Articles in Meat

Chef Ryan Swarthout's Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Paso Robles, California, is gaining as much recognition of late for its cuisine as for the region’s celebrated wines, with chefs drawn to the bounty of the state’s Central Coast.

Downtown Paso Robles, ringed with fine restaurants, is anchored by the historic Paso Robles Inn, which has long been known for the traditional menu at the Steakhouse Restaurant. Now, with the arrival of Ryan Swarthout as the inn’s executive chef in April 2015, the menu is being tweaked.

While maintaining a meat-lover’s menu, Swarthout is making a few changes. “I’m bringing a bit of freshness,” he said, cradling a bowl of silky butternut squash soup garnished with green apple strips and a delicate chive blossom.

For example, the steak menu is being edited and trimmed, and the potato gratin is being made in-house. “And we took away the balsamic reduction on the halibut,” Swarthout said.

Herbs and a variety of tomatoes from the inn’s organic garden are finding their way into dishes, and Swarthout has even created a habanero jam with peppers harvested from the garden’s abundant bush.

When asked what kind of specials diners are likely to see on the fall menu, his face lights up. He mentions the butternut soup as well as braised dishes such as short ribs. He even provided the recipes (see below) and suggested that a versatile dish like the braised short ribs can be served over pappardelle or with topping potatoes, whether mashed or baked. In his version, he adds crimini mushrooms to the pasta for a heartier touch and uses a beef stock that simmers in the restaurant kitchen for several hours.

Chef’s journey one worth following

Chef Ryan Swarthout. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Chef Ryan Swarthout. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

I have followed Swarthout’s culinary arc since 2005, when I first met him and tasted his wine-country cuisine at Deborah’s Room at Justin Winery. He served as executive chef there for six years and since then has done the rounds in Paso Robles, from launching a catering company and cooking for elaborate weddings at the former Eagle Castle Winery to serving as opening chef at three downtown restaurants — Robert’s Restaurant and Bar, Estrella and Second Press. I have experienced much of the versatility in his cooking, which ranges from American Bistro style to Latin fare.

Originally from El Centro, California, Swarthout got hooked on cooking when he started out as a busboy in a Mexican restaurant. “But I didn’t want to be a short-order cook,” he recalled.  After researching culinary schools, he opted to attend San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy, graduating in 1997 and going to work for chef Mark Miller in the Bay Area.

Swarthout’s food sensibilities were further elevated with trips to Europe, first as a young backpacker with his wife, Kate, and later as a chef with the U.S. Armed Forces in the Alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a German ski resort.

“It gave me a better understanding how Old World food is steeped in tradition,” he said of the experience.

Because Kate is from San Luis Obispo, California, the couple settled in the charming town on the Central Coast and Ryan began working as a sous chef both at Gardens of Avila and Café Roma before making his move to Paso Robles.

Swarthout regards himself as a Paso Robles chef. And how does he define it?

“Paso has so much to offer, with the wineries and local farms around,” he said. The culinary flavor reflects the local bounty, including olive oil, honey, poultry, seafood and produce.

Next time you visit the Paso Robles wine region, you can get a taste of how Swarthout defines the region’s culinary style. In the meantime, try these warming Paso Robles Inn Steakhouse recipes at home.

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Swarthout’s wine recommendation: Vintage Cowboy Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles


3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, minced

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

2 large green apples, coarsely chopped

2 quarts chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:

Thinly sliced apples

Chive blossoms

Crème fraiche


  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the shallots.
  2. Sauté for one minute, then add the butternut squash and apples. Sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken stock and spices. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat. Puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with thinly sliced apples, chive blossoms and crème fraiche.

Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 4 hours

Total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Swarthout’s wine recommendation: Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles


For the braised short ribs:

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 whole beef short ribs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 sticks celery, chopped

2 cups red wine

2 cups beef stock

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs rosemary

For the mushroom pappardelle:

1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

1 (24-ounce) package of pappardelle


For the braised short ribs:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Season short ribs with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in an oven-proof pan over medium heat. Add short ribs and sear 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
  3. Remove ribs and set aside.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium. Add onion, carrots and celery to pan and sauté for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape bottom of the pan to release all the flavorful bits.
  6. Add the beef stock. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ribs to the liquid. They should be almost completely submerged. Add thyme and rosemary.
  7. Cover the pan with a lid and place in the preheated oven. Cook at 350 F for 3 hours. The ribs should be fork tender when done.
  8. Remove pan from the oven. Remove the ribs and set aside.
  9. Skim the fat off the top of the liquid in the pan and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the liquid by half and set aside.

For the mushroom pappardelle:

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Mushrooms can be done ahead of time and set aside.)
  3. Cook the pappardelle according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a serving dish.
  4. Serve the ribs over pappardelle tossed in the reduced braising liquid and mushrooms.

Main photo: Chef Ryan Swarthout’s Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

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Beef ragout. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Outside of the candy that the kids collect, Halloween may be the only American holiday that is not associated with a particular feast or recipe.

In fact, I didn’t know until recently that Halloween wasn’t celebrated in America until the late 19th century when Irish immigrants brought the Oct. 31 celebration to the United States and that the tradition of trick or treating didn’t become established until after World War II.  I knew that because my mom told me that growing up in Manhattan in the 1920s they never trick or treated.

So if there is no traditional Halloween food, it seems ideal for each family to invent one. When I lived in Massachusetts and my three children were little, we took them around the neighborhood in a short-lived frenzy of trick or treating, returning home for them to examine their candy and for us to hide three-quarters of it.

One-pot meals to warm up little devils

Braised lamb and eggplant. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Braised lamb and eggplant. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Then we would eat dinner, which often was something I put on the stove before we left with the spooks and goblins. Usually it was some one-pot meal that could cook unattended and to which we could return enjoying the heavenly wafting smells of lusciousness.

Since nothing was traditional, these meals became purely inventive. The kids were ravenous because late October is cold in New England and rushing house to house is tiring work for a kid. If it wasn’t nailed down, my kids would eat it.

A warm dinner to make you forget about candy

Braised buffalo short ribs in ragout. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Braised buffalo short ribs in ragout. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

There were several dishes they liked. Lamb with mushrooms and onions, braised veal with cabbage lasagna, my mom’s lasagna, which we called grandma’s lasagna, and pork with lentils were all demolished by my little hungry witches and goblins. They never did figure out that we tossed out several tons of their candy.

Braising lends itself to dishes that can be Halloween classics

Pork with lentils. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Pork with lentils. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Many of these Halloween stews and braises are long lost, because in those days I wouldn’t necessarily write them down. But one doesn’t really need to follow a recipe because the whole idea is slap-it-together-easy.

Here’s a braised veal recipe to start, but as you see by the photos, anything works, such as lamb and eggplant, pork and lentils, beef ragout or braised short ribs in ragout.

Braised Veal or Pork With Cabbage Lasagna

Braised Veal With Cabbage Lasagna. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Braised Veal With Cabbage Lasagna. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

A shoulder roast of veal is not a terribly expensive cut and it makes a nice family dinner. You can use a pork shoulder, too. I use a pig’s ear or pork skin instead of the bacon because they are flavorful without being fatty and can be discarded, but they’re hard to find, so bacon is fine. As for the lasagna, you don’t have to boil it when using the so called instant no-boil lasagna, just layer them dry. This is a delicious dinner that kept everyone in my family happy after one particularly cold Halloween outing.

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 4 hours (unattended)

Total time: 4 hours, 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings


1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

One 3-pound boneless veal shoulder roast, tied with kitchen twine

3/4 cup dry red wine

4 cups tomato sauce

One 2 3/4-pound green cabbage, cored

1/2 pound lean slab bacon (preferably), sliced

Salt to taste

2 cups low- or no-sodium chicken broth

2 ounces pancetta, chopped

1 pound no-boil (instant) lasagna

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped


1. In a flameproof casserole, melt the butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat, then brown the veal roast on all sides, about 6 minutes. Pour in the wine and reduce until it is nearly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the tomato sauce, partially cover, and simmer for 3 to 4 hours, turning the roast occasionally. Transfer the roast to a serving platter and remove the butcher’s twine.

2. While the veal is roasting, prepare the cabbage lasagna. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to the boil and cook the cabbage for 10 minutes. Remove the cabbage and when cool enough to handle and separate the leaves. Layer the bottom of the pot in which you boiled the cabbage with half the bacon. Layer the cabbage leaves on top with a light sprinkle of salt. Lay the remaining slab bacon slices on top, pour in the chicken broth, cover, and cook on a medium heat for 45 to 50 minutes. Drain.

3. Place the pancetta in a small frying pan and cook over medium heat until slightly crispy and rendered of some fat, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Set aside.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt abundantly, and add the lasagna. Drain as soon as the lasagna is limp, about 1 minute. Reserve in a pot of cold water so the leaves of lasagna do not stick together.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

6. Spread some olive oil on the bottom of a baking dish or lasagna pan and cover with lasagna, cabbage, pancetta, salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and garlic, in that order. Continue in this order until you run out of ingredients, ending with a layer of lasagna, cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 40 minutes.

7. Slice the veal, pour a few ladles of sauce over the meat and serve with the cabbage lasagna.

Main photo: Beef ragout. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

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Grilled pork chops oregano. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

July Fourth begs for a magnificent grill party. It’s summer, it’s a great celebration of the nation’s birth and everyone is outdoors and in party mode. Why hold back on July Fourth? Why not grill everything? With a couple of days’ planning, you can really do something amazingly and deliciously different.

Here are four great ideas for the barbecue. There’s no reason why you can’t do all of the these dishes, although it does require that planning. You will have to consider how many people you’re cooking for, think about how large your grill is and make plans for placing all the dishes on the grill.

Getting organized for easy grilling

Colorful peppers on the grill. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Colorful peppers on the grill. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

There’s something else many people forget when they grill, but it makes everything easier. Remember to set up a little work station next to the grill to put foods that are cooking too fast, spatulas, mitts and your drink. Even a crummy card table will do. When building your grill fire, remember to pile up the coals to one side of the grill so you also have a “cool” side to move food that is either cooking too fast or is flaring up.

Grilled pork chops are a popular dish in the summer in Greece. In this recipe, though, they are cut quite thin, so you might want to buy a whole loin and slice it yourself or seek out “thin-sliced pork chops,” which many supermarkets sell. In any case, it works with any thickness of chop.

The pork is marinated in garlic and oregano and then grilled until it is golden brown with black grid marks. Then sprinkle the whole oregano leaves on top. You can serve this with a grilled vegetable platter.

