Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pan-Broiled Veal Chops

These incredible, big, thick veal chops are more than a little exstravagant, but a beautiful thick chop cut from a boneless pork loin would make just as tasty a dish with this treatment, with less damage to your pocketbook and your waistline.

These things were just beautiful, and I almost felt obligated to honor them, somehow, to honor the meat, express my appreciation for its beauty, by accompanying it with some kind of sauce or garnish worthy of it (like Marilyn Monroe, these veal chops would have looked great in a burlap sack, but I felt I had to try, for the chops, you understand, as a matter of respect).

The night before, I had dinner in a little-known Italian restaurant in Atlantic City called Cafe 2825, a tiny place with only 12 tables, which is simply the best restaurant I have ever been to. The story of this place is something worth a post of its own, but this is absolutely no exxageration, this place truly is the best restaurant ever in the history of the universe. The cuisine of Cafe 2825 is old school Italian, as is much of the clientele, with items like "Traditional Sunday Gravy with Meatballs, Sausage, and yet it is different from every other Italian restaurant I have ever been to because every dish, everything I have tried, anyway, is so light and fresh, minimally seasoned, with all the flavors based on the quality and freshness of every ingredient. And the night before, I had tasted the Veal Milanese, a breaded and fried veal chop, and it was served covered with a simple mix of arugula, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan. It was this dish which inspired me to decide that rather than make any kind of a heavily flavored or rich sauce for these chops, I would garnish them with a mix of roasted vegetables, minimally seasoned, and topped off with a light gremolata. Because its what I happened to have, I used tomatoes, scallions, garlic cloves, and strips of roasted poblano pepper left over from that pico de gallo I made for the shrimp cocktail.

Pan-broiling I explained in detail just last month; it involves meat, and a hot pan, no oil, just enough to make the meat shiny, and a throughly hot pan. In the case of these chops, because they were so thick, and because I did not want to sear them as much as I did the chuck-eyes I discussed in that post, I did not have to use the old cast-iron skillet. Because of their thickness, these chops would be cooked at a slightly lower temperature, for a longer period. Nevertheless, it remains vitally important to keep the pan hot enough so that liquids cannot pool in it, if juices seep from your meat and form a puddle in the pan, you are no longer pan-broiling, you are boiling your meat, and as a general rule, one thing you want to avoid in life is boiling your meat.

And so, now for the gremolata. This is something I learned from Mario Battale (sorry to say, one of the only ideas I took from him, for all the hype, Mario, well, just "meh," you know? Cafe 2825 is much better). A gremolata is a finely chopped, grated, or diced mix of various ingredients with interesting tastes and textures that you sprinkle on a dish to add just a little burst of fresh, complex flavor, but without overpowering. Its like a fresh version of an herb or spice mix. For this, I used a pretty basic gremolata, grated lemon peel, grated parmesan, ground black pepper, and chopped nuts, it would normally have been pine nuts, but I still have that bag of roasted pumpkin seeds I bought at Whole Paycheck-Costing Food, so I went with those.

And Voila! I love that word, "Voila," If I ever get a tattoo, I think I should think of a good place to just put the word "Voila."

Those thing next to the veal, frozen mini-potato pancakes, which makes them kinda a big flat tater-tot. Don't tell anyone I made frozen tater-tots, I had too few hands and too little time left on the clock. I would havepreferred to make something contrastingly bland, and less rich, to accompany this, maybe even just a bit of garlic-mashed potatos, or my zuchini spaghetti, which I will get around to showing you one of these days.

Shrimp Cocktail!

Is there anything better than shrimp cocktail? When I was a kid, and my mom and dad would take me with them to a "nice" restaurant, I always wanted the shrimp cocktail. This was really something, back in those days, before every grocery store started carrying bags of cheap, pre-cooked, farmed shrimp from southeast asia and giant mounds of bad shrimp cocktail started appearing right next to the bowl of pretzels at even the humblest of parties. Back in the '60s, a shrimp cocktail meant you were dining fancy. Its the kinda thing you would see on the table during a restaurant scene in Mad Men, A big, beautiful shrimp cocktail, sitting on the white linen tablecloth right between the martini and the ash-tray.

My love for shrimp cocktail even survived my years working for a chain of seafood restaurants where, starting when I was 12 years old, and continuing until I was 25,I would often literally spend an entire day, 8 hours, doing nothing but peeling shrimp. It got to the point that the stink of shrimp penetrated my skin and became a part of me that no amount of soap could wash off,no matter how hard I tried. Even then, in the middle of a day spent peeling shrimp, I would sneak to the walk-in and eat the shrimp cocktails stored there.

As the great Homer once said, when it comes to shrimp cocktail, "lamentably, my gastronomic rapacity knows no satiety."

Size Matters!

Its true, big shrimp are mroe equal than little shrimp, and the more oxymoronic your shrimp, the better. I look for shrimp so big I could carve them like a turkey! These were enormous, U-8s, which means it takes less than 8 of them to make a pound, twice the size of what is usually sold as a "jumbo shrimp." I put a few bay leaves, some old bay, and a good amount of salt in the water, and then I poached these big guys gently for about 5 minutes. After that, I put them in salted ice-water flavored with lemon juice.

During my travels in Mexico I fell in love with the way a shrimp cocktail is made there, served in a liquid salsa which reminded me of a bloody mary. I was looking for something of this flavor in a sauce for these shrimp, so I thought I would make something like a pico de gallo, but with some of the characteristics of the traditional US "cocktail sauce." The thing that US cocktail sauce has, and mexican salsa doesn't, is sugar, but I knew I could supply that by adding a bit of Heinz Chili Sauce to the pico do gallo (chili sauce is a variant of catsup, and it is the base for properly made cocktail sauce, not catsup). The chili sauce also thickened the pico and made it a bit stickier. Its sorta like kinda a Heinz-Mex fusion, with roasted poblano:

So then it was just to put it on a plate and serve it forth! I am slowly learning the art of presentation, I like how this came out, but then, its shrimp cocktail, I like those wretched jars of "Sau-Sea" shrimp cocktail!