Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 347 - Thyme, Shallot, and Lemon Marinade, French Fries, and Cauliflower Puree

I'm on a deadline, and I can't catch a break!! First the flu, and now: snow!

This was going to be a much more coherent meal as originally planned. My cousin Harriet was supposed to come in from NJ bearing an untrimmed beef tenderloin, with which we were going to give ourselves Martha's lessons on trimming and tying. Alas, the snow has postponed this tutorial, and I'm left with these rather meat-inspired side dishes.

Meanwhile, Marcy was available for dinner, so I pulled out my last marinade and took a seafood detour.

Thyme, Shallot, and Lemon Marinade (p. 173)

marinade makes sense on the page and in my mind, but when I made it, I was a little confused. It's full of chunks of things, lemons, shallots, thyme leaves, but there's not a whole lot of liquid involved.

Since Martha said this pairs well with shellfish and fish fillets, I picked up some cod fillets and scallops to try both. The cod went into ziploc bags, so the fillets were pressed up against all the chunks. And the scallops sat in the bowl with the rest of the marinade. I guess the chunk thing didn't deter any marinating from happening, but it's just so chunky, it threw me.

I pan-seared the scallops and served them with the Cauliflower Puree, a complete rip-off of a previous recipe. And I pan-fried the cod plain, so we could really taste the marinade.

The scallops tasted great, but I couldn't get much of a bead on the marinade flavor. The puree was actually the star of that dish.

The cod, on the other hand, was obviously beautifully seasoned. It is a really balanced, delicate, French-y flavor that allows the fish to shine without overwhelming it. I offered Marcy an extra squirt of lemon, and she said no thanks, because the flavoring was so right on.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

French Fries (p. 333)

Can I just say how happy I am that this recipe marks the end of my deep-frying career??

As much as I've complained about having to deep fry so much, I will say that it has definitely given me an appreciation for well-fried foods. Frying is not an easy thing to do. At least without a Fry Daddy. (I'm told Fry Daddies will regulate the temperature of the oil automatically. No fair!!)

I was actually excited about making fries because I do like my fries a certain way (extra crispy), and I figured I'd be able to control how they came out. Alas....

Warning: this recipe requires a 4-24 hour soak!!

Accordingly, the day before, I cut all the fries and put them in cold water in the fridge. The starch run-off wasn't as extreme as when I grated potatoes for the rosti, but there was some sludge at the bottom of the bowl the next day.

The frying happens in two stages. The first is blanching, at 300°, to soften them, and the second is the browning, at 350°, to get them crisp.

As usual, my oil temps were all over the place. I think what I should have done was to get the temperature to the right place to start, then just before I put in the fries, crank the flame really high. Because what kept happening was that the temperature would drop horribly once the fries went in, and it would barely rise throughout the cooking process. I tried to play around with the flame, but I was scared of overheating the oil because I had no extra oil on hand to bring the temperature down if I overshot it.

(If I loved fried foods, I would definitely invest in a Fry Daddy.)

As for the fries, they were just OK. A little soggy, definitely not crispy enough. Again, I think it's a temperature issue. If the oil in Part 2 had been hotter, I think I could have achieved that crisp on the outside, soft on the inside thing. As it was, they were only slightly crispy, which was fine, but not my dream.

I tried adding the optional rosemary and lemon zest, but I don't think it made much of a flavor impact.

For the last batch, I left the fries in the oil until they were a lot darker, which still didn't get me the results I wanted. These were overcooked, with no white inside, and they still weren't super-crispy. I think for that kind of result, I probably should have heated the oil even higher, maybe 375° or more. (?)

It's funny - whenever I order fries in a restaurant, I always say "extra crispy - have them cook the crap out of them," because I've always imagined that crispiness is a function of cooking time, so why can't they just cook mine longer? But it's really not as simple as that. They'd probably have to have multiple fryers going at different temperatures to accommodate requests like mine. I'm going to be much more forgiving now.

The next time I make fries, I'm definitely going to try...

Kidding! I feel pretty confident saying that I'm never, ever going to deep-fry again.

But I will definitely give props to well-fried food from now on.

Jeff: B- (not even close to having worked out the oil temperature thing...)
Martha: A

Cauliflower Puree (p. 310)

This recipe is a variation of the Fennel Puree recipe, hence the scallop-pairing idea. Using cauliflower is even easier, in that once the cauliflower is softened and pureed, there are basically no solids to filter out. Every bit went right through the sieve.

There's a crazy taste thing that happened here. Marcy and I both caught it. The cauliflower is cooked in milk and pureed with just a small amount of that milk, then it's seasoned with salt, white pepper, and a touch of nutmeg. Pretty basic, right?

Well, for some strange reason, we both tasted smoked meat, i.e. bacon. There's no logical connection that I can think of, but we both went there.

The only possible explanation is that the flavor came from the browned part of the scallop, but we were both pretty sure we were tasting it in the cauliflower puree. Go figure.

In any case, this is a beautiful vegetable side, simple and flavorful. And while it may be time-consuming, it's not difficult.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

I also served this Celery Root and Apple Slaw, which we liked, but I'm not sure if it's going to make it into my regular repertoire. I actually love celery root, but I'm a little put off by all the muddy crevices.

And since I had hot oil going on my stove, I fried up the remaining corn tortillas from last week's Mexican fiesta. Freshly fried tortilla chips are a nice snack to serve. In fact, that might be one of the few things that could get me back to the fryer.

Until we eat again....


  1. Don't waste $ on the FRy Daddy EVER! The "safety feature" only allows for oil to get up to 375 and for some extra crispiness it just doesn't cut it = same as your effort!

  2. we used to have a fry daddy a LONG time ago and it worked great. it died one day and we never got another. we don't fry that often so it is hard to justify getting another. everything my husband fries in a pan comes out perfect! actually everything he cooks comes out perfect. i call him "martha"! i think some people just "have it"!

  3. Hey Kathy- Thanks for your warning about the Fry Daddy. Interesting...

    Meanwhile, Carol, sounds like your Fry Daddy worked satisfactorily. But not as well as your own personal Mr. Fry Daddy. :-) Yes, some people just "have it" and I'm definitely not one of them.

  4. Im thinking Carol had an older model, before appliance makers were as concerned with our safety LOL -- I do remember a friend having one that worked well but that was 10 years ago... best frying I ever partook in was over at my friend Joanie's mom's house when we were 10. She had one of those big built in fryers right in her stove... ahh the donuts and fritters we had at that house....