REUBEN SOUP

Posted: November 29, 2022 in bacon, cheese, Food, Recipes, sauerkraut
Tags: , , , ,

This is a great recipe for a cold day, and you can buy most of the ingredients at your supermarket.

Why have soup and a sandwich when your soup can be your sandwich? I had all the ingredients to make a Reuben sandwich. But I wanted soup. So I made Reuben Seup…I mean Soup!

Think French onion soup, but using Reuben ingredients…

 

Rye bread slices
Sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
Chicken stock
Pastrami, sliced thinly
Swiss cheese, sliced thinly

 

I like to take the sauerkraut, rinse it under cold water, then toss it in a pot that already has some finely chopped bacon and onions cooking in it. Once the ingredients have cooked down, set it aside. (If you prefer not to use bacon and onions, that’s fine, too.)

Find a source for great pastrami, like a good deli in your neighborhood.

Heat the chicken stock in a pot. Take the thinly sliced pastrami and chop it up into bite-sized pieces. Place the pastrami in the chicken stock to warm through. Keep the stock warm on low heat.

Now you’re ready to assemble…

rye

Take an oven-proof soup bowl. Line the bottom with some rye bread.

 

kraut

On top of that, place a nice helping of the sauerkraut.

 

stock

Pour the warm chicken stock with the pastrami over the sauerkraut.

 

swiss

Layer slices of Swiss cheese over the top of the bowl. Place it under the broiler until melted.

 

melty

Eat!

 

eat

It satisfied my soup and sandwich craving!

 

Sometimes a small bite can take a lot of preparation, and you just don’t appreciate it until you decide to make it yourself. That’s especially true with the classic Danish open sandwich called Smørrebrød. The ingredients can vary, but one of my favorite versions is with smoked salmon, which I enjoyed here in Rhode Island, at Persimmon, in Providence.

Chef Champe Speidel’s Salmon Smørrebrød at Persimmon.

A couple of years ago, some very special friends were coming over for dinner, and I decided this would be the event where I debuted my own version of Salmon Smørrebrød. I had my work cut out for me…

It starts with the salmon. One of the finest sources of wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon is Vital Choice, a purveyor of extremely high-quality wild-caught seafood. I ordered several large fillets and had them shipped frozen to my home. I thawed a couple of the fillets in the fridge, and then cured them for several days.

 

Make sure you get your salmon from a reliable source, and always get wild-caught, never farmed.

 

The recipe for the cure mix is simple:

1 cup Kosher salt
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns

Combine these ingredients in a bowl. Mix well.

Use a container that will hold the fillets without bending them. It also needs to be watertight, because the salt extracts moisture from the fish, and you don’t want spills from the liquids released during the curing process.

 

First, the plastic. Then, a layer of the cure mix. Then the salmon fillet, skin-side-down. More cure mix on top. Then the second fillet, with more cure mix on top of that.

 

Lay a few sheets of plastic wrap on the bottom, allowing them to fall over the sides of the container. Sprinkle a good, even layer of the cure mix on the bottom. Lay down the first salmon fillet, skin side down, on top of the cure mix. add more cure mix on top of the fillet to cover it completely. Lay the second fillet on top of that, then cover it completely with more of the cure mix. Fold the plastic wrap tightly over the top, pressing out as much air as you can.

 

Finally, wrapping the whole thing up tightly in plastic.

 

Pressure on the salmon helps the curing process, so the cure mix makes good contact with the flesh. I weigh it down with a few cans of tomato sauce.

 

Even pressure on the salmon fillets helps the curing process.

 

Put the salmon in the fridge for at least 48 hours, until the fillets are firm to the touch.

 

The fillets have changed color and are firmer to the touch once cured.

 

Once the salmon has cured, remove it from the plastic wrap and wash it thoroughly with clean, cold water to remove as much of the salt as possible. Some of the peppercorns will imbed themselves in the fish…remove those, too. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels.

