Chowchow Down

Chow chow: A Chinese dog descended from the Spitz.  In China, they’re called “puffy-lion dog”, or Songshi Quan.  Weighing in at about 60 pounds, they’re very furry, with squishy puppy-like faces and purple tongues.Achingly adorable, but not the chowchow we’re looking for.

Chow chow: A dish made by the Pennsylvania Dutch in which vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, beans, and peppers are cut into bite-size pieces and pickled.  Similar to the Italian’s giardiniera, it was a useful way to have bright crunchy vegetables well into the winter. Way closer, but still not the chow chow we’re looking for.

Chow chow: A southern relish made with finely chopped cabbage, green tomatoes, peppers, onions, then pickled.  Used to add a punch of acid and crunch to meals and dishes.  Can be sweet, hot, or a combination.

We have a winner!

Last week I waxed rhapsodic about a meal The Kid and I enjoyed at Chef Ashley Christensen’s Beasley’s Chicken and Honey, in downtown Raleigh.  I spoke about the grit fries and how the addition of acid cut what could have been greasy and heavy, and in the process elevated the dish to one of the tastiest, most balanced items I’ve ever eaten.

That acid took the form of chow chow, which I’d never eaten before. This stuff is delicious on its own.  It’s a puckeringly sour, crunchy, twisted kind of Cole slaw.

But it adds so much dimension to other foods—foods that by themselves, like the fries, taste great for the first few bites, but after a while it’s just too much; your mouth feels coated in grease, and you need a shower and a nap.Slow-cooked meats, like brisket and pork shoulder with lots of fat and connective tissue.  Mayonnaise-based potato salad and macaroni salad can be served with a small dollop of chow chow that is a perfect foil to heaviness.  Stir it into deviled eggs for a briny kick.

This recipe is a mashup of a few different recipes.  I was looking for availability of ingredients, ease of preparation, and unlike many chow chow recipes, one that makes less than a gillion gallons of the stuff.

Chow chow

Makes 6 cupschowchowIngredients

4 large green tomatoes, quartered

1 large sweet onion, quartered

1 medium head cabbage, core removed, chopped into large pieces

¼ cup salt

½ tsp turmeric

2 tbsp pickling spices…enclosed in cheese cloth and tied off

2 small jalapenos (optional)

3 cup sugar

2 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

3 bell peppers, 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green

pinch of allspice

InstructionsWorking in batches, pulse veggies in food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to large bowl and stir in salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, line a colander with cheese cloth. Pour in chopped veg and rinse in cool water until the salt is mostly gone. Remove as much water as possible by squeezing vegetables in cheese cloth.  Let sit in colander in the sink for an hour.Transfer vegetables to a large nonreactive pot and stir in vinegar and all remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month. Or parcel into zip-top freezer bags and freeze for up to three months.To country folk and farmers, wasting food is a huge sin.  And with no freezers, or produce regularly coming in from warmer climes, one needed to be creative to enjoy bright flavors and crunchy textures in the dead of winter.

Chow chow fits the bill—and luckily, it’s a hugely versatile condiment, and astonishingly delicious.Thanks for your time.

Siding Irish

They say dogs are incapable of experiencing embarrassment.  So putting a sign around the misbehaving pooch’s neck with a “confession” for the consumption of the internet set is a colossal, mean-spirited waste of time.

So knock it off–it’s not nice.  What if your dog turned the tables and posted humiliating snaps of you eating Lucky Charms in your underwear? But what those Lucky Charms were doing in my boxers I’ll never know.

Normally my self-consciousness knows no bounds.  My default complexion is red-faced.  I am convinced that my entire life is one big blooper reel packaged for the world’s amusement.But when it comes to corned beef, I am decidedly canine.  I could eat my weight of it in front of the queen, and feel nothing but satisfaction.  I could proudly down a Reuben roughly the size and shape of a dorm fridge while chatting with international amazing humans, George and Amal Clooney.

What is this embarrassment of which you speak, Queenie?  George, would you mind passing the potato salad?  I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough!  Shut up!  I can quit anytime I want!

In previous columns, I have sung its praises and waxed rhapsodic about my fine friend, corned beef.So today, in honor of the upcoming holiday, I thought I would share with you, Gentle Reader, my version of a side dish that is even more appropriate and traditional than corned beef at the Saint Patrick’s Day feast.

The process of corning meat is very similar to turning pork into ham.  It’s a way to preserve meat.  But peasants in Ireland could not afford beef.  Cows require a lot of very fertile land.  Pigs don’t need much space, and are not finicky eaters.  So when the Irish were lucky enough to have meat on their table, it was usually some version of preserved pork.When the Irish came to America, they discovered rather than a luxury, canned corned beef (also called bully beef) was cheap food to fill hungry bellies.

In Ireland corned beef has no widespread historical foundation.  But to meet tourists’ expectations (especially American tourists), it can be found in restaurants throughout Ireland.

This side dish though, is pure Irish.  It’s colcannon, which is made with potatoes, cabbage, onions, and bacon.  The ingredients are humble and readily available on the Emerald Isle.  The extra ingredient is time, which costs nothing, but can’t be bought.

