Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bringing it Home

I love going out to the other local restaurants to see what they're up to and enjoying a few bites for myself. Whenever I'm asked which is my favorite I have to stop and think, choosing my words very carefully.

With many notable restaurants like, Lark, How to Cook a Wolf and my trip this past weekend to Spur (I can honestly say that my pork belly dish is one of the best that I've ever had, but their Pork Belly Sliders blew it away!!), but the one that still sticks out is Tilth, and like most restaurants that you've loved everything you've had, there is always that one memorable dish. Mine was what they called "Trotter Cakes", a patty of braised pigs feet and meat set in the rich cooking liquid, pressed into a sheet, cut, breaded and fried.

The chef, Maria Hines, is a James Beard award winner, has been on Iron Chef America (and won) and Top Chef Masters (yes, I watch them all...), and, as they say "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", so I made my own version of the dish, but with my own personal touches...

I made a rich stock from pork bones used to slowly braise pork cushions, a cut from the shoulder that is more uniform in size that I chose for even cooking. The meat was chopped and shredded while the braising liquid was strained and cooked further with thyme, rosemary and allspice until it was uber rich and succulent. I packed the cooked meat into cleaned cans leftover from beans, black truffles, etc. to act as molds, covering it with the rich broth while still warm before chilling them to set the shape. Then I heated the cans slightly to loosen them and shake out just like the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving dinner. Once sliced they were breaded and pan-fried in a combination of olive oil and lard for that over-the-top flavor enhancement.

I wanted to balance the rich pork medallions by stewing some locally grown Asian pears into a wonderfully spiced chutney that is both sweet and sour with a subtle heat and intricate flavor composition. I started by dicing peeled Asian pears that were reduced with freshly minced ginger, chopped red bell peppers and dried currants in a combination of apple cider vinegar and sugar seasoned with chili flakes, cinnamon sticks and clove. Once cooled I stirred in freshly chopped scallions to give the chutney more texture as well as a sweet onion flavor without overpowering the fruit. To counter to warm spice flavors I separated the mounds of the compote with fresh leaves of shiso, an bright herb in the mint family that also has a slight fennel or anise flavor.

To complete the flavor profile I added fuyu persimmons, the most common of the 50 or so known varieties because it is the sweetest that can be eaten raw while still being firm. This fruit is close to my heart because as a child I used to go out and gather a smaller sister genus for puddings and custards for my mother to bake. I say gather because you have to wait until the fruit is so ripe that it has already fallen from the tree but be quick enough to get it before it starts to rot. I have spent the last 12 years trying to replicate those dishes; I've even had my recipe for Persimmon Pudding featured in the New York Post using a ripe hachiya persimmon, but neither compares in flavor to that Midwestern mushy treat that remains nameless to me; but I digress...

Since the fuyu persimmons have an almost pumpkin-like flavor I felt that they would make a perfect complement to the spices in the chutney. I am currently using it as a fresh puree, but I feel like the remaining fruits will enhance the plate by being served sliced once they mature more.

I spent a lot of time last weekend researching what is in season that I could use for a cocktail that didn't include apples or pears, and despite Halloween being this weekend, I wasn't even going to consider pumpkin; no matter what I did with it people would only envision drinking pumpkin pie batter...

Almonds are in season, though they're readily available year round, which made me think of making my own almond milk, and then my mind wandered and I thought of all of the spices that I could flavor it with, but then what kinds of cocktails can I substitute almond milk for? There's only one that I can think of: a White Russian. But instead of making a White Russian with spiced almond milk, I thought "Why don't I play off of the coffee flavor of Kahlua and make a sort of chai coffee cocktail?!"

Chai coffee and tea are Indian beverages made by adding a combination of "warm" spices like ginger, clove, cardamom, cinnamon and black pepper, etc. The recipe varies greatly, but I made mine with the addition of a little nutmeg and fennel that I steeped into milk and half 'n' half and let cool to allow the flavors to absorb.  To be honest, the taste reminded me of my egg nog recipe, with less egg and more nog, but when combined with equal parts of Kahlua and vodka over ice, it created a familiar drink that had a whole new depth of flavor!

The Chef abides!! ;)

With Love,



  1. The components of the dish were incredible together. I ate it hoping I wouldnt run out of one part before another. Happy to report there was no such catastrophe. I suppose I must try the pork belly. It remains the only food item on the menu I have not had.

  2. Wow. Looks and sounds amazing, and such compliments from Derek! I can't wait!! :D