Sops & Leeks: Medieval Comfort Food

We all know what leeks are: the perfect mild blend of their cousins, garlic and onion. They’ve been part of our diet since somewhere around 2000 BC in Egypt, they’re one of the official emblems of Wales (wearing one on your helmet in battle identifies you as a fellow countryman) and for their easy re-usability to grow, regrow, and keep growing through less than ideal weathers, they’re a great produce for peasants. So what about “sops”? The word “sop” has become a common place verb now; i.e.: using bread to “sop” up the remaining sauce. And that’s what “sops” are: pieces of crusty (usually stale) bread, in the bottom of a bowl or plate, used to soak up (or “sop”) the juices and sauces and flavors from everything else in the bowl.

This particular recipe was a common one among monks during lent. However, since it includes white wine and white bread, it was certainly not for the poorer monks. These were more expensive items to produce and no – not all monasteries have/had the same resources.

The original medieval recipe of Sops and Leeks does not call for ham, chili flake or cream, but as long as you’re not a monk during lent, this updated recipe is great to elevate a medieval dish while still keeping it fairly true to form.

I like to use it for lunch or as a dinner side paired with simple roasted chicken. Including the poached eggs could make it a great addition to a creative brunch menu.

Ingredient Quantity How
Leeks

2

White and greens, sliced and washed
Butter

2-3

Tbsp
White wine

1/4

cup
Heavy cream

1/2

cup

Ham

3/4

cup

Cut into cubes
Red Chili Flake

1

tsp

Shredded Parmesan Cheese

1/4

cup

(optional)
“Sops” (thick sliced crusty bread, buttered)

4

Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. On stove top, heat dutch oven (preferably) or cast iron pan with deep sides, add butter until sizzling, then add leeks and ham. Allow leeks to just soften, about 2 minutes, then add white wine and cook until just soft.
  2. Add cream and red chili flake. Reduce heat to a simmer; allow to simmer until cream is very thick and no longer has any “soupy” quality.
  3. While cooking cream down, butter both sides of slices of crusty (traditionally stale) bread.
  4. Once cream has thickened and you have a pot of creamy leeks, top with toasted bread and bake in 400 oven until butter on bread is just browned. Feel free to top with optional parmesan cheese at this step.
  5. Remove, flip leeks and bread so bread is on the bottom and serve immediately, hot out of the pot and topped with soft boiled egg, if desired .

Buffalo Sauce!

IMG_0331

Okay, it’s true – I have a little bit of a hot sauce problem. But how can you blame me?! It’s the nectar of the Gods and offers us such amazingly tasty treats as Buffalo sauce! Of course, you can use any vinegar based hot sauce as the base for Buffalo sauce, but I would be wary of telling anyone you used anything but Franks’s. It’s just not right. It’s like using a cactus and the color pink to decorate for Christmas. Yes, it works. But is it right?

It’s almost so easy it doesn’t even need a recipe. Almost. What makes it deserving of a recipe is the little flair you can add to it to pizzazz it up and make it more than just Franks Red Hot and butter. I hear a lot of people say that’s all they do – melt the butter and add hot sauce. NO! You know you can do better than that. And, while you’re at it, why not break out of the box and use the sauce in a new way? Wings? That’s been done. Try something else.

Non-wing things you can do with this Buffalo sauce:

  • Toss with pulled chicken thigh and serve with saltine crackers, celery, and extra blue cheese for a super simple but super impressive party snack.
  • Make the best pizza ever using Buffalo sauce as the base, chicken pieces, cheddar cheese, blue cheese, very thinly sliced celery and – for the win – onion rings right on top!
  • Toss with pulled chicken, and spread between two pieces of bread with cheddar or mozzarella cheese for one OUTRAGEOUS grilled cheese. Serve with blue cheese dressing for dipping those sandwich corners!
  • Stir Buffalo sauce into sour cream and add to a baked potato covered with bacon, sliced green onion, sliced celery and cheddar cheese

Buffalo Sauce

  • 3/4 cup Franks Red Hot
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • a large pinch or so of each: white pepper and garlic powder
  • pinch (or more, adjusted to your desired heat level) cayenne pepper or Sriracha hot sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

In a large sauce pan, melt the butter slowly without browning; add hot sauce and whisk together to blend. Once blended, whisk in the rest of ingredients except for cheese and simmer on low, whisking occasionally until dry ingredients are fully dissolved and integrated – about 4 minutes. Then, add blue cheese and whisk slowly until mostly melted in and smooth.IMG_2048Once done, give it a taste test and adjust seasoning as desired, noting that salt is probably not needed because of the saltiness of both the blue cheese and the Worcestershire sauce.

