Grilling with Peat, Russian Pork Shashlyks and Potato Lyulya-Kebabs

I’ve been using natural wood for grilling shashlyks and other kebabs for quite a while now (I explained the process in my lyulya-kebab recipe post). The wood smoke certainly imparts some flavor, but the relatively short cooking time of a kebab means that the exposure, especially on an open grill, isn’t sufficient to achieve the same results as, say, traditional American barbecue. While I don’t want to turn my meat into something that only smells like smoke, I’ve been searching for some middle ground.

Looking at other smoked products, there’s one prominent example where tradition turned to a different combustible, more for reasons of availability than flavor in the beginning: Scotch whisky. You might not think of Scotch as a smoked product, and yet… Historically, peat was used in places where it was the only consistent source of fuel, such as Islay. The peat smoke would permeate the malted barley drying in the kilns, and the flavor of the whiskies produced owed so much to that smoke that distilleries retained the practice even after technology rendered it no longer necessary. The aroma of burning peat is so intense in fact that it’s called peat-reek. You can read more about the influence of peat on whisky here.

This is all well and good, but this is a Russian food blog, not a Scottish food blog. But wait — aren’t there other parts of the world that have peat?

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Venison Steak, Red Beet-Cranberry Purée, and Country Fried Potatoes

As we’ve eaten our way through the deer I killed last fall, I’ve started cooking some of the backstraps, those beautiful 20+-inch-long pieces of loin. I’m thrilled to say that this is without a doubt the best venison steak I’ve ever eaten, and it has totally justified spending three days in a tree strand. The meat is both pleasantly gamy and butter-tender, thus surpassing beef filet mignon. And unlike restaurant servings that often consist of one tiny little medallion, for once quality comes with quantity! 

Summer may just have started, but read this post again in a month when the temperature hits 100 F and your AC breaks down. Imagine yourself in your mythical Russian dacha in the fall. After a fructuous hunt some previous day, you decide to hit the woods again to look for mushrooms after last night’s storm, and fill a basket within a few hours. You happen to walk by a cranberry bush on your way home, and fill another basket, patting yourself on the back for never leaving the house without two empty baskets. Before going into the kitchen, you stop in your garden, where, of course, you always grow beautiful red beets. And you still have potatoes from the last harvest. Skipping the part where you milk the cow, you collect the cream and make butter, you contemplate nature’s bounty as you pause between two chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and you notice, almost in passing, that you now have all the ingredients for a dish that combines the five tastes: steak that will be properly seasoned with salt, a beet-cranberry purée that’s acidic, bitter, and sweet at the same time, and umami-packed mushrooms.

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Potato Waffles with Salmon Roe and Goat Cheese

I was recently reading about potato waffles in Culinaire Saisonnier, and it sounded to me like an original, yet also forehead-slappingly obvious, alternative to potato pancakes. I started to picture a decadent waffle oozing with caviar, though down-to-earth material considerations soon had me downgrading to salmon roe. I wanted to transform the idea into a recipe quickly, instead of putting it in my to-do queue where it might have sat for years. This is also a good recipe for Valentine’s Day, your last big excuse to overindulge until next fall’s holiday season!

Salmon Roe and Potato Waffle

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Tokaji-Cured Lake Trout and Mozzarella-Potato Pancakes

About two years ago, I posted a recipe for vodka-cured lake trout. Since I once again find myself with a profusion of trout — this time from Lake Ontario — I wanted to try a different kind of alcohol cure. (Incidentally, it’s quite interesting to compare the bright orange color of the Ontario fish to the pale pink-beige shade of the trout from Keuka Lake.)

Unlike the vodka cure, Hungarian Tokaji wine brings some subtle fruity notes to the fish. I’m not using just any Tokaji table wine, but an Aszú 4 puttonyos to get the right amount of sugar. However, I highly doubt that anyone would taste the result and exclaim, “Wow, this trout really tastes like Tokaji!” So to make this more than a gimmick, I serve it with small cubes of Tokaji jelly — and wow, these cubes really taste like Tokaji!

