Monthly Archives: August 2010

Spanish Tortilla – A Tapas Favorite

Spanish Tortilla

On a recent trip to Spain, I had the chance to sample, once again, one of my favorite Spanish dishes: Tortilla Española, or Spanish tortilla. Here in the US, we associate the word tortilla with that a round flatbread that wraps up a burrito, but in Spain, it refers to an omelette-type dish, eaten in bars, at room temperature during the early-evening snack (tapas) time. I like Spanish Tortilla any time of the day: at brunch, for an afternoon snack, or even for a simple dinner. Cooking it just right can be difficult, though, so I have spent the last few months perfecting mine and now I am ready to share it with all of you.

The Spanish Tortilla enjoys a long history. Throughout the Mediterranean and the Near-East, there are countless variations of what one might call an omelette. It is believed that the dish originated in Persia as the kookoo sabzi and then gradually moved west. In Turkey, it became the kaygana. In Italy, it evolved into the frittata. In France, it became the omelette and in Spain, it is the Tortilla Española or at times, the Tortilla de Patata.

Spanish tortilla is one of those ubiquitous national dishes that inspires strong views on how to make it perfectly and authentically. Of course, because it varies throughout Spain, there is no right answer. I like to make it with a relatively high ratio of eggs to potatoes. I also slice the potatoes thinly using a Mandoline rather than cutting them into cubes. Most recipes you’ll see for Tortilla Española will include onion, and in this version, I have used the more subtle shallot, but I like it with yellow onions as well.

Of course, the biggest question surrounding the preparation of a Spanish Tortilla is whether to flip it or broil it to finish cooking the top side. Traditionalists insist that you must do the flip: slide the tortilla onto a plate, flip it over and slide it back into the pan. But, if you have an ovenproof skillet, you can simply insert the skillet under the broiler and watch carefully while the top finishes.

All of the ingredients below are “to taste.” Do you want the potatoes to crisp up before cooking them in the eggs? Use more oil and crank up the heat for the last few minutes of potato-cooking time. Do you want a heftier dish? Reduce the number of eggs and let the potatoes dominate. Do you want to incorporate more onions into the dish? Finely chop a couple of tablespoons of onions, or shallots, or even leeks, and fry them with the potatoes. The important thing is to experiment until you’ve found your perfect tortilla and then you can have a strong opinion too.

Sliced Yukon Gold Potatoes

Spanish Tortilla
Serves 8

Ingredients

2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes (the low starch content keeps them from getting mushy)
¼ cup olive oil (more or less)
½ cup shallots, minced finely
2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
10-12 eggs, beaten

Method

1. Peel potatoes and slice them thinly using a Mandoline if you have one, or a good sharp knife. Sprinkle the potatoes with half of the salt. Over a medium-high flame, heat the oil in a 12-inch sautée pan, preferably one that has sloped sides. Sautée the potatoes and shallots gently until the potatoes are just fork tender, about 25 minutes. Don’t allow them to get too brown. Be patient. It’s important that the potatoes are completely cooked. Remove from heat.

2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the potatoes and shallots and toss to coat with the eggs. Sprinkle with remaining salt. Wipe out or clean your sautée pan. Add a little bit more oil and heat the pan until very hot. Pour in the egg and potato mixture and let set for about 1-2 minutes. The high heat will help create a layer of cooked egg that will make it easy for the tortilla to slide out of the pan. Once the edges have set, reduce the heat to medium-low and let the mixture cook for 8-12 minutes.

3. When the tortilla is ready to be cooked on the other side, it will be firm on the bottom and still a little runny on top. Slide the pan under a pre-heated broiler and cook until the top has set and just started to brown, about 3 minutes, checking often. If you would like to try the flip instead, invert a plate into the pan, flip it over and then slide the tortilla back into the pan. It’s not as hard as it sounds as long as you have created that cooked egg layer and your pan is not too heavy. Let it cook on the second side for about 3-5 minutes. Then flip back out onto a plate for serving.