And then, get creative, and put Buffalo sauce on everything!

Spicy Pickled Slaw, (Repost, Update)

This post is a recipe from one of my first successful pickling experiences; since then I haven’t stopped. But I still use this same basic recipe and ratio. It’s a great way to pickle. I updated a couple things, but wanted to re-share it and get you all as excited about pickling everything in sight as I am! 

I was recently cursed with bout of the ugliest of flus, spending a week of my life on the couch. It sucked. Seriously, sucked. There were, however, one or two breaks in the clouds where I thought I was feeling better and so ventured out, desperate for some fresh air and to avoid the atrophy that was setting in on my body. One such evening, I weakly stumbled upon the Mission Community Farmer’s Market.


And by golly, what luck of the season (though I already knew), it was perfect timing. The market full of lovely purveyors, delicious pupusas and super scrumptious fruits and veggies. And, of course, as it’s that glorious season for all things canned, jammed, jellied and pickled with an adorable label, my heart let out a sweet giggle when I found this purveyor, Emmy’s Pickles and Jams:

I indulged myself in some quince butter (oh, mmmmmmm) and a jar of zesty pickles (double mmmmmm)…..

I’m going to get me some fig jam next time….

After chatting it up for a minute, I moseyed on for my own jarring (hah! oh, puns…) adventure. I was on the look out for some additions to a cabbage, fennel, onion, and carrot combination…. that’s right. Some additions to…. SLAW!

Mmmmm!

Edging dangerously close to the end of pepper season, I didn’t know what I was going to find – but I did know I was going to snatch up and hoard what I could. I got lucky and crossed ways with some real beauties!

The great thing about slaw / pickled items is that they’re incredibly versatile. You can use just about anything that’s available. Lately, I’ve been using a combination of some or all of the following:

  • Cabbage
  • Jalapenos (lots of ’em, some seeded, some not)
  • Fennel
  • Onions (white, red, yellow, shallots)
  • Green Beans
  • Yellow Wax Beans
  • Carrots
  • Padrons/Shishitos (stemmed and torn in half lengthwise)
  • Red, Yellow, Orange Bells and these gorgeous purple heirloom peppers I got at the market:

with a quick, mild pickle. 

Try this mildly pickle slaw (similar to Salvadorian curtido) on eggs, tacos and pupusas (duh), mixed with avocado and cucumber, in place of lettuce on any sandwich…the options go on and on.

Be sure to experiment with the brine, too, based on what your ingredients are. Sweeter peppers? Make a spicier brine. Spicier pickles, make a sweeter brine by using more brown sugar than white sugar and apple cider vinegar in place of granulated. Or, add some funky spices that you really love. Clove? Extra black peppercorn? Or make it crazy spicy with some whole dried cayennes. Try adding tarragon, star anise, who knows. It’s quick and cheap so you can experiment time and time again.

Here’re the basics:

Prep Your Slaw Veggies:

      1. Chop or clean all the ingredients you chose to use into long strips that
          are as close to the same size as you can get.
      2. Mix them together in a large bowl so they’re evenly distributed. It should
          look about like this:

3. Evenly distribute the mix amongst the jars you have cleaned. Fill them fully to     the top.

4. Follow the instructions below to make the brine and pickle.

Basic Brine (for 2 cups)

    • 1/2 c. white vinegar
    • 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
    • 3T white sugar
    • 3T brown sugar
    • 2t coarse grey sea salt (substitute regular kosher salt if you can’t find coarse)
    • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1T black peppercorn
    • 1cup water
    1. Bring all ingredients to a boil, then pour immediately over your prepared slaw, in jars.
    2. Let cool until just comfortable to the touch, then seal with a screw top lid. (It’s not necessary to do a proper canning seal for this quick pickle, as long as you eat it within a week or so.)
      3. Let cool, then refrigerate and let sit for 24 hours, then

enjoy!

Eat Some Oysters Already!