Eastern European Cuisine - Tokaji-Cured Lake Trout and Mozzarella-Potato Pancakes

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Perfect Potato Buns: The Epic Quest

Potato BunsWhen I started working on the Salmon and Pork Belly Burger, I thought making a good potato bun would be a no-brainer. After half a dozen trials and several pounds of patties, I acknowledge the task was harder than it seemed.

Though I won’t name names, the commercial potato rolls I’ve looked at are a bit of joke, as they use about as much potato flour as yeast (understand: not a whole lot). Check the labels yourselves! The main ingredient is wheat flour, and food coloring does the rest. There aren’t any eggs either, so that oh-so-potatoey yellow color is 100% Yellow #5, or 6, or whatever.

Pictures of my first attempt would not speak highly of my baking skills. Whoever wrote the recipe at King Arthur Flour should try to eat their own dog food some day — the result tasted fine but was too heavy for a burger. Both Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Further Adventures in Search of Perfection offer pretty similar recipes for regular, potato-free buns, but they each take over 24 hours. I understand the importance of flavor development when you work with yeast, but will one really taste a difference once the bun is sandwiching a flavorful patty, some cheese, and condiments? Especially with a potato bun? I’m not so sure. (Note: I tried, of course.)

Well, take THAT, messieurs Nathan Myhrvold and Heston Blumenthal! My potato bun, though inspired by your recipes, can be ready to eat in under 3 hours, and it tastes pretty damn good. Continue reading

Latvian Hare Trio, Part 2: Leg Confit, Potato Pancakes, Sauerkraut

After last week’s hare loin, this post features the hare legs with another group of typical Latvian winter flavors: potato, sauerkraut, and animal fat. The recipe is pretty short, because most of the work has been done during the hare preparation.

The only non-trivial element left is the potato pancakes. I’ve already talked about deruny here, but I’m taking a different approach today, simply slicing the potatoes and relying on the starch and salt to bind them all together.

Finally, if you want to make the dish a little bit healthier but still recognizably Latvian, you could prepare a wine reduction to drizzle on the meat, instead of the fat!

Latvian Hare Confit, Potato Pancakes and Sauerkraut Continue reading

Moldovan Turkey Gratin

It all started with Sergey Donika’s Moldovan Cuisine, a book that one might call obscure for rather obvious reasons: 1) it’s written in Russian, 2) it was published in Chișinău, and 3) I found it in a bookstore in Kiev. Overnight, I went from not knowing a single Moldovan dish to having at my disposal “500 ancient and contemporary recipes” — at least that’s what it says on the cover. I’m afraid that this sudden profusion of choices (many of which didn’t sound all that different from one another), plus the fact that the book contains no index or detailed table of contents, left me a little bit confused. I completed my reading with the vague notion that I should be trying a dish with turkey, pumpkin, and prunes, and labeling it as Moldovan…

Moldovan Cuisine - Turkey, Butternut Squash and Prune Gratin

So, there! My Moldovan turkey gratin is full of what appears to be quintessential Moldovan ingredients, and it’s layered and baked like a Moldovan moussaka. Moreover, for my American readers, it’s an instant Thanksgiving classic that doesn’t even require you to be able to spell / pronounce / locate Chișinău on a map — and if you can’t wait till next year, you can always prepare it for Christmas. This makes a sophisticated side for roasted turkey breast, or a whole bird minus one leg. Or you can easily adapt the recipe to use your leftovers.

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Varenyky, Ukrainian Ravioli

I’ve already posted a couple recipes for varenyky here and here, so I figured I’d come up with a third one — and write an entry with everything you’ll ever want to know about these Ukrainian ravioli.

Giant Pierogi - Glendon, Alberta

Picture courtesy of Fracture

But first, is it varenyky or vareniki? Well, it depends. The Russian word, вареники, should be transliterated as vareniki. But since this is in fact a Ukrainian dish, it makes sense to transliterate the Ukrainian word instead. And the Ukrainian word is… вареники. Even if you can’t read Cyrillic, you probably noticed the two are spelled the same. But they’re not pronounced the sameThe Ukrainian и is similar to the Russian ы, hence the transliteration with y’s. Big deal.

