Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chef's Tasting

Last week, Brandon and I did a Chef's Tasting for two of our longtime customers and two of their friends. Sometimes we go all out with technical tricks (soup filled dumplings, spherical piquillo peppers, etc.) but we just weren't feeling it for this tasting.

The day before the tasting, we had the first tremendous flood of local goods of this growing season and so we just decided to showcase what awesome food products we had and leave the technical tours de force for other tastings. I think these dishes show my less-is-more philosophy: just enough ingredients on a plate and no more.

Shrimp Cóctel

This is a pun, a wink at Luis Uno-Ojo, and an Americanization of a Mexican version of an American dish. Whew! Many years ago, my friend Luis from Guadalajara (Jalisco) introduced me to a soup that he calls cóctel (cocktail), a cold tomato and beef bouillon soup garnished with poached shrimp, avocados, cilantro, and so forth. His cóctel is a soup version of Cóctel de Camarones, the American classic Shrimp Cocktail. I reverted the soup to a true cocktail of beef consommé, tomato juice, and a good shot of that Jaliscan joy juice, tequila. I always serve it up in a martini glass as you see here, rimmed with cumin salt and finished with a fun garnish including shrimp. This version is garnished with a shrimp skewered around a piece of chorizo, then grilled. Putting the fun back in dinner and the cocktail back in Shrimp Cocktail, Guadalajara-Style!

Blue Cornmeal-Crusted, Crab- and Lemon Zest-Stuffed Softshell Crab with Grapefruit Beurre Blanc

After our brief trip south of the border, we brought things right back to Virginia with some local softshells, the first of the year from the Chesapeake Bay. The lemon zest and crab stuffing is a flavor idea that I stole from a crab cake appetizer from Tracy O'Grady at Willow (Tracy, your crab cakes rock!). A little organic blue cornmeal from a local mill gave a bit of crunch and the grapefruit beurre blanc brought the dish in line with a really grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc.

Chicken with Morels and Haricots Verts

I got a perfect pastured chicken and it was easily the highlight of this particular dinner. I loved the resulting dish so much that I've already blogged about it. Classic French technique meets impeccable local American ingredients, paired with Jim Law's equally impeccable Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay.

Local Veal Skirt Steak, Blue Cornmeal Hoe Cake, and Poblano Crema

Upscale fajitas anyone? I had a lovely local organic veal skirt steak in the cooler along with the remnants of a case of poblano chiles that had seen better days. I've replaced the corn tortilla with an organic blue cornmeal hoe cake (cornmeal, garlic-infused butter, salt, pepper, and boiling water) and converted the rather limp poblanos to a roasted poblano crema. The skirt steak is lightly marinated in garlic, fresh baby cilantro, and kaffir lime, then lightly grilled to medium rare, rested, and sliced across the grain.

Lamb Samosas with Apricot Chutney and Red Wine Rosemary Demiglace

One of the things about working with local lamb is that we only get so many cuts off of each lamb. With each batch of lamb, we get chops (rack and loin), shanks, ribs, leg and shoulder (usually in kebabs), and then all the scraps go into ground. Needless to say, we have a lot of ground lamb to work through, so we're always having to find ways to use it.

Somehow, Brandon and I were both thinking samosas at the same time, so I made a bunch of them. We decided to stay away from traditional Indian spices and go with a more or less traditional Shepherd's Pie filling: lamb, mirepoix, herbs, garlic, gravy from lamb stock, and mashed potatoes. A quick reduction of Grenache and rosemary bound with demiglace gave us a sauce and then a sweet and spicy apricot chutney (what would be called a pickle in India) finished the plates that you see Brandon setting up here.

And the finished plates. I'm OK with white/negative space on a plate, as you can see here. Oh yeah, the samosas were banging—like little lamb empanadas. Yum.



Red-Cooked Bison Short Ribs with Local Spinach and Fried Rice Cake

Here you can see the fried rice cake and the spinach down in the soup plate, before we add the bison. The fried rice cake is merely fried rice bound with egg and fried into a pancake. Easy as can be and a crowd pleaser. We have this beautiful whole local spinach, cut off just above the roots, so we blanch it, toss it in butter and then curl it on the dish, in this case on top of the rice cake.

And here is the final dish with the bison on top and the sauce over and around. Red cooking is an awesome braising technique that you should have in your arsenal. I need to do a blog post just on that. In short, it's a classic Chinese braise in which the meat is cooked in a sweet and spicy liquid made from soy sauce, white wine (Shaoxing is typical), brown sugar or caramel, ginger, garlic, green onions, and sweet spices such as star anise, black pepper, Szechuan pepper, cinnamon or cassia, and so forth.

We braised the bison ribs in such a liquid, then strained the liquid, refreshed it with fresh spices, green onions, garlic, and ginger, reduced the sauce, strained it, added a bit of hoisin sauce, and brought it down to final sauce consistency. In China, the sauce is often used over and over to braise new dishes; at the restaurant, such practice, no matter how delicious, would certainly raise red flags at the Health Department.

Frozen Strawberry Soufflé with Lemon Verbena-Mint Shortbread Cookies

Finally, local strawberries arrived after 11 months of being gone. Throw together strawberry purée, Italian meringue, and whipped cream and what do you get? A frozen strawberry soufflé if you're patient enough to wait for it to freeze. The mint and lemon verbena are from our herbs growing outside the front door of the restaurant.

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