Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recipe: How to Make Hot Italian Sausage

Litigation: A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage. – Ambrose Bierce

My Great Aunt Hilda's and Nettie's old "litigation machine" was my inspiration.
I found an old kitchen gadget at my Great Aunt Hilda’s and Nettie’s a while back. It’s one of those things that everyone (or nearly everyone) had in years gone by – before we ran to the grocery twice a day. It was a meat grinder. A little beaten up, but you would be too if you were 60-70 years old.

A meat grinder was a necessity for putting up mincemeat for the winter in years gone by. It was also used for turning less desirable cuts of meat leftover from butchering into hamburger or sausage. Remember, not that long ago it was a necessity to waste as little as possible. If only we had that same mindset now. 

It’s funny how the everyday tasks of old kitchen life have been supplanted by simply passing a few dollars over the counter. I personally think we should in some ways turn the clock back. There’s so many kitchen tasks that are quick and easy and yield a far superior result to the mass produced items we buy at the store.

Sausage is a prime example. It’s essentially ground meat with spices added. If you make your own the spice combination can be tailored to exactly what you want. Hotter or milder, sweeter or less so, more herbed or not – see what I mean? It’s easy to check your spicing before you finish, too. Just fry a tiny bit and taste it.

The pork and pork fat after grinding. The old machine
still works perfectly! Things were made better back then...
There are some fundamental ingredients and quantities that make up any particular kind of sausage. I found an excellent site for homemade sausages at This sausage recipe is based on theirs. I would suggest you go and check them out. Very good stuff. 

There was no copyright on the site so that is why I’m posting it. But the credit is all theirs. This particular recipe turned out way better than I could imagine.

Now don’t be turned off if you don’t have a meat grinder or sausage stuffer. You can make it without a grinder, and use your homemade sausage meat in many ways that aren’t in link form. Actually, I often buy links and then remove the meat for use in recipes. 

There are two excellent workarounds if you don’t have a grinder. The first is to ask your butcher to grind for you, or purchase pre-ground. The second is to use a food processor to “grind” it. That method is a little more tricky, but my foray into making donair meat has shown me it is quite possible with excellent results.

If you make your own sausage you know exactly what goes into them. No preservatives, no chemical colour, etc. You also have – which piques my interest more – the ability to get the exact flavour you want. Think about it. A recipe calls for specific spices… There’s nothing stopping you from tailoring your sausage meat to dovetail with the other flavours in the dish. 

I may try apple and sage using dried apple rings come Autumn, or even – hold on to your hat – weiner meat. Homemade will have no snouts, tails, ears or other undefined “cuts” which may (or may not) routinely go in to that barbecue season staple.

For the adventurous amateur chef knowing you can make your own sausage easily is exciting news.

This is the spice mixture for 1-1/4 lbs of sausage. It
looked like a lot, but was exactly right with no adjustment.
I’m not quite sure yet how I’ll use my finished sausage meat, but I’ll find some use. Tasty patties, pizza, or pasta sauce. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity. Right now I’m leaning toward pizza with roasted garlic, spinach from the garden, onions and provolone cheese…

The recipe outlined below has quantities for 4 lbs of sausage or 1-1/4 lbs, approximately. If you want to make a lot and freeze or just enough for a dinner for four it’s got you covered.

On a side note, I’ve been reading about homemade bacon. Apparently it is almost unrecognizable compared to the pre-packaged, artificially flavoured slabs of fat we buy at the grocery. Once I find somewhere that sells pork belly, I’ll be off and running with that. I understand it’s even relatively easy to “smoke” if you have a non-gas barbecue.

