email from Mark Bittman’s eponymous website just a day or two ago and found an article titled “Charred Olive-Oil-Poached Beets. I don’t know why that struck me as so startling. I didn’t fire up the grill, but I did pitch some of these on my cast-iron griddle and they were really good!

While it may be controversial, I’m familiar with making vegetable confit and even vegan rillettes. After some thought this really didn’t seems so strange–maybe just that beets are underappreciated vegetables. So, beet confit! The recipes I’ve reviewed on vegetable confit suggest that if covered with oil they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three–yes, 3 months.

This seems like a great way to handle extra veggies when you’re doing single-serving cooking. So, controversial or not, I’ll likely be trying some more vegetable confit when the summer bounty is in the farmers’ market.

A son gôut!

†

From Mark Bittman, Charred Olive-Oil-Poached Beets

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Tuna, lovely tuna!

 

Tuna_20170709_140604

those lovely tuna medallions

Wow! While skulking through Harris Teeter supermarket I noticed that they had beautiful tuna “medallions” for only $6.99 per pound.  The chunks are not a problem for me since if it were steaks I’d need to cut them up anyway. The main thing is the quality and the price. It’s time replenish my supply of tuna confit.

Since my last post on tuna confit, the recipe from that post, which was from Fine Cooking, I’ve been perusing sous vide recipes and have come up with some modifications for the seasonings, and the method. I’m using the method from ChefSteps this time around (with a little modification of seasoning and cooking time and temperature). One modification was to infuse the oil with some additional herbs suggested in other recipes, and then straining/filtering the oil before packing the confit (in Mason jars).

Tuna Confit (2017)

Ingredients

  • tuna (about 2 pounds)
  • salt and sugar (4:1 ratio) for the dry cure/dry brine
  • extra virgin olive oil, about 4 cups (enough to cover) the tuna

Infused oil ingredients

  • extra virgin olive oil (about 4 cups)
  • Turkish bay leaves (2 or 3 depending on size)
  • sprig of thyme
  • sprig of rosemary
  • smashed garlic cloves (about 3)
  • black peppercorns (about 2 teaspoons)
  • red pepper flakes (just a dash)
  • zest of one lemon (removed with a vegetable peeler)

Preparation

  • Infused oil:
    • Place the oil in a slow cooker or multifunction pot on the warm setting and add all seasonings.
    • Allow oil to infuse for several hours (a temperature of about 150°F) then cool the oil to room temperature.
  • Tuna:
    • dry cure/dry brine the tuna for about 30 minutes then rinse, transfer to plate and let it dry.
    • put the tuna into 500  mL jars, pouring oil around each piece, adding enough to cover the tuna in the jar
    • cook in a multifunction pot on the warm setting for two hours
    • cool tuna and refrigerate

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When I tasted the oil, the flavors were a bit strong so I diluted it with an additional cup of extra virgin olive oil before using it to pack the tuna. Since the oil had lemon zest added during the infusion–I didn’t add lemon zest to the cans as the ChefSteps recipe had suggested. I think that would have been just too much lemon for even me–and I do like lemon!

My “medallions” were a just little thicker than the usual tuna steak so I allowed them just a bit of extra time with the dry cure (about 45 minutes) before rinsing and allowing them to air dry. There was a big difference in the firmness after that short period of dry cure.

After rinsing and patting dry with paper towels, I left them sitting on parchment paper for about 30 minutes to air dry, turning them over just once, then packing them in 500 mL Ball/Mason jars, adding oil to the bottom of the jar, and then after each piece of tuna

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The ChefSteps recipe suggested cooking the tuna at 113°F  for 1 hour and 30 minutes. My experience has been that, even though I love sashimi, I like my cooked fish cooked just a bit more. Part of the reason for making confit is not to eat it immediately but to be able to keep it longer as my replacement for “canned tuna”–so I’ve opted for a higher temperature–actually a lot higher temperature–more in keeping with the original recipe.

The jars of tuna in olive oil were put into the slow cooker on the warm setting which should give me about 160°F. I know that’s not going to be as lush and velvety as if it were cooked at a lower temperature. But preservation is part of the objective here (I mean, that was certainly the original goal of confit). I want this to last (in the fridge) for a bit.

Jar size was a bit of a problem–three of the medallions were simply too large to be sure that they would remain submerged under the oil, even allowing for shrinkage with cooking. Since the jars were going to be sealed, I didn’t want to take the chance of having to open them to add more oil. So–extra room in the jar with only two medallions in each.

No matter how this turns out it will be hands down better than most canned tuna (unless you spring for the really expensive stuff) and a lot easier than doing it on the stovetop or even in the oven.

