The Primal Ingredient- Grilling

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

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“Ideally you grill steak over a wood fire that has burned down to glowing red hot coals, the smoke perfuming the meat. Sizzling beef fat dripping on wood coals is a primal ingredient that has stayed with humans since we first discovered grilling.” Ben

Line cooks like to talk. It is easy to understand why. For a large part of the day you stand in a kitchen and prep food. Conversation can run the gamut from absurd to philosophical. Sometimes, the same questions will show up in different restaurants. One of my favorite questions is “If you could have any piece of equipment for the kitchen what would you want?” My answer is always the same, a wood grill. There is nothing, nothing that can compare to the flavor that wood and charcoal add to a dish. It is a game changer. I often dream of selling everything and running away to Patagonia to join Francis Mallmann’s pack of culinary gypsies, learning to cook the techniques of “seven fires”. Considering this fact, unsurprisingly, I love chimichurri. Chimichurri is a sauce said to have originated in Argentina and has an acidic punch that cuts through the fat of a good steak. It is arguably a perfect summer sauce to use because it requires no cooking.

Alas, I do not yet have a wood grill in my professional kitchen, but I have one parked outside the kitchen door, close enough that I use it on a regular basis. This recipe is easy and satisfying. If you want to cook it indoors on a cast iron, go for it. But there is something about getting outside and simply cooking over an open fire that reveals what good food is all about.

Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

Yields 2 Servings

For the Seasoning Blend
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin

For the Chimichurri
Yields 1½ cups
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot
1 poblano pepper or 1 small red bell pepper*, seeds removed, finely diced
¼ cup cilantro, minced
¼ cup parsley, minced
2 tablespoons oregano, minced
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Wood Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri
12 oz skirt steak
seasoning blend
olive oil
coarse sea salt

For the Seasoning Blend:
Mix all of the ingredients together. Seat aside. Yields enough for one 12 oz skirt steak.

For the Chimichurri:
The trick to making a good chimichurri is to take your time with your knife work and use a nice olive oil. In a bowl mix red wine vinegar and salt. Finely mince the garlic and shallot. Add the minced garlic, shallot, and finely diced pepper to the vinegar mix. Use poblano pepper for a little more heat, sub out red bell if you want the chimichurri to be mild. Add in cilantro, parsley, oregano, and olive oil. Mix together and set aside. Best used the day you make it, but will hold in the refrigerator for 3 days.

For the Grilled Steak:
Prepare your grill to an even high heat, this will give the steak a nice crust while keeping all the juice and moisture trapped inside. If you are using a gas grill, you know what to do. If you are using charcoal or wood and need help, see below. While the grill is heating up rub the steak with about a tablespoon of olive oil and season both sides with the entire amount of seasoning blend. Set aside for 10 minuets, giving time for the salt and spices to absorb into the meat.

When the grill is ready, lightly oil the grates with olive oil. Place steak on grill and allow both sides to get a good sear, about 2 minutes per side.

Skirt steak cooks quickly because of how thin it is. Each piece of steak will be different so there is no set cooking time, you will have to rely on your culinary intuition. Skirt steak is best when served med-rare to medium, but if you prefer it well done go for it, this is your steak after all.

When you remove your steak let it rest for 5 minutes. Your steak will only take a few minutes to grill and you will have all of these beautiful coals still hot so I recommend grilling some vegetables to go with it.

To finish, slice steak against the grain. Top with 2 tablespoons of chimichurri and a pinch of coarse sea salt. Have a little extra chimichurri on the side as needed. Enjoy!

*If using charcoal, I recommend using a chimney starter filled with natural lump hardwood charcoal. Crumble up some newspaper in the bottom and light on fire. It will probably take about 15 minutes until the charcoal is fully burning, at this point dump contents into grill and allow the grill grates to heat over the coals before grilling. If you are using a wood grill, you probably already know how to build a fire, if not email me and I will walk you through it. Just make sure if you are using charcoal or wood that the fire is cooked down to coals, this will give a more even heat and will give off a more clean and pure tasting flavor.