Homemade Hot and Sweet Italian Sausage
Makes either 4 lbs (or 1-1/4 lbs, quantities in brackets)

This is a raw pork butt roast. Note how marbled it is.
Photo: BBQ Junkie, Flickr ccl
3 lbs boneless pork butt (shoulder) roast, marbled meat, see my note (1 lb)
optional: 1 lb pork fat, see my note (1/3 lb)
1/2 cup chilled red wine (3 tbsp)
1-1/2 tbsp kosher salt (2 tsp)
1-1/2 tbsp fennel (2 tsp)
1-1/4 tbsp ground black pepper (2 tsp)
1 tsp ground coriander (1/2 tsp)
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp oregano (same)
1/2 tsp garlic powder (same)
1 tsp sugar (same)
1/2 tsp caraway seed (1/8 tsp)

Note: Pork butt (called Shoulder in Canada) is quite a marbled with fat. Fat is a necessity in making sausage that isn’t dry. If you can’t find well marbled meat, or if another roast is on sale, use a ratio of 3 lb leaner meat with 1 lb unsalted pork fat (like fatty bacon) ground into the mix.

Fry a tsp to taste for seasoning.
Grind the pork through the fine setting of your grinder. Refrigerate until well chilled – a few hours. Since pork tenderloins (very lean) were on sale at our local grocery I use that and added the pork fat.

After the meat is chilled, thoroughly mix all the remaining ingredients together. Then knead them well into the meat. Note, because of the wine the colour will not be exactly what you expect, but no worries, it’s all natural and the results are stellar.

Test the flavour of your sausage seasoning by frying a small bit of the meat until cooked through. Adjust your spices accordingly. (This is one of Julia Child’s handy tricks. It works with much more than just homemade sausage.)

The red wine imparts an unusual tint, but fear not.
It's fantastic.
If using casings
Stuff into sausage casings. Hang the stuffed sausage in a cool place until the casings are dry to the touch. Refrigerate or freeze immediately after drying.

If not using casings (bulk)
If you do not have a sausage stuffer, you can store the sausage in patties or in bulk. Refrigerate or freeze as desired.

This is a recipe I will come back to often. It "is" Italian sausage like we buy pre-made, but it is head and shoulders above what we get from the grocery.

I am unbelievably happy with the result.


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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recipe: Indian Chicken with Saag, and a Vegetarian Version

We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made! – Albert Einstein

Spinach, fresh from the garden. Photo: Rachel & Zane Ross, Flickr ccl
"Eat your greens!" We've all heard our mothers say that to us. Well, I can't think of anything much greener than Indian Saag. Couple that with chicken thighs being on sale this week at one of our local groceries. By on sale I mean what would normally cost you $8-9 now costs $3.50. That’s a sale I can get behind. Now add in that we’re growing spinach in our back yard that is in need of picking. You have the basics for an interesting meal.

According to the “when life gives you lemons” philosophy, since life gave me chicken and spinach I had to find a tasty way to use them. Since I am the self-proclaimed "master of one dish" meals I went looking for something to fit that particular bill. My idea came from a local restaurant.

Fry the chicken until golden browned.
Photo:, Flickr ccl
Recently we had a gift certificate to the Taj Mahal Restaurant in Halifax. One of our dishes was a lamb saag that was fantastic. Saag, if you don’t know, is a spiced dish that is composed mostly of spinach. It’s a great way to get a lot of greens into a meal.

By the way, the Taj Mahal deserves a post on its own. It’s a fantastic Indian restaurant. If you get a chance to go order the onion fritters appetizer. If you don’t, and see someone else get them, you’ll regret it.

I posted a recipe earlier under “Foraging” that had a saag made of a weed called lamb’s quarters that grows locally in disturbed soil. This one is much more “traditional.”

Saag, a common Indian dish, can be made with any meat. Most usually it is chicken, beef, goat or lamb. But that's not all that can be used.

"Vegetarian" versions
To make a truly vegetarian version, brown paneer (or firm tofu )in some oil and use in place of the chicken. Even firm white fish is sometimes used in saag. The fish is added to the saag in the last few minutes of cooking. Some vegetarians eat fish, others do not, so I thought I would outline the option.

Saag is most usually served with basmati rice. To make a slightly more interesting version, add a few cardamom pods to the water. They will impart their fragrance into the finished rice. Make sure you remove them before serving, although some people (like me) like to bite into the pods to get a burst of flavour.