 

The salmon is ready to eat just like this, but…

 

At this point, you’ve got Gravlax, and it’s delicious just the way it is. But I chose to go one step further and smoke the salmon, so I put the fillets on a metal rack in my fridge, skin side down, and let them dry out a bit for an hour or so. When the salmon dries, the flesh gets a bit tacky. That’s called the pellicle, and the sticky surface of the fish helps the smoke molecules adhere better. It’s a good thing.

 

The salmon fillets, drying in the fridge.

 

While the salmon is drying in the fridge, I get my smoking gear ready.

I like to use charcoal briquets and hickory chips for the smoking process. I bring my small camping grill next to my larger home grill. Using my charcoal chimney, I light the briquets and let them burn until they’re ashed over. Using a small smoking box, I place some hickory chips inside, then add a couple of hot briquets to it, making sure they burn the chips and the smoking starts. I place the smoking box inside my large grill with the vents open, laying my salmon fillets (skin-side-down) next to the smoking box. I close the lid of the grill, and let the smoking begin.

 

Lighting briquets in the camping grill before moving them to the larger grill.

 

Ashed-over coals in the chimney.

 

This is as close to a cold-smoking process as you can get at home. There is no heat actually cooking the salmon, just a smoke-filled grill that needs to be replenished every once in a while with hot coals and more hickory chips. I smoke the salmon for a couple of hours.

 

Let the smoking begin!

 

Once the salmon has smoked, you’ve got yourself a really special treat. You must eat some at this point, just to reward yourself for a job well done! Then, wrap the rest of the salmon tightly in plastic wrap, and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it. It will stay fresh in the fridge for several days.

My research for Salmon Smørrebrød resulted in many variations, but I ultimately chose one that used a horseradish cream on the fish. Just so happened that I have a giant horseradish plant growing in my garden, so it was time to dig some of the roots up!

 

Digging up horseradish.

 

Once I dug the roots out and washed them clean, they needed to be peeled down to their white center. Then they were ready to be grated. I used the same system my grandfather did, many years ago: a simple hand grater for the job. If you thought you cry when you slice onions, you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve grated horseradish! But it’s worth the effort.

 

Cleaned horseradish roots, before peeling and grating.

 

You need freshly grated horseradish, not the prepared stuff you find in the supermarket for the cream…

12 tablespoons sour cream
6 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish
8 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 pinches of sugar
Kosher salt to taste

Combine these ingredients in a bowl and mix well. It keeps for at least a day, so you can make it the night before serving. This is a lot of horseradish cream, but I was making enough to serve 12 people.

 

The horseradish cream…delicious on a lot of things!

 

1 fennel bulb
2 Granny Smith apples
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

A few hours before serving, thinly slice a fennel bulb–paper-thin if you can–and place the slices in a bowl of ice water. Peel and core 2 Granny Smith apples and slice them as thinly as you can, placing them in the ice bath as well. After an hour, remove the fennel and apple slices from the ice water, pat them dry with paper towels, and place them in a bowl, sprinkling them with the lemon juice. Toss, mixing well, and then place the bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

 

Slicing the fennel as thinly as possible.

 

A few last ingredients…

Sliced bread
Softened unsalted butter
Fresh dill sprigs

Smørrebrød is a sandwich, so of course, I needed some bread. I chose something from my heritage: Lithuanian bread, a combination of rye and pumpernickel that I find when I go back home to New York. I keep it in the freezer until I need it, and for this recipe, I sliced it thin.

 

Getting the ingredients together. The Lithuanian bread is the brown bread. We also had a couple of slices of gluten-free bread.

 

Now we’re finally ready to build this thing!

 

Slicing the salmon as thinly as possible.

 

Rather than making all the sandwiches myself, I decided I’d teach a Master Class of Smørrebrød-making with my fabulous guests. So I brought all the ingredients out, and we started building our sandwiches as I sliced the salmon as thinly as possible.

First, you take your slice of Lithuanian bread and spread some of the butter on it.

Then, layer the fabulous salmon on top.

Next, a healthy spread of the horseradish cream.

Top with some of the sliced fennel and apple.

Garnish with just a few fresh sprigs of dill.

