Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Given that it's a rainy and slow Tuesday, I'm playing with ideas for a tasting this weekend. People often ask me if I ever make food that is not good and the answer is not often, but today, I made something that was just not good. It sort of surprised me because when I imagine flavor combinations in my head, they usually work out. However, I was leery enough of this idea that I tested it out well in advance.

I was musing about fresh sardines today. And sweet and sour. And prosciutto. And the grill. Sweet, sour, salty, fishy: it sounded like a good start to a dish.

The idea was to debone the sardine and stuff it with a strongly sweet and sour mix including pine nuts and golden raisins, wrap the whole in prosciutto, and grill it. The execution was trivial and the possibilities for presentation were great: the proteins in the prosciutto shrink when heated and cinch the fish into a tight cylinder that can be sliced into rounds for presentation.

But the flavor! Yuck! The fish totally dominated the stuffing to the point where I could barely taste it and the combination of the salty pork combined in the worst possible way to produce wave after wave of revolting fishiness. Yuck!

Don't look for this on a menu any time soon!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rockfish, Ed's Style

Last Thursday, we hosted the Richmond Culinary Guild at the restaurant for a 4-course luncheon. I really appreciate that someone would drive two and a half hours just to come to the restaurant. At the beginning of the luncheon, I demonstrated cooking the entrée course of the luncheon, Rockfish Ed's Style, in the dining room. Rockfish is what we here in Virginia call Striped Bass.

This very simple preparation that is a constant best seller at the restaurant has its roots in a pasta that I used to make for myself and for my friends. In short, it's a dish I've been cooking for decades now and I love it so much that I have given it my name, Ed's Style.

I'm going to give the recipe for a single serving below; scale up is in direct proportion.

Ed's Sauce

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup peeled and seeded tomatoes
1 tablespoon non-pareil capers with a little of the brine
2 artichoke hearts, quartered
3 basil leaves, chiffonaded
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the extra virgin olive, garlic, and red pepper flakes over high flame, stirring every now and again, until the garlic starts to caramelize. Stop the garlic from overcooking by adding the white wine, tomatoes, capers, artichokes, and basil. Cook the sauce a couple of minutes and reduce to your liking. Season.


1 rockfish (or other mild white fish) filet
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to hot, 450F or higher. Heat a sauté pan over high heat and film with oil. Dredge the fish in seasoned Wondra and place in the pan. Cook first on one side until it browns well, about two minutes, and then on the other side.

Place one serving of Ed's sauce in the bottom of a flat ovenproof pan and place the fish over this. Roast in the hot oven until the fish is just done. Serve immediately.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Market Shopping

I don't think it will surprise too many of my customers, especially the local ones who see me at the market, that I get the inspiration for a lot of dishes from seeing and feeling ingredients. Just last week, I was at the market when I spied some gorgeous tomatoes and very unique luffa squashes. I took them back to the restaurant with the vague idea that roasting tomatoes and luffa would be an interesting dish.

Only one slight problem, I'd never worked with luffa (Luffa acutangula) before. Grown them to maturity and made sponges from them, yes; eaten the immature ones, never. But, it's another squash, albeit a firm one, and so I didn't think I could go too far wrong by treating as any other firm squash. These luffa were sold to me by their Mandarin name, si gua. This photo is from another batch and these luffa are a little worse for wear, still I wanted you to see the product that I am blessed to work with.

Then later that afternoon, my fish delivery came in with some very pristine Atlantic Spanish mackerel, which happen to be migrating off the coast of Virginia right now. Mackerel is known as a dark, gamy, oily fish and undeservedly so. If you've ever eaten saba (pickled mackerel) at the sushi bar, you know that it is white-fleshed and although it has a strong fish flavor, it is delicious when extremely fresh. Mackerel do have a high oil content which makes them a delight to cook, for it is hard to dry them out. But the high oil content means that they go rancid quickly. Only buy from a trusted source. This little guy (2.5 pounds, 1.1 kg) was fat and pristine and yielded four nice filets. I don't skin mackerel; it has no scales and it is impossible to remove the skin anyway.

