Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Romania -- Chicken with Pomegranate Juice

 This is another book I borrowed for a short time and was not able to get a picture of the cover before returning it.  It is The Medieval Kitchen by Redon, Sabban, and Serventi.  The ISBN is 978-0226706856.  The image below is from rakuten.com:


The book brings us recipes from medieval France and Italy, which had some different ingredients available than the same time period in England.  Romania is listed on page 88, in the chapter "Meats Cooked in Sauce".  They mention that both sweet and sour pomegranates were available and this recipe called for the sour variety.  Since those aren't available in my area, they recommend adding some lemon juice to brighten the flavor.

Romania -- Chicken with Pomegranate Juice

1 free-range chicken, about 3 1/4 pounds
2 fresh pomegranates
1 cup unblanched almonds
1 medium large onion
2 ounce fresh pork fatback
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon strong spice mixture (*see notes below)

Wash the almonds and dry them thoroughly.  When they are completely dry, grind them to a powder in a blender.  Remove from blender jar and set aside (you need not wash the blender before the next step).

Cut the pomegranates in half an scoop out all their seeds into the blender jar.  Puree the seeds and strain; this should yield 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of juice.  Mix the juice and the ground almonds, and add the lemon juice.  Press the mixture through a fine strainer; the result will be an almond milk made with pomegranate juice instead of water.

Cut the chicken into serving pieces and pat dry.  Sprinkle with salt.  Cut the fat into 1/8-inch dice  and render it over low heat in a heavy-bottomed casserole.

Peel the onion and slice into thin rings.  When the fat has rendered, brown the chicken and onion until evenly golden.  If excess fat remains in the casserole, spoon most of it out before proceeding.

Add the almond-pomegranate juice and the spices.  Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down as low as possible and simmer, covered, until the chicken is tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Check for seasoning and serve.

It looks like the olive oil bottle needs refilling
I'll admit it -- I'm a modern cook using medieval recipes.  Yes, I took some modern shortcuts.  Pomegranates are not yet in season (close!) so I bought pomegranate juice.  I also used the healthier choice of olive oil rather than pork fatback.  Maybe I lost some extra flavor with that decision, but I think my arteries are thanking me for it.

I bought a whole chicken as per the recipe but next time I think I'll just use a cut up one or, even better by my tastes, a package of boneless, skinless thighs.

The "strong spice mixture" is listed as "recipe 150, variation C" further on in the book.  It is basically 1 part ground black pepper, 1 part long pepper, 3 parts ground cloves, and 3 parts ground nutmeg.  At least that is what I used.  I put them all in my coffee-grinder-dedicated-to-grinding-spices-only and whirred them into a powder.

I have long pepper (see the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_pepper) because I cook in the medieval and Renaissance time period.  It is much like black pepper but with a more fiery bite.  The mixture I put together had quantities that were just eye-balled and it did smell strong and peppery.

Anyway, it was easy to grind the almonds and mix them with the juices.  I let them steep (always a good idea for almond milk) while I cut up the chicken and then browned it with the onions.

Nearly all browned
When I strain almond milk, I always lose a lot of the moisture into the almond meal, so I didn't get much more than 1 cup of the milk from it.  ** TAKE NOTE:  save the used almond meal for a dessert called "Emeles".  See the next posting.

The almond milk was mostly brown so I'm not sure how the authors got the "rosy color" they refer to in the text.  I tasted it and was wowed by the burst of flavor in my mouth.  I couldn't wait to try this dish!

Not rosy but wowsie!
After I poured on the sauce, I sprinkled the spices evenly over the chicken pieces.

I even made sure some of the onion was on top of the chicken.  Then I covered it, set the heat to very low, and walked away for 45 minutes.

'Tis done.

The Verdict
I tried a thigh with some onion and a few spoonfuls of sauce over the top.  Success!  The authors said it would have a "gentle flavor" and it certainly did.  The juice flavors I tasted before cooking had mellowed considerably and blended with the chicken, spices, and onion.  I liked it a lot!

