Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Old School

Sometimes as a chef you have to go with your instincts and not confine yourself within boundaries, even if that means that you step outside of yourself a little bit. It's how we learn and how we grow. Honestly, I could probably formulate an elaborate passage in this blog in order to justify how I feel that my version of Hakka Cuisine could fit into our restaurant's theme of New Americana, and believe me that I would be up to the challenge, but that isn't what I'm here to do, so instead of trying to skew an idea for a special away from a more traditional or specific cuisine in order to mold it or blend it with another I simply allow the idea ring through without forcing it. After all, sometimes straying away from the path will get you even closer to the goal.

So with that said this week's special is decidedly Italian; closer to our former incarnation as El Greco than our current one, due mostly to my obsession with (the now trendy) unusual and cured meats. As chef of El Greco I implemented a menu item called "The Chef's Country Plate" that included old world items such as pates, Bacalao, and others, some of which were carried over to the Table 219 menu, like the Smoked Bone Marrow Butter that adorns our Hanger Steak.

One of my personal favorites was a little known preparation of Italian bacon called Guanciale, which is an unsmoked pork jowl that I cure in salt, sugar, parsley, thyme and black peppercorns for a week and then hang to air dry in the refrigerator for four more weeks. I know that some of you may be scoffing at the idea of eating jowls, but it isn't really any different than eating the belly of a pig - it even looks like what we know as bacon, as depicted in it's sliced form in the image here. So why use a lesser known ingredient instead of the great bacon that we have already been known to have? One word: FLAVOR!! The belly that traditional bacon comes from just doesn't have the uncanny richness that you can get from the jowl, especially the way that I cure it!!

So for the base of the sauce for this special I sauteed fine julienned strips of my Guanciale until they are crispy and then I added onions, garlic, white wine and some tomato water, a clear broth made by pureeing tomatoes that are strained through a very fine cloth that still contains all of the vibrant flavor without any of the pulp.

As stated before in other posts, I love making pasta by hand. There is just something about slowly drawing sheets of dough methodically through a roller; to me it's like long pulls from a cigar or savoring sips of wine.... I know it may sound ridiculous, but these are the things that I live for as a chef, despite how much easier it would be for me to just buy it from somewhere else. This time I went with pure semolina flour, extra virgin olive oil and eggs, rolled out and hand cut as fine as I possibly could, and finished with chopped curly endive and some Pecorino al Tartufo (an Italian sheep's milk cheese that is infused with chunks of black truffles). Here we have a bowl of something even more Italian that even the greatest of culinary trends would admire:

To offset my lack of an attempt at Americana Cuisine for my dinner special I offer this in it's place, and with the heat bearing down on Seattle in record temperatures, it's not a moment too soon either...

For this treacherous summer weather that was stolen from use by the East Coast, I can only offer solace in the best way that I know how: A Cool, Refreshing Drink!!!!

This week we are muddling fresh cucumber, mint and lime with sugar and vodka to give you The Cucumber Mojito!!

I know that this heat wave may seem like a penance, but with a cocktail like this in hand it will be more like a condolence!!

With Love,