While I was breaking down the mackerel, the whole dish came to me. Why not roast the tomatoes and luffa and season them assertively arrabbiata-style, then roast the mackerel to order on top of the arrabbiata sauce? If mackerel can stand up well to pickling, certainly it will stand up to an assertive tomato sauce.

Roasted Spanish Mackerel with Luffa Arrabbiata

This feeds four people quite well with a green salad and a glass of red wine. You can substitute other squash for the luffa. If you use a soft squash such as zucchini, reduce the cook time to about 15 minutes. You can substitute any of the mackerels or bluefish in this recipe.

2 small luffa
4 large tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1 anchovy
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 mackerel filets

Preheat the oven to very hot, 450F. Slice the luffa into coins about 1/4" (1cm) thick. Peel, seed, and roughly chop the tomatoes. Mince the garlic. Remove the backbone from the anchovy and chop it finely. In a roasting pan, mix the squash, tomatoes, garlic, anchovy, red and black pepper, salt, and olive oil. Roast the vegetables until the squash is tender, stirring every now and again. It took me about 40 minutes. Rub the mackerel with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place skin side down on top of the vegetables and return to the oven until the mackerel is just barely cooked, about 6 minutes.

For presentation, we put the sauce down in the well of a soup plate with the fish over. Then we spooned a tomato vinaigrette around the plate and a little on the fish and topped the fish with a small mound of local baby arugula dressed with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chef's Tasting, October 2009

Chris and I did a tasting last night that was incredibly ingredients-driven (as opposed to thematically driven or technique-driven). We literally threw this tasting together in the course of a couple of hours as most of the proteins were arriving late into the afternoon.

Tuna Flower—Sashimi of Hawaiian Pink Tombo. It's not often that I luck into a piece of 1+ Tombo (Albacore), especially the pink-fleshed kind. It was obvious on looking at the loin that we were going to do sashimi with it; to cook it would have been to dishonor the fish from which it came. We had a ball eating all the trimmings for lunch. The flower petal arrangement of Tombo is topped with lemon zest, green onions, and fleur de sel. And the center of the flower is a quick salad of orange and cucamelon, topped with a micro red Russian kale leaf. I didn't serve any soy with this because I didn't want to mask the fish and I didn't want the soy to fight with the Alsatian Pinot Blanc that I paired with the dish.

Truffled Day Boat Scallop in its Own Shell. Our FedEx driver delivered a huge sack of just harvested scallops from Massachusetts late in the afternoon. I like fresh scallops as sashimi, but I wanted a transition in this course from the raw first course to the cooked third course, so I seared the scallop on one side only and topped it quickly with a little black truffle butter refreshed with a couple drops of lemon juice. I paired this with a local Chardonnay that is amazingly Burgundian in style, high in lemony acidity with a round mid-palate.

Chesapeake Bay Sea Squab Meunière. I was fortunate enough to get some Northern Puffer (Sphoeroides maculatus) which I grew up calling Sea Squab from a dealer down on the Chesapeake Bay. These fish have always been regarded as trash fish on the Bay, but as a kid, I always enjoyed eating them. They have tenderly sweet white meat that is high in gelatin and they're definitely finger food. Whenever I see a batch of cleaned puffers, they remind me so of frog's legs that it always strikes me to cook them in my favorite manner as frog's legs: à la meunière, dredged in flour, sautéed in butter, finished with lemon and parsley. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. There are two whole fish in that tiny crème brûlée dish. I paired the lemony sauce with a lemony and crisp Albariño from Rias Baixas.

