Food Alone: Chorizo, Sweet Corn, and Fingerling Potato Stir-Fry

Sometimes I’m too tired to cook. But I do it anyway. On the rare occasion when I succumb to lethargy, I feel it’s a defeat. Why should living alone entail a less full life? Why shouldn’t I expect of myself a dinner at table? A life eating on the couch watching TV is a half-life and like all carbon-based things I feel my life seeping out of me when I do it. Reading and listening to music at the table is an ongoing commitment to making my single life as rich as I can. When I feel too tired to prepare a meal, I lower my expectations, but I don’t abandon them. Half the effort an ordinary weekday meal requires comes in figuring out what I want to eat.

So, here is a simple idea. I am enjoying adding diced potatoes the dishes I have always thought would be weighed down by additional starch. A little potato adds umami, another dimension to a dish. This one is a no-brainer.

First…

Dice half a chorizo link and four fingerling potatoes.  Scrape the kernels off one ear of corn. Pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil or lard in a small skillet over a medium-low flame. Add a minced garlic clove or two and a minced shallot. Let them soften in the fat. Then add the chorizo. Spread the chorizo out so that the pieces are not crowded. Leave them be for two or three minutes. Stir and let them be for another couple of minutes. Add the potatoes, stir, and let them brown with the chorizo. Add the corn, mix it all together. Season with salt and pepper. Put in a bowl and have with a small salad.

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Beef-Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad

from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, p. 67.

My resolve to go meatless during the week crashed into this recipe like tank into a brick wall. Oh, this recipe hit the spot. The crunch of the lettuce, the sweet and sour of the black vinegar-soy sauce, and the zing of the garlic-ginger-sesame oil notes combined beautifully. It’s a great recipe to throw together at the last moment for yourself. All you have to do is figure out your preferred ratio of lettuce to meat sauce. I urge you to consider 1/4 pound of the ground meat (half the amount that Alford and Duguid call for) with a bowlful of lettuce and the full proportion of sauce ingredients. You’ll find your own balance.

This book just gets better and better.

Here is the complete unadjusted recipe with my suggested adjustments…

Serves 4

About 4 packed cups coarsely torn romaine lettuce

Shadowcook: I used a combination of lettuces. As the authors note, “If you use romaine lettuce, the salad will have good crunch as well as some wilted softer leaves when you first serve it. We love the contrast. If you prefer a softer texture, either let the salad stand for 5 minutes before serving it, to give the greens more time to soften in the warm dressing, or use leaf lettuced instead of romaine.” Or, like I said, use a combination and get it to the table while it’s still very warm.

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 pound (1 packed cup) ground beef

Shadowcook: I used 1/3 pound ground pork. Next time I’ll use a little less. And I’ll have to try it with beef, but I have a feeling I’m going to prefer the pork.

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon soy sauce, or to taste

1 tablespoon Jinjiang (black rice) vinegar, or to taste

Shadowcook: You can find this at any Asian market.

1/2 cup warm water

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

 

Place the lettuce in a wide salad bowl or serving dish and set aside.

Place a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds, then add the ginger. Stir-fry over medium-high to medium heat until slightly softened and starting to turn color. Add the meat and use your spatula to break it up so there are no lumps at all, then add the salt and stir-fry until most of the meat has changed color. Add the soy sauce and vinegar and stir to blend. Add the warm water and stir.

(The dressing can be prepared ahead to this point and set aside for up to 20 minutes. When you are ready to proceed, bring to a boil.)

While the dressing mixture is coming to a boil, place the cornstarch in a small cup or bowl and stir in the cold water to make a smooth paste. Once the liquid is bubbling in the pan, give the cornstarch mixture a final stir, add to the pan, and stir for about 1 minutes: the liquid will thicken and become smoother. Taste for salt, and add a little salt or soy sauce if you wish. Add the sesame oil and stir once, then pour onto the lettuce. Immediately toss the salad to expose all the greens to the hot dressing. Serve immediately.

 

Judy Rodger’s Salmon Cooked with Flageolets, Bacon & Red Wine

from The Zuni Café Cookbook, pp. 324-26.

