Sunday, March 23, 2014

Espresso and Cacao Nib Crusted Venison Loin, Puree of Butternut Squash, Early Spring Vegetables

Venison, or deer meat, has enjoyed a rise in popularity lately as the cost of beef rises and a growing demographic of health-conscious consumers seek out lower-fat options.  Venison has a deep, rich flavor which can be similar to beef, though it can sometimes have a "gamey" note and even more tender cuts can be tough comparable to beef or pork.  Both of these characteristics can be overcome with proper handling, though.

For this dish we prepared the venison sous vide, allowing it to cook at 137 degrees Fahrenheit for 1.5 hours to allow connective tissues to slowly break down without the risk of over cooking.  The loins were cooked whole and then chilled, then portioned once cooled.  When we were ready to serve the dish the individual medallions were seared on high heat, then seasoned with the espresso and cacao nib rub.  Applying the rub before searing will cause the rub to burn and create an unpleasant, bitter flavor.

On the subject of game, last week I was privileged to spend some time with an authority on the subject.  Chef Dan Hugelier has spent over fifty years in professional kitchens, is a Certified Master Chef, and was a member of the only Culinary Olympic team in history to gold medal in hot food three times consecutively.  Chef Hugelier has created a great retail line of spice blends called "Wild Season".  Wild Season will soon become a staple in our kitchen, and you can visit Chef Hugelier's shop here if you would like to bring some of his experience to your own kitchen.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Duck, Dried Fruit and Pecan Roulade with Spaghetti Squash, Potato and Pear, Roasted Shallot and Cherry Demi

This dish has some of my favorite flavor profiles and I've enjoyed letting it evolve over the past few years.

This preparation includes a roulade of duck breast with the skin removed, which has been filled with dried cranberries, raisins and candied pecans.  The spaghetti squash was roasted and tossed with bacon, mirepoix, butter and seasoned with kosher salt and ground white pepper.  Idaho potatoes were cut into tubes, then blanched and filled with a roasted pear-potato puree.  A dried pear chip offered texture and additional sweetness.  The demi was prepared with fortified veal stock, and flavored with thyme, roasted shallots and cherries.

The roulade was prepared by removing the skin from the duck breast before butterflying.  A light dusting of Activa RM was applied to help the roulade bond tightly.  A small line of dried fruit and chopped candied pecans (see previous post) were placed across the butterflied breast.  It was then rolled tightly into a cylinder using plastic wrap and air bubbles were removed with a sausage poker.  The roulade was allowed to sit for five hours to allow the Activa to fully bond before cooking sous vide at 137 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours.  

This dish was paired with a Penfolds Grange Shiraz from 1992, an excellent (and now rare) example of the varietal which Robert Parker awarded 98 points.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

36 Hour Beef Short Rib, Winter Vegetables, Roasted Garlic-Potato Puree

Beef short ribs are one of my favorite ingredients to use, developing deep, luxurious flavor when braised.  The biggest challenge in using them has always been trying to give them a refined presentation.  Rather than using a traditional braise, this time we tried cooking them sous vide to give them a more uniform appearance.

The interesting thing about preparing this product sous vide is that you can use such a low temperature that the ribs will still have a great pink color despite the cook time.   These ribs cooked for 36 hours at a temperature of 132 degrees Fahrenheit.  The next time I prepare this, I will definitely cook the ribs at a higher temperature, probably around 137 degrees Fahrenheit.  While the flavor was great this time, the temperature was so low that the connective tissue didn't fully break down and the texture was inconsistent throughout the batch.