 

Dry_cure_20170709_141321

dry curing

post_dry _cure_20170709_145716

air drying after curing

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starting with oil in the jar

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add tuna

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leaving some headroom in the jars

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it’s tuna confit!

 

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Confit taste without the labor

From The Deluxe Food Lovers Companion, you’ll find that the term “confit” is the from the method of cooking meat slowly, at low temperature. This (in South-West France) is frequently duck or goose.Yes–you read that correctly: it’s cooked in fat after being salted and seasoned, and is stored in fat. Before refrigeration it was a method of preserving meat–duck or goose, or pork in their own fat.  Cooking killed microbes and sealing in fat and sealing in the fat (similar to putting paraffin over jam or jelly) prevented exposure to additional microbes. The temperatures usually given for traditional confit are below boiling (212°F or 100°C) but high enough that the internal temperature of the meat will be over 140°F (60°C)–usually around  160 °F to 180°F (60 °C to 80°C) leave the confit more tender (McGee).

If you’re thinking g “Ewww, fat”, not to worry. Fat does not penetrate into the meat. I’ve seen suggestions in several blogs that you can get the same effect by braising in liquid very slowly, and then rubbing fat onto the meat afterwards. I’ve not tested this; I know that the texture and flavor of confit (e.g. tuna) is very special, so I’m not likely to change my method anytime soon. Either way, we are not taking fast food here, at least until after we get the confit made). We are talking long, very slow cooking.

If you’re adding the traditional salting/seasoning, then we’re talking even longer–requires planning several days ahead. Then there’s the aging of the confit–the flavor does mature as it stands, and I, personally, would hate to lose that really great flavor and the lush texture of the traditional method. Time well spent, in my opinion.

Note that the image here is thanks to NPR, the salt website.

A friend recently emailed me a link for Counterfeit Duck Confit (NPR) since she knows that I like that sort of thing–in other words, I like a peasant cooking. I’ve not tried this recipe yet–weather is just too damn hot to even think of turning on the over or even having a burner on for very long (induction cooking is a help) but my appetite isn’t set for duck yet–later when the weather is cool. Despite my lack of appetite for duck confit right now, this is a recipe that I do want to share and that I’ll be making when the weather is cooler.

You’re asking why I’m sharing this if I haven’t tried it?  Well looks like an excellent recipe to me, and it’s from David Lebovitz–I pay attention to his recipes, since I’ve never made on that was anything but excellent. My reservation is that although the duck legs are going to taste very good, that I will not measure up to traditional duck confit.  It’s my excuse to get a bunch of duck legs (which I almost always have to special order so it’s a lot of duck legs) and taste this side-by-side with my traditional confit. The caption is a link to the NPR site and the full recipe and the commentary.  You’ll note that this is still not fast food, though is easier than the traditional method.

One of the important things for the texture of confit is “slow and low” cooking. While this is slow (3 hours probably begins to qualify for “slow”), I don’t think it qualifies for the “low” as the temperatures used are 300 °F for 2-1/2 hours of the baking, and 375 °F for 15 minutes.  I have no doubt at all that these duck legs will taste wonderful–but as Lebovitz stated–it’s not true confit. Some serious comparisons are in order here–but pleasurable since I love duck!

. . . .a son goût

About lentils

lentils in Mason/Ball jar on pantry shelf.

lentils

Lentils (Lens culinaris), closely related to beans and peas, are dried after harvesting; you’ll find them on the shelves of your supermarket, gourmet stores, and online. They have been a staple food in many areas for over 8000 years, likely originating while in Turkey.  They are a staple food for many south Asian cultures, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean countries.  The Latin word for lentils, lens, was used in the 17th century to describe eye glasses because of the similarity in shape

Like other legumes, lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly.  Lentils have a mild, often earthy flavor, which lets them pair well as side dishes, in salads, and soups.  Lentils have traditionally been used as a meat substitute.  Like other pulses, when paired with grains they offer excellent quality protein in our diet.

Before cooking, always rinse lentils and pick out stones and other debris–usually they are quite free of debris, but it’s always good to check them before cooking.  Unlike dried beans and peas, there’s no need to soak them. Lentils cook more slowly if they’re combined with salt or acidic ingredients, so add these last.  Bigger or older lentils take longer to cook.  Store dried lentils for up to a year in a cool, dry place. Substitutes: dal OR split peas OR black-eyed peas  More varieties are appearing even on the supermarket shelves, but specialty sources offer a wide variety with which to experiment.

The quick cooking and nutritious nature of lentils make them an obvious choice for winter soups. They are also good cooked and chilled for salads or mixed with bread crumbs to stuff vegetables. Blend lentils with middle eastern couscous and use as a bed for seafood and poultry.  Use them instead of beans  for summer salads with fresh tomatoes and other veggies.