I needed some comfort food this past weekend. That meant there was only one place to look. I swore I would not post another Zuni Café Cookbook, but the book is so deep that it’s difficult to judge where fair use ends. I decided I hadn’t reached it yet. And let me once again urge you to buy this book!

It would never have occurred to me to cook salmon with red wine and beans. I’m so glad the idea came to Rodgers. Now that I’ve made it, I’ve been trying to articulate to myself why it worked so well. It must have something to do with the so-called oiliness of the fish. Its richness sunk into the beans and drank up the wine.

I made one portion for myself, so if you’re cooking for two, just double the portion.

Here’s my synthesis of her recipes for the salmon and the beans…

1 cup dried flageolet beans

1/2 carrot, diced (save the other half for below)

1/2 small yellow onion (save the other half for below)

1 tablespoond duck fat

Kosher salt

1/3 lb salmon fillet, preferably Pacific or Alaskan, at least an inch thick.

Salt

1 cup medium-bodied red wine, such as a Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, or a light Merlot

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 thick strip of bacon, preferably unsmoked, cut into 1/4-inch strip

About 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/2 carrot, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1/2 small yellow onion, diced

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

1/2 bay leaf

Seasoning the salmon (for the best flavor, do this several hours in advance): Season the salmon evenly with salt. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Shadowcook: Rodgers is a proponent of salting all meat, including fish, several hours, sometimes days, in advance of cooking. She urges home cooks to get into the habit of doing this, which means knowing what you’re going to eat well in advance, and promises that the meat will taste better and become more tender. I think she’s right.

First, my interpretation of Rodgers’ recommended method of cooking the beans: Put the cup of dried beans in a pot. Cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a simmer. After skimming the scum off the surface of the water, add the carrot, onion and bay leaf. Partially cover the pot and let simmer until the beans are tender. That could take about an hour, perhaps longer, depending on how old the beans are. Cook them until they still have a bit of bite to them. You don’t want them falling apart, because they have a few minutes of intense cooking under the broiler later in the recipe.

When the beans have reached that point, add salt. As Rodgers points out, it takes a while for the beans to absorb the salt, so judge by tasting the cooking liquid. Then add the tablespoon of duck fat to the beans.

Shadowcook: By now, I hope everyone who reads this blog has acquired the habit of keeping duck fat in the fridge at all times. It just makes life a little bit richer. They also now say duck fat is good for you, but who cares?

Update: Here’s the article about duck fat that reinforced my commitment to have it always on hand.

Remove a cup of beans from the pot. The cooking liquid that comes with the beans is fine. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler. Position the rack about 6 inches from the element.

Place the wine in a small saucepan and reduce to about 1/3-1/4 cup. Add the chicken stock and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat.

Place the bacon in a small ovenproof skillet and lightly brown it in its own fat over medium heat. Reduce the heat slightly and pour off all but a film of the fat. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of butter, the other half of the chopped carrot, the celery, and the other half of the chopped onion, and the sprig of thyme. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the flageolets, the reduced red wine-stock mixture, the half bay leaf, another sprig of thyme, and more butter. Raise the heat to mediumm and swirl as the liquid comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, add the salmon, and swirl and tilt the pan to baste the top of the fish. Make sure no beans, bacon, or bits of vegetables are perched on top of the fish, where they could burn.

Place the pan under the broiler. Cook for about 6 to 7 minutes; the salmon should be quite rare and the whole surface of the dish should be sizzling and beginning to color. Watch closely; if the fish or beans threaten to char at any point, reduce the oven temperature to 500.

Shadowcook: I thought 6 minutes was plenty. It depends on the thickness of the fillet. My fish came out medium-rare, which was fine.

While the fish is cooking, set a plate in the oven for a minute to heat.

Transfer the pan to the stovetop. Using a spatula and tongs, transfer the salmon to the plate, where it should reach medium-rare as you finish the sauce. Protect from drafts.

Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Taste. If the liquid looks or tastes thin, simmer briefly to reduce and allow the starch from the beans to bind the sauce. If it seems winy, add a splash of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Correct the salt, Swirl in more butter.

Spoon the saucy beans over the waiting fish.

Shadowcook: And prepare to gobble it up!