Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Kale and Cress and Eggs--Oh My!

Going to the Greenmarket this time of year always inspires a certain ambivalence of feeling in me. Ordinarily, by the second week of October I'm saddened by the recent finale of tomato season, but amped up at the expected debut of Romanesco broccoli; energized by the need for a sweater, but enervated by the thought of months of chilly dark just around the corner. This year, I've been thrilled that tomatoes are still abundant, but annoyed--and mildly alarmed--that it's still So. Freaking. Hot.

No matter. This week I embraced two new-to-me varieties of something I consider a fall veggie with a visit to the International House of Kale. Red Russian Kale is flatter then regular kale, with jagged edges that make it look a lot like crazily overgrown dandelion leaves (which I didn't get a decent picture of because I'm a terrible photographer and they were all too blurry to use, so thank you to Amy Albert for not suing me for lifting the following from the Fine Cooking website) .

Nice Amy's Red Russian Kale

It doesn't take as long to cook as regular kale, but is incredibly pungent. It would, I think, overwhelm most dishes, and be a bit much on its own. I parboiled it, then did a rough chop before a quick saute with some garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil. I served it piled on toast that had been spread with a garlicky cranberry bean puree, then topped each toast with a grind of fresh pepper and a splash of red wine vinegar.

Black Tuscan Kale (not too-terrible picture below) was as relatively quick cooking as the Red Russian, but not nearly so strongly flavored. Ultimately, the most interesting thing about it was how hypnotically beautiful the wash water was dancing and beading over its alligator skin surface. Yes, I spent almost half an hour washing one more or less already clean bunch of greens. No, I wasn't high.

Pretty Pretty Tuscan Black Kale

Another thing I ran into this week that I hadn't noticed before that bears just a quick mention is Upland Cress.

Upland Cress--the dainty horseradish

The sign (at Paffenroth's, natch) indicated that it was like a slightly spicier watercress, and could be used interchangeably. I disagree. It's not so much spici-er as spicy-different. It tastes just like horseradish. It added a nice little pep to a salad, but I usually eat watercress as a tea sandwich on heavily buttered white bread, and this stuff was NOT working for me in that capacity. Maybe as part of a zakuski spread to go with chilled vodka instead of a tea tray. Hmmm, now that I think about it, I just might have more to say about Upland Cress, later, after all.

Finally this week, I could no longer resist the quail eggs. They were $3 a dozen. I had $3 left in my pocket. It seemed like kismet, no? In the interest of full disclosure, I have prepared quail eggs before, but I don't think it counts. I bought a can of hard boiled ones at a Chinese market because they were so cute and, not really having any other idea what to do with them, made itsy bitsy deviled eggs out of them for a party. A bit twee perhaps, but I liked them. But I've never started with raw ones, so they still fall under the rubric of this experiment.

N.B.: They are tiny. One recipe for a quail egg omelet gave the equivalency of five quail eggs to one hen egg. That seems about right.

Quail egg vs. hen egg
Second note: Priiiiiitty! As it turns out, "brown speckled" covers a rather wide range.

Quail Egg variety

Be aware that tiny literally translates to pain in the ass to crack without breaking the yolk. It's important to know what you're getting yourself into. I'm here to help.

The ideal way to crack a quail egg without breaking the yolk would be to have big, sharp acrylic nails put on just your thumbs. Presuming you won't be using enough quail eggs in your daily life to make that a feasible option, I suggest employing a paring knife. Tap a seam down one side of the egg, breaking the shell but not penetrating the membrane. Go back along the seam with the (well sharpened) tip of your knife to open up the membrane. Thumbs on wither side of the seam, pull halves apart.

Tiny also translates to pain in the ass to peel when boiled. Your only hope is to follow these directions explicitly. This is actually the best way to peel any boiled egg, but for larger eggs it just makes thing easier, whereas for quail it's crucial if you don't want a thimbleful of mush.

1. You must have prepared an ice bath--not cold water, actual ice in water--sitting near the pot you're boiling your eggs in. When they have been in as long as you want (depending on how hard you want the yolk) scoop them out of the hot water and immediately submerge in the ice water. Swirl around in the ice for a couple of minutes until the eggs cool off noticeably. This both stops (or at least retards) the cooking process and causes the egg flesh to shrink away from the shell resulting in easier peeling.

2. Once the eggs are cool enough to handle comfortably, smash the fat end, where the air bubble is, hard enough to crack the shell but not so hard as to damage the egg. Cracking the egg at the air bubble end will allow you to break through the membrane without mutilating the egg itself.

Another challenge I encountered with these little cuties was how exactly to cook them. I found lots of recipes on the net using boiled quail eggs, but only one reference to how long one should boil them. Given that I don't care for eating Superballs, I disregarded that advice--to boil them for seven minutes. Much trial and error revealed that it is best to put eggs in cold water over medium high heat, bring water just to a boil, then turn off the heat.

For soft but not runny yolks, remove eggs to ice bath immediately.

For still translucent but fairly firm yolks, leave, covered, in hot water for 1 minute.

For quite firm yolks, leave, covered, in hot water for two minutes.

Any longer then two minutes, the yolks might still be fine but the whites will turn rubbery.

Frying was equally. . .interesting. Over easy wasn't that hard to get right, just be extra careful when flipping, but you really have to go with the super-cute sunny side up presentation for Barbie eggs, right? Ok, so. . .

Fried Quail Eggs Trial and Error
Ok, clockwise from top left:

1. Fugly chewy. The yolk was a good consistency, but broken. And the whites were rubbery.

2. Yucky slime. The whites were good, but the yolk was barely warm.

At this point it occurred to me that a mold of some sort might be useful. And I was right, it confined everything enough that the yolk and the white at least had a fighting chance of being ready at the same time. Of course the flower shape provides continuity for The Curse of the Twee Quail Egg, but it was all I had small enough, and I think it's cute anyway. So there.

3. Much better, but I missed the target with the yolk, so it's all cockeyed.

4. Yahtzee! Perhaps not Thomas Keller perfection, but the white is just done, and the yolk is just oozy without being really messy. Perfect enough for me!

Oh, how do they taste? A lot like eggs. But really rich, eggy eggs. In fact, they stand up for themselves quite well to Amy's Prosciutto and Black Pepper Bread--
a pairing to which even the best hen eggs bring nothing but texture.

So, overall, I would have to say that, a little like our new puppy, quail eggs are a bit of work, but cute and nummylicious enough to make it worth the effort.

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