4. Once the tortilla has been removed to a serving plate, allow it to cool to room temperature, as it is traditionally served that way. It’s a great dish for parties. To add it to a buffet table, cut it into squares and insert a toothpick to make it easy for guests to enjoy. Yours will look just like the Spanish Tortilla in a tapas bar in Madrid.

Spanish Tortilla

Thrasher’s French Fries: Best Fries on the Boardwalk? My Attempt to Make Them at Home


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Thrasher's French Fries

Thrasher's French Fries

For over 80 years, the Thrasher’s French Fries stand at 401 South Atlantic Avenue, in Ocean City, MD, has served as a kind of gatekeeper to the famous boardwalk. At Thrasher’s, the potatoes are cut fresh, fried twice, doused with vinegar, and served in buckets. Big buckets. With only three sizes available (16 oz, 32 oz and 53 oz buckets), the smallest serving you can buy is a pound. But, there is something about these fries that makes them so addictive that a pound often is not enough and Thrasher’s fans are adamant. These are the best fries on the planet.

Thrasher's French Fries

Always a line of people waiting for their fries

With more than eight decades of frying and over 22,000 fans of the unofficial facebook page, who’s to argue? In 1933, Thrasher’s weathered a hurricane that not only destroyed vast sections of the boardwalk, but actually severed off Assateague peninsula to create the now-famous Assateague island across the inlet. Thrasher’s then went on to survive the Great Depression, two World Wars, Reaganomics, and the “freedom fries” era. Featured in countless magazine and newspaper articles, like the Woman’s Day 8 Best Boardwalk Food in the U.S., and inevitably found in the comments section of any web article about the “best fries,” these fries inspire a fanaticism usually reserved for politics and religion.

So, when I was heading back to my native Maryland Eastern Shore, I knew that it was time to make a pilgrimage to the place where I first learned what a French fry is supposed to taste like. Sure enough, there is something irresistible about these fries. They aren’t particularly crispy, but the flavor is pure potato. In fact, Thrasher’s is so proud of the fresh potato flavor, they don’t provide (or even allow) ketchup.

NO KETCHUP.

Katherine Bunting-Howarth of Delaware remembers using so much vinegar once, she soaked a hole through the bottom of the bucket and she’s not the only who considers the vinegar to be an essential element of the Thrasher’s experience. 939 people on facebook have “liked” the Thrasher’s facebook update, “[…] diggin’ the Apple Cider Vinegar with no ketchup!” and dozens more have added their two cents.”


OC, MD 3073 miles

After returning to California, more than 3000 miles away, I began to wonder. Can I recreate true Thrasher’s French Fries at home? I know the basic ingredients: Russet potatoes, peanut oil, salt and vinegar. But can I get that same balance of tender and crispy? And can I reproduce the rich, potato flavor? I set out to find the answer. But it would not come directly from the source. Thrasher’s is part of the Bayshore Development Corporation which also owns the Jolly Roger amusement parks. My attempts to reach someone at Bayshore willing to talk about Thrashers Fries were unsuccessful. Buddy Jenkins, chair of the board of the Bayshore Development Corporation, has always been secretive about the magic of these fries. According to a 2004 Washington Post article, Jenkins said, “We have a process that I certainly don’t intend to divulge,” but that the secret involves a “recipe and cooking times.”

Well, a recipe and cooking times were just what I set out to develop. I knew that part of what makes boardwalk fries, boardwalk fries is that they are soaked in a brine solution before they are fried twice, so I knew that I would try brining the potatoes as part of the solution. But how hot should the oil be? How long should the fries, well, fry? To find some answers, I turned to The Food Lab at SeriousEats.com. In May, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt set out to determine what makes a McDonald’s french fry so darn good and I have applied some of his learnings to this project. But Thrasher’s French Fries are not like McDonad’s French Fries. They’re thicker for one thing, and they’re served in buckets; they’re never frozen, and, must I say it again? They’re eaten with vinegar, not ketchup. But, they do need to come out with a crispy exterior and a fluffy, fully-cooked interior and that is where the “recipe and cooking times” come in. In his article, Lopez-Alt discovers that McDonald’s actually blanches its fries in nearly-boiling water before frying them, so I decided to add this step to my process as well. Blanching them at 170˚F rinses off excess sugars and starch which in turn prevents over-browning later. It also strengthens the cell walls of the potato so it doesn’t completely lose its structure during the frying process. Again, Lopez-Alt explains all of this really well here.