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Cayuga Lake Salmon Burgers and Warm Potato Salad

A few weeks ago, we took another fishing trip with Fisherman John on Cayuga Lake, with the idea of spending one half-day focusing on carp, and another targeting landlocked salmon. The carp turned out to be too elusive for us to catch. We didn’t even see any, partly because of the chaotic weather this year — it was snowing the day before! The salmon fishing was going equally badly for the first 4 hours. I was starting to lose hope, when suddenly we got our first strike. Once the school was found, we promptly caught enough fish to feed our little family for a week, and even released a few, including the 25″ beauty you see on the picture.

Landlocked salmon are among the tastiest cold-water game fish one can catch in NY state, and the season lasts from ice-out through spring. In Cayuga Lake, they’re usually the same species as Atlantic salmon, but with a non-migratory life cycle. The flavor is similar to that of its sea cousins, but milder. The flesh is quite pale and turns almost white when cooked.

It came to me that while a burger made with beef requires a ground meat patty so that one can bite into it, a whole salmon fillet is tender enough that it doesn’t need to be ground. In fact, ground salmon often results in a dry or very fragile fish cake. This is why I’m using small portions of salmon fillet without additional processing. If purists object that it’s not a burger, then they can call it a hot sandwich!

I wanted to make a salmon burger that was easy enough to prepare, and of course with an Eastern European flavor — hence the warm potato salad, for one thing. The way I cook the salmon (on a plate, with butter, at a very low temperature) produces the best result. In my opinion this is even better than sous-vide, as it comes out slightly warmer and less soggy.

Potato salad
Yields 4 servings

18 oz peeled fingerling potatoes
salt
2 oz butter
8 oz thinly sliced onions
1.2 oz cornichons
2.2 oz crème fraiche
0.6 oz whole-grain mustard
4 tsp finely chopped chives

  • Place the potatoes in a pot with salted water, bring to a boil, and simmer until fully cooked. Drain, cut into large chunks, and reserve.
  • Melt the butter with a little bit of water in a small saucepan. Add the onions, cover, and cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes, until very soft, stirring regularly.
  • Heat a non-stick pan over high heat. Add the onions and the fat from the saucepan, then mix in the potatoes, and cook until golden brown, stirring constanly.
  • Transfer the potatoes and onions to a bowl, and let cool for 5 minutes. Dry the cornichons with a paper towel, and cut into a brunoise. In a plastic container, combine the crème fraiche, mustard, and cornichons, then mix into the bowl.
  • Serve immediately, with chopped chives sprinkle on top.

Salmon mousse
Yields about 8 servings

6 oz cleaned salmon fillet
1/4 tsp smoked salt
black pepper, ground
0.3 oz butter, sliced
2 oz heavy cream
0.5 oz lemon juice

  • Season the salmon with the smoked salt and black pepper, then place on a plate with the slices of butter spread on the top and bottom sides. Cover the plate with plastic wrap, and cook in a 200 F oven until medium-rare.
  • Transfer the salmon and any grease from the plate into a blender, add the cream and lemon juice, and process until smooth. Let cool and refrigerate.

Salmon burgers
Yields 4 servings

4 oz baby bok choy leaves
0.5 oz water
1.5 oz butter, sliced
salt
black pepper, ground
4 portions of cleaned salmon fillet, about 4 oz each, trimmed into an octagonal shape
4 brioche buns, about 3.5″ diameter
4 oz salmon mousse
2 oz cream cheese
2 tsp finely chopped chives

  • Place the baby bok choy leaves in a small saucepan with the water and 1/3 of the butter. Add some salt and pepper, cover with a lid, and cook over low heat until soft. Reserve.
  • Season the salmon with salt and pepper,  then place on a plate with the remaining slices of butter spread on the top and bottom sides. Cover the plate with plastic wrap, and cook in a 200 F oven until nearly done to your liking (I say nearly, because the fish will be finished in a frying pan). This will take between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the plate you’re using, the thickness of the fish, and the doneness you want to reach.
  • Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat, add the fat from the plate, and quickly sear the salmon on both sides.
  • Toast the brioche buns. Spread the bottom halves with salmon mousse, and the top halves with cream cheese sprinkled with chives. Assemble each burger by stacking the salmon fillet and the drained bok choy leaves. Serve immediately.