If you love oysters, this is for you. If you don’t love oysters, even better – I’m on a mission to make you a fan!

Here in the Bay Area we have some of the best oysters around. While it’s true that I love ’em all and I’ll eat pretty much any oyster put in front of me – it’s also true that these beautiful Tomales Bay oysters are at the top of my list.

Their crisp brininess is, indeed, comparable to those briny, creamy tiny little Puget Sound guys that I also love so much… but I live here, and I like my oysters fresh as they can come. I rarely eat oysters that aren’t local, and at Tomales Bay they’re more than just local – they’re growing in the water you’re sitting next to while eating them. In fact, they’re so fresh, you sometimes get a little hitchhiker on your bag of oysters…

You can chow down at a picnic table on the beach and then take a walk along the sand next to the beds. It’s pretty much the best thing ever. If you live in the Bay Area and haven’t been, go. If you have been, go again. And if you don’t live around here – get your butt over here and go. Take a look at what you’re missing out on:

 

Those picnic tables you see there to the right are where you eat your tasty treats, there on the left is where you buy them…

The oysters’ temporary home, before I eat all of them and my belly is their home….

Just for reference on how my pals and I can scarf up some oysters – between 4 of us, we ate 62 oysters. Its a lot, but we were pretty happy campers, even considering a few more before we came to our senses. Once they all settled, I was pretty oystered out for a little while. (The next day I was fortunate enough to follow it up with tomato steamed clams for dinner. Oops on the mollusk overload.)

The key to eating so many oysters is taking a break in the middle for a stroll along the beach, throwing sticks for the dog to catch, taking silly pictures and viewing the oyster beds. (Some people even buy their oysters and carry the bags to eat on the beach)…

The second key is to have the most banging supply of treats and goodies you can imagine. There’re picnic tables, it’s sunny, you’re on the water, and surrounded by happy oyster loving people. Bring a huge cooler, a car crammed full of your most favorite people and stay a while!

Plenty of wine (champagne strongly suggested), bangin’ cheeses of all kinds (I prefer hard with oysters), tomatoes, mango, avocado, shallots, apples, lemons, grapes, fresh french bread – there’s also some hummus, salad greens, canned white beans. And plenty more. It’s this spread that will lead to the greatest oyster feast of all time; the feast that had led to some of the surprising recipes and combinations I am about to offer you; recipes and combinations for those who love oysters and will do anything with them, as well as for those who don’t, who need a little ‘umph to enjoy this beautiful mollusk.

The more items you have in your tasty treat box (cooler), the more tasty adventures you can have, of course. We took pretty much everything on the table and tried it with the oysters – in the shell, in a salad, on bread – we did the best we could to do it all. Take a look at just a few of the attempts we made. Some were amazing, some were less than that…

Green apples on top, with the brine in. Amazing!

Cucumbers. Also good, but not as good as the apples. The two mixed together – ohhhh yeah.

 Avocado – the smooth semi-sweet creaminess on top of the salty brininess: not bad. Mango – less than mediocre.

Sometimes, though, you just need a plate of plain old oysters. No funny business. (Well, maybe one…try out some tomato. It’s not too bad – tomato, hot sauce, lemon.)

But, of course, for those simple plates of oysters, you need some sauce.

You need lemon, you need hot sauce. Horseradish, cocktail sauce, mignonette are classics.  But, of course, I always encourage experimenting with as many as you can gather, and all the combinations in between.

Cocktail Sauce

  • Ketchup
  • Horseradish
  • Lemon
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dash (or a big splash, depending on taste) of hot sauce (tabasco recommended)
  • Mix together to taste!

Mignonette

  • White wine or champagne (sparkling wine)
  • Finely minced shallots
  • Splash of acid: white or red wine vinegar, lemon or lime juice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Mix together to taste and pour over oysters!

Don’t forget that arugula and can of cannellini beans we had…..

Simple and Delish Raw Oyster Salad for Two

  • 2 fresh oysters, with brine from shell
  • 1/2 avocado, cubed
  • 1/2 can cannellini beans, plus 1/2 teaspoon or so of bean juice from the can
  • teaspoon or so of white wine/champagne mignonette
  • handful of arugula
  • pinch of salt and black pepper
  • Mix together and enjoy!
Just follow my simple guidelines, come up with some funky oyster recipes of your own, and you, too, will walk away with a bucket of oyster shells as full as this one:
Shuck and Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

He Said/She Said: Black Cod Collar

It’s oily, it’s a little gritty-ish in places, it’s sometimes thick like halibut – and comes in these weird kind of chopped up bits, fins on…. just the collar of a fish, I suppose….

