"Beth Furgurson"
Jason Alley’s redneck ramen, aka Southern noodle bowl with rabbit/shrimp boudin blanc, greens, pickled vegetables, and soft-boiled egg.
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The Trendy Trio

Jim Poris / April 2013

Mystery Basket goes vegan, sort of, as three ingredients making the rounds of restaurants everywhere—carrots, quinoa, and kale—go to the top of the ingredient list.

Cajun’s got it: onions, bell peppers, and celery. Tuscan’s got it: celery, onions, and carrots. And now Mystery Basket’s got it: carrots, kale, and quinoa. Yes, there are the old Holy Trinities and then there’s the hipster-esque Holy Trinity. Seems like you can’t read too far down a menu these days without encountering roasted-beyond-recognition carrots with carrot sauce, a dusting of carrot soil, all-puffed up quinoa salad, and kale chips—or any number of preps these darlings du jour are subjected to (yes, we know they’re good for you and can be raised, harvested, cooked, and consumed with a free conscience and a smile). That’s why we made them the centerpiece of this edition of Mystery Basket, leaving proteins out of the spotlight for a change.

The task of working this new Holy Trinity into a dish, along with other assorted ingredients from a distorted list, fell to Scott Anderson of Elements and the debuting Mistral in Princeton, New Jersey; Jason Alley of Pasture and Comfort, his two restaurants leading a revival in Richmond, Virginia; and the husband-and-wife chef duo of Eric Korsh and Ginevra Iverson of the bistro-with-an-edge Calliope in New York City’s East Village. Here’s the hodgepodge they had to figure out: Holy Trinity 2013: carrots with tops on, quinoa, and kale (any kind of each); salt and pepper; garlic; large heads-on shrimp; bone-in saddle of rabbit; lardo; burrata; fresh whole anchovies; Campari; eggs; oyster mushrooms; small Japanese turnips; artichokes; extra-virgin olive oil; pistachios; sea beans; HP sauce; lemons; tomatoes; sorghum (in any form); Banyuls vinegar; all-purpose flour; green (fresh) chickpeas; Belgian gueuze beer; and up to six of the following herbs and spices: bay leaves; mint; marjoram; cilantro; saffron; rosemary; thyme; sage; mustard seeds; juniper berries; parsley; tarragon; basil; hot or sweet paprika; coriander seeds; cloves; nutmeg; savory; curry powder; and cayenne. Some curveballs, perhaps, but they straightened them out all right.

Jason Alley
Pasture and Comfort
Richmond, Virginia

“As an aspiring writer, I was so thrilled to be considered for the current installment of the Mystery Basket series. Rarely does a working chef receive the chance to not only tackle this kind of recipe challenge, but also to write about the process in his own voice. So, when an editor called me at Pasture, one of our restaurants in Richmond, I was blown away. Then I got the ingredient list. Then I waited for two or three days for the real ingredient list. After a week or so with no ‘gotcha!’ email in my in-box, I got to work. By work I mean suffering from crazy anxiety and (my wife assures me that I’m an idiot) a series of small strokes.

“Anyway, it was time to get to some serious brainstorming. This was proving to be damned difficult, seeing that there was no making sense of all of these seemingly discordant items. See, I have a couple of Southern style restaurants, and I have buttered my proverbial bread over the last decade or so by focusing on classic Southern dishes and, hopefully, delicious variations on these classics. Know what we don’t use a whole lot of in traditional Southern cuisine? Oh, things like Banyuls vinegar, burrata, artichokes, et cetera. The next logical step was to focus on the things that we use all the time: rabbit, sorghum, heads-on shrimp, turnips, kale, and tomatoes all hit right in the sweet spot. Once I was able to get my soft head around these ingredients, it was time to start putting the items to use. First up, Campari and soda. Not for the dish, but for me. This was followed by a ‘research’ session with the gueuze.