Terrine of Foie Gras with Calvados and Truffles. The one thing that the customer requested for this tasting was foie and what better way to do it than as a terrine? The great and frightening thing about a terrine is that there is no place to hide: it's all about the quality of the foie. Not a problem: I have the best supplier in North America. Five ingredients make up this terrine: foie, Kosher salt, white pepper, Calvados, and black truffles, all mixed and jammed into a terrine and slowly cooked in a just barely warm oven, then weighted and refrigerated. Terribly old school and amazingly delicious! Here is the terrine on a slice of savory pain perdu (French toast); cropped out of the photo is a dab of our Asian pear-Kaffir lime confit. I confess to handling the quality control of this terrine personally (and I saw Chris doing likewise). As a chef, I have to ensure that everything going to the table is fit to serve, no? Earlier in the menu, I would have paired this with a sweet wine; here at mid-menu, I treated it as the first meat course and so paired it with a local Pinot Noir, high on acid to work against the fat and smoky to complement the liver.

Veal Cheek en Diable. This dish was an exercise in finding a protein to pair with our amazing local bird egg beans and organic cavolo nero (lacinato, black Tuscan kale). I cooked the huge bird eggs until just tender, then started trying some pancetta in a sauté pan, to which I added the bird eggs and some of their juice. Once this started to come down, I added a bit more juice and a lot of chiffonaded cavolo nero. Once the kale had wilted, I swirled in a touch of butter to mount the sauce and seasoned the beans. On top of this, I plated a veal cheek, the most unctuous and best part of the cow. We braised the veal cheeks in white wine, leeks, and celery root until tender, then firmed them up in the cooler overnight. "En diable" refers to mustard: we rolled the cheeks in Dijon mustard and then in panko and browned them all over, then finished heating them through in the oven. I paired this ensemble with a deliciously fruity local Chambourcin.

Wild Boar Chop. The last few boar that we have got in from Texas have been really tiny, so we have a bunch of small racks on hand. I lollipopped a couple of nice chops and grilled them. They're plated with some peach butter that we made out of self defense when we were given a couple of bushels of local and not terribly ripe peaches, a swirl of celery root purée stiffened with a little local gold potato, chanterelle mushrooms, and some veal demiglace that we augmented with pounded black truffle, local elderberry syrup, white pepper, and lemon juice. I really like Syrah and Nebbiolo with wild boar. I would buy a bottle of Hermitage or Barolo if I were dining out, but to keep costs under control, I found a reasonably priced Australian Shiraz that lets the Syrah shine through, Rhône-style.

Apple Pie-Calvados Martini. The customers for whom we created this tasting have a very strong preference for fruit desserts and now being prime apple season, we have about a dozen varieties on hand in the cooler. This is a simple granita of apples that we cooked down with the barest touch of sugar and a cinnamon stick, then passed through a chinois. The trick to this very simple dish, as for the terrine de foie, is quality of the apples. The bulk are Empires for their tartness along with Grimes Golden for body and a couple of Staymans for flavor. We rimmed the martini glasses with cinnamon sugar, then filmed them with Calvados, added the granita, and drizzled over a bit of highly reduced local apple cider syrup. The remaining garnishes are a cinnamon stick and apple slices. Served with a double espresso and cantucci (tiny almond biscotti).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ribollita, My Way (con Anitra)

Now that the weather has turned cool, my mind has turned to cool weather dishes such as hearty soups, stews, and braises. And beans! There is nothing better on a cold winter night than a huge bowl of steaming white bean soup, a loaf of bread, some excellent olive oil, a glass of red wine, and someone to share it with.

Last weekend, I taught a Tuscan cooking class as a fundraiser at a private house and our secondo was a bowl of ribollita, Tuscan bean soup, my style. I emphasize my style because everyone's ribollita (meaning "re-boiled" or recooked in the oven until it crusts over in the style of cassoulet) is different and small land wars have been fought over whether ribollita contains, for example, tomato. Of course (Mario Batali, this means you!) it does not! ;)

My way, this time, involves duck because I love the richness and silkiness that it brings to the soup, and the way that its essential flavors complement the earthy neutrality of the beans. Add to this the classic white bean seasonings of thyme, rosemary, lots of sage, pancetta, and celery root and you have a soup fit for a king.