 

 

 

Ben’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

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I am from California and Ben is from Georgia. I move fast, he moves slow. I am big picture, he is precision and detail. We come from two different worlds. This is the true story of how buttermilk biscuits brought us together.

In the early days of my career, I was a day prep cook at a restaurant in Athens, Georgia. Ben was a Pastry Chef there. It was a relatively small kitchen so there would be a few days early in the week when it was just the two of us, working and talking. We talked a lot. We developed a strong friendship. Every Sunday brunch, Ben was responsible for making buttermilk biscuits. When he had the dough laid out on the prep table, I would walk by and punch it. Once, just once. It was my contribution to the finest biscuits served in Athens. It became a ritual for us. After the biscuits were baked, Ben would offer me one. Warm, fresh from the oven biscuits with butter are out of this world. Soon, Ben started making my biscuits more elaborate. One week it would have melted pimento cheese. The next week, maybe country ham and a fried egg. He would wrap them in foil and pass them across the line to me before service began. I loved those biscuits. I used to tell him that if he made biscuits for me everyday, I might have to marry him.

IMG_3524Well, I don’t eat biscuits every day but we are engaged to be married. I don’t make biscuits. I can’t. I won’t. You see, the only biscuits I want to eat are the ones that Ben makes for me. So if you see them on our menu, you can bet that I punched the dough, but that they are made with love by Ben.

This is his recipe. The recipe is simple, but its all about technique.

Ben’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Yields- about 24

8 cups flour plus an additional 1 cup
4 tablespoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 pound unsalted butter plus an additional 3 tablespoons
3 ½ cups whole buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

Using a box grater, grate 1 pound of butter into a dish or bowl. You want your butter to be very cold so place into the freezer while you gather the rest of the ingredients. In a medium sized mixing bowl, sift together 8 cups of flour and the baking powder. Add in salt and mix together. When butter is very cold and hard, about 10 minutes in the freezer, add it all at once to the flour. Using your fingers, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of small pebbles. Add in buttermilk and use your hands to gently bring the dough together. Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured table or countertop and lightly dust with about half of the reserved 1 cup of flour. Knead dough just till it comes together, careful not to overwork it as this will make for tough biscuits. Lightly dust a rolling pin with some of the reserved flour and begin rolling out the dough until it is uniformly 1 inch thick. Next you will fold the dough to create air pockets, this will give the biscuits beautiful flaky layers. Fold the dough in half top to bottom, lightly roll out dough and fold in half again, this time from side to side. Roll the dough out to a uniformly 1 inch thickness.

Use a 3 inch biscuit cutter to stamp out the biscuits. Place on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. With the remaining dough scraps, form back into a ball and roll out to 1 inch thickness. Stamp out more biscuits. Any remaning dough scraps can be discarded, by now too much gluten has developed. Melt the reserved 3 tablespoons of butter and brush the tops of the biscuits. This will help give them a lovely golden brown color. Bake biscuits for 15-17 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.

*You can also freeze the unbaked biscuits for another time. Place on a tray and freeze until solid, then package in Ziploc bags. You don’t need to thaw before cooking, simply place frozen biscuits on a tray and bake. They may take a little longer to bake, around 20 minutes.

 

Rooster’s Beak

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

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Ok, take a moment. Look at the picture. Think about it. No, I have not gone all Andrew Zimmern on you and started eating rooster beak. Welcome to my favorite summer condiment, Pico de Gallo. Pico de Gallo literally translates from Spanish to English as Rooster’s Beak. There is no clear reason I can find. Some say that it used to be eaten with your hands, and given that the vegetables are diced up fairly small, it would take several attempts to grab enough similar to the pecking action of a rooster’s beak. I can’t imagine this would be an easy way to eat pico. But one fact is known about this stuff, there is no better time of the year to whip up a batch then right now. Its so easy. It takes 10 minuets to make.

