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Monday, February 20, 2017

My Three Shadows of Flavor


Always a good thing. It's how things like Kalbi Beef Tacos and Chimichurri Halibut were invented.

Mixing ideas and cultures makes everyone stronger. Isn't the "Great Melting Pot" a food metaphor in the first place?

(Or is it a metallurgy thing? I like my idea better.)

Everyone's cooking style is the sum of all the influences they've had in their life.

My kitchen personality is rooted in my mom's home cooking. I'd describe her as a classic American home chef. Her most memorable dishes are things like apple pie and Thanksgiving turkey. Her thriftiness breeds creativity. She also makes a great casserole from leftovers in the fridge. We spent most every vacation fishing, so Northwest seafood like salmon and clams are close to my heart.

Take that base, add to it what I've done with my life and you have me. I've been in the restaurant business my whole life, exposing me to Mexican, oysters, Asian styles and barbecue. I've learned a lot from cooks I've worked with.

With that rambling introduction, I'll move on the the point: one of my personal favorite examples of fusion.

My Three Culinary Shadows

Each one is a pantry staple, but I often use them together.

- Molasses: The dark, syrupy by-product of extracting sugar from the cane.  White sugar bores me.  I prefer turbinado sugar for my dry rub and molasses for wet applications.  Molasses brings sweetness, but also a savory rich darkness.

Umami. That fifth flavor, along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. I like my ingredients to bring more than just one note to the song. 

- Soy Sauce: Fermented soy beans with roasted grain, salt and yeast. Aged then filtered and bottled. From wine and beer to salami, kim chi and bread, where would we be without fermentation?

For allergy reasons, we use the gluten-free stuff at our house. I often use soy sauce instead of salt. Together with molasses, it balances the sweet with salty while delivering ints own version of umami.

- Balsamic Vinegar: The boiled and aged pressings of Trebbiano grapes. Reduced over the years in casks of various woods. I'm not using the century old stuff here. $3 a bottle will work just fine.

The only thing this trio is missing is spice. That's up to you. I add some hot sauce to the mix. I typically have one from Louisiana, Vietnam and Mexico in the fridge at all times.

What can you do with the Three Shadows?

You can reduce them down to a potent syrup or glaze. Like barbecue, do this slow and low. Don't take your eyes off it or you'll be opening every window in the house.

Most commonly I use it as a marinade. Recently, I've used it for both pork and chicken.

Put six thick cut pork loin chops in a zip top bag. Add a cup each of the Three Shadows plus hot sauce to taste.

Leave it in the fridge for a day or two.

Generously season with Dragon Knuckle rub or whatever mix of salt/spice/sweet you have on hand.

Put these in a hot cast iron skillet. Turn them over when the bottom looks like this:

Transfer the pan to a 350 degree oven until you get an internal temperature of 145. Put on your favorite brand of heat-resistant gloves and pull the pan from the oven. I like to leave a glove over the handle of the pan just to remind everyone it's still hot.

Let these rest for about five minutes. Carry over will bring the temp up 5-10 degrees. Then eat them all.

I just did this with chicken leg quarters. The technique is similar, but I put them skin side up on an oiled sheet pan then put them right into the oven.

I cooked them for about an hour at 350 until the internal temp was 160. Then I let them rest for a bit, of course.

So please mess around with the Three Shadows. How does the combination work for you? 

(My new favorite color.)

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