Sunday, November 30, 2008

Soy Cured Salmon

I am currently fascinated by anything that can be cured. A dish that I have been doing for about a year now, and adaptation from Jean George V., is a SOY CURED SALMON w/ heirloom apple & chive slaw, creme fraiche.
If you are new to curing this is the easiest, quickest and tastiest of any curing recipe in my repertoire. This Asian version of gravlax uses soy sauce to cure the salmon in place of the more traditional salt. The result is a very rich sweet-saltiness accented by ginger, lemongrass and Thai bird chili.
I love the tanginess of a crisp granny smith apple, which can be easier to find than the right heirloom apple.
I will be serving this dish next Saturday at the CELEBRATION FOR KIDS at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. If you cant make the party next Saturday, here is a recipe for you to try at home, I assure you that you will not be disappointed.

1 cup light soy sauce
One 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
One 2 inch piece of fresh lemon grass
1 fresh red Thai bird chili, thinly sliced (leave the seeds)
One 10-ounce piece of center cut salmon fillet (boneless, skinned, trimmed, and halved lengthwise )
Put the soy sauce,lemongrass, ginger, and chili in a bowl and mix until the mixture is well mixed. Transfer to a shallow bowl, submerge the salmon completely in the soy sauce mixture, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove and pat dry. Slice thinly and serve with your choice of accouterments.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reading Between The Lines

I recently received "Under Pressure" a great surprise from my wife when I walked in the door after another great inventory day at the restaurant. This book is a must have if you are even a bit interested in sous vide cooking. The charts alone that give suggested cooking times and temperatures are well worth the price. As usual the book is written in a way that just draws you into the pages, just like The French Laundry & Bouchon did for me.

I could go on about the amazing recipes or the beutiful photos, but what I have been reading over and over is the short summary that Chef Keller gives before getting into the actual recipes. He talks about consistency, the success of a great restaurant lies in how consistent the product is. Creating the same dishes day in and day out perfectly, exactly the same as it was done the day before, the week before.How simple that sentence was ,but it has had the most impact on my career than any other line I have read in any other cookbook or any book for that matter.

It has caused me to rethink the way I approach my recipes, my cooking techniques and my line set up. It has led me to rethink the way I operate in the office, my managerial skills, the way I choose my produce at the farm, the quality of my seafood and meats. It has changed the way I operate as a chef. Consistency, I have strived for it day in and day out since I can remember being a cook. But when you get into the precision that an immersion circulator can have with many different food products it woke me up to the fact that I need to have that level precision with everything in my kitchen.

I believe my staff and I are very very good at what we do, but what will it take for us to be great?? Consistency and precision. Those are the key words that will be focused on from here on out, those words are now embedded in my head, I talk to the cooks, my sous chefs and my right hand man(chef de cuisine) with one thing in mind, precision and consistency across the board. I am excited to see the changes that will be taking place in the months to come. We have 4 months to get ready for a dinner that will require those two words.......details about that dinner to follow, but first we have to get to the level we are striving for.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Ode to France

This week at Tastings we are focusing our energies at creating features that highlight classic French cuisine. Although some of us don't want to admit it, most of our basic culinary techniques come from the French. In fact we still use more French pronunciation in the kitchen than any other language.
In conjunction with the release of Beaujolais Nouveau 2008 this Thursday. We will be offering a selection of French cuisine all weekend. (click the link for a history of the third Thursday in November & the release of Beaujolais Noveau)
This week I a let some of my cooks get their feet wet and create these dishes. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a chef is to watch the forward progression that your crew makes. Being part of their evolution of young chefs is one of the most gratifying parts of this job. I am lucky to have a kitchen crew that are ALL young aspiring chefs. A great balance of young men & women, some with culinary school backgrounds, some currently attending, others with life experience, but the common ground here....they all are motivated to one day hold the title of chef.

Some of the dishes this crew has come up with for the weekend (pics to follow soon)
1. Lyonaise Salad
cage free poached egg, atop frisee salad, peppered bacon & house made croutons

2. Shrimp Beignets
sous vide carrot & cumin puree, lime & ginger chutney

3. Foie Gras French Toast
I am anxious to see what this one turns out to be, one of the Leads is taking this one on......