Indian Chicken with Saag
Prep 10 min  |  Cook 45 min  |  Serves 3-4
6-8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
8 oz package baby spinach
1 cup chopped tomato, with juice
1 lg onion chopped
1 tbsp ginger, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup milk
3 tbsp curry powder, hot
1 tsp cumin seed
6 green cardamom pods
1 tbsp sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper

Heat a large skillet or sauce pan and fry the chicken on both sides until browned. (I find frying skin side up works best as the fat renders down into the pan faster.) Remove the chicken and leave any collected fat in the pan.

Rinse the spinach, drain and add to the fat in the pan. Stir until it begins to wilt. Then add in the onion, ginger and garlic and cook until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the chopped tomato and milk to the pan. Purée the mixture with an emulsion blender. Then stir in the spices, sugar, salt and pepper. 

Turn the heat to medium high and cook for about 3 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust any as desired. This is your cooking sauce, so the taste has to be what you want for your final flavour.

Then add the chicken back into the pan and nestle it down into the saag. Cover the pan (with cover slightly ajar), reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Check often (and stir) to ensure the saag doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. The saag with be fairly thick. If it gets too thick add a little water or milk.

Serve with basmati rice and warm naan bread.


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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Liqueur Recipe: I need a stiff drink… Blue Curaçao

Booze may not be the answer, but it helps you forget the question. – Henry Mon

Beautiful photo, eh? Photo: Marco Wessel, Flcikr ccl
Ever have one of those days? I’ve been having a few lately. It’s enough to drive you to drink. Since I’m in this frame of mind I thought I’d post a liqueur. It’s been a while, I know.

In celebration of hopefully more warm weather I’m posting one that has to age in the sun. For four weeks no less... So you’ll have it for August. I believe this is the longest ageing of any liqueur I’ve written about. It’s worth it though.

Photo: chispita_666, Flickr ccl
What is blue curaçao?
From Wikipedia
Curaçao is a liqueur flavoured with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit, grown on the island of Curaçao. A non-native plant similar to an orange, the laraha developed from the sweet Valencia orange transplanted by Spanish explorers. The nutrient-poor soil and arid climate of Curaçao proved unsuitable to Valencia cultivation, resulting in small bitter fruit on the trees. But the aromatic peel maintained much of the essence of the Valencia varietal, and the trees were eventually bred into the current laraha cultivar, whose fruits remain inedibly bitter.

The drink was first developed and marketed by the Senior family (an old Caribbean family of Spanish Jewish descent) in the 19th century. To create the liqueur the laraha peel is dried, bringing out the sweetly fragranced oils. After soaking in a still with alcohol and water for several days, the peel is removed and other spices are added.

The liqueur has an orange-like flavour with varying degrees of bitterness. It is naturally colourless, but is often given artificial colouring, most commonly blue or orange, which confers an exotic appearance to cocktails and other mixed drinks.

So there you have it. Any drink that you’ve seen that’s blue has curaçao in it. Since it’s a bit difficult to get hold of laraha fruit, we use seville oranges which have a somewhat similar bitter peel.

I found this recipe on the web a few months ago. I’ve tried to find the source but I can’t. So I’ll just have to send out a general thank you to whoever posted this summertime drink staple.

This is supposed to be a "Blue Angel" but it
can't be, because they have cream.
Photo: xMizLitx, Flickr ccl
Blue Curaçao Liqueur
5-6 weeks to make, so do it now

3 tbsp bitter (Seville) orange peel
12 valencia or navel oranges
2 2/3 cup vodka
12 whole cloves
1” cinnamon stick
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 1/3 cups water
2 cups white sugar

Peel oranges and cut each section in half. 

Put in a large sealable jar along with the peel, cloves, coriander and cinnamon. Add sugar, vodka, and water. Shake until the sugar is dissolved. Place out of the sun to infuse for 4 weeks. 

