Archive for the ‘Chicken’Category

Backhouse realizes Niagara’s great potential

Ryan Campbell of Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Too bad the great French gourmand Christian Millau didn’t live long enough to visit Ryan and Bev Campbell’s Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake (242 Mary St.; 289-272-1242; backhouse.xyz). In 1968, Millau revolutionized the way the French (and, given the era, the world) regarded haute cuisine when he announced that he had discovered “the best restaurant in the world” in the provincial town of Roanne. He might have said something similar had he discovered this grill-centric, hyper-locavore restaurant in a shopping strip at the edge of this Lake Ontario resort village.

“Best restaurant in the world” is hyperbole, of course. But the comparison to Les Frères Troisgros is more than fair. Backhouse serves brilliant food far from the metropolitan restaurant scene. Asador Etxebarri in the small village of Atxondo in Spain’s Basque country might be an even closer comparison. Etxebarri’s chef Bittor Arguinzoniz cooks everything with open flame and coals. So does Ryan Campbell, one of the most talented and obsessive chefs we’ve ever met. He uses the trimmings from local peach and cherry orchards that would otherwise be burned as slash.

Light my fire


Campbell knows the appeal of the grill, and he places the five-foot cooking box front and center in the restaurant. Diners can opt to sit at conventional tables—or line up in seats along the bar facing the fire. We chose the bar for a tasting menu. We wanted to watch Campbell work the apparatus and poke the logs while wearing his heavy leather blacksmith’s apron. He is so organized and calm that his motions seemed almost meditative.

chicken liver purses at BackhouseThat’s probably because so much of the menu is prepared ahead. Locavore cooking in a cold climate means lots of smoking, drying, pickling, and even freezing products during their seasonal glut. Most of us associate open-fire cookery with quick roasting. Not Campbell. The chickens hanging in the back of the fireplace are cooking ahead for the first step in his “bird on a wire” dish. For our opener, we ate these pastry purses filled with chicken liver mousse and tomatillo chutney. He paired the dish with barrel-fermented sparkling hard cider.

As soon as we finished this earthy combination, we found ourselves looking at a small bowl of fresh curds and whey with just a dash of maple syrup and a beautiful viola flower floating on top. The milk came from Sheldon Creek Farms, a single-herd microdairy. The combination was ethereal and a bright counterpoint to the chicken liver starter. We thought we’d caught our breath, but immediately Campbell set out a tiny ramekin of fried egg white mousse with a confit egg yolk topped with trout caviar. We couldn’t help but think of the pintxos creativos of Spain’s San Sebastian. In effect, the liver purses, curds and whey, and “Meg’s Egg,” as Campbell calls it, formed a trio of canapes that hinted at the restaurant’s range.

Bread and veggies


After a short pause, another trio of dishes appeared in a sudden flurry. Campbell treats his sourdough breads with house-cultured butter as a course unto itself, as well he should. His sourdough starter, affectionately known as “Roxane,” has been with him for years. The bread and butter clean the palate for the intense vegetable dishes that follow.

wild leek and potato soup from BackhouseThe first was a wild leek and potato soup, thick and green, served with a sourdough brioche toast float, a dab of crème fraiche, and thin matchsticks of homemade prosciutto. (Campbell buys only whole animals and does his own butchering. Nothing goes to waste.) Since local asparagus was still in season, he completed the trio with a plate of wood-roasted Niagara asparagus, a smear of black garlic aioli and another smear of garlic mustard. (He makes his own condiments, of course.)

The meat of the matter


First Ontario shrimp at BackhouseWithout getting too precious about it, Campbell treats animal proteins with an almost religious regard for the creatures. He said it took him two years to rise to the top of the wait list to be allowed to buy First Ontario farmed shrimp. The farm only produces about 300 pounds per week, and Campbell gives each Pacific white shrimp a place of honor atop local grits in this small bowl.

bird on a wire from BackhouseOur tasting menu moved on to a variation of the “bird on a wire” dish—so called because Campbell slow roasts heritage chickens strung on a wire in the back of a firebox. He then picks the meat and presses the smoky flesh into a tubular sausage. Thick slices are quickly grilled over the open fire before he plates them with a chicken leg, wood-roasted locally foraged wild mushrooms, and homemade gnocchi. The dish might be the apotheosis of poultry. The glass of Gamay Noir from a local virtual winery (13th Street) didn’t hurt either.

Desserts at Backhouse are seasonally inspired. We were dining in late spring, and maple was Campbell’s inspiration. (We never asked if he uses sugar, but we suspect that maple is his sweetener of choice because it’s local.) He presented a sweet potato custard, a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, and a crumbly spice cake—all scented and sweetened with maple. Alas, we were too sated to try the plate of Ontario cheeses.


For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging on the Niagara Peninsula, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Bargain reds from Lafite ward off the fall chill

Lafite bargain reds
It’s almost scary how we start craving heavier meals the moment that there’s a nip in the air. With November already hinting of the winter to come, we’re digging into the wine closet for reds instead of whites. Like many wine lovers, we find several massive reds that need more age before drinking and very few wines really ready to drink. Moreover, we’ve learned the hard way that cheap reds usually deliver exactly what you pay for—along with some additional next-morning misery.

Lafite Rothschild (www.lafite.com) has come to our rescue with some superb reds that don’t require a special occasion. Listed at under $20 each, the Légende 2014 Bordeaux, Los Vascos Grande Réserve Cabernet 2013 from Chile, and Amancaya Gran Reserva 2013 from Argentina actually cost closer to $15 at better wine warehouse stores. (Those are Massachusetts prices; your mileage may vary.) We alluded to the quality of Lafite’s secondary lines in a post in May 2015, but we thought we’d put this group of bargain reds to the test with some of our standby autumn meals big enough to cry out for red wine. Because all three wines are on the young side, we double decanted to smooth out any rough edges with aeration.

Légende 2014 Bordeaux


Légende with roast chickenOne of our go-to fall dinners is a simple roasted chicken breast with roasted creamer potatoes and garlicky roasted peppers. The flavors are strong and satisfying, and the dish demands a fruity red. Légende from 2014 has the great blackberry fruit and vanilla/cocoa nose to complement the garlic and sweet red peppers. Purists might pooh-pooh the idea of drinking Bordeaux with roast chicken, but if the bird is mature and of high quality, an unfussy claret is a perfect pairing. Sure, we’d all like to drink Chateau Lafite Rothschild on a regular basis, but sometimes simple country Bordeaux is just right. This example (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot) is nicely structured with generous, rounded fruit and a lip-smacking, spicy finish. The summer of 2014 was cold and wet, but a sunny September and October miraculously ripened the grapes.

For the accompanying dinner, brine a large chicken breast (2 pounds and up) for a day in the refrigerator, then roast it with potatoes at 425°F. Broil the red peppers and peel them, then sauté strips with the creamy pulp from a roasted head of garlic. When the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 145°F, layer the peppers over the breast and return to the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 155°F. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet


Los Vascos with arroz con polloThis Calchagua Valley wine was estate grown and bottled, and the grapes were handpicked and sorted. It shows a classic Chilean expression of Cabernet Sauvignon, with dark, plummy fruit notes complemented by cherries and strawberries in the nose. The herbal notes in the mouth make it a nice complement to the saffron intensity of a good arroz con pollo. We published a Super Bowl version of arroz con pollo back in 2010. See this post for the recipe. The dish can be a little overwhelming, so we cut the Spanish paprika in half to let the fruit of this delicious Cabernet come through. This wine has the soft tannins and acidity to age well, but it also drank nicely against the spicy pork of the Spanish chorizo.

Amancaya Gran Reserva 2013


Amancaya with Patagonian shepherd's pieWe’ve been very pleased with wines from Bodegas Caro, which is a joint venture in Mendoza between Lafite and the Catena family of Argentina. This particular wine balances the power and intensity of Argentine Malbec with the refined fruit of Cabernet Sauvignon. The modest price belies the sophistication of the wine. At 65% of the blend, the Malbec dominates. It presents the classic high-altitude Uco Valley combination of cloves and white pepper on the nose and a finish of dry cocoa and cured tobacco. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes distinctive raspberry and cassis notes to the nose and a supple fleshiness that hangs nicely on the Malbec’s bony skeleton. Double decanting definitely helped this wine. It continued to grow in the glass as we drank it with dinner.

We went with a humble recipe adapted from the great Patagonian chef Francis Mallmann. It’s really just a fancy shepherd’s pie. But just as the French and Argentine winemaking traditions combine in Amancaya, so do the British and Spanish culinary traditions of Argentine’s coldest region. The piquant spices and dark olives completely remake the flavor profile of the pub standard. Mallmann’s recipe in Seven Fires is a little different. It’s also meant to feed four to six people. This version serves two—just right for splitting a bottle of Amancaya.

FRANCIS MALLMANN’S BEEF AND POTATO PIE


Serves 2

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried mustard
1/2 cup dry red wine
2-3 medium salad tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1/2 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
2 hard-boiled large eggs
1 teaspoon white sugar

Directions

In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, combine olive oil, onion, and carrot. Sauté over medium-high heat until vegetables soften and begin to brown (about 5 minutes). Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it begins to brown. Stir in the bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, cumin, Spanish paprika, pepper flakes, and mustard. Add red wine and let mixture bubble gently a few minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and olives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the meat is very tender and the liquid is reduced but not completely evaporated. (The finished dish must be moist.) Remove from heat and set aside.

While meat and vegetables are cooking, place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Add salt to taste and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently until potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork (12-15 minutes). Drain the potatoes thoroughly and press through a food mill or potato ricer.

Bring milk to a boil, and beat it into the potatoes. One by one, beat in the egg yolks, and continue beating until well blended, fluffy, and yellow.

Set oven at 375°F with rack in the bottom third.

Slice the hard boiled eggs into six slices each and arrange them over meat mixture in cast iron skillet. Spoon mashed potatoes on top and smooth the surface with a spatula. Use the tines of a fork to create a pattern of narrow decorative ridges. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until potatoes are nicely browned.

14

11 2016

Finish Line Festival ratchets up the outdoor barbecue

Lexus Gran Fondo finish line cookout
The Lexus Gran Fondo riders found a fine feast awaiting them. Lexus ambassadors and retired racers Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie led the 100-mile riders coming to the finish line in Chatham. All the riders arrived hungry, and the Finish Line Festival cookout trumped even the best backyard barbecue.

Dean Fearing at Lexus Gran Fondo finish line cookout Lexus augmented the chefs of Chatham Bars Inn by inviting the brewery at Blackberry Farm and Lexus Master Chef Dean Fearing (fearingsrestaurant.com). The dean of Dallas dining lent a little longhorn swagger to the party. With his sons on hand to help serve, Fearing loaded up plates with lobster tacos and smoky brisket tacos with a tangy, piquant sauce. On the side were his classic cowboy beans and cole slaw. “I thought, here we are in New England with all this great seafood,” Fearing said. “So what if we make a lobster taco?” Fearing topped the lobster soft tortilla with a tomatillo-based salsa verde and a crumble of feta cheese. Participants loved it.

Andrew Chadwick grills chicken at Lexus Gran Fondo finish line cookout Chatham Bars Inn chefs Anthony Cole and Andrew Chadwick volleyed Fearing’s Southwestern dishes with some serious heat of their own. Not only did they serve ribs with a tear-inducing kimchee broccoli, they also set out roasted Mexican street corn. The spiciest dish from Chadwick (shown here grilling it) was the Bloody Mary barbecued chicken.

Diners debated which Blackberry Farm saison ale was best with the hot and smoky food. Both ales were brewed with lightly roasted barley malt, but one was made with Czech Saaz hops. The milder of the two beers showed a slightly resinous herbal note and a delicate bitterness. The other ale was made with Eureka! hops. Those experimental hops made it very assertive. Strong pine and mint notes came on first, followed by a tang of grapefruit rind bitterness. The Saaz version paired well with Fearing’s lobster taco. The Eureka! ale showed best with Chadwick’s Bloody Mary chicken.

We didn’t get a recipe from Chadwick, but we’ve worked out own version. There is no vodka in the marinade because the alcohol precooks the flesh and makes it tough. Like many tomato-based marinades, this is almost a brine, thanks to the salt in most tomato juice. V8 juice will also work.

BLOODY MARY CHICKEN


44chickenIngredients
12 ounces tomato juice
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon celery seed, ground up
small onion, chopped
1 lemon, juice and grated zest
12 pieces chicken, skin on

Directions
Combine ingredients through lemon juice and zest in a food processor. Process until smooth.

Place chicken pieces in one or more sealable plastic bags. Add marinade. Close bag(s) and marinate in refrigerator for at least four hours—preferably overnight.

Build fire on one side of grill. When coals are ready, place chicken, skin side up, on other side of grill and cover, leaving vent holes fully open. Let cook 10 minutes. Turn chicken over and grill, covered, for about 5 minutes. Finish over hot coals to crisp up skin.

29

07 2016

Home cooking rules at Highway Inn

Highway Inn in Honolulu
Monica Toguchi has to smile when diners at Highway Inn take one bite of their beef stew, lomi salmon or kalua pork and cabbage and ask—only half in jest— “is my mom standing in the kitchen?”

Toguchi’s grandparents Seiichi and Nancy opened the first Highway Inn in 1947 and “we’ve tried to preserve their recipes,” she says. “My focus is on serving local people—from workers in the neighborhood to governors, congressmen, and presidents of banks. You leave your pretenses at the door.”

Highway Inn grilled banana bread No one, it seems can resist chef Mike Kealoha’s secret-recipe smoked meat or the lau lau of pork shoulder and salted butterfish placed on a bed of luau leaves and then wrapped tightly in ti leaves and steamed for two hours. “Hawaiian food is simple,” Toguchi says, “but the preparation can be long and tedious.”

Toguchi left a doctoral program in Oregon to return to the family business, which she took over in 2010. I applaud her commitment to helping maintain the island’s traditional food culture. It’s precisely that mix of good, local cooking and contemporary chefs with international chops that makes dining in Honolulu so fascinating, varied and delicious.

After starting with grilled banana bread (above right), I settled on a light lunch of chicken long rice soup—a local favorite that shows the influence of the Chinese who came to Oahu to work on the plantations. I could imagine every mother on the island serving this soothing soup of chicken and noodles in a heady ginger broth to a child who complained of the sniffles. I knew that it would be just the thing for a cold winter day back home in New England and Monica was kind enough to share the recipe.

Highway Inn has two Honolulu locations: 680 Ala Moana Boulevard #105, 808-954-4955, and inside the Bishop Museum of cultural and natural history at 1525 Bernice Street, 808-954-4951, www.myhighwayinn.com.

CHICKEN LONG RICE


Highway Inn chicken long rice soup Long rice can be found in most Chinese grocery sections of supermarkets or in Asian food stores. It is not really made from rice. It is mung bean thread and is sold in cellophane packages of tangled nests of noodles.

Serves 8-12

Ingredients

2 inch piece of ginger root
3 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 qt water
salt and pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon shoyu (or strong soy sauce)
16 oz package long rice
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced

Directions

Peel and slice the ginger, then mash the slices in a mortar and pestle. Cut chicken thighs into bite-size pieces.

Add vegetable oil to large pot and fry ginger and chicken until chicken is lightly browned.

Add 2 quarts water and simmer for about one hour, or until chicken is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add chicken broth and shoyu and bring to a boil.

Soak long rice in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain and chop into 5-inch lengths. Add chopped long rice to chicken soup and cook another 10 minutes, or until long rice is tender. Stir in sliced green onions and serve.

23

03 2016

Stretching black truffles with alioli

chicken salad with black truffle alioil
The good and bad side of fresh truffles is that you have to eat them up right away because they only keep for a week or two in the refrigerator, even if you let them breathe every day when you change the absorbent paper in the container. In the process of eating them up, it’s easy to have a lot of truffle “crumbs” or extra shavings. The solution to that problem is truffle alioli, the Catalan answer to mayonnaise. We made a pretty big batch (nearly 2 cups) and used it to make potato salad (with sliced boiled potatoes, minced onion, chopped boiled egg, and minced celery) and to make a delicious chicken salad. The secret to great alioli is to store the eggs in a sealed container with a truffle for a few days.

BLACK TRUFFLE ALIOLI


4 large cloves garlic, peeled and grated
20 grams grated black truffle
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients except the oil in a food processor fitted with steel blade and process to mix. Add olive oil in a slow drizzle with processor running. The alioli will have the texture of thick mayonnaise. Add extra lemon juice or salt to taste. Store overnight, as garlic will mellow and truffle will permeate the alioli.

TRUFFLE ALIOLI CHICKEN SALAD


This is the dish pictured at the top of this post.

1 large chicken breast, roasted in wood oven (or on charcoal grill via indirect heat)
3 stalks celery
6-8 fresh figs
1 shallot, minced
3/4 cup alioli (see above)
black truffle shavings

Remove skin and cut chicken off bone. Dice into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut celery stalks into 1/2-inch wide strips, then cut very thin slices on the diagonal. Destem figs and dice. Combine chicken, celery, and figs with minced shallot and mix together. Add alioli. Serve on lettuce with fresh tomato, topped with a few shavings of black truffle.

20

07 2015

Yucatan tortilla soup goes bright with limes

tortilla soup with lime We thought we might be done adding versions of tortilla soup to our repertoire after our encounter with Loteria Grill at LAX, but then Cancun’s tourism office sent us a batch of recipes that included a classic sopa de lima, or “lime soup” and we headed back into the kitchen to perfect our own version of this chicken tortilla soup with a heavy dose of vegetables and tart lime juice. It’s definitely Mexican comfort food, but with a Yucatecan accent. We tweaked the traditional recipe to trim some of the fat and emphasize the fresh flavors.

SOPA DE LIMA YUCATECA
Serves 6-8

In the traditional preparation of this dish, the tortilla strips are fried in vegetable oil until brown. We prefer the cleaner corn flavor you get by toasting them in the oven, which also saves a lot of calories. The recipe calls for Mexican oregano (also known as marjoram), but Italian oregano can be substituted for a more herbaceous flavor.

Ingredients

8 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 large serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
8 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 green onions, finely chopped
3 limes, juiced (about 1/3 cup)
1 large avocado, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Directions

1. Set oven to 375°F. Cut the tortillas into 1/4-inch strips. Place on narrow mesh cooling racks and set racks in middle of preheated oven. Bake 6-8 minutes or until golden brown. Remove immediately and turn out on counter to cool. Depending on oven and rack size, you may have to toast chips in batches. Set toasted chips aside.

2. Place oil in a large saucepan and add the chopped onion, celery, carrot, and serrano pepper. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf and Mexican oregano and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the tomato and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring, until the tomato is softened and has released its liquid and the mixture is nearly dry (4 to 5 minutes).

3. Add the chicken stock and chicken breasts and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook until the chicken is just cooked through (12-15 minutes). Remove chicken from the soup and set aside until cool enough to handle. Allow soup to continue simmering.

4. When the chicken has cooled a bit, shred into bite-size pieces and return to the pot along with the green onions and lime juice. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the chicken is heated through and the soup is piping hot. Season the soup to taste with salt and ladle the soup into wide soup bowls, with a handful of tortilla strips added to each bowl. Garnish with the avocado and cilantro and serve immediately.

11

11 2014

Sustenio’s escabeche puts zing on the plate

Sustenio charcuterie
The San Antonio outpost of super chef Stephan Pyles, Sustenio at the Eilan Hotel (18603 La Cantera Terrace, San Antonio, 210-598-2950, www.eilanhotel.com), veers more toward Mediterranean cuisine than his Dallas restaurants, which range from the made-in-Texas cookery of Stampede 66 to the global fusion of his eponymous dining room. Sustenio Mike Collins With executive chef Mike Collins (right) in the kitchen, Sustenio presents a light and bright Mediterranean option to San Antonio diners who are often otherwise forced to pick between Mexican cooking and a steakhouse. The menu is especially strong on charcuterie (top), much of it made in house. Those plates are great for munching at the bar with craft cocktails before sitting down to a table and tucking into tandoori-style roast salmon (below).

Sustenio salmonWhen we ate at Sustenio in May during Culinaria, Collins was kind enough to share a number of recipes with us, though many of them were pretty daunting. One of our favorites, though, was his version of escabeche. Collins often serves mussels in escabeche. They’re steamed first, then marinated for at least two hours in the tangy sauce. The bright orange flavor is a nice complement to the meaty, briny shellfish. We also thought Collins’ version would work well with chicken, which we first tried on skewers at Tragatapas in Ronda, Spain (C/ Nueva 4, Ronda, 011-34-952-877-209, www.tragatapas.com). When we went to the market and found grape tomatoes and colored carrots, the following dish was born.

Skewers
ESCABECHE CHICKEN AND CARROT SKEWERS

You have to plan ahead for this dish, as the chicken and carrots should marinate overnight in the escabeche. We serve the skewers cold with a variation on Caprese salad: chopped fresh tomato and tiny balls of fresh mozzarella tossed with couscous and sprinkled with chopped basil.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For escabeche
juice and grated zest of 2 Valencia oranges
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
3 whole allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt

For skewers
8 ounces wood-roasted chicken breast
1 1/2 cups carrot rounds, steamed al dente (about 3 minutes)
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes
bamboo skewers

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients for the escabeche and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for five minutes and cool.

2. Once the liquid is cool, cut the chicken in half-inch cubes and add to escabeche with carrot rounds. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Before assembly, dip the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds and slip off skins.

4. Make skewers, alternating chicken with carrot rounds and tomatoes.

29

07 2014

What to eat at the San Antonio airport (SAT)

La Gloria The 8 million people a year who fly through San Antonio’s airport (SAT) used to be forced to fall back on fast food chains for something to eat. But last year local chef Johnny Hernandez came to their rescue by opening La Gloria in July and The Fruteria in December. Waitress Ana Mendez at La Gloria explains the reaction of most travelers: “They come in here and think they’re going to get Tex-Mex,” she says. It’s a natural expectation, given that San Antonio might well be the capital of Tex-Mex cuisine. “They’re surprised that it’s real Mexican food. People really like it.”

wide mural2 The mural inside La Gloria might say it best: No hace falta morir para llegar a la gloria. That translates loosely as “You don’t have to die to go to heaven.”

Both La Gloria and La Fruteria open early in the morning, making either a perfect place to start the day in the airport. The most popular breakfast plate at La Gloria is the Mexican brunch classic, chilaquiles verdes. A dish originally designed to use leftovers, it’s a casserole of tortillas simmered in a tomatillo-green chile sauce. At La Gloria, the chilaquiles come with shredded chicken, queso fresco, and black beans.

Mural diner La Fruteria’s meal offerings are more limited, emphasizing fresh fruit and vegetable juices along with sandwiches (tortas), tostadas, and salads. But for later in the day, both spots have a great selection of tequilas, including both tequila and mezcal that Hernandez has made for him in Mexico. They go into inventive drinks like the mango melon margarita or the piña mezcal margarita.

We’re heard complaints about slow service at La Gloria, but only during really busy travel times, such as holiday periods. Our experience was altogether different — the food almost came too quickly, given the time we had left to kill. But the flavors were the best part: Real Mexican dishes with authentic flavors, including outstanding fresh tortillas.

The mural motto has it just about right.

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01

06 2014

Montgomery’s Central reinterprets a Southern classic

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Montgomery, Alabama, likes to call itself the place where both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement started. But this historic city also looks forward as well as back. The handsome warehouses and other buildings along the riverfront have been spruced up as the Downtown Entertainment District. Central restaurant (129 Coosa St., 334-517-1121, www.central129coosa.com) epitomizes the style: It occupies an 1890s warehouse with high ceilings and warm, exposed-brick walls. An open kitchen brings the space to life as cooks execute the refined comfort food of tattooed and bearded executive chef Leonardo Maurelli III. Originally from Panama, Maurelli is a big proponent of Southern cuisine—as long as he can add his own innovations.

He has created a sophisticated twist on chicken and dumplings, substituting toothy potato gnocchi for the usually doughy dumplings and tossing the gnocchi with wood-roasted chicken, peas, carrots, and celery in an herbed veloute.

Chef Maurelli shared the recipe sized by single portions, and I’ve adapted it to make two servings.  The chicken, which is roasted with indirect heat from a wood fire, is brined for 24 hours in a standard brine (3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt, 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar, 6 cups of water). Maurelli removes the bird from the brine and lets it rest an hour before roasting.

CENTRAL’S CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS

Maurelli makes his own potato gnocchi from scratch, but I generally substitute a very good commercial version. Maurelli’s mirepoix is a standard ratio of 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, and 1 part celery. See the veloute recipe below for my take on Central’s rich veloute.
chicken and dumplings

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces of potato gnocchi (blanched)
2 tablespoons water
1 cup mirepoix
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, sliced paper thin
3 cloves of garlic, sliced paper thin
6 ounces wood-roasted chicken breast, medium dice
1/2 cup green peas (frozen hold best)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 1/4 cups fine herb chicken veloute

Directions

Flash fry the gnocchi until crisp, about 3 minutes, and place on paper towels to remove excess grease.

Place water in small frying pan and add mirepoix. Turn heat on high and cook for about 45 seconds after water boils. Drain mirepoix and set aside.

In a separate skillet, over medium heat, place olive oil with finely sliced shallot and garlic. Sauté until caramelized (about 2 minutes). Add mirepoix, chicken, and peas and sauté. Deglaze skillet with white wine and cook off alcohol (about 1 minute).

Add veloute and bring to a simmer. Once sauce is simmering add the gnocchi, quickly toss and serve immediately to make sure the gnocchi are still crisp.

Garnish with local herbs, or micro greens.

CHICKEN VELOUTE

Maurelli usually uses a mix of thyme, rosemary, and parsley to season the veloute.

32 ounces chicken stock
6 tablespoons clarified butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 ounces of chopped fresh herbs

Bring stock to a simmer.

In a separate skillet, heat butter and use a wooden spoon to blend in flour start to create a roux. Be careful not to brown the roux, but cook slowly until the raw flour taste is gone.

Once roux is done, slowly whisk in the stock one-quarter cup at a time. Whisk constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 20 minutes, add fresh herbs, and let cool. I use leftover veloute as a cream sauce for dishes like chicken tetrazzini or simple sliced meat and gravy on toast or rice.

13

05 2014

Gourmet chicken salad at Mobile’s Spot of Tea

Calvert's Gourmet Chicken Salad
For truly ambitious eaters, the state of Alabama has come up with a handy list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” It’s a big undertaking, but I got a start when I partied in Mobile during Mardi Gras. Located across the street from Cathedral Square, Spot of Tea (310 Dauphin St., 251-433-9009, www.spotoftea.com) is right in the middle of the festivities and is also one of the few restaurants in the state to be recognized for two standout dishes. In this case, it’s two breakfast dishes: Bananas Foster French Toast and Eggs Cathedral (a variation on Eggs Benedict featuring local seafood). Locals are just as likely to stop in for lunch and it’s a good bet that they will order the “gourmet chicken salad,” either as a sandwich or atop a salad. The recipe, which uses only white meat chicken, was passed down from the grandmother of owner Ruby Moore (That’s Ruby below.)


CALVERT’S GOURMETRuby at Spot of Tea
CHICKEN SALAD

This is the version as served at Spot of Tea in Mobile. I prefer using 1 teaspoon of ground celery seed in place of the celery salt, as it lets me adjust the seasoning more carefully. I also prefer using roast chicken breasts to poached breasts, though that’s truly a matter of taste. Finally, I sometimes substitute fresh goat cheese (chèvre) for part or all of the cream cheese. It makes a slightly drier, more tangy chicken salad.

Serves 10

Ingredients
3 lb. boneless chicken breast
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. mayonnaise
4 ribs celery, chopped fine
celery salt
salt
black pepper
4 oz. pecans, chopped fine

Directions
1. Poach chicken until fully tender. Cool under cold water, pat dry, and dice.
2. Add cream cheese, mayonnaise, chopped celery, and chopped pecans.
3. Adjust to taste with celery salt, pepper, and salt. Blend well. If not creamy enough, add more mayonnaise.

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04 2014