And then top it all off with a friendly sprinkling of Fleur de Sel, or your favorite sea salt.

 

Fleur de Sel at the end makes all the difference!

 

And that’s my Salmon Smørrebrød…a labor of love. But that’s what you do for friends, right?

 

Time to eat!

 

Leftover ingredients make a great sandwich on an everything bagel the next day!

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as healthy eggnog. This recipe is absolutely delicious but is also a heart attack in a glass. I’ve updated it this year so that you don’t need to worry about salmonella…though the alcohol will still get you!

My buddy, Rick Sammarco, a wicked talented bartender, credits his father, Al, for the eggnog recipe I started from. The original recipe called for a lot more of everything. I’ve cut it down to a more “user friendly” size, I’ve made it a touch sweeter, and it no longer contains the usual raw eggs found in traditional eggnogs.

Some say that “aging” eggnog–literally letting it sit in the fridge for up to 6 weeks–will give the alcohol time to kill the salmonella. But there’s no tried and true scientific evidence to support this. Sure, if you pour a ton of alcohol in the batch, 15% or even more, it might be safe. And I might risk it on myself, but I would never take a chance and serve it to friends or family. The only thing that really kills salmonella is heat, and that’s not something the average homeowner can easily do without actually cooking the eggs.

The solution is to buy pasteurized eggs.

 

 

Fortunately, some supermarkets now carry whole eggs in the shell that have been pasteurized, though they are hard to find. But my area Whole Foods does carry pasteurized real whole liquid eggs under the Vital Farms name, and they work perfectly with this recipe. The original recipe called for 15 (!) raw eggs. A 16-oz. container of Vital Farms liquid eggs is the same as about 9 eggs. So I need one full container, and then another 10 oz. or so for this recipe.

Now the only thing I need to worry about are too many calories and too much alcohol!

 

eggnog

1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream (I use Breyer’s)
1 pint half & half
Just over 26 oz. Vital Farms liquid whole eggs (the equivalent of 15 whole raw eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
6 oz.  of each:
spiced rum (I use Captain Morgan)
whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
brandy (I use E&J)

 

 

I let the ice cream soften 1 day in the fridge. I mix the ice cream, half-and-half, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in a blender.

My blender is pretty big, but I find that it’s full at this point. So I pour everything into a gallon-size glass jar.

To the jar, I add the maple syrup and all the liquor. Then I whisk everything together, making sure I get down to the bottom of the jar.

 

 

After it’s fully mixed, I place the lid on the jar, and move the eggnog to the fridge, where I let it sit for at least 12-24 hours for the flavors to blend. Even longer is better.

One final taste to determine whether I want more cinnamon, nutmeg or maple syrup, and it’s good to go!

 

It goes well with coffee…just maybe not for breakfast!

 

 

And by the way, it’s pretty darn tasty with coffee! Just imagine a variation on a White Russian, with eggnog and freshly brewed coffee, and a bit of a drizzle of maple syrup on top!

Cheers!

 

 

Like hot dogs and Slim Jims, jerky is one of those “mystery meats” we love but don’t really know how it’s made or what part of the animal it comes from.
Really excellent jerky is a rare treat, and once you have it, you will never go back to that rancid, preservative-filled dog meat you find in a bag at the supermarket. And the best part is: it’s easy to make.
Although I started my jerky-making endeavors with beef, I later acquired some beautiful venison from friends and family; hunters that had extra meat they were willing to share. I quickly realized that venison was the ideal jerky meat: really flavorful, with a wonderful texture.

Beautiful venison.

