Remembering September

2013.Oct.02 Wednesday · 7 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes, Restaurants

Another month has passed and it’s time for a look at the scattered photographs of my life that went unused. Last September it was all spicy mac ‘n cheese and Montecristo sandwiches, experiments with Peruvian dishes, graffiti covered cars, and making empanadas. So what does September 2013 have to offer? Let’s take a look:

Perez H - burger

Let’s just get it out of the way with. The latest in the expat hyped world of seeking out the things we miss is the new Perez H., Defensa 435 in Monserrat, where they’re grinding meat daily to grill up some hand-packed burgers with a dozen or so different toppings available. Somewhere in the mix I understand that Antonio Soriano of the also recently opened Astor, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, is involved, though I’m not clear how and I haven’t asked him on one of my three visits to Astor so far. No question the burger’s a good one – the meat is properly seasoned, it’s fresh, and it’s on a decent bun for a change. But, and there is a but, I asked for mine to be cooked rare, and the grill-man, calling out from behind the counter, confirmed that, not once, but twice after the waitress gave him my order, and I asked for the bacon to be crispy, which he informed me was a contradiction that I was just trying to make it confusing for him (I think he was joking, though it was hard to tell, but I’ll give him that rather than assuming he’s bad at customer contact). The burger came out a solid medium well, not a trace of pink in it, and the bacon was limp as the caramelized onions that accompanied it. I considered, given the thrice repeated request, to simply return it to the counter and ask him to try again, but ended up not. It was still quite good. The fries, properly cooked, golden, but way over-salted. For me, I’d have the burger again if I happened to be nearby and in the mood, but this time if it wasn’t cooked right I’d hand it back, and I’d ask for the fries unsalted and then salt them myself. Good, but not really worth a trip out of the way for me.

Taco Box - botana

Sometimes a fast food pigout is in order, and one day out wandering around that resulted in dropping in at the closest outpost of Taco Box (there was briefly one closer on Peña, but it closed up shop months ago – or at least I thought so, their website still lists it), at Cervño 3768 in Palermo chico. A michelada, more or less unspiced, was fixed up by a few splashes of tabasco, and the botana, a mass gathering of a chicken burrito, taco, quesadillas and flautas (I don’t know why they were all chicken versions, it’s just what they delivered, I didn’t specify beef, chicken or bean, and the waitress didn’t ask), were tasty, and even more so with the additions of various condiments served on the side, including a sweat-inducing chili puree.

Casa Coupage - mussel soup
Casa Coupage - chorizos
Casa Coupage - braised beef cheeks
Casa Coupage - hare

After lo so many years we finally got a chance to visit Casa Coupage, one of our puertas cerradas brethren. I’ve always heard great things about their food, and particularly, their wine service and selection. It’s also a splurge, coming in at about double what we charge, so it was a birthday treat for myself, and Henry and I headed off for an evening out. It’s a very different setup from ours, more like a regular restaurant that happens to be in a house, with the tables spaced far apart dotting two different rooms. There were two people in one room when we arrived, we sat in the other, and over the course of the night two other couples arrived at different times, each to be seated in one or the other rooms – so it felt a little empty – but that’s business right now, things are slow all around. The owners, Santiago and Inés, are charming and welcoming (I know Santiago from the local sommelier society) and definitely make the effort to make sure everyone feels taken care of. They offer both a tasting menu and an a la carte menu – there were a couple of items on the former that Henry doesn’t eat, and neither of us was in the mood for a long, long evening out, so we opted for the latter. Henry started with a delicious mussel soup and then moved on to braised beef cheeks wrapped in kataifi, which is basically shredded phylo dough, glazed with a very sweet sauce; I started off with a trio of chorizo bonbons – mini-sausages of prawn, rabbit and duck; and followed on with a cocoa cannellone filled with braised hare. All really good, possibly a little shy on quantity – the portions suited to the tasting menu I think, which is, therefore, a much better deal. Wine service was generous and Santiago picked some delightful pairings for us. And, to top it all off, they sent us dessert for my birthday and gave us a healthy discount on the tab at the end of the night as “friends of the house”. So all in all, a lovely way to have spent my birthday, and some interesting flavors to contemplate.

