Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chef's Tasting

We just did a tasting for Phil and Deirdre Armstrong of Harvest Thyme Herb Farm in Staunton, VA, suppliers of herbs and vegetables to fine restaurants in the Staunton and Charlottesville area, as well as fellow bloggers. We wish we lived closer together so that we could work together.

Gravlax of Brook Trout. I'm a sucker for all kinds of cured and smoked fish, so when I got a delivery of way too many brookies, I decided to do a traditional salmon cure on some of them, hence the appropriation of the term gravlax. Garnishes are caperberries, dilled sour cream, red ribbon (aka blood) sorrel from the flats growing in our kitchen, and chervil which overwintered outside on the deck. I especially like the deep red color that the overwintered chervil takes on.

The crispy brown bits are parsnip crisps, something that we arrived at serendipitously. I love to serve smoked fish with latkes and we have been doing a lot of parnsip latkes lately. The night before the tasting, one of the cooks made a latke that was too big to fit onto the komatsuna garnish that I had already laid out on a plate, so I had him cut the latke down with a round cutter. That left all the crispy edge bits on the cutting board for chef snackies. The crispy edge bits were so good that we decided to do all crispy bits for the tasting.

Guinea Breast. We had a couple of guinea breasts laying around with no other use in mind, so we did a little ghetto sous vide on them and served them in a bowl of Surry sausage jus, with blanched Kentucky Wonder bean sprouts. Who knew you could eat baby bean plants? I sure as hell didn't think of it until Billie Clifton of Sunflower Cottage, our local microgreen supplier, brought some in a couple weeks back. To answer your question, they taste just like green beans. Go figure.

Porcini Carolina Gold Risotto with Wild Mushrooms, Guanciale, and Sage. We just had to do a wild mushroom course because we have wild mushrooms coming out of our ears now. It's been a great winter season for both black trumpets and hedgehogs. This is a really simple risotto of Anson Mills Carolina Gold rice, dried porcini, fresh sage from my home garden, and spectacular guanciale from La Quercia in Iowa. This is the last of my supply from La Quercia but even as good as it is, I'm looking forward to trying the guanciale from the home team in Manakin, VA, Olli Salumeria Americana. How cool is it to have two great suppliers of guanciale?

Garnishes are black trumpet mushrooms, hedgehog mushrooms, prosciutto crsips, fresh sage, and a cheese crisp made from porcini powder and pecorino Sardo. What you don't see in the photo is the barely poached quail egg beneath the robe of risotto. I love this trick. The egg yolk really enriches the risotto.

Pork Confit with Polenta Poblano Spoonbread and Salsa Verde. Ordinarily we don't do tomatillos out of season, but they were already in house from a very specific tasting that we did last weekend. I like to think of this dish as something you would get if your Southern grandma were of Mexican descent. It combines Southern classics spoonbread and fried green tomatoes with poblanos and salsa verde. And the crispy pork confit evokes carnitas, but the flavor is different because we used some orange zest and cognac in seasoning the pork before we cured it.

So what you see on the plate from left to right is a swoosh of salsa verde (poblanos, onions, tomatillos, cilantro, garlic), a fried green tomatillo, crispy pork confit threads, pimentón sauce (the orange sauce), and a cube of pork confit sitting on top of the spoonbread (leftover polenta, roasted poblano purée, cream, and eggs).

Bestilla of Border Springs Lamb. We get lambs in on a regular basis and tend to use the primary cuts (racks, loin chops, and legs) first. Then we end up with a lot of tiny foreshanks and necks in freezer after several months. That's when I get to braising, because braising is my favorite cooking technique and the neck and shank meat is the best meat on the lamb. This time, Craig's wonderful lamb ended up in a classic Moroccan tagine, a stew redolent of spices. I have made hundreds of tagines in my career and this was one of the best; I'm really honing in on just about the perfect spicing to showcase the lamb without overwhelming it. After braising, the lamb gets separated from the vegetables and the sauce. The lamb gets pulled and mixed back with the vegetables and the defatted and reduced sauce.

I wanted to showcase this beautiful pulled lamb, so I came pretty quickly to a classic bestilla. Rather than scramble eggs into the filling in the classic manner, I packed the pastries with lamb and buried a raw quail egg in the center, which then baked into a solid egg in the oven. We generally accompany our lamb tagine with chizu, a spicy carrot slaw. I wanted to use the chizu as a sauce and so we made a vinaigrette of it like we do with kimchee à la David Chang of Momofuku. Because of the high water content in the carrots, we had to use a touch of xanthan to bind the water and keep the vinaigrette from bleeding. The other sauce is a mixture of ras al hanout (an Arab spice mix) and Greek yogurt.

The salad garnish we called a winter salad. It consists of everything green that we could find, dressed with a preserved lemon vinaigrette. From what I remember, the salad contains brussels sprouts petals, tiny broccoli leaves, micro arugula, micro bulls blood beets, and chervil.

White Chocolate Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Sweet Potato, Almond, and Cranberry Florentine. I wanted to use sweet potatoes in the dessert course and it struck me to substitute them for the candied orange peel in a classic florentine, a crunchy cookie containing nuts and candied fruit glued together with honey, cream, and sugar. Florentines are often coated or drizzled with chocolate. We coated ours entirely with white chocolate and then used the Florentine as a crust for a white chocolate and goat cheese cheesecake. I've made hundreds if not thousands of cheesecakes in my life, but never with goat cheese, although that seems a pretty obvious thing to do. I enjoyed the goat cheese flavor; it reminded me of a panna cotta made with yogurt in which the acidity of the cheese/yogurt plays off the sugar to give a well balanced end result. Garnish is a drizzle of blueberry crème anglaise.


  1. Is the "ghetto" sous vide the source of the funky grid pattern? :) Guessing FoodSaver style vacuum bags?

  2. Yeah, good guess. I wasn't thrilled with this aspect of the dish. Next time, just plain old plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Actually, there's no next time for this dish. Guinea is way overrated. I don't even remember why we have any in house.

  3. Chef,

    Phil and I can't thank you enough for the exceptional dining experience you created for us. We had the most wonderful time and truly enjoyed your inspired and delicious menu. Being able to converse with you about each dish made the evening that much more memorable. We can't wait to return!