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Sunday, 08 November 2009

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The Modesto Kid

Did you see Julie & Julia, and did you like it? I did like it a lot, but I do not do all the cooking nor consider myself particularly gifted in that regard (though I can have some fun with working at it).

SEK

First, let me say I glossed over one thing (so as not to be too personally revealing at the get-go): my wife and I lived with my best friend from high school for four years . . . and he's a trained chef, so I'm not "self-taught." I had damn fine guidance, much more than the average late-afternoon half-stab-at-a-gourmand. And I didn't mention that the cost of trying to cook well is invariably having to eat dishes that failed spectacularly. (When soups or sauces break---that is, when its starches separate from its fat and form what looks and [texture-wise] tastes like parmigiano, and for which the only actual parmigiano can redeem it---you either eat it or go hungry.)

But I haven't seen Julie & Julia, though I did listen to a long NPR retrospective about Child's life when it came out . . . which has no bearing on the actual film, I know. That said, I can sorta cook, but you can actually play "California Stars" which means you're the winner here.

Ahistoricality

I'm a bit more improvisational than you, and much less organized. I do enjoy reading discussions like this, though, because I pick up techniques: in this case, I think my chili would benefit from the cook-and-set-aside trick you use for the chorizo, to keep it from completely disappearing in the process of cooking. That honey trick might come in handy, too.

For a while I was putting cocoa in for a little mole-esque overtone, but since my chocolate allergy kicked in.....

The Modesto Kid

Aw thanks! I do enjoy reading about your chili recipe. When you said "the only cookbook that's also an education" I immediately flashed on that movie, and Julie talking about Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

SEK

I do enjoy reading discussions like this, though, because I pick up techniques: in this case, I think my chili would benefit from the cook-and-set-aside trick you use for the chorizo, to keep it from completely disappearing in the process of cooking.

One of the problems with me writing/talking about cooking is that I'll go on for days because I'm barely trained but very opinionated. That said . . .

Yes, setting the chorizo aside ensures the meat will retain its integrity. The problem with the chorizo sold in the States is that there's a lot more fat and dry spices in it. It can be squeezed from its casing as a semi-solid, but it's really a gelatinous fat that's trapped some spice particles and bits of pork in it, so once the fat renders, it's time to remove all the solids from the pot/pan.

The honey trick is one that can be used to great effect: you can create deeply spiced dishes that aren't the least bit spicy. It's something Cajun chefs do to create complicated flavors: you amp up the spice, then tone it down; then amp up the spice, then tone it down; then rinse, repeat. The result is a dish whose history grants it a depth and complexity that can't be attained by mere spicing alone. I actually do this with red sauce all the time: I add crushed red pepper to spice it up, but then sink a small block of parmigiano-reggiano to tamp the spice down. Doing so complicates the flavor without forcing your wife to down a gallon of milk (the casein proteins in milk scrub the pepper capsaicinoids of their heat, which is why parmigiano-reggiano cuts heat in the first place).

As for the cocoa mole, you can replicate it without using chocolate. The molasses/brown sugar combination approximates it well enough, you just need to go a little heavier on the molasses to mimic the bitterness of the chocolate. I'm not sure of the exact ratio, but with a little experimenting, I don't doubt that you could replicate the cocoa effect without triggering your cocoa allergens.

Did I mention me being overly opinionated about matters of the kitchen? Because honestly, this must be what it's like to be a conservative convinced that they know and are right about everything . . .

SEK

When you said "the only cookbook that's also an education" I immediately flashed on that movie, and Julie talking about Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I've not read the Childs and can't link to the portions of the CIA book that teach you how to hold a knife, dice an onion, identify a superior flank steak, etc., but it's not limited to a single cuisine (as, I take it from the title, Childs's book is). It's more of a primer that, if (sorta kinda) mastered, makes cooking into a joy instead of a chore. Sure, there's work upfront to be done/learned, but once you do . . . that said, you can safely skip all the stuff about the kitchen equivalent of ethos and how to run a tight ship as a kitchen manager (which is what you can access in Amazon's preview), because it's interesting but not all that relevant if you're cooking for less than 30 tables.

Besides, I'd trade my skill for yours in a heartbeat. (As would my musician-wife, who'd love to be married to someone who could play something besides baselines from two-decade-old R.E.M. songs.)

Ahistoricality

Very interesting. Since one of my great limitations as a cook is the fear of excess, this gives me a tool that could be very useful. Also, next time my sister-in-law cooks chili for us, I know what to do....

todd.

I feel obligated to step in and say I ate this chili and it was, as the kids say, totally bomb. Definitely worth the 45 minute drive (and $9 in tolls) to get out to Scott's new place. Almost good enough to make me feel bad that his Tigers lost a tough game. Almost.

Adam Roberts

I could of course ask my Rachel about this, but she'd probably take the opportunity to bambozzle me with Judaica, spin some yarn about how when the Israelites were in the desert of bitter herbs with nothing but dreidels to eat etc. etc. So I ask you: there's really such a thing as 'kosher salt'? How can it possibly differ from gentile salt?

Ahistoricality

IANA Rabbi, but my recollection is that "Kosher" in this case refers to the fact that coarse (the defining feature of the Kosher varieties) salt is packed on to kosher meat, especially chicken (which is why we had salmon at our wedding....) to draw the blood out, or some such ritual purpose.

SEK

Kosher salt is indeed coarser, and the reason chefs prefer it is because it's easier to estimate "pinches" and, because of its size, it can be transported in said "pinches" without spilling salt everywhere.

(On another note, I see by my sitemeter that I'm now a millionaire! If only I'd charged everyone a penny!)

Ahistoricality

Also, some chefs, I'm told, prefer the kosher salt because it's not iodized, which has some subtle taste effects. Too subtle for me: I hardly use any extra salt (stuff like chorizo and canned beans have plenty) in cooking because my father was on a nearly zero-salt diet while I was growing up. In my case it's not for health reasons: I just don't like more than a very little bit of salt. I can taste the difference between using and omitting the quarter-teaspoon in toll house cookies, and I really, really prefer without.

I have, however, become a fan of the really chunky sea salt in our salt grinder for table use. You don't need a lot of salt to really feel like you're salty.

SEK

I've never tasted the iodized/non-iodized difference either, but I can tell the difference between kosher and sea salts. It's not just that the latter are saltier, but whatever other minerals are present where it's harvested certainly can be tasted. I had the most disgusting salt---yes, salt---at a friend's house a few years back, and it turned out to be some sort of specialty sea salt that's laced with minerals that made it taste more than a little bitter.

Ahistoricality

Follow-up: I finally used that honey trick! Slapping together a vegetarian chili (so my spouse could have the traditional black-eyed peas for New Years) in a hurry after our holiday travels, I went overboard on the cayenne and tabasco. Couple of squeezes of honey and a big pile of chili powder later, I had a shockingly good-tasting result.

Many thanks, and may you have a happy, healthy and flavorful year!

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