Here is a little information about the various kinds of lentils.  More synonyms and alternative names can be found in the Cook’s Thesaurus.

  • Brown Lentils:  The average grocery store lentil is the brown lentil. You’ll likely find these on the shelves with the dried beans.  They tend to get mushy if overcooked.  If you want them to be firm, add oil to the cooking water and cook the lentils just a short while, say 15 minutes.
  • Black beluga lentils are a very popular legume in South Asia, they are used to make a beautiful black lentil soup. Some of the names that they my go by are Beluga lentil = black beluga lentil = beluga black lentil = petite beluga lentil. When they’re cooked, especially in salads with a tiny bit of oil, they glisten so that akes them look like beluga caviar.
  • Petite crimson lentils are “crimson” in color, which is a deep orange-red. These lentils tend to lose their shape when they are cooked and are an excellent choice for thickening soup.
  • Petite golden lentils are a small firm, golden lentil that is rounder in shape than many other  lentils; one of the reasons that this lentils holds its shape so well when cooked.  They have a soft texture.
  • Ivory white lentils are a creamy white colored small lentil that is really a peeled black lentils, known in India as urid dal.
  • French green lentils: (also called French green lentils, du Puy lentils,  lentilles du Puy, lentilles vertes du Puy.)  By many chefs, these are considered the “best”, most delicate lentils.  They have the typical earthy flavor, but also  are a bit “peppery”. These hold their shape well better than many other lentils,  but take longer to cook, but still do not need presoaking. While I love all lentils, and typically have several kinds in the pantry, these are the ones that I would not want to be without!)
  • Red lentils are the common seen in the supermarket.  It’s a lovely salmon pink in the dried form, but it turns golden when cooked.  These lentils cook faster than others.  They’re best in  purées or soups.
  • Spanish pardina lentils (also known as Spanish brown lentils or Continental lentils) are smaller the brown or red lentil–about the same size as a petite green or black lentil.  They have a particularly nutty flavor, and they hold their plump, round shape when cooked. This makes them a particular favorite with e for use in summer vegetable/lentil salads.
  • Dal is the Indian term for peas, beans, or lentils that have been split and often skinned, but the name is sometimes used for all lentils, peas, or beans, or to cooked dishes made with them. Split lentils don’t hold their shape well, so they’re often cooked into soups or purées.

Most of these can be interchanged in recipes as long as you take into account how quickly they cook and the final textures–some are softer than others. Generally the split ones tend to lose shape faster, so don’t do well for salads, or side dishes where you want them to keep their shape, but will be fine in soups–especially if you’d like your soup to be a little thicker.  Any of these would work in the lentil soup recipe that I gave earlier–though I usually use the lentils du Puy even for that.

Aside from using them instead of beans in summer salads, I think that lentils make an awesome side dish to go with grilled salmon–there’s something about the earthy flavor that combines SO well.  If you have “leftover” grilled salmon, try using it with some lentils to make a cool, but hearty summer salad with some tomatoes and cucumber to it.  Combined with a grain, this can be a very nutritious vegetarian dish–or not.

Here is a link to a lentil salad that makes me drool on my keyboard just looking at the recipe:  Warm Salad of Lentils with Duck Fat from the Hudson Valley.  Love’s description of the lentilles du Puy is marvelous.  (Each time I cook duck, I carefully keep some of the fat, sealed and refrigerated to use for things like this.)  Add some greens, and this is a one-dish meal that’s in my group of comfort foods.  Lentils will also work in the sausage, beans and greens one-dish meal.

Lots of uses, quick-cooking, nutritious, tasty, inexpensive…what more could you want?  Try some!

Tuna confit…

Steaks and chops lend themselves beautifully to cooking for one.  One of my favorites is tuna steak, griddled or grilled–served with a side of spinach risotto  and a salad it’s a very quick, easy meal.  If there is leftover from the tuna steak, it can be used in tuna salad.  But sometimes I want to tuna salad when I don’t have leftover tuna steak.  What to do then?

I dislike the “average” can to tuna that is fishy, mushy, and buy the “solid white albacore” which is likely packed in water, but still dry since it’s cooked twice in the processing (Cook’s Illustrated, July/August 2011). I love the expensive, olive-oil packed European tuna–but my budget doesn’t permit it so I’m always looking for alternatives.

One of the things that I like about Cook’s Illustrated is the comparison of products readily available in the American supermarket–that is, after all, where I do most of my shopping. Those products are reviewed without knowledge of the manufacturer, and are not supplied by the manufacturer–so I do tend to give them some credence.