Spicy beet stem pickle

I hate waste when it comes to food (or anything else I guess), and so often try to use the leftovers of food preparation for something else. Vegetable peelings and ends go into making stocks, we use broccoli and cauliflower stems sliced or julienned in stir-fries for our own dinners, that sort of thing. Recently I’ve started playing with pickles and ferments. Here, a spicy beet stem pickle in the making that is great spooned over a burger, or veggie burger, or just mixed into plain white rice on the side of something else.

Brussels Sprout ferment
Brussels Sprout ferment
Brussels Sprout ferment

After some cancellations a couple of weeks ago I ended up with nearly a kilo of extra brussels sprouts sitting here. Normally we’d just cook them up and enjoy them, but I thought I’d give a shot at something else, fermented brussels sprouts. Kinda sorta like making kimchi except I didn’t shred them, and decided to ferment them in brine, quartered. The photos are just before adding the brine, after three days fermenting, and after a week, when I moved them into a jar and into the refrigerator where they’ve now sat for another week or so. They’re absolutely delicious and are part of a plate on this week’s menu. We’ll see how guest reaction is and whether they’ll be coming back again. I have some broccoli stems just starting their ferment to see how they come out….

And that, my friends, family, and strangers, wraps up September.

Kinga October 4, 2013 at 17:06

I’d love to know your fermentation (?) recipe!
I sometimes ferment small cucumbers in brine with dill flowers, garlic and horseradish, Polish grandma recipe.
Also, I wonder if you can recommend any good lunch place around Retiro out of the top of your head. Or a hint how to search your blog without having to read through everything. I remember that you have written about at least one quite recently, could it have been a decent pasta place?

dan October 4, 2013 at 17:40

Kinga – There are two ways to search. First, in the right hand column, there’s a search box, you could plug in “retiro” and go from there, but, also in the middle column, there’s a review index that takes you to a page where you could just pick out the spots in Retiro with a quick text search on the page. Off-hand favorites for lunch in that area are El Federal, Dada, and Filo.

The Brussels Sprout ferment was pretty basic, and I plan to play with it a bit, but:

1 kg brussels sprouts, cored and quartered
1 rocoto chili, slivered
1 red onion, sliced thin
1/3 c coarse kosher salt
1 Tb yellow and 1 Tb black mustard seeds
Water to just barely cover

I left it for a week in a warm spot in the kitchen, covered, and just opened it once a day to make sure any buildup of pressure was released – though I don’t think in the end it was likely necessary. Then I put it in the refrigerator for another week before using them – fermentation continues, but slower.

As a first change, I think on the next run through I’m going to separate the sprouts into their leaves (core them and then pull them apart) – I’ve been finding that some of the middle layers of leaves haven’t fermented as thoroughly and are a little bit to crunchy still. I think I’d also toast the mustard seeds on the next go-round to help bring out their essential oils a little more, the mustard was just a bare hint in the background and I was hoping it would be more prominent.

Kinga October 8, 2013 at 12:55

Thanks a lot x2. Interesting that you use an un-boiled brine, I guess boiling it might be one of those kitchen superstitions that fly around.
Is kosher salt important, or a habit? Sal parrillera sí/no?
I agree it’s probably not important to release pressure. I/we always ferment cucumbers directly in their jars, hermetically closed. The pressure finds it way out anyway and some brine too, so I always have them stand on plates.
Tried the Retiro search of course, but was specifically after good lunches – not always the same as good dinners. I have preferred drinking to eating at Dada, but good to know that they also do lunch.

dan October 8, 2013 at 15:43

There’s no particular reason to boil a brine except to dissolve the salt faster – but given that you’re leaving it sit for weeks before using it, the salt will dissolve anyway. I use kosher salt because it doesn’t have iodine, and iodine kills lactobacteria, which are what make the fermentation of vegetables and fruits work, as it’s the most prevalent form of “good” bacteria naturally found on them. So what tends to happen, especially if the brine is strong (I use a fairly weak one as I like to keep the salt level down), is the only bacteria that get a start are the particularly hearty ones from the air, which aren’t always the ones you want, or, at the very least, it takes longer to get the fermentation going.

(You could always put both “retiro” and “lunch” into the search box and look for posts that include both words!)

Kinga October 9, 2013 at 15:50

Thanks for explaining!

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