Following the multi-step process of brining, blanching, frying, cooling, frying meant that I could enjoy something approaching a bucket of Thrasher’s French Fries without having to leave the state of California. And that, my friends, is worth a day’s effort. Are you with me on this one? If you are, read on for the complete recipe.

Homemade French Fries

My best attempt at recreating
Thrasher’s French Fries at Home
Serves 2 (or one, really)

Ingredients

4 Russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 3/4-inch thick slices
Peanut Oil, enough for fries to be submerged
Sea Salt
Apple Cider Vinegar (or malt vinegar, if you prefer)

For the brine
2 quarts water
1 cup salt

Tools
I don’t have a lot of deep-frying tools in my kitchen. No wire basket, no electric fryer. But the one instrument that is indispensable for this recipe is a Candy/Deep Fry Thermometer, like the one pictured here:

Russet Potatoes

Method

1. Mix the water and salt in a large glass bowl. Stir to dissolve salt. Add potato slices and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse.

2. In a large stock pot over medium heat, bring a bath of water to 170˚F. Remember, the boiling point of water is 212˚F, so you don’t want to let it boil. There will just be a few bubbles. Add the potatoes and let them sit in this warm bath for 17 minutes. Continue to check the temperature periodically to ensure that you are spot on. Remove potato slices to a paper towel-lined cutting board or cookie sheet and allow them to dry. They must be completely dry before submerging them in the hot oil, so do what you need to do to ensure that they are dry.

3. In a dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot, heat the peanut oil to a whopping 400˚F. Beware. Hot oil is hot. Wear protective clothing and make sure you do not allow any drop of water to fall into the hot oil bath. It will splatter and burn you. Don’t ask me how I know this. Carefully lower about 1/3 of the potato slices into the oil and allow them to fry for 80 seconds. Make sure they are not sticking to each other during this process. If you notice them starting to turn brown, remove them immediately. During this stage of the process, they should only just begin to take on a golden color. Remove them to a paper-towel lined surface and repeat with two more batches. Allow the oil to come back to the proper temperature between batches. This is what they look like after the first frying session:

After the first fry

4. Allow the fries to cool for at least 30 minutes. Then, bring the oil back up to a temperature of 375˚F. Again, in batches, allow the fries to cook for 3 – 4 minutes. Watch carefully so that they don’t get too brown. Remove them to a paper-toweled lined surface and salt immediately. They can be kept warm in a 200˚F oven on a parchment-lined cookie sheet while you are frying the other batches, but I found it wasn’t necessary because everything moved so fast.

5. Serve in paper-lined cups (I used tall coffee cups) and sprinkle with salt and, of course, cider vinegar! Enjoy immediately.

Perfect French Fries at Home

What are your memories of Thrasher’s French Fries? What tips do you have for making the best fries at home? What boardwalk food do you love the best? Share your memories, tips and opinions in the comment section below.

If you liked this article, please become click “like” on StreamingGourmet facebook fan page.

For great cooking videos like this one introducing you to French fry techniques, check out Rouxbe.com:

The Velvet Rope – Cranberry Cocktail

The Velvet Rope

The Velvet Rope from Waterbar

It was a rare sunny day yesterday in San Francisco and upstairs at Waterbar on the Embarcadero, several members of the food media and food blogging world gathered to enjoy an event hosted by the Cranberry Marketing Committee. Waterbar’s Executive Chef, Parke Ulrich, prepared an amazing array of cranberry-themed savory bites (recipes to come) and Waterbar’s Executive Pastry Chef, Emily Luchetti presented a beautiful assortment of cranberry sweets. But the highlight of the afternoon (and there were many, to be sure), may have been the drinks prepared by Waterbar mixologist, Jennifer Philpot. She was generous enough to provide the recipe for the lovely drink pictured above. Called The Velvet Rope, it is a tangy, sophisticated drink that complemented perfectly the Cranberry Cheesecake with Oatmeal Streusel Crust we were enjoying with it. Crisp and refreshing, it would serve equally well at brunch, an afternoon picnic, or an evening on the terrace.

