One of my waitstaff asked me the other day why we had so many different salts in our kitchen and I realized that not everyone knew about the various types of salts that are out there. I then explained to him that each dish or cooking technique requires different approaches in seasoning and various types of salts provide the solution. Right now I can think of at least 5 salts used in our kitchen on a daily basis. First off is your multi-purpose kosher salt. The granules are large so they adhere to the surface of ingredients fairly well, the flavor is softened because of the plate like shape, and it contains no additives such as iodine. The second would be my favorite which is "Fleur de Sel" (flower of salt) which by definition is only the top layer of sea salt that is hand harvested before sinking to the bottom of the salt pans. The crystals are extremely small and melt fairly quickly once in contact with liquid. I prefer to use this salt as a finishing touch on desserts, high quality meats, or fresh fruits as a flavor enhancer especially since it's pretty expensive. Third would be the Himalayan pink rock salt which is mined and does not come from the ocean. I use this salt mainly for curing food such as fish or meats. The fourth would be a black Cyprus salt which is actually blended with a small amount of charcoal for coloring and detoxifying purposes. This one has an amazing visual appeal and looks on the table. The final would be our infusion salts which can range from anything we can think of. The latest has been a smoked hickory salt we made with our recently purchased handheld smoking gun. The beauty of infusions are that they can be anything that's laying around such as vanilla beans, citrus zest, truffle shavings, fresh herbs, or hard cheeses. If your only carrying around one type of salt in your kitchen then I would suggest getting to your local market and start experimenting.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
I've realized that some of the dishes and ingredients we prepare on a daily basis aren't that common to the average home chef or beginning culinary student. One of the simplest yet most intimidating ingredients to prepare is the octopus. Simply put, the octopus is either cooked really quick or really slow. I recently prepared a marinated octopus salad with kalamata olives and lemon that made me realize how foreign this could be to a first timer without basic cooking knowledge. It's an ingredient that is not that expensive if found in the right setting such as your local Chinese market or frozen gourmet market section. I like to remove the heads from the tentacles and cut away the black beak. I think that no matter what stage the octopus is in age, it's best to braise. A braise by definition is " a combination of cooking methods using both dry and moist heat; typically the food is seared in hot fat until golden brown and then finished in a covered pot with a variable amount of liquid resulting in a particular flavor over an extended period of time and temperature". By braising the octopus it breaks down the muscle tissue and allows the texture to become quite tender. My salad started with onions, garlic, and tomatoes being sauteed in extra virgin olive oil. I then added the octopus and lightly cooked it until the color had become a vibrant pinkish color. I seasoned the broth with capers, tomatoes juice, vegetable stock, lemon zest, fresh herbs, and kalamata olives. After 90 minutes of lightly simmering, the octopus became very tender. From this point on it can be chilled and served in a salad with greens, skewered as a lollipop, or grilled as an antipasti. It's one of those ingredients that most people will consider a wow factor because it's not a common item seen on most menus. I would suggest that everyone try cooking this or taking on the challenge of learning the technique of properly braising. A braise can be a great technique to use when cooking cheap cuts of beef, poultry, or game meats.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Here is the salad course that really became the show stopper, many guests would rather leave it untouched. The dish consisted of slowly roasted candy cane beets which were cut into cylinders with a piece of piping. We cut the celery root in batons and blanched them in boiling salt water. The kohlrabi was shaved raw and were topped with cubes of lightly cooked turnips. The carrots were strung and soaked in ice water to really give them a crisp exterior. The pistachio paint really packed some amazing flavors with the blended micro greens. We drizzled extra virgin olive oil and 25 year balsamic onto each plate as the dishes were served.
Here is the first course from a dinner we hosted this past week. The soup was served table side from tureens by two waiters into garnished china. The roasted chestnut bisque was perfect for the winter season and made complete sense to start off the meal with these flavors. The chestnuts were caramelized with sunchokes to enhance the soup with not only body but an amazing nutty background. The soup was slowly simmered with dark chicken stock and heavy cream. After blending thoroughly until the soup was silky smooth it was served with a spiced pear chutney and house made creme fraiche. The creme fraiche sat on top of the oven for just over three days to give it that perfect tang. It feels nice to be cooking again.
Sorry for the lack of blogging over the last few months, my new position in Chicago has kept me extremely busy while opening this property. The facility is amazing and everyday seems to get better with our service, food, and organization. We have been entertaining a multitude of high profile clients and creating some amazing things from a hospitality perspective. It's been quite an experience trying to not only produce in the kitchen but also in maintaining the facility with a much smaller staff. All those things we take for granted in a larger property start becoming those necessities really quick. I have been fortunate to find extremely talented individuals that are supporting me in this venture. My culinary staff is smaller but they are truly passionate about current trends, high quality ingredients, and focusing on the core fundamentals of good cooking. My front of the house leaders really keep me busy with the challenge of stepping it up each event and not relying on just my plating skills (thanks). Chicago is great and I cannot wait for the weather to warm up. We have two amazing patios that meant for entertaining. They overlook the downtown river area and have state of the art grills (they are begging for a whole roasted pig). I will follow this update with a few pictures from an event that we did this past week. It's nice to be back and once again, sorry for the delay.