I noticed that some of the sauce around the edges had thickened more than what I had scooped out, so I tried that, too.  Oh, I liked this even more!  The flavor was richer and the sauce stayed longer on my tongue.  The thick pieces of chicken hadn't cooked all the way through (my heat is very low) so I turned it back on and simmered them, uncovered, for another 20 minutes on very low. Now all the meat was cooked and all the sauce was thick. Much, much better!

I truly liked the mellow fruit and spice flavor.  But I was also intrigued with the idea of getting more of that rosy color and a stronger burst of pomegranate, so I took some of the sauce and mixed in just a splash of pomegranate juice.  This was good over the chicken, too!

So make your choice:  Want your sauce to have a gentle, subtle flavor?  Follow the recipe.  Want it to be thicker?  Reduce it and the flavor will intensify a bit, too.  Want that rosy color and a stronger pomegranate flavor?  I would reserve out about 1/4 cup of the pomegranate-lemon juice mix and add it at the very end.

Who knew this recipe could be so versatile?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pwdin Caws -- Cheese Pudding from Wales

I borrowed this book from the library:  The Welsh Dresser -- More Recipes from Wales by Sian Llewellyn.  It was first published in 1974 but I think the one I borrowed was published in 1978.  I forgot to take a picture of the cover, so I found this one on Amazon (sorry it is blurry!):

ISBN 9780860050377
If you could read the front cover, you would see that he labels "cheese" as "caws" in Welsh.  So I think "pwdin caws" translates to "pudding cheese" or "cheese pudding".  Here is the recipe that caught my eye (from page 31).

Pwdin Caws

4 ounces Cheddar cheese
3 ounces bread crumbs
1 ounce butter
2 eggs 
salt and pepper
1/2 pint milk

Heat the butter with the milk and pour over the bread crumbs.  Grate the cheese.  Separate the egg yolks from the white.  Beat the yolks lightly and add to the bread crumb mixture with most of the cheese.  Season to taste.  Whip the egg whites stiffly and fold into the mixture.  Pour into a buttered pie dish and cover with the remaining cheese.  Cook for 30 - 40 minutes in a moderate oven (350 degrees Fahrenheit, 177 degrees Celsius, gas mark 4).

I used dried bread crumbs because I figured their job was to soak up the milk/butter mix and thicken the pudding.  It was the right thing to do.

Since those measures were in ounces, I got out my trusty digital kitchen scale and weighed them appropriately.  By the way, two tablespoons of salted butter really does weigh one ounce!  (I was told so but always wondered.)  The microwave took one minute to heat the milk and the butter until the butter was melted. 

After I poured the milk/butter mix into the bread crumbs, I stirred it.  This seemed to help the crumbs soak up the liquid quickly.

I used more pepper to season because I am finally making friends with that spice.  Mostly it is too strong for me.  Because the butter was salted, I used less salt in the mix than I might normally do.

Crumbs, milk, butter, egg yolks, salt, pepper
The stiffly-beaten egg whites folded in neatly to the rest of the mixture.  At this point I realized what I was making was a simple cheese souffle'.  I love souffle's!!

With folded in egg whites
Since it says to use "most of the cheese", I guessed that 3/4 should go in the pudding and the rest on top.  That was enough to spread across the pan in a very decorative way.

The oven preheated while I was doing the rest of the work.  While cooking, the cheese pudding smelled absolutely heavenly.  After 30 minutes the middle looked set and the dish was ready.

The Verdict
It wasn't as fluffy as I thought it would be but still, it was not dense at all.  It was a little too oily-looking for my senses but it certainly didn't taste greasy.  The bread crumbs made it a little chewy, which was a welcome body of texture to the dish.  The flavor was good -- I could taste the extra-sharp cheddar cheese and the spices seemed right for it.  I probably could have put in a little more pepper but certainly not more salt.

I declare a success!

I think this dish could play the role of appetizer (cut in thin wedges), side dish (with some roast beef to compliment the cheddar), or main course for a light meal.