But venison is not all that east to find, and farmed venison is expensive. So beef is still the best option for most people.
Shop around for a really nice slab of London Broil or similar cut. You don’t need to buy an expensive piece of grass-fed beef, but the better the meat, the better the jerky. Remove all the gristle and fat that may be on the meat and then slice it against the grain and on a diagonal, into 1/4″ thick slices. Toss all the meat in a Ziploc bag. Once you’ve done that, all you need to do is make the marinade, marinate the beef overnight, and then dry it the next day. Your final product will be a flavorful beef jerky that is so good, you’ll find it very hard to stop eating it…or to share it.
If you use gluten-free soy sauce and teriyaki sauce (La Choy is the brand I use, found in any supermarket), this recipe can be considered gluten-free. Be careful: regular soy sauce, and even some tamari sauces, have wheat in them. Read the label!
image
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh minced peeled ginger
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup teriyaki sauce (I use La Choy)
1 cup soy sauce (I use La Choy)
8 lbs. raw, lean beef, like London broil, cut into 1/4″ thick diagonal slices, against the grain of the meat
Combine all the ingredients except the meat in a large bowl. Whisk it well. Place the meat in a large Ziploc bag, pour the marinade inside, seal it, and refrigerate it overnight. Squish the bag around once in a while, to make sure all the meat surfaces make contact with the marinade. Keep the bag in a bowl to prevent any accidental spillage in your fridge!
The next day, pour off the marinade and discard it. Using a food dehydrator, dry the meat by laying strips in a single layer. You can also dry them in a 140 degree oven on racks slightly elevated off a baking sheet. Drying could take several hours to half a day, depending on how dry and chewy you like your jerky, and how thickly you sliced it.
Jerky in the dehydrator.

Jerky in the dehydrator.

This recipe makes a lot of jerky, but it stores really well in the freezer. I put small amounts into individual freezer bags, then place all of them in one large freezer bag. Thaw as needed.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m sharing my favorite holiday dishes I post every year around this time.

My Mom loved that nasty, gooey cranberry log that oozes out of the can. It would hit the bowl with a splurt and would wiggle for about an hour. I’m more than happy to avoid that and make this delicious side dish, which has become a staple at our Thanksgiving table every year…

1 medium-sized butternut squash, washed and peeled with the seeds removed
Olive oil
Salt
1 cup fresh cranberries
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup maple syrup, more if you like it really sweet

image

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Once you’ve washed, peeled and seeded the butternut squash, cut it into ½” cubes. Sprinkle a little olive oil and salt on them and toss them to coat. Then spread the squash cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake them for about 30 minutes or until they’re golden on the edges.

Remove the squash from the oven and pour the cranberries into the hot tray. Mix gently. Pour the squash/cranberry mix into a smaller, deeper baking pan.

Increase the oven temperature to 425.

In a separate bowl, combine the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the squash/cranberry mixture. Drizzle the maple syrup over everything and place the baking pan in the oven. Cook for another 20 minutes, until the seeds have roasted.

Drizzle a bit of maple syrup over the top just before bringing the pan to the table.

My first foray into serious cooking started when I bought “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” written by the Marcella Hazan.

Like many great recipes, Fettuccine Alfredo is not complicated…but few restaurants that offer it get it right. Most of the Alfredo sauces I’ve had were watery, floury, and salty and had nothing in common with the real thing.
To this day, if I want a great Alfredo, I make it like Marcella.

 

alfredo2

 

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. Fettuccine, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
A very tiny grating of nutmeg

Put 2/3 cup of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer it over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened. Turn off the heat.

Drop the fettuccine in a big pot of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. Cook the fettuccine firmer than usual, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately and thoroughly when it’s done and transfer to the pan containing the butter and cream.

Turn the heat under the pan on low, and toss the fettuccine, coating with the sauce. Add the rest of the cream, all the grated cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper and the nutmeg. Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the fettuccine are well coated. Taste and correct for salt.

Serve immediately!

With Thanksgiving now just weeks away, I’d like to share my recipe for what I consider to be the perfect turkey.

I often get asked if I deep-fry my turkey for Thanksgiving. I think it’s way too messy and time-consuming for nothing better than an “OK-tasting” bird. I lived in the South for a few years, and my friends fried a turkey on several occasions. I wasn’t impressed.

First, you need to find a safe spot in the yard to blast the propane-fueled fryer so you don’t burn your house down. Then you need to stand outside and freeze your butt off while it fries, while your friends and family are all indoors having cocktails. Then you need to get rid of gallons of used oil, and clean up a huge mess at the end of it all. And through all this, you need to make sure the oil is at the right temperature so you don’t get a scorched turkey on the outside and a raw turkey on the inside.

