Saril, not just for drinking anymore

I love learning new things, especially new cooking things. Be it techniques, flavors, ingredients, I love it.¬†The world is¬†so full of delicious and unique goodies, we would need to live several lifetimes in order to¬†appreciate them all. There is a flower/plant that is very popular in Panama, the Caribbean and Mexico. In Panama and the Caribbean it is known as Saril¬†or Red Sorrel. In Mexico, they call it Flor de Jamaica (Jamaican flower) and they use it for their aguas¬†frescas–essentially, flavored (infused) waters.

These next 3 shots were taken by Peter, Mr. P. de Panama. A US expat living in my little country, who kindly allowed me to use his shots in exchange for the link to the recipe featuring them. I think I got the best end of that deal. Definitely take some time to visit his Flickrstream, he has some awesome photos here.

by Mr. P. de Panama

Saril bush, flower and ...the thing you make the juice with

by Mr. P. de Panama

Similarly, I’ve been drinking Ponche¬†de Saril¬†(Saril¬†punch) since I was a little kid; my mom and aunts would sit around for hours piting¬†the flowers, then they would steep them with lots of ginger. To serve it, sugar and sometimes lime juice was added and then the drink is poured over lots of ice. It is one of the most beautiful and refreshing things you’ll ever drink, an awesome combination of tartness and zing. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

the pits!

That was the only use I was aware of for this flower, a relative of the common hibiscus plant. Recently, I read a post by one of my fave foodies, Lesley over at The Mija Chronicles. She used the reconstituted flowers to make quesadillas, then I discovered she has a fascination with the little flower and has prepared and¬†eaten many dishes incorporating it. To say I was intrigued does not cover it. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The possibilities seemed endless once I realized the genius of exploiting the flavors of the miracle flower. What to do…?

As you can see, the flower is a bright purplish red, the color intensifies when dried. The liquid, broth, tea, water, whatever we should call it, is a beautiful ruby red, a bit more intense than the color of cranberry juice. I wanted to make sure that the dish I created continued to pay homage to the vibrancy of¬†the flower’s color. Saril’s¬†flavor profile could be compared to that of fresh cranberries, I guess. Except, not as tart, giving way to a slight sweetness along the way. Again, I needed to preserve¬†those flavors in the final product: chicken would open itself up to the flavors. A bit of heat and we would be golden. Want to see?

Chicken in Saril and Ancho Sauce

For the chicken
1 whole chicken, cleaned
2 carrots, halved
1/2 cilantro bunch
4 cloves garlic, whole
1 tbsp Herbs d’Provence
1 tbsp sea salt
Water

Remove the innards from the bird’s cavity and rinse the chicken under cold tap water. Place all the ingredients, except for the chicken and water in a stockpot, rest the chicken over them, then fill the pot with enough water to completely cover and submerge the chicken. Place on the stove on high heat until it comes to a boil. Once it boils, lower the temperature just enough to keep it at a slow boil (about medium-high flame) and allow it to cook for another 20 minutes.

At the end of the 20 minutes, turn off the heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let it steam for another 30-45 minutes. Remove the chicken to cool and reserve the broth. This will result in the most beautiful, flavorful, moist chicken meat ever and the broth is amazing. Once the chicken has cooled, break the chicken into pieces and remove the meat from the bones into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

For the sauce
2 cps reserved broth
2 ancho chilies, whole
2/3 cp dried saril
2 tbsp raspadura or dark brown sugar
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cp heavy cream, approx
Reserved chicken broth
Sea salt & black pepper

Place the raspadura, anchos and saril in a small pan with about 2 cps of the chicken broth, bring it to a slow boil for about 10-15 minutes, just until the chilies have softened. Puree in the blender until smooth.

Heat a pan large enough to hold all of the¬†chicken meat and add the olive oil, onions and garlic, cook until the onions are soft and translucent. At this point add the cilantro then¬†the flour and stir constantly¬†over medium heat, don’t let the flour burn, this will help thicken the sauce later. Add the saril¬†puree and enough broth to make the sauce runny, about the consistency of¬† half & half.

Once the sauce thickens a bit, to about the consistency of heavy cream, stir in the cream then add the chicken and lower the temperature to a slow simmer. Allow it to cook for 20-30 minutes, long enough for all the flavors to come together.  Serve over white rice, maybe even pasta and be ready to be oh so happy!

To see just a few more pictures of the cooking goodness, go to my Flickr stream, here. Don’t forget to stop by Peter’s page while you’re there. Mil gracias, Pedro!!!

 Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Eating out in Houston: Nielsens Deli

At the corner or Richmond and Mid Lane sits an unassuming establishment called Nielsens Deli. I had driven by this place countless times since moving to Houston, but never thought about stopping by, I imagined it was just a deli selling deli meats. Recently, a good friend invited me out for a quick lunch promising me I would have the best potato salad and deviled eggs EVAH! Off to Nielsens we went.

As you walk into the stand-alone building, you’ll¬†come into a long narrow room, the deli counter will¬†be just a couple of feet and directly across from the front door, that’s where you place your order, unless you’ve called it in. Turn right and to the opposite end of the room, pick up some chips and pay for your order. If you’re dining in, you can grab one of the stools lined up against the storefront glass. If you’re feeling particularly playful, tease the incoming customers as they come up to the counter.

Ok, this is a food blog, right? Let’s talk shop. First, I was tickled by the lingo I heard as I approached the counter. The customers, regulars no doubt, have learned how to properly order their meals:¬†‘a Jr Corned beef, extra spread on rye and a pixie potato salad‘. It made me think of a kinder, gentler soup Nazi.

I’m not a big sandwich person, it just doesn’t seem like a meal, but these sandwiches are awesome! I had the corned beef on white¬†with extra spread (they make their own mayo…OHMY!), an egg and a pixie of egg salad. Let me tell you, this corned beef was good and piled high on the homemade bread. No skimping here.

Anni had the turkey on white, extra spread an egg and a pixie of potato salad. I had a bite of her turkey and was surprised by how flavorful it was. They’ve been roasting their own turkey breasts since the deli opened in 1952, I think they have it down.

Now. For the really exciting part. Those sides. I love potato salad, but not the mustardy kind and not with a bunch of stuff in it. KISS (keep it simple, sweetie) is my motto. And KISS it they do. Loads of their amazing homemade mayo, piled with eggs and celery for some crunch, this potato salad ROCKS! It is so good that years ago Gourmet magazine sent a letter requesting their recipe!

Then we go into the deviled egg territory. Insanity, that is all I can say about it. Next time I go, I will have the chicken salad sandwich, apparently it is incredible. And I believe it, because I had a pixie of the egg salad… it was as if they just chopped the deviled eggs and stirred it all up.

If you’re from Houston, you should definitely visit this Houston institution, do it soon! It’s just inside the loop at Richmond. If you’re coming to Houston for a visit, put this one on the list.

Nielsen’s Deli (daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m)
4500 Richmond Avenue
713.963.8005

Eating around,
Anamaris

Iron Foodie Contest: Allez Cuisine!

UPDATE:

What I really want to do is bounce around with a placard yelling EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! But this will have to do.

