Simple Roast Chicken

Here we are, beginning of summer, the southwest is getting mauled by a record heat wave, and I am thinking

about roast chicken.  Maybe it’s just too hot to go out and grill.  I love the process of roasting a chicken almost more than eating the chicken.  Your house will smell divine, and in reality, it’s an easy dinner.  Maybe cut a few potatoes and place around the chicken, brussels sprouts, carrots… whatever seems good.  Whatever fits your mood.

Roast chicken is traditionally a fall/winter dish, so think along the lines of root vegetables.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with making it any time of year, especially when you’re having a craving for crispy, delicious roast chicken.

Regarding the preparation and cooking process, I posted a roast chicken recipe a long time ago that was complex.  This is not.  The most important things to remember are:

  1. Start with a very dry chicken.  This minimizes steam, giving you a true roast flavor, not a boiled flavor.
  2. Salt and season the chicken inside and out.  You want the flavor to work its way in from both sides.
  3. Truss the chicken.  Even if it’s just tying the legs together tightly.  Trussing pulls the chicken into the best possible roasting position, letting everything cook evenly and thoroughly without over cooking the white meat.
  4. Let it rest.  Cutting a hot chicken is just like cutting a hot steak.  The juices will run, making a mess and leaving you with dry chicken.
This recipe calls for Maldon sea salt, which is easy enough to find.  Maldon sea salt is a sweeter, mild, large crystal salt.  It will help give your chicken that crispy salty flavor without really adding an excessive amount of salt (which I hate).  
Not too hard, right?  Rely on excellent ingredients, a simple cooking process done right, and there you have, excellent roast chicken!
Simple Roast Chicken 
Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  1 hr 20 min
Yield:  3-4 portions

Ingredients:

1 small frying chicken, about 3 1/2 lbs
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
1 head of garlic, sliced in half
1 lemon, sliced in half
maldon sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper
olive oil
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder

Method:

Beginning heating your oven to 400 degrees.  Using plenty of paper towels, dry the chicken well, inside and out.  Place the chicken in a mixing bowl and rub the exposed sliced garlic over all surfaces.  Repeat with the lemon.  And add just enough oil to lightly coat everything, inside and out.  Sprinkle the paprika, onion and garlic on the chicken, again, making sure to get the inside.  Generously apply the salt and pepper, again, inside and out.  Remove a few leaves of thyme (about 1 spring’s worth), rough chop, and sprinkle on top.  Place the remaining thyme, lemon and garlic half in the cavity of the chicken and truss the bird.  To make trussing simple, use butcher’s twice and tie the ends of the legs as tight as possible to each other.  Place aluminum foil over the wing tips and place the bird on a roasting rack or perforated sheet pan.  Roast for about 1 hr, or until the internal temperate is about 150 and the juices run clear.  Remove from the oven, place a piece of aluminum foil over the bird and let rest for 15 minutes.  Carve and serve.

Enjoy.

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Lobster Thermidor with Parmesan and Mushrooms

It goes without saying that I love lobster.  What a treat.  It’s exciting just thinking about a lobster dinner!

Growing up in New England, it reminds me of vacations down on the Cape or spending long weekends on the southern Maine coast, where you can’t walk 10 feet without running into a lobster shack.  And when it comes to lobster, fresh Maine or Nova Scotia lobsters, simple is always better.  Boiled or steamed, served with fresh corn on the cobb, drawn butter and maybe a baked potato is the best way.  I don’t think anyone on this earth can argue.

Except the French.

The French can argue about anything, and when it comes to fine food, they’re usually right.  Equally good lobsters come from the cold waters off the French coast near Brittany.  This region’s cuisine is driven by seafood, and more specifically shellfish.  Brittany is also notable for their dairy production, so many of their prized dishes, including many shellfish dishes, include great dairy.

French food is, in general, known as being ornate, rich and complex.  In reality, most French food is very simple.  They rely on ‘the best of’ seasonal ingredients, prepared simply and correctly.  When they do get fancy, usually good things emerge.  Stemming from traditional Haute cuisine, we have the foundation for most of the modern food we produce today.

Some of the more well known lobster dishes include lobster bisque, lobster Newburg, lobster omelets, and of course lobster thermidor, which is essentially lobster cooked with cream and cheese.  In my opinion, adding a lot of heavy ingredients to lobster can mask the subtle and wonderful natural flavors of the shellfish. But, when it’s a true complimentary flavor, such as cognac, parmesan cheese, or tarragon, it will transpose the lobster into something new and wonderful.

