Category Archives: lemon

Shucking Oysters: Mighty Aphrodite Granita

Air chilled September has arrived to the East coast with the oyster season fanfare first in Montreal  and now in the New York City. If you’re an oyster geek or just an exploring amateur,  it’s time to learn a few new things about the little bivalve and the best ways to enjoy it. For those who can’t go to the Big Apple or line up for the new celebrity chefs’ oyster creations, there’s plenty to catch up with: dozens of fresh oyster varieties have just arrived into all major groceries and are now available for the price of a lollipop per pop. So if the shucking oyster party is your thing (which you can still enjoy outdoors as the current street temperature provides the best timing to serve and taste the oysters), it’s time to experiment with the new oyster condiments.

The New York Oyster Week founder Kevin Joseph has just declared a war on the traditional cocktail sauce from seventies (it’s about time someone bans that dreary creation out loud) and strongly encourages that people start using some freshly ground condiments like horseradish to bring the best out the fresh oyster. And here is when I pitch in with my latest granita, little icy Sicilian dessert that was first made with the snow from the Mount Etna.

Specifically, my new favorite, which I called Mighty Aphrodite Granita – a Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint Granita. Don’t get me wrong, I still love classic Mignonette sauce  like any other person, and totally agree with Nigel Slater that ‘nothing quite takes the salty, iodine tang off a good oyster like the shallot vinegar, Tabasco and lemon.’ But there’s something I’ve discovered about granitas: they can make a really creative condiment (a little step up from just a generic lemon) that would not only complement the taste of the oyster, but would also make a perfect palate cleanser or an entremet between sampling different kind of oysters, so your palate’s capacity will be enhanced to actually catch the difference between say Malpeque from Kumamoto, or Raspberry Point, or many other varieties (check  Montreal’s La Mer for the local stock).

Granitas are very easy to make: the icy texture can be reached without any special equipment (like the one required for sorbet) – all you need is fork, tray and freezer. They make a stunning presentation. The melt fast, so your oyster will not be compromised with too much ice. And then there’s something else: there’s no particular proportion – you can customize your own granitas with your own amounts and preferred ingredients to reach the sweetness-sourness-saltiness balance according to your needs.

Julia Child mentioned in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking that the French Royal Court preferred to pair the oysters with Sauternes, the famous sweet wine of the Bordeaux region. This inspired me to make a sweet, slightly acidic granita with a splash of dessert wine, sugar, lemon juice and the refreshing touch of ginger, cucumber and mint. The result was outstanding. And guess what, if you don’t have any botrytis wine at hand, you can successfully replace wine with a dash of champagne or rice vinegar. Or just omit the alcohol completely and your granita will still taste heavenly and will make a fun and clever condiment or an entremet.  And don’t forget to use some liquid leftovers to wet the rim of the shot glasses before dipping it in a lemon, celery or your choice of salt mixture for any chilled booze you would like to serve with your oysters (from sake to tequila to Guinness).  

As much as I’m for letting the imagination go experimenting with citrus granitas, a word of a personal warning: stay away from experimenting with soya or ponzu sauce granitas – they are too overpowering and completely kill the taste of the oysters. I made some on our last Valentine and they both ended up in a trash leaving us to a humble simili-caviar condiment only, but then of course the good ol’ mignonette arrived to help in a jiffy. 

Back to our feature Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint granita: three -five minutes work, an hour in a freezer, basically all the job is about forming ice crystals with the fork every 15-30 minutes depending on the quantity you make. You can serve as a little refreshing adult digestive or dessert as well. Believe me, I wouldn’t waste my time on writing this if it wasn’t absolutely delectable condiment, dessert re-fresher and a palate cleanser. 

One nice slurp of a briny devilish oyster followed by the tiny spoon of this pristine pure-tasting granita will pair and separate both gracefully (‘with a bite of the buttered brown bread to follow to stimulate the papilles… and then of course, a fine mouthful a white wine’, as recommended by legendary M.F.K. Fisher). You will only wish to continue tasting that dance and at some point might actually start feeling one step closer to a mighty Aphrodite (with, obviously, cucumber green hair and a piece of ginger in her hand for this recipe), the Greek goddess of love, who sprang from the sea on an oyster shell. And then the myth of the little aphrodisiac was born… Which ultimately brings me to Jay Rayner’s advice to ‘never date a man with no taste for oysters’ from The Guardian’s article ‘If You Don’t Like Oysters,You Will Never Be a Grown-Up’, but that’s another story…

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‘Mighty Aphrodite’ Lemon Ginger Mint Cucumber Granita
Ingredients:
½ cup (125 ml) water
1 juice & few peels of a lemon
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced
3 tbsp (45 ml) granulated sugar (put more if desired)
1 small splash of dessert white wine (Sauternes at best, but cheaper dessert wines, or champagne, or rice vinegar can sub) (optional)
2 spring fresh mint
1 small cucumber, grated or liquefied
24 freshly shucked raw oysters on the half shell
Pinch of salt
Instructions:
Place water in a small pan with granulated sugar, ginger and lemon peel /juice. Heat gently to medium-high and lower the temperature. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes, remove from heat, add a splash of wine mint leaves, mix and set aside to cool down. Strain the liquid through a sieve. Grate cucumber with skin on the zester or liquefy it in the blender with a bit of syrup. Sieve if desired and pour into the rest of the syrup.
Freeze for one hour or until mixture is frozen around the edges in a shallow container or plate.
Draw the ice from the edges towards the center with a fork. Return to freezer. Repeat this process about 3-4 times, every 15-20 minutes, or until all mixture is formed of ice crystals. Serve immediately as condiment or entremet, or keep in the air tight container in the freezer until ready to use for up to one week.  When ready to serve, spoon the granita into wine goblets, shot or martini glasses.

Chef Cora’s Chicken Lemon Soup


Once you try this four-season soup for the first time, it will instantly evoke the feeling of comfort and home.  Avgolemono(αυγολέμονο) is the real name of this traditional Greek chicken ‘noodle’, and though it is much more popular these days in many non-Greek kitchens (and even some New York hip restaurants) than, say, a decade ago, I think it still merits to be showcased again and again, so many more people can admire its heavenly fusion of its components. Homemade chicken stock with chicken, lemon juice, eggs and rice: just imagining these ingredients together already sounds refreshing and soothing at the same time, for rain or shine, summer heat or winter cold.
One rumor has it that Avgolemono might be originally a Jewish dish from Iberia; other credits the soup invention to the Greek mountain shepherds.  Which might be confusing, but, really, who cares today? You will realize with the first spoon that it doesn’t even matter who invented it. It will carry you away to the sunny Greece and you will just be craving more after.
I’ve opted for one of my favorite Iron Chef’s Cat Cora (who is also one of the 50 most influential women in food, according to Gourmet Live ) recipe of the soup considering her Greek origin and the number of stars Food Network awarded to her Avgolemono.  I slightly modified it, oven-drying the chicken in advance, adding bouquet garni and carrots and leeks to the stock from the beginning. Otherwise I kept the recipe intact.
I liked the fact that she was using whole eggs (no waste) and cooking the chicken from scratch. Some recipes use just the egg yolks instead of whole eggs, or beat egg whites to make it whitish and foamy, some trade rice for orzo. This recipe is using Arborio rice. Please note that it takes around 3 hours in total to cook the soup from scratch, but if you have a quality chicken broth, some roasted chicken leftovers and cooked rice in your fridge already, just skip the making-broth steps and proceed right away with egg-lemon sauce (I do it all the time). This way you will have an amazing soup within 15 minutes or less.

Once you master the classic recipe, feel free to add some extras like grilled corn leftovers, green beans, or even chopped avocado if you wish to add some Latin American touch to the dish and make it more complex.

Quick warning: when re-heating the soup, do not bring it to the boiling point, or the egg will coagulate. It will still be tasty, but much thicker and may be not as pretty, like this one I warmed up the other day for too long. 
The origin of Avgolemono can be traced back to the times of Alexander the Great. Almost as old as the Greek civilization itself, it table travels me to Greece every time I eat it and makes me think of Woody Allen’s quote about the ancient ruins: ‘you see those ancient ruins and you’re hyper-aware of the fact that thousands of years ago, there was a civilization that was mighty… and how glorious it must have been. And now it’s a couple of bricks here and a couple of bricks there and someone’s sitting on the bricks eating their sandwich.” Well, Avgolemono soup in my case, which, I’m sure, will survive as a great Greek classic dish for as long as humanity will continue to have chicken, rice and lemon.
Enjoy!
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One Year Ago: Muffuletta Sandwich 
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AVGOLEMONO: CHICKEN SOUP WITH EGG-LEMON SAUCE
Ingredients:
One 3 lbs free-range chicken (or equivalent in chicken parts)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and quartered
1 leek, cleaned and quartered
1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, parsley and thyme) http://www.letsheatit.com/2013/03/easy-chicken-stock-for-body-soul.html
2/3 cup Arborio rice
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 large eggs
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 450F. Wash chicken under cold running water and pat dry it. Optionally, place the chicken in the oven for 15 minutes to dry further and seal the juices for the clear quality broth (turning at least twice to dry it all around). Transfer chicken in the large pot and add enough cold water to cover the chicken. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to low skimming the foam when necessary.
Heat the oil in a separate pan over medium heat and add onions. Cook the onions until clear for about 5 minutes. Add to the chicken pot. Add the bouquet garni, carrot, leek and simmer for about 1 ½ -2 hours (depending on the size of the chicken) until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the broth. Let the chicken cool. Pull the meat from the bones. Dice into large cubes and set aside.

Discard the carrot and leek. Bring the broth back to boil and add the rice to the broth. Turn the heat to simmer and let the rice cook for to al dente for about 30 minutes (15 minutes max for long or jasmin rice). Add the chicken back to the broth. If necessary, add some boiling water.
Beat the lemon juice and eggs together in a small bowl. Pour two cups of broth slowly into the bowl, whisking constantly. Once the broth is incorporated, add the mixture into the pot of chicken soup and stir to blend well. Add the salt and pepper. Serve hot garnished with minced fresh parsley, oregano or dill.

Adapted from: Chef Cat Cora’s recipe for Avgolemono soup from Foodnetwork.com