Cook Your Vegetables!
Jim Poris - July/August 2014
This time it’s farm-to-Mystery Basket cuisine, as three chefs make do with what’s been loaded onto Food Arts’ pickup truck. Jim Poris checks in to see what they do with the odd harvest.
What if, for the first time in Mystery Basket’s long run, no ingredient was designated as a must-use and only two of the 30 listed for use were proteins, and somewhat meager ones at that? What would the chefs do with all those vegetables and various accents? Make them the stars they so often are these days in restaurants high, low, and in-between? Well, there are some interesting answers to these questions presented by Tyler Shedden, the executive chef at Café Boulud in the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto; New York City chef Dan Kluger, who will be opening his first solo restaurant later this year; and Daniel Corey, the chef de cuisine at Luce in the InterContinental San Francisco.
Anyone who thinks this is a walk in the park can take this list of ingredients and challenge themselves and their staff to come up with something palatable and attractive. Here you go: cabbage (any variety); salt and pepper; garlic; fresh sardines; extra-virgin olive oil; dried shrimp; Comté cheese; purslane; mustard greens (any variety); eggs; hen of the woods mushrooms; fennel bulbs with tops; fairytale eggplants; shallots; hazelnuts; German butterball potatoes; Sherry vinegar; Romanesco; tomatoes; whole milk; beets with tops on (any color); wheat berries; artichokes; Little Gem lettuce; and no more than six of the following herbs and spices: bay leaves; mint; marjoram; cilantro; saffron; rosemary; thyme; sage; mustard seeds; juniper berries; parsley; tarragon; basil; hot, sweet, or smoked paprika; coriander seeds; cloves; nutmeg; savory; ras el hanout; cayenne. Have fun!
executive chef, Café Boulud, Four Seasons Hotel
“As someone used to controlling the ingredients I use, I approached this exercise with a bit of trepidation. The lack of butter on the list was a little disconcerting, as I do work for Daniel Boulud.
“Instantly, ‘fresh sardines’ caught my eye, leaping out as a perfect ingredient for this native of Quadra Island, British Columbia, the land of the Pacific pilchard (aka ‘fresh sardine’). Not to mention the fact that it was basically the only protein on the list.
“Then I saw ras el hanout, and a vision of the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the center of the old medina of Marrakech in Morocco, flooded my mind. I spent the better part of a month there in my 20s, every night eating stuffed lamb’s kidneys and piles of snails washed down with sweet mint tea.
“Having moved from New York City to Toronto in 2012 to open Café Boulud in the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, I was surprised and delighted to see purslane not just growing, but thriving out of every patch of dirt and sidewalk crack in this city. Fantastic!
“Hazelnuts and wheat berries go together, right?! I acquired some beautiful hazelnuts that look like almonds (my cooks have a hard time telling the difference) from a farm in Agassiz, Ontario, unlike any I’ve ever tasted. When I finally got some semblance of a composed dish together in my mind, I began to see it as a compilation of parts of my past and parts of my present, with an eye to the future—namely, the warm days of late summer, when salads like this are best enjoyed.”
Ras el hanout–cured sardines with pickled eggplant, braised artichokes & tomato/saffron consommé. “Fillet the sardines; rinse the bones and heads in cold water to remove any excess blood; reserve. Make a cure by mixing salt, ras el hanout, and freshly ground pepper together. Place the sardines in a nonreactive container; generously sprinkle the flesh side with the salt mixture; leave in the fridge 30 minutes; rinse off the cure; pat dry; place flesh-side down in a shallow container; add Sherry vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper; marinate 24 hours.
“Cook wheat berries in salted water over low heat so they don’t burst; drain; rinse; dry; deep-fry in extra-virgin olive oil until golden and crispy; season with salt; place on a towel-lined tray to drain and cool. Mix the crispy wheat berries with crushed hazelnuts, ras el hanout, chopped marjoram, salt, and a small amount of whisked egg white; spread the mixture on a sheet tray lined with a nonstick pad; bake at 150 degrees Celsius [300˚F] for 10 minutes; cool; crumble into a granola-like substance.
“Place cold water, saffron, salt, crushed tomatoes, and a handful of dried shrimp in a tall stockpot. Make a raft mixture by pureeing bay leaves, marjoram, coriander seeds, shallots, garlic, fennel, whole eggs, egg whites, and the reserved sardine bones in a processor. Add the raft to the cold stockpot contents; bring to a low simmer, as for making a consommé; once up to temperature, make a ‘window’ by gently piercing the raft that’s risen to the top and moving the contents to the side; cook the consommé 35 minutes. Once cooked, gently ladle the broth from the pot, taking care not to disturb the raft; pass the consommé through a fine chinois lined with two layers of muslin; cool the consommé in an ice bath in the fridge.
“Turn a few baby artichokes, using Sherry vinegar–acidulated water to keep them from oxidizing. Sweat sliced shallots and crushed garlic in a decent amount of olive oil; add sprigs of fresh marjoram, coriander seeds, and the artichokes; sweat five minutes; barely cover with water; season; cover with a cartouche of parchment paper; cook until almost done; cool in the liquid over an ice bath; cut the artichokes in quarters lengthwise; reserve.
“Halve some fairytale eggplants lengthwise; cut out all the seeds, leaving just the skin and about a quarter-inch of flesh; cut into one-inch squares; place skin-side up in a shallow oven-safe container; add olive oil and Sherry vinegar until the eggplants just float; season; cover; cook in the oven at 150 degrees C [300˚F] until tender; remove from the oven; cool; store in the liquid.
“Blanch and shock a couple of baby Little Gem lettuces; squeeze out excess water. Repeat the same process with the mustard greens. Place lettuce and mustard greens in a blender; puree on high speed, adding ice water as needed, until very smooth; stream in some extra-virgin olive oil and salt while the blender is still running to emulsify. If warm from the blender, cool in a bowl over ice while stirring with a hard plastic spatula.
“Clean purslane and pick some beautiful, small top clusters for garnish. To plate: leave the sardine fillet whole, trimming the ends so they look sharp. In a shallow bowl, place three pieces of the pickled eggplant across the bottom in a line. Directly across from each eggplant, place three pieces of artichoke. Place the trimmed sardine on top of the artichoke stems and the edge of the eggplant so it sits on top of both. Place a dot of the mustard/lettuce puree in between each vegetable on both sides of the sardine. Carefully lay down a small spoonful of the ‘granola’ in a neat line on the edge of the sardine closest to the artichokes. Arrange a few purslane leaves in the gaps between the artichokes and eggplants, and drizzle some olive oil around. Once on the table, pour the beautiful golden consommé into the bowl, but not too much, just enough. Et voilà! A cool taste of summer! Serve with a cool, refreshing Bodegas Nilo Verdejo Rueda 2012.”
chef de cuisine, Luce, InterContinental
“When I received an email asking if I’d like to participate in Food Arts’ Mystery Basket, I thought, ‘Sure, why not? I love the mag, great opportunity, sounds fun.’ But then, when I got the next email containing the list of ingredients, I had another thought: ‘This is gonna be a little tricky. What have I gotten myself into?!?!
“At the top of the list was cabbage, salt, garlic, and dried shrimp, so my chef’s mind immediately saw that those ingredients practically comprise a recipe for kimchi. In the spices I saw cayenne—not Korean chile powder—but still the last piece in my bootleg kimchi puzzle. As quickly as the inspiration for the dish came, so did the realization that there’d be no time for fermentation. So back to the drawing board.
“All the other ingredients provide me plenty to work with, even if they were all over the board. To me, the biggest challenge was to come up with something beyond the obvious, something unique, and more importantly, create something that reflects Luce! We wouldn’t normally serve a dish at the restaurant with kimchi in the description, but when I showed my sous chefs the list, it was clear that we’d be moving in that direction—nontraditionally, of course.”
Wheat berry/hazelnut–crusted sardines with crispy savoy cabbage, marinated fennel & “kimchi” vinaigrette. “Soak 12 ounces of wheat berries overnight in cold water; reserve. The next day, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk an egg white until very foamy; add a handful of hazelnuts; toss to coat; spread out on a baking sheet lined with a nonstick pad; toast in an oven until slightly golden; cool; crush into very fine pieces but not quite sand; season with salt. Cook another handful of hazelnuts in whole milk over low heat until tender; puree to a smooth paste in a processor; pass through a tamis; season with salt; place in a piping bag; reserve.
“Strain soaked wheat berries; place in a pot with cold water; bring to a boil; reduce heat to low; season liberally with salt; simmer until very tender; strain; spread out on a sheet pan; place in a warm oven to dry out; remove from oven; cool. Deep-fry wheat berries in extra-virgin olive oil until very crisp and puffy; strain; place on a sheet pan lined with paper towels; season with salt; cool. Grind half of the crisp wheat berries to a powder; mix this powder with the crushed hazelnuts; reserve the other half of crisp wheat berries.
“To make a ‘kimchi’ vinaigrette: boil one small skin-on German butterball potato until tender. Finely mince three cloves garlic, one large shallot, and a handful of toasted dried shrimp; place in a mixing bowl; add a nice big pinch of salt, one teaspoon cayenne, one teaspoon sweet paprika, one teaspoon ground toasted coriander seeds, two ounces Sherry vinegar, and five ounces extra-virgin olive oil. Now comes the fun part: peel the potato, crush it with a fork—and I mean really crush it—then stir that into the vinaigrette to help emulsify everything.
“For the crispy savoy cabbage: remove the root end of a cabbage; split the head; remove the leaves; cut them into three-inch by one-half inch rectangles; reserve in ice water while finishing the rest. Remove cabbage from water; pat dry; season with salt and pepper; dress very lightly with extra-virgin olive oil; lay on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper; bake in a 375 degree oven until crisp, about 12 to 15 minutes. A little char is OK—complementary, actually—to the rest of the ingredients. Brush the underside of each piece of cabbage before plating.
“Fillet fresh sardines, removing heads and tails. Set a sauté pan over high heat; when the pan begins to smoke, turn off heat; add extra-virgin olive oil to the pan; place sardines skin-side down in the pan; cook until crisped—they’ll cook quickly; remove from the pan; place on paper towels; season with salt; roll in the hazelnut/wheat berry mixture, sprinkling a couple of fried wheat berries on the skin side as well.
“Remove fronds from a whole fennel bulb; reserve. Halve the bulb; remove tough outer leaves; shave paper-thin on a mandoline; dress the slices with ‘kimchi’ vinaigrette. Pipe a quarter-size amount of hazelnut paste on one side of the plate; use an offset spatula to spread a little across the plate. Place the marinated fennel in a low, thin line along the hazelnut paste. Lay one sardine fillet on top of the fennel and another fillet next to the fennel, leaving a little space between. Place the crispy cabbage on top of the sardine that’s not on the fennel and one piece of cabbage next the sardine on the fennel. Garnish with shaved baby Romanesco and a salad of cilantro leaves, tarragon leaves, red frilly mustard leaves, purslane, the smallest mint leaves you can find, some of the frilly fennel fronds dressed very lightly with Sherry vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil. Dress the plate with a bit of the ‘kimchi’ vinaigrette and sprinkle it with a bit more of the crushed hazelnuts and fried wheat berries. Serve with a bottle of Alban Vineyards Viognier Central Coast 2011.”
Chef Dan Kluger
New York City
“Oh, Mystery Basket. I have read this Food Arts column for years and always laughed at the chefs who would complain about procrastinating, often thinking aloud, ‘That one should have been easy!’ I’m now embarrassed to say I’m now one of those same chefs who procrastinated. When I first received the assignment, I attacked it immediately by really thinking about all of the ingredients. Then the list sat in a pile of papers until I finally realized I had to get it done.
“In all honesty, when reviewing the details of the assignment, I…well, I made a big mistake! I must have been really tired and was looking at old ones, because for some reason I thought the Mystery Basket also had a pig’s head in it. Soooo, I set out to work on this assignment with the pig’s head at the forefront of my ‘new creation.’ I love working with things like pig’s head, but I’ve been cooking more veg-centric dishes for the past four years, and it was hard to think about this as anything except some vegetables with a little pork added to round out the dish. However, I saw Little Gem lettuce, purslane, beets, and fennel and thought SALAD! Then, as I started to think about all of the other ingredients, I began to reminisce on my parents’ green goddess dressing. It was always served with poached salmon, which at that time was harder for me to eat than getting a tooth pulled. Nonetheless, it gave me a vehicle to begin bringing the pig’s head and veggies together. I also wanted to present the pig’s head in all of its glory: a basic salad with crunchy pork, tender head cheese, and a gribiche/green goddess-esque dressing.
“Now, I find out that I truly am an idiot and do not need the pig’s head. Turns out that that was the main ingredient of the last Mystery Basket to appear in Food Arts last September. So I started to think about a whole new dish. Then I sat back and thought about how well everything went together and realized that, with some simple adaptations, my dish works just as well as a salad!”
Little Gem lettuce with roasted vegetables, “green goddess” dressing & spicy potatoes. “Make a ‘green goddess’ dressing by blending soft-boiled eggs, milk, blanched herbs—parsley, mint, basil—Sherry vinegar, salt, and extra-virgin olive oil until extremely smooth. Spread over the bottom of a plate and top with a scattering of purslane, a quartered Little Gem lettuce, bunches of fennel tops, mint, and parsley, frilly red mustard, cooked wheat berries, and slices of poached artichoke hearts and roasted beets. Over that scatter Comté cheese, finely diced to about the same size of the wheat berries.
“Roast hen of the woods with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and when caramelized and crispy, combine with cherry tomatoes cooked until they began to burst. Remove from the heat and add a simple dressing made with fennel and shallots that were quickly pickled with crushed coriander, mustard seeds, salt, and Sherry vinegar mixed with extra-virgin olive oil. Top the salad with this. Lastly, for texture, add some German butterball potato chips—thin slices blanched in salted water, dried, deep-fried, and tossed with smoked paprika and salt and pepper. With this, drink Macari Vineyards Early Wine Chardonnay North Fork Long Island 2013.”