Which is exactly the case with thermidor.  It’s a complicated dish, involving many steps, but the final result is wonderful, and is truly a special treat.  Lobster folded into a rich parmesan and tarragon bechamel, full of sauteed mushrooms, roasted until golden brown… You won’t get the ‘simple’ lobster flavors of summer in New England, but you will get a new and incredible experience.

On a side note, this recipe calls for the lobster shells to be cleaned and stuffed with the mix.  You can easily save yourself the effort and place the thermidor mix into greased ramikens or baking dishes and finish that way.  Also, feel free to top each one with a pinch of bread crumbs, for the added texture.

Lobster Thermidor with Parmesan and Mushrooms

Prep time:  30 minutes
Cook time:  45 minutes
Yield:  4 portions

Ingredients:

1/2 bunch tarragon, fine chop
2 shallots, minced
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 lobsters, about 1 1/2 lbs each
kosher salt
black pepper
2 cups wild mushrooms (crimini, portabello, shitake, oyster) sliced
vegetable oil
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp paprika

Method:

Fill a large pot 3/4 with water and salt liberally.  Bring to a rapid boil.  Have a bowl with ice water ready.  Submerge the lobsters in the boiling water and cook for 6 minutes.  Remove and immediately submerge the lobsters in the ice water.  Cool completely.  Remove the claws, and with a large chef’s knife, split the lobsters in half.  Gently remove the tail meat and rinse out the cavity, washing out any residual waste.  Wash the tail meat and remove the vein.  Chop the tail meat along with the claws and knuckle meat into medium sized pieces and reserve.

In a medium sized heavy bottom sauce pot, begin melting the better.  Add the flour and stir over medium heat for about 3 minutes to create a blonde roux.  Slowly add the wine and continue stirring.  As the roux loosens, begin whisking instead of stirring.  Add the milk slowly, continuing to stir.  Gently bring to a simmer (be careful, too much heat will cause the sauce to stick to the bottom of the pot and burn).  Continually stir, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom.  When it comes to a simmer, it should be thick- thicker than a normal bechamel, which is perfect.  Season with salt and pepper (it will require a good amount of salt).  Add the mustard, 1/2 cup of the parmesan and tarragon.  Turn off heat and reserve.

In a large heavy bottom saute pan, saute the mushrooms in the vegetable oil until golden brown.  Season with salt and pepper.  When done, drain the mushrooms on paper towels.  Reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, add the lobster, mushrooms, and bechamel sauce.  Mix well.  Mound the mixture into the reserved lobster cavities.  Place them on a sheet pan sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the top along with the paprika.

Heat an over to 400 degrees.  Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake until the lobsters are bubbling and golden brown on top.  Serve right away.

Best served with classic French sides such as potatoes au gratin, green bean almondine with bacon lardoons, pommes souffle, and so on.

Enjoy.

Sweet Basil Marinara Sauce

I love this sauce.  It’s easy, incredible, bursting with flavor, fast and versatile.  It works with pasta, pizza,

shellfish, and so on.  You may in fact be surprised at how easy this sauce is, and how impressive the results are.  This is my version of a basic red spaghetti sauce (differing from ‘gravy’ or traditional red sauce, which cooks over night with all kinds of meats).

Marinara sauce is of course originally a southern Italian dish, pulling from the incredible flavors of the sun drenched vine ripe tomatoes, wonderful wines and olive oils that grow in that region.  It should be simple.  Why complicate it?  The trick is to focus and intensify the natural flavors, which isn’t always easy.  Especially when your supermarket is only carrying mediocre and basic ingredients.  So, breaking it down ingredient by ingredient, please consider the following:

The flavor of basil is strong and sweet.  By itself, it can become abrasive and ‘herby’, and has the potential to destroy your meal.  Used properly, with the proper ingredients, it’s perfect.  Tomato (ESPECIALLY san marzano) and sweet basil with good quality olive oil is a match made in heaven, so why not capitalize?   Those are the simple flavors we need.  Pared together, they speak for themselves.  Otherwise, I don’t have too much else to say about the recipe.  Marinara sauce is what it is, and this is my favorite recipe.  It’s sweet, full of flavor, and serves its purpose.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp dry oregano
1 tbsp dry basil
1/2 yellow onion, rough chop
3 cloves garlic, rough chop
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups (1 large can) crushed san marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken stock, or 1/2 cup water with 1 tbsp chicken base dissolved
1/2 cup sweet white wine
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 rib celery, rough chop
1/2 bunch fresh basil, leaves only
1 small carrot, small chop
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Method:

