Articles in Chefs
I had just begun eating a meal at Onyx, a restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, California, eagerly catching up with a couple of friends, when all conversation stopped.
So delicious was this cuisine, touted as “modern Japanese,” with unexpected flavors and textures that seemed to speak to us in an elemental way, that my friends and I just looked at each other with smiles growing on our faces.
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Each plate of sushi and sashimi that arrived at the table was an artistic arrangement of food, so striking and beautiful that it looked like a mini sculpture. As we ate these glistening pieces of fish, we were transported by the lightness and diversity of tastes.
Then there was the main dish — blackened miso cod. It was so juicy and flavorful that I really needed to know: Who created this fabulous food?
His name is Masa Shimakawa, and I soon learned why he understands fish better than most.
All things fish
Masa not only cooks with fish, but he scuba dives, is a fly fisherman and he was born and raised in Hakodate, Japan, a port city almost entirely surrounded by ocean and known for its fresh seafood dishes.
“Everyone cooks with fish in my hometown,” Masa said when I interviewed him a few weeks later. People there eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Most people in Japan cook fish on a charcoal grill,” he added. “It’s very simple.”
Masa likes to see fish in their own element. “On vacation, I go deep sea diving around the Channel Islands and I also go scuba diving to Hawaii and Caribbean,” he says.
And he’s an experienced fisherman. “I like fly fishing — tying my own fly — in the Channel Islands. Or I go into small creeks in the mountains, the Eastern Sierra — there are beautiful streams there — to fish golden trout. It’s a four-hour drive for middle-of-nowhere fishing,” he said.
He has traveled to countries in Asia and South America, seeking out street food and local markets. “I want to see what people are eating on a daily basis.” He says he has been most inspired by Vietnam and Singapore.
From Japan to California
His career began as a dishwasher in a small cafe when he was a teenager. He attended the Hakodate Professional Cooking School and later became a sushi chef in Tokyo. He got a job at a sushi restaurant in Montreal, then Chicago and then New York, before arriving at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village in 2006.
The resort includes the California Health and Longevity Institute, which offers health, fitness and nutrition consultations as well as spa services. The light and fresh food at Onyx makes it the perfect place for Longevity Institute clients to come for dinner.
For his Onyx creations, Masa buys fish from local Southern California sources as well as from Japan. One of his favorites is Hawaiian sea bass. “I marinate it with Yuzu, Japanese soy sauce, overnight.” As for what is meant by “modern Japanese,” Masa explains: “It’s not too traditional. I use outside accents — Western and Southeast Asia seasonings, all mashed up.”
One part of the secret to the flavorful fish is the sauces he creates for marinating. For the black cod? “I marinate it in miso paste with sake, and a little bit of sugar, overnight. Next day, I rinse off the miso,” then he oven-roasts the fish.
No need to be intimidated about buying or cooking fish, Masa says. Here are some of his tips:
• Buy at a fish market whenever possible.
• Look for bright, clear eyes.
• Look for vivid red gills.
• No matter how you cook fish, use your finger to judge when it’s done. “I push the fish gently to see how deep my finger goes. It should be soft, but the skin should spring back. If it’s too hard, the fish has been overcooked.”
• As for sauces? “It’s all about simplicity,” Masa says. Just use butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice, he suggests. The idea, he says, is to create a light sauce that allows you to “enjoy the character of the fish.”
What about the old rule of cooking fish 5 minutes for every inch of thickness? Masa shrugs. Knowing when fish is done cooking has to “come with experience,” he says.
The success of Onyx may be that Masa enjoys experimenting with new recipes, which he tries out on his staff. He is intuitive, and he has had years of experience cooking fish. But how does it all taste just so … perfect? There are some secrets he’s not sharing. “I have some tricks,” he says with a smile.
Main photo: Black cod wrapped in a bamboo leaf sits in sweet soy sauce. Credit: Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts
The pursuit of a healthy diet is frequently lamented as an exercise in deprivation. Often the ingredients that must be given up are ones that delight the palate and excite the soul. Chef Paul Fields saw no such deprivation when he signed on to be the chef at the upscale, gluten-free Inn on Randolph in Napa, California. He serves a breakfast of Beluga lentils with roasted vegetables, sausage and a poached egg.
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The Napa Valley is renowned for quality vineyards and award-winning restaurants. The city of Napa is less well-known. Recently in the news because of an earthquake that caused considerable damage in the downtown commercial district, the city is reviving and becoming a locus for inventive chefs and quality accommodations.
Fields is one of those chefs drawn to the valley’s bounty of agricultural products. He prides himself on being a good purveyor. He collaborates with local farmers and has a garden on the property so the produce he cooks comes fresh and organic to his kitchen. For him, no matter what a guest’s dietary restrictions might be, his goal is to create nutritious, well-plated delicious meals.
In search of a breakfast that would do just that, Fields turned to an old favorite: lentils.
Hungry guests about to begin a day of wine tasting, cycling or hiking in the valley need a hearty meal. Often regarded as low on the culinary totem pole, lentils are a heritage legume, mentioned in the Bible and served around the globe as a source of low-cost protein that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. It is cultivated in a rainbow of colors and sizes including the Red Chief, the brown Pardina, the Crimson and the French Green. For his signature breakfast dish, Fields uses the glossy black Beluga lentil.
Fields accomplishes a bit of magic with what some might call the most prosaic of ingredients — a handful of lentils, a carrot, a piece of squash and an egg. A combination of contrasting flavors and textures, the dish is delicious and visually beautiful, a good way to begin the day.
