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Soup for dessert, skewer savvy, Western barbecue sauces, and burger wines.

A true artist uses many media, but Elka Gilmore's favorite is food. Her approach to design focuses on the plate as a canvas, but it is also reflected in the imaginative, eclectic detail of her San Francisco restaurant, ELKA. When I first saw her version of fruit soup, thoughts of Swiss expressionist Paul Klee popped into my head. Thin squiggles of nectarines, squares and dots of kiwi fruit and plum, bumpy rounds of berries, and other colorful bits were floating with modern flair in the pale, tea-color broth.

But this dish has more than superficial beauty. It's simply delicious and looks more complex than it is. The soup base is nonseasonal--sweet water intensely infused with a complex blend of fresh ginger, citrus peel, aromatic seasonings, and fresh herbs. Once made, it keeps for weeks in the refrigerator.

The seasonality of the soup depends on what's ripe. Practical Elka points out that you can use the soup base in fall with persimmons, pomegranates, apples, and pears, and in winter with citrus and tropical fruit.

Serve fruit soup for a party, using the full recipe, or make by the bowl with any summer fruit you have on hand. The zingy flavor comes from the pulpy, edible seed of ripe, wrinkled passion fruit. Occasionally, I've come across canned or frozen passion fruit pulp; 2 tablespoons of either equals 1 whole fruit.


Doing skewers right

Skewers make some foods much easier to handle on the barbecue grill. With them you can:

* Control small bits of food. Threaded onto skewers, the pieces become a single unit to lift and turn--no more rescuing your dinner from the coals.

* Keep foods flat. Whole birds--chicken, pheasant, quail--that have been split and pressed open have less tendency to pull back when a skewer is threaded through the bird from shoulder to shoulder. A skewer through split lamb or veal kidneys keeps them from curling as they cook. Parallel skewers through floppy pieces of meat, like boned leg of lamb, make them easier to manage.

* Weave foods together. Ripple a long skirt steak onto a skewer and secure sprigs of herbs against the meat. Weave bacon strips between pieces of food for self-basting.

When loading skewers, keep in mind that meat, poultry, firm-texture fish like swordfish, and shellfish shrink as they cook, tightening their hold on the skewer. Most everything else gets softer or more fragile.

Vegetables and fruit, in particular, tend to soften as they cook and lose their grip. Parallel skewers in these foods give them support and keep them from spinning or flopping. You get maximum control by pushing 2 skewers perpendicularly through foods, each about 1/3 of the distance in from opposite ends of the food.

Crisp or firm vegetables and fruit tend to split when pushed onto thick skewers; slender, sharply pointed metal or bamboo skewers work best for these foods (to keep bamboo skewers from charring, soak a few minutes in water before using).

Foods that fall apart when cooked (such as sole or other flaky fish) are not suitable for skewer cooking.


Poultry shears

My poultry shears probably work just as hard at the dinner table as they do in the kitchen. There is no faster way to reduce a whole duck, chicken, or any similar-size or smaller bird into pieces than snipping it apart. The same is true for pork or lamb ribs, rabbit, and any other meats with bony parts--and not much meat to carve--that are tough to cut with a knife. Poultry shears look like scissors, but their design makes them more powerful. The power is multiplied if the hinge has a mechanical advantage--such as a built-in tension spring--like mine do. Typically, the tips of the long blades are curved slightly upward so they can be poked into difficult-to-reach crevices.

Like any cutting tool, shears' quality and design vary widely. Prices start around $10; a serviceable pair will be $40 to $50, but can be much more if materials are costly and detailing elaborate (bone or fine wood handles, engraving, inlays).

Try on shears before buying; the handle should feel comfortable, the grip easy to manage, the design sturdy, the material suited for the uses you anticipate (fancier for table, utilitarian for kitchen). I bought my stainless steel pair years ago at cook's heaven, E. Dehillerin in Paris, and they're still good as new. But anywhere good knives are sold--cutlery shops, cookware stores, department stores--you will find poultry shears.


Comparing barbecue sauces

While wandering down a grocery aisle recently, I was struck by the staggering number of barbecue sauces. I wondered how different they could be. A tasting seemed in order, but some practical editing was needed. So I gathered everything that was made in the West and had "barbecue sauce" written (not just implied) on the label. If a brand had flavor variations, I picked the original. I also imposed on friends in Southern California and the Northwest to send me what they could find in their supermarkets. In the Sunset kitchen, we tasted each sauce on beef patties; the meat was turned in the sauce before grilling, and then served with more of it.

The panelists rated the sauces, noting what they liked best about the taste and texture, how well the flavors sank in, and how the sauce coated the meat. Among the six sauces that got the most votes, there was considerable ingredient variation and an intriguing mix of geographic influences.

Cinnabar CinnaBar-B-Que Sauce (Prescott, Arizona) was the most unusual and controversial of the lot. Most tasters commented that lamb, pork, or chicken would benefit more than beef from the sauce's aromatic, India-influenced spices.