Cheers, everyone.

The Velvet Rope
Recipe courtesy of Jennifer Philpot, bartender at Waterbar

Glass: Martini

Ingredients

2 ounces Vodka
1 1/2 ounces 100% Cranberry Juice
1 ounce Orange juice (StreamingGourmet’s note: freshly squeeze if possible)
1 ounce Vanilla infused syrup (see below)
3 dashes Peach bitters
Top with a splash of Prosecco

Method

Shake all ingredients but the Prosecco with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Serve with a splash of Prosecco on top. Garnish with a long orange twist or two skewered fresh cranberries.

How to make Vanilla-Infused Syrup

Ingredients
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 vanilla bean

Method

Heat the water in a medium saucepan over high heat until just boiling. Add sugar while stirring to dissolve completely and simmering, but not boiling rapidly. Reduce heat. Split vanilla bean down the middle to expose soft, flavorful interior. Add bean to the saucepan and allow to simmer very gently for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove bean and transfer liquid to a glass container. It should keep for a couple of months.

Or you could purchase this Sonoma Syrup Co., No.4 Vanilla Bean Infused Simple Syrup, 12.7 Ounce Bottlefrom Amazon.com.

Meyer Lemon Black & Green Iced Tea

Iced Tea

Meyer Lemon Black & Green Iced Tea

Today is the first in a series of Maryland (my homestate) oriented posts. Maryland summers are full of just-picked corn on the cob, Blue crab feasts, Thrasher’s French Fries, and pitchers of iced tea. My mother used to make 2 quarts of iced tea with a few Lipton’s tea bags, a cup of sugar, and a couple of lemons. She would let the tea and lemons steep for a really long time. Like most of the afternoon. It was awesome and there was never enough. I didn’t think I would taste tea that good again, but two things happened. I moved to California and my tastes changed a bit (a whole cup of white sugar? Ouch.) and my friend Paige brought over a batch of her iced tea. It’s iced tea heaven all over again.

There are three secrets that comprise the genius of this tea.
1) The black & Green combo
2)The honey and
3)The Meyer lemons.

In Marin County, where Paige and I live, it’s as if Meyer Lemons grow on trees. Well, not as if; they do. Lots of them. People are often trying to unload them because there are so many. We are so lucky. Eureka lemons are the bright yellow lemons you usually find in the grocery store. Meyer lemons are darker on the outside and are nearly orange on the inside. In fact, Meyer lemons aren’t truly lemons. They are believed to be a cross between lemons and either oranges or mandarins. They are less acidic than Eureka lemons and have earthy, herbal undertones. They are a great match for the Green Tea in this mixture. If you can’t find Meyer lemons (since they are usually only available in specialty stores from later winter to early Spring), you can substitute a mixture of two regular lemons and one small orange.

Iced Tea

Meyer Lemon Iced Tea with Mint Sprigs

Meyer Lemon Black & Green Iced Tea
Makes 2 quarts

Ingredients
4 Black Tea Bags (I like Earl Grey)
4 Green Tea Bags
1/4 cup honey or more to taste
2-3 Meyer Lemons, sliced thinly and seeded
Mint springs to garnish

Method

For the Green Tea
Heat one quart of water to boiling in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Green Tea is best steeped at about 180˚F and remember, water boils at 212˚F. Add 4 Green Tea bags to the pot and allow it to steep for 1-3 minutes. Remove tea bags and allow Green Tea to continue to cool.

For the Black Tea
Heat one quart of water to boiling in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add 4 black teabags to the saucepan and allow it to steep for about 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and allow black to continue to cool.

The mix
While both teas are still a bit warm, pour them into a glass pitcher. Add honey and stir to dissolve and mix. Add half of the lemon slices, reserving the other lemon slices for garnish.

To serve
Fill glasses with ice, add the tea and garnish with lemon slices and mint sprigs (optional).

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