The full preparation took several days.  First, the ribs were seasoned liberally with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, rosemary and garlic powder.  They were then wrapped into a cylinder in plastic wrap, then cooked sous vide for 36 hours at 132 degrees Fahrenheit.  The ribs were then chilled in an ice bath before being cold smoked with hickory.  They were then portioned, seared, and placed back into a cryovac bag with veal stock.  On the day of the dinner, they went back into the water bath at 132 degrees for around eight hours, until time for plate up.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Brussels Sprouts and Candied Pecans

         The holiday season is upon us and with it comes many opportunities for entertaining.  This time of the year, however, we tend to have fewer choices of fresh vegetables to use for side dishes.  One of my favorites is the often-maligned Brussels sprout.  
Brussels sprouts can be a very polarizing vegetable, usually because most folks were first introduced to an overcooked, mushy form of it prepared by their mothers or grandmothers.  Prepared correctly, however, Brussels sprouts can be a delicious and nutritious addition to any holiday menu.
Brussels sprouts are packed with glucosinolates, which are organic compounds that contain sulfur and nitrogen.  Glucosinolates have been shown to help prevent certain types of cancers and lower blood pressure; however, if cooked too long then glucosinolates can take on the flavor of rotten eggs.  It makes sense, then, to gently saute our Brussels sprouts to coax out their earthy, nutty flavor rather than boil them into submission.
One of my favorite recipes for this vegetable that I’ve found is Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Candied Pecans and Cranberries.  The first time I had this dish was when my wife, Leah, made it several years ago for Thanksgiving.  I’ve since used it many times, especially in the months leading up to Christmas.  It goes extremely well with the deep rich flavors of beef, pork or roasted poultry such as turkey.
The varied flavors and textures of this dish make almost every bite unique and delicious, holding your attention and entertaining you until it is finished.

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Candied Pecans and Cranberries:

Yield:  8 servings
Preparation Time:  25 minutes

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed and trimmed
3 ounces candied pecans, chopped (recipe follows)
2 ounces of smoked bacon, julienned
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground and toasted black pepper
4 ounces chopped dried cranberries
¼ cup red wine vinegar

  1. Using a food processor or a sharp kitchen knife, slice the Brussels sprouts very thinly.
  2. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the bacon to the pan. Use a spatula to stir the bacon while the fat renders.  Let the bacon cook until almost crispy.
  3. Add the sliced Brussels sprouts to the pan and toss (or stir with a spatula) until coated with bacon fat.  Continue stirring the Brussels sprouts until their color has brightened and they become tender, approximately five minutes.
  4. Add the red wine vinegar to the pan and let it reduce, approximately one minute.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat, and then add the cranberries and chopped pecans.  Toss and serve. 

One of the ingredients of the above dish  is candied pecans, which is another one of my holiday favorites.  These candied pecans are multi-functional:  Use them to top sweet potato casseroles, serve with ice cream, leave them in a bowl as a bar snack, or bag them up as a great holiday gift for your neighbors.  

Candied Pecans:

Yield:  2 lbs
Preparation Time:  40 minutes

1 ½ pounds of pecan halves
4 ounces dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 egg whites

  1. Whip egg whites until frothy, then toss pecans in whipped egg whites and let any excess drain off in a colander.
  2. Combine dark brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, coriander seed, cardamom, kosher salt and cayenne pepper.  Toss pecans with this spice mix until thoroughly coated.
  3. Apply non-stick spray to a cookie sheet, then lay coated pecans in a single layer on the cookie sheet.  
  4. Bake pecans in a pre-heated oven at 300 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, until the pecans are toasted and dry.  Every ten minutes, use a spatula to gently move the pecans around on the sheet tray to promote even cooking.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of "Inside Myers Park" magazine.  Article and photos by Scott Craig

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Roasted Prime Beef Tenderloin with Sweet Onion Ash Inlay, Late Fall Vegetables, Potato Croquette, Truffled Celery Root Puree, Caramelized Shallot and Cherry Demi

For this dish, Prime CAB (Certified Angus Beef) Tenderloin was served with a sweet onion ash, which gave the beef a slightly sweet and smoky flavor all the way through.  The ash mixture was prepared by placing a large dice of yellow onion in a cast iron skillet and leaving it in the 1600 degree broiler for about 1/2 hour, until all moisture was cooked out and nothing remained but cinders.  The ash was mixed in a blender with honey powder, dried rosemary, kosher salt, toasted black pepper and Activa RM.  Cold water was added to the dry mixture to make a heavy black paste, which was then painted onto the bisected beef tenderloin.  

