Saturday, February 6, 2010
Homage To The Lemon
One of my favorite flavors is lemon, without a doubt. I incorporate it into so many things that I prepare. I love its versatility, that it can compliment sweet and savory dishes alike. I love its uniqueness. It's easy to pick out that lemony bite in most anything you put it in. But at the top of my list of lemony treats is lemon curd. I loves me some lemon curd.
After I made some a few weeks ago, I took the time to savor a couple of spoonfuls before I spread it onto a cake. I thought about my impressions of it, what I love about it. Here are my thoughts: I love the explosion of tartness in your mouth balanced by the sweetness from the sugar. To me, lemon curd has so many, if not all, the characteristics that make me swoon. There's that tartness and sweetness, but it's also tangy, creamy, buttery, and rich. I'm very content to eat a couple of spoonfuls without any accompaniments (or guilt), but it's at its best when harmonizing with a moist layer cake, or cupcake...say, a lemon meringue cupcake?
Lemon curd is incredibly easy to make. If you have some lemons on hand, some eggs, sugar, and butter, you are on your way to lemony heaven. There is a way to do it that's more time consuming and requires more eggs and butter (see the Lemon Curd Cake recipe from a previous post), and, admittedly, the flavor achieved with that version is more complex. But I promise you, this one is almost as good. It won't disappoint you in flavor. I use this version more than the one I use to make the Lemon Curd Cake because of its simplicity to flavor ratio. Here's what you do: Put 4 eggs, 2/3 cup of sugar, the zest of 1 lemon, and 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice in a heavy bottomed saucepan and whisk until smooth and slightly pale in color (about 2 minutes). Put the saucepan over low heat and whisk until it thickens. Make sure you use low heat at all times or you will have lemony scrambled eggs! If your heat is low and you use a heavy bottomed saucepan, you should have no problem. It may take 5 minutes before it begins to thicken, but once it begins, it will be very thick in no time. The curd should be very thick, but still pourable. At this point, take it off the heat and stir in 3 tbsp cold butter until it's melted. To keep the curd from forming a skin on the top, cover with plastic wrap and press the plastic directly onto the surface of the curd.
Note: Although the flavor isn't as pure, bottled lemon juice can be substituted and the zest omitted if you have lemon juice in the fridge, but don't have any lemons.
Because of my love affair with lemon, I seem to never tire of eating "piccatas". Chicken? Turkey? Pork? Veal? Sole or another fish? Give me all of them. That combination of lemon, butter, and spices in the sauce is a winner with me. To make chicken piccata, buy some chicken cutlets and season them lightly with kosher salt and cracked pepper. Dredge both sides of the cutlets in flour and brown them all, using equal parts butter and olive oil. I like to use my large electric skillet because I can do them all at once (6 cutlets), but you can use any large skillet and brown your cutlets in batches. When golden brown on both sides, remove from skillet. Pour in 1/2 cup dry white wine and 1/3 cup lemon juice. Return the chicken to the skillet and scatter 1 tbsp drained capers on top (more if you want), 6 lemon slices on top of the chicken cutlets, and 1 tbsp of chopped Italian parsley. Continue to cook until sauce is thickened slightly. Take off heat and stir in 1 tbsp butter. Yum!
Lemon really does have a unique way of transforming a dish. When I feel like something's "missing" in a dish, sometimes a dash of lemon juice is what is needed to bring it all together. It adds a special quality to foods in that it can be both bold and delicate, depending on how it is used. In lemon curd, the flavor is bold. The lemon flavor takes center stage. But in homemade mayonnaise, for example, lemon flavor comes through tenderly, quietly, breathing a touch of refreshing acidity to those egg yolks, mustard, spices, and oil.
So today I pay homage to the lemon. You will forever have a place, albeit many places, in my kitchen. Thank you, lemon, for the fruity acidity that you bring to our tables. Your ability to equally triumph in the spotlight and rest in the shadows is admirable to me, the home cook, who is fond of adaptable ingredients. Lemon, you are appreciated, honored, and thankfully inexpensive! Your oil is fragrant and pleasing to most. Lemon, we pay you tribute for all you offer to our cooking!