Wednesday, February 24, 2010

As Good As Gold

Last week's gumbo special left me a bit nostalgic for the flavors of the South, not so much of a longing for home but rather a reminder of the past. Awashed with memories of the many other childhood delicacies that I enjoyed while growing up, I contemplated a way that I could bring together traditional southern components with my current refined cooking style to come up with something appealing to the Pacific Northwest palate.

I remember my first experience of "fine-dining southern food" when I was an extern at a resort outside of Charleston, South Carolina in 1997. Just as I still do now, I went out to any restaurant that I could afford (and some that I couldn't) to learn and to grow with every bite. Grits were cooked and cut like the way that polenta was so popular at that time, cornmeal crusted whole fish were served swimmingly on platters and every vegetable was perfectly cooked as opposed to their traditional counterparts.

Now, years later, most of my southern culinary roots have given way to newer and more global inspirations, but this time I have included them in the mix.

If you have happened upon this blog at least once before you have probably already realised my infactuation with pork, and like a long lost friend I have been patiently awaiting its return to my side. My favorite cut is the tenderloin, due to its moistness and versatility, but this week I gave it a little extra love...

I marinated each portion in blended olive oil previously steeped with herbs, spices, chiles, shallots, garlic, etc., etc., and pan roasted them with this oil to give a more intense flavor than typical methods. Once all sides were seared and the center was perfectly pink I let the meat rest so that it can relax and allow for all of the juices to redistribute.

I have never cared much for grits as a breakfast item, but I always enjoyed letting them shine on the savory side. Here I initially cooked them with beef stock, but finished them with a touch of half and half and a handful of grated manchego cheese, made from sheep's milk in the La Mancha region in Spain which adds the perfectly rich/nuttiness to compliment grits.

For the sauce I deviated from the traditional red-eye gravy by making a country ham stock and then finishing it with freshly brewed chicory coffee, a blend of regular coffee beans with ground chicory root which yields a dark and robust version that was brought to Louisiana by the Acadians (a.k.a. Cajuns) and enjoyed in kitchens like my own. Instead of the brute flavor of coffee thickened with ham drippings and flour, I balanced the two brews into a flavorful broth with only a touch of brown sugar and black pepper since the cured ham provided all of the salt.

With the addition of beautiful, organic rainbow swiss chard, I assembled the plate with the rested, sliced tenderloin, omitting the always over-cooked end pieces, leaving beautiful medallions of meat as rich and valuable as gold!!!

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Now that I am refining my art of cocktail making, I now have a sense of what customers like when it comes to my concoctions. Though in a new decade, we are still in an era of Martini-Madness, and I am one to comply.

As a chef an cocktail drinker, I love the addition of more "culinary" ingredients to drinks nowadays, like lemongrass, specialty fruits and even herbs. While mint is the most common, I really believe that basil is the most versatile herb to use in mixology.
So, after a slow simmering of blackberries with just a touch of sugar (so that the pectin doesn't react, causing it to become too thick) I cooled, pureed and strained it before undergoing another process of pureeing and steeping before straining again to end up with an elixir that, when combined with vodka is a wonderful combination of fruity flavors with a grassy, slightly licorice flavor that's not too sweet - An absolute delight!!!

With Love,