LOOK HOMEWARD, CHEF
What does it mean to approach food from a perspective? When we eat new foods and spices do we feel a rush of excitement? Is the unknown enticing? We start out with the basic set of senses for taste and texture. Sense of taste changes every decade or less. What was repulsive at 12 is a culinary siren at 30 and beyond. If all a person eats is canned or frozen then fresh is going to taste odd. If all we eat is fresh and clean, then it follows that foods heavily processed (preservatives, color agents, chemical or radiation treated) are practically indigestible. Part of the work of a chef is to bring the diner around into overcoming prejudice, the rest is to provide delicious.
We will be preparing tuna with melon, pecans, horseradish, sushi ginger and rice vinegar; bay scallop gazpacho; fried chili chicken with sweet gherkin pickles, orange zest and pickled peppers. Each dish symbolizes how we look homeward and outward at the same time without losing our identity or our culinary heritage. All recipes are for 2 people.
Once prejudice is removed then all it takes is a set of well prepared and presented ingredients to open the great gates of world cuisine. For me, I come from the perspective of a traveling Georgian, a deep South Southerner who has lived on both Coasts as well as Mackinac Island, MI with an all too brief time with Chefs in Shanghai. The good part is that I was raised in a home free of prejudice, both in life and in food. I began my apprenticeship when my sense of the world was still forming. These experiences infuse my food. Use your life as a part of your food.
Shop local, love the farms in your surrounding counties, buy clean meats and sustainable seafood. Northern California was almost all local as far back as the late 1970s. Georgia is making great progress and the Athens Locally Grown group is the prime example of how Georgia can make it work. If not local such as black peppercorns or salt, oranges or vinegar, then buy in quantities you will soon use in a relatively short amount of time. Dried herbs and spices do lose flavor with age. Use your own experiences to understand what quantities you will need. It is not the fault of the innocent spice if it is not used. Support the restaurants and grocers who are truthful and who care, the food will reveal this attention to ingredients.
Examples of fried chicken around the world: Nouvelle fried in walnut oil with orange zest in the breading, Sichuan with prickly ash and wild mushrooms, Korean with panko and sweet persimmon vinegar and back again to slow fried in peanut oil or lard the way my Grandmother did from the Great Depression on into the modern age. As a note, oven fried is very good, use mayonnaise or brown mustard after dusting with flour to coat the chicken, roll in bread crumbs and then bake “oven fry”.
Combinations of ingredients can move a dish from Georgia to the Caucasus’ to the Indian Ocean with the ease of one or two spice changes. Once one understands that wasabi, horseradish and mustards are all members of the cabbage family then it becomes obvious that this ingredient can be switched around with relative ease in such a way that we can have potatoes (Original Home: PERU), tomatoes, seafood or beef given a lift with a small shaving of any of the popular cabbages (the World), be it wasabi or horseradish. An open mind does change our perceptions and opens life in ways far beyond the culinary.
Hence the adventure begins. ALL food is fusion, is world cuisine, is rooted in a geographical place and is extended to new lands as human migration takes place historically and today. Think about the Southern debt to Africa, France, Latin American and the British Isles in the creation of Southern Cuisine. It took about 225 years but it did take and is still evolving.
We all have a favorite gazpacho. Some people just do not like cold soup. Convince them it is just a cold appetizer for a hot day. This recipe has bay scallops because they are sweet, delicious and easy to prepare. They are also easy to ruin so follow cook times exactly. Overcooked they taste like erasers. Remember high school, chewing on the end of your #2 pencil during the SAT? That kind of taste, yeah.
If very fresh they can be added raw to the soup when you put it in the refrigerator. The acids from the ingredients will cook it in the same way that ceviche is cooked. This process is called denaturing. If you do feel comfortable with this then poach the scallops, shrimp or seafood you are using.
Do not use any kind of food processor or blender for the vegetables, no matter how much you want to just drop it all in and hit “start”, don’t do it. Mince by had. Keep the integrity of the ingredients intact. Respect the integrity of your foods. Processed they become irregular and lose their juices. The liquid for your gazpacho is from the tomato juice and ice cubes not from processed vegetables.
4 ounces red bell peppers, seeded, no pith, minced
2 ounces red onions, minced
6 ounces tomatoes, seeded, no pith, minced
3 ounces cucumber, peeled, seeded, minced
1 ounce pomegranate vinegar
¼ teaspoon garlic, fresh, very thinly shaved with a microplane
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1/4th teaspoon black pepper, coarse
1/3rd teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup tomato juice
4 ice cubes
2 ounces bay scallops, poached ONE minute, temperature is 160 degrees
3 ounces water
3 ounces apple juice
Poach and chill.
AT SERVICE ADD:
8 garlic croutons
2 leaves cilantro
¼ teaspoon Cholula or Srirracha
Your choice: ½ ounce per bowl tequila (optional)
Prepare cold ingredients.
