Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Swatting the Buzzword Bee

One thing that really bothers me about the cooking shows on TV is how they always seem to throw around the same buzzwords like "big, bold flavors". The fact is that it's easy for them to create a dish that way; that's why you see bacon and butter in so many of their recipes. It's a crutch that they rely on in order to churn out recipes for cookbooks. After all "fat is flavor"...

The true art of cooking lies not in the best bang for your buck but in the perfect orchestration of subtle flavors. That's where I like to play. Sure, I create high-impact dishes, but it's specials like this one that really show my range.

Like I've stated many times before, I love this time of year. It's the best of both worlds - the crest of summer's bounty leading into the wonderful flavors of autumn. I wanted to create a dish that is a culinary snapshot of this exact moment.

Since tomatoes are on the out for the year I wanted to make one last grab for them, especially with the beautiful yellow and red beefsteak tomatoes available locally from Imperial Gardens (in fact, they supplied a majority of ingredients for this special). I wanted to stuff them so I lopped off just enough of the bottom so they would lay flat and cut off the top thick enough to create a lid and allow me to scoop out the flesh. In order to keep the fresh flavor for a hot dish I sprinkled the inside with Hawaiian sea salt and baked them in the oven just enough to warm them through to order.

For the filling I lightly sauteed rock crab meat with ingredients indicative of the season like fresh yellow corn, oregano, a touch of handmade chili powder and roasted turban squash, a varietal with a flavor like the cross between a pumpkin and butternut squash named for resembling the middle eastern headdress. I also steeped the pulp and seeds from the squash in butter long enough to extract the flavor before straining and using to cook the filling.

To keep with the freshness of the main components I wanted a sauce, rather sauces, to further complement the dish. First I steamed fresh pimento chiles (yes, the kind that you find inside of the olives sunken in you martini) and then blended the deseeded flesh to make a vibrant, tangy puree. As a counter component I made a cold cream sauce by blending fresh cilantro and parsley with warm cream (so that it won't churn into butter). Both sauces create a yin and yang in flavor, color and presentation to help complete the plate.

I also wanted to keep with the waning seasonal ingredients for the drink special by utilizing the last of the available nectarines along with the (late) beginning of local blackberries.

One neglected area of cocktails that I always seem to forget about is the "punch". A punch is a drink that is comprised of many different ingredients and usually containing some form of fruit juice. To me, a punch symbolizes a festive atmosphere, something that I feel like embodies what we try to achieve at our restaurant.

For this punch I muddled four fresh blackberries (they're big this year) and then I filled the pint glass with ice, added brandy, aged rum, fresh nectarine juice and lemon juice to help cut through the sweetness. It's a tasty, refreshing beverage that creates a little party on the palate!

By the way... local ingredients aren't buzzwords; they're just the way to get the best flavor!!

With Love,