Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Family Fun

There's a little known secret where I cook a special meal for me and my staff every Friday night; partly as a sort of treat for the finish of our (usually) busiest night of the week, but mostly because I don't want to make five or six different plates for each person, but also since I am tired of the food I cook day in and day out I end up making something interesting for myself, and it would be selfish of me to exclude the others.

The concept is nothing new to the restaurant industry; it is known as "family meal" because it is a communal meal shared by everyone at the restaurant at the same time much like a family does, but with ironic undertones because we tend to spend more of our time with these people than our actual families. It usually consists of the leftover trimmings to menu items and ingredients "on their way out", which means not fit to sell to customers but good enough to give away to employees...

But for us it's something different; while I often use leftovers, it is only because they are compelling ingredients. I love the challenge of converting a dish that I methodically thought out (and wrote about here) into something completely different as a morale booster, and even though it's added work, it's a footnote of my week that I adore.

Lately I have been using it as an opportunity to tryout new techniques and combinations like with the Semolina Chicken 'N' Dumplings and Whole Wheat Noodles with Crispy Pork Belly, mostly for my own validation, unless I want to try and read through the usual chef kiss-assing that they mistakenly think is what I am looking for. It was after one of these nights that I perfected my Tamarind Barbecue Sauce for this week's special.

I've been playing around with the hybrid American and Asian concept of bbq sauce, and I finally settled on a base of ginger, garlic and scallions sauteed in sesame oil while tamarind pulp softened in hot water that was pureed and strained before being mixed with soy sauce, sweet soy sauce and ketchup (a bbq sauce staple, that's why).

When testing I tried this sauce with roasted pork shoulder but I knew that the sweet and sour intensity would work best with a more robust meat like beef, so I braised cubes of the chuck section in an already rich beef stock made from the leftover bones from the bone marrow butter that finishes our New York Strip Steak, saved for just this sort of occasion.

True to my original test I used a contrast of flavor by using freshly sliced avocado that acted as a sort of fulcrum between the sweet and sourness of the tamarind bbq sauce with my bright, crunchy pickled vegetables like treviso, golden beets, carrots, radishes, goat-horn chiles, red onions - and a little twist with sliced green grapes - that were infused with the flavors of pink peppercorns, Schezuan peppercorns and allspice berries.

I initially made sandwiches with the ciabatta rolls that we use for the Lamb Burger on the menu, but I decided on using little steamed buns and separating the components across one of our bamboo plates, allowing the diner to assemble their own little bites as an entree or be able to share with the others at their table by their own tastes without dictating how I think they should enjoy it.

There's been a phenomenon here on Capitol Hill for about a year now that I've heard lovingly referred to as "Gay Crack", which is any cocktail containing Firefly sweet-tea vodka. Due to my roots I have an affinity to sweet tea as it is, but I haven't been able to come up with my own use of the liquor... until now.

Since tea and mint go so well together, I realized that I could use the sweet tea vodka to boost that Kentucky favorite, the Mint Julep, by first muddling fresh mint sprigs in ice before adding a 2-to-1 ratio of Firefly to Bourbon with a little simple syrup and topping it off with a splash of club soda to help lighten it up (versus practically pure liquor...).

Ahhh, a drink that would make dad proud!!

With Love,


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