Beluga Lentil, Roasted Vegetable Gluten-Free Breakfast
In addition to being gluten-free, the dish can be vegetarian-vegan when the butter, sausage and egg are omitted.
The organic Beluga lentils that Fields uses come from the Timeless Food company based in Conrad, Montana. To add heat without spiciness, dried cayenne peppers cook along with the lentils and charred onion.
Adding to the convenience of the dish, the lentils, roasted vegetables and sausages may be cooked beforehand and reheated just before serving. Only the poached egg should be prepared at the last minute.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 medium yellow onion, washed, peeled, root and stem removed, roughly chopped
1 whole dried cayenne pepper
1 cup black Beluga lentils
2 1/2 cups water
4 carrots, washed, peeled, root and stem removed, cut on the bias or into rounds
1 cup squash (butternut or acorn), washed, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch chunks or long slabs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 sausage links, chicken apple sausage or use what you like from your local market
1 tablespoon sweet butter
5 tablespoons sherry vinegar, divided
4 large eggs
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, heated over a low flame, reduced to 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons micro-greens (kale, chives, pea shoots), washed, dried and Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup parsley leaves, washed, dried, roughly chopped
1. In a large saucepan or small pot, heat ½ tablespoon olive oil. Sauté the onion over medium heat until lightly charred. Add dried cayenne pepper and continue sautéing 5 to 6 minutes. Add lentils and water. Stir well.
2. Bring to a simmer and cook for 25 to 35 minutes uncovered or until the lentils are a little softer than al dente. Set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 450 F. Toss carrots and squash with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, season with sea salt and black pepper.
4. Place on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat sheet or parchment paper. Using tongs, turn after 10 minutes and cook about a total of 15 to 20 minutes or until al dente. Remove and reserve.
5. Large sausages can be prepared whole, in which case the skin should be punctured all over with a sharp paring knife so the sausages do not swell during cooking, or cut into 1/2-inch rounds or 2-inch bias-cut pieces. Heat a sauté pan over a medium flame. Place the sausages into the pan and sear on all sides, using tongs to turn them frequently. When the sausages are cooked, remove from the pan, drain on a paper-towel-lined plate and reserve.
6. Heat a large sauté pan. Transfer the lentils from the pot to the sauté pan. Simmer to reduce the liquid by half. Add butter and combine with the lentils’ broth to create a sauce. Stir well.
7. Add 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar to brighten the flavors. Taste and adjust the flavors using sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, a bit more butter and vinegar. The sauce should be thick, so, if needed, simmer a few minutes longer to reduce excess liquid.
8. Fill a medium-sized sauce pan or a small pot with a quart of water. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons vinegar, which will help coagulate the egg white around the yolk. Bring to a simmer.
9. If the lentils, roasted vegetables and sausage have been prepared ahead, reheat.
10. Open an egg, being careful not to break the yolk. Stir the hot vinegar water before sliding in the egg. The gentle vortex helps shape the egg.
Cook 3 1/2 minutes for a loose yolk and 4 1/2 to 5 minutes for a medium yolk. Fields suggests using a kitchen timer so the eggs do not overcook.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the poached egg from the water and drain on a paper towel for 2 to 3 seconds.
11. If possible, heat the plates. Drizzle or use the back of a spoon to mark each plate with a small amount of the reduced balsamic vinegar, which is not only decorative but adds another layer of sweet-acidic flavor.
12. Put the carrots into the pan with the lentils and toss well to coat with the sauce. Place the squash on each plate. Spoon the lentils and carrots onto the squash. Add the sausage and top with the poached egg.
13. Dust with sea salt and black pepper. To add color and a little crunch, sprinkle micro-greens and chopped Italian parsley leaves on top. Finish with sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil.
Main photo: Beluga Lentil, Roasted Vegetable Gluten-Free Breakfast. Credit: David Latt
Pseudoscience and seductive headlines worked their black magic in 2014, enticing people to follow one misguided food fad after another. However, 2015 holds more promise.
We at Oldways — our nonprofit has spent the last quarter century guiding people to good health through heritage and cultural food traditions — predict that what’s old will be rediscovered in brand new ways. We see five food trends in our kitchens and on our dinner plates for the year ahead:
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1. Whole grains become the new normal
Now that diners have discovered the nutty flavor and toothsome bite of whole grains, they are more willing to move from quinoa to more adventurous options like teff, sorghum and millet. Next up: Look for on-demand milled grains and more varieties of sprouted grains and sprouted grain flours, which will take baking to the next level.
2. African heritage cuisine goes mainstream
Thanks to chefs such as Marcus Samuelsson and Bryant Terry, as well as food historians such as Jessica B. Harris, African heritage cuisine has been elevated to new ranks. Based on whole, fresh plant foods, with a special emphasis on leafy greens, the traditional healthy eating patterns of African heritage, with roots in America, Africa, the Caribbean and South America, are making their way to more and more menus. In turn, more diners are discovering these healthy traditions of Africa. That’s also encouraging home cooks to explore and experiment with dishes like African peanut soup, Hoppin’ John and Jollof rice (also known as benachin).
3. All hail plants!
Interest in plant-based diets has reached an all time high. The trend has grown beyond just replacing meat. Today, vegetables are celebrated with innovative plant-centric plates such as zucchini baba ganoush and cauliflower steaks. In 2015, a number of less well known vegetable varieties will pop up at farmer’s markets, on more menus and on more plates. Look for tat soi and turnip greens as well as new and delicious hybrid vegetables like BrusselKale, a combination of two of America’s favorites.