The recipe I have laid out below was inspired by a dish I had in Oaxaca City at one of my all time favorite restaurants, Zanduga. Here they cook food inspired by the Isthmus region of Oaxaca. At Zanduga they serve a pico de gallo with tiny little river shrimp mixed in and serve it along side a traditional clay oven baked masa called totopo. So simple and so good.

Fry up some tortilla chips and eat as a snack or pile on top of a tostada with a little lettuce and hot sauce and you have a meal.

Shrimp Pico de Gallo

Yields 4 cups

8 oz headed, peeled, deveined shrimp
1 lb. 8 oz best quality summer tomatoes, small dice
3 small jalapeño, deseeded and small dice
1/2 small white onion, small dice
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
2 teaspoons salt

For the shrimp, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a small sauce pan. Add shrimp. Poach for 1-2 minuets. Strain from boiling water and shock in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once cooled, remove from ice bath. Cut the shrimp in 1/4 in think slices. Set aside.

For the pico de gallo, in a bowl add diced tomatoes, jalapeño, white onion, lime juice, and salt. Mix together. Add in diced shrimp and cilantro. Cover and set aside. Allow flavors to marry for at least 15 minuets. Serve.

 

Millions of Peaches… Peaches for Me…

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

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Its peach season in the south. For a short period of time we Georgia folk get to revel in our iconic image as the The Peach State (although, truth be told we should probably be the blueberry state…). Now, finding a good peach is hard work. These days if you walk into a grocery store you are more likely to find tart, shriveled, sad little jet lagged fruits that taste fairly bland. Unless you are lucky enough to live down the street from a peach orchard I high recommend perusing one of two options.

The Peach Truck: I heard a rumor from some Nashville folk that Georgia peaches (the real, true, juicy, sweet peaches we like to keep to ourselves) were being sold and consumed by the ton in Tennessee! Amazing and true The Peach Truck was born out of love story of a Georgia boy sharing sweet Georgia peaches with his wife from the North. The Peach Truck will be traveling through several states this summer sharing the joy of a summer peach, check and see if they are visiting your town or order online.

Pearson Peaches: Go straight to the source. I come from the Atlanta school of Chefs which, among other things, taught me the importance of Pearson Peaches. This is a fifth generation family farm located in Fort Valley Georgia. They grow peaches that taste like summer. Tell Jennifer that Whitney from Greyfield Inn sent you!

Summer Peach Crostata

Yields 2- 8 inch tarts

For the dough
3 1/3 cups AP Flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup of cold butter
2 eggs
4 tbsp sugar

For the filling
2 pounds of peaches
1.5 tbsp lemon juice
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
2.5 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cold butter

For the dough:
In a bowl mix AP flour and salt. Cut cold butter in cubes and add in flour. Using your hands, incorporate the cold butter into the flour until the flour begins to take on a sand like consistency. Add in sugar. Set aside. Separate your eggs, yolks in one bowl and whites in another. Reserve white for later. Mix egg yolks with 4 tablespoons of water. Add in the flour mix. Work the dough into a smooth ball. Be careful not to overwork your dough, this will make it tough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 15 to 20 minuets to rest.

For the filling:
Peel and deseed the peaches. Cut into slices. In a bowl mix peaches, lemon juice, cinnamon, cornstarch, and sugar.

To make the Crostata:
On a floured surface roll out dough. It tends to stick so use lots of flour. Roll it to about 1/8 inch thick or about 12 inches around. Pile peach filling into the center of the dough leaving a 3 inch border. Brush the border with the egg whites. Gently fold the edge of the dough over the fruit. Dot the fruit with the butter. Brush the outside of the tart with egg whites and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 for 30-35 minuets or until the crust is golden brown and cooked through. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream. Serve for dessert or, as I prefer,  for breakfast with a cup of earl grey.