Iron Chef: Thanksgiving

“Iron Chef?” you ask. How hard can it be for a couple of line cooks to pull of 7 courses for 12 people in 2 days? Especially in San Francisco, where we’re gifted with beautiful produce and incredibly reputable butchers to fill our fridges and pantries…

Well, take a look at my kitchen:

That’s the challenge, my food loving friends. The 2nd annual Ally-Griz Thanksgiving comes out of a 6×6 foot kitchen equipped with a charming 4 burner electric range with a 2 rack oven that runs  50-100 degrees low (mostly, it does what it feels like doing). Good thing we decided on a course of 3lbs of grilled skirt steak.

In honesty, though, through the frustrations and drunken cooking, it’s a great challenge and it’s so much fun to cook our own menu with each other, for our friends and family.

Last year, we did a truffled duck with blackberry-ricotta stuffing, 12 Chimay Reserve braised lamb shanks, with piles of sides of I can’t even remember what else all in ONE DAY. This year, we started early. Tuesday we rummaged around the Ferry Building market for the beautiful veggies we needed, trampled around groceries stores, bodegas and produces markets for all we needed. Got it done. Except for the butcher – even though our order was put in to be picked up on Tuesday, it wasn’t there. We interupted our day of pre-cooking on Wednesday to go back, only for another disaster. But I won’t go into it. I’m starting to see red and relive a rage blackout, as I call it. I won’t name names, because he promised to make it up to us, come Christmas. If this happens, all is well. If not, you’ll hear all about it.

Over time, Griz and I have watched each other struggle through the pains of the industry, as well as watch each other develop our respective skill. This year, we really emulsified (a little culinary pun, if you will) our differing styles and techniques to creates some amazing dishes. The big winner, by far, was the first course:

    Chicken Liver Mousse with Quick Pickled Red Onions and Olive Oil Crostini

    Acorn Squash “Fondue” with Gruyere and Ementhaler, back by popular demand

    Then lighten it up with Tatsoi, Orach, Peppercress, Watermelon Radish with Satsuma-Champagne Vinaigrette

how bout that plating?

Roasted Game Hen in a Ham & Citrus Brine w/ Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, Stuffing w/ Roasted Delicata Squash, Heirloom Peppers, Rainbow Chard & Golden Raisins

Here’s the brine:

Here’s the little ladies moisturizing their skin with a gremolata butter, getting ready for their sauna:

And the last savory course..

Grilled Skirt Steak w/ Creamy Green Peppercorn Vinaigrette, Butternut Squash & Potato Gratin, Roasted Brussel Sprouts w/ Lemon, Chili oil & Black Cyprus Salt

Cranberry Stuffed Quince w/ Vanilla Ice Cream & Honey (no picture…sorry)

Fresh Pears & Honey (also no picture – we were sick of it by dessert)

Now, I can’t give recipes away because they’re special products of joint efforts, but I can give you vague hints. You gotta figure out the proportions. There’s also one super important ingredient in here that makes all the difference, but I’m not telling you which one it is. It’s in there, though. Here’s the vague recipe for the BEST liver you’ll ever have, courtesy of our perfectly blended techniques:

    Sweat finely minced shallots in butter, add livers, add good Bourbon, add cream. Let them reduce to sweeten, then puree in a food processor with a whole lot of softened butter, some salt and fresh ground pepper until it reaches the desired consistency.
    When you saute the livers, brown the outside of them, but make sure to leave the inside still pink (not raw) so they’re soft.
    Let cool and put into a piping back, or a large ziplock with the tip cut off.
    Serve with toasted crostini and pickles.

Now, I know you’re saying….there’s no duck fat in this Thanksgiving?! WTF dudes?! Well, I admit…I was saying that to myself only days before, while reviewing the menu. My heart pounded and my stomach turned at the thought of a holiday passing me by free of duckfat. It was a last minute addition, and I don’t have a photo, but some lovely purprle carrots were roasted in duckfat. Delicious, simple, and ducky.

So shuttup about the duckfat already! Geez, I think you have a problem….

Next year? Maybe goose? Nah. Venison! Goose stuffed with venison? Now that’s more like it….. Griz… know you’re excited. Venison ravioli with your new pasta maker?! Let’s start talkin’ Italian Christmas.

Learning to Butcher at Local Mission Eatery

I’ll tell you now, this post isn’t for the faint at heart; if you don’t like looking at meat the way it was before it got to your plate, this might not be the right “photo essay” for you. And if you want my opinion (and since you’re reading this, you do), if you don’t want to know what and where your lamb chops were before your plate, you shouldn’t be eating them in the first place – and I say that as a former long time (10ish years) vegan who now eats anything and everything. I also say that, however, as an eater and cooker who clearly cares more about food than any single individual ever should. Thusly, I’ve been working on my butchery skills! A little bit ago, I did so with Chef Jake Des Voignes at Local Mission Eatery, where he walked us through breaking down a whole lamb and took us from this: to this: to this: I’ll try to give you an ultra-brief photographic run down the best I can…

Start at the neck, going right to left on the animal (if you’re right handed). A couple breaks, snaps, cuts and you get to these:

Sweetbreads are the various small glands throughout the body – lamb, veal, goat, whatever. These ones are under the shoulder, right where you start disconnecting the tissue to break it all down. Since they’re usually so small that they don’t have a whole lot of flavor to begin with, I really like them fried. If you cook with them, though, you can soak them in milk to pull out the excess blood that gets stored up in them, and it’ll help tenderize them a bit too. One my favorite new(ish) places, The Corner has a great veal sweetbread plate – deep friend and served with hot sauce and bacon aioli. The aioli can tend to overtake the small sweetbreads, but if you dip just right it’s delish. I definitely recommend the place.