No, thanks.

I get great results by cooking my turkey in my Weber grill. I’ve cooked it this way every Thanksgiving for about 30 years. The standard Weber allows me to cook up to a 15 lb. bird–big enough for my purposes–and it comes out crispy, smokey and delicious. If you’re afraid to try this for the first time at Thanksgiving when it really matters, buy a turkey right now, grill it, and bring a bunch of turkey sandwiches to work to share with your friends….then wait for their reaction.

Or be bold! Go for the gusto the first time around. I did it that way and I never looked back.

 

The charcoal chimney with hot coals awaits.

The charcoal chimney with hot coals awaits.

 

Although I’ve stopped using charcoal briquettes for basic grilling a long time ago, and now strictly use natural hardwood charcoal, this recipe works best with Kingsford briquettes. They burn slowly and evenly. I never use lighter fluid…I always start my fire with a few pieces of crumbled newspaper under a charcoal chimney.

The tools you need:
A Weber grill, with the dome top
Kingsford charcoal briquettes (don’t t use Match Lite or other pre-soaked briquettes)
A charcoal chimney, easily found at Home Depot or Lowe’s
A heavy-duty disposable aluminum pan
Ingredients:
Whole turkey, up to 15 lbs., thawed and brined (see my previous blog about brining a turkey)
Olive oil (to rub on the turkey)
2 yellow onions, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
½ lb. (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper

 

Spreading the coals away from the center of the grill.

Spreading the coals away from the center of the grill.

 

If you want stuffing, it’s always wise to make it separately and cook it separately.

Light 8 to 10 lbs. of charcoal in the grill…depending on the size of the turkey and how cold it is outside.

If you brined the turkey first, you’ve already removed the giblets. If you’re not brining, go ahead remove the giblets from the thawed bird now. Place the turkey in the aluminum pan.

In a small bowl, mix the granulated garlic, granulated onion, salt, and pepper. (Definitely add any other seasonings you might like.)

Coarsely chop the onions and celery. Place them in a another bowl. Mix them with the melted butter and 1/3 of the garlic/onion/salt/pepper mixture.

Place a small handful of this onion and celery “stuffing” mixture in the neck cavity of the turkey. Place the rest in the body cavity (where the stuffing would usually go.) You can fasten the bird with turkey skewers if you like. This “stuffing” is strictly to flavor the turkey…you don’t eat it!

 

The rubbed, stuffed and seasoned bird.

The rubbed, stuffed and seasoned bird.

 

Rub the outside of the entire turkey with the olive oil and sprinkle the rest of the garlic/onion/salt/pepper mixture on the outside of the bird. Make sure you get the bird on the bottom as well.

When the coals in the grill have ashed over, spread them to the outside edges of the Weber grill equally. Put the cooking grill rack in place. Place the aluminum pan with the turkey in the center of the grill, keeping it away from the direct heat of the coals. If you’re using a meat thermometer, insert the probe into the thickest part of the breast, being careful not to hit the bone. Place the lid on the grill. (You may need to bend your aluminum pan a bit.) Open the vents on the bottom of the Weber as well as the vents on the lid. It’s important to get air circulating!

 

My meat thermometer calls me from as far as 100 feet away! Time for a cocktail!

My old-school meat thermometer calls me from as far as 100 feet away! (Newer thermometers are wireless and talk to your smart phone.) Time to join family and friends for a cocktail!

 

No basting is necessary.

Now here’s the tough part: DO NOT OPEN THE GRILL TO CHECK ON THE TURKEY! (If you must look, shine a flashlight into the vent holes on the lid to take a peek at the pop-up timer, if there is one.) The whole point is to keep the heat inside the kettle. You’ll know your turkey is done when no more smoke or heat rises from the grill, and the turkey inside stops making sizzling noises. The internal meat temperature should be around 165 degrees.

And believe it or not, a 15-lb. turkey will be cooked in about 2 hours!

