Saturday, January 3, 2015

Salade of Tea Spice Smoked Cured Moonfish, Braised Black Trumpets and Heirloom Tomato with Candied Buddha's Hand Citron Vinaegrette

     A Nice Gourmet Composed Salad Entrée!  
     The food served during New Years week often reflects upon the hot topics of the year.  GMO food has been a cursed topic and nobody seems to favor this type of food at all.  Seafood sustainability has also been a hot topic in the culinary world.  The return of interest in natural exotic fruits and vegetables also has happened this year.  
     Heirloom tomatoes have gone from being looked upon as oddities, to being highly sought after natural non GMO gourmet tomatoes.  I purchased a nice variety of heirloom tomatoes, some Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Buddha's Hand Citron and a nice looking fresh Hawaiian Moonfish Steak (Opah) at a market in Las Vegas, to create today's salad recipe.  The goal was to feature the heirloom tomatoes in an elegant way.  Heirloom tomatoes are special, so an heirloom tomato salad recipe should be elegant enough to respect these royal members of the tomato family.  Today's composed gourmet salad creation certainly is something special!    

     Curing Salt Information:
     Meat curing is meat preserving.  Since every curing salt mixture has its own chemical make up and its own characteristics, it is best to specify the brand of the curing salt that I use in home kitchen recipes.  "Morton Tender Quick" is the curing salt used in today's recipe.  This curing salt contains:  Salt, Sugar, Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Nitrite and Propylene Glycol.  
     Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate are naturally occurring preservative salts.  The salts are known as salt peter.  Nitrate and Nitrite salts break down over a period of time, so no traces of the actual chemical remain in the preserved meat, if the meat is cured properly.  
     The "Morton Tender Quick" preserving salt contains 0.5% each of both Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate.  The percentage of Propylene Glycol necessary for liquifying the heavier salts is minuscule.  Morton Tender Quick is a very safe, effective, curing salt mixture that is very easy to use on a first attempt at curing meats.       
     Prague Powder is a very strong curing salt that can be very dangerous if it is misused.  Access to Prague Powder is regulated by the FDA.  There are two kinds of Prague Powder and both are colored pink, so this preserving salt is not confused with table salt.  Prague Powder is for professional use only.

     Prague Salt is always called Prague Powder #1 or Prague Powder #2 by all food authorities, butchers, chefs and responsible food writers.  Sometime Prague Powder is called "InstaCure Tinted Salt," but this descriptive name can lead to confusion.  The name Prague Powder gets everybody on the same page. 
     To give an idea of how strong Prague Powder is, Prague Powder #1 contains 6.25% Sodium Nitrite and the rest of the mixture is table salt.  One teaspoon of Prague Powder #1 will cure 5 pounds of meat.  If a few teaspoons of Prague Powder #1 are consumed by mistake, a person can become so ill, that hospitalization will more than likely be necessary and death is a possibility.  

     Prague Powder #1 is 8 times stronger than Morton Tender Quick Home Meat Cure.  This is why Prague Powder #1 will never never be used in a recipe that is published for the general public at my food website.  Prague Powder is strictly for professional use only!    
     Propylene Glycol should not be confused with Ethylene Glycol.  Both chemicals can be used as antifreeze, but so can salt.  Many scrupulous food writers intentionally mislead the public on the facts about food chemistry, in order to further their own agenda.  Propylene Glycol is safe, as long as it is used properly.  As long as very large quantities are not consumed, there is no threat.  
     Propylene Glycol makes curing salts water soluble, so they can penetrate the tissue of meat efficiently.  Propylene Glycol is a naturally occurring substance.  Natural food and nutrient sources of Propylene Glycol were known to aid milk absorption in the ancient world. 

     Morton Tender Quick recipes can be accessed on the internet.  It is a good idea to look at the Morton recipes, so gauging how much curing salt is needed becomes easier.  For each curing salt recipe application, there the amount of curing salt varies.  
     As a rule of thumb, the amount of curing salt in the Morton recipes should be used as a maximum limit of how much curing salt to use.  In most cases, less curing salt can be used that what the Morton recipes call for.  A Morton dry cure recipe was used as a guideline for curing the Moonfish Steak in today's recipe.