Venison Goulash and Potato Varenyky

With this recipe, I’m killing two old Eastern European birds with one stone. The combination isn’t just a gimmick, though; the two dishes actually work really well together!

The venison goulash uses one of the forelegs of the deer I killed last season. This is not a Hungarian gulyás, but rather the kind of winter goulash you would eat in Czech Republic or Austria — my recipe was inspired by something I found in Kurt Gutenbrunner’s Neue Cuisine. I recommend cooking it a day in advance, so that the flavors can blend overnight.

The unusual way the leg is marinated (by being plunged in boiling stock first) comes from Alain Senderens’ Canard Apicius 2010. Senderens claims that his method gets better results than sous-vide cooking. I had previously tried it on a roasted leg of deer and was really impressed, not to mention that I wouldn’t know how to cook a whole leg sous-vide in my home kitchen! Even if the long, gentle cooking of the goulash is likely to tenderize any tough joint of meat, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to use the Senderens method, especially since I planned to marinate the leg anyway. If you don’t have a whole deer leg, you can buy venison osso buco (here, for example), shorten the marinating time to one day, and scale the recipe accordingly.

Potato varenyky are Ukrainian dumplings similar to Polish pierogi but not fried. I found out they have a bit of a cult following, and several monuments have been erected to their glory. For this recipe, I am using the same rich filling as for my knishes. If you think of pierogi as a poorman’s dish made of potatoes, flour, and water, try these and have your mind changed. :) Of course, you could choose to make them without the goulash, and serve them with sour cream and fried onion as tradition dictates. If you do prepare together, the proportions below yield about four varenyky per plate, but you could decide to serve slightly fewer (or more).

Lazy Boris’ Corner:
Take a taxi to Korzo Haus. Sorry my recipe takes so long, but when you’ve spent 12 hours freezing in a tree stand to kill your deer, you’re not gonna rush the cooking!

Beef stock
Yields about 2 qt

1 1/2 lb oxtail
olive oil
4 oz peeled carrot, large dice
9 oz peeled onion, large dice
9 oz cored red pepper, large dice
1 garlic clove
16 oz red wine
3 cloves
3 peppercorns
1 juniper berry
1 cardamom pod
6 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
42 oz water

  • In a pressure cooker over high heat, sauté the oxtail in olive oil until brown on all sides. Add the carrot, onion, red pepper and garlic, and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the red wine, cloves, peppercorns, juniper berry, cardamom, thyme and bay leaf, and simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the water, cover, bring to pressure, then cook under pressure for 1 hour. Let cool for 30 minutes and pass through a chinois.

Marinated deer leg
Yields about 6 servings

1 deer foreleg, about 4 lb
2 qt beef stock

  • Chop the deer leg in half at the joint.
  • In a pot large enough to contained the two pieces covered with beef stock, bring the stock to a boil. Add the deer leg and let sit for 3 minutes. Remove the leg from the stock, then let the stock cool.
  • Return the leg to the pot, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 days.

