Friday, April 2, 2010

roasted fennel & tomato salsa

Smokey, sweet, and spicy. The roasting mellows out the fennel's fennelness and sweetens it up.

Fire up a grill with two levels of heat. Cut a fennel bulb crosswise into 1/2" sections. Put some s&p in some olive oil and use it to lightly coat the fennel, 8-10 ripe tomatoes, and half a bulb or so of garlic with the pointy end cut off. Start them all on the hot side of the grill and then move them to the cooler side once they get some nice burnt bits. Put 4 dried cayenne peppers over the heat and keep them moving around till they're mostly blackened, then to the cool side with them as well. Cover the grill and let it get smokey. When the fennel is starting to get sorta clear and sweaty, and the tomatoes have all split their skins, remove them and the garlic to a bowl to get to handling temperature. Set the peppers aside too.

Peel the skins off the tomatoes and garlic, then finely chop them and the fennel and put them all together in a bowl. Finely chop an onion and add it, too. Grind the cayenne as fine as possible and add it to the mix. Season with salt and and the juice of a lime or two. If possible before serving, let this all sit for a few hours and think about what it has done.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

disposing of a coney in the springtime

Bari had a little sign in the butcher case for rabbit for incredibly cheap the other day, like less than the price of anything except whole chickens, so I picked up a two pounder and figured I'd see what it was all about. Back home I was rewarded to learn from Larousse that you can also call a rabbit a "coney," a word I had thought JRR Tolkien had made up solely for homesick hobbits to pine after. Perhaps also a clue to Coney Island's pre-amusement park fauna.

First, butchering. This was my first brush with a raw bunny. It has your basic mammalian body plan, but with a fairly long back and two disproportionately large loins, almost an inch in diameter, running down it. I guess they get a lot of their running power from big dolphin-like backbone-flexing moves rather than just their legs. There was no visible fat, either in layers or distributed through the muscle. You end up with six or seven pieces: two forelegs with some fairly meatless breast/ribs, two hind legs (each roughly the same size as a small chicken's hindquarters) and then two or three saddle pieces, which are sections cut across the loins and backbone. I got two 2.5-in square saddle pieces, from the section of back behind most of the ribs (which end soon after the legs) to the start of the hindquarters. These also had thin flappy flank pieces attached to them, which I left on because they had a good bit of muscle in them and if nothing else would contribute flavor. For future reference, the flaps seemed like they would be good to wrap around something fatty and tie and roast.

Figuring braising is a good way to start if you have no idea what something tastes like, I followed Bourdain's suggestion and soaked the pieces overnight in white wine with mirepoix, garlic, peppercorns and fresh parsley/rosemary/thyme (which, by the way, is what I want to be marinated in for my cremation). Next, drained and reserved everything, dredged and browned the pieces, browned the vegetables with some tomato paste, added the pieces back in along with the reserved wine, then covered and stuck in a low oven for three or four hours. The neck/backbone and other bony pieces also went in for the braise.

All of this went back on the stovetop on a high flame to start reducing while the pieces came out to cool for handling. I removed the meat from the bones (most of them, though a lot of small flat ones got past me), shredded it with forks and kept it aside while the liquid continued to reduce and thicken. The grain of the meat, especially the loins, is much finer than chicken or pork; in places the shredded texture was more along the lines of small fish, like anchovies or sardines.

When the liquid was a sauce and seemed about right, some chopped olives and capers went in along with a few tablespoons of fresh herbs and the shredded meat, then this all went over a coarse buckwheat fettuccine and down my gullet as quickly as I could get it there. Distributed thus over the pasta, this could have easily fed six, but serving individual pieces, four would be pushing it. The only thing I might change with this is to maybe use red wine at the start, the same one I drank with it at the end.

The flavor of the meat was fairly mild, but seemed like it could stand up to some bigger herby flavors like sorrel or ramps. It suggested other earthy, slightly bitter flavors like brown mustard or molasses. Next time I might roast it to see what a little char will do.