We will move beyond butternut to an amazing assortment of other squash: kabocha, delicata and sweet dumpling. Root vegetables such as rutabaga, watermelon radishes, purple potatoes and parsnips, also will rule. Even the U.S. government is considering a recommendation to eat more plant foods and less meat in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.
4. Will it blend?
Home cooks looking to amp up the flavor are turning to herbs and spices with a twist. Spice blends like Berbere, Baharat, Ras el Hanout and Herbes de Provence (from Ethiopia, the Middle East, North Africa and France respectively) are adding adventure in the kitchen. Cooks are discovering the allure of blending their own spices. And they’re taking cues from top chefs like Ana Sortun of the celebrated Cambridge-based Oleana. Not only do these home blends boost flavor without adding sodium or calories, they enable personalized flavor preferences.
5. Cultural condiments
The arts of preserving and fermenting foods — popular in traditional diets around the world — were originally created simply to extend the life of foods in a world without refrigeration. Today, more home cooks are learning these techniques and padding their pantries with homemade kimchi, craft pickles, sauerkraut and preserved lemons.
Main photo: What new foods and dishes will appear on our plates in 2015? Credit: iStock
“Don’t use anything better — no brioche! no pain de mie! — in some attempt to make this ‘gourmet.’ We are not that kind of restaurant.” – Gabrielle Hamilton, in “Prune” (Random House, 2014).
It’s not every day a James Beard Award-winning chef wields the word “gourmet” as a barb, or exhorts you to use Pepperidge Farm bread instead of fancier alternatives, but Gabrielle Hamilton is not your average high-profile chef. Since 1999, when she opened Prune, her tiny restaurant in New York City’s East Village, she’s gone her own way, and the same can be said of her first cookbook, “Prune.”
By Gabrielle Hamilton, Random House, 2014, 576 pages
A companion piece to “Blood, Bones & Butter,” her critically acclaimed memoir, “Prune” deftly captures Hamilton’s personality as well as that of the restaurant, neither of which are easy to pigeonhole. She’s a self-taught chef who has a master’s degree in fiction writing, while Prune is the kind of place where a bar snack of canned sardines with Triscuits confidently holds court on the same menu as Tongue and Octopus With Salsa Verde and Mimosa’d Egg.
The cookbook was written as if Hamilton is addressing her staff. It has been designed to look like a stylized photocopy of the recipes she types up for their regular use, complete with re-creations of the handwritten notes she pens when she’s forgotten some helpful detail. “If (the braising liquid) tastes too bright,” she scribbles at the end of a lamb recipe, “heavily char — almost burn — 2 slabs of peasant bread on the grill … push the burnt toast down into the liquid to soak it. … It will add body to the braise and soften the astringency.”
In its earliest days, Prune served only dinner, so that’s where the book begins, too. Tables of contents lead into the various subsections, but there’s no general index (though one will soon be available for download). Instead of lyrical head notes about a dish’s story of origin, Hamilton dives right in to the steps, though her voice is unmistakable when she directs you to “fully enclose the butter inside the dough, as if you were hastily wrapping a Christmas present.”
When I visited her at Prune recently, she explained the thinking behind the book’s form and content. “I tried writing it the conventional way for about five minutes, and it was immediately clear that I was lying my brains out, because I don’t use that language. The imperative was to tell the truth as I live it and experience it. I knew people would get it.”
The unique structure and tone are not the only things that set the book apart. There’s also a section called “garbage,” which details how the restaurant repurposes oft-discarded items such as zucchini tops and bacon rinds. At a time when Americans throw away nearly 40% of the food they buy, this chapter seems especially appropriate.
“Prune” includes many of the restaurant’s marvelously layered dishes, like Warm Lentil Salad With Fried Chicken Livers, Poached Egg, and Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette, as well as directions for assembling the more minimalist offerings (such as a bar snack of radishes with sweet butter and salt) whose unassuming appearance belies the care that underpins them. The first time I ever interviewed Hamilton, five years ago, we discussed the reaction to these “three-ingredient recipes,” a subject we revisited during our recent chat.
“They’re the ones that set you up for failure,” she says, “because there’s nothing to hide behind. Only radishes and butter and salt — what could possibly go wrong? And yet. You have overgrown, cottony, spongy radishes that have soaked in too much water, and they’ve lost their flame. Or the butter is over-tempered and greasy. Or you’re using the worst, overly granulated, way-too-salty salt. But when you have the right crispy-firm, hot-on-fire radish, the cool waxy butter, which not only tempers the heat but lets the salt adhere, and the salt, which brings back the flavor that the butter has started to tame.” She smiles. “I know it’s just three things, but can you believe what goes in to simplicity?”
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There’s much to like about “Prune,” starting with Hamilton’s mouthwatering food, but what’s most appealing is the respect she shows her readers, a quality that took on paramount importance for her after she visited home kitchens during a road trip a couple of years ago. “I had lost track of who we were talking about when we use that phrase ‘for the home cook,’ and it turns out the home cook is incredibly diverse. … I think the cookbook industry in the main tends to underestimate them, and it’s time to stop.”
When she directs you to garnish a dish with a “lime cheek,” she trusts you’ll get it, and if not, you can figure it out from the photos. Even when her insider notes are not directly relevant to your kitchen reality, they often get you to reconsider some element of how you prep, cook, serve or store your food. And at their least practical, the asides to her staff (“If Health Department comes, take the serrano [ham] off the carving stand and throw in the oven.”) still offer us a peek behind the scenes, which is one of the reasons people buy chef cookbooks in the first place.
Ultimately, it’s that sense of transparency that remains at the heart of the whole endeavor. “The book is the same as Prune and me in every way,” she tells me. “We’re not to everyone’s taste — our food, our gestalt — and neither is the cookbook. We love you, and we hope you love us, too, but we’re not gonna lie about who we are.”
Farmhouse Chicken Braised in Hard Cider
[Excerpted from “Prune” by Gabrielle Hamilton. Copyright © 2014 by Gabrielle Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Random House, A Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.]
Even though it’s best to use homemade chicken stock, I opted for a high-quality, low-sodium supermarket brand, which produced good results. If you are using store-bought stock, be sure to factor in the sodium level when seasoning the dish. Since I mistakenly purchased a package of drumsticks instead of whole chicken legs, I cooked a total of eight drumsticks, two per serving.
Yield: 4 servings
4 large whole chicken legs
Extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup slivered garlic
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup hard cider
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Season chicken legs all over with more pepper than salt.
2. Brown chicken legs in mixed fats, more butter than oil. Brown perfectly, on both sides; don’t crowd and don’t crank it, either. Keep heat at medium-high and do a careful job. Remove chicken, pour off fat.
3. Add a good hunk of butter, the garlic and shallots to the same pan, reduce heat, and sweat.
4. Add tomato paste and stir to fully blend, melt, even toast a little.
5. Deglaze with cider vinegar and hard cider.
6. Add the honey. Simmer to cook off alcohol and reduce slightly, by no more than 1/3.
7. Stir in chicken stock.
8. Neatly nestle the chicken legs in the pan and be sure to taste the braising liquid for salt, acidity, sweetness. Adjust now or never.
9. Cover with parchment and tight-fitting lid, if you can find one that isn’t too warped. Check after 25 minutes. You want loose joints but not falling off the bone.
10. At pickup, reduce sauce per portion, to have body, but not to become viscous.
11. One leg per portion. Good bit of sauce. Shower with parsley, freshly chopped, at pass.
Main photo: Chef and “Prune” author Gabrielle Hamilton and the cover of her cookbook. Credit: Hamilton photo by Melanie Dunea
Alexander Smalls, the Harlem-based restaurateur known for his African diaspora-inspired menus, is a celebrity chef at the forefront of culture-blended cuisine.
There’s Afro/Asian/American Oxtail Dumplings With Green Apple Curry Sauce. Piri Piri Prawns With Yam Flapjacks. And Cinnamon-Scented Fried Guinea Hen.
“My ancestors left amazing food trails to follow,” said Smalls, a self-described “Southern boy” and globe-trotting former opera singer. “Our menu is a journey through Africa, India, South America, Europe, China, South Carolina, Native American villages and back, with lots of side tracks in France and England and beyond.”
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An uncommon cuisine
High-end diners who enter his restaurant know they will encounter something unique. In New York, diners have their choice of fancy places that serve them foam, gel and tweezer foods.
“Then you find a place like The Cecil,” reported Esquire magazine, “and you wake up.”
Smalls is a native of the coastal South Carolina region known as Low Country, and he honed his culinary skills with classical training in Italy and France. How would someone with that varying background approach holiday fare? On New Year’s Eve, he will start the night off with champagne and oysters and then launch into another food realm based in Low Country. Traditional is his preference.
“Back home, my father made smothered shrimp in crab gravy over grits. That dish will always be synonymous with celebration to me,” said Smalls, often referred to as the father of Southern revival cooking as author of “Grace the Table: Stories & Recipes from My Southern Revival.”
“Growing up, I lived for Sunday dinners and started thinking about it on Wednesday: Southern fried chicken, fried okra, creamed corn, gravy, pole beans cooked with ham hocks and Geechee rice,” said the restaurateur who, along with New York businessman Richard Parsons, owns both The Cecil and Minton’s on the same block in Harlem. He also was owner of the legendary, now-closed restaurants Café Beulah and Sweet Ophelia’s.
Food that makes you want to sing — from a singer
“I toured the world as an opera singer and learned world-class cuisine firsthand while on the road,” said Smalls, a chef to stars, including Wynton Marsalis, Spike Lee, Quincy Jones and Toni Morrison. “European food is very influenced by Africa — like American food — and only recently are we seeing recognition for our contribution to world cuisine.”
Smalls’ entire menu is a variation on the African diaspora theme. Those who love okra, yams, plantains, beans, rice and greens will be greeted with multiple choices.
His Piri Piri Prawns dish originated as a chicken stew. But he revised the flavor profile by using sautéed prawns instead. Piri-piri, a Bantu word for pepper, is a spicy dish with roots in both Africa and Portugal. It was created in Angola when Portuguese settlers arrived with chili peppers. This dish is also popular in South Africa, Smalls said.
His yassa turkey is a spin on a Senegalese dish, and his turkey stuffed with jollof rice is another example of a West African blend on an American theme.
His Southern roots remain strong
But his rolls are true Southern belles.
“I will only use White Lily flour for my rolls,” Smalls said of the powdery light flour milled from soft winter wheat produced by White Lily since 1883.
To help him achieve the global breadth of the African diaspora cuisine, Smalls enlisted the young, classically trained Chef de Cuisine Joseph “JJ” Johnson, whose first culinary instructors were his grandmother from Barbados and his Puerto Rican mother.
The expanse of their experiences appears in their holiday dishes, with recipes to some of them included below.
Said Smalls: “I’m happy to help celebrate our style of American cuisine as we ring in the New Year.”
Oxtail Dumplings With Green Apple Curry Sauce
Prep time: 1 1/2 hours
Cook time: 2 1/2 hours
Total time: 4 hours
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
For the braised oxtails:
10 (3-inch cut) oxtails
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grape-seed oil
2 onions, rough chopped
3 carrots, rough chopped
1 bunch celery, rough chopped
4 quarts veal stock
2 quarts chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 whole oranges, quartered
1 jalapeño with seeds
3 cinnamon sticks
6 sprigs of thyme
1/2 bunch parsley
For the oxtail dumplings:
2 tablespoons grape-seed oil
3 heads of cabbage, shredded
1 quart shallots, minced
5 to 6 Bird’s Eye chilies, finely chopped
1 cup ginger, minced
8 quarts oxtail meat, braised and shredded
4 scallions, chopped
4 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons curry powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the green apple curry sauce:
2 pounds of butter
3 tablespoons curry powder
3 tablespoons turmeric
10 heads of garlic
3 Granny Smith apples
1 stalk lemongrass
2 large pieces of ginger, unpeeled
6 cans coconut milk
Sachet of 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 piece star anise and 1 bay leaf
3 limes, juiced
Salt, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Season oxtails with salt and pepper.
3. In a large Dutch oven, sear oxtails in grape-seed oil over medium heat until browned on both sides. Set aside.
4. Add onions, carrots and celery in the same pan and sauté vegetables for 10 minutes. Once vegetables are tender, add veal stock and chicken stock.
5. Bring to a hard simmer and add bay leaves, lemons, oranges, jalapeño, cinnamon sticks, thyme and parsley.
6. After simmering for 20 minutes, add in oxtails, making sure they are completely covered with liquid. If not, add water. Cover with aluminum foil and place into the oven and cook for 2 1/2 hours, or until tender. When fully cooked, remove braised oxtails from cooking liquid and allow to cool. When cooled, pull meat from oxtails. Skim fat off of cooking liquid, strain and set aside.
7. For the dumplings, in a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté cabbage, shallots and Bird’s eye chilies in the grape-seed oil. Add ginger, the shredded oxtail meat, scallions, turmeric and curry powder and cook for 5 minutes.
8. In a food processor, lightly pulse all ingredients until mix comes together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
9. Place wonton wrapper on a flat surface and brush the corners with egg. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of the wonton wrapper and fold edges together.
10. When ready to cook, gently place filled wonton wrapper in boiling water and cook for 3 minutes.
11. For the green apple curry sauce, sauté in the butter the curry powder, turmeric, shallots, garlic, apples, lemongrass and ginger. Cook until toasted and golden brown.
12. Add the coconut milk and the sachet. Reduce and finish with the lime juice.
13. Salt, to taste.
14. To serve, spoon warm green apple curry sauce in the bottom of a serving bowl. Place 4 dumplings on top of sauce and serve hot.
Piri Piri Prawns With Yam Flapjacks
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours
Total time: 2 1/2 hours
Yield: 8 servings
For the sautéed prawns:
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup blended oil (for example, 1/2 canola oil, 1/2 olive oil — not extra virgin olive oil)
3 pounds of shrimp, cleaned and deveined
For the yam flapjacks:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup packed dark palm sugar
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
For the Piri Piri Sauce:
6 Bird’s Eye Chilies
1 small piece of ginger
2 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons canola oil
15 plum tomatoes
1 orange, zested
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. To prepare the sautéed prawns, zest one lemon in bowl.
2. Whisk together with chili flakes, chopped parsley and blended oil.
3. Add in 3 pounds of shrimp and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.
4. Once marinated, season prawns with kosher salt.
5. Place in hot pan and cook on each side for two minutes.
6. To prepare the flapjacks, preheat oven to 350 F.
7. Roast yams in the oven for one hour. Remove and mash.
8. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together.
9. Heat a non-stick pan on stove and spoon in mix to form medium-sized flapjacks.
10. Cook the flapjacks until they are golden brown on both sides.
11. For the Piri Piri Sauce, roughly chop onions, chilies, ginger and garlic.
12. Sweat the mixture over low heat in the canola oil.
13. Add roughly chopped tomatoes and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are cooked down. Add orange zest and blend together, adding oil slowly to emulsify. After emulsified, season with salt and pepper to taste.
14. To serve, place a medium-size flapjack on the plate. Add four prawns and a tablespoon of the Piri Piri Sauce. Top it off with Apple Ginger Salad (recipe below).
Apple Ginger Salad
1/2 cup black currants
1/4 cup bourbon plus 2 tablespoons water
1/2 piece of fresh ginger, julienned
2 green apples, julienned
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 bunch cilantro
1. In a small bowl, soak black currants in bourbon and water until plump.
2. In a medium bowl, toss all remaining ingredients together, except for cilantro, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Adjust sesame oil to your liking.
4. Place on top of prawns and garnish with cilantro leaves.
Main photo: Alexander Smalls, the owner and executive chef at Harlem’s The Cecil. Credit: Daniel Krieger
Noelia Garcia grew up helping her mother make and sell tamales — those golden packages of cornmeal and spices steamed in cornhusks and tied like little presents. In Mexico, tamales are always made fresh, but Garcia figured her neighbors in her adopted state of Minnesota could use these steaming packages any time they wanted. And that is her gift to Minnesota: frozen tamales with the authentic taste of Mexico.
Today, her Minneapolis tamale business, La Loma Tamales, produces Oaxaqueno tamales with spicy red sauce inside; tamales with a mole sauce of chilies, nuts and chocolate; and a dessert tamale filled with pineapple and raisins. That’s not to mention her signature chicken tamales with a green sauce of serrano chili peppers, onions, garlic and tomatillos. All are the flavors of Garcia’s childhood.
Growing up in Mexico
It’s a childhood Garcia remembers lovingly, even though it’s been 17 years since she last saw Quebrantadero, the tiny village where she grew up buying gorditas in the plaza, preparing for fiestas and sleeping in her family’s dirt-floor adobe house.
“We slept three or four kids in one bed, everybody in the same house, seven brothers and sisters, my mom, my dad, my grandma and grandpa,” says Garcia, 40. She and her friends loved to play on a little hill, la loma in Spanish, and that’s what she named her company.
“When you’re a child, you don’t care that you don’t have shoes. You’re just innocent and happy,” she says. “For me, it’s transporting myself to a place and bringing something from where I grew up to this place.”
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Quebrantadero was her entire world until, at age 16, she met Enrique Garcia, age 17, and fell in love. What they did next surprises even Noelia. “We got married on Friday and we came to the United States on Sunday,” she says. “In a small village, there is nothing else to do.”
The Garcias long to revisit Quebrantadero, which they left nearly two decades ago. They can’t go back across the border until they resolve their immigration status, which they are working hard to do. In the intervening years, Enrique has lost his mother, grandmother and an uncle. He has had to miss all three funerals.
Shortly after coming to Minnesota, Enrique heard that a bakery in Minneapolis needed workers, so that’s where they headed. It was 30 below zero the day they arrived. “I remember we went to the bus and we kind of showed our hands with the coins, because we don’t know the value of the coins,” Noelia says.
Neither spoke English, but they got jobs and worked long hours. In the evenings, Noelia started cooking tamales to sell at a Mexican restaurant. Those tamales, based on her mother’s recipes, caused a sensation. Eventually, the demand proved too much for the small kitchen in the couple’s home.
Selling tamales … and coffee
In 1999, the Garcias quit their jobs and opened a tiny restaurant in Minneapolis’ busy Mercado Central marketplace. The landlord had one requirement for the renters of the 80-square-foot kitchen: They had to sell coffee. Although neither Noelia nor Enrique knew how, they agreed. “We bought a coffee machine and people trained us on how to use it,” Noelia says.
Largely thanks to the Garcias, Minnesotans’ taste for tamales has expanded like luminarias on a winter sidewalk. The couple’s wholesale business sells frozen, handmade La Loma tamales to grocery stores and restaurants throughout Minnesota. It took a year to get the license for the tamale factory. The reason? “The health inspector didn’t know what a tamale is,” Noelia explains.
In recent years, the couple added downtown locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul and a seasonal stand at TCF Bank Stadium. This past summer they debuted at three local farmers markets.
Noelia loved math as a child, but her parents didn’t have the money to send her beyond eighth grade. Once La Loma was established, she earned her GED and went to college to study business. Now she has started a scholarship fund so her employees’ children can attend college, too. For Noelia, La Loma is not just a business — it’s a community of family and friends who take care of one another, much like in the Mexican village of her childhood.
“This country has given us a lot, but we also suffer a lot,” Noelia says. “For 17 years, I didn’t see my mom, and I don’t know if someone can pay that. But my kids grew up here, we’ve got a really successful business, and I got to go to school. It’s kind of a balance. You cannot have everything.”
Although she has been separated from her mother for years, Noelia feels close to her in the kitchen. She based La Loma’s signature chicken tamales in green sauce on her mother’s recipe. It’s a taste of what her fans can get at her Twin Cities restaurants, wholesale store and the St. Paul Farmers’ Market.
La Loma’s Mexican Chicken Tamales in Green Sauce
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 2 hours
Total time: 3 hours
Yield: 30 servings
Chicken and green sauce preparation
Yield: About 36 ounces
3 pounds chicken, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 pounds tomatillos
8 serrano chili peppers
4 cloves garlic
4 cups of water
Chicken bouillon to taste
1. Add the chicken and salt to water and simmer for 30 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked, shred and set aside.
2. Boil the tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic in water. Once the sauce ingredients are cooked, discard the water and process the sauce ingredients in a blender with the chicken bouillon until smooth.
3. Add 12 ounces of the sauce to the shredded chicken, and reserve the remaining sauce (about 24 ounces) to use in the dough mixture.
Yield: About 30 portions
1 ½ pounds cornhusks for tamales
5 pounds tamale dough
About 24 ounces green sauce
1 pound lard or vegetable oil
1. Soak the cornhusks in water for 10 minutes. Wash the cornhusks and allow them to drain.
2. Mix the dough, green sauce and lard or oil together. Knead the dough until it obtains a uniform texture.
3. Press a small, 4-ounce ball of dough and spread evenly onto the cornhusk.
4. Add the desired amount of meat and sauce on top of the dough and wrap with the corn husk.
5. Once you have finished assembling the tamales, place them in a tamale steamer and steam for 2 hours.
6. Serve immediately.
Main photo: The La Loma tamale is made from scratch out of corn dough and filled with chicken, serrano chile peppers, tomatillos, onions and garlic. Credit: Ben Bartenstein
Ben Bartenstein, based in St. Paul, Minn., reported this story for Round Earth Media.
Portions of this story first appeared in Mpls. St.Paul Magazine.
A life-sized sculpture of a cow and a sign reading “Dine on our Swine” should have stopped me in my tracks, because I don’t eat beef or ham.
But one look at Industrial Eats’ menu, handwritten on large sheets of butcher paper hung from the walls, revealed I was in the right place.
Industrial Eats, a 1-year-old eatery in Buellton, Calif., has become a must-stop on my visits to the Santa Ynez wine region on California’s Central Coast. The cavernous restaurant furnished with family-style dining tables prides itself on its butchery skills. But for diners like me, there’s plenty of fish, fowl and local produce. The food is simple, straightforward and utterly delicious.
Pizzas are topped with such ingredients as smoked salmon, burrata, mascarpone, Calabrian chile, kabocha and chestnut. The Not Pizza section of the menu contains items such as wild mushrooms; black kale and black truffles; fall veggies with dates and brown sugar; Swiss chard and spinach in Vadouvan curry; and other poetically named dishes.
Simple cooking yields delicious meals at Industrial Eats
Everything at Industrial Eats gets cooked in the igloo-style wood-burning pizza ovens, and local wines as well as sandwiches and an array of cheeses are also served.
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“Cooking is way too fussy and food is too over-handled in most restaurants,” said chef/owner Jeff Olsson.
He describes his cooking style simply: “Ingredients go in a sauté pan with olive oil and spices, in the wood-burning oven and on the plate. It’s honest taste infused in our food.”
But is it really as simple as that?
It could be if we did all our cooking in wood-burning ovens. At Industrial Eats, that’s the mantra. You won’t find gas burners or pricey induction ranges here. Instead, ingredients are placed in an iron skillet that goes inside the pizza oven. Cooked in this simple, traditional style, the food tastes divine.
Olsson and his wife, Janet, met in New York 22 years ago. “I was washing dishes,” said Jeff, who moved up the ladder and worked as a chef in Washington, D.C., restaurants such as Red Sage and Nora, where Janet served as a manager.
Fifteen years ago, the Olssons opened New West catering, which they continue to operate in Buellton along with Industrial Eats.
A two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, Buellton is just off U.S. Highway101 near Solvang. The small town is best known for its ostrich farm, a string of auto dealers and Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn. The local barbecue hangout The Hitching Post II became a tourist haven after it was spotlighted in the award-winning 2004 film “Sideways.”
Although the film pumped up wine tourism in the region, Buellton remained a pass-through town for visitors. It lacked the wine-country charm of neighboring hamlets such as Los Olivos or Santa Ynez.
But not for long.
“Buellton has become gentrified in the last 15 years,” Olsson said. Prohibitive real estate prices and saturation in Los Olivos and Solvang drove people — including the Olssons — to rediscover Buellton. In the past few years, industrial spaces have morphed into cafes, eateries and wine-tasting centers. A distillery is soon to open near Industrial Eats, and the noted Alma Rosa Winery’s tasting room is also nearby.
Industrial Eats, though, is known for its butchery. “We do whole animals from Central Coast and Santa Ynez Valley,” said Jeff, who also offers hog-butchering classes at the restaurant. Fresh preserves, patès and handmade bacon are some of the specialties.
“I stay local as much as I can,” he said, noting, though, that meats such as wild boar and antelope are sourced from Broken Arrow Ranch in southwest Texas.
Next time you’re driving Highway 101, stop in downtown Buellton to savor the local flavors at my all-time favorite spot. Meanwhile, you can re-create these wintry Industrial Eats recipes at home during the holiday season.
Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus overnight for marinating
Cook time: 5 1/2 hours
Total time: About 6 hours, plus marinating time for the duck.
Yield: 6 servings
For the confit of duck:
6 duck legs (you can, in a pinch, use chicken as well)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
4 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 sticks Mexican canella
4 ounces dried cherries, roughly chopped
4 sprigs sage
Zest of one orange
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 pounds duck fat (available at fine grocers or Hudson Valley Foie Gras)
For the lentils:
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced small
1 bulb fennel, diced small
1 knob butter
2 cups duck stock
2 cups du Puy lentils
For the confit of duck:
1. Place the duck legs into a large ziplock bag with garlic, shallot, canella, cherries, sage, zest, salt and pepper. Let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2. The next day, preheat the oven to 225 F. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the duck fat over medium heat.
3. Carefully empty contents of ziplock bag into that fat, ensuring the duck legs are fully submerged.
4. Cook in the oven for 3 to 5 hours, until meat is tender and falling from the bone.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
6. Carefully remove duck legs from fat and allow to drain.
7. Preheat 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Place duck legs, two at a time, in the skillet and fry until crisp and brown, about 4 minutes per side.
For the lentils:
1. Sauté the shallot, garlic, carrot and fennel in butter till slightly caramelized.
2. Add the stock and lentils and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes
Note: Serve the duck legs atop the lentils.
Fall Veggies With Dates and Ginger
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 celery roots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
1 kabocha squash, not peeled, but seeded and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 pound baby Japanese sweet potatoes, not peeled, cut into bite-size pieces
4 shallots, julienned
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
1 cup Medjool dates
1 piece of ginger, peeled and julienned as finely as you can
1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with the olive oil and season with salt to taste.
3. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until soft and golden brown.
4. Remove from oven and toss with dates and ginger.
5. Place back in oven for 5 more minutes.
Note: This can be served as a side dish with Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils.
Main photo: Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils from Industrial Eats. Credit: Mira Honeycutt
Because I’m a chef and food writer, I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite food?” The answer is visceral, born of my childhood instead of my professional training or the international food experiences I’ve been lucky to have.
My favorite food is the cuisine of my mother’s native Iran — an overlooked area of the culinary world because of Iran’s 35 years of tense relations with the United States.
