Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Black Garlic Adventures

     I'm a fearless cook and I like a challenge. A few years ago I saw black garlic being sampled at the Fancy Foods Show. It was a magical ingredient that I had never seen before. The cloves were completely black, chewy and fruity with no garlic heat or pungency, at all. The ingredients on the container said only garlic! How can this be?
     I was curious about the pricing for this ingredient.  It was expensive, which was interesting since it was only garlic, right? Rather than find a source to purchase some, I decided to find out how to make it. I did some research and found that it's a bit tricky to make; a bit of a hit or miss whether you will get good results. This worried me. But I remained curious.
   Black Garlic originally comes from Korea where it has been used for hundreds of years.  There, it is aged like kimchi, in containers which are buried under the ground - using the heat of the earth to do the magic transformation.
    I'm quite lucky to have a friend who grows beautiful organic garlic on her farm in Oregon. This past summer, she sold me two large braids at a very good price. With so much garlic on hand, I decided it was time to dive into a black garlic adventure!
   I rigged up a Coleman hot/cold box, with my oven probe thermometer so I could check the temperature inside. I put 15 heads of garlic in a rubbermaid container and sealed it up and put it inside. Then, I did nothing. The hot box kept the temperature around 143F, which is just hot enough to kill bacteria and allows the garlic to transform. I checked on it at 4 weeks, but it was brown, not black. I waited two more weeks and there it was; BLACK GARLIC! 
     Last week I was reading my Saveur Magazine for January 2015, which features 100 cool ideas and items. One of the ingredients highlighted was something called Black Crack. Say what? It turns out a clever guy in New Jersey not only makes black garlic, he then dries it out and sells it in a grinder as a spice!  To me, this seemed almost like a personal challenge. Can I do THAT?  Sure, I can do THAT!

So, last weekend my oven was set at  200F for over 72 hours; delicately drying out one of my precious black garlic heads into a homemade version of Black Crack. It's now done and the results are... I'm not sure because I haven't tried the original product!  He wants $24.99 for 2 ounces! 
     We have put a few cloves of the dried black garlic into a nutmeg grinder and used it to create delicate little shavings as seasoning. It has a smokey flavor over the black garlic fruity richness, unlike any other spice.

Our first use of the homemade black crack was as a seasoning for a chicken dish.  I found a recipe on the Black Garlic Love website. Black Garlic Love has lots of tips and recipes for using this ingredient including a  recipe for one pot chicken with black garlic. I have updated the recipe to my taste, adding a few ingredients and French technique. The results are... Delicious!

Get the recipe hereEnjoy! 

Recipe: Creamy Pan Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms over Fettucini

Creamy Pan Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms over Fettucini
Serves 6
  • One 4-6 pound whole chicken cut into 6-8 pieces
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 red, orange or yellow pepper, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms sliced thickly
  • 3-5 cloves minced black garlic
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound fettucini noodles
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche 
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan, divided
  • Black Crack, salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F. Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper.
Heat a large oven proof pan over medium high heat and add the olive oil.  Brown the chicken a few pieces at a time; about 3-5 minutes per side. Set the pieces aside in a large bowl to collect any juices as you finish the remainder of the chicken pieces.
Turn heat down to medium. Add the onion, pepper and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until quite tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the black garlic and the white wine. Bring to a boil and let the liquid reduce by 1/2. Stir in chicken broth, thyme, and bay leaves. Scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Return chicken pieces to the pan skin side up, pour in any juices which have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl.
Place the pan into the hot oven and roast until completely cooked; about 30-40 minutes. A knife should easily penetrate the chicken thighs. 
While the chicken cooks, bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. When the water boils add a hand full of sea salt. When the chicken has been in the oven for over 25 minutes, add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente.  Drain the pasta and return it to the pan, off the heat. 
Remove the pan from the oven. Take the chicken pieces from the sauce and put on a serving platter.  Stir in the cream cheese, creme fraiche and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. 
Pour the sauce into the pan with the fettucini and combine gently. 
Serve the pasta with chicken pieces on top.  Shave black crack over each plate and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fig Jam - The Delicious Glue

   Friendship is a good thing. The best of friends are those who can expose you to wondrous things you never thought possible. And when those things are related to food they can create delicious memories.
   Lars and Lena are friends of this caliber. They helped trace my Swedish heritage and exposed me to a culture which runs through my veins. In addition they opened my palate to phenomenal, culinary adventures.
   One of the most unique of these tasteful discoveries is the combination of blue cheese and ginger cookies. This is a classic Swedish pairing usually enjoyed at Christmas time when there are plenty of delicate little ginger snaps in every household.
Much has been written about this odd duo, including a discussion on Reddit about choosing the perfect blue cheese partner. 
   During their most recent visit, Lars and Lena brought a few jars of fig jam. 
   I had recently portioned out a wheel of a Echo Mountain Blue made by Rogue Creamery in Oregon. Lena put two and two together real quick and firmly requested a Ginger Snap, Blue Cheese and Fig Jam dessert.
   Years ago Lena and I made Swedish ginger cookies during the Christmas season. This was before we both had children running around our households; taking up our time. The process of making delicate Swedish ginger cookies is quite laborious. It also requires some skill to roll them out thin enough for a Swedish cook's liking, yet thick enough to pry off the cutting board and transfer to a baking sheet without them breaking. 
   This year we decided store bought was a fine idea. And so it went, Oregon Blue Cheese, a box of American Ginger Snaps and Swedish Fig Jam devoured by our two families one evening during their visit.
   A schemer of fig jam is the glue which holds the two together; bridging the flavor gap between the sweet and savory. Just as shared memories tie our two families, no matter the distance.