Saturday, 11 April 2015

Day 49 - April 11, 2015 - Preparing Our Home-Made Kokoretsi - Προετιμάζοντας το Σπιτικό μας Κοκορέτσι

Today is the day that we prepare for the Resurrection.  It is a busy day of attending church, preparing soup and food, and remembering to thank God for all the wonderful gifts, joys, and challenges that we are able to face each day.  Up until now, we have tried to focus more on prayer, family, and Lenten foods.  We have one more treat to share for this season, and it is something that many may not consider to be a treat -- kokoretsi.  What is kokoretsi that turns off some and excites others?

Kokoretsi is a traditional Greek style, homemade sausage-like delicacy (to many, but not to all!).  It is hand made, hand tied, and roasted along side the lamb (in many cases).  It can be an appetizer, a meal, or a snack.  For us and many others it is a filling food, packed with flavour, iron and protein.  So, what exactly is Kokoretsi?

We have previously shared with you our family recipe for making Mageritsa (Sunday, April 15, 2012), where we use the liver, heart, kidney, and lungs to make a very traditional soup.  Now, we are taking that same offal to make a special sausage-like delicacy called kokoretsi .  But, there are a few particulars about this sausage-like treat that makes it completely unique and different from any sausage you buy in a store.  We took the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver of our lamb and cut it into pieces, wrap it in a sheet of fat (caul fat) and tie it together with intestines to make this dish.  If you are not able to get these body parts from the butcher, then, come to Canada, and we will help you get some offal from our favourite butchers at Sun Valley Supermarket in Scarborough (part of Toronto).

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 package of lamb Sikotaries (lamb liver, kidneys, lungs, and heart)
1 pound caul fat
1 pound entera (lamb intestines)
salt, pepper, oregano

First, we would like to point out that we really do use the entire animal.  We try not to be wasteful, so we cook the outside of the lamb for the meat, but, now, we know what exactly we should do with the inside of the lamb.  Please allow 2 hours for this recipe, plus cooking time.

The first thing we did was wash the intestines.  A lot of icky things pass through the intestines in a lamb's life.  We need to rid the parts from all the impurities.  Initially, you may look at the intestines and think they are to thin and too narrow for anything be in there, but it can!  We used running water through the one end of the intestines and allowing the water pressure to push out the impurities.  We added water to the entera and the intestine tube expanded.  It was like filling a long water balloon, and we had to make sure the water washed through the entire length of the entera.  Allow the water to fill the intestines, and push it along, squeezing the intestines to squeeze out any materials still inside.  Continue to do this until the water running through the intestines come out completely clean.  We washed the enter five times to make sure they were totally clean.  This will take time.  This task, done with one somewhat inexperienced  person took two hours to clean 1 pound of intestines.  Continue to rinse until the water runs clean.  It is so important to have these clean, we just had to repeat ourselves.

Set aside the intestines, and now, and let's get the rest of the ingredients ready.  Since there are so few ingredients, we will start by getting the body parts cut.  We separated the parts from one another and cut each one to get relatively equal size pieces.  Using a scissors was easy for cutting, and we think that it was easier than a knife is for this meat.  The offal are small, soft and slippery, and may be difficult to handle.

After cutting all the pieces, we wanted to make sure to rinse the meat pieces.  We rinsed after cutting because there may be something on the knife or scissors as we cut through the meat, but washing after cutting will help wash away any residue that was there.  Put the pieces in a colander to wash or to rinse.  Run cold water over the pieces, turning them around and around, and continue to rinse until the water runs clear.  This should take only about 2 minutes.

Once all the water has dripped away from the meat, then put it all into a mixing bowl.  It is time to season the offal.  Start by adding a fair amount of coarse salt.  We like the coarse salt because it holds up to the moisture in the offal pieces.  Then, sprinkle some black pepper and oregano.  Toss the meat around with the seasonings, and make sure that all the pieces are evenly coated with all the spices.

Now, lay out the caul fat.  This is the stomach lining of the lamb, and it has a lot of flavour.  Buying it from the butcher should be rather easy, especially if you are buying the sikotaries, too.

Be careful when you open the sheets of fat -- they tear easily.  You will know it is fresh when you look at the pattern that is on each sheet.  The pattern should be clear and easy to distinguish.  If the caul fat is all bunched up and does not show the beautiful pattern, it may be a little old.