You may have heard of the pasta dish called penne all’arrabbiata, angry pasta, so-called because of the use of piquant chiles. This is chicken arrabbiata. It’s “angry” because it is highly spiced with cayenne pepper.

Getting spicy with ‘angry chicken’

Chicken Arrabbiata (angry chicken). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Chicken Arrabbiata (angry chicken). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

This chicken gets grilled so if you use the breasts instead of the thighs it will cook quicker. You can leave the chicken skin on or remove it. Crispy skin is delicious, but trying to get the skin crispy on a grill is tricky because of flare-ups. You’ll have to grill by means of indirect heat, pushing the coals to one side.

Many people shy away from grilling whole fish for a variety of reasons. One way to make grilling fish easier is to place a rectangular cast iron griddle over a portion of the grilling grate and cook the fish on top.

If you do that, the griddle must be on the grill for at least 45 minutes to get sufficiently hot before cooking. I suggest several fish below, but it all depends on what’s locally available.

Finding the right fish for the grill

Blue mackerel and idiot fish (kinki fish). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Blue mackerel and idiot fish (kinki fish). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Parsley-stuffed grilled porgy and mackerel are two small-fish dishes ideal for a fast grill. You may not necessarily have these two fish available, so use whatever is the freshest whole fish of like size.

I like the contrast between the mild tasting white flesh of the porgies, also called scup, and the darker, denser meat of the mackerel. Because 50 percent of the weight of a whole fish is lost in the trimming these, 4 pounds of fish will yield 2 pounds or less of fillet.

But you can use any fish: The red fish in the photo is a Pacific fish called idiot fish, kinki fish, or shortspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus alascanus). It has delicious soft flesh.

Complementing with the right grilled sides

Peperoni in Graticola (Grilled red, green, and yellow peppers) Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Peperoni in Graticola (Grilled red, green, and yellow peppers) Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

I think it’s always nice to have grilled vegetables with any grill party. Grilled red, green and yellow peppers make a very attractive presentation. Their flavor is a natural accompaniment to grilled meats. The charred skin of the peppers is peeled off before serving, leaving the smoky flavor. You don’t have to core or halve the peppers before grilling.

Grilled Pork Chops Oregano

Prep time: 4 hours

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings


1 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano and 2 tablespoons whole leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

14 to 16 pork chops (about 2 pounds), sliced 1/4-inch thick


1. Mix the olive oil, garlic, onion, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste in a 9-by-12-inch ceramic or glass baking pan. Dip both sides of the pork chops into this mixture and then leave to marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 4 hours, turning several times. Remove the pork chops from the refrigerator 15 minutes before grilling.

2. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on medium high.

3. Remove the pork chops from the marinade and discard the marinade. Place the pork chops with any marinade ingredients adhering to them on the grill. Cook, turning only once, until golden brown with black grid marks, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the whole oregano leaves. Serve hot.

Chicken Arrabbiata

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


1 small onion, chopped fine

3 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs or breasts (skinless, optional)


1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire to one side of the grill or preheat one side of a gas grill on high for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together the onion, tomato paste, olive oil, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended.

3. Flatten the chicken thighs or breasts by pounding gently with the side of a heavy cleaver or a mallet between two sheets of wax paper. Coat the chicken with the tomato paste mixture.

4. Place the chicken on the cool side of the grill, and cook until the chicken is dark and springy to the touch, turning once, about 20 to 24 minutes (less time for breasts). Baste with any remaining sauce and serve.

Main photo: Grilled Pork Chops Oregano. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

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Grilled rabbit and sausage skewers (Coniglio alla Molisana)

As warm weather tempts Americans to launch our annual outdoor-cooking adventures, most of us are too content with traditional American fare for the grill. Steaks and burgers are fine, but to wow the crowd consider some Italian classics well-suited for the All-American grill, including a rabbit recipe from the region of Molise.

Rabbit has lost some of its mid-century popularity, but it used to be eaten much more by Americans who were of the Greatest Generation, the generation that served in World War II.

Memorial Day is not merely the American holiday that honors the men and women who died in service to their country in the U.S. military. It’s popularly thought of as the opening day to the grill season. This year you can try something a bit different than hamburgers.

Here’s a recipe from the region of Molise in Italy, which may be familiar to some Italian-Americans.

It’s quite easy and always a surprising hit. I’d serve it with some grilled vegetables and a nice spring salad made with fava beans, asparagus, artichoke, peas and lettuce, for example, simply dressed with a vinaigrette.

Rabbit once an American staple

Rabbit for coniglio alla molisana. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Rabbit for coniglio alla molisana. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

The preparation is called coniglio alla Molisana, grilled rabbit and sausage skewers in the style of Molise. There are all kinds of recipes in Italy for rabbit, wild rabbit and hare. In Sicily, they grill wild rabbits with a marinade of olive oil, garlic, vinegar and oregano.

Grilling suits an Italian classic

Rabbit prepared for grill skewers. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Rabbit prepared for grill skewers. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

In central Italy, hare is spit-roasted with olive oil and flavored with bay leaves, parsley and cloves. Sometimes the grilled hare is served with a sauce made from the liver and blood of the hare and chopped onions, stock, wine and lemon juice.

In Sondrio in Lombardy, a preparation called lepre con la crostada is a spit-roasted hare that is then stewed in cream and crushed macaroons. Calabrians like to marinate the hare in vinegar and scallions overnight and then skewer the meat with pancetta and bay leaves before grilling. This is the version popular in Molise.

Grilled Rabbit and Sausage Skewers (Coniglio alla Molisana)

Grilled rabbit and sausage skewers (coniglio alla molisana.) Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Grilled rabbit and sausage skewers (coniglio alla molisana.) Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


Several handfuls of fresh or dried rosemary, oregano and marjoram twigs

1 rabbit, 3 pounds

1 pound mild Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

12 paper-thin slices prosciutto (about 1/4 pound)

12 large fresh sage leaves

Four 10-inch wooden skewers

Olive oil for basting


1. Prepare a low charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on low. Toss several handfuls of mixed dried or fresh herb twigs onto the fire or use the receptacle for that purpose provided with gas grills.

2. Because there is not an abundance of meat on a rabbit, slice the meat very close to the bone, using a boning and paring knife and trying to keep the pieces as large as possible. (Save the bones for the rabbit stock.) Put the rabbit and sausage pieces in a mixing bowl and toss with the parsley and rosemary, salt and pepper to taste.

3. Lay a piece of rabbit on a section of a paper-thin prosciutto slice and roll up. Skewer the rolled-up rabbit with a sage leaf and a sausage piece, in that order, until all the ingredients are used up.

4. Place the skewers on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 1 hour. Baste with olive oil during grilling.

Variation: Alternatively, instead of rolling the rabbit pieces in prosciutto, cut the prosciutto into 1/8-inch thick squares of 1 inch and skewer with the rabbit and sausage.

Add a spring salad for a seasonal hit

Spring salad with fava beans, asparagus, artichoke, peas, and lettuce for example, simply dressed with a vinaigrette. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Spring salad with fava beans, asparagus, artichoke, peas and lettuce, for example, simply dressed with a vinaigrette. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Main photo: Grilled Rabbit and Sausage Skewers (Coniglio alla Molisana). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

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Court Bouillon is tap water with a little bit of salt, peppercorn, sliced onion, parsley, bay leaf, sliced carrot and something acidic -- often lemon juice, but equally often white wine and occasionally vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

Culinary icon Anne Willan has just released “Secrets From the La Varenne Kitchen,” a brief compendium of “50 Essential Recipes Every Cook Needs To Know.” This amazing book includes the recipes that are the backbone course for professional chefs and that Willan’s legendary school Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris has been creating since 1975.

Among the dishes are fish aspic, exquisitely specific details on puff pastry and 10 types of sorbet. But one recipe caught my eye: Court Bouillon — or in rough English translation: “Quick Broth.” As a mom who doesn’t have the time for more intricate recipes and whose two young girls don’t have the palates for aspic yet, I liked the sound of that. I called Anne Willan to get her thoughts.

“Secrets From the La Varenne Kitchen”
By Anne Willan, Spring House Press, 2015, 133 pages
» Click here for a chance to win a free copy
» Click here to buy the book

“It’s very interesting that you’ve chosen court bouillon,” Willan said from her home in Santa Monica, California, “because it’s not something anybody thinks of using nowadays. It really is right in sync with contemporary cooking,” she continued. “It’s very useful because today people always want to cook things healthfully and simply.”

Willan’s definition of court bouillon is simple and clear: “It’s a meatless and fatless broth, so very simple, but something that just adds flavor to whatever’s cooked in it.” The recipe, which is included below, is easy, but I was hoping to get some insider secrets. Willan was happy to comply, although clearly none of this seemed like a big secret to her: “Thinly slice the carrots,” she told me, “so that they give up their flavor in 15 or 20 minutes. Slice the onions fairly thinly, but not to worry about it. The green herbs you just drop in, keep the stems, they have lots of taste.”

The real secret of court bouillon is properly pairing the food being cooked in the broth with a sympathetic acidic ingredient. Traditionally, the acid used in court bouillon would be vinegar, wine or lemon juice. Willan provided more nuanced distinctions: “For whitefish, I’d probably go for wine, because you don’t want too strong a flavor. For darker fish, possibly lemon juice or vinegar because it balances the stronger flavor of the fish.”

In traditional French cuisine, court bouillon is a liquid used for simmering, and then it’s tossed out. But as we discussed using the broth as a part of the meal, Willan became intrigued, because that’s simply part of her cooking ethos. “Never throw anything away,” she said. “When you’ve got lovely cooking liquid from something like a big salmon, do something with it — fish soup with the leftover.”

I could hear her brain begin to click as she explored the Culinary Thought Experiment: “The liquid will have acquired the flavor of what’s been cooking in it,” she said. “So what I would like to do is boil it down, and make a little sauce with it, mount it with butter or something.”

Then her brain went into high gear: “You could do lovely experiments with it. I certainly haven’t gone into it myself, but you could do an Asian court bouillon, or a hot court bouillon. You’d use chili peppers, wouldn’t you? It’s got to be something pure, hasn’t it?”

From the wisdom behind La Varenne

This was more intriguing than interview questions: Willan was asking and answering herself, giving me a view into a creative culinary mind that has long fascinated me as I’ve gobbled up her writings and her recipes from the classic “From My Château Kitchen” to her dish-y memoir “One Soufflé at a Time.” As she brainstormed the possibilities for court bouillon, her encyclopedic knowledge of cooking became clear, as did her passion for food and good eating.

“Perhaps I’d use coriander instead of parsley. And then, what would you use it for? If you push it a little bit, you could use it for a risotto or cooking quinoa. Or even grits or corn meal.”

By the time we were done, Willan had improvised a court bouillon for down-home Southern cooking and an Asian-influenced broth with the addition of soy sauce, cilantro and rice wine vinegar. She cautioned me against using too much chili pepper if I wanted to try a hot version because the flavor of the pepper would concentrate as the broth cooked down. It was an invigorating conversation — an insight into a culinary mind-set deeply rooted in the basics, but excited to jump in and experiment.

I love my copy of “Secrets from the La Varenne Kitchen,” and I intend to use it to build those basic skills that every cook needs to know — whether they’re a chef at a high-end restaurant or a mom with kids to feed. And court bouillon seems to be an inspired place for me to start. Check out the slideshow that includes Willan’s secrets and two dishes that riff on the recipe.

Court Bouillon

By Anne Willan, courtesy Spring House Press

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 1 quart

1 quart water
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 bouquet garni
6 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white wine or 1/3 cup vinegar or 1/4 cup lemon juice

1. Combine all the ingredients in a pan (not aluminum), cover and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered 15 to 20 minutes and strain.

Main photo: Court Bouillon is tap water with a little bit of salt, peppercorn, sliced onion, parsley, bay leaf, sliced carrot and something acidic — often lemon juice, but equally often white wine and occasionally vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

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A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Copyright Jared Spoffard

As the cold Northeastern winter laid yet another wet snow on New York City, Back Forty West, Peter Hoffman’s wonderful restaurant at 70 Prince Street, sported its sixth annual celebration of cassoulet. As Hoffman said in his introductory words, each year this festival brings folks together to enjoy different incarnations of this wonderful, rich slow cooked bubbling mixture of beans and meats.

Adam Gopnik, who has written extensively about cassoulet in his book, “The Table Comes First,” reminded us that the cassoulet originated in the south of France, but variations of it are found in most countries of the world — feijoda in Latin America; solet in Hungary; cholent, a traditional Jewish stew; fabada asturiana in Spain; pasulj in Serbia, or even just baked beans, sausage and sauerkraut as my Swedish mother loved to assemble. It is a simple, traditional mixture of slow-cooked — often on their own — white beans, and then added to any combination of lamb, pork skin, sausage or duck confit. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the casserole, a deep, round, earthernware pot with slanting sides, but any large, heavy Dutch oven or stainless steel stew pot will do.

Each year, Hoffman seeks to benefit a different charity. This year’s Back Forty evening benefited Drive Change, an organization that mentors, hires and trains formerly incarcerated youth in order to prepare its fare and operate the nonprofit’s food truck. Drive Change chef Jared Spafford, who was formerly from Marlowe and Daughters and Flying Pigs Farm, was one of five chefs whose cassoulet graced the evening. Spafford’s interpretation consisted of rabbit confit, smoked pork belly, and black garlic sausage (recipe below).

Chefs who contributed a cassoulet

Jon Check from Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, divined an original Southwestern interpretation of cassoulet that included Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, lamb shoulder, pheasant sausage and pork belly.

Hoffman’s was a more traditional presentation coming straight from a heavy iron pot that was cooked over the fabulous open fire in the Back Forty West dining room and included a delicious mixture of Flageolet beans, duck confit, chorizo and smoked pork belly.

Sara Jenkins’ delicious addition of lamb shoulder with a small merguez sausage laid on the lentil bed was another original interpretation. Her restaurant in the East village, Porsena, focuses on inspired pasta dishes.

Peter Lipson from Northern Spy Food Co. on 12th Street concocted an original mixture using cattle beans, guanciale, merguez and pork belly with quickly cooked veggies and a garni of crushed spicy corn chips, cilantro and sour cream.  A Southwestern delight.

The meal ended with a radicchio citrus salad followed by grapefruit and orange sorbet on a spoon.

Upon leaving the restaurant, we visited the Snowday Food Truck parked out in front and were offered a Maple Snow Lolly (traditionally served with hot syrup dripped on snow).

A fabulous dining experience with a side of social change.   

Rabbit Confit, Smoked Pork Belly and Black Garlic Sausage Cassoulet

Cassoulets can be a simple throw-together meal made of leftover meats and beans. Recipe courtesy Jared Spafford  

Rabbit brine

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: Brine for 24 hours

Total time: About 24 hours

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


1 quart whey

3/4 cup shallots, sliced

1/2 cup ginger, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2 Thai red chilies, split

2 kaffir lime leaves

8 sprigs thyme

4 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoon white peppercorn

1 1/2 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 rabbit, cut into 6 pieces


1. Bring whey to a simmer, cut heat, stir in all ingredients besides rabbit.

2. When solution cools, add rabbit. Place in ziplock bag and remove air; brine for 1 day.

Rabbit Confit


1 to 1 1/2 quarts lard

4 stalks celery

4 shallots, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

8 sprigs thyme

8 sprigs parsley

3 bay leaves

3 puya chile

1 cascabel chile

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon white peppercorn

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 rabbit, brined for 24 hours


1. Warm lard until it turns liquid, add all ingredients except rabbit. Let ingredients steep for 30 minutes, add rabbit.

2. Cook in oven at 300 F for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until meat pulls away from bone cleanly. Remove from oven, let cool.

3. Place in fridge overnight (2 to 3 days is optimum).


Prep time: Soak overnight, sprout for 2 to 3 days

Cook time: 6 to 7 hours on low heat

Total time: Several days of preparation


3/4 pound scarlet runner beans

3/4 pound yellow eye peas

3/4 pound navy beans

2 quarts pork stock

1 quart water

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup maple syrup

2 bay leaves

8 sprigs thyme

8 sprigs parsley

1 1/2 tablespoon mixed peppercorn

Peel from one orange

Peel from one lemon

1/2 cup salt


1. Soak beans overnight with 3 times volume of water. Drain next day. Leave beans in colander on counter for 2 to 3 days, rinsing beans until water runs clean a few times a day.

2. When beans have begun sprouting, add to Dutch oven with rest of ingredients.

3. Braise beans covered at 300 F for 4 hours. Remove cover and continue cooking until soft, 1 to 2 more hours. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Let beans rest in container overnight (2 to 3 days is optimum).

Smoked Belly

1 pound slab bacon

Score skin in a diamond pattern. Roast in oven at 300 F for 2 to 3 hours, until fat is fully rendered and skin is crispy. Remove from oven and weight down in a pan over night in fridge to compress belly.

Black Garlic Sausage

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes


1 head garlic, roasted

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 head black garlic, mashed

2 teaspoon ground white pepper

2-plus tablespoons salt

2 pounds ground pork


1. Mash all garlic together in mortar to form a paste.

2. Thoroughly mix garlic paste, salt and pepper with ground pork. Cook small test piece to check seasoning, adjust with salt and pepper as needed.

3. Let mixture rest overnight.

4. Form 3/4-inch balls with sausage, do not overwork. Cook in oven at 400 F for 9 minutes. Remove and drain off drippings.


Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes


1 cup white onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 (16-ounce) can crushed tomatoes


1. Sweat onions and garlic until they turn light brown.

2. Add tomatoes and stir to combine.

3. Roast in oven uncovered at 375 F for 30 minutes. Reduce to 300 F and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remove and let cool


1 rabbit confit, meat shredded

Braised beans

Smoked belly, sliced

Black garlic sausage

Tomato mixture

Fold all ingredients together and place in oven at 300 F to warm through. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Dress with parsley, bread crumbs and maple syrup.

Main photo: A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Jared Spafford

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Beef and Guinness stew. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Not so long ago, most Americans’ idea of how to enjoy beef was to dig into a slab of steak as big as the plate it was served on. Thankfully, culinary fashions have changed. Today, the so-called lesser cuts are giving the primes a run for their money not only because they are cheaper but because they have more flavor. Delicious parts like short ribs and oxtail are so much the rage, that they, too, have become wildly pricey.

To my mind, chuck and blade steak, still relatively economical, are two of the most promising cuts for braising, my favorite cooking method for meat in general. This simple technique of searing and caramelizing foods in fat or oil before simmering them in a cooking liquid, often alcoholic, enriches their flavor and tenderizes them at the same time. Add vegetables, and you’ve made a classic stew. Not only are stews nourishing and sustaining in cold weather but, when made ahead, they actually improve.

The raw materials of stews around the world

There are pedestrian variants consisting simply of meat and root vegetables. And then there are the more artful braises at which the French are so adept, exemplified by boeuf à la Bourguignonne, which is laced during long, slow cooking with the namesake region’s fabled wine. The Italians have their own variations on the theme: The Sicilians enrich their spezzatino with Marsala, for instance, while the Piedmontese dedicate an entire bottle of Barolo for every kilo of beef in their brasato. The Belgians make heady carbonnades with beef chunks, abundant mushrooms and onions braised in light beer with a hint of vinegar and sugar. All of these braised stews are based on cheap cuts, the fat and connective tissue of which render the meat moist and incredibly tender during long, slow cooking.

For me, one of the most delicious is Ireland’s traditional beef stew fortified with rich, dark stout, a beer brewed with roasted, malted barley. The English have their version in the old prescription for “Sussex stew,” a beef braise simmered with mushroom ketchup and ale, but I believe no cooking liquid suits an Irish stew more than Dublin’s Guinness. This malty stout is creamy with a pleasant bitterness that makes for a powerful yet subtle cooking liquid, imparting its own complex layer of flavor while producing a velvety gravy. The resulting dish is one with a double life: Eat it as a stew, or cover it with a crust for a pie.

Candlelight dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Candlelight dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

What makes stout particularly suited to beef stews is what Chrissie Manion Zaepoor of Kookoolan Farms — a stout expert, craft mead maker and pasture-raised meat producer in Yamhill, Oregon — calls “roastiness.” “It’s like espresso,” she says. “It has a smoky, grilled flavor that’s nice with beef, and it’s herbaceous in a way that wine isn’t.”

Just how much stout to add depends on the other ingredients. Too little and, well, you’re missing the point; too much and the stew will be bitter. I find the best proportion is about one-third stout to two-thirds stock. Guinness is an old reliable for the Irish purist, but you can experiment with any of the local craft stouts that are widely available these days, each of which will impart their own individual character.

As for the stock, its quality is essential to the success of the stew. I rarely rely on commercially made stock, which (besides being close to tasteless) too often contains sugar, green pepper, mushroom or other ingredients I would not use in my own recipe. But if need be, I find most commercial chicken stocks more palatable than their beef counterparts. Whether the stock is homemade or store-bought, adding stout will enrich it.

What to drink with Irish stew?

The pleasure of eating this singular stew is increased manyfold when it is accompanied by a swig of the same good stout you’ve cooked with. The pleasant bitterness of the drink rises to the rich, deep flavors of the braise and so nicely sets off the sugars in the onions and carrots. The Irish, like the rest of their compatriates in the British Isles, drink their beer cool, not cold, like a fine red wine. Pour with care for a full, creamy head. On St. Patrick’s Day, be sure to have on hand a loaf of soda bread peppered with caraway seeds to slather with soft Irish butter for the proper holiday spirit. Slainte!

Irish Beef-and-Beer Stew

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: About 2 1/4 hours

Total time: About 3 hours

Yield: 8 servings


4 pounds well-sourced (preferably organic) blade steaks or boneless beef chuck-eye roast, trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1 1/4-inch pieces

3/4 cup good-quality unsalted butter, preferably Irish

3 medium onions, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

Stems from 1 bunch parsley, minced

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence

1 1/4 cups stout, such as Guinness

2 3/4 cups homemade, salt-free meat stock, or low-sodium chicken broth

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

3 turnips, peeled and cubed

4 to 5 teaspoons fine sea salt, or to taste

Freshly milled black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 pounds small Yukon Gold, fingerling or Red Bliss potatoes, scrubbed, skin on

8 ounces freshly picked and shelled or frozen petite peas (optional)


1. Blot the meat with paper towels to remove moisture. In a heavy, ample, oven-proof braiser or Dutch oven, warm 1/4 cup of the butter over medium heat. Slip in just enough meat cubes to leave sufficient room around each one for proper searing. You will need to brown the meat in several batches, adding up to 1/4 cup of the remaining butter as needed (reserve the rest for browning vegetables later). Each batch will take about 10 minutes to brown all over; when it’s done, transfer it to a large bowl and repeat the process until all the meat is browned before starting the next.

2. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until they are softened and lightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Stir occasionally to dislodge any meat bits from the pan surface. Stir in the parsley stems, bay leaves and dried herbs and sauté for another minute or two.

3. Return the browned meat and its juices to the pan. Pour in the stout followed by the stock. Stir the ingredients together well and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook over the lowest possible heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (I like to set a metal heat diffuser, called a “flame tamer,” between the flame and the pot to neutralize any hot spots and ensure even cooking.) Alternatively, you can heat the oven to 300 F, slide the covered pot onto the middle shelf and cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate, ample skillet, warm the remaining butter. Add the carrots and turnips and sauté until they are nicely colored, 10 to 12 minutes. Reserve.

5. After 1 1/2 hours, stir the carrots and turnips into the stew. Cook for another 45 minutes, or until both the meat and root vegetables are very tender. When it is done, add salt and pepper to taste.

6. In the meantime, cover the potatoes in 3 inches of cold water and bring to a boil; then simmer over medium heat until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

7. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour with enough cold water (or cold stock) to make a thin, smooth paste or slurry. If you have been cooking the stew in the oven, remove it now and put it on the stove top over low heat.

8. Remove the cover from the pot and stir the slurry into the stew a little at a time to blend well. Add the peas if desired. Simmer until the gravy thickens and heats through and the peas are warm, no more than 5 minutes. Serve hot with boiled potatoes.

Notes: Using a well-marbled cut that will be rendered moist and tender during cooking is important to the success of any meat stew. Shoulder cuts, including blade steak or chuck, are ideal; avoid leg meat, which will be dry and tough by comparison. Searing small batches in hot butter before adding the cooking liquid caramelizes them, creating another layer of flavor. The root vegetables are sautéed separately and incorporated late to prevent them from disintegrating into the gravy. Peas are optional; I love them for their little bursts of sweetness, but don’t overcook! Boiled potatoes go well with the stew, and there will be plenty of gravy to sauce them. The stew will keep in a refrigerator for up to four days, or it can be frozen. To make a pie, cool the stew and divide it into individual crocks or larger baking dishes, as you prefer, then top with your favorite unsweetened pie crust or puff pastry. Brush the crust with egg wash (a whole egg yolk thinned with a little cold water or milk). Preheat the oven to 400 F and bake until it is heated through and the crust is golden, about 20 minutes, depending on pie size.

Main photo: Beef and Guinness stew. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales 

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Together with his father, siblings and cousins, this refugee in Ecuador gets a taste of his Colombian home thanks to his aunt’s cooking. Credit: Chris Terry

Part of what makes eating together so pleasurable, in any language or culture, is the conversation. But when London-based photographer Chris Terry was in Niger photographing an ordinary family enjoying a spaghetti dinner, he was surprised that no one spoke.

“It’s a great privilege to have food to eat,” explained the grandmother, the head of the household. “It’s not the moment to chat and say silly things.”

The spaghetti had been paid for with vouchers from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). Under the program, Terry had been invited into the family’s home to document what has become the photo exhibit, “The Family Meal: What Brings Us Together.”

Terry photographed families receiving WFP assistance as they made and ate meals in five countries — Chad, Niger, Myanmar, Jordan and Ecuador — where hunger has become entrenched because of disasters and conflicts largely forgotten by the rest of the world. Chad and Niger have suffered the worst drought in 50 years; Myanmar families have been uprooted because of ethnic conflict; and Syrian and Colombian refugees have fled into Jordan and Ecuador, respectively, to escape violence in their own countries.

The exhibit opened in November at Gare du Midi in Brussels, Belgium, and has since appeared at airports in Madrid and Lisbon and at the Symposium on the History of Food at the University of Amsterdam. Now at Dublin’s airport and online, it also highlights five family recipes, including Pollo Sudado (Sweaty Chicken) from Ecuador. Future shows are scheduled for the Milan Expo 2015 in May-November; the Sustainable Food Summit in Amsterdam June 4-5; and Strokestown’s Irish National Famine Museum in June-August. You also can check the exhibit schedule.

Evin Joyce of WFP’s Brussels office came up with the Family Meal idea 18 months ago to promote the group’s message with positive, personal images from around the globe. Eating together is a ritual we all have in common, he explained. Gathering, preparing, cooking and sharing food, as a family, are activities humans have done for millennia.

Transporting food by plane, train, truck, barge and yak

Every year food from the WFP travels through often rough, hostile terrains to reach more than 90 million beneficiaries in 75 countries, via plane, train, truck, river barge, camel and yak. The idea of the family meal is especially poignant this past year. For the first time, the WFP faced five high-level crises simultaneously: South Sudan, Central African Republic, the Syria and Iraq conflicts, and West Africa’s Ebola outbreak.

During the exhibit’s appearance at the European Parliament in late February, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said that the Family Meal photos “give a face to those we serve.”

The photos also give us a peek into the lives and meal traditions of families struggling in ways many of us cannot image. But to my surprise, many of the images made me feel, not pity, but delight — even a bit of envy, because we who do not suffer from hunger sometimes claim we are “too busy” for family meals.

The photos capture the intimacy and joy of eating together, no matter how desperate the circumstances. Food not only nourishes us; sharing it lifts our spirits. The homemade dishes shown are colorful and inviting, made with staples such as rice and sorghum flour, and enlivened with the flavors, textures and colors of achiote powder, yucca and pomegranate seeds. The food was often prepared over open fires, in family or communal kitchens. Families ate together, indoors and out, seated on cushions on the floor, on the ground or at tables crowded with relatives.

The winners of a recent Family Meal photo competition, judged by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and photographer Terry, were also announced during the launch at the Parliament. In one photo, a family in the Philippines shares a meal by candlelight because of power outages that still occur after a devastating typhoon in 2012. As Terry commented, the image “draws the viewer in, emphasizing the human need to gather around light, and company, when sharing a meal.”

Guests at the Parliament launch were offered samples of the five featured recipes. We commented on all the spicy and varied flavors as we guessed at the ingredients. I was particularly delighted with the texture of the yucca root in the “Sweaty Chicken” dish. The yucca flower is the official “state flower” of my home state of New Mexico, but I had never tasted yucca root before.

Abu Sayid and his family hope that peace returns, so they can leave Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp and go home to Syria. Credit: Chris Terry

Abu Sayid and his family hope that peace returns, so they can leave Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp and go home to Syria. Credit: Chris Terry

For Syrian refugee Abu Sayid, who lives with his family in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, preparing and eating traditional recipes with his family keeps alive his memories of home. During Terry’s photo shoot, he helped his wife prepare two staple Syrian dishes: kubbeh (bulgur wheat balls stuffed with mincemeat and onions) and shishbarak dumplings (thin dough with mincemeat filling cooked in a yogurt stew).

“WFP vouchers allow us to get any food we need from stores around here [the refugee camp],” Abu Sayid said in a WFP interview as he sealed a kubbeh ball and his wife started frying the first batch of dumplings. “In Syria, we like to laugh and joke during a meal. It makes the food more enjoyable.”

In Myanmar, the WFP’s Joyce asked one family why they eat together? “It gives us a sense of unity,” one of them replied. Food is our priority, another woman told him. “As long as we housewives have a bag of rice, the rest can sort itself out.”

Joyce also noticed that women put a lot of effort into preparing and flavoring meals, no matter how basic the ingredients. And like mothers everywhere, they sometimes had to remind their children, “Eat your vegetables.”

Preparing “Sweaty Chicken” in Ecuador. Credit: Chris Terry

Preparing “Sweaty Chicken” in Ecuador. Credit: Chris Terry

Pollo Sudado (Sweaty Chicken) from Ecuador

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total time: 40  to 45 minutes

Yield: About 8


1 whole chicken

2 onions

3 cloves of garlic


1 big tomato

Coriander, salt and pepper

1 tablespoon of achiote powder (annatto)


1. Rinse the whole chicken and chop it into pieces, taking off the legs, breast and wings.

2. Chop the onions and garlic and fry them with oil over a high flame in a large pan.

3. Add the tomato and let it simmer a bit.

4. Add the chicken and then lower the flame.

5. Add the coriander, salt, pepper and achiote powder.

6. Add a little water, cover the pot and leave it to simmer for 20 minutes.


Pollo Sudado should be served with rice and yucca, which should be peeled, chopped and boiled with salt for 20 minutes. ¡Buen Provecho!

Main photo: Together with his father, siblings and cousins, this refugee in Ecuador gets a taste of his Colombian home thanks to his aunt’s cooking. Credit: Chris Terry

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