     24 Hour Cure Moonfish Filet Steak:
     • Opah (Moonfish) from the Hawaiian fishery is currently the only sustainable source for this fish species.  Always check the sustainability status of Moonfish before purchasing.  
     • Moonfish is thick, so it may require a little more curing salt to penetrate the meat.  About 1 tablespoon to 1 1/2 tablespoons of Morton Tender Quick will cure a thick 6 to 8 ounce moonfish steak.
     • Morton recommends that only salmon, shad and sablefish be cured for gravlax.  These fish can be served cured and uncooked, like gravlax.  Tropical fish and most other fish can also be cured, but these fish must be hot smoked or fully cooked after curing.      
     • Dry curing is best for moonfish, because it has tight grain meat and the flavor of this fish is gentle.  
     • The nitrites and nitrates in curing salt do break down after hot smoking, cooking or aging.  Morton Tender Quick is one of the weakest and safest curing salt mixtures on the market, so if it takes a small amount more curing salt to dry cure a thick dense fish steak, then there is no threat of excess nitrite or nitrate intake.  Using way too much Morton Quick Tender is more of a waste of money than it is a health threat, but even so it is never a good idea to abandon a logical measurement.             
     Step 1:  Select a thick 6 ounce Moonfish steak.  
     Remove the skin from the steak  
     Step 2:  Place 1 tablespoon of Morton Tender Quick in a small mixing bowl.  
     Add 2 pinches of black pepper.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of ground dried galangal powder.
     Add 1 pinch of garlic powder.
     Add 1 pinch of onion powder.
     Add 1 pinch of allspice.  
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Step 3:  Generously coat the moonfish steak with the mixture.
     Place the moonfish steak in a small plastic container.
     Pour the remaining salt mixture over the fish.
     Seal the container.
     Step 4:  Refrigerate for 24 hours.  After 12 hours, flip the fish in the container.  Do not drain off any juice from the container, if liquid leaches out of the fish.  (This will probably not happen with moonfish.)
     Step 5:  Rinse the curing salt mixture off of the moonfish steak under cold running water.
     Allow the moonfish to air dry in a refrigerator, till there is no excess moisture.  (This creates a thin layer of patina.  A full 24 hour patina is not recommended for moonfish, because it is a tropical fish.)  

     Tea Spice Smoking Mixture:
     Place 1/3 cup of coarse kosher salt into a small mixing bowl.
     Add 3 tablespoons of tea leaves.
     Add 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns.
     Add 1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns.
     Add 1 tablespoon of coriander seed.
     Add 1 tablespoon of cumin seed.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of fennel seed.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of mustard seed.
     Stir the ingredients together.
     Make-Shift Smoke Box:
     • It is easy to assemble a small smoking box with ordinary old worn out kitchen items.  Once used for smoking, the smoking box items should only be used for smoking.  An old worn out pot makes a great smoking box!  
     • Place the tea spice smoking mixture in a small cheap pot or a worn out pot.  (Never use a good pot or a new pot for this smoking method!)  
     • Place couple of metal spacers of some kind, like steel ring molds, in the pot to keep the wire screen roasting rack elevated above the spices and tea leaves.  
     • Place a small wire screen roasting rack on top of the metal spacers.

     Tea Leaf Spice Smoked Cured Moonfish:
     This is a hot smoking method that will slowly cook the fish. 
     Step 1:  Brush the cured moonfish steak with vegetable oil.
     Place the moonfish steak on the roasting rack in the smoke box.
     Place a lid on the smoke box.  (The lid should not fit tightly.  There should be a tiny space for the excess smoke to escape.)
     Place the smoking pot over a burner that is set to medium low heat.  
     Allow the fish to smoke undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes.
     Step 2:  Check the fish for doneness.  The moonfish should be firm to the touch with a 145º center temperature when it is fully cooked. 
     If the fish is not ready, continue smoking and baking the fish in the home made smoker, even if the smoke is exhausted, till the fish becomes fully cooked.  
     Step 3:  Remove the fish from the smoking box after it is fully cooked.
     Set the Tea Spice Smoked Moonfish aside to cool to room temperature.
     Chill the tea spice smoked cured moonfish in a refrigerator till it is needed.
     *For the home made smoker, just scrape the carbon black residue out of the pot.  Sanitize with soapy water and rinse.  The home made smoker can be used any time that a small amount of meat needs to be smoked! 