Strain the liquid through cloth (or a very fine sieve) and allow to sit for any remaining sediment to settle out. This may take up to 2 weeks. When settled, carefully pour off the clear portion and bottle. Do not include any liquid that has sediment.

Add blue food dye to colour.

A couple uses for your liqueur:

A Blue Lagoon. Photo: Mundoo, Flickr ccl
Blue Sapphire
1 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
5 - 7 oz cranberry juice

Pour both ingredients into a collins glass filled with ice cubes. Stir and serve.

Blue Lagoon
1 oz vodka
1/2 oz blue curacao

Fill a highball glass with ice, add the vodka and blue curacao and top up with lemonade, stir and serve.


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Monday, June 27, 2011

Recipe: “Inside Out” Beef and Chillies Enchiladas

Love is blind, but not the neighbours. – Mexican Proverb

Tasty "inside out" beef & chillies enchiladas.
The finished shredded beef.
I found some steak in the freezer today. Since I was trying to make room to put more stuff in “there” I figured it was time to thaw them out and deal with them. The stupidest thing about a freezer is the oldest items always gets pushed to the back. We’ve all found something in ours that is surprisingly old, haven’t we.

I had sort of planned for enchiladas of some kind because I found very ripe avocados and on-sale tortillas at the grocery. What I didn’t plan on was making a recipe that is nearly inside-out.

They’re not actually inside out, but they most of what goes outside on the inside. Self contained shall we say… Usual enchiladas have a spiced meat filling, mixed with some tomato sauce, baked in sauce and cheese on top. Chopped tomatoes, sour cream and avocado are served at the table. In this recipe they’re all inside. It worked very well.

The finished sauce.
The idea came from another recipe I found when I was looking for recipes on how to cook with yogurt. The problem about cooking with yogurt is unless you stabilize it in some way it breaks in the oven into water and milk fat. Yuck. It seemed like too much a chore for this recipe.

I avoided the issue by substituting sour cream. I also added a lot of the “outside” ingredients to inside with the sauce. These enchiladas aren’t particularly spicy in case you’re wondering. I think it was due to the chopped chillies which were on the mild side. If you substituted pickled jalapenos you would have a fiery beast.

Step 1: the avocado
There is also only two chopped tomatoes in these enchiladas, so I guess they would fall into a category of "white" enchiladas, if there is such a thing. 

There is hardly any added fat, except for the cheese and dab of butter. If desired, you could use cooking spray for the pan so they don't stick and low fat Monterey Jack. I used low fat sour cream for the sauce.

Serve side dishes with these and one enchilada is enough per person. So without further ado, here’s the recipe.

“Inside Out” Beef and Chillies Enchiladas
Prep: 15 minutes  |  Cook: 2 hr 30 min  |  Makes 6 large enchiladas
Step 2: the beef
6 10” tortillas
2 lbs beef steak
2 limes
1 cup beef broth
2 tsp chilli flakes
3 tsp whole cumin seed
1 cup sour cream, low fat
3 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1 can (127 ml) chopped green chillies, drained
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
salt and pepper
2 avocados
1 tbsp butter

Cut the beef into large pieces. Place in a deep sauté pan with a cover. Add the broth, chilli flakes, 2 tsp cumin seed and the juice of 1 lime. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low for 1-1/2 hours. Turn the beef periodically. Check occasionally to ensure it doesn’t go dry. If so add a little water.

Step 3: the sauce. Then roll up, seam side down.
After 1-1/2 hours the beef will be “fall apart” tender and the liquid will nearly be gone. Shred the beef and return back to the pan. Let cool for 30 minutes. Stir in the juice of the remaining lime. The meat will absorb the lime and any remaining liquid. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.

While the meat cools, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Combine the sour cream, 2 cup of the cheese, green chillies, 1 tsp cumin seed, chopped tomatoes and green onions. Add 1/2 tsp of salt and some black pepper.

Peel and mash the avocados. Spread 1/6 of the avocado on each tortilla. Then place 1/6 of the shredded beef down the centre, followed by 1/2 cup of the sour cream mixture. 

Roll up and place seam-side down in a buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle the top of the enchiladas with the remaining 1 cup of cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbly on top.

Serve each enchilada with side dishes if you wish, like Spanish rice, refried beans and/or corn bread.


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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Recipe: Semone's Bakery “Egg Butter” Tarts No. 1

I want to have a good body, but not as much as I want dessert. – Jason Love

The great experiment begins. Egg Butter Tarts No. 1
I have a childhood remembrance. They're kind of funny, though. It’s almost like you transform your memory into the ideal of whatever it is you remember. I know I have with this memory. It’s become sort of an obsession. And all over something as innocuous as tarts.

For the crust, cut the butter in to the size of peas.
When I was a child there was a small family-run business in Liverpool named Semone’s Bakery. Our family used to frequently stop there after the weekly grocery shopping – just before we started on our way home.

I think that my parents felt the shortest time we kids were in the car with the cookies and such the better the drive would be. They were right. We started to beg the moment we left town.

The bakery was in an old-style storefront with large window displays and a recessed entrance. Once you entered, there were two wood and glass display cases running parallel down each side. Both were filled with all manner of wonderful things to eat.

There were rolls and breads of all kinds, of course, which filled the air with homey aromas. Besides the breads were rows of sweets arranged on paper lined baking sheets. Although there were many, I really remember two in particular.

Handle butter crust as little as possible or the butter will
melt and your crust will be "oily".
They sold the best gingerbread men, with eyes and buttons made by dots of red food dye. But my favourite were the “egg” tarts. Not butter tarts, not chess tartlets, not Portuguese tarts. They were unique. Not too sweet, not too custardy. Indescribable actually.

Mr. Semone passed away many years ago and the bakery has long since been torn down. With its closure went the breads, rolls, gingerbread men – and the egg tarts.

For a while now I have been trying to find “his” recipe. I assumed for a long time that it was just another egg tart and all I had to do was find the right one.

But I never have. I think he made his recipe up or it was a family recipe. So I now have a challenge. Rediscover a recipe that has been lost – from only an idealized memory. Fun.

I don’t like butter tarts because they’re way to sweet. Almost teeth rattling sweet. The same holds true for chess tartlets.

Portuguese tarts are excellent and I love making the swirled bottom crust (check out a recipe if you don’t know what I mean). But Portuguese tarts are eggy. They are, after all, a variant on custard. My ideal tarts are somewhat sweet, yet somewhat custardy.

I used an inverted small bowl to cut the circles.
This recipe is attempt No. 1. These are head and shoulders above sugary butter tarts and sweeter than custard. They’re a set filling but neither a custard or sugar. Quite interesting.

It’s not quite what I remember but they’re very good. I’m going to keep trying so expect Semone No. 2, No. 3, etc.

In the meantime, try this recipe. They're really good and have a great little butter crust.

Egg Butter Tarts, No. 1
Makes 12 tarts

For the filling:
3 eggs
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/3 cup melted butter
1/3 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

For the crust:
2 cups white flour
1 cup chilled butter
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup ice water

Make the crust first. Cut the chilled butter into the flour until the size of peas. Mix the egg yolk with the water, pour over the flour/butter and mix with a fork. 

Use your hand to bring the dough together, but work quickly. The heat of your hand will melt the butter if you don’t do it fast. Not all of the flour needs to be incorporated. The dough will tell you what’s enough. Don’t try to force it.

Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

While the dough is in the fridge and the oven is heating make the filling. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and beat with a mixer on “high” for 4 minutes.

Roll the dough out on a floured board until it is quite thin. Use something round to cut 5” circles of dough out and line 12 tart shells.

You will have to recombine the dough pieces and re-roll to get 12 circles, but that’s OK. Just don’t handle it too much because of the butter. The dough recipe will have very little waste when you're done.

Pour a scant 1/4 cup of filling into each lined tart. Make sure all tarts have the same filling amount. It will probably be about 3/4 the way up the pastry.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-17 minutes, or until slightly puffed and browned on top. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Then remove the tarts from the pan to a rack and let cool completely.

