This year, I’m participating a Mastery Challenge of food preservation hosted by Marisa McClellan at Food in Jars. The challenge for February, the second month, is Salt Preserving. There were so many different avenues to explore in this category. I decided to focus on this technique for extending the lifespan of herbs.
While February is not the ideal month for fresh herbs in the garden, it is still a good month to practice with store-bought herbs in anticipation of the summer season.
My first experiment was Salamoia Bolognese. I’d read about this Italian herb salt on You Grow Girl a while back, so this was the perfect opportunity to put it into action. I followed Guyla’s recipe more-or-less. I hand-chopped the sage and rosemary, chopped the garlic in a mini-chopper, and took the liberty of adding peppercorns which confined in a ziplock bag and whacked with a rolling pin to crack them. The mixture is spread on a baking sheet for a couple of days while the salt dehydrates the moisture from the herbs and garlic. I sometimes wish that blogs came with “scratch-and-sniff”. While the mixture did its magic, it smelled fabulous every time I walked by.
I also used this mastery challenge as an excuse to make The River Cottage’s Vegetable Bouillon, another recipe I’ve been wanting to try. The food processor made quick work of chopping the vegetables and herbs. Again, the fragrance was enticing. This mixture of salt, celery root, carrots, fennel, and leek, along with cilantro and parsley, is packed into jars that are refrigerated or frozen. A spoonful added to a cup of boiling water makes a cup of vegetable bouillon. I used several spoonfuls to make vegetable stock I used in a roasted carrot soup. I ended up with more jars than I need for the foreseeable future so I shared some, put one in the fridge, and a couple in the freezer for later.
My final experiment builds on the Italian herb salt. After finding some stalks of lemongrass in my vegetable drawer, I decided to invent a Southeast Asian herb salt from garlic, ginger, lemongrass, serrano pepper, lime zest, and cilantro. I combined all the ingredients with a healthy dose of coarse salt and left it out to dry for a few days. This salt smelled even more amazing than the original version. Because there was a higher ration of moist ingredients than the Italian version, it took a little longer to feel dry. After the first day, I felt impatient, so I let the herby salt spend an hour in the oven on the Dehydrate setting (120F) which accelerated the process. After another day at room temperature, it was ready to pack into a jar.
I really enjoyed these projects. Now I’m excited about the combinations I can dream up during the summer when my prolific back-door herb garden cries to be used. Holiday food gifts in the making!
Southeast Asian Herb Salt
Yield: 1½ cups
2-3 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 large lobe of ginger, peeled
1 Serrano pepper, seeded
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and any dry layers removed
Zest of 1 lime
Leaves from ½ bunch cilantro, washed and dried
1 cup coarse sea salt
In a mini-chopper, finely chop the garlic, ginger, hot pepper, and lemongrass. Depending on the size of your chopper, you might need to do this in batches. Transfer the chopped ingredients to a medium bowl. Hand-chop the cilantro leaves. Add to the bowl along with the lime zest. Add salt and combine well. (I used my hands.)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the salt mixture evenly on the baking sheet. Let it sit at room temperature for 48-72 hours until it feels relatively dry to the touch. If you are worried about dust or pet hair, mostly cover the sheet with an upside-down baking sheet of similar size. Don’t cover completely because the moisture needs a way to escape.
When ready, if the salt seems clumpy (mine did), transfer it to a bowl and lightly break it up with your hands before transferring to a jar.
If there was ever a week where I needed comfort food, this might have been it. When the world as I’ve known it seems to be crumbling around me, cooking is a welcome distraction, and the results offer a modicum of comfort and nourishment to our table. This week’s recipe for Cook the Book Fridays, Coq au Vin, a hearty braised chicken dish, fit the bill.
I’ve probably eaten Coq au Vin in a restaurant. I don’t think I’ve ever made it myself. When I visualize it, I imagine chicken cooked in white wine. I was surprised to see that in this recipe, from David Lebovitz, the chicken is cooked in red wine. A little planning is required as the chicken along with some herbs and chopped vegetables needs to marinate overnight in a full bottle of wine.
Our chicken part of choice are chicken thighs. Rather than enjoying our favorite pieces during one meal and less favorite parts for subsequent meals of leftovers, I opted to use 8 chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken cut into 8 pieces.
When it’s time to cook dinner, first the chicken is browned. Then, mushrooms and lardons of bacon are crisped. Then the herbs and chopped vegetables from the marinade get a turn. Finally, the wine is poured into the pot and the chicken simmers for an hour. In the meantime, pearl onions are simmered separately.
According to David Lebovitz, classic coq au vin is thickened with chicken blood, an ingredient that probably isn’t easy to find at your local grocery store. Not at mine either. The alternative offered, cocoa powder whisked into some of the cooking liquid, makes a more appealing addition.
I served the chicken in wide shallow bowls over egg noodles with a full complement of silverware. Forks and knives to eat the chicken and a soup spoon to catch every last drop of the flavorful sauce.
Coq au vin hit the spot as comfort food. I will double the mushrooms and onions if I make it again. Though I cooked this on a weeknight, I’d say that coq au vin is more of a weekend meal. It would also be better shared with company than reheated for several nights in a row.
As one more effort towards distraction, yesterday I helped raise the relocated hoop house at Lexington Community Farm, my happy place. After we moved and set up the hoops, I held the ridge pole up until the farmer could tie it in place while we bolted it in place. I can’t wait until next month when I can start working in the greenhouse again, as the seasonal cycle repeats. What fun!