Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Clouds of Heaven

With the first sign of spring vegetables starting to show their heads I realized that I need finish showcasing my winter dishes now if I don't want put my ideas on hold until next year, chancing that they'll get lost forever.

If I've said before that I love pasta, then I'm a stalker for dumplings. There's just something magical and mysterious about biting into a shrouded filling bursting with flavor. While there are many great dumplings from cultures around the world to choose from, I decided to go with more of an Asian style, with some of my own twists.

I made a filling by enriching ground, raw shrimp with pancetta that I blanched in water to tenderize it as well as to remove the excess salt, reserving the liquid for the base of my broth. For the dough I used the same shu mai wrappers that we fry for our tuna tartar tacos on the menu, but by boiling them instead of frying, they become light and pillowy, like little clouds from Heaven.

I used the leftover shrimp shells to fortify the pancetta broth, and for an even more intriguing flavor I simmered the whole lot with Szechuan peppercorns - tiny, dried berries with strong citrus notes that are commonly used in the Sichuan region of China, where it was realized long ago that the mouth-tingling properties of the peppercorn plays extremely well with the spiciness of hot chiles, so I added a few pinches of ground chile de arbol and a subtle amount of soy sauce for salt and umami.

Another classic pairing for Szechuan peppercorns is eggplant, so who am I to argue? I sauteed up small rings of Japanese eggplant with onions, garlic, ginger and soy sauce. While the eggplant gives some heft to the the dish, I needed another dimension and some green to boot, so while I was at Uwajimaya picking up the eggplant I also grabbed several bunches of watercress, one of the oldest known leafy greens consumed by man and one of my all time favorite greens (though long neglected in my recent repertoire). Its peppery flavor really lent a hand to the flavor profile of the total dish, playing off of the peppercorns, eggplant and broth.

After my recent purchase of orange bitters for the Orange Apricot Punch a couple of weeks ago my mind has been reeling with ideas. I remember talking to one of our servers, Justin, about how well orange goes with whiskey, like the way we muddle orange slices and maraschino cherries with Basil Hayden bourbon to make our signature Old Fashioned, which led me to this other variation to a classic cocktail.

I thought that since whiskey goes so well with orange I felt that I could make a version of a Manhattan by using rye whiskey instead, since it has many of the same characteristics as bourbon. I used Grand Marnier orange liqueur in place of the sweet vermouth and, of course, aromatic orange bitters instead of the traditional, well, bitter variety. The final cocktail was a HUGE success on its first night alone, so I'm excited to see how well it does the rest of the week!!!

With Love,


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