Of course, ribollita is a simple soup that you can make from canned beans and whatever vegetables you have in the refrigerator, but I'm aiming for something more fabulous, more restaurant worthy here. I'm going to give you the whole three-day process for the soup I made so you can see what pains we chefs go to build layers of flavors and then you should feel very free to use what shortcuts you will to get your soup on the table to feed your crew in the time and with the energy you have available.

Before we get into the recipe and procedure, let's talk about beans. The Mangia-Fagioli (the bean eaters, the Tuscans) use the best beans that they can find. Most make ribollita from the large white kidney beans called Cannellini or Cannelloni; Tuscan chefs to whom beans are important use the rare Sorana bean. Me, I use a bean that puts the Cannellini to shame: the Steuben Yellow Eye. This is a bean that does not break down, has a thin skin, and a creamy interior, just perfect for ribollita. Trust me, if the Tuscans had this bean, they would use it. It's worth your while to seek it out.

Day 1: Marinating the Duck, Soaking the Beans

Duck Marinade

4 duck legs
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Rub the duck legs with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pepper, and thyme. Store covered in the refrigerator at least overnight.


1 pound (500g) white beans
water to cover

Wash the beans and pick through them to remove any debris and damaged beans. Most dried beans expand by about three-fold during rehydration, so cover them in plenty of water and leave on the counter to soak overnight.

Day 2: Making the Duck Stock, Cooking the Beans

Duck Stock, Part 1

marinated duck legs
2 bay leaves
water to cover

In a deep pan, cover the duck legs and bay leaves in cold water and bring slowly to the simmer. Skim any scum that forms on the stock, but leave the fat in the pan. Cook until the duck is very tender, about two hours. Remove the duck from the stock and place on a sheet tray to cool. Skim 1/2- to 3/4-cup of the duck fat from the stock and reserve for the next step. When the duck is cool to the touch, separate the meat from the skin and bones. Pull the meat into bite-sized pieces and refrigerate. Use the stock and the reserved skin and bones in the next step.

Duck Stock, Part 2

1/2- to 3/4-cup reserved duck fat
duck skin and bones
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
leaves from two leeks (save the bottoms for the soup), roughly chopped
duck stock from previous step

Heat your oven to hot, 450F. In an ovenproof sauté pan large enough to hold the duck bones and vegetables, heat the duck fat. Add the bones, skin, and vegetables. Stir frequently until the vegetables begin to caramelize. Place the pan in the oven and roast, stirring every few minutes until the bones, skin, and vegetables are well caramelized. Remove the vegetables and bones to a stockpot and return the sauté pan to the stove top over medium high flame and deglaze with a few ladles of duck stock, scraping to get all the fond (caramelized bits) off the bottom of the sauté pan and into the stock. Once the pan is deglazed, pour the stock over the bones and vegetables and add all the remaining stock to the stock pot.

Let the stock simmer for two to three hours, then strain the solids from the stock. Discard the solids and refrigerate the stock. Leave the fat on top of the stock. Not only will it be easier to separate it when it is solid, but you'll use it again to cook the vegetables for the soup.

Cooking the Beans

Drain the beans that you have presoaked at least overnight. Place in a soup pan and cover with fresh water. Bring up to a slow boil and cook for 45 minutes. At this point, add a couple of teaspoons of salt to the water and continue cooking until the beans are just tender. Turn off the flame and let the beans cool in their liquid. Refrigerate the beans in their liquid overnight.

Day 3: Finishing the Soup

Start by pulling the duck fat off the stock and saving both the stock and the fat. You'll need some fat for this soup and you'll want the rest for some other recipe, such as duck fat home fries.