Santa Marx has opened the polls for voting, so if you missed the elections, get you fix there. Click on this link¬†to go to Marx’ post and choose your favorite use of the secret ingredients. I will tell you there are 25 fabulous entries, yes, I’m including mine. Go check’em out and vote for me your favorite one. It’s one vote per IP address, so be choosy when you imagine me spending those $200 on Marx goodies.

~~~~~~~~~~

Just before Thanksgiving madness started, I mentioned I had thrown my apron into the Iron Foodie contest hosted by Marx Foods (aka Santa Marx) and Foodie Blogroll. It was too tempting to pass it up. The challenge was set up a la Iron Chef / Chopped; we would receive mystery ingredients that we would then incorporate into an original creation.

 Let me tell you, there was all kinds of excitement at home for about a week. It all started out with the Iron Foodie contest. I had to submit the application post and wait a few days (read: eons) to learn if I had been selected. Once selected, I waited another few eons days to receive the mystery box. We knew we would receive a total of 8 items and had to use at least 3 in the recipe.

The waiting was killing me, so in the meantime I decided to torture myself with the offerings on the Marx site. That’s when it happened. I found their blog… and another opportunity for freebies. I tell you what, I was like a crack addict. Every time I saw the UPS or FedEx or USPS trucks I would start pacing around, hoping for that hit, I mean knock on my door. And when I received all my deliveries, I yearned and longed for the knock again. OK, sorry.

This post is about what I did with the mystery ingredients. Once I had the hot little box in hand and discovered what was in it, I went from giddy with excitement to totally freaked out in about 2.2 seconds. Some of the ingredients¬†left me dumbfounded i.e., Dulse Seaweed???? Others, I had heard of but never tried before: Fennel Polen, Maple Sugar. At first I wanted to try making something sweet because I don’t seem to offer you enough desserts, but the sweets just don’t speak to me.

I will tell you that I made an earlier attempt which included the seaweed, chile panca, vanilla bean and peppercorns. I kept thinking about a savory flan and because the seaweed is, well, from the sea, I went with shrimp. I incorporated the maple sugar and Telicherry¬†peppercorns in the bacon. It was good, but I should’ve made a sauce for it and, overall, I didn’t see myself making that dish ever again. Back to the drawing board I went.

I had planned on a dessert and I WILL make it in the next few days, but then I was struck by a thought or a memory or something. I love Chinese Salt & Pepper Shrimp or Calamari. I’ve never made it, but I loooooove it. So I thought, I could make that with the Smoked Salt¬†and Tellicherry¬†peppercorns! That’s how this came to be. Instead of deep-frying, I pan-fried. Instead of shrimp or calamari, SALMON! I finished it up with a creamy sauce incorporating the chile panca¬†and fennel polen. YUM!

Salt & Pepper Salmon with Fennel & Panca Cream

Salmon fillets, skinless
Smoked salt
Telicherry Peppercorns
Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cp heavy cream
1 small chile panca, finely chopped
1 tsp fennel polen
Smoked salt
Telecherry pepper

Though I love salmon skin, I chose to have it removed for this application. I started out with 2 fillets cut from the thick part of the fish, those fillets were then halved into 2-inch sections (approximately).

Grind the peppercorns; if you don’t have a spice grinder (like me), place them in a baggie, put the bag over a towel and use a rolling pin to break the peppercorns. Another alternative is to use a mortar and pestle. Combine about 1 tablespoon smoked salt and pepper.

Dip the salmon pieces in the salt/pepper mixture (top and bottom).

Heat a nonstick skillet over high heat, add a swirl of olive oil and sear the salmon pieces on both sides–about 2 to 3 minutes per side depending on thickness and how done you like it. Set aside and keep warm.

Rinse out the skillet, heat over medium and add a bit of olive oil. I removed the seeds from the chili before chopping, I wasn’t looking for heat, just the fruity flavor.

Add the panca¬†chili, stirring constantly. Add the cream and fennel polen, season with smoked salt and ground pepper. Remember the salmon will be heavily seasoned, so don’t add too much salt to the sauce. Allow it to come to a soft boil for a minute or two. Run through a blender before serving.

I grilled a few asparagus spears, poured the cream on the bottom of the plate, then came the asparagus and salmon over that. This salt is incredibly flavorful, the salmon tasted as though it had been smoked. And the peppercorns are strong! They really wake up your palate.

Finally, the creamy sauce brought it all together. It was silky, rich with a hint of sweetness from the fennel, but not at all overpowering. This one goes in the archives and you, you should really try it.

For more shots, click here.
Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

NOT your usual Carne Guisada

A guiso¬†is one of those universal, one-pot dishes that exists¬†in every cuisine/culture I can think of. Stew, cassoulet, kho, cocido, caldeirada, goulash–whatever the name and the main ingredient, it is a hearty soupy¬†dish, slowly braised until the various ingredients are incredibly tender. There’s usually a meat/protein involved, though not always, as is the case in ratatouille. Stews or guisos will usually have a beef base, but lamb, chicken and seafood are common ingredients depending on the culture.

In this case, I decided to switch up my usual beef version or carne guisada and opted for lamb instead. I was at Phoenicia Market, my local grocer for all things Middle Eastern, when I spotted some beautiful lamb roasts. They were calling my name. I swear it! I could hear them say ‘Anamaris! Cook me. Eat me. Love me.’ And being the softy that I am, I did.

Instead of using the customary spices that accompany lamb, I went for my Latin roots. I introduced that roast to achiote, comino and habanero paste. The end result was delicioso. A rich, gamey, earthy and vibrant dish that seemed to waltz around our little kitchen as the aroma wafted around the room. As a good Panamanian, I served it with white rice and beans. The rice was the perfect backdrop to the saucy lamb, allowing us to savor the flavors from the guiso even without a bite of lamb.

