Wednesday, August 12, 2009

'Tis the Season

Being a chef relatively new to the Pacific Northwest (2 years this month) I am still getting used to the way produce grows around here. In the east, the scorching hot sun nourishes plants and ripens tomatoes faster than a chef can sweat, but here, the anticipation builds slowly, developing the flavors of some of the best fruits and vegetables that I have ever tasted, but the window in which to get them is short. Sure, these days it is as easy to get produce from Peru as it is from other parts of the US, but if you're living here, I don't need to explain to you the difference.

Obviously I wanted to take advantage of the summer bounty before it runs out, but I also wanted to take it a step further this week. In the past, I have served a variety of interesting meats as specials like Pheasant Meatloaf, Wild Boar Stuffed Cabbage and Venison Meatball Subs, but there is another type of meat that I love that you won't find on most menus, at least this time of year: Turkey.

We all know it during the holiday season, but for the rest of the year it is an ingredient that lies somewhat dormant. Somehow, someway this delicious bird has been "Hallmarked" as a treat only for Thanksgiving. Personally, my wife and I cook with it often, mostly ground for fillings and burgers; an even healthier alternative to other lean substitutes like chicken or pork, and I think that it is time that turkey makes it's debut here.

I started with the idea of pairing local peaches with local basil, something that I have been toying with in my mind because of the fruity notes that basil has and the fact that they couldn't have come into season at the same time just by accident. For me, grilling peaches has been a way to bring them out of the dessert world and into a savory dish like this because the high heat caramelizes the natural sugars in the fruit, which is not only less sweet to the tongue, but chars it just enough to balance out the sweetness.

Turkey breasts are a very lean cut and can become tough quickly if not handled carefully, so I pounded them thinly and sprinkled with some salt, pepper and a subtle amount of Ras el Hanout, a popular blend of herbs and spices used in the Middle East and North Africa. After rolling and skewering the cutlets I sliced them into thin medallions, which are pan roasted in the oven to cook through while I assemble the rest of the ingredients for the dish.

Another great component to this dish is sauteed Treviso, a cousin of radicchio that is longer yet just as purple and mildly bitter. It acts a perfect balance to the sweetness of the peach, a classic Italian pairing with the basil, and an unusual new friend of the dish's final component: Chinese Black Vinegar, often compared to typical balsamic vinegar but with a far more complexity and added spice.

I plan to introduce more specials with turkey as the main ingredient, but with the bar set this high, it might take a lot more time to come up with something comparable to this one!

Another idea that spawned from my home life is one of my favorite summer drinks, Sangria, and although I have introduce a basic version of it already this summer, I now have even better intentions.....

You see, traditional sangria needs a bit of sugar to balance the fruit with the brandy and the tannic wine in order to produce a beverage that is easily drinkable in the summertime without being heavy. So I dispensed with the refined sugar and used fresh juiced watermelon in its place, along with diced peaches, pineapple, and some sour green apples (for balance, don't you know!).

With all of the uncertainty in the world, it is comforting to know that there are things here that will put us at ease.

With Love,