Posts Tagged 'Zuni Cafe'

Zuni Café House-Cured Pork Tenderloin

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I was trying to write a witty and informative story about this dish when I realized that we had actually eaten it over two weeks ago (that’s what we get for going away for the holidays). The main thing that I do remember is that it was good. Really really good.

I’ve begun wondering what pork really tastes like. I’ve suffered through enough bad pork chops to know that it can taste like chewing. And I think I’ve figured out how to make pork taste like something else. Many of the pork dishes I’ve cooked have been quite tasty but they don’t really make me think of pork. I have noticed that the pork flavor in home-cured meats like bacon and pancetta has a more pork flavor to it but I’ve never really achieved that in other pork dishes.

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Until I made this one. I’ve brined pork before and it made it tender and even added flavor with it, but I never was able to make the pork taste porkier. I don’t know what it is about this brine that makes the pork flavor so much more pronounced. My guess is that it’s the length of the brine combined with a weaker brine solution.

This is a fantastically easy recipe. The hardest part is remembering to brine the pork several days in advance. Cooking the pork couldn’t be easier: just sear and then roast in the oven.

It’s not a particularly sexy presentation and it doesn’t use particularly exotic ingredients. It’s just the application of simple ingredients to make a wonderful meal.

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Zuni Café House-Cured Pork Tenderloin
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

1 pork tenderloin, about 1 lbs.
2 bay leaves, crumbled
2 dried chiles
4 crushed juniper berries
2 1/2 cups water
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt

  1. Place 1 cup of water and the bay leaves, dried chiles, and juniper berries in a sauce pan. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat. Stir and break up the ingredients with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and cover. Allow to infuse for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining water, the sugar, and salt to the aromatic mixture. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Put the pork tenderloin in a large zip-top bag and pour the brine over it. Place in the refrigerator and allow to brine for 2 to 4 days.
  3. Remove the pork tenderloin from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking. Remove from the brine and pat dry. Rub the pork tenderloin with olive oil.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
  5. Place a heavy cast-iron skillet over high-heat. When hot, sear the tenderloin on all three sides. Turn the tenderloin to the fourth side and place the skillet in the oven.
  6. Cook the tenderloin in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 140ºF. Remove the tenderloin from the oven and then remove it from the cast-iron skillet. Wrap the tenderloin in aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Slice the tenderloin into thick slices and serve.

Serves 2 to 3.

Zuni Café Roast Chicken

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At the farmer’s market on Sunday, I noticed a new farm stand. It’s a little bit odd as this is the time of year that the farmer’s market shrinks a bit because a number of crops just aren’t growing anymore. What really intrigued me was that the farm, Ana’s Farm, was selling whole chickens.

For some farmer’s markets, this may be routine but our farmer’s market tends to be a bit smaller and concentrate on produce and, until recently, rather conventional produce. So, for me, this is cause for a bit of excitement. We like chicken and, so far, I’ve been pretty satisfied by the All-Natural Free-Range chickens that we’ve bought at Trader Joe’s. But I didn’t want to give up a chance to try a local chicken (despite the fact that it was pretty expensive).

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I didn’t ask what breed of chicken it was but I believe the vendor said that it wasn’t a Cornish chicken. It was pretty scrawny, about two and a half pounds, because, apparently, chickens stop eating for about a month when the weather changes.

I hadn’t come to farmer’s market with the intention of buying a chicken so I had to come up with something to cook with the chicken. And what better way to determine the quality of a chicken than by roasting it?

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But really, if you ask ten cooks how to roast a chicken, you’ll get at least eleven answers. Ever since we had eaten at the Zuni Café, I had wanted to try their recipe for roast chicken again (I had tried it previously off an internet recipe and wasn’t impressed but that was probably my fault). In the end, this ended up as a bit of a recreation of our meal at Zuni: I made french fries to go along with it.

Cooking the chicken was actually pretty easy. We did set off the smoke detector because the chicken let off too much smoke. And I did have to cook the fries a bit earlier as my oil started smoking and I didn’t have a better way to cool it off. The only frantic period was immediately at the end when I needed three or four different things to be done all at the same time (which is pretty usual with cooking dinner, for me at least).

And the results? That may have been the best roast chicken I’ve ever had. I’m not sure how much of it was technique and how much was the chicken itself, but I know two things: how I’m going to roast chickens from now on and where I’m going to buy them. I usually like dark meat but, on this chicken, the white meat was a combination of being moist and flavorful. The dark meat was a little more disappointing: it was a bit tough, particularly in the drumstick, but still tasty. I’m getting hungry just looking at the pictures again.

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Zuni Café Roast Chicken
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

a 2 1/2 to 3 1/4 lbs. chicken
salt and pepper
4 sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup of water

  1. At least 24 hours in advance, prepare the chicken. Cut out any fat surrounding the entrance to the cavity. Dry the chicken skin with paper towels. Starting from the cavity entrance, create a pocket between the skin and the breast meat and place a sprig of thyme on each side. Do the same for the thighs. Generously sprinkle salt all over the chicken, with more salt on thicker areas. Grind pepper on to the chicken. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator an hour before cooking and dry its skin with paper towels again. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Place the roasting tray in the oven to preheat for 15 minutes before cooking. Remove the roasting tray from the oven and place the chicken in it, breast side up.
  3. Place the chicken in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. If the chicken does not being to sizzle and brown, increase the temperature. If the skin starts smoking, reduce the temperature.
  4. Turn the chicken to be breast side down and cook for 10 to 20 minutes depending on chicken size (ours only needed 10 minutes).
  5. Turn the chicken to be breast side up and cook for 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove the chicken from the oven and then from the roasting pan. Place the chicken on a warmed plate and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Add the water to the roasting pan to deglaze it. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes.
  8. Cut the chicken into pieces and drizzle with juices in the roasting pan. Serve.

