Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Am Serious... and Don't Call Me Shirley!!

Even now, eight weeks after my trip to Hong Kong it is still influencing my specials. Sure, I would love to be able to line them up week after week in succession, but I prefer to offer a great special as opposed to making sure I stick to some sort of format.

But this week's inspiration is drawn from a surprising source: an airplane meal!!

Before you turn away in disgust, allow me to explain; First of all, we weren't on Southwest, Delta or United. We travel in style, so we took Korean-based Asiana Airlines - rated the best in northern Asia due to exceptional service and meals created by chefs. They created dishes that travel well, can be heated easily and, most of all, taste good.

We had simplified versions of our favorite Asian dishes like bibimbap, congee and the inspiration for this week's special: lettuce wraps.

It's really the taco of the orient; a combination of meat, sweet, sour, spicy and crunchy. And even though it wasn't the first time I've have lettuce wraps, there is something about having really good food on an airplane really made them stick in my mind.

Since I was working with all of the bold flavors that Asia has to offer I needed a meat that could hold up to them, so I went with lean and gamey venison, something so far off of the radar from what anyone would expect from a dish like this that you have to be intrigued, and that's half the battle.

To make the filling I made a white coconut curry with cardamom, coriander, lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger, garlic and Walla Walla spring onions in place of the obligatory scallions for that iconic Washington touch. Once reduced with mirin for sweetness I strained the sauce over the ground, cooked venison and stirred in chopped cilantro.

To pair with the rich, gamey filling I created a series of pickled vegetables like cucumbers, red peppers, baby white turnips and red onions uniquely flavored with rice wine vinegar, mirin wine in place of the classic sugar, Chinese five spice powder and a touch of Sriracha chile sauce.

Finally, I bring it all back to the original Korean inspiration with a sauce that is traditionally used for bibimbap that is simply gochujang, a wonderful fermented chili paste that's sweet and spicy, blended with sesame oil, soy sauce and a little water to thin it out. With some bibb lettuce, fresh mint and Thai basil there are a hundred different combinations that you can create on your own with just one beautiful plate!!

We restaurant folk stick together. When I asked one of my friends, Milla, a bartender from Charlie's next door what I could do with a bottle of Effen cucumber vodka that we couldn't seem to sell, she came back with this brillant idea!!

She knowingly looked at me and simply said "Cucumber Kamikaze.", then laid out how I should do it.

A kamikaze is a citrus cocktail made with vodka, triple sec and fresh lime juice, but with the way cucumber and lime interplay, Milla knew what is best!! 

Thanks, Milla!!

With Love,


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