“Fully inspired by the delicious liquid ingredients, I came up with dish after dish, using at least 23 of the ingredients as instructed, and invariably about three or four not on the list. According to the diabolical editor who called me, this was not allowed: water was the only available add-on. Crap! The plan then became to take the best ideas from unusable dish ideas and make them usable. Can’t use casings for a rabbit and quinoa boudin? So then let’s make shrimp and rabbit boudin blanc in plastic wrap. No ham hock to make pot liquor? How about smoking the rabbit carcass and using our house-cured fat back, aka lardo, for the base.

“Finally the dish came together. I decided to do a Southern noodle soup, using some traditional ideas as well as some not-so-traditional ones. To make the dish a little playful, I present the soup as a ramen bowl. The base of the soup is a riff on pot liquor, the stuff that courses through our Southern veins, with the addition of seafood to mimic more Eastern flavors. The seaweed components are all replaced with greens, the fish cake replaced by a boudin blanc, and so on.

“At the end of the day, what at first appeared to be an elaborate practical joke proved to be super challenging and rewarding. I know you expect to hear that at the end of an article like this, but after completing this exercise, it really feels that way. Hope you like the dish.”

Redneck ramen. “Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the heads and shells. Next, debone the rabbit saddle, keeping all of the flap, belly, and any fat. In a tabletop smoker, smoke the rabbit bones and the bellies. Roast the bones in a really hot oven, and toward the end, add the shrimp shells/heads and anchovies. Place the roasted goodness in a large pot with a hunk of lardo, caramelized carrots, tomatoes, a ton of garlic, bay leaves, and peppercorns; cover with water; simmer for three hours; add kale stems, greens from the turnips, and some carrot tops; let the soup go about another hour; season with salt and pepper; cool until ready to serve.

“For the noodles, make a finely milled flour out of the quinoa in a blender; sift the flour; combine one part quinoa flour to 2 1/2 parts all-purpose flour; make a dough with whole egg and egg yolks; run through a pasta machine to the second-to-narrowest setting; cut into noodles. “Make a forcemeat out of the rabbit, shrimp, garlic, egg whites, sorghum syrup, ground coriander seeds, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. Twist up in plastic wrap; tie it off; steam for 25 minutes; let cool to set.

“Bring a little Banyuls vinegar to a boil with water, sorghum syrup, salt, and mustard seeds; pour over julienned carrots; cool. Thinly slice small turnips on a mandoline; add salt, lemon juice, sorghum, garlic, and a touch of cayenne; set out overnight to slightly ferment; refrigerate the pickles.

“Roast the chickpeas in their pods in a cast-iron skillet until charred; place in a bowl; cover with plastic wrap to let them steam for an hour or so; shell the beans; pulse in a processor; repeat the turnip process to pickle them. The next day, puree the beans with extra-virgin olive oil, basil, HP sauce, water, and pulverized dehydrated oyster mushrooms.

“Almost there!

“Just before service, soft-boil an egg (boil in water for 5 minutes, 20 seconds). Blanch some turnip greens and wrap in a little plastic wrap package. At service, heat the soup to a simmer; boil the quinoa noodles and place in a warm bowl; cover the noodles with broth; garnish with the egg, pickles, turnip greens, some slices of lardo, and three slices of boudin blanc; paint the side of the bowl with the spicy bean paste; top with a kale chip.

“Pour some cider and eat while it is crazy hot. And I’d suggest a really dry cider to cut the richness and spice in the soup. I really like Diane Flynt’s Serious Cider from Foggy Ridge Cider in Dugspur, Virginia. But with hard cider finally catching on everywhere, another dry type—local, domestic, or foreign—shouldn’t be too hard to find. Also, if you’re actually trying to go through this Mystery Basket process, I’d keep a generous amount of George Dickel No. 12 on hand.”

Eric Korsh and Ginevra Iverson
Calliope
New York City

Iverson: “When we were first asked to do the Mystery Basket, we were pleased and flattered. As the weeks wore on and one thing or another stood in our way of completing it, we started to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into. Eric and I continually try to show restraint with food. The famous quote of Coco Chanel that goes something like ‘before leaving the house a woman should look in the mirror and remove one accessory’ is pretty much how we approach cooking. You make the dish and then remove one ingredient. So when faced with the task of making one dish that included no less than 23 ingredients, we started to panic, then procrastinate, then get absolutely buried at work, which led us to completely forget about aforementioned Mystery Basket.

“But here we are again, back at it, staring at the paper and trying to configure the list in a way that we can eek out something edible from all these items. For me, this is near impossible, and when I start rattling off ideas, Eric just stares at me with a look like ‘who in their right mind would eat that?’

“Very occasionally, I get a glimpse of a cooking show, which is truly near to never due to having zero free time and no television. Seems like the chef-contestants are always being given something like octopus tongue or emu liver and are expected to know what to do with it. This Mystery Basket challenge occupies the same space in my brain as those sorts of outlandish ingredients. When I see people challenged to cook with something they’re not familiar with, I always wonder why anyone would try to do that without having any idea what the outcome will be. So many times you see some guy who works at a red-sauce Italian place try to sous-vide or foam whatever mystery ingredient they just received. So sticking with our own way, we decided to make a dish we serve at Calliope. Also, we just realized that this list doesn’t include butter. That’s a real problem for us.”

Stuffed saddle of rabbit with vinegar sauce. “Bone out the saddle of the rabbit; chop up bones; brown well in extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot; pour off fat; cover with water; bring to a boil; skim; reduce heat to medium; add a bay leaf, sprig of thyme, parsley, and black peppercorns; simmer 45 minutes; strain, reserving broth. Peel and blanch carrots and Tuscan kale. Cook off oyster mushrooms in olive oil. Make garlic confit. Stuff the saddle with carrots, kale, mushrooms, garlic confit, and dark green Sicilian pistachios that have been fried lightly in extra-virgin olive oil; season with salt and pepper; wrap the saddle with thin slices of lardo; tie with twine; sear on all sides; pan-roast in the oven with some rosemary, sage, and savory in the pan, basting it with the fat from the rendering lardo as it cooks. You do not want to overcook this.

“Cook the quinoa in boiling water boosted with the gueuze beer and some sorghum syrup until tender; season. Cut turnips into small dice; blanch until tender; reserve. Pop green chickpeas from their husks. Boil artichokes until the hearts are tender; peel off all the leaves; clean out the chokes; dice the hearts.

“Reduce the rabbit stock, Banyuls vinegar, and a hunk of lardo a bit; add the quinoa, turnips, chickpeas, and a squeeze of lemon juice; season; place in a bowl; slice the rabbit saddle; place over the quinoa and vegetables; lightly flour the artichoke hearts; deep-fry in olive oil; sprinkle over the dish as a garnish. To drink: Château de Vaux Les Gryphées Moselle 2011.”

Scott Anderson
Elements and Mistral
Princeton, New Jersey

“It’s the eleventh hour. This project is due tomorrow, and I waited until now to put this all together. Food Arts gave me a call at least a month ago about this gig, but it being right before the holiday season, I didn’t give it much of a thought.

“I’m not going to lie: I thought of it as a jokey kind of a project! Truly, I had way more important things to think about, like cooking one of the 12 days of Christmas dinners at Meadowood, plus Christmas, New Year’s, holiday parties, family. This Mystery Basket thing wasn’t at the top of the list. After the dust of the holiday season settled, I swore I’d get to it. Week one in January and I started talking with other chefs about guest chef dinners at Elements. We cranked out a new winter menu at Elements, a new bread program, and new desserts. The Mystery Basket was still not a thought at all, though I must admit I did look at the list of ingredients every couple of days to keep them in my mind. I first thought the list was goofy, but after a while I started seeing how to go.

“The second week of January I started looking at the list daily. We’d been using some of the ingredients at the restaurant, and I started thinking about the project more and more. I finally sat down with it in earnest on a Sunday, fireside, cigar lit. As I saw it, there’s an easy way or a hard way to approach it. Since it was coming down to the wire, I took the hard way. I immediately eliminated the rabbit, even though all this time rabbit was reigning supreme in my mind. I wanted to do a vegetable-centric dish with shrimp as a backdrop. Everything else just fell in.”

Shrimp/lardo stuffed turnips, carrot top pesto, puffed quinoa, roasted carrots, Campari gastrique & 64.5˚C egg yolk.
Anderson: “Hey, Mike, get some of those larger turnips, cut the tops off, and gut ’em. Six of ’em. OK?”

Sous chef Mike Schultz: “What do you mean ‘gut ’em,’ chef?”

Anderson: “Dude, gut ’em! Make vessels so we can stuff them!”

Schultz: “With what?”

Anderson: “Six shrimp, two garlic cloves, parsley, thyme, three anchovies, one cup fresh garbanzo beans, and lardo! Mince everything, fold in two unbeaten egg whites, and season with salt and pepper. Poach the turnips first till they are just starting to get soft, then cool. Make sure you taste the filling before you stuff those guys.”

Schultz: “What’s the rest of the dish, chef?”

Anderson: “Mike, make the filling first and worry about the rest later. [“As he gets the stuffing together, I’ll make the carrot top pesto. First, I’ll wash and chop the carrot tops; sweat a few cloves of chopped garlic in extra-virgin olive oil; add the carrot tops and kale; sauté till just tender; and cool. Next I’ll blend all that plus pistachios, cayenne, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper until smooth, making sure to taste, taste, taste!] “Get some 64.5 Celsius eggs going. Six of ’em, please.”

Schultz: “Gotcha, chef! You want just the yolks?”

Anderson: “Oui! Seasoned with salt and pepper! Also we need to puff some quinoa and sorghum seeds. Cook off the quinoa in the standard way and let it cool. Heat some olive oil in a cast-iron pan. Don’t let it get smoking, understand?”

Schultz: “OK, chef!”

Anderson: “Once it’s hot, fry off the quinoa and sorghum seeds in batches till puffed, like popcorn. Should be real, real quick, dude! Don’t burn them! OK?”

Schultz: “Oui, chef!”

Anderson: “I’m gonna get working on a gastrique for this dish. [“Gastriques are basically like sweet-and-sour sauces. I’m going to use the Campari as the sugary agent: first reduce two cups until thick, then add maybe one cup of the yeasty, sour gueuze beer; bring to a simmer; add the aromatics and Banyuls vinegar; simmer until it’s syrupy; and strain.”]

Schultz: “Chef, the puffed grains and turnip filling are done. What next?”

Anderson: “OK. Stuff the turnips till just overflowing. Save the lids for each turnip. Also, peel down those carrots and cut them into one-inch-long matchsticks. Do the same to some oyster mushrooms. Gather the sea beans and wash ’em. Get ready to sauté these things with some garlic. Got it?”

Schultz: “Sure do! Be done in 20.”

Anderson: “OK. We might have ourselves a dish, dude!”

Schultz: “What temp do you want the oven at for the turnips?”

Anderson: “400 degrees Fahrenheit is good. Let’s start getting the mise en place together, Mike. Get the gastrique in a squeeze tube as well as the egg yolks. Sauté those veggies—you know, the carrots, mushrooms, and sea beans—and put the stuffed turnips in the oven. Grab a rectangular slate plate and an offset spatula. Pull the turnips out of the oven and let’s plate this puppy.”

Schultz: “Oui! I’m ready, chef.”

Anderson: “The pesto goes down first. Smear a generous amount on the plate with the offset. Place one turnip at 11 o’clock, the other centered at 4 o’clock. Put six to eight generous dots of the gastrique on. It doesn’t have to make sense, but it should look pretty! Put two piles of the vegetables next to the turnips and top with the puffed grains for crunch. Next, dot the plate with a few dollops of the egg yolk. These should balance out the gastrique. How does it look, Mike?”

Schultz: “Very pretty, chef. Should eat well like that.”

Anderson: “Hopefully. Let’s make sure they get served the André Kientzler Gewürztraminer Alsace 2009 with his dish. Think it does the trick.”

Schultz: “Have to agree with that, chef.” 7