This is not to say that the rice was boring, remember my feelings on that subject. I’m just saying that the rice was a perfect partner for the very flavorful and soulful lamb guiso. And check out the beans too, I made it my mission to combine ingredients that don’t always meet each other. Guess what? It worked!

Lamb Guisado (Cordero Guisado)

3 lbs boneless lamb roast (shoulder or leg), cubed
Achiote (annatto seeds)
Vegetable oil
1 tsp garlic, crushed
2 tsp sea salt
1-2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Jugo Maggi or Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp cumin powder
1-1/2 cps broth or beer
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper (or green), chopped
2 – 3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cp cilantro, finely chopped
5-6 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large carrot, cubed
1/2-1 tsp habanero paste

Achiote¬†or annatto seeds are common in Latin-Caribbean cooking. It is the poor man’s saffron, used to infuse a similar color to dishes. It has a sweet peppery scent and taste, earthy; quite unique. To render its flavors and colors, we warm vegetable oil and add the seeds, then allow it to steep for a few minutes. In Panama, you’ll find a little bottle with this oil, seeds and all, sitting next to the stove. Every so often, it gets topped off with more oil until the seeds stop coloring it. Then you start over again.

You can make enough achiote oil for this recipe (about 3 tbsp vegetable oil + 1 tbsp achiote seeds) or a big batch as I do (about 1 cp oil to 1/4 cp seeds), or you can skip this altogether and just use plain or extra virgin oil.

After you’ve cubed the lamb, season it with 1 tbsp achiote oil, salt, pepper, garlic, Jugo Maggi, and cumin. Mix it all in and set aside while you get the veggies and aromatics ready.

Add the rest of the achiote oil to a large pan, preferably one with a fitting lid, and get it hot enough to sear to cubes of lamb. Brown the lamb in batches, trying not to crowd the pan so that you sear and not steam the meat. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Next, you will sweat the aromatics–add the onions, bell pepper and cook until the onions have soften and are translucent. Add the tomatoes after a few minutes, stir them in before adding the mint and cilantro.

Deglaze the pan with the broth or beer, use a wooden spoon to scrape off all the yummy bits that have gotten stuck to the bottom of that pan. This will not only enhance the flavor of the dish (so long as it isn’t burnt), but it will add an incredible depth of color to it.

Stir the lamb back in, then add the habanero paste, potatoes and carrots. Reduce the heat so that it simmers slowly. Allow it to cook covered for about 45 minutes or until the lamb is very tender. If the juices seem too runny at this time, remove the lid and allow it to cook down for another 10-15 minutes. Serve with rice and beans.

That’s one happy little lamb!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

How to roast a whole chicken

The perfectly roasted chicken is like a mystical unicorn or an urban legend. It always seems to happen to a friend of a friend of your second cousin. A nicely roast chicken should be flavorful, juicy and should have a beautiful golden and crisp skin. Often times you manage the beautiful skin, but the meat is bland and dry. Today I’m going to share my secret for always perfect roasted chicken.

The beauty of it is that you can use any herb you like, or what’s available. The other wonderful thing about this chicken, is that… it is SUPER easy to make and requires no fussing about. I promise. Really. You can take my word for it or my name isn’t Anamaris! And it is.

The other¬† cool thing with roast chicken… leftovers! At the Price household, we’re not breast lovers, but the breast makes the most delicious chicken salad ever! I do have to admit that even I enjoy just eating the breast meat, and that’s saying something. Ok, I’ll stop gushing. On to the chicken business.

When it comes to roasting the bird, the first thing is to start on its tan early on. So you would roast it at a high temperature (450¬į) for about 15 minutes before reducing the temp to 325¬į for the long haul. On average, it takes about 20 minutes per pound to roast the chicken perfectly. If you have a meat thermometer,¬†you’ll want to insert it into the thick part of the thigh–avoiding the bone, and it should read at least 165¬į C.

Perfect Roast Chicken

1 4-6lb whole chicken
3-4 tbsp butter, soften
Chopped herbs–I used rosemary, Italian parsley, garlic
Sea salt
Fresh black pepper, ground
Smoked paprika
1 lemon, quartered
Rosemary stems
10-12 garlic cloves, whole & unpeeled
2 carrots, quartered
1 large onion, quartered

Preheat oven to 450¬į. First, remove all the innards from the chicken. Usually, they tuck the neck and giblets inside the bird; you don’t want to roast it with those in there.¬† You can save them to make the gravy or to make broth later. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Pat dry with a paper towel.

Combine the chopped herbs, about 1/2 cp all together, with the softened butter and season with a bit of salt & pepper.

Pull away on the chicken skin and insert bits of the herb butter between the  skin and meat. Rub the skin with a bit of olive oil or leftover herb butter. Combine the salt, pepper and paprika, use it to season the cavity and the skin of the chicken. Fill the cavity with the lemon, some carrots, rosemary stem and whole garlic cloves.

Prepare the roast pan. Place the rest of the carrots, garlic cloves, onion, rosemary around the bottom of the roasting pan and rack. Place the chicken on the rack. I like to roast with the breast down, this way it benefits from the drippings from the skin and dark meat. Again, we are not breast lovers, so we choose to roast the breast at the bottom to keep it nice and moist, if you love breast and want the crisp skin on it, then roast it on top.

Pop it in the oven at 450¬į and cook it for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 325¬į and cook for just under 2 hours (for a 5-pounder). Once done, remove the chicken from the oven and allow it rest for at least 15 minutes before¬† carving.

You can use the drippings to make a gravy.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris