Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pork Chile Verde

I wholeheartedly agree with fellow Tacoma Chef Dan Hutchinson, of Il Fiasco restaurant, that winter is a wonderful time for the comfort of a long-simmered braise. When the weather turns chilly I yearn for a bowl of hot soup like homemade beef-n-barley, or lentil soup with root vegetables, or a comforting bowl of beef stew.

At Pacific Grill we feature a homey stew on the menu through the winter, which changes by the week.
Right now we have a wonderfully flavored Pork Chile Verde. We take a whole pork shoulder and break it down in to chunky stew sized pieces. Generously season the pork with salt and pepper and let it sit for an hour to develop more flavor. Drain the meat of any accumulated juices before sautéing or the meat won’t brown as nicely.

Then we sauté the meat at high heat to give it good color.

Complex browning reactions give rise to a much more flavorful stew—or as I like to tell my staff color equals flavor; then we stew the meat with some sliced onions and garlic until the onions are wilted, then add enough blond chicken stock to just cover the meat. We bring the pot to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer until the meat could be crushed with the back of a fork. This takes about an hour or more but you cannot just set a timer and think that a braise is ready. You have to taste a piece of the meat. It is not ready until the tough fatty connective tissue has been rendered into supple deliousness and the meat incredibly tender.

The stock is reduced separately and folded into the tomatillo sauce which is prepared separately to preserve its green color.

We boil some chunked-up peeled russet potatoes with some chopped fresh garlic until just tender, then make a tomatillo sauce with sliced onions and garlic. After halving and sautéing the tomatillos, we also add some coarsely chopped roasted and peeled poblano chilies. When the tomatillos are cooked through we puree them off the heat with a bermixer [immersion blender] adding fresh cilantro and lots of raw baby spinach to heighten the bright green color of this fresh-tasting sauce.

We add some baby white carrots as a garnish to contrast the color of the vivid green sauce, a shake or two of green Tabasco— more or less depending on your taste. Taste the sauce against the bland potato to determine if it needs additional salt or pepper. If unsure, try seasoning a tablespoon of the stew and tasting it, before committing the entire stew to additional salt. It is better to ruin a tablespoon of the stew by over-seasoning than then entire night’s dinner.

Add a sprig of cilantro or two, and serve some buttered grilled corn tortillas on the side.

Reprinted by permission from www.southsoundeats.com

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lions & Tigers & Goat Penis Oh My!

I have been blogging recently on www.southsoundeats.com which I recommend you subscribe to--This is reprinted...

Reading an article recently about ethnic food in Los Angeles I came across this menu item in a Koreatown restaurant—and it wasn’t translated: Goat Penis! It was offered up for $1.50.

That got me to thinking about all the weird stuff eaten by different cultures.

When in college I took a semester break and lived in Sun Valley, Idaho. I remember a local tavern that sponsored a “Rocky Mt. Oyster” [aka calve testicles] eating contest—and the winner consumed something like 165 of them in 10 minutes.


I mean seriously just because you can eat something doesn’t necessarily mean we should. I do not have the iron stomach of celebrity chef/author Anthony Bourdain.

I found this little delight on weird-food.com: “In the Philippines they eat “Balute” which consists of a half-hatched chicken egg. A balute is a fifteen- or sixteen-day fertilized chicken egg. Open an egg and pop a sixteen-day-old incomplete chicken fetus into your mouth, complete with partially formed feathers, feet, eyeballs, and blood vessels showing through the translucent skin of the chick.”

Many years ago I remember the fuss created when a restaurant in San Diego served a dinner consisting of exotic meats such as lion, python, tiger, elephant and giraffe meat! Very politically incorrect—people boycotted the restaurant.

When I was in Thailand a few years ago I was astonished to see the street vendors selling baskets of water-bugs the size of your hand—lightly salted and roasted, in those little baskets you get that normally hold French fries. Smaller cockroaches were also for sale in beds of straw. One cart had maggots by the hand full, grasshoppers, beetles and King Scorpions…yikes.

