Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Snobby Done Easy: Gastrique

This is a fancy-pants dish that gives you a lot of bang for your buck, both nutritionally and presentation wise. Plus the name is fun.

Traditionally, a gastrique is a reduction of sugar, vinegar or wine, and fruit juice usually served with meat or seafood (thank you Wikipedia). Despite the sugar it is not necessarily sweet. But it is extremely pretentious :)

I deviated from the "traditional" with this because cranberry juice is so tart all on its own that additional vinegar is unnecessary. Also, I chose to thicken it with arrowroot instead of reducing it, but you can do either. This is a very versatile sauce, it would be just as delicious pair with roasted or pan-fried seitan or tofu as it would be spooned over vanilla ice cream.

If you have never made homemade caramel before this would be a great recipe to practice with. It has very little sugar so you will not have to wait long (impatience is the downfall of many a caramel) and it is very forgiving since the caramel is a background flavor and not the star.

I use sweetened dried cranberries here because I like the little bursts of sweet against the slightly bitter chard and tart gastrique, but you can use unsweetened if you prefer.

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Cranberry Gastrique
Make sure you read the notes following the recipe. This serves 4-8, but you will probably have extra sauce if you use arrowroot instead of reducing it. Make the gastrique first, it holds very well. The directions may seem a tad long, but really this only takes 20-30 minutes total (longer if you reduce it, but that is pretty hands off) and you can make the gastrique in advance, further reducing cooking time right before serving. It will seem like a great deal of chard, but it will loose a significant amount of volume when you cook it, so trust me.

For the Gastrique
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp water
1 cup 100% cranberry juice *
1/4 - 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (if you reduce your gastrique you'll probably want to use closer to 1/4 cup since you will have less sauce)
1 tsp arrowroot powder (optional)
1 tsp water (if using arrowroot)

Pour the sugar and tablespoon of water in a small, light colored, high sided sauce pan over high heat (it needs to be light so you can watch the color progression and it needs to have high sides because the mixture will bubble vigorously when you add the juice). Make sure all the sugar is moistened and then you wait. Once the sugar has all melted swirl the pan gently until you see large, slow bursting bubbles, like this:

From now on you do not remove your eyes from this pan. This will go from perfect to a burned mess in a matter of moments, so stay put! Once it has progressed to a nice medium caramel color (you should also start to smell it) carefully pour in about half the juice. There will be hissing! There will be steaming! There will be much bubbling and general commotion! Stay calm, this too shall pass. After the mixture has settled down you will notice that the caramel has hardened up on the bottom of the pan. That is okay. Resume your swirling until you see that the caramel has loosened its death grip on your pan and melted into the juice.

Add the remaining juice and bring mixture to a rapid simmer. At this point you have a decision to make. You can either keep it simmering until it reduces by a half to two-thirds or you can speed things along with arrowroot. If you opt for arrowroot, mix it with the remaining teaspoon of water until completely smooth. While stirring constantly, pour it into the juice. Bring back to a bubble and stir until thickened. Add cranberries and cook one minute longer (also wait until a minute before it is done if you are reducing it before adding the cranberries). Remove from heat and set aside. 

For the Chard
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 - 2lbs swiss chard, washed, stemmed, leaves chopped **
salt to taste

Place a strainer in the sink or a bowl.***

Preheat the olive oil in a very large skillet, wok, or stockpot until you see wisps of smoke. Add the chard all at once. (Again, there will be much hissing and steaming!). Using tongs, toss the chard, folding up from the bottom so that it all gets a chance to dance with the heat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. As soon as it is all just lightly wilted and still bright green (2-3 minutes, tops) remove from heat and dump into strainer. Tent with foil or a plate and allow to drain 5 minutes.

Place chard on serving plates and spoon gastrique on and around the greens (doing this individually will give you much better presentation). Eat, enjoy, smirk at your haughty cuisine skills!

* It is imperative you use 100% pure cranberry juice and not cranberry juice cocktail or cranberry juice blend. If you have a Trader Joe's they carry 100%, otherwise check your health food store. (Yes it is more expensive, but it is *a lot* better for you - very little sugar, more antioxidants. I like it mixed with club soda.)

** I used swiss chard from my garden which was huge and had giant stems. If yours is more reasonably sized you probably only need 1 1/2 pounds since you will have a greater leaf to stem ratio. Also, if the stems are fairly small and tender you can chop them separately and start them in the pan a couple minutes before you put in the leaves. Mine were too tough and stringy to bother.

*** I strongly encourage you to drain your greens. I like them just barely wilted, but since they are not cooked to death they will continue to loose some water after you remove them from the heat, creating an unappetizing puddle on your plate if they are not drained. 


Unknown said...

Looks yummy:) Oh and btw IF you actually manage spending only $25/week on groceries you will be my hero... there is NO way i could do that yet. I am excited about my spring/summer weekly CSA though!

Anonymous said...

it looks delicious! sorry I missed it.

- "B"

Anonymous said...

Ohh, lovely, delicious, and healthy- Can it get any better?

ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

Woah, sounds fancy-shmancy!