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The Crab and Sausage challenge

Updated: May 3, 2021

This week was about a basket of mismatch ingredients Mexican, Polish, Italian. It was a satisfying learning experience turning these ingredients into a tasty meal.



Basket ingredients:

  1. Polish sausage

  2. Crab meat

  3. Guacamole

  4. Rolled mozzarella & prosciutto

  5. Ravioli

The challenge:

  1. Prepare a meal highlighting the basket ingredients

  2. Use any pantry ingredients as needed

  3. Cook within the time constraint of one hour

Judging criteria:

  1. Creativity

  2. Presentation

  3. Taste

 

First reactions:

The basket ingredients this week felt like a mismatch of a few different cuisines. I had guacamole which has Mexican roots, ravioli and mozzarella with prosciutto which are Italian, and sausage which is Polish. Crab meat, the ingredient that in normal circumstances would throw me off, surprisingly felt less scary when put in this grouping of ingredients. I felt like I had various ways of integrating it into the dish no matter which direction I took the meal in.


A pattern that I noticed with a few of these challenges under my belt now is that there’s always one common idea that comes to my mind week over week. What if I made a soup with something on the side? I’ve been deliberately driving my thought process away from it, and I’m so glad that it’s forcing me to think of other creative ways of utilizing the ingredients.


OK. Not a soup, then what?

  1. One idea was to make mini pizzas using the abundant amount of mozzarella cheese that this basket provided. Polish sausage, prosciutto, and crab meat would make lovely toppings. I could make a quick pizza dough, however the challenge with this dish would be incorporating guacamole.

  2. Another idea that came to my mind was making a lasagna out of raviolis by incorporating guacamole in the sauce, and using crab meat and sausage to layer along with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese. This idea seemed too obvious so I decided to skip.

  3. The last idea was to draw inspiration from one of the basket ingredients, guacamole, and make empanadas as an ode to Mexican cuisine. I later learned that Empanadas have their origins in Spain and Portugal, before coming to Mexico. I had never eaten or made empanadas before (also didn’t for sure know what they were?!?), and I felt like going this route would provide me with an appropriate level of challenge. It would also give me an easy way to make a vegetarian variation for myself, and I decided to go ahead with the idea!


The process:

  1. Filling for empanadas: I started by chopping up an onion, a few brussel sprouts, and some radicchio. I heated some olive oil and added a teaspoon of grated garlic, and started sautéing the veggies. While the veggies were cooking, I sliced up the mozzarella roll and diced the sausages into small pieces. Once the veggies sautéed, I saved a portion of it for my vegetarian empanada before adding in the crab meat and the sausage. I mixed everything and left the ingredients to cook together on medium low.

  2. Empanada dough: Next, I started to prepare the dough.

    1. I took about 2 cups of flour in a mixing bowl and added some salt to flavor.

    2. I melted half a stick of butter and mixed it into the flour to form a nice crumble.

    3. I then took two eggs and separated the egg yolks from the whites and whisked the yolks together. I saved the egg whites to use in breakfast the following day. I mixed the yolks into the flour and butter mixture and incrementally added it small amounts of water until it formed a nice dough. I covered it and popped it into the fridge to rest.

  3. Ravioli chips: I decided to cut out one side of raviolis to extract the cheese, and use the shells to make some sort of chips for the empanada. I didn’t know how successful this would be, but I was eager to see how it would turn out. I heated some oil and deep fried the ravioli shells to form flower shaped chips.

  4. Assembling the empanadas: Once the chips were done, I got the dough out of the fridge and made four equally portioned dough balls. I added a good portion of the filling to the rolled out dough and topped it with a layer of mozzarella & prosciutto slices before folding and sealing it. I used an egg white wash to seal the empanadas and used the press-and-twist method I had seen on TV to further secure the seal. I made a not-so-pretty version of the twisted seal but felt slightly proud of myself for pulling it off. I started deep frying the empanadas on medium low until they turned golden brown.

  5. A side of salsa fresco: While the empanadas were frying, I decided to make a quick salsa fresco incorporating the mozzarella cheese I had extracted from the raviolis and some of the guacamole. I chopped half an onion, two large tomatoes, and a couple of serrano chillies and put them into a mortar. I added some salt, juice from half a lime, a little bit of mozzarella crumbs from the raviolis, and a spoon of guacamole before mixing everything together.



Plating

Like last week, plating these were not too complicated. I composed each of the plates by placing an empanada with a side of ravioli chips and salsa fresco. All the components nicely filled up the plate and it looked like everything belonged together. I felt like the plate could use something more to add character. I decided to put a dollop of sour cream and guacamole on the empanada, and the plate looked more complete at this point!



Final dish:

Crab and Sausage Empanada with Ravioli Chips and Salsa Fresco


What I could have done differently:

I’m surprisingly happy with the outcome. This week was full of firsts, experimentation, and learnings.

  1. Details are important! I noticed that there were chip crumbs spread out on the plate and I feel like I should’ve taken a minute to clean it out before taking pictures. I was tired at this point but an additional minute of effort could’ve gone a long way.

  2. In the excitement of incorporating guacamole, I mixed in a big spoonful of it into salsa. This changed the color to a murky green and ended up looking not very enticing. Lesson: adding is easy but removing is hard. Small increments to test it out next time!

  3. I wish I had cilantro handy so I could use it in making the salsa and also as a garnish. I’m realizing that I should stock up on some of the garnish components.

  4. One of the empanadas started opening while deep frying. Lesson learned was to secure the empanadas more tightly next time.

  5. Instead of deep frying, I could have used the convection oven or the air fryer for the empanadas and ravioli chips. I need to shake my habit from Indian cooking of deep frying everything. I’m making a mental note to explore alternatives to deep frying.

  6. Some of the ravioli chips that had cheese still left on them started browning when they were deep fried. I could’ve avoided this by cleaning them out more thoroughly and getting them out of the oil a little sooner.


Verdict:

  1. Personally, I am very happy with how the dough crust turned out. It was nice and flakey, and I could think of so many dishes I could make with this dough (like samosas, dessert empanadas with fruits, savory chips, etc.)

  2. Nathan (husband and Judge #1) loved the empanadas! The feedback was that the empanada dough was perfect and flaky, and the stuffing was nicely flavored. He mentioned that the ravioli chips were on the tougher side when compared to corn chips, but went ahead to finish every bite of the meal. (Win!)

  3. My toughest 15 year old Judge #2 didn’t complain at all!?! This was a huge win for me. He ate the salsa and chips first before moving on to the empanada, and while he didn’t outwardly praise it, he finished the dish without complaining. I’m going to savor this victory until next week. :-)

All in all, this week was a satisfactory experience both in terms of the new things I got to experiment with and learn, and also how the final output came together. As intimidating as it is when I open the basket each week, I’m enjoying the opportunities these challenges are providing me to improvise in the kitchen.


Star sightings




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