As a young boy in 8th grade at Jerry Meeker Jr. High our science class teacher Mr. Bernard talked to us about the importance of keeping an open mind. After his pep talk he asked the class who in fact had an open mind? I was the first hand that shot up unfortunately…

“Good,” he said, “’cause I have some fried ants I want you to try!”

I opened my mouth and he shoved a generous heaping teaspoon of ants onto my tongue. I was surprised that they didn’t taste that bad—kinda like crunchy salty raisins.

Back to Thailand.

During a tour, we stopped along a beautiful lake in Northern Thailand near the Myanmar [Burma] border. A solitary street vendor sat on the sidewalk. Our driver walked over and ordered something. He squatted on his haunches to eat. I walked over and peered into his bowl. I thought I saw something moving. No… more like jumping out of the bowl. Almost like miniature popcorn popping before my eyes!

“What are you eating”? Our translator told me it was called “Jumping Shrimp Salad”.

I looked closer. And yes oh my God—there were miniature live shrimp jumping around in the bowl.

“Would you like to order a salad”, he asked? I agreed.

The woman took a small net and scooped it through a large cistern of water on the ground behind her. She plopped the net over a bowl and shook out a generous helping of shrimp. They seemed fairly docile until she added some stinging hot Thai chili sauce, lime and Thai basil, some noodles and gave it all a toss.

No wonder those shrimp were jumping like popcorn, after being tossed in that fiery sauce & lime juice!

I gave a taste—and made sure to chew extremely well before swallowing. (I didn’t want to feel any jumping on the way down).

The salad tasted like delicious sweet (softshell) shrimp. The chilies were fiery but with the lime and basil a nice balance. Delicious.

I finished my Jumping Shrimp Salad, again making sure to chew slowly and thoroughly before swallowing.

It wasn’t until later that I started getting a little worried—after-all we were warned to drink only bottled water. I started wondering about the water the shrimp came from and whether it was purified? Would I get sick? But no, thank God, all was good! Maybe the fiery chile sauce had “purified” the shrimp.

What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What Obama Ate

Former Pacific Grill intern Tate Edwards, right, with Barack Obama and the crew that cooked for the President-elect and his family in Hawaii last month.

Just heard from my Pacific Grill intern from last summer—Tate Edwards.

He had an interesting job over the holidays—cooking for President-elect Barack Obama and family at their rented seaside mansion in Kailua, on the island of Oahu.

Tate sent me an email detailing the menu that he prepared and a photo showing him with the next President of the United States. I thought you might like to read Tate’s menu and some comments about his experience.

Tate got the job from a Hotel Chef that recommended him. One night the Obama's plans changed and instead of going out to dinner they decided to stay in--but the Head Chef cooking for them had made plans that he couldn't change. So Tate stepped-up and said he would cook for the President-elect! He had to design a menu on the fly--and get it approved, go out & shop and prepare the meal. Sounds like an Iron Chef competition!
I asked Tate in a phone call to Honolulu whether he was nervous and he said "yeah--a little bit. I was most concerned about getting it all ready in time. But Obama was cool--the whole experience was much more laid-back than I would have thought."
In an email Tate elaborated on his personal Menu for the President:

“…my menu for the President-elect and company on the night of the 27 of December was as follows:

I cooked for I think 16 or 17 adults and 9 children.

For the children we did a simple Lasagne with a cabbage and sweet corn slaw on the side.

For the adults, Obama included, we did a prosciutto wrapped uku (grey snapper) with celery root puree and citrus beurre blanc for the starter.

This was followed by an heirloom tomato terrine with torn basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and Hawaiian alaea sea salt.

The entree was a beer-marinated grilled flank steak with roasted garlic & feta mashed potatoes & arugula salad (dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt & pepper) garnished with shaved Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil.

For one guest we did a pan-roasted mushroom stuffed leg of chicken because she did not eat red meat but served with the same components.

