By Daniel Neman
From St. Louis Post-Dispatch
For dinner last night, I whipped up a simple little shrimp dish. And then I made it a simple little exceptional shrimp dish.
The basics were shrimp, white wine, onion, garlic, mushrooms, and lemon juice, all cooked in a mixture of olive oil and butter.
The exception was preserved lemon.
Suddenly, an ordinary weeknight meal (OK, maybe not an ordinary weeknight meal) was elevated to Olympian heights. Each little piece of preserved lemon was like a mini hand grenade of bright flavor, giving a special pop to the more subdued shrimp.
I could only make it because I had a fresh jar of preserved lemons in the fridge.
They were easy to make, and it didn’t take much time at all. It cost me less than five bucks, all told—it’s just lemons and salt—and now I have a game-changing condiment to add to seafood, chicken, vegetarian dishes, and even red meat (in the right recipes) for the next six months to a year.
What I’m talking about here is what economists call ROI: Return on investment. A small culinary investment yields big culinary returns.
And it wasn’t just the preserved lemons. When I said I sautéed the shrimp and other ingredients in a mixture of olive oil and butter, what I really meant was a mixture of olive oil and ghee. Ghee is butter with the milk solids removed, so you can get it quite hot—say, for stir-frying shrimp—without it burning.
It’s easy to make. Simply melt butter gently and pour most of it into a jar. The milk solids are the white bits at the bottom; stop pouring before they go into the jar as well.
It doesn’t even have to be refrigerated, because the milk solids are the part that can spoil. It takes maybe five minutes to make, and the investment pays delicious dividends for months to come.
Two days before I made the shrimp, I made a dish of braised sirloin tips, which I served on basmati rice. Once again, the hearty braised beef was praiseworthy—I praised myself for making it—and notable.
And then I made it manifestly special with the addition of a single wedge of demi-glace.
I had made the demi-glace a couple of months earlier, keeping it in the freezer and parsimoniously doling it out ever since, whenever I wanted to send a meal into the exosphere.
I am more frugal with my demi-glace because, frankly, the investment in both time and money is considerably higher than with preserved lemons or ghee. But the payoff is far greater, too.
Demi-glace is easy to make, but it consumes a lot of time. Basically, you roast veal bones and then simmer them slowly in a very large amount of water, along with a few aromatics for extra flavor. The next day—it’s a two-day recipe—you simmer the liquid for more hours and hours until it has reduced and concentrated its flavor from about eight quarts or more all the way down to a quart and a half.
It’s a quart and a half of pure gold. I cut mine into 12 wedges—it has so much natural gelatin in it that you can cut it once it cools—and freeze them until the time comes to take a dish that is already good and turn it into something truly spectacular.
It is the best return on investment that I know.
Note: Smaller lemons are best for this recipe, and Meyer lemons, in season, are ideal. I fit 10 Meyer lemons into a 38-ounce jar.
- Lemons (see note)
- Salt, preferably coarse
- 1 bay leaf, optional
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, optional
- 1 dried chile, optional
- 1 cinnamon stick, optional
Wash lemons. Cut off the stem, if attached. Slice lengthwise from the other end of the lemon, stopping about 1-inch from the bottom; then make another downward slice, so you’ve incised the lemon with an X shape.
Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. Don’t be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon.
Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chile, and a cinnamon stick if you want, or a combination of any of them. Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover and let stand overnight.
The next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for 2 to 3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. If necessary, add freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover them completely.
Store for 1 month, until the preserved lemons are soft. At this point they are ready to be used. Use or keep preserved lemons in the refrigerator for at least 6 months. Rinse before using to remove excess salt.
To use, remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the juice, which can be used for flavoring as well. Discard the pulp.
Recipe from David Lebovitz
Note: Veal bones can be purchased from some butcher shops (grocery store butchers often cannot get them). They may need to be pre-ordered.
Makes 12 servings
- 10 pounds veal bones, or equal parts veal, beef, and chicken bones
- 1 pound carrots, washed and unpeeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 pounds unpeeled onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 1 large leek, cut lengthwise in half
- 3 celery ribs, cut in pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place the pieces of bone in a large roasting pan and brown in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, turning once, halfway through. Add carrots and onions to the bones, and continue roasting 30 more minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the bones and vegetables from the roasting pan and transfer to a large stockpot (at least 12 quarts). Pour out and discard the accumulated fat in the roasting pan. Add water to the roasting pan about 1/2-inch deep, bring to a boil, and use a metal spatula to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and melt the solidified juices.
Add this liquid to the stockpot and fill it with water. Slowly bring to a boil; then reduce heat to a low simmer with just a few bubbles breaking the surface at any time. If your heating element is too hot for a low simmer, move the stockpot so it only covers a part of the heating element. Simmer for 1 hour, using a strainer or spoon to remove the foam that rises to the surface.
Add the tomatoes, leeks, celery, bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil again, then reduce temperature to a low simmer. Simmer for a generous 10 hours. As the liquid evaporates, periodically add water to keep it at about the same level.
Using a chinoise or a fine-mesh sieve, strain out the bones and vegetables. Place the stock in a clean pot and boil down until it reduces to 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) of liquid. Let cool, then pour into a bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Skim all fat off the top, then remove gelled demi-glace from the bowl. Slice into 12 wedges (each will be 1/2 cup). Wrap each wedge with plastic wrap, place all in a sealable plastic bag, and store in the freezer for up to 1 year.
Recipe is too variable for a meaningful nutritional analysis.
Recipe adapted from “La Methode,” by Jacques Pepin
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