Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chef's Tasting

We've done a lot of tastings recently, but I haven't posted many pictures mostly because the dishes don't have striking color this time of year like they do in the summer. Long gone are the gorgeous reds of ripe tomatoes and peppers, the bright green of peas and snow peas, and the delicate yellows of squash blooms and corn. In now are the browns, rusts, tans, beiges, and whites of our winter vegetables and while they are not as photogenic as their summer cousins, they are equally delicious.

Without further ado then, one of our most recent tastings:

Charcuterie Trio
Charcuterie Trio. In the foreground you see a veal tongue terrine set in aspic with a lot of fresh parsley à la the French classic jambon persillé. In the middle is a swirl of rabbit liver mousse flavored with Cognac and on the far end, a terrine of ground Berkshire pork shoulder flavored with all kinds of delicious bits.

Cauliflower, Maitake Mushrooms, and Leeks
Cauliflower and Leeks. These are two vegetables that many people pass over without a second thought but which are incredibly fun for us chefs to work with. The cauliflower has been roasted to the point of caramelization and then made into the silkiest of sauces: it is really something you just want to wallow in! The leeks have been creamed and then wrapped in phyllo for presentation purposes, and these little triangles are decadently delicious. Crispy maitake mushrooms and dots of truffle-infused balsamic vinegar complete the plate, the earthy mushroomy flavors playing off the rich creamy cauliflower and leeks, and the vinegar delivering the acid that keeps this dish from being cloying.

Scallop, Pork Belly, Sweet Potatoes, and Black Truffles
Scallop and Pork Belly. Not too much original here, but this is a damn fine course that I would be happy to be served at a restaurant. Scallop on top of house-cured pork belly on top of a silky sweet potato purée, all napped with a tart black truffle beurre blanc.

People always ask me how to make pork belly, thinking that they are going to make it at home, but then start wincing about the time I get to the third of the fourth cookings! We cure it for a length of time dependent on the thickness of the belly, then brown/damn near char it in a very hot oven, then braise it, then refrigerate it, then confit it under duck fat, then refrigerate it under duck fat for a long period, then slice it, and pan fry it. Sure, you can do it at home but why would you want to? You can achieve 90 percent of the results with a much simpler process and that it good enough for home. The extra pain that we go through to make it the very best pork belly you've ever eaten, you should leave to us.

Duck, Rabbit, Spätzle, and Brussels Sprouts
Duck and Rabbit. It's winter and for some reason, the cute little brussels sprouts keep making us think of schnitzel. Here, we have taken a tenderloin off of a rabbit and the so-called tenderloin off a duck breast (the little tender piece on the under side of the breast) and pounded them side-by-side, slightly overlapped, so that they form a single piece of schnitzel from two very different meats. They're breaded in a five-spice panko and served with sweet and sour sprout hash and orange spätzle. I thinly sliced the sprouts, some shallots, and some of my house-cured pancetta. After caramelizing the pancetta and shallots, I added the sprouts and cooked them until bright green, just a few seconds. Then into the pan with a tiny bit of butter, a pinch of sugar, and a taste of white balsamic vinegar. Done and delicious! Even so-called sprout haters love them this way!

Pork Cheek, Grits, Gremolata, and Pork Jus
Pork and Grits. We serve a lot of pork and grits in various guises, mostly because how insanely good is the combination of any kind of pork with corn? This is a slow-cooked Berkshire pork cheek, crisped in a black steel pan, on grits, topped with gremolata, and napped with what we call "pork goodness," the juices left in the bottom of the pan after cooking our pork belly.

Venison, Flower Sprouts, Blueberry Salad, and Tasmanian Pepper
Venison. It's venison season once again and we are working our way through a few rear haunches. I seam out the legs into individual muscles and then break those down into steaks which I marinate for a couple of days. Then I grill them, very, very rare. Here you see the grilled and sliced venison plated with a dried blueberry and celery salad, and the first so-called "flower sprouts" that I have ever seen. These are a new (and according to the farmer that grew these, not very stable) cross between brussels sprouts and kale. The resulting plant has a long central stalk like a brussels sprout plant, but instead of miniature cabbages, it has little broccoli-like whorls of leaves without any sign of a bloom. These were deep purple before blanching and now they are very deep forest green. Despite their novelty and interesting appearance, I have already told the grower that they are not worth growing again: the flavor is not as good as either of the parents. She said, "good to know; they are a pain to harvest." And so it goes.

Chocolate and Cranberries
Chocolate and Cranberries. Being just after Thanksgiving, we have lots of cranberries in the cooler, looking for ways to get on plates. I made a bunch of them into a delicious whole berry jelly (or jam, if you are so inclined to call it that). This dessert starts with a simple disk of flourless chocolate torte, then a layer of orange cream cheese, a layer of jelly, and finally a swirl of cream cheese. This rich but not very sweet dessert I designed to go with a glass of Malbec. I liked the pairing a lot.