Pseudo-Ranch

10 05 2010

Or if you’re feeling fancy, call it buttermilk-shallot dressing.  It seems obvious to say, but when you live abroad, you get cravings from time to time for a taste of home.  Case in point: Nick came home last night with a gorgeous piece of paleron (known in English, I think, as top blade steak).  He’d been looking for bavette (skirt steak) because he had a hankering for some carne asada.  But he saw the paleron and it was so beautiful that he had to buy it instead.  I was a little concerned, because I was pretty sure that paleron is more of a braising cut, we were planning on going to the movies, and I didn’t want it to be too late of a night, it being Sunday and all.

Upon inspection, the meat did indeed look like it would grill or sear up nicely, so I put my fears aside and covered it in a rub composed of salt and three kinds of chili powder (guajillo, pasilla, and california, for those who want to know).  I suggested making sandwiches out of the steak once it was cooked, to which Nick was amenable.  (Lest you think that he just brings things home and expects me to cook them, I feel that I should note that while I was preparing dinner, he was building and installing a medicine cabinet, so in the end, we both win.)

We definitely wanted salad with our beefy sandwiches, so I washed and tore some lettuce, thinking that I already had some vinaigrette in the fridge that I could use.  But then it occurred to me that I also had a carton of buttermilk, and wouldn’t ranch dressing be so much more appropriate with our tortas than a French-y vinaigrette?  I mentally went through the ingredients for ranch dressing, and the only thing I was missing was parsley.  I decided it wasn’t totally necessary, and added a little shallot instead, because I like shallots, and because I have a bit of a surplus of them at the moment.

So, dressing, salad, ready.  Cook steak to medium-rare (more practice with the induction stove).  Meanwhile, stir some chipotle sauce into mayonnaise and jalapeno sauce into mustard.  Slice meat, pile on bread slathered with condiments.  Bring extra dressing to the table, you’ll probably need it.  We had it on Sunday, but this would be an ideal weeknight dinner.

Buttermilk-Shallot Dressing

Also known as “pseudo-ranch,” this dressing is a nice change from typical vinaigrettes, and is particularly complimentary to American Southwestern-inspired meals.  To turn it into “real” ranch dressing, omit the shallot and add a Tablespoon or so of chopped fresh parsley.

1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 small shallot, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
A couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce
A dash of Tabasco (optional)
½ cup / 120 ml buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  This gets better as it sits, so if you can make it an hour ahead of time, so much the better.  Serve over salad greens.

Makes enough for about 4 side salads or two big ones.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Ruhlman’s Buttermilk Cluster Rolls

7 02 2010

To answer the age-old question, “Why on Earth would you bother baking bread when you live in Paris?” I say, first, “Because I enjoy it,” and second, “Because it’s something I can’t buy here.” Like jalapeño-cheese bread, for example.  Or these dinner rolls.  Michael Ruhlman posted a recipe for soft, pull-apart, oh-so-American buttermilk dinner rolls a couple of days ago, and since I had just bought a carton of buttermilk for Saturday morning’s carrot cake pancakes, I figured it was a sign.  When I told Nick I would be baking some rolls for dinner on Saturday, and asked him what would go well with rolls, he immediately responded “hot ham water.”  Which is what we call Fergus Henderson‘s boiled ham with parsley sauce – a recipe that sounds horribly English in the worst way, but is actually so simple and so delicious (and you get leftover ham for sandwiches and the leftover stock for cooking beans!) that it became an instant classic in our kitchen.

But I was talking about rolls.  Ruhlman developed his recipe based on one from Saveur magazine, because he didn’t like the volume measurements and wanted to do it by weight.  I agree with him 100% – baking by weight is far more accurate and likely to produce consistent results than baking by volume, plus there’s the added bonus of not having to fuss around with measuring cups, the dipping and sweeping and getting flour all over the counter.

Scaling, scaling
1. Scaling 1, 2. Scaling 2

See?  Tidy as can be.  Flour, yeast, salt, and honey (I ran out of regular honey making a batch of granola and had to use chestnut honey – life’s rough) weighed straight into the bowl, followed by the buttermilk (which I actually measured out into a separate jug so I could microwave it for 30 seconds to take the chill off).

Seeing as my KitchenAid is tucked safely away in storage at the moment, I mix and knead all the breads I make in my Parisian kitchen by hand.  I start with a wooden spoon and proceed to finish mixing and kneading with my hands.

Kneading, kneading
1. Dough, pre-knead, 2. Kneading 1, 3. Kneading 2, 4. Sticky dough

I like to knead the dough right in the bowl for a couple of reasons: one, it keeps the counter clean and all the dough and flour in one place; and two, I can do it one-handed and take pictures with the other hand.  Ruhlman’s recipe, which uses a standing mixer, says it will take about 10 minutes of kneading.  By hand, it took a little over 15 minutes before I had a relatively smooth mass that passed the windowpane test.  I have one little quibble with Ruhlman, though.  One of his complaints about the original recipe he followed was that he didn’t know what the dough was supposed to be like when it was ready – soft, firm, sticky, dry?  And yet his modified recipe gives no indication, either.  While it’s true that using weight measures takes a lot of the guesswork out of baking, there are always the confounding factors of humidity and temperature.  I found the dough to be quite sticky, but didn’t add any additional flour because I figured we were going for a soft, airy finished product, and I know that the doughs for softer breads are usually sticky.  But then, I’m a pastry chef.  The average home baker might not have that knowledge.

