Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Taste of the Season

As the days grow longer and the temperature begins to rise, the signs of spring spark new life into everyone and everything. It's times like these when the seasons truly change where I rub my hands together in anticipation of the coming bounty like some culinary villain plotting my attack to take over the world, but it isn't money or gold that I'm after - it's that next great dish!

As certain ingredients come into season I now have to anticipate how I'm going to use them because some have such a short window of availability when sourced locally, which allows for ultimate freshness and natural ripening. Case in point: Asparagus. Since we only have a month or two of true asparagus season here I have to implement it as much as possible without exhausting the customers. I don't plan on featuring it every week (except for our vegetable du jour), but I want to show it's versatility as much as possible while I still can.

Like this week's special, for example; I wanted start the season off right by showing two very different ways to use asparagus, one of which is less common...

In order to emphasize contrast with this special I chose to first use white asparagus, which is the same as "green" asparagus but as the spears shoot up, farmers cover it with dirt so that it grows without sunlight, thus preventing the plant to produce chlorophyll (responsible for the green color) and yielding a more subtle and tender version. Famous for my soups (as any good chef should be), I simmered the white stalks with onions and garlic that were softened in extra virgin olive oil and a couple of peeled potatoes that, when blended, helped create that silken texture without adding cream that I am known for.

To accentuate the soup I needed to offset the creaminess by hand-making a sausage that is full of flavor by creating a sausage that is inspired by types of Hungarian sausages known as Kolbasz. I wanted to come up with something unique, though, so I retooled the flavors of those sausages to come up with a rich and flavorful version that was also easy to make, and since pork is the typical medium for sausages I decided to go a step further and make mine from freshly ground wild boar because it can stand up to the addition of rich ingredients like paprika, smoked paprika, alderwood-smoked salt, allspice, garlic and my own personal touch: amber beer.

I added a few more tastes of local ingredients by sauteing the sausage in a confit of spring onions and garlic with some local purple fingerling potatoes, and (as long as they're still available) more of those black trumpet mushrooms that I absolutely love from last week's special. For that contrast I spoke of I topped the soup off with an unusual preparation of green asparagus by shaving it finely with a vegetable peeler and keeping it raw like a salad, which I dressed with a vinaigrette of white truffle oil, shallots, garlic and champagne vinegar and tossed with finely grated Parmesan cheese to accentuate the subtle earthiness of every ingredient.

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As before, I am still pondering the great use of beer as an ingredient in a cocktail, but the problem is that many beer enthusiasts consider using a quality beer as a mixer akin to using Louis XIII to make hot toddies. Though everyone knows the euphemism that "in order to make an omlete, you have to break a few eggs", I'm not going to win over any beer fans by shaking drinks with Chimay, so I continue by treading lightly...

A shandy is a lesser-known cocktail first invented in the UK that originally consisted of a combination of beer and ginger beer or ginger ale, though lemonade is also used sometimes, so I thought that if I could use these same flavors, I could come up with a more intriguing version that might spark some interest. Then, once I spotted one of our only two taps of beer, I realized how this was going to pan out:

Instead of the ginger ale I made my own version using fresh ginger and fresh lemongrass simmered in water and sugar to end up with a flavored simple syrup that I turned into a liqueur by infusing it with Skyy vodka. Once ordered, we pour a couple of ounces of this liqueur along with a splash of soda water (just like a homemade ginger ale) that is then topped off with Juju Ginger Beer from Left Hand Brewing Company to complete the trifecta of this drink.

Unfortunately this is the last batch of Juju Ginger that we are going to serve since Left Hand has discontinued the "pony kegs" that our beer system can hold... but that only means that you have to look forward to a set of new draft beers (and maybe new beer-influenced cocktails) coming soon!!!

With Love,


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