Then you gotta break the neck off and separate the collar bone from the ribs: I call it “de-necking”, but I’m sure it’s actually just separating the collar bone from the ribs.

Make a few more cuts, breaks and trims and you get: The front legs, and:

Some more cuts: trim off the silver skin (lamb has a lot of it), et voila: now you’ve got this eerie serial killer-esque legless carcas: (creepy)

Again, more cuts and you start getting to the good stuff… and feel your way along the spine to find the sweet spot where the spine and ribs meet: and start cuttin’: Clean up the ribs…Debone the legs….

and there it is: all your lamb, ready to cook and eat….

Argentina, Parilla and a Dressed Up Don Pedro

Argentina has a specialty they call “parilla” [par-ee-sh-a]. I just call it “Mmmmmm”. Generally, most people would describe it as barbeque, but it’s not really. It’s meat (sometimes veggies, but really – these people dig on their meat like middle America digs on their soda). All kinds of meat – chorizo (pork sausage), pork chops, steak, chicken thighs, chicken sausage, blood sausage*, ribs – grilled on open air grills, sometimes tiered three and four grills high, and you can get it everywhere from street food to 5 star restaurants. Its pretty much all fantastic, even the worst of it. The best that I’ve had, however, is below:

My first trip, four years ago, on a road trip somewhere around a town called Las Flores (I think).RoadTripParilla My Spanish was so bad at the time all I could do was point on my own body to the part I wanted and wait to see if my non-verbal communication class did its job. Lucky for me, I got the ribs I had motioned for, and they came from this beautifully janky grill: RoadTripParilla2A lot of us here in America would look at that and worry about the state of it – the ash piling up on the bottom, the uncleaned grill, the crookedness of it – but that, my hungry friend, is all integral to the delicate deliciousness that is the parilla.

Fast forward to 2009, to another great open air parilla, back in Buenos Aires, in San Telmo. This nameless wonder is wallpapered with testimonial notes and drawings from patrons from all over the world:BAParilla This grill (note the ash on the bottom) is a little smaller than at most places, but oh that “choripan” (chorizo sausage in a roll, top it with chimichurri) was soooooo goood:


This, from an indoor restaurant parilla – where I’ve been twice, both times stumbling upon it, both times blowing my mind AMAZING (best pork chops I’ve ever had, no questions.):MorcillaParilla

From L to R, that’s pork chops, a deliciously rare steak, and morcilla (blood sausage). Look at the grill marks on those meats…..mmmmm. It’s good to note and nice to know, too, that these meats aren’t drowned in butter or extra grease to make them good, they’re just good quality meat cooked with love and skill as is.

HalfSteak Ohhhhhhh mama mmmmm. Just the way I like it.

And for our last meal of the trip, we went to Parilla La Rosaria, a neighborhood restaurant that a store owner recommended (also in San Telmo). Now I have to say, I love offal, and one of the best things about Argentina is how much they love it, too: moreoffal

That’s blood sausage, intestine, kidney, chorizo, tripe, and a bit of pork chop. See, look how happy I am, sitting in a lovely enclosed patio, eating delicious insides, drinking delicious Torrontes (an acidic, fruity white wine from Salta): allyOfal

And Judah’s grilled pork shoulder with perfectly grilled apples (makes me want a grill of my own to grill fruit!):ParillaPork

Here, have some chorizo. I promise it’ll make your life:


And for dessert, a Don Pedro: a scoop of ice cream in a shot of whiskey with some walnuts. Simple and delicious:DonPedro

If you’re on your way to Buenos Aires anytime soon, I’ll let you know where these places are. They’re all in San Telmo. (except for the first one, which I couldn’t help you out with, really. I don’t remember other than that it’s in Los Flores. I think….).

In the meantime, though, transport yourself to La Rosaria and try out this recipe for a Dressed Up Don Pedro:DressedUpDonPedro

For Toated Walnuts:

    1T walnuts
    1/2t butter
    pinch salt
    pinch brown sugar

    Heat butter until melted, add walnuts, salt and sugar and toast until nuts are browned.

Whiskey Whipped Cream

    1c. heavy cream
    1/4c. powdered sugar
    1 egg white
    1t. vanilla
    1 shot (1.5oz) suberb quality whiskey (a sweet aged bourbon is a good choice)

    1. Beat on high until peaks form.

Serve over shot of espresso, shot of whiskey and scoop of vanilla ice cream, top with toasted walnuts, and orange zest.