Venison goulash
Yields 6 servings

16 oz peeled onion
3 peeled garlic cloves
8 oz peeled celery root
8 oz peeled carrot
3 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette
1 tsp ground anise
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground caraway
1 tsp ground allspice
marinated deer leg
salt
black pepper, ground
olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
40 oz marinade liquid
2 tsp thyme leaves
3 oz sour cream

  • Slice the onion and garlic very thinly using a mandoline.  Chop the celery root and carrot into a brunoise (the mandoline can also help you do half of this work).
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the paprika, piment d’espelette, anise, coriander, cumin, caraway and allspice for 3 minutes, shaking regularly. Reserve.
  • Chop the deer leg into a total of 6 pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof pot over high heat, then sauté the venison until brown on all sides and reserve.
  • In the same pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic until soft, then add the spices and stir for 2 minutes. Add the celery root, carrot and tomato paste, and cook for 5 more minutes.
  • Return the meat to the pot, add the marinade and thyme, and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid slightly ajar, and cook in a 200 F oven for 6 to 8 hours, until very tender. Let rest for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the meat from the pot, and reduce the sauce over high heat by about 1/3.
  • Use a hand blender directly in the pot to blend some, but not all of the chunks — you want the sauce to have a thick, coarse texture. If you don’t have a hand blender, just transfer 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce and chunks to a regular blender, process until smooth, and return to the pot.
  • Mix in the sour cream, return the meat to the pot, and reserve.

Pasta dough
Yields slightly over 6 servings (24 varenyky)

6 oz flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp olive oil

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, place half of the flour, plus the salt, egg, egg yolks and olive oil. Mix over low speed until homogeneous, scraping down the sides with a spatula. Add the rest of the flour and mix again until it forms a smooth paste.
  • Transfer to a floured surface, and knead with your hands for about 3 minutes. If necessary, add a little bit more flour until the dough doesn’t stick. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.

Potato purée
Yields slightly over 6 servings (24 varenyky)

8 oz peeled Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1″ slices
salt
1 oz sour cream
2.5 oz butter
1 pinch black pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg

  • Bring a pot of unsalted water to 175 F. Add the potatoes, and cook for 30 minutes, maintaining the water temperature at 160 F (if you use a lot of water and cover the pot with a lid, the temperature should remain almost constant without you doing anything). Transfer the potatoes to a bowl of ice water, and let cool completely.
  • Bring the pot of water up to a boil and salt the water. Add the potatoes and simmer until cooked.
  • Pass through a food mill fit with the finest disk; if necessary, use some of the sour cream to get the grinding going. Mix the potatoes with the sour cream, butter, black pepper and nutmeg, then push the mixture through a sieve — you can either pass it through a conical sieve with a ladle, or rub it through a drum sieve with a spatula. Transfer to a plastic container, and refrigerate.

Potato varenyky
Yields slightly over 6 servings (24 varenyky)

pasta dough
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp water
potato purée
semolina
salt
1 oz butter

  • Using a pasta machine, roll the dough to the finest setting. I recommend proceeding in batches (cut the dough into 4 pieces) so that the pasta doesn’t dry out. Mix the egg yolk and water to make an egg wash.
  • Cut 24 discs (6 discs in each batch) using a 3 1/2″ cutter. Brush each disc with the egg wash, place a spoonful of potato purée in the center, then fold into a half-moon shape and seal the edges with your fingers. Each one should have a generous amount of potato, but not so much that it’s difficult to seal properly. Keep the varenyky on a sheet tray dusted with semolina.
  • Cook the varenyky in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, toss into a bowl with the butter, cover with plastic wrap and reserve.
  • If you plan to serve them on their own, however, cook until soft and serve immediately.

Caramelized onions
Yields 6 servings

1 oz butter
1 oz water
6 cipollini onions, peeled

  • Place the butter and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the onions, cover with a lid, and cook for 45 minutes, flipping the onions a couple times along the way.
  • Remove the lid and cook for another 10-15 minutes. If the liquid is completely reduced, add a little bit of water. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Assembly
Yields about 6 servings

potato varenyky
venison goulash
18 baby carrots of various colors, peeled
salt
caramelized onions
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

  • Add the potato varenyky to the venison goulash, cover, and reheat on low heat.
  • Blanch the carrots in a little bit of salted boiling water until almost cooked, then transfer to a small saucepan with the caramelized onions, and reheat on low heat.
  • Serve with a generous amount of sauce, and sprinkle with parsley.