If you’re using a meat thermometer (recommended), remove the turkey when it hits about 155 degrees, wrap it in foil, leaving the thermometer still in the bird, and let it rest at least 20 minutes. The temperature will go up a bit to 165 or even a little higher, before it starts going down.

 

Beautifully grilled, and perfectly cooked in less than 2 hours!

Beautifully grilled, perfectly cooked!

 

I get requests to publish my holiday recipes every year, so, with the countdown to Turkey Day already ticking, and all the Thanksgiving food magazine issues on the stands, let’s get it started…

No matter what method you prefer to cook your bird, brining it beforehand will make it so much tastier and juicier. You really need to try it…and it’s easy to do.

It’s basic high school science: the brine has a greater concentration of salt and water than the molecules of the protein (in this case, a turkey) that is soaking in it. By simple diffusion, the protein molecules suck up the salty water and keep it. When you cook the meat, some of the water evaporates, but the meat still has far more moisture in it than it would have without the brine soaking, and you get a moister, more delicious bird.

Some people use giant syringes to inject their turkeys with crazy solutions, but I think that the old way is still the best when it comes to brining. Get a big pot, fill it with the brine, and soak the bird in it. Done.

Here’s my tried-and-true turkey brining recipe. Once the brining is done, you can cook the turkey whatever way you like best. I use a method where I grill it inside a Weber grill with charcoal. It comes out smokey and absolutely amazing. I’ll have that info in my next blog.

You must brine a thawed bird, so use your favorite method to thaw your turkey so that it’s ready on Thanksgiving morning. Brining can take 4 to 6 hours, so start early!

For this recipe, you’ll need a large pot to boil the brine ingredients, and then a larger pot to hold the turkey submerged in the brine. I use a turkey no bigger than 15 lbs. for two main reasons: there are only 3 people in our family, and the Weber grill I will later use can’t handle anything bigger.

 

image

1 gallon of water
2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 cup Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal…see below)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice
4 bay leaves
1 gallon of ice water
14–15 lb turkey, thawed

Pour the first gallon of water in a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots and celery (no need to peel them) and add them to the water. Add the salt, black peppercorns, brown sugar, allspice, and bay leaves. (I specify Diamond Crystal Kosher salt because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same! For example, Morton Kosher salt is much heavier for the same 1-cup measurement, so the brine will be saltier.)

Let the pot come to a boil for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat and let the brine cool down to room temperature.

Remove the giblets from the thawed turkey and place the bird in a container just big enough to hold it and 2 gallons of liquid.

Pour the now-cooled brine over the turkey, then pour in the gallon of ice water.

Make sure the turkey doesn’t float up by placing a plate on top. Put the turkey container in the fridge (or a cold garage or basement) for 4 to 6 hours, flipping the turkey over in the container halfway through.

After 4 to 6 hours, drain the turkey, rinsing off any spices that stuck to it, then pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s ready to cook, using your favorite recipe.

If I’m brining a turkey for Thanksgiving, I do the brining in the morning and the turkey is ready to cook by early afternoon. And grilling it on a Weber grill only takes a couple of hours. It’s fast, requires no basting, and is absolutely delicious! That’s next time…

I have to give credit for this recipe where it’s due. A few years ago, we traveled to Washington, DC, and one of our best dining experiences was at the Blue Duck Tavern, a stunning restaurant matched by its unique and beautifully prepared plates. (Along with Chef Jose Andres’ restaurant Jaleo, it is the restaurant I recommend to any friends in the DC area, and one I would go back to in a heartbeat.)

One of the most memorable appetizers I enjoyed was the roasted beef bone marrow, which had a delicious pretzel crumble on top. The moment I had a taste, I knew that I would have to recreate this for myself at home.

The bone marrow plate at the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC. (Enough garlic for ya?)

Bone marrow played an important role in the evolution of early man. Perhaps that’s why some of us still have that primitive craving for it.

