Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hamming it Up: The Duality of Cooking

With a title like that I'll try to keep the puns to a minimum, but I'm not going to make any promises... ;)

When the seasons change like this, it isn't that I just have different ingredients to use but the way in which I use them also changes. For instance, this summer you saw a lighter style of cooking from me: roasted meat and fish, broths instead of sauces and pan fried pork accompanied with salads, whereas my future winter dishes will be comprised of deep flavors developed by braising and rich sauces. My goal as a chef is to not only use the available ingredients, but also cooking techniques that relate them to the current season.

Life isn't always like that, though; some people still love hot soup no matter what the temperature is outside, just like the way that mom never changed her pot roast recipe to adjust for the season. It isn't a matter of rhyme or reason, it is simply what tastes good. It is because of this duality of cooking that I chose to showcase two contrasting specials: and entree born of necessity, and a cocktail born of desire.

The art of making ham (and yes, I do mean art) originally came about because back in the day it was a way of preserving the meat for the cold months without refrigeration, but it has become an integral part of our everyday lifestyle as are pickles, cheese, ketchup and jams. I wanted to re-create the traditional cooking of a ham that is commonly found in the South, where a fully cooked ham is tenderized by slow roasting in the oven with Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, or even root beer.

I couldn't be the chef that I am and simply buy a pre-made ham... you should know me better than that by now, but I also wanted to work outside of the box a little to make a "boneless ham" by using the front quarters instead of the typical hindquarters, so I butchered and tied sections of meat that were brined in a solution of allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar and curing salt for two days before being slow cooked over applewood logs for three hours, during which I basted the hams every half hour with a variation of my step-father's family recipe known as "Lamb's Ham", which consists of a glaze of Dijon mustard, brown sugar and Indonesian sweet soy sauce (used in place of molasses). And that was just my day off!!

Since the meat was already tender after the slow roasting I had to reproduce the soda cooking technique, so I made a sauce by not only simmering a mild beef stock and typical root beer, but I also added elements that would help fortify/intensify the natural root beer flavor, such as: burdock root, ginger, vanilla bean, prunes and citrus zests. The flavor profile also extends to a quick saute of roasted fennel and cannellini beans simmered with a touch of star anise for that licorice note, and I finished the dish with a light foam of the sauce to re-create the "head" that we all associate with good root beer.

This weeks drink special would seem more fitting in warmer climates, but as I stated above, a familiar taste is always more appreciated.

This one took some time and care to prepare because I have been marinating dried black mission figs in white rum for a few weeks now. The result was a dark and flavorful liqueur that reminded me of Meyer's Rum, which lead me to the idea to use it in place of the white and spiced rums that make a typical Mai Tai. Secondly, in order for us to make it traditionally I needed Orgeat Syrup, a sweet syrup made with almonds, but since it can be difficult to find, and when you do it's usually filled with more high fructose corn syrup than anything else, I chose to make that by hand as well.

Not only does this cocktail take its cue from last week's entree special, but it gives yin to the ham's yang!

With Love,