Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Recipe? Yeah not so much.

Chef Michael Smith has encouraged people to cook "without a recipe" (and has cookbooks to back that up.... wait, what?).  He really is wonderful, and has helped many people look at cooking through a different lens.  A lens I grew up with.  My mother seldom pulled out a recipe, unless she was baking.  She either whipped up tried and true meals, or made things up as she went along.  Those things didn't always turn out, mind you (charred grilled chicken glazed with soy and dried oregano comes to mind).  But that's how she cooked.  And as I taught myself to cook, I let recipes guide me, but not necessarily dictate the end result.  I love reading cookbooks, and have watched cooking shows for as long as I can remember (Celebrity Cooks with Bruno Gerussi, anyone?), and I've always had a passion for food.

So when my husband and I tried a smokey onion dip at a local barbecue restaurant, I knew I had to recreate it (and not just because my husband gave me that look of "You're making this when?" after his first bite).  I googled and found a recipe on the Food Network site from Diners Drive Ins and Dives that looked promising, but when it came down to it, I didn't have the time to smoke onions.  So I ditched the recipe and struck out on my own.  The result was an ever so slightly sweet, deeply smokey dip with a savoury edge and a little texture that would make an amazing burger topping.  People raved and asked for the recipe.  I'll do my best to make this somewhat easy to follow, since I have no exact measurements for anything.

I started by slicing up a monster Spanish onion and caramelizing it in butter in a stainless pan (non-stick pans just don't give you that sticky, brown goodness).  I sprinkled it with a little sugar and a smoked salt that I have, but I'm sure that regular salt would be fine.

As the onion cooked, I grabbed a bowl and combined roughly equal parts mayonnaise and Greek yogurt (maybe a cup and a half of each?).  To that, I added about a teaspoon of garlic powder, a generous squirt of brown sauce (A1 or HP, take your pick), a good splash of Worcestershire, about a teaspoon of smoked paprika (easy to find - even WalMart carries it) and a very generous couple of teaspoons of liquid smoke (check the condiment isle - I use the Hickory).  That went into the fridge.

Once the onions were lovely, brown and pretty soft (but not mush), and the bottom of the pan was covered in that beautiful brown fond, I added another teaspoon or so of smoked paprika, and deglazed the whole thing with some beef broth.  Honestly the liquid doesn't matter too much.  It could have been chicken stock, beer or just water.  I used just enough to get all of the bits scraped up from the bottom of the pan.  Then I scraped it into my food processor and pulsed it until no large pieces of onion were left, but there was still some texture.

After chilling the onion paste in the fridge, I stirred it into the creamy mixture that I'd set aside and tasted it.  At that point I played with the salt and smoke.  Go with your own preference.  Add more garlic powder if you like.  Or some cayenne (or chipotle, for extra smokiness).  Stir in some crumbled Feta or Bleu cheese if you think it would be good.  Once you're happy with it, you're done.  It will mellow in the fridge, so if you're making it in advance, taste it before you serve it.

I served it with wedges of whole wheat pita, but as I said, it would be equally great on a burger.  My husband used it as the creamy component to some chicken salad.

I'd insert a picture here, but my 4 year old just polished off the last of it.  So here's a flashing chicken.

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