Anyway, I transferred the kneaded dough to another bowl (I needed the big one to continue the granola project that I had going simultaneously), covered it with a towel, and set it aside to rise for a little over two hours.

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Panna Cotta Jewels

16 06 2009

Many moons ago, I bought five silicone molds at the market.  The main reason I did this was to get my hands on these gorgeous little jewel molds.  I could just imagine the elegant canapes and sophisticated dessert bites I would make, you know, for all those black-tie cocktail parties I host.  Since that is actually someone else’s life, the jewel molds languished on the shelf, passed over in favor of the domes or the muffin cups.  And then strawberry season rolled around.

Strawberries and lait ribot

And I was seized with the desire to make panna cotta.  I had some gelatin leaves in the cupboard, just waiting for me to come up with a reason for purchasing them.  And that reason came along when I bought too many strawberries one morning at the market – they were bright red, super fragrant, grown in France, and only 5 euros a kilo!  So I was faced with the challenge of how to eat a kilo of ultra-ripe strawberries before they went bad.  If only all challenges in life were this delicious.

Perfect, schmerfect

Panna cotta seemed like a good spring dessert – minimal effort, infinitely adaptable, and I could finally use my jewel molds!  Panna cotta is oddly named, in that it literally means “cooked cream” in Italian, though you can make it without doing any cooking at all.  For mine, I just blended some of those gorgeous strawberries with some lait ribot (a new favorite ingredient around here) because I love the way the milky tang of buttermilk acts in desserts, and I thought it would keep the whole thing very fresh and light on the palate.  Then I blended in some melted gelatin sheets, which immediately coagulated in the cold liquid.  No problem, a few short shots in the microwave and it was ready to pour into my molds.

Now what to serve them on?

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Exploring France: Bretagne: Lait Ribot

16 04 2009

Remember the buttermilk problem I was having?  (The one where I couldn’t find it despite the fact that it was right under my nose?)  It seems to be worse than I thought.

Traditional Breton Buttermilk

It turns out that there exists a traditional French product which consists of the fermented liquid left over after churning butter.  Sound familiar?  Lait ribot has been made in Bretagne for thousands of years, and many people drink it straight or to wash down another regional specialty: sweet crèpes or savory buckwheat galettes.

So now I have two buttermilk products from which to choose for my cooking, baking (and apparently drinking) needs.  It’s amazing what you can learn when you start researching something.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





We Found Buttermilk!

7 07 2008

I can’t believe that there has been buttermilk right under my nose the whole time I’ve been in Paris.  I’ve walked right past it countless times, not even considering that it might be just the thing I’ve been looking for.  You see, it is usually labeled in Arabic, with small French writing that explains, “lait fermenté.”  Then Nick and I were in the store the other day, and he exclaimed, “Is that buttermilk?  Lait fermenté?”  I smacked my forehead.  Of course.  It’s been there the whole time, staring me right in the face, and I missed it!

So what was my first thought upon finding this previously unavailable (or so I thought) ingredient?  Fried chicken.  I don’t know why.  I can’t say we were in the habit of making fried chicken back home in the States, or even if I’ve ever attempted it.  It’s also not something I crave in particular.  Sure I’ll read something about fried chicken every now and then, and I’ll get hungry thinking about the crunchy breading, but then I think about the mess involved in eating pieces of bone-in fried chicken, and the sad fact is that most of the time it just isn’t worth it.  You get grease all over your hands and face and it’s so heavy that you end up feeling like you’ve swallowed a rock.  Most of the fried chicken meals I’ve had in my life have consisted of one piece of chicken (invariably dry, yet somehow with flabby skin) and then I fill up on sides: mashed potatoes and coleslaw being my favorites.  Biscuits, too, if they’re around.

But I guess I have been reading up on fried chicken recipes lately, and the Cook’s Illustrated one (in which I had absolute faith) insists on marinating the chicken in seasoned buttermilk before battering and frying.  It sounded so good that it stuck in my mind, hidden away until the moment I saw buttermilk, at which point it popped out and started bouncing around again.  So fried chicken it was.

Since I know almost nothing about making fried chicken, I followed Cook’s recipe to the letter.  It came out fantastically.  The batter was dark brown and satisfyingly crunchy, yet almost light in texture with no unpleasant greasiness.  The chicken underneath was juicy and beautifully seasoned.  I honestly can’t say I’ve ever had better.

Move over, Colonel!  Sorry, Popeye!  French chickens rule!

As you can see, we served it with potato salad (left over from our 4th of July feast – which I’ll be posting on later, I was just so psyched about the chicken I had to write it up immediately) and a batch of our favorite buttermilk coleslaw (also courtesy Cook’s Illustrated).

Ah, Americana in Paris…








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