Once one side of both halves received a thorough, but thin coat, the halves were placed back together and the whole tenderloin was wrapped tightly into a cylinder with plastic wrap.  The tenderloin was allowed to rest under refrigeration for five hours to allow time for the Activa to bond the proteins.   The whole beef tenderloin was cooked sous vide at 137 degrees Fahrenheit for 2.5 hours, then chilled in an ice bath.

For service, the whole beef tenderloin received a hard sear and was finished in a convection oven at 325 degrees with a low fan to finish heating it through.  The tenderloin was brushed with whole butter and then sliced.  The individual portions were finished with coarse sea salt before serving.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Grilled Oysters with Apple-IPA Mignonette

Grilled oysters are a dish that is widely enjoyed here in the Piedmont region in Autumn.  For this preparation, Blue Point oysters were cleaned thoroughly in cold water with a brush before shucking.  The oysters were then flashed in a 1600 degree oven just until they began to firm up.

The mignonette was prepared with a Highlands Brewery Kashmir IPA.  Their India Pale Ale is brewed in Asheville, North Carolina, and is moderately malty with a great hop-forward flavor that is characteristic of the brew.  Minced shallot and freshly ground black pepper were steeped with the ale before letting it chill and adding a brunoise of fresh green apple.

The oysters were served on a bed of rock salt with aromatics, and garnished with micro chard and amaranth from Lucky Leaf Gardens in Harrisburg, North Carolina.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Extending the Seasons

As the summer draws to a close we say goodbye to all of the fresh, flavorful vegetables of fall and begin looking towards the deep, rich and often layered flavors of autumn and winter. If you’re not quite ready to relinquish your summer vegetables, then one of the best ways to preserve the flavors of summer during the upcoming chilly months is to pickle your fresh vegetables.

           Pickling is a tradition that is said to be over 4,000 years old and it arose from the need to preserve vegetables before refrigeration was available. The goal of pickling is to preserve food product by storing it in a vinegar-based solution which inhibits the growth of bacteria. Most recipes require the use of pickling spices which include mustard seed, cloves, garlic and cinnamon, all of which are also known to further inhibit the growth of bacteria.
          One of the added benefits of pickling vegetables is that it makes the already vitamin- and mineral-rich vegetables even better for you, as the pickling process adds Vitamin B to the pickled vegetables.

Pickled Vegetables:

Yield: 1 qt.
Preparation time: 30 minutes

2 pounds Fresh vegetables, such as cucumbers, carrots, celery, cauliflower, red peppers, jalapenos, or pearl onions
2 ¼ cup Water
½ cup Apple cider vinegar
¼ cup Granulated white sugar
1 ½ teaspoons Sea salt
1 teaspoon Pickling spices
1 teaspoon Whole black peppercorns
8 sprigs Fresh dill
½ teaspoon Crushed red pepper

  1. In a sauce pan, combine water, vinegar, sea salt, sugar, pickling spice, peppercorns and crushed pepper. Bring to a simmer for five minutes.
  2. While brine is simmering, wash and dry vegetables, then cut into ¾ slices or florets.
  3. Allow the brine to completely cool after simmering, then pour the brine over the vegetables and fresh dill.
  4. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three to four days before serving.

Enjoy your pickled summer vegetables as part of a healthy salad, include them in your little one’s lunch box, or simply leave them on the bar as a snack when entertaining.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hickory Smoked CAB Prime New York Strip, Compressed Potato, Early Fall Vegetables with Carrot-Coriander Puree

This CAB Prime New York Strip was prepared the same way as the beef tenderloin in the previous post, with a coriander cure, hickory cold smoke and a long and low sous vide process.

The compressed potato came out beautiful and flavorful, and it was easily the fastest and least labor-intensive component on this dish.

For the compressed potato I began by dicing Idaho potato, purple Peruvian potato and sweet potato.  The different varieties are boiled separately until just done, then placed in refrigeration until they are cool to the touch.  I combined all the varieties of potato and mashed by hand, making sure to leave plenty of texture.

The mixture is then placed in a cryovac bag and compressed, then the potatoes are rolled completely flat in the bag using a rolling pin.  The uniformly flat pouch of potato is then placed in refrigeration for several hours.