2 quarts duck stock
cooked beans
reserved duck meat
1/2 cup reserved duck fat
6 ounces pancetta, in small cubes
1 celery root, peeled and diced
2 leeks, cleaned and diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
12 sage leaves, finely sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 pound cavolo nero (Black Tuscan Kale), sliced into ribbons
salt and pepper to taste

Put the duck stock, beans and their liquid, and the duck meat in a soup pot over high flame. When it comes up to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over high flame. Add the duck fat and let it melt. Sauté the pancetta, celery root, leeks, and garlic until well wilted. Add to the soup pot. Add the sage, bay, thyme, and rosemary. Let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour for the flavors to come together. Twenty minutes before serving, stir in the cavolo nero so that it will just be cooked when you are ready to serve the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaves and rosemary. Serve with grilled crostini and lots of extra virgin olive oil to drizzle over the soup.

Sometimes I serve this as a clear soup. Sometimes I mash a few of the beans against the side of the pot to give the broth some body. Sometimes I add pieces of crusty bread to the soup and let it fall apart in the soup, giving it some body. And, I like to refrigerate the soup over night, then place it in an enameled cast iron casserole and bake it in a slow oven the next day for many hours, folding the crust back into the soup every hour or so in true ribollita fashion.

I've staged this recipe in three easy days of work. Of course, you could jam it into one; you could use canned beans and premade stock (or even water); you could substitute ham for the duck. I wanted to show you the full recipe so that you would appreciate how we go about doing what we do, but I certainly don't expect you to cook like this at home. I do hope that you will use this as inspiration to put a great white bean soup on your table for your family and friends.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gourmet Magazine: Requiescat in Pace

1968. It might have been the summer of love or the year of all things psychedelic to some, but for me, 1968 was the year that I started reading Gourmet magazine on a monthly basis. I probably owe the writers whose prose graced the magazine a great debt, for no doubt, I learned a vast amount of vocabulary reading their works. I certainly owe them for their insight into food, cooking techniques, and cultures.

In those days, the magazine was the tale of two cities, New York and Paris, but to a kid from Virginia those places might have well been the moon. As a kid, I remember reading Along the Avenues (all things New York) and Paris Journal (ditto Paris) and wondering what it must be like to experience such things as I read.

Gourmet followed me through high school and to college where—it may surprise you to learn—that the small format magazine with its gorgeous food photos stood in stark opposition to all the copies of Hugh Heffner's finest laying around in the dorm. It was fitting to have Gourmet and Playboy on the same table, for Gourmet's photographers were the originators of what we now call "food porn." Many of the photographers, and Romulo Yanes foremost, are geniuses at what they do and I am happy that Gourmet provided a forum for their work. My life is richer for having looked at their pictures.

After I left high school, Gourmet went through a muddled phase in which it couldn't decide whether it was food journal or lifestyle magazine and yet the sparse food writing was often so brilliant that I couldn't stop reading it, despite the near decimation of the magazine after Condé Nast bought it.

Gourmet had an ugly period in which it became all advertising and little content in the early Condé Nast period, yet there was that one inspired article about kebabs in Afghanistan that kept me coming back month after month.

And in the last decade, Ruth Reichl had seemingly wrested the magazine back to a steady course and had finally made the magazine relevant again. The column Kitchen Notebook always spoke to my heart as a chef. Though it was not always so over the decades, in the last five years, I have looked forward to reading the magazine each month. Kudos, Ruth.

And now we must say goodbye. My profession dictates that I am not a great follower of the news and I learn much of what goes on outside my restaurant kitchen from my employees. And yesterday when one of my line cooks told me of the demise of Gourmet, I was in disbelief.

Gourmet has been one of the constants in my life. I'm 47 now and have been reading it for 41 of those years. I'm profoundly saddened by this turn of events in a way similar to when Julia Child died. I owe both much for my culinary formation. Requiescant in pace.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cooking with Herbs Demonstration

I invite you to come see me demonstrate Cooking with Herbs at Blandy Farm, the State Arboretum of Virginia, in Clarke County on Sunday the 11th of October at 2pm. The demonstration is free and I will be providing samples. For more information, click over to the restaurant web site.