Lay out the sheet of caul fat so it is longer than the skewer.  It is okay if it is not as wide as the skewer, since you can layer two pieces together.  We laid our sheet of fat on a piece of parchment paper.

Now, it is time to start skewering the meat.  It has been sitting aside for about 10 minutes, while we go the fat ready to use.  That ten minutes was enough time for the meat to marinate a little, and you will see that the salt pulled out some of the liquid from the offal.

Carefully stick the skewer into each piece of meat, trying to alternate kidney, lung, liver, heart, kidney,  lung, liver, heart… This way, each skewer is very alike (not quite identical).  When the skewer looks like it is full, squeeze together the pieces, trying to condense them into a shorter length.

When the skewer is assembled, lay it on the sheet of caul fat.  Center it the best you can.  Fold up the bottom end of the fat, covering the top of the skewer.  Then, roll the skewer until it is fully covered.  Tuck in the ends of the fat toward the middle of the log.  This will all be tied off with intestines, so if you have a little excess on the ends, do not worry.  Cut off the extra caul fat on the side, after making one layer of fat on the skewer.  Scissors work better than a knife for this.  Leave a bit of overlap on the skewer, just to make sure that all the meat stays covered for the tying process.

Once all the meat has been used, and all the skewers have been wrapped in fat, it is not time to make the bundles and tie with intestines.  We tie these for two reasons.  First, it is to hold together the pieces of meat inside the layer of fat.  The second reason is to try to squeeze the meat into a cylinder that is more uniform in width for the whole length, which will lead to more even cooking.

Using the clean intestines, find one end.  Start by tying one end of the intestines to one end of the skewer.  Because our skewers  have an open circle or square at the handle, we had a given place to tie the intestines.  If you do not have it, then tie them directly on to the skewer.

Start by lightly tugging the intestines down the length of the skewered meat.  Then, return to the top.  Allow for three or four repetitions up and down the length of the skewer.

Next, still using the cleaned intestines, wrap around the girth of the roll, going around and around for the whole length of the skewer.

Now, come back up the length of the kokkoretsi, wrapping intestines around and around the girth.  You will see a pretty pattern develop.  After four vertical and two times on the horizontal wrapping, cut the second end of the intestines and tie them to the tightly wound intestines on the kokoretsi.

Next, it is time to wrap the intestines around the girth of the kokoretsi.  This means that you need to go round and round and round the width, for the entire length of the skewer.  And, then, to make sure that you are pulling in and tightening all the pieces of meat inside, and you are trying to make a more even cylinder, wrap the same way back up the length of the skewer, which will form a nice pattern.  You do not have to cover the entire kokoretsi with the intestines, but you have to tie enough to keep all the pieces in place and to make a rather even cylindrical shape.

While wrapping the kokoretsi, you may experience the intestines breaking, or having a piece that is too short.  If that happens, you can tie the ends together like a shoe lace, and continue with your task.   Once all the skewers are wrapped with intestines, we need to wrap them in plastic to keep in the refrigerator over night.  This will give the kokoretsi a chance to marinate in the seasonings and caul fat.

Wrapping kokoretsi in plastic is easy, since it is done the same way as wrapping the skewer in caul fat.  Cut the piece of plastic wrap longer than the length of the skewer.  Now, roll the skewer so it is fully covered with plastic.  Twist the two ends closed.

Now, cut one more piece of plastic twice the length of the skewer.  Wrap the kokoretsi the other direction, from tip to handle of the skewer.  This will make sure that all the seams are covered with plastic wrap, and hopefully will help the liquid stay inside until tomorrow.  Just to be sure, put the wrapped kokoretsi on a tray before putting it in the refrigerator.  Then, say an extra prayer for the patience to wait for tomorrow when we can cook and eat these home made specialties.

These two photos were taken during the Resurrection Service, Holy Saturday 2015 (April 11/12)
 at Metamorphosis Greek Orthodox Church, Toronto, Canada

Friday, 10 April 2015

Day 48: April 10, 2015 - Fast and Simple Grilled Calamari - Γρήγορο και Απλό Τηγανητό Καλαμάρι

Today, we got a late start to preparing dinner, and we needed something quick and filling.  After all, during Holy Week, we do spend a lot of time in church in the evenings.  We wanted to make sure to include a good protein, so we were not just filling up on pasta and bread, and today, we chose to make a simple calamari.