Dessert was an apple and hazelnut frangipane tart with vanilla ice cream.
…not very fancy but it tasted good…”

Tate offered up some other observations in a follow-up email:

“…I didn't get to bring in a camera except for the last day. So I don't have any
pictures of the meal that I cooked for him :(

We did cook at the home they were renting in Kailua. I cooked for 6 days with a private chef and the one day with my menu ( 7 days all together) .
I cooked with some fellow students. Obama asked me--
“what's on the menu chef”?
I replied I'm not a chef just a cook-- so that was

Also--I have never been searched so many times in my life! It gets a little
repetitive --even if you leave for 5 minutes you have to go through it again.

Kinda tough when you have ice cream melting and have to go through checkpoint after checkpoint!

Obama was very nice and really down to earth. His family is
awesome as well."

Aloha, Tate

Obviously I am extremely proud of Tate!

What an accomplishment.

What a thrill.
[a version of this blog was originally published on www.southsoundeats.com ]

Stinkin' Brussels Sprouts

For the last couple of months I have been the Guest Chef Blogger on www.southsoundeats.com a great new website devoted to what's happening in the South Puget Sound area in terms of food, wine & beer. This article was originally published there.

Recently I received a number of requests for recipes featuring Brussels Sprouts, one of my favorite vegetables. We have featured them in a number of dishes but I think they work particularly well when the weather turns cold. A member of the cruciferous family, they are related to cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower, and indeed resemble little baby cabbages.

When I was a kid I hated Brussels Sprouts because my Mother would always cook them to death—and like broccoli and the other cabbages—when overcooked they tend to release mustard gas--the unpleasant aroma generated when any of the cabbage family is overcooked.

Brussels Sprouts for People that Hate Brussels Sprouts

This recipe is both easy and simple. Amounts are approximate. Serves 6-8

1 lb Brussels Sprouts
2 shallots sliced thinly
2 slices apple-smoked bacon diced
Maple syrup for drizzling
1 T butter

Take some Brussels sprouts and halve them if small—quartering the larger ones so that they are roughly about the same size. Slice some shallots and toss with the sprouts. Cook a little bacon until rendered and starting to crisp.
Toss the sprouts and shallots with some of the bacon fat or olive oil, and lightly season with salt & pepper. Arrange on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 325 degrees until the Brussels sprouts are lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes or so depending on your oven.
Remove from the oven and place in a sauté pan with a little butter. When the sprouts are hot and the butter melted, drizzle and toss with a little real maple syrup.
Taste and correct the seasoning. The sprouts should taste mildly sweet from the syrup, but make sure you can taste the salt & pepper—you want to balance the flavors, and remember that the bacon adds salt as well. Too much syrup would be cloying. Enjoy.

Brussels Sprouts Leaves with Pancetta

Serves 12 or more

2 Pounds Brussels Sprouts
1/4 Cup Canola or Olive Oil (or rendered duck fat)
2 Large Carrots, diced ( approx 1 cup)
3 Large Stalks Celery, diced ( approx 1 cup)
1 Medium Onion, diced
1/4 Pound Pancetta, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Dash White Balsamic Vinegar (or other good quality white vinegar)
Breadcrumbs (optional)

1. Working with one sprout at a time, remove as many of the outer leaves as you can until you reach those firmly attached to the core. Trim the stem end, freeing more leaves, and repeat until you reach the dense center. Slice the center thinly.

2. Warm the olive oil or duck fat in a very large nonreactive saucepan. Add the carrot, celery and onion (together they make the mirepoix) and pancetta and cook over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes, without browning the vegetables, until they have softened.

3. Add one-half cup water and the Brussels sprouts sprinkle with the salt and stir well to combine. Cover the pan and cook for approx. 10 minutes, stirring often until the leaves are tender. Season with a little freshly ground pepper, correct for salt and add a dash of vinegar. Sprinkle with prepared breadcrumbs if desired.

Serve while the color is still vivid.