Early man had small teeth and ate anything he could lay his hands on, especially meat. But he was no hunter. Attracted by circling vultures, he probably scavenged the leftovers from a big kill such as an antelope left in a tree by a leopard, or a large animal such as a wildebeest that had been slaughtered by lions.

Because meat is relatively easy to digest and rich in calories and nutrients, early man lost the need for the big intestines of apes and earlier hominids. This freed up energy for use by other organs. This surplus of energy seems to have been diverted to one organ in particular – the brain. But scavenging meat from under the noses of big cats is a risky business, so good scavengers needed to be smart. At this stage in our evolution, a big brain was associated with greater intellect. Big brains require lots of energy to operate: the human brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy production. The concentrated calories and nutrition found in meat was responsible for an increase in the brain size of early humans.

But around two million years ago, telltale cut marks on the surface of animal bones reveal that early humans were using crude stone tools to smash open the bones and extract the marrow. Stone tools allowed early man to get at a food source that no other creature was able to obtain – bone marrow. Bone marrow contains long chain fatty acids that are vital for brain growth and development. This helped further fuel the increase in brain size, allowing our ancestors to make more complex tools. Many historians believe that the blunt force required to break bones with tools to extract the bone marrow was a crucial ingredient in the development of the human hand, and the unique dexterity it has over that of apes.

Of course, these days, we can simply go to our butcher and ask them to slice some beef bones for us so that we can enjoy the marrow like our ancestors did. It’s much more civilized.

My box o’ frozen bones. I ordered about 25 lbs. of marrow bones from Slanker’s, a grass-fed beef farm in Texas.

They key to roasting marrow bones properly is to keep an eye on them. The bones can go from frozen solid to blazing hot in no time, and that means the marrow can go beyond its rich, gelatinous perfection into a puddle of fat at the bottom of your pan in mere moments.

3 lbs. beef marrow bones (I like them sliced lengthwise)
3/4 cup finely ground salted pretzel sticks
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil

I keep the beef bones frozen, moving them to the fridge until I’m ready to roast them.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Grind them up!

Place a handful of salted pretzel sticks in a food processor, and pulse them until the pretzels are ground fine. When you’ve got 3/4 cup of ground pretzel powder, move it to a bowl and add the parsley, onion, garlic and black pepper. No salt is needed if the pretzels are salted.

Lay the bones flat on a baking pan. If they wobble, place them on a layer of coarse salt to hold them steady. Sprinkle the pretzel mix on the bones, a little drizzle of olive oil on top, and place them in the oven.

Now you watch…there’s that one point where they go from “not quite yet” to perfection to “Oops! Too much!” …so be careful!

Perfection!

Some toasted bread on the side is all you need!

If you’re cooking gluten-free, try Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels. They are awesome…you’ll never know the difference.

CLASSIC CACIO E PEPE

Posted: November 1, 2022 in Uncategorized

There are a handful of Italian dishes that can be considered classics. They don’t require dozens of ingredients…just a few quality ingredients prepared in a particular way. We all know their names: Pasta alla Carbonara…Fettuccini Alfredo…and Cacio e Pepe.

 

 

Carbonara requires pasta, guanciale, egg yolks, black pepper and a hard cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano). Alfredo: just  pasta, butter, cream and cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano). And Cacio e Pepe: pasta, black pepper, cheese (Pecorino Romano), and a little pasta water. Simple, but simple requires the best quality ingredients and the right method of preparation.

 

 

1 lb. spaghetti
4 teaspoons roughly ground black peppercorns
7 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated

 

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until it just about reaches the al dente stage.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a dry pan and dry fry the roughly ground peppercorns until they start to release their aroma.

 

 

Add a ladle of the pasta water to the pan with the peppercorns.

 

 

When the pasta is ready, move it to the pan with the peppercorns, saving the pasta water.

 

 

Mix the pasta and peppercorns together, and then slowly start adding the grated cheese, stirring constantly. Keep adding the cheese until you use it all. If the pasta is too dry, add more pasta water. You want the cheese and pasta water to blend to make a beautiful, creamy sauce.

 

 

When you’ve achieved ultimate creaminess, it’s ready to serve!