Let’s talk about the President. Back in 1990- What? Oh, you thought I was going to talk about the new one? Hells to that. I’m a food blogger, ladies and gentlemen, not a masochist. The world can work that argument out as it sees fit. As a food blogger, here’s the only thing I feel I’m allowed to comment on with this election: Donald Trump likes his steaks well-done.
A choice that speaks of a refined sense of style, as all chefs know.
But no, I’m not here to talk about the current President, nor the president elect: I’m here to talk about an infamous line from the early 90’s: “I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!” Yes, it turns out the George HW Bush was not a fan of our buddy the brassica, and had banned it on Air Force One and in the White House. He stated he’d never been a fan of the vegetable, and no one could make him eat it anymore. Funnily, his proclamation actually increased broccoli sales, so I guess there really is no such thing as bad publicity. When you’re a vegetable, at least.
Some History for Tiny Trees
As I noted in my Cauliflower steaks post, and several others, broccoli is a member of the brassica oleracea species, including several other prominent vegetables, like cauliflower and kale. (Perhaps humorously, President George W Bush once told President Vincente Fox of Mexico to grow Cauliflower instead of Broccoli during a meeting on Fox’s ranch and broccoli farm. Like father, like son.)
It was first ‘created’, so to speak, in Italy, and was supposedly a part of Roman cuisine. (I say supposedly because it’s sometimes hard to figure out whether an older text means “broccoli” or “cauliflower”, as the terms were used somewhat interchangeably.) By the 16th century, broccoli came to England, and Thomas Jefferson himself imported both broccoli and cauliflower seeds to plant at Monticello.
Of course, he didn’t PLANT them himself, but, you know. Baby steps.
Personally, I’ve never been against broccoli. My family’s main uses for it mainly revolved around creamy salads (In the sense of a “potato salad”, over a standard green salad) and steamed as a side to red meat. I never really dealt with overcooked or ‘mushy’ broccoli. So I decided to give it a try.
A Bad Thing, Done Well
Of course, it may seem like a questionable choice to purposefully overcook food, but consider barbecue: Any reasonable chef would have stopped cooking by the 4th hour, but here we are at hour 15, and it’s almost perfect.
As such, this recipe (also snagged out of the Genius Recipe cookbook I discussed in the Carnitas post) is for essentially, broccoli confit. What’s a confit? Mostly into prison clothes. Little visual humor there for you. (For more audible humor, the joke would be “What’s a confit?” “I think we call that “bail.”) Pronounced “Con-FEE” (hence the bail joke), confit is a cooking technique from France, that was originally used as a preservation method. In fact, the word literally comes from the French for “preserved”. Basically, you cooked a food slowly to keep it fresh, and then could store the result even longer.
The most common version of this is Duck or Goose confit, where you simmer the salted leg of the bird in its own fat, and then store it submerged in oil. Or fruit confits, where they’re simmered in a sugar syrup and stored. Because the food is cooked to cleanliness, and the oil/sugar prevents bacterial growth by stopping oxygen, a duck confit can last weeks in a cool room, and months in a fridge. Confited fruit can last years.
Like how until shit grows on it, you can’t tell if Jam goes bad.
Since we no longer need to preserve foods as well, or, rather, have a great many more preservation options, one might suspect that we’d abandon the technique. But no, we haven’t, for a simple reason: confit foods are notably tender, moist, and flavorful. How? Well, I already told you: This is the barbecue of frying. Rather than create crisp exteriors like a deep-fry, this traps the moisture inside, and gently melts connective tissue.
As such, my plan was not to simply make mushy Broccoli, but rather, to make broccoli so soft, you could spread it.
Ready, Set, Wait
Now, as might be guessed, this is a fairly straightforward recipe. Blanch some Broccoli, prep some aromatics, and let simmer for hours. Boom, boom, bbooooooooooooom.
The first step is, as with most long-cooked meals, the complicated part. You gotta chop up all the stuff. Cut the florets of the broccoli, and slice the stem fairly thick, in order that you have small enough pieces that they’re all permeated with the oil.
This is a crime scene in the world of Veggie Tales.
Then you blanch those. What’s that mean? Well, I’ll get into it more someday, but basically it’s a quick boil. Why? Well, blanching a vegetable does a couple things, but the one we care about is that it helps it keep its color. By blanching now, we keep the broccoli green, instead of an eventual disgusting brown.
Speaking of disgusting brown things, this recipe calls for anchovies. Now, I think I’ve brought this up before, but I am not an anchovy fan. (hell, I’m not a fish fan) But they are a good source of depth of flavor, adding a savory element that’s hard to pin down. Also, if cooked correctly, they dissolve into oil, leaving no texture behind. (Spoiler: I didn’t cook them quite right.) But, they make up a third of the aromatics: you need anchovies, garlic, and sliced red pepper. Fry them for a bit (the direct instruction is “Until the anchovies melt”, which, as you might guess, I failed. I fried for long enough to feel bored, and went with that.
This looks like a really bad soup, at this juncture.
Once you’ve fried enough, or not, as you see fit, it’s time to add the broccoli. Add it, toss it, lower the heat, and let simmer for 2 hours. I used the time to watch half of Puss in Boots, and half of Hotel Transylvania. I later reflected on the prevalence of Nietzche’s War of the Apollonian and Dionysian in Children’s media. (To grossly over condense: the war between the lifeless orderer of systems, and the creative self-destructive urge. Or, to put it another way: the Odd Couple effect: One guy who loves rules and tidiness, one who enjoys life but makes messes and trouble.) I even later reflected that I overthink things a lot.
Luckily, after 2 hours, the broccoli has softened in the oil, and the flavors permeate each floret.
This image does feel like the word “permeate”.
In the end, I let it cool moderately, and then mashed the result into a thick paste, using only my wooden spoon. Had I succeeded? Was this truly a broccoli soft enough to spread?
Take that, everyone who ever doubted my ability to render vegetables tender! Assuming you exist!
In taste, it was remarkable for its…uniformity. Heat from the pepper, of course, but otherwise, an almost buttery flavor. It was smooth and warm, and mellow. It tasted, overly poetic as it may sound, like home. The brisk green taste of fresh broccoli was worn into the kind of taste you get from the dark soft leaves in chicken noodle soup: one of healthiness, without a notably distinct profile. It tasted like it was something your mother made to make you warm on a winter’s day.
And that’s a hell of a success.
NEXT TIME: JON CONTINUES TO YELL AT AN ISRAELI MAN FOR MAKING A BAD TV SHOW.
2 head of broccoli
1 c olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 small chiles, sliced lengthwise (You can go as small as a pinch of red pepper flakes, but I took small red jalapeños.)
4 diced anchovy filets
Salt and pepper
- Boil a large pot of water. Cut florets from stalk, then peel and slice stalk into thick slices. Toss broccoli into water, bring back to a boil, and blanch 5 minutes. Drain.
- Heat oil and garlic in large skillet over medium heat. Add anchovies and chiles when garlic begins sizzling, and cook until anchovies melt, or 7-8 minutes. Add broccoli, salt and pepper, and toss. Cover skillet, turn heat to very low, and cook 2 hours, turning broccoli every 30 minutes or so.
- Remove broccoli from oil, and serve.