American Tuna image of canIn the July/August issue, there is a comparison of major brands of canned tuna and some newcomers on the market.  The two newcomer brands were Wild Planet Wild Albacore Tuna and American Tuna Pole Caught Wild Albacore. Both these were single-cooked products and had much less liquid and more tuna.  True there were a bit more expensive but not nearly so prohibitive as the European canned products.  There are a variety of different products available from both companies (salmon, sardines). In both cases, products are available with no salt added, or with sea salt add–such a simple ingredient list on the tuna:  albacore tuna (and maybe sea salt)–nothing else.

Image of Wild Planet albacore canSince I like tuna and use it both as a salad ingredient and as a staple in my “emergency” food supply, I wanted to check this out.  I went in search of some of both.  I found the Wild Planet albacore tuna and tried it in a simple non-mayonnaise tuna salad.  I was impressed–I’ll definitely be buying this for my tuna.  I have yet to find American Tuna, but given the review in Cook’s Illustrated, I suspect that I’ll like that one too.  I found the Wild Planet tuna at Whole Foods.  Though Kroger was listed on the retail list, the one closest to me did not have it on the shelf.  The American Tuna products are listed as being available at Whole Foods but apparently have not reached out local Whole Foods yet.  I’ll be watching.

I’ve tasted (and love) the expensive “gourmet” European tuna, but it’s not in my budget, so these products at a more reasonable price are welcome.

There is another alternative for good tuna which will approach the European canned tuna, though not really for the “emergency” food supply since that needs to be canned.  That is to make your own tuna confit.

Confit was originally a way of preserving meats–pork, goose, and duck–by cooking them very gently in their own fat, straining the fat and using it to seal the meat away from air for storage.  It produces meats that are markedly different in texture from those cooked in other ways–smooth, velvety are the adjectives that come to mind, at least in reference to duck and chicken.

I’m lucky to live close to a Harris Teeter which has high-grade tuna.  Every once in a while they will have it on a managers special, or will have smaller pieces left from cutting the tuna steaks which are sold at a reasonable price as “tuna medallions”.  Every time I see those (or steaks) on sale I get some and make my own tuna confit.  So for you tuna lovers, here is a master recipe from Fine Cooking 46, pp. 68-69, January 6, 2004.  I usually halve the recipe since I’m a solo cook.

Tuna Confit

Ingredients

3 cups good-quality olive oil (but not best); more if needed to cover the tuna during cooking
1 medium yellow onion, cut in 1/2-inch slices
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. black peppercorns, coarsely cracked
Zest of 1 lemon, pared in strips
3 Tbs. coarse salt
2 lb. top-quality fresh tuna (yellowfin or ahi), cut into 1-inch-thick steaks

Preparation

  • Combine the oil, onion, herbs, peppercorns, lemon zest, and salt in a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven.  Heat to between 140° and 150°F, stirring occasionally and cook for 20 minutes to infuse the flavors of the aromatics into the oil and to pasteurize it for a long shelf life. Taste the oil; it should be slightly salty. Leave to cool and infuse for about 30 minutes; the oil will be warm.
  • Put the pan back over medium-low heat and slip the tuna into the barely warm oil. (Add as many pieces as will fit in one layer. The tuna must be covered by the oil; add more if needed.) Slowly bring the oil to 150°F again. Turn off the heat, take the pot off the heat, and let the tuna cook slowly in the warm oil. After a minute or two, test for doneness by breaking into the flake of the tuna. The fish should be cooked to medium rare-slightly pink inside and still tender to the touch. If the tuna isn’t quite done, return it to the oil for another minute. Repeat with any remaining pieces of tuna.
  • Transfer the tuna to a storage dish (I prefer glass or crockery, but an airtight plastic container will  do fine) and let it cool. Let the oil cool separately and then strain the oil over the fish, discarding the aromatics. If the tuna isn’t completely covered in  oil, add more fresh olive oil to the storage dish. If not using right away, cover the container tightly and refrigerate. The tuna will keep, covered in oil and refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition information (per ounce of tuna)

  • Calories (kcal): 60
  • Fat (g): 3
    • Fat Calories (kcal) 30
    • Saturated Fat (g) 0.5
    • Monounsaturated Fat (g) 2
    • Polyunsaturated Fat (g) 0.5
  • Protein (g)  7
  • Carbohydrates (g) 0
  • Sodium (mg) 85
  • Cholesterol (mg) 15
  • Fiber (g) 0
♦♦♦

It’s easy to make this with much less than a pound of tuna–I occasionally do it with a single tuna steak in the summer when I’m really eating lots of salads and want to have them be a meal.

I use the confit to make tuna salad–but usually without mayonnaise–this is not dry so it’s not necessary to have the mayo to make it edible.  I generally pat it dry and use just a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil with herbs, and some scallions, or cucumbers, or really splurge and do a salad à la niçoise.