piri piri at the intersection of the girl-goat — give me your fire for 2018 ::::
We visited my parents in Illinois for the holidays this year, similar to a trip we made in September. Our MO was similar both times: eat, talk, drink tea, read books, listen to the children scramble all over the house. The only difference is that in December, the house was bursting with all of us. All my siblings and all of their kids arrived from California to Maine, easily carving out space in an already full home. First item: we are apt to find any floor space for sleeping. When some of the cousins were not visiting other relatives for a night or two, our brood lined up blankets for a massive slumber party.
It was a sort of adult hibernation for us this holiday season, pre-Christmas.. Hibernation is a period of inactivity, of cocooning, a dormancy, a reduction of metabolism. The kids staying up late with cousins explains their sleeping in, even if 20 glorious minutes more than usual. We had cozy, warm meals of soups and stews, bolstered by noodles and salads. I spent a few late nights voraciously reading, unaware of the time, tucked into some corner. The weather in Illinois hit freezing temperatures with unpackable snow (no building of snowpeople) and consequently there wasn’t lengthy outside activity to tire us out. Lots of pent up kid energy inside ensued. Other nights, I faded to sleep with kids still bouncing around me, unusual with my typical restless lucidity. Catching up on sleep one night usually gives me a burst of night owlishness the next. It is an asymmetric cycle of never quite a routine save for the fact that there is a pattern of asymmetry.
I’ve been melting into my warm bed quickly, book in hand, computer humming nearby inviting me to blog, guitar recently tuned and ready to sing. The last two days, this is gone largely undone. My brain must need extra time each night to process my multitasking. It’s processing in overdrive this year. Maybe my internal clock is anticipating the end of 2017 as a milestone of more “git ‘er dun.” As much as I wish I could limit my sleep nightly so that I could get more done, my body says, nope, hibernate. Honestly, I bet it will be a few days of this before my fire is lit again.
When we visited Illinois in September, Eat and I had a kidless date night at The Girl & the Goat in Chicago (809 West Randolph, Chicago, IL 60607 — my former zip code). We waited at the bar for our reservation to be ready and I started with the cocktail Ring of Fire. The extra jalapeno bitters I asked for made it spot on — I usually don’t ask for a cocktail recipe to be altered but I couldn’t resist more spice with tequila. It was good omen. Imagine our surprise when we were seated at the Chef’s Table, basically a two-person counter right next to the kitchen were we could nod at the sous chefs at that station ask about the food.
Whenever there is a restaurant like this with a fast pace and hip feel, I expect reviews to be along the Bell curve. “I didn’t like the pig face, too fatty,” one reviewer could say. What do you expect with an animal covered in fat? “My reservations took too long.” Whatever. “The menu lacked creativity.” Who ARE you? You didn’t order the right thing, obviously. We can honestly say our experience was on the stellar end of it. While we had favorite dishes and ho-hum, I’d still recommend everything we tried to adventurous eaters.
The pan fried Shishito peppers with miso, sesame, and parmesan sounds like a weird Asian-Italian mash up. Not so. The goal of this dish is to appreciate of all the umami going on in the miso and parmesan. I could have eaten three bowls of this stuff. The green beans with fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews with aioli was a close second to the Shishito peppers. We needed to pace ourselves to the next dishes.
The well-known item on the menu is the wood oven roasted pig face with sunny side up egg. I felt this whole dish could have been a standalone: if I had to eat just one dish for a whole day, this would be the one to get me through. It’s like the best breakfast hash with pork, egg and fried potato sticks, flavored with tamarind, cilantro, and maple gastrique. The face is prepped almost like a chashu pork or a porchetta. The result is tons of flavor with an underused part of the pig.
We dove into the goat belly confit with lobster bourbon butter sauce, with crab and fennel too. This dish was fair, a bit gamey (I tend to veer away from gamey meats), and pretty heavy. We were getting full and desensitized at this point.
Dessert of tiramisu and caramel corn with malt balls (vanilla malt gelato, caramel popcorn, and magic shell chocolate likeness) came and went, though underappreciated. We were so full and wowed by the rest of the meal, my usual need for some sugar to balance the savory wasn’t necessary. Our intermittent banter with the kitchen staff near our counter table earned us accolades for not being grossed out with the offal and a “Friend of the Goat” designation on our receipt. Not sure what that entails, but bragging rights are fine with me.
But let’s back up. By far, my favorite dish of the whole night and the inspiration for the recipe I have below was the fried duck tongues with tuna and black bean poke and piri piri sauce. O. M. G. The balance of fried tongues with the lightness but rich flavors of the poke were outstanding. Don’t let the duck tongue part scare you. Really, it’s just meat in small pieces. And it’s fried! Who doesn’t like fried food? Poke always makes a table better. The piri piri sauce? It barely registered but I noticed it. It was there and I was intrigued. And so started my hunt for a recipe.
Literally, the name means “pepper pepper” in Swahili when talking about the pepper itself, descending from South America and growing wild in Africa (mostly Eastern from what I can tell). The pepper is small and long, not quite habanero hot but enough to heat up a bite of food. The sauce is Portuguese, though variations occur depending on the region using it. I like the Food and Wine recipe from Shaun Doty, with sweet and spicy peppers, smoky with smoked paprika, and a bit of a vinegar and lemon tang that goes well with meat. (FYI: The stock photo Food and Wine shows does not show the right sauce. The instructions say to “puree until almost smooth.” The photo on their site does not represent almost smooth pureed sauce!) This was one of the three sauces that ended up on our Thanksgiving table, making enough to feed an army. It and the chimichurri ended up being our favorites on the turkey. I’ve put leftover piri piri on scrambled eggs, vegan chili, fish. Almost anything is better with this sauce on it. The leftovers freeze well and rethaw in the fridge for a fantastical 2018 brunch topper. It might just light yer fire for a great beginning of a new year.
Hibernate, no more. Happy 2018 — may it be a great year.
One year ago: nut-hugging cinnamon bear cookies
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- ½ medium sized onion, finely chopped
- finely chopped 3 fresh red chiles, such as cayenne—stemmed, seeded and finely chopped. I used 3 finger chiles.
- 4 Thai chiles, finely chopped (I increased from 3 to 4 from original recipe)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup water
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- In a large pan, heat the olive oil and add the bell pepper, onion, all chiles, garlic, and paprika and cook over moderate heat until the vegetables are softened, about 12 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a blender and let cool slightly.
- Add the vinegar, lemon juice and water and puree until almost smooth. I prefer a Vitamix for this job to make the sauce really smooth.
- Season the sauce with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before serving.
- The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Let return to room temperature before serving. It also can be frozen and thawed before using though may need to be reblended in the blender to help consistency. I did not need to do this, but it depends on what consistency you want.