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Duckhorn Vineyards Wine Dinner

Last night was our first exclusive wine dinner we have done at Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro. We were very fortunate to have Duckhorn Vineyards as our partner for our first dinner. Thanks to Frank (Duckhorns East Coast Rep) for flying in from NYC to host our dinner. The dinner was for 12 people in our private wine room. We had a great time and look forward to hosting many more of these exclusive dinners in the future.

1st course
Seared Venison Carpaccio
shaved fennel/ local pickled Bartlett pears/petite beet greens/juniper berry vinaigrette
2004 Golden Eye Pinot Noir

2nd course
House Cured Duck Prosciutto
brown sugar braised black mission figs/great hill blue cheese foam/Duckhorn Merlot glaze
2005 Estate Grown Napa Valley Merlot

3rd course
Steel Head Trout "Cassoulet"
white beans/black truffled chicken sausage/chicken thigh
2006 Decoy Red Wine

4th course
American Wagyu Beef Short Ribs
aromatic 5-spice glaze/parsnip puree/daikon radish
2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

5th course
"Chocolate & Blackberries"
chocolate mousse cake/white chocolate powder/frozen blackberry/Paraduxx blackberry gelee
2006 Paraduxx Napa Valley Red Wine

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

American Wagyu Beef

This week at Tastings we are lucky to have been able to get our hands on some domestic wagyu beef. Wagyu beef are intensely marbled and high in flavor. Wagyu Cattle are fed whole grain diets supplemented with beer to stimulate the animals' appetites. In addition, massage and and brushing the animals with sake (rice wine) is claimed to improve the quality of the meat.

The Wagyu breed of cattle, the breed most often used for "Kobe" beef, is actually the result of cross-breeding with a large variety of Western breeds (including Brown Swiss, Devon Shorthorns, and Holsteins) with native Japanese cattle. The breeding program was institutionalized in the early 1900's by the Japanese government. It is, in effect, a program designed specifically to increase the flavor and marbling of Japanese beef.

We will be offering the short rib this week. Take a look at the pictures and you can see the well marbled cuts of beef.

We actually took a piece of this short rib, which generally needs to be cooked low & slow to break down the muscles and make it tender enough to eat comfortably, and seared it on our jade plancha, a little salt & pepper and a quick sear and you would swear you were eating a top quality rib eye.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Cure

We have been very excited the last few weeks in the kitchen at Tastings. We seem to have discovered a new love of charcuterie. I have written about our pig head adventure and after a great "testa" we wanted more. We now have hanging in the walk in cooler our version of duck prosciutto. We took one recipe but cured the duck two different ways. The first we let cure for 24 hours, the second we let cure for 48 hours. We used .7 oz of kosher salt for every pound of duck meat( breast) fresh garlic, peppercorns, juniper berries and coriander seed. After drying them we now have them hung wrapped in cheesecloth in our walk in. We took a piece out after 7 days, very clean smelling but still "raw" looking. The taste was definitely along the lines of a slightly gamey prosciutto, but still very chewy. The next one we tried was taken out after 11 days in the walk in. What a difference! The skin had now taken on a slightly darker color, still very clean smelling but much firmer. the flesh was slightly tighter ad the flavor had deepened slightly. The last batch we will take out tomorrow, 14 days. We will freeze the breasts this will allow us to slice the duck paper thin. We will be using the duck for our first Wine Dinner taking place this Wednesday with Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa.We are using the duck prosciutto on a dish of brown sugar braised figs, great hill blue cheese foam and rye crisps.

Another project right now is making our own pancetta. We currently have a berkshire pork belly curing in the walk in, this one has to hang for 4-6 weeks. We are exploring some sausage making and hopefully soon our own salumi will follow. Ill keep you all posted.

Recipe for Duck Prosciutto

Salt/Spice Cure:

Ratio: This is an important part of any cured meat recipe. The salt ratio is especially important, the spice and garlic ratio which follows less so. Weigh you duck breasts and salt very carefully.

Per pound of Duck:

.7 OZ salt per pound of duck breast

10 juniper berries
½ bay leaf
1 tsp coriander seed (crushed)
10 black peppercorns (crushed)
1 clove garlic (crushed)

Crush to medium-fine juniper, bay leaf, coriander, peppercorns and garlic in mortar and pestle. Add salt and mix thoroughly.

Each Breast: Place large square plastic wrap on counter. Place breast on wrap and place ½ of mixture on breast, skin side, spreading so it coats evenly. Turn over and repeat with flesh side. Roll wrap up tightly and seal edges and repeat if more than 1 breast. Cure under refrigeration for 24 hours.