Ebara Korean Barbecue Sauce (Santa Fe Springs, California). Comments: soy-sauce salty, lively ginger bite, thin, more sour than sweet.

Firehouse Bar-B-Que Sauce (Auburn, California). Comments: thick, sweet but not too much so, light smoky flavor. Said one taster: "What a Westerner thinks a Southern sauce should be."

Jackie's Oklahoma Style Barbecue Sauce (Greenbrae, California). Comments: thick and spicy, good sweet-sour balance; ingredients include raisins and orange peel.

Matheny's B-B-Q Sauce (Moreno Valley, California). Comments: powerful, tart, hot, sweet, lively, clings well; tastes of Asian influence.

Mrs. Renfro's Barbecue Sauce (Fort Worth, Texas). Comments: nice smooth balance, mellow tomato flavor, chili overtones, not sweet, clings well.


Summer Fruit Soup

4 or 5 ripe passion fruit

1 ripe to firm-ripe small (4 to 5 oz.) nectarine or small (5 to 6 oz.) peeled peach

1 small (4 to 5 oz.) red-skin plum

1 medium-size (4 to 5 oz.) kiwi fruit

6 to 8 strawberries, rinsed and hulled

About 2 dozen blackberries, boysenberries, or olallieberries

About 2 dozen raspberries or other berries

About 1 cup total other in-season fruits (such as mango, papaya, melon, pineapple) in small dice, thin slices, or julienne strips (optional)

Mint sprigs

Soup base (directions follow)

Cut passion fruit in half.

Cut nectarine, plum, and kiwi fruit into thin slices; use slices whole or cut them into geometric shapes: thin strips, squares, triangles, or cubes. Thinly slice strawberries; cut other berries (except raspberries) in half.

Into each wide, shallow soup bowl or deeply rimmed dessert plate, scoop pulp and seed from a passion fruit half. Divide remaining fruit and berries equally among bowls. Garnish fruit with mint sprigs and set bowls at serving places.

From a pitcher, pour or ladle about 1 cup soup base into each bowl. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Per serving: 172 cal. (2 percent from fat); 0.9 g protein; 0.4 g fat (0 g sat.); 43 g carbo.; 4.1 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Soup base. In a 4- to 5-quart pan, combine 10 cups water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup chopped fresh ginger, 1/4 cup coriander seed, 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander), 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spearmint leaves (or regular mint), 1 vanilla bean (slit open lengthwise), and pared peel (colored part only) from 2 lemons, 2 oranges, and 3 limes.

Bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, cover, and chill at least 4 hours or up to 12. Pour liquid through a fine strainer into a bowl. Rinse vanilla bean and let dry to use another time; discard remaining seasonings. Cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours or up to 3 weeks. Makes 9 to 10 cups.


Burger wines

Could there be such a thing as a perfect burger wine? Bet your grandmother's secret recipe for pickle relish on it.

Before we can settle on a wine, though, we have to agree on the burger. A classic burger must have fresh ground beef, traditional bun, tomato, lettuce, pickle relish, mustard, and mayo. Together, they have to be juicy enough to drip a little, and have a certain sly sweetness. Onions, catsup, and barbecue sauces are optional adjustments, okay only as long as they do not foul up the sweet, classic juiciness of the burger.

Now, think of a perfect burger wine as one more option, even though you take it on the side. That is, it cannot foul up the sweet juiciness, so it cannot have much drying tannin but must have a generous amount of fruit in its flavors.

Two basic choices are Barbera and Gamay (also called Gamay Beaujolais). Not many Zinfandels temper their tannins and avoid oak well enough for this job, but the ones that do count among the best burger wines on the continent. And Washington State Lembergers can be described the same way. But Gamays are probably the safest choice when you do not know the winemaker's style. The following wines range from $9 down to $4.

With the classic, no onions, try: Louis M. Martini California Barbera, J. Lohr Estates "Wildflower" Monterey Gamay, or The Hogue Cellars Yakima Valley Lemberger. E. & J. Gallo Hearty Burgundy can stand in for the Gamay.

With the classic, plus sweet onions, try: Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel, Sutter Home California Zinfandel, or Fetzer Gamay Beaujolais. (If it is not a season for sweet onions, saute pungent ones until they are mellow and mild; raw, they take too much juiciness out of wine. Lembergers are a little too tart for any onions.)

While we're at it, here are wines for a few variations on the classic burger.

Traditional cheeseburger with cheddar: the Lemberger.

Untraditional cheeseburger with Oregon blue and no tomato: the Barbera, Zinfandels, or Gamay Beaujolais.

Southwest cheeseburger using jack plus chopped green chilies: the Gamay Beaujolais, Barbera, or Zinfandels.
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Title Annotation:includes recipe
Author:Di Vecchio, Jerry Anne
Date:Jul 1, 1994
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