Serves 2.

San Francisco Trip

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This past weekend, we went to San Francisco to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Now, perhaps I’m supposed to post some sappy pictures or talk about love, but I’m not really into that and I’m pretty sure that’s not why anyone is reading this. So congratulations to us and all that jazz (well, really to me as Angela hasn’t killed me yet).

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We didn’t a bunch of the touristy things (go to the Legion of Honor, Fisherman’s Wharf, and China Town) and, while they were interesting, I have no need to write about them here. Instead, I can talk about food (and bore you with that instead).

Our first meal of interest was for lunch on Friday. We went to a restaurant in China Town (recommended in the Lonely Planet guide book) whose name I can’t remember for the life of me (it was on Pacific near Sutter). At least where we live in Long Beach, good Chinese food is hard to come by and whatever we get is very Americanized. When we first walked in, it was about 12:30 PM and there were several good omens: the restaurant was crowded, most of the patrons were of an Asian appearance, and most of the languages spoken were Asian and the visible newspapers were written in Asian characters. And the food was excellent. They served us dim sum (although it looked like many of the Asian patrons received some sort of pork and rice bowl) which I had never had before (I’m hopelessly inept on Asian cuisine; I first had sushi about a month ago). The food was excellent. The pork dumplings were my favorite but all of it was quite good. We, uh, we’re too busy eating to take pictures of the first or last set of dim sum.

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Our first dinner was Thursday night at the Zuni Cafe. Now, the only reason I had heard of the Zuni Cafe, was because of their cookbook and their roast chicken but that was enough for me to get a reservation a month ago (and even then I could only get one at 6:15 PM).

Angela realized she didn’t have her ID when we got off the subway so I had to run back to the hotel to get it (and, of course, we didn’t end up getting carded; asking if a rosé is dry must imply you’re of age). When I got back, we were seated pretty quickly. My appetizer was the Caesar salad while Angela ordered the pappa al pomodoro. We split the roast chicken (of course) along with potato straws (which were probably the best fried potatoes I’ve had; I ended up eating most of the giant pile). For dessert, Angela had cappucino and I had a bittersweet chocolate pudding (I’m pretty sure it had a fancier name that escapes me at the moment). It was all quite good but ended up being too much food for the two of us (what else can I say about good food? it wasn’t a transcendental experience but I did enjoy it).
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Our final dinner was at the Chez Panisse Café. Who hasn’t heard of Chez Panisse? We (well, I picked it really) decided on the Café as opposed to the restaurant proper as Angela can be a bit of a picky eater (not really that picky but there are certain things she doesn’t eat) and having some choices seemed like a better idea. We were well pleased. What really struck me was the fact that the wait staff managed to be effective and pleasant without being stuffy and pretentious. Now for the food: Angela had, in order, squab broth with scallions, seared tuna, and panna cotta. I had a salad with goat cheese, roast pork leg, and an apple and quince tart with burnt honey ice cream. The food lived up their reputation and, in my mind at least, exceeded it.

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Our trip was fun and I hope to go back in the near future (Angela wants to move there now). And, really, talking about what food I had a restaurant isn’t all that exciting.

Pasta with Corn, Pancetta, and Sage

Pasta with Corn, Pancetta, and SageAs a big fan of corn, pancetta, and pasta, one would think that combining them would be a no brainer. However, I never thought of it. And why would you? Pasta is Italian and corn is American. And Italian-American food has been relegated to cheap restaurants that those in the know would never eat at (apparently I am not in the know and I’m pretty happy there).

This recipe comes from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook which was helpfully provided to me by our local library (as I’m too poor to purchase it for myself right now). This dish is basically creamed corn with pancetta and a bit of sage mixed with pasta. The sage flavor is not particularly pronounced so increase the amount if you, unlike my wife, like sage a lot. The original recipe called for 5 to 6 small ears of corn but, given that I buy corn priced by the ear, I used 3 large ears instead. There may be a flavor difference but as long as I don’t try it, I’ll be happy with the cheaper version (that was, until recently, my theory with sushi; as long as I don’t know what I’m missing, I’m okay).

Pasta with Corn, Pancetta, and Sage
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

2 1/2 cups fresh corn (about 3 large ears)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3 oz pancetta, cubed
6 sage leaves, diced
1 lb. fresh egg pasta, preferably linguine
salt and pepper
3 tbsp Parmesan cheese

  1. Using a knife, slice the corn kernels off of the ear into a bowl. Then, run the back of the knife at a 45 degree angle to the ear to force out all the starchy liquid. Combine the liquid and the corn.
  2. Boil waiter for the pasta and cook until slightly underdone. Reserve pasta water.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the pancetta and saute until lightly browned.
  4. Turn off heat, add sage and 1 tablespoon butter. Allow the sage to seep for 1 minute.
  5. Add 6 tablespoons of butter and turn heat to medium. When the butter is melted, add the corn and liquid. Cook until warmed through and the liquid in the pan thickens slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add cooked pasta to the corn and toss. Finish cooking the pasta with the corn.
  7. Off heat, add Parmesan cheese and retaste for seasoning.

Serves 4.