Persian food has typically been at the end of anyone’s list of favorites, but that’s starting to change. Driven by the recent foodie interest in the region at large — the Middle East and Indian — Persian food is having its day, and nothing could thrill me more.
By Sabrina Ghayour, Interlink Books, 2014, 240 pages
Those who know about this cuisine already know it is one of delicately nuanced flavors, rich varieties of meats and, in particular, produce, and deft technique that melds sweet and sour in an elegant way. Like Indian cuisine, basmati rice is a staple ingredient, but where much Indian food makes use of pepper, Persian cuisine prodigiously uses warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric. Saffron and rose petals add flavor that is actually more based in delicate aroma than pure taste.
Lamb and, traditionally, game birds are used in stews and grilled meat dishes and baked into rice dishes, but in Western adaptations, beef and chicken have become standard substitutes. As in Arab-Middle Eastern cuisine, a variety of salads and dipping sauces — most often made with yogurt and herbs — is the norm. Two hallmarks that make Iranian food particularly different are the vast array of pickles made from vegetables, spices, herbs and even fruit as well as the habit of consuming fresh herbs, onions and radishes as a condiment eaten out of hand or with bread. You’ll see this on most dinner tables.
I often describe Persian food as “north Indian cuisine without the heat,” and there’s a good reason for that description. The Mughal emperors of Northern India brought the food of the Iran they admired into their own region in the 16th century and mastered the layered rice dishes, fragrant stews and delicate fruit-based desserts. Today, that cooking sensibility remains the hallmark of most Indian restaurant cuisine and is still in evidence in many of the dishes’ Persian names. (Persian was the official language of the Mughal Empire.)
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One of the best new entrees into the world of Persian cooking is Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbook “Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond” (Interlink Books, 2014). In it, Ghayour, a London-based chef of Iranian descent, features both classic Persian dishes such as jujeh kebab, grilled boneless game hen marinated in a saffron yogurt sauce; morassa pollow, or “jeweled rice,” which is made with barberries, mixed nuts and orange peel; and fesenjan, a stew made of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup that is often served on holidays and special occasions.
Perhaps more compelling, for me at least, is the manner in which Ghayour melds Middle Eastern flavors that are not strictly Persian but are familiar to Western readers into a more Iranian food sensibility. She uses these flavors to add intricacy to the cuisine’s elegant techniques and presentations, such as with her Fig & Green Bean Salad with Date Molasses & Toasted Almonds or Baked Eggs with Feta, Harissa, Tomato Sauce and Cilantro.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a growing number of blogs and cookbooks about Persian cooking, including the blogs My Persian Kitchen and Turmeric & Saffron as well as Louisa Shaifa’s “The New Persian Cooking” (Ten Speed Press, 2013), all adding diverse voices to the multi-decade stand-alone canon “Food of Life” (Mage Publishers) by Persian cooking doyenne Najmieh Batmanglij. Ghayour’s “Persiana,” however, stands out for its creativity and clean design and the sheer delectability of the dishes.
Newcomers to Persian cooking as well as those already in love with the cuisine will find many reasons to return to the pages of “Persiana” over and over again, as you will see when you give her recipe for fesenjan a try.
Chicken, Walnut & Pomegranate Stew (Khoresh-e-Fesenjan)
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
This recipe appears in “Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond” by Sabrina Ghayour.
Khoresh is the Persian word for stew. Fesenjan is a rich, glossy stew of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, usually made with chicken, duck or delicate little lamb meatballs. The flavor is deep and rich, with a nutty texture and a wonderfully gentle acidity that cuts right through the richness of the dish. Fesenjan is a popular dish in Iran, and its sweet yet tart character has made it one of the most revered stews in Iranian cooks’ repertoires. Like most stews, it is best made the day before you need to serve it.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, diced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 pound, 5 ounces (600 grams) walnuts, finely ground in a food processor
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 cups (scant 1¼ liters) cold water
3 tablespoons superfine sugar [38 grams]
3 tablespoons (45 milliliters) pomegranate molasses
Seeds from 1 pomegranate, for serving
1. Preheat two large saucepans over medium heat and pour 3 tablespoons vegetable oil into one. Fry the onions in the oil until translucent and lightly browned.
2. In the other pan, toast the flour until it turns pale beige. Add the ground walnuts and cook the mixture through.
3. Once the onions are browned, season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and add them to the pan containing the onions. Increase the temperature and stir well to ensure you seal the thighs on both sides. Once they are gently browned, turn off the heat and set aside.
4. Add the water to the walnut pan, stir well, and bring the mixture to a slow boil, then cover with a lid and allow to cook for 1 hour over low-medium heat. This will cook the walnuts and soften their texture; once you see the natural oils of the walnuts rise to the surface, the mixture is cooked.
5. Add the sugar and pomegranate molasses to the walnuts and stir well for about 1 minute. Take your time to stir the pomegranate molasses well — it takes awhile to fully dissolve into the stew because of its thick consistency.
6. Add the chicken and onions to the walnut-pomegranate mixture, cover and cook for about 2 hours, stirring thoroughly every 30 minutes to ensure you lift the walnuts from the bottom of the pan so they don’t burn. Once cooked, what initially looked beige will have turned into a rich, dark almost chocolaty-looking color.
7. Serve sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and enjoy with a generous mound of basmati rice.
Note: Fesenjan is served with chelo (Persian steamed rice).
Main photo: Fesenjan, a walnut and pomegranate stew, is one of the more traditional recipes in “Persiana.” It melds traditional Iranian technique with a diverse ingredient sensibility. Credit: Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton