What was the inspiration for this dish today? Well, we usually use chicken legs for chicken cacciatore or pot pies and thought this would be a great change. Despite the strange cold snap we’re having right now, we wanted to do a lighter and more seasonal preparation, eh voila! Hoisin charred chicken legs!
Hoisin “barbeque” sauce (ala Chef Jonathan Sheridan) is easy to make, providing you’ve done a little shopping in advance for the ingredients. Start by taking equal parts hoisin sauce (most markets have this in their Asian food section) and ketchup and mix together in a bowl. Then in a sauce pan, take equal parts soy sauce and sugar, several whole star anise, a sprinkling of Sechzwan style peppercorns and crushed chile flakes, and minced garlic and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Let cool and strain into the hoisin ketchup mix. Add a squirt of sesame oil to the mix and toss the raw chicken legs until they’re completely coated with the sauce.
Lay the pieces out on a pan and cook in a 300 degree oven for 20 minutes, then raise the temperature to 400 for 20 minutes. This brings out the flavor of the bbq sauce and gives them that stunning charred look.
We’ve made an Asian version of cole slaw with rice wine vinegar and cilantro to go with the chicken, which provides a nice contrast to the spicy sauce. Serve with steamed rice or roasted sweet potatoes and you’ve created a dinner your fans will rave about!
Paella is our Thursday “plat du jour” and always fun to cook. Paella is essentially a rice dish originating in the provinces near the rice growing regions of Valencia. Originally made with snails, rabbit and chicken, it almost always includes seafood today. There are as many variations of paella as there are villages in Spain so to give a master recipe is useless. All would agree however that it is first and foremost a rice dish not a seafood dish.
Valencia is a famous rice growing region and the short grained rice they raise is similar to the more commonly available arborio rice from Italy. The elaborate Paella Valenciana that one sees in restaurants all over the world probably started in neighboring Catalonia, Valencia’s sophisticated neighbor.
One of the things that makes it fun (from a kitchen point of view) is the stock used to cook the rice. Every cook loves to make stock!! We start with a rich chicken stock made with the bones of the Murray’s chickens we clean each day. We follow with the shells from peeled shrimp and even snapper or cod bones and heads depending on the week. The point is we devote most of our attention to a rich stock full of the flavors that will appear later in the finished dish.
The rest of the dish is relatively easy to prepare as the other ingredients garnish the flavorful short grain rice that has absorbed all of the flavors. Here is a recipe for an easy and familiar paella with chicken, chorizo or ham and shrimp. Add mussels or clams for variety and a colorful presentation.
1 lg chicken cut into small serving pieces
5 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 lb shrimp or prawns
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 lg tomato, diced or 1 cup canned diced
1 Spanish style chorizo, or 1/4 ham
1 tablspoon sweet paprika
1 pinch saffron
1 1/3 lb short grain rice
1/2 pound green peas, green beans, or butter beans, cooked and drained
In a wide flat bottomed pan, saute the chicken pieces in a small amount of oil until golden brown. Remove and set aside. Heat the stock. Slowly begin cooking the onion with the saffron, chorizo and paprika stirring well. Check the stock and season with salt and pepper. Now add the seafood, beans or peas, the rice and the warm stock checking the liquid for salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 20-25 minutes. A crust on the bottom is considered by many to be not only desirable but highly sought after. When the paella is finished carefully arrange the seafood on top, sprinkle with some chopped parsley and then serve.
Chicken Marsala is a good example of one of those dishes that have gotten a bad rap from being mass produced in industrial kitchens. When prepared carefully what could be tastier than a tender chicken scallopini topped with sauteed mushrooms and Marsala wine? I take personal pleasure in resurrecting old school under appreciated dishes and bringing them back to life for others to enjoy. Cooking in a busy kitchen such as ours, allows us to do numerous things which, while not impossible for the home cook, can often be cumbersome and time consuming.
Following is an outline of how we do this dish and a few of our techniques. I was tempted to use the work “tricks”, but there are no real “tricks” in a good kitchen, just good solid cooking techniques built up over years working with and thinking about food and flavors.
We start with boneless chicken breasts which we slice and then gently pound out to tender pieces, about 5-6 oz each. Seasoned with our house mix of kosher salt, sea salt, and freshly ground white pepper we then dredge them lightly in flour and saute until golden and set aside. Next we saute the mushrooms, (a mix of cremini, shitake and oyster) with minced shallots and fresh thyme. We then deglaze with a good Italian dry Marsala wine and let that reduce a bit before adding chicken stock. (Sauce stocks are dark, meaning we roast the bones and vegetables before simmering them giving a rich full flavor perfect for dishes like this, as opposed to light stocks made for soups.) We then return the sauteed chicken pieces briefly to the sauce where the flavors can mingle, finish cooking the chicken, and the bits of browned flour on the chicken help to thicken and enrich the sauce. Leaving the sauce simmering on the stove top we then platter the chicken and then add a bit of lemon juice to the sauce (to counteract the sweetness of the wine and add depth and complexity). Finally we finish by swirling in a bit of porcini butter which we make in bulk and freeze, adding smoothness and shine to the sauce along with the exotic aroma of the porcinis.
Chicken Marsala has consistently been our best selling plat du jour and a we think deserving of the title we have on our catering menus, “the best you’ve ever had”!
We always look forward to Thursdays and our potato delivery from Bob at RSK Farms – this week he had a wonderful surprise for us . . . ramps! If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting a ramp, the flavor and aroma is a combination of onions and garlic, although they’re often referred to as “wild leeks”. They grow from South Carolina to Canada, and in many areas are considered a spring delicacy and a reason for celebration. After all, anything that you can harvest this early in the growing season brings excitement and anticipation to those of us craving farm fresh (or in this case often “wild”) food.
We cut off the tip of the bulb (the root end) and gently washed the ramps, then put them in a saute pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper and a splash of water and let them braise gently until they were tender (about five minutes). Once they’re cooked to perfection, serve them as an accompaniment to seafood or chicken. Today, we put some of them in the food processor and buzzed them into a puree which we used as a base sauce for fresh Long Island blue fish.
Ramps uniquely pungent flavor is a fabulous addition to soups, egg dishes, and potato dishes. They’re also great in scrambled eggs or with pan-fried potatoes for a wonderful Sunday brunch item. After a winter of working with and eating root vegetables the fresh, clean flavor of ramps are a delight and a harbinger of good things to come. Enjoy them while they last – they’re one of those fleeting spring delights in the Northeast!
Richard recently completed ServSafe, a sanitation course that is now required in New York State for all food service operators. This series of classes was developed by the National Restaurant Association and taught locally at Ulster Boces in Port Ewen. Here are some of his thoughts:
“You can only imagine that a state mandated food safety class could have the potential to be a crashing bore, but I’m happy to report that the three four hour classes taught by Victor Arnao were both interesting and informative. They were peppered with numerous videos illustrating real life situations, instructions about food safety and finally “the dreaded” exam, which I passed with flying colors.
I’d say 50% of this course is common sense, things your mother told you about basic cleanliness and hygiene. A good chunk of the information however, was stuff the average person OR cook would not necessarily have considered. For example potato salad… did you know that the potatoes will spoil quicker than the mayonnaise and are more likely to be a cause of food related illness? I certainly didn’t.
Here are some other important tips I learned:
- Cleaning work surfaces and sanitizing them are two different procedures that require clearly labeled buckets for each job. We now have them both here in our kitchen.
- Some types of bacteria can cause illness and others spoil food; some can survive freezing and others are not destroyed by cooking. We learned how to identify many of these and understand the environments in which they grow, which is the first step in controlling them.
- How to calibrate those little thermometers cooks wear in their shirt pockets to monitor their accuracy
- The best way to wash your hands! (a minimum of 20 seconds of vigorous scrubbing with soap and hot water up to your wrists – then dry them with a disposable towel). Now you’re ready to put on your food service gloves!
It was great to meet other people in our local food service industry: a woman in charge of a school cafeteria, another from Meals-on-Wheels, the Queen’s Galley, and so on. It’s interesting to note that those people who work with children or older people have an even greater responsibility for food safety, as they are often more at risk due to food related illnesses.
All in all, the entire experience left me feeling proud to be a part of the food service industry and a heightened sense of responsibility to our customers. I have always worked hard at running a clean operation and it felt good to see that we were doing all the right stuff. Over the years the health inspectors have often commented that if everyone were as committed to cleanliness as we are it would make their job much easier. Many thanks to Victor Arnao for teaching such a great class.”
Ivan Lajara, blogger for the Kingston Daily Freeman (as well as editor of Preview, the Freeman’s weekly entertainment magazine) has chosen to include our blog, along with 12 other local blogs on their site! We’re honored and will use this as a kick in the pants to get blogging more often!
To view the other chosen blogs, check out the link below:
Spring has sprung early this year! Record temps and gorgeous sunshine surprised our favorite farmers at Gill’s just down the road in Hurley. They’re harvesting their first crop of the season and WE are the beneficiaries! Spring’s first asparagus – hooray!
Come in and share the joy – take some home for dinner tonight. It’s lightly steamed with shallots, tarragon, sea salt and extra virgin olive. Simple perfection.