Squid is one of those foods that you love or you hate, and you cook at home or you don't.  For a few years, we did not make our own calamari at home, and it was a "restaurant food" in our house -- one that you eat only when you are at a restaurant.  In Toronto, we have several preferred restaurants where they have mastered grilled calmari; one of favourites, as well as many of our family and friends, is the famous Toronto landmark, Pantheon Restaurant on the Danforth.

Now, after having tried many calamari dishes, and various methods from several people, we think we understand how good calamari can be.  Our favourite way is on the grill -- outside in our back yard.  But, with the lack of time today, and uncooperative weather, the barbecue was not the right choice this time.  Instead, we took a few steps to make the calamari almost as good as if it were done on the grill.

For this recipe, you will need the followoing:

2 whole squid tubes (one portion per person)
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley
between 1/4 and 1/2 cup oil
salt and pepper to taste

We started by preparing all the ingredients.  The squid tubes came prepared for us, they were clean and ready to use in the package.  Make sure if you are buying fresh squid, to remove the quill in the tube!  So, wash the squid and make sure they are fully clean.  Then, using a very sharp knife, score the tubes.  This means that you are going to cut through the calamari, but leave one side completely connected, so it makes a claw-like pattern.  Make your cuts as equal as you can so the squid cooks evenly throughout.  Put the cut squid into a zipper seal bag.

Now, cut up the garlic.  We chose to roughly chop the garlic since slices are too big, and a minced garlic is too small.  We still wanted to bite on actual garlic, but this is to our own liking.  Cut the garlic as large or small as you like to eat.  Add it to the zipper bag with the squid.

Roughly chop the parsley.  Leave the pieces larger so they look pretty in teh cooked dish.  If you want to use chopped parsley or dried, that's fine, but the dried parsley does not have the fresh flavour of the green leafy stuff.  If you use dried, use only about 1 Tablespoon for this recipe.  Add the parsely to the zipper bag with the calamari and garlic.

Now, add some salt and pepper.  You want to add them now so they land directly on the bodies of the squid.  The seasonings will stick to the calamari a bit more if it is put on before the oil or the lemon.  And, next, you will squeeze the juice of the lemon, and add that to the zipper seal bag.

Now, pour enough oil into the zipper seal bag so the oil fully coats the squid.  The calamari does not need to swim in oil and lemon juice, but it needs to be fully coated with the liquids.  When you seal the bag, remove all the air that you possibly can so the calamari stays fully coated and submerged in the oil and lemon juice inside the bag.  Allow this to sit and marinate for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the squid tubes from the bag, and set them aside.  Pour the contents of the bag (oil, lemon, garlic, and parsley) into a frying pan.  We want to cook this on medium high heat to get the flavours out of the garlic and the parsley.  Bring this liquid up to a boil, and allow it to boil for 2-3 minutes.  

Now, add the squid tubes to the pan.  The pan and the liquids inside will be rather hot, which will cook the squid rapidly.  Add the squid to the pan making each tube as flat as possible. 

When you see the squid bodies start to "grow" or "swell" it is time to flip the tubes.  It is always fascinating to us to watch calamari change shapes as we cook them.  Above, you can see how open the sliced parts of the tube have become.  This is the indication that the bottom side (in the liquid) has cooked to the middle.  And, this should not take more than 5 minutes, but that will depend if you truly had a boiling liquid and/or a very hot pan.  

Turn the squid tubes to the other side, and cook on the second side unitl you see a little more growth.  You will know they are done cooking when they look more reound than flat.  This took about 4 minutes on the second side.

When the squid is done, remove it from the pan, but leave all the liquid on the heat.  You want ot take the next 2-3 minutes to cook down the liquid and let it thicken a bit.

Once the liquid has reduced by about half, then you can pour the hot liquid on the warm squid and serve.  You will want to portion out the lovely chunks of garlic and parsley that were left in teh pan.  And, you may even want to sprinkle more parsley on top.  Serve this with your favourite bed of rice or pasta, or even simply some crusty bread, and enjoy.

This really was a 30 minute meal today, start to finish.  Sometimes, even 30 minutes can be too much time.  So, if we were rushing through this recipe, we would have marinated for only 5 minutes, and then quickly cooked the tubes in a very hot pan with the marinade.  That may have taken a total of 15 minutes.  But, 30 minutes to make this went quickly, and hopefully, everyone who eats this calamari will enjoy it as much as we do!

Good Friday procession. St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Chicago, Illinois
Source of video:

Christos Santikai - Ai genee pase.avi.flv