When making this, try to have the skillet containing the onions and cabbage completed when the potatoes are finished cooking, so everything is hot enough to both melt the butter and serve.

Colcannon with cabbage two ways

colcannon

6 medium-large red skin or Yukon Gold potatoes

1 large Russet potato

1 head regular cabbage

1 large yellow onion

8 slices bacon

1 stick butter

1 cup heavy cream (approx.)

Salt & pepper to tasteCut bacon into one-inch strips and cook in a skillet on medium-low until fully rendered and perfectly crispy.

While bacon is cooking, cut cabbage in half, and core.  Cut one half into large chunks.  Slice the other half very thin.  

Peel potatoes and cut into similar sized chunks.  Place in a large pot of heavily salted water.  Turn on medium-high and cook until not quite tender.  Put cabbage chunks into the water and cook everything until it is fork tender.  Drain, then put back into pot.After bacon has finished, remove from frying pan, but keep in the fat.  Slice onion into thin half-moons.  Turn skillet to medium-low and add onions and season.  When the onions start to turn golden, add cabbage, season, and cook until the veg are amber colored.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan on low.

Assembly: pour caramelized onions and sliced cabbage into pot with potatoes and chunks of cabbage.  Add 6 tablespoons of butter which you’ve cut up.  Mash with potato masher until mostly smooth, but with a little chunk left.

Stir in cream a little bit at a time (you probably won’t use all the cream).  You want these just a little looser than you want the finished product (the starch in the spuds will tighten it up).  Season, taste, and season again if needed.  Put into serving dish, dot with the remaining butter and sprinkle top with crispy bacon.Serves 6-8 diners.

Like most potato dishes, this one reheats well, and also makes a mighty tasty potato pancake.  But don’t just wait for St. Paddy’s Day to enjoy it.

And about the fact that corned beef isn’t a traditional Irish food…

Don’t care.  Want large amounts anyway.Thanks for your time.

The late-ish Debbie Matthews

I always used to be on time.  Always.

Then I met Petey.  That boy will be late to his own funeral.

So the fact that I’m talking about corned beef and cabbage, 3 ½ weeks after Saint Patrick’s Day is apt.

But you know what?

Any time is the right time for corned beef, because it is heavenly, meaty ambrosia.  Whether eaten hot, with a plate full of butter-drenched veg, or heaped between some rye, corned beef is mouthwateringly delicious.

Recently I made it for the first time.

This wasn’t by choice.  If I’d had my way, I’d make it all the time.  But Petey absolutely loathes it.  And, until recently, so did The Kid.

My child and I share a love of Reubens.  But traditional corned beef and cabbage was only enjoyed by me, and I couldn’t justify cooking an entire brisket for one.  Joyously, The Kid has lately had a change of heart.

But Buddy-Roe, we can put away Reubens like Reuben-eating rock stars..

Profoundly non-kosher Reubens

reuben

4 slices seeded rye

½ pound thinly sliced corned beef

½ cup sauerkraut

4 slices Swiss cheese

Mayonnaise

Thousand Island dressing

Lay out bread.  Spread mayo to taste on 2 slices, and Thousand Island on the other two.  Lay one piece of cheese on each slice of bread.  Top half the rye with corned beef and sauerkraut. 

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Spread very thin layer of mayo on the outside of sandwiches.  Cook in skillet on medium-low until hot and melty.

But to make this delicious dish, you need some corned beef.  Most of the time I pick it up from a deli.  But now I can make corned beef with veggies, and put together a Reuben with homemade leftovers.

Corned beef and cabbage

corned beef

2 pound corned beef brisket with spice packet (or 2 tablespoons pickling spice)

1 large yellow onion

2 tablespoons butter

4 bay leaves

3 cups dark beer, divided

2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and pepper

Water

8-10 medium red skinned potatoes, washed and cut into 4 pieces

1 head of cabbage, cored and cut into 8 pieces

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces, or left whole if they’re small

6 tablespoons butter melted mixed with 2 tablespoons each chopped fresh parsley and chives

Preheat oven to 250.  Place Dutch oven on stove-top and set to medium.  Melt butter in pot.  Slice onions into half-moons.  Add to pot with bay leaves, spice, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium-low until onions are golden.  Turn heat up to medium-high and stir in mustard.

Pour in ½ cup beer.  Scrape up any bits clinging to pot bottom.  Add maple syrup and cook until almost dry.  Add rest of the beer.  Place in brisket, fat side up.  Add enough water to barely cover meat.  Insert probe thermometer set to 210.  Cover and place in oven.

When brisket gets to 195 degrees, put potatoes into separate pot with salted water to cover.  Add enough corned beef cooking liquid to cover by 1-2 inches.  Cook on medium.  After 10 minutes add carrots and cabbage.  Cook until all veggies are tender.  Drain and pour parsley-chive butter over.

When corned beef hits 210, remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes.  Carve thinly against the grain.

Serves 6.

Normally I’d recommend serving this with salad.  But when it comes to this meal, I have no shame.  I can eat my weight in corned beef.  When this is on the menu, I don’t want to clutter up my belly with anything else.

Thanks for your time.