Chill for 4 hours and no longer than 3 days before eating. As it rests the flavors will finish combining, this is cold cooking. The seafood cooks the whole time it is in the soup. If you will not eat the soup the day you make it then add the scallops a couple of hours before dining. The raw flavors are what makes gazpacho so perfect for summer. Healthy and refreshing.
PECAN AND MELON TUNA
Buy what is called “saku block” tuna. It is frozen as all tuna is because of regulations regarding histamines in tuna. Law is that it is frozen 72 hours at Zero degrees Fahrenheit. This can be purchased at Asian grocers. The combinations in this dish give an charming sense of cool ocean sides and backyard under the elms and magnolia. Tuna and watermelon are a match made for the modern palate, perfectly combing salt, sour, wood and sweet with the added attraction of umami (delicious, fifth flavor) by way of green tea.
4 ounces Yellowfin tuna, slice paper thin while partially frozen
1 tablespoon Sushi ginger, chopped
1 tablespoon Sweet rice vinegar
8 Pecans halves, toasted
2 ounces Watermelon, thinly sliced, cut in thin strips
3 leaves Basil
1/8th teaspoon Green tea leaves
1/4th teaspoon Lime juice
¼ teaspoon Wasabi paste
1/8 teaspoon Sea salt
Shave the tuna as thin as possible. Doing this while it is partially frozen makes the task very easy. Except for the pecans everything in this dish is sliced thin. Make all preparations and chill.
When it is time to serve rub an 1/8th of a teaspoon of wasabi paste on each plate. Place watermelon tuna in a small mound in center of plate. Garnish with pecans. Sprinkle sea salt over the watermelon tuna. If you want to make it more of a salad use spinach or mizuna greens as a base under the watermelon tuna.
WATERMELON TUNA BITES
This is my absolute favorite amusee or sashimi presentation. Again, it meets all criteria for the five flavors of hot, sour, salty, sweet and umami (delicious/mouth watering). Buy the sushi ginger, tobiko (seasoned flying fish roe) and nori (dried seaweed) at any Asian grocer or Earthfare. The purpose of the flavors is to present the sense of standing on the beach, this is by way of the combination of ingredients. Eat one, close your eyes and breath.
The tuna, watermelon and nori must be cut in equal sized quarter inch squares.
2 ounces tuna, cut in 6 squares
2 ounces watermelon, cut in 6 squares
1 sheet nori, cut 6 small squares
1 tablespoon tobiko
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
6 sushi ginger, thin slices
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Pour the rice vinegar into a small bowl. Dip your fingertips into the vinegar while making this bite. Pour soy sauce into small bowl. Touch your fingertip into the soy and then on the top of the watermelon; this really is all the soy you need for this dish. Stack: bottom is tuna, then nori, watermelon, ginger then tobiko in that order with tobiko on top. Set on cold plate. Serve immediately.
FRIED CHICKEN THIGHS
2 Chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
1 cup Buttermilk
1/4th cup Plain Flour
1/5th cup Cold Water
1/3rd cup Avery Fried Chicken seasoned flour (Sometimes you just have to give in to a favorite.)
4 Sweet gherkin pickles, cut in half longways
2 cups Peanut oil, heated to 350 degrees before adding meat
1 tablespoon Sliced Pickled peppers
2 teaspoons Orange zest
3 tablespoons Sweet Chili Sauce
6 dashes Cholula
1 ounce Rice vinegar
1/3rd teaspoon kosher salt
Combine in bowl.
Put chicken in 1 cup buttermilk, cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove chicken from buttermilk and drain off excess liquid. Dust with flour and let stand five minutes. Sprinkle thighs with cold water. In a paper or plastic bag shake the chicken with the seasoned flour.
Dust pickles with flour, the water, then in bag with seasoned flour.
Fry chicken for 11 minutes, turn every 2 minutes. Keep oil temperature at 325 degrees. Remove and test temperature for 165 degrees inside the chicken.
Add pickles to oil and fry for two minutes at 350 degrees. Remove and drain.
Put chicken in bowl with peppers, orange and sauces, move it around to make sure that the thighs are covered.
Place one thigh on each plate, then the pickles, pour ingredients from the bowl over the thigh. Serve with your choice of breads.
And there we have a light three course meal for these hot summer days and nights of our beautiful, green and humid Georgia. Thoughts of the great Southern writer, Thomas Wolfe stayed with me for this column. No matter how far I travel my home is the South, culinary, spiritually and family. Peace.
Still life moves.
The way the world changes
Is too much sometimes,
And then it slows down
To perfect measures.
An open hand.
Turning everything over,
Revealing lives together
By a grove of purple plums,
We move into the shade
Of giant tulip maple trees
And cool by the road,
For more than awhile.
And so we are.
An open love.