Once the pouch of potato cake has completely cooled, the pouch can be opened by cutting all sides of the pouch with kitchen shears, and gently removing the plastic from the potatoes.  Any shape can be cut out of this potato sheet, and the potatoes can be re-heated by baking or sautéing.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Beef Tenderloin "Pastrami" with Braised Red Cabbage and Apple, Pickled Mustard Seed, Whipped Horseradish Cream, Rye Crisp

Fall is just around the corner and, as much as I enjoy the ingredients of Summer, it's nice to move back into the rich and complex flavors that smoking and braising offer.

This dish was inspired by a dish by Chef Brian Campbell of Johnson and Wales University here in Charlotte, and was featured on our Chef's Table last week.  It features cured and smoked CAB Prime beef tenderloin, sweet and tart pickled mustard seeds, tender braised cabbage finished with crisp green apple, savory and slightly bitter rye, and a light and satisfying whipped horseradish cream.  The flavor profile is reminiscent of a Reuben sandwich.

The beef tenderloin for this dish requires some time to prepare, but it has consistently been described as the best steak our diners have ever had.  For this preparation I always use CAB Prime beef tenderloin, for it's superior marbling and the consistency of the sizing.  I start by cold smoking the beef tenderloin with hickory for about twenty minutes, just long enough for the beef to pick up the scent of hickory but without it becoming too powerful.  Then the beef tenderloin is seasoned with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, ground coriander, dry rosemary and granulated garlic.  It is placed in cryovac and then cooked at 137 degrees Fahrenheit for 2.5 hours.  It is placed in an ice bath immediately to stop the cooking process.

To serve, the tenderloin is seared quickly in a cast iron skillet in a 1,600 degree broiler to create the outer crust that most people are familiar with.  The tenderloin is then sliced and finished with several flecks of coarsely ground sea salt.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pork Belly: Braised Bacon, Crispy Pork Skins

Recently we've been working with uncured pork belly in the kitchen a little more than usual, with some great results.  

I start with cutting the pork belly down into several manageable pieces, then carefully remove the skin from the pork belly.  I try to leave as much fat as possible on the belly, since that means there will be less to remove later from the skin and the fat is where a lot of the flavor is when you braise the belly.

I use the skin to make fried pork skins for our fine dining room's Butcher Board.  The pork skins are boiled for two hours, then any remaining fat is removed from the skin.  At this point the skin can be cut down into small strips, depending on the size that is desired of the finished product.  Then the pork skin is placed into a dehydrator overnight, and will be very hard the next morning.  The dehydrated skin can then be held for service, I usually just keep it in the freezer.  The skin can be fried at 350 degrees until it completely puffs up and finishes bubbling, usually about three minutes.  I season the pork skins with Southwest seasoning and kosher salt.

Crispy pork skins, pictured on the Antipasti Plate

For the braised pork belly I begin by producing bacon, which is an eight day process.  A dry cure is applied to the pork belly, which consists of 45 grams of kosher salt, 22 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of pink salt.  This cure recipe is taken from "Charcuterie" by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.  The belly can sit, covered, in the refrigerator for seven days with the cure on it.  The belly should then be rinsed and sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight so a pellicle can form.  The pellicle is the tacky surface that forms on the outside of a product that allows it to better absorb the flavor of smoke.  The next morning the pork belly is hot smoked with hickory at 150 degrees for about one hour.  Make sure to keep an eye on the bacon so it doesn't get too dark... manage the smoke carefully and move the product as necessary so no areas will get over-smoked and have a bitter flavor.

Now that the belly has been cured, dried and smoked, it is officially bacon.  From here, I braise the bacon at 300 degrees for five hours in chicken stock with onions, celery, carrots, thyme and rosemary.  Cover the bacon no more than two-thirds of the way so the fat cap remains untouched by the braising liquid.

Once braised, the slab of braised bacon needs to be chilled before portioning.  To re-heat, it can be seared on the range to crisp the fat cap and then finished in the oven.  I've also had great results from deep frying the belly to order, which crisps the outside really well.  If using the deep fryer, make sure not to over-fry the bacon, which would dry it out.