 

It’s also known as Butterfish (which is extremely appropriate, given its texture) or Sablefish, and the collar is exactly the part you think it is – along with the throat muscles.

It’s sorta funky looking at first, but once cooked, it’s a pretty attractive meal. Attractive looking, at least. I, for one, am not a fan. And I don’t say that a lot. Not unlike Andrew Zimmern, my personal hero (I know, I know – you Anthony Bourdain fans will harass me for a decade, but that’s the not point of this post) – I too, will eat pretty much anything; and very little of that “pretty much anything” will I say I genuinely dislike. Black cod collar has made it onto that very small list that so far only includes stinky tofu and burdock. And when I say “dislike”, I mean I can’t even swallow it. I’ll find the good in just about anything (though that doesn’t mean that I’m not picky…It’s complicated….).

I can see, however, where it has a big following – it’s distinct, for sure. The oiliness is rich, and with the skin, the texture can be wacky – with a crispiness, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth creaminess, and yet still the lightness of fish. *Apparently, though, this specific texture is from the extremely high omega3 content (3201mg per serving!) in the flesh, so high-5 to the black cod.

The taste, the texture is all a little confusing, to be honest. But it’s entirely possible that because I had never had it before, the way I cooked it just didn’t do it justice.

On the other hand, my other half loved it and won’t stop talking about it. He wants to have a dinner party and cook it again to get second opinions. I’m all for it, and I know you’ll all be on the edge of your seats for Black Cod Collar Pt. 2

So here it goes. Your first guide to black cod collar.

It will probably come with the fins on (see picture way at the top).

Use some kitchen shears to cut off the fins, like you see here.

Then, cut (with a knife, not scissors … duh) it into reasonably even pieces where you can. There will be real big pieces of some serious bones that you might not be able to cut through. Don’t worry to much about it. Just do the best you can. It’ll end up about like this:


(You can see that serious collar on the left right there, it’s almost like a meaty jaw bone or something.)

And check out these beefy parts:

Now that it’s all trimmed and cut up, get together a marinade and let it sit in there for a couple hours before grilling on high heat. A lot of recipes I’ve seen online suggest miso, teriyaki or similarly based marinades. I personally think these would be way too rich for this fish. I’ll give you the ingredients for the marinade I did, but without measurements because this is all about experimenting with it on your own. I would do a pretty vinegar-y and heavily spice based marinade to cut through the oiliness and serve it with a salad of a spicy green – arugula, mizuna etc.,  and after grilling the fish, cut it into smaller pieces to keep it real mild that way. It would be great as a small plate rather than a full sized entree.

Another suggestion – if you do a heavily spiced (dry spices) marinade, it would help get a good crust on the skin and around the rest of the fish, too, which would help cut the fattiness and get a good texture contrast going.

Marinade Ingredients

  • Minced Torpedo (or red) Onion
  • Minced Garlic
  • Coriander
  • White Pepper
  • Black Pepper
  • Salt
  • Ground Ginger
  • Olive Oil
  • White Wine
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Habanero Hot Sauce

 

The thing that makes it so easy to experiment with is that it’s pretty inexpensive when you get it at the Korean/Japanese/Chinese grocery stores – and it’s seriously fresh as can be. If the store you’re shopping at has full black cod and a fish butcher (which, I sure hope it does, otherwise, you better start getting your fish somewhere else) you can ask them to butcher the collar and they will, no biggie.

The one thing I will strongly recommend, though, certainly is grilling it.

We grilled it on two levels of heat to test the flavor of each way, and you can see where it got crusty and crispy, and the other side (the lower heat) didn’t. (Big shock.)

Criiiiiiispy skin. High heat.

Not crispy. Low heat.

The crispy was better than the not crispy, but both were still “not for me” as they politely say. The dude loved both, but also preferred the crispy. But who wouldn’t? It’s like fishy fried chicken.

 

Give it a shot! It’s fun to experiment with food! And lemme know how it goes….