In a medium sized heavy bottom sauce pot, begin heating 1 tbsp olive oil.  Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until translucent and very fragrant.  Add the garlic, pepper flakes and a little salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until you can smell the garlic (it should smell sweet).  Add the white wine and tomatoes at the same time.  Add the dry basil, oregano, sugar and cinnamon.  Re-season with a small pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer and stir to ensure everything is well combines.  Add the rest of the olive oil, basil and chicken stock.  Simmer slowly for about 10 minutes.  Check the seasoning and make sure you’re happy with it.  Transfer the sauce to a bar blender and run until very smooth.  Your sauce is now ready.

Use right away, or ‘customize’ it for whatever you’re preparing.  For shellfish, maybe add a little caramelized fennel and additional pepper flakes.  You may want to simmer it with meatballs for incredible spaghetti and meatballs.  Whatever you choose to do, your foundation sauce will be excellent.

Enjoy.

St Louis Ribs, Dr Pepper BBQ Mop, the Best!

I have mentioned before, and I’m sure I will mention again, I love BBQ!  In this great culinary world of ours,

it is truly one of my great passions.  I love everything about it, from the long cooking times, the bold flavors, the smokiness, the grilling ambiance, the flavors, ingredients… everything.  Meat, wood, fire…. it’s how god intended us to prepare our food.  And for good reason.  I’m convinced if He ate a mortal meal with us, here on earth, it would probably be barbecue.

Now, all that being said, I have mentioned before that BBQ varies from region to region.  The only true constants are the meats used, and the use of slow hardwood smoking.  I am not particular to any specific region; I think they are all good, and each has their ups and downs.  I also think that overall, if I had to choose, Kansas City bbq would probably be my favorite, due to the complexity and depth of flavor, and the sweeter preparations.  As opposed to Carolina preparations, which focus more on heat and vinegar.  And Texas, which highlights dry rubs.  It’s all about personal preference.

Even in the world of BBQ, ribs have their own very special place.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, tops well prepared, smoked, tender and delicious fall – off – the – bone ribs.

I have posted about ribs before (http://chefnotebook.blogspot.com/2012/08/fall-off-bone-tender-and-delicious-bbq.html), and the following preparation isn’t exceptionally different.  It does, however, include two specific additional ingredients that I have recently (and pleasantly) learned make a world of difference.  Cooking the ribs for about 2 hours in a Dr Pepper broth (that’s right) adds an almost magical element to the final product. And rightfully so, Dr Pepper contains acid, sweetness, and complex flavors, perfect for tenderizing, breaking down and flavoring meat.  It’s insane.  And curing the ribs for about 2 hours prior to cooking in a dry rub of maple sugar, salt and various spices.  Maple sugar is an amazing ingredient, and works so well with bbq.  It really makes a difference, and I wouldn’t ignore or substitute it with anything else.

If you follow this recipe, you will be the star of the show.  You will have a ‘secret recipe’ people will kill to get their hands on.  I believe in it that much.

St Louis Ribs with Dr Pepper Mop

Ingredients:

2 full racks St Louis ribs, cut in half
1/2 cup maple sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp ground pepper
1 tsp ground mustard
2 liters Dr pepper
3 dried anaheim chili peppers
2 dried chipotle chili peppers
1 yellow onion, rough chop
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp whole corriander
1 cup prepared Dr Pepper Mop bbq sauce http://chefnotebook.blogspot.com/2013/06/kansas-city-style-dr-pepper-mop-bbq.html

Method:

Mix the sugar, salt, paprika, garlic, ground pepper and mustard together.  Evenly coat the ribs with the dry rub and let sit, refrigerated, 2-3 hours.  Pour the dr pepper in a large stock pot and place the ribs in the pot.  Add water or chicken stock until the ribs are completely covered.  Add all the dried peppers, onion, and remaining dry spices.  Bring to a low simmer and cook for about 2 hours, or until tender, but not falling apart tender.  Remove the ribs from the cooking liquid and let dry.  Lightly re-apply dry rub.

Have a wood grill with hardwood ready at medium to low heat.  Ensure an area of the grill is designated as ‘indirect’.  Oil the grill.  Place the ribs on the grill and lightly char on both sides.  Liberally apply the bbq sauce and stack the ribs on top of each other on the indirect part.  Continue to rotate the ribs, ensuring you continue to stack them (one on top of the other, so only one rack at a time touches the grill).  Stacking allows them to slow cook, rotating the contact point, and the natural juices will run onto the ribs, continually basting and flavoring the cooking ribs.  Continue this process and continue to apply bbq sauce until the ribs are extremely tender and smokey.  Remove from grill serve.

Enjoy.

Cole Slaw

In principal, cole slaw is very easy.  Four ingredients, 3 seasonings, no cooking involved.  In reality, cole

slaw is very difficult to get right.  It’s a bold move on my part to post a recipe, because you really need a well developed palate and feel for flavor balance to make this just right.  The recipe, per se, is not exact and cannot be followed to a T.  This, by no means, isn’t to say you can’t make this recipe to perfection.  It means, you may need to ‘tweak’ the recipe slightly, to get it just right.  But the basic format will get you close.

The base of cole slaw is a shredded pickled cabbage mix.  Cabbage, carrot, and onion, all shredded and pickled.  Pickling, of course, is a preservation method in which your main item (in this case the vegetables) are in some way dehydrated and cured.  There are several ways of doing this, the most common is through a mix of sugar, salt and vinegar.  Pickling items for flavor implores a sweet/sour flavor profile, which we, as consumers, love so much.  It’s the balance that becomes difficult.  You need to add just the right amount of salt, sugar and vinegar, without under or over seasoning, to get the pickling mix correct and the sweet sour ratio just right.  So again, in principal cole slaw is simple, but in practice, it can be tricky.

Similar to my bbq sauces, I like the cole slaw a little on the sweeter side.  I therefore add a little more sugar to the ratio.  If you like, for example, a more authentic Polish cole slaw, ease back on the sugar and go a little heavier on the vinegar.  I think my cole slaw is somewhat ‘traditional American’ and meets a certain expectation.  There are a couple of tricks and pointers I’d like to mention before getting into the recipe itself. First, after pickling the vegetables, let them sit for about 1 hour.  This gives them time to pickle thoroughly and expel whatever liquid they are going to give.  Next, before mixing any mayonnaise into the slaw, drain the vegetables!  This means squeezing the vegetables and ensuring they are as dry as possible before moving to the next step.  And third, go light on the mayonnaise.  Mayonnaise adds a bit of creaminess and consistency to the mayonnaise, but no real flavor.  The flavor comes from the pickling.  So you will only need to add enough mayonnaise to reach the desired consistency.  And now that you’ve removed as much liquid as possible from the vegetables, this should only require a small amount.

This is classic cole slaw.  Good for any bbq, any summer meal, to put on any deli sandwich, or good for any time you feel like having a delicious snack!

Cole Slaw

Prep time: 20minutes
Inactive cook time:  1 hour
Yield:  2 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 green cabbage, core removed
1/2 yellow onion, peeled
3 medium sized carrots, peeled
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/4 cup distilled white or apple vinegar
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup heavy mayonnaise
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Method:

Using a cheese grater, grate the cabbage, carrots and onion into a large mixing bowl.  Add the salt, sugar and vinegar and mix well. Taste the mix.  It should be a nice balance of sweet, salt and sour.  If you need it sweeter, add a little more sugar.  If it isn’t acidic enough, add more vinegar.  If it lacks flavor, add a little more salt.  Keeping tasting it until you are happy with the balance.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Have another mixing bowl ready.  Transfer the vegetables from one bowl to the next, making sure to thoroughly squeeze any liquid out of the vegetables.  Mix in the mayonnaise and pepper thoroughly.  The cole slaw is now ready.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Enjoy.

Kansas City Style Dr Pepper Mop – BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauces vary from region to region, and if you’re going to claim your sauce is from a particular region, it

better be accurate.  Otherwise, just call it BBQ sauce.

Kansas City style BBQ sauce is a tomato based sauce with a complex sweet/sour, smokey and tangy flavor profile.  That’s very open to interpretation, but essentially it’s a sweeter BBQ sauce, with well-blended and bold flavors.  And lots of smoke.  Traditionally, the smoke comes from the bbq itself, and cooking meats for a long time over hard wood fires.  BBQ pit masters become very particular regarding their selections and ‘blends’ of hardwood.  Some use hickory, mesquite, oak, applewood, cedar, and so on, others use blends of hardwoods.  In the end, whatever you choose, the smoke makes the difference.

As you can probably tell from previous posts, I have an abnormal obsession with bbq.  As a chef, as an amateur, at home, in a restaurant, as a personal favorite, it’s far and away one of my favorite food preparations.  I am passionate about great bbq, and feel that over the years, I have developed a trick or two.  I hope you enjoy my recipe, and moreover enjoy the subtle differences that make my sauce my own.

This particular sauce, also known as a ‘mop’ due to its thick and viscous nature, calls for liquid smoke to add the smokiness, and I love using Dr Pepper to add a little additional sweetness and complexity of flavor.  Bringing the sugar to full caramel stage before adding anything additional also adds complexity of flavor, and helps darken the sauce.  It seems to work very well with other bbq flavors.  Otherwise and in essence, it’s more or less a basic dynamite bbq sauce!

Kansas City Style Dr Pepper Mop – BBQ Sauce

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time:  1 hr
Yield:  2 cups finished sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups ketchup
4 tbsp French’s yellow mustard
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 tsp liquid smoke
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cans regular dr pepper
1/2 yellow onion, rough chop
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp chili powder

Method:

In a heavy bottom sauce pan, begin heating the granulated sugar with about 1 tbsp water.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until medium amber caramel.  Add the brown sugar.  Cook for about another 30 seconds.  Add the vinegar and vigorously until the caramel is completely dissolved.  Add the dr pepper and bring to a simmer.  Add everything else, bring to a low simmer, and simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Strain and use right away.

Enjoy.

Corned Beef Hash

Corned beef hash is a breakfast restaurant staple.  You expect it when you go out, and many of you are greatly disappointed when it isn’t offered.  And when

it’s great, when a restaurant really does it well, it’ll put the place on the map.  So many people love it, and so many people are disappointed when it’s done wrong (no flavor, poorly seared, too much fat or butter, burned, etc).  That being said, I’d like to say a few things about the production itself.

Corned beef hash is two things:  corned beef and potatoes.  Restaurants that do breakfast don’t bring in a lot of money per check, so they look for fantastic, and often creative ways to turn left overs into profit.  They may include left over bacon, hash brown potatoes or home fries, onion bits, pepper scraps… all the little bits of left overs that when combined, can work very nicely into a hash.  I’ve worked in many restaurants and hotels that serve breakfast, and each place makes its hash a different way.  In my opinion, the best hash started with cooked and ground corned beef, and excellent quality pre-seared hash browns.  And that is exactly how I make mine!

And regarding the cooking process itself, it’s back to the basics!  Cook everything separate, adding as much flavor as possible, and combine everything together at the end, resulting in a deeply flavored, balanced and delicious product.  It may be a little more complex and time consuming than other recipes, but the result is outstanding and absolutely worth it.

Corned Beef Hash

Prep time:  30 minutes
Cook time:  4 1/2 hours
Inactive cook time:  1 hour
Yield:  4-6 servings

Ingredients:

3lb corned beef (raw)
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
2 carrots, peeled
1 rib celery
2 large Idaho potatoes
1/4 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
3 scallions
Kosher Salt
ground black pepper
1/2 red pepper diced
1/2 green pepper diced
1/4 red onion, diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Method:

Fill a medium sized stock pot with cold water.  Open the corned beef and place in the water, along with any spices that may have come with the beef.  Place the half onion, carrots, celery and potatoes in the pot.  Bring to a simmer and simmer until the corned beef is extremely tender.  Remove the potatoes and let dry on a kitchen rag (this absorbs any excess water, which enhances the potato’s flavor and helps develop the starches).  Remove the corned beef and let cool.  Cut as much fat from the corned beef and cut the corned beef into small dice.  You can also pulse the corned beef in food processor to achieve the desired size and texture.  In restaurants, we sometimes run the cooked corned beef through a meat grinder.

Peel the potatoes.  Using a vegetable grater, grate the potatoes.  Mix the grated potatoes with the cheese and scallions.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Form the mix into a large patty.  Heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick or heavy cast iron skillet and sear the potato patty on both sides.  Remove the patty from the pan and let cool slightly.

In a heavy iron skillet, begin heating half the butter.  Add the corned beef, diced onion and peppers.  Sear until slightly browned and very aromatic.  Break up the potato patty into small pieces and add the potatoes to the skillet.  Add the rest of the butter.  As the hash browns, continue to stir.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  When nicely seared and blended, remove from the skillet and serve right away.

Best served with eggs poached over easy.

Enjoy.