To gild this particular lily you could whip some cream and place a dollop on top of each tart just before serving.


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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Recipe: Company’s Coming? Curry Chicken Pasta Salad with Grapes!

Love, like chicken salad a restaurant has, must be taken with blind faith or it loses its flavour. – Helen Rowland

Sunset at the cabin. Photo: slolee, Flickr ccl
When the weekend comes most of us try to make plans to spend time with family and friends. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the kitchen preparing food while everyone else is outside enjoying the beautiful weather.

Would you prefer drinks on the deck or slaving away in the kitchen? Whether you're at home or the cabin, this recipe lets you enjoy your weekend outside with everyone else. Not only does it take only about 1/2 hour to prepare, but it has the added bonus of actually improving in flavour if it is chilled for a while. So you can make it ahead and take it with you.

Photo: wayneandwax, Flickr ccl
The ingredient combination is interesting not only in flavours but also in textures. Soft chicken and pasta combined with crisp celery, pepper, green onions, and snap peas. Then there’s the sweetness of the grapes and the firm texture of the cashews. To guild the lily, it’s all tossed in a tart curry dressing.

I used chicken thighs for this recipe because they’re about 1/3 the cost of chicken breasts in our local groceries. Use chicken thighs or breasts in this recipe depending if you like dark or white meat, or if you wish substitute turkey for an altogether different flavour.

For a unique twist substitute the grapes for raspberries, pomegranate or blueberries. If using fruit that will “run” its colour, mix in carefully at the very end after the pasta has been added and tossed.

If you're having more than four people, this dish makes a great side dish for a backyard barbecue.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do. I can almost guarantee you'll be asked for the recipe!

Curry Chicken Pasta Salad with Grapes
Prep  20 minutes  |  Cook 10 minutes  |  Serves 4 as a main dish

1/2 lb small shell pasta, or similar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb chicken, skinless & boneless
1 red pepper
1 bunch green onions
1 rib celery
1-1/2 cups seedless green grapes
1/2 lb sugar snap peas in pod
3/4 cup cashews, whole or pieces
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1-12 tsp cracked black pepper

Bring salted water to a boil in a pot. Add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time on the package.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Chop the chicken into small bite-sized pieces and fry in the oil until done through. Remove the pot from the heat.

While the chicken and pasta are cooking, chop the red pepper, green onions, celery and pea pods into “manageable” pieces. Add to the pot.

Slice the grapes in half and add to the chicken. Add in the cashews, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Mix all the ingredients together.

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard and curry powder. Pour over the chicken mixture. After the pasta has finished cooking, drain well and add to the pot. Toss all together to coat with the dressing.

This pasta salad can be served warm or refrigerated for later. 

One note though, as pasta salad cools the pasta absorbs the dressing. So if you make it ahead more than 24 hours you will most likely have less dressing than if you dressed it just before serving.


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Friday, June 24, 2011

Foraging 17 & Recipe: Irish Moss & Cream Pie with Strawberry Compote

When the tide is out the table is set. – Euell Gibbons

A tiny piece of Irish Moss. It usually is in clumps.
Photo: dsbrennan, Flickr ccl
It’s been a while since I wrote about foraging. I’ve been kind of preoccupied with the Canada Food Guide and what’s growing in my and other people's gardens. But do I have a good one for you today.

For this one we have to get our sneakers wet, or at least go barefoot. We’re going to the beach! Every time the tide recedes the grocery store opens if you know what you’re looking for. It could be clams, mussels, or even dulse. This time we’re looking for Chondrus crispus, otherwise known as Irish Moss (or carrageen moss). 

This most definitely not the kind that grows in beautiful mounds in your garden. This is delicate purplish seaweed that you see on the beaches and in tidal pools of the North Atlantic. Don’t be grossed out. You almost certainly have already eaten it. Irish moss is used extensively by the food industry to make jelly and as a smoother/binder. Products with carrageenan range from ice creams, deserts, and drinks to savory foods.

Irish moss is a frilly marine algae three to six inches high with flat, progressively forking fronds, often found in unbroken mats in shallow tide pools.  Its color ranges from green to ochre to purplish brown. It contains large amounts of carrageenan, a substance used in making ice cream, gelatin, even beer. The Irish have gathered and eaten the moss for more than 600 years, hence the name.

While Irish moss has a supple, leathery texture when freshly picked (easily done by wading along the low-tide mark and gently pulling the individual plants free), boiling transforms it into a gelatinous "pudding" with a delicate sea flavor. (Some have described it as “almost tasteless.”) Top with a bit of vanilla, milk and sugar for a treat New Englanders have enjoyed for years. Irish moss is spiny and tough when dried, but is readily reconstituted and converted to a gelatinous state after boiling 30-40 minutes back home.

After soaking for several hours. The colour tends to drain away.
Photo: Airstream Life, Flickr ccl
Health benefits of Irish Moss
Irish Moss contains Vitamins A,B,C,D. Irish Moss is also an excellent source of minerals and nutrients such as sulphur compounds, protein, iodine, bromine, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, pectin, B-vitamins and vitamin C.

Notably absent from a vegetarian diet, sulphur-containing amino acids, such as taurine, are abundant in Irish moss, more than in any other type of seaweed.

Clinical trials have found that carrageenan is one of the first substances to attack the common cold virus in the body (and not just the symptoms). It is also under study for beneficial protection against herpes, HPV and HIV infections. Most of these studies are at an early stage and trial results have not been conclusive.

How do you use this exotic ingredient?
Irish Moss will help aerate (fluff-up) any liquid and is a substitute for gelatin and other thickeners. It can be used as a thickener and/or setting agent in pudding, ice cream, milkshakes, mousse, cream pies, as well as savory dishes, nut cheese and nut “yogurt.”

Just so you know, it's also used in the manufacture of beer, toothpaste, shoe polish, pet food and personal lubricants.

How to prepare for use: Soak and pick through the Irish moss using several changes of lukewarm water for a few hours. Make sure it is very clean.  

How to use: (one method) Blend the Irish Moss with some water until it is well broken down and very creamy. It can be cooked "as is" (like listed above), or added to recipes creamed. It can also be used "raw" as a thickener in recipes and then strained out, as in the method below.

How to store: Dried moss can stay up to a year in a cool dry place, as the salt will preserve it. You may also blend the soaked moss with a little water until you get a thick creamy consistency; store it in a closed glass jar in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. 

Recipe: Cream Pie with Strawberry Compote
Photo: MooBob42, Flickr ccl
1 L 10% cream
1/3 ounce (a small handful) Irish moss
1/3 cup sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp Grand Marnier liqueur
1 tbsp orange zest

Graham crust
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp allspice

Strawberry compote
3 cups strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
1/4 cup Grand Marnier liqueur
1 tbsp sugar

First prepare the crust. Add all ingredients together. Mix well and press into a 10” spring form cheesecake pan. Refrigerate.

Making the custard filling. Photo: Foodchronicles, Flickr ccl
Secondly, prepare the moss by soaking and washing it in three changes of cold water. Wash, soak for 5 minutes, wash, soak for 5, wash and soak for 5 more minutes. (15 min total). Each time you change the water check for shells, small stones and dark spots.

Pour the cream into a double boiler to heat. When at the boiling hot, add the washed moss and orange zest and cook for thirty minutes. The mixture will thicken up when chilled.

Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, stirring the moss to allow all the milk to drain out.

Add the remaining ingredients to the cream. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour into the prepared crust and refrigerate.

Make the compote about 1/2 hour before serving the pie. It isn’t advisable to do the sauce and then refrigerate as refrigerated strawberries are always more sour.

Place the strawberries in a food processor with the Grand Marnier and sugar. Pulse a few times to combine to your desired consistency. You should still have well distinguishable chunks of strawberry. 

To serve, top slices of the pie with the strawberry compote and whipped ream if desired.


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