Air Cure:

Wipe cure off meat – do not rinse. Place breast on large square of cheesecloth and wrap cheesecloth around breast, make sure the cheesecloth fully covers meat. Place butchers twine around breast and secure breast as if it were a roast, leaving a 6” piece of twine free at one end. Hang in dry cooler at 38F for two weeks. Remove from cheesecloth, wrap in plastic and cut in paper-thin slices, freezing helps obtain paper thin cuts

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Small Is Beautiful

Small Plates? What are they? This is the question I am faced with everyday at the restaurant. I cant even begin to tell you how many conversations I have with guests who don't understand the concept of small plate dining. Some have been very upset!?
First we have to be straight forward, small plates ARE smaller than your traditional entree, a hearty appetizer is what I like to say to our guests. But small plate dining is more than dinner, its more than just getting a bite to eat to fill up your stomach. Small plate dining is an experience you can share with your friends,your family, a date, even alone at the bar at Tastings. Sharing as any small plates as you want, paired with great wines in an environment that screams "culinary experience" is what its about. What you receive is a plethora of little treats. Our Dishes run the gamut from innovative, to quite simple and rustic. On our menu they generally range in price from $4.00 to $18 a plate.
This is a great way to try nearly every dish on a menu without committing to just one, or getting mad over a pricey bad choice. When shared as a group, the dishes offer anywhere from a bite, to a slice, to your very own if you want.

Some tips for small plate virgins

Don’t overlook what seems like normal regular foods. Our Cheese selection, roasted Marcona almonds, olives, and bruschetta employ different interesting ingredients, giving classics a new taste.

If you don’t like something, don’t worry, someone your sitting with probably will! If not, order another dish. At Tastings, ordering another, and then another, wont make you the odd man out. Honestly ordering three to five dishes each is nothing.

Pace yourself.Enjoy!!!Order two or three dishes first for your group. When your done, ask your server to show you the menu again and order another round. Remember were not trying to eat until we explode, We want to enjoy and savor the experience. Think about the Spanish and Latin American cultures,(which I happen to be) we indulge in multi-hour and multi course dinners often. Take your time.

Challenge your taste buds.... by far my favorite reason to experience small plates. Go ahead... try the foie gras, the pork belly, the testa(pig head charcuterie)you just never know what you could find yourself eating..and liking!!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

A few days away....

This past week I had the great pleasure of sneaking away from the restaurant and heading down to Mohegan Sun Casino. If you've been following Chefs Daily Food Bank, I won an iron chef like cooking competition at Mohegan Sun at last years Sun Wine Festival. One of the prizes was a two day stay at the hotel and dinner at Todd Englishs' Tuscany.
My wife and I also really enjoyed the food and time we spent at another place at the casino, Lucky's Lounge. Lucky's was a true lounge with great lounge food and a great atmosphere. NY Style pizza, great salads and Strong drinks!!! Sometimes as a chef, its great to relax and have some great good ole American pub fare.
One of the highlights for me was Tuscany, This is where I think Chef Todd English is at his best, hearty refined Italian cuisine.
I started with a beef carpaccio with tomato jam, dehydrated olives and roasted garlic ice cream, this was a great start to the meal...let me back up, the great start came when we received big plate of white bean puree with the focaccia!!!!
We then had a great antipasto plate that consisted of soppressata, marinated fresh mozzarella, bread sticks, dried cranberries, walnuts and whole grain mustard. Again another great hit.
For the main courses, Nicole had a good ole bowl of spaghetti & meatballs " Brooklyn Style" & I had a braised kurobota pork shank w/ barley and salsify. Both of these were great. And to finish... a great vanilla gelato and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, I can honestly say probably some of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had (sorry mom).

SO whats the point???? Im not a restaurant critic....

I feel that in the Tastings kitchen we are always trying to find a way to combine the new avant garde techniques with seasonal and classic dishes. Trying to impress with the unknown but make sure that there is some familiarity within the dishes themselves.
During our getaway, I realized tat sometimes its okay to not use "hydrocolloids" it doesn't have to be vacuum sealed or cooked sous vide. Just make sure that the ingredients are the very best you can get, you treat the ingredients with respect and the ingredients will shine on there own. Everywhere we ate during our stay there was a common ground, simple, perfectly prepared cuisine....who would of thought.