     Candied Buddha's Hand Citron Vinaegrette :
     This recipe yields a little bit more than 1 portion.  
     The pith of Buddha's Hand Citron is bitter, fragrant and edible, but only a small proprtion should be used in recipes.  The thin lemon colored skin is also edible.  For this vinaegrette recipe, not much of the pith is used.  
     Any excess Buddha's Hand Citron pith can be dried and added to potpourri sachets!   
     Step 1:  Heat a stainless steel sauce pot over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1/4 cup of water.
     Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar.
     Boil till the water evaporates and the clear colored molten sugar starts to foam.  (This is when the sugar is just about at the soft ball stage of 235ºF to 245ºF)
     Step 2:  Immediately add 2 1/2 tablespoons of fine chopped Buddha's Hand Citron rind that has most of the pith removed.  Do not stir!
     Allow the sugar to seize the fruit for a few seconds.
     Step 3:  Add 1 ounce of cognac or brandy.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt.
     Add 1 pinch of turmeric.
     Add 1 small pinch of ginger powder.
     Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Simmer and reduce, till the sauce becomes a medium thin syrup consistency.
     Step 5:  Place 3 tablespoons of the sweet citron syrup into a mixing bowl.
     Add 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. 
     Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced Italian Parsley.
     Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and white pepper.
     *Taste!  Adjust the balance of sweet and sour by adding water or white wine vinegar or more candied citron syrup. 
     Set the vinaegrette aside.   
     Pearl Onion Preparation:
     This is the best way to prepare pearl onions!
     Boil 2 cups of water in a small sauce pot over high heat.
     Add 4 whole pearl onions.  (Leave the skin on!)
     Boil the pearl onions, till they are blanched al dente.
     Cool the pearl onions under cold running water.
     Minimally trim the root end off of each onion.
     Pinch the onion skin to pop the pearl onion out of the trimmed end. 
     Chill the peeled blanched pearl onions till they are needed.      

     Braised Black Trumpet Mushrooms:
     Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 5 to 6 black trumpet mushrooms. 
     Gently sauté, till the mushrooms become tender.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 ounce of cognac or brandy.
     Add 2 ounces of vegetable broth.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer till the liquid evaporates.
     Keep the braised black trumpets warm on a stove top.

     Salade of Tea Spice Smoked Cured Moonfish, Braised Black Trumpets and Heirloom Tomato with Candied Buddha's Hand Citron Vinaegrette:
     Step 1:  Place a 5" to 5 1/2" ring mold on the center of a place.
     Fill the ring mold with layers of mixed baby lettuce greens.
     Step 2:  Select three different colors of heirloom tomatoes that are about medium size.  The choice of heirloom tomato varietal is the choice of the chef!  A yellow heirloom tomato variety should be one of the choices.
     Cut the tomatoes into thin wedges.
     Alternate the tomato wedge colors on the plate, so they fan out from the ring mold.
     Evenly space the 4 pearl onions around the ring mold.
     Place the braised black trumpets on the baby lettuce in the ring mold.
     Cut the tea spice smoked cured moonfish in half.
     Place the two smoked cured fish halves on the black trumpet mushrooms in the ring mold.
     Step 3:  Carefully raise and remove the ring mold.
     Spoon a generous amount of the Candied Buddha's Hand Citron Vinaegrette over the moonfish, lettuce and tomatoes.
     Garnish the fish with an Italian Parsley leaf and a little bit of very thin Buddha's Hand Citron zest.

     Viola!  A colorful festive gourmet composed salad that features exiting new flavors! 

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