The little bit extra, that sauce, juice or trim that just doesn’t get in our presentation. Unlocking the hidden potential behind those little extras leads to the creation of new and exciting dishes that begin with a familiar flavor but take you on a completely different culinary journey.
One of my favorite dishes at Inspired Occasions has to be our Zinfandel Braised Beef Short Ribs. The tender braised beef yields to the barest pressure of your fork while the sauce gently coats the ribs like a velvet blanket. It is my opinion that there is never a bad time of the year for these delicious treats, and with each batch we make comes a new opportunity for creativity. When we make short ribs we usually make by the dozens, and when you make that many ribs you end up with a lot of extra sauce! I have never had a good use for the extra sauce besides being sopped up bread (actually that’s a perfectly good use for the sauce) until now. We took the extra sauce and all the trimmings and made a hearty vegetable ragout tossed with rigatoni pasta and freshly shaved parmesan cheese. The ragout was prepared by sautéing a mirepoix until golden, adding the trimmings, sauce, san marzano tomatoes with some bold red wine. This was left to simmer away slowly filling the kitchen with the mouth-watering perfume of braising meats. To make the ragout truly hearty we added some sautéed fresh zucchini and yellow squash with a touch of fresh ground chilies from the garden. After about an hour of low and slow love the flavor was deep and intense, every spoonful of the ragout coated your mouth in that rich unctuousness of low and slow braised meats and the hearty taste of the sweet vegetables with a slight kick from the chilies. As the sauce finished cooking we tossed in some rigatoni still dripping from the water and a healthy handful of shaved parmesan. The pasta, parmesan and thick rigatoni created a substantial dish that would satisfy even the most carnivorous appetite.
Now let’s talk about some lighter fare, and a throwback to my days of hosting fiesta Friday! Every fiesta I would always make a bowl of Pico de Gallo, a beautiful mix of fresh tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, lime juice, cilantro and a touch of garlic. My issue with Pico was that when you salt and lime the tomatoes they expel so much of thier flavorful juice. This juice is usually drained off by our staff before service at an event, but why did it have to be that way? We decided to take the Pico juice and make a light and refreshing Mexican style cous cous with a lime and cilantro marinated and grilled chicken breast. The cous cous was made by bringing the Pico liquid to a simmer then pouring it all over the small grain cous cous. After a few minutes we raked the cous cous with a fork to separate every grain making the dish light and fluffy. It was then chilled and mixed with some fresh Pico and topped with our marinated lime and cilantro grilled chicken. The flavors were so vibrant with the fresh lime juice, the sweet summertime flavor of the tomatoes, the subtle heat of the jalapeno, and the tropical taste of the cilantro. This dish makes for a perfect lunch date for any time of year.
Sometimes when we are cooking we have to trim some products to get exactly what we want, leaving some very tasty bits for all the kitchen crew to enjoy. But much to the chagrin of my coworkers I found an amazing new use for one of my favorite items in our kitchen, our signature grilled marinated artichokes! We took the grilled stems, that are normally trimmed, and pulsed them in a food processor with some extra virgin olive oil, shaved parmesan, lemon juice and zest, a touch of tabasco, and our secret ingredient preserved lemon salt (the left over salt from preserving our own lemons). This pesto was a punch to the taste buds with a bright flavorful bite of lemon and sweet artichoke complimented by the char and smoke from the grill. We spread this on little slider buns topped with grilled chicken and a healthy slice of fresh seasoned tomato. A perfect bite!
Now this next idea is both a little crazy and a lot of hard to believe but hear me out and you will be treated to a tale of culinary wonderment. Over the summer we smoke quite a lot of ribs, brisket, chicken and other such land and sea animals. But one day we were packing our smoker full of pork ribs, 18 slabs in total filling up every available inch of space. We use rimmed sheet pans under the rack to catch all the drippings and then use that to baste the ribs. I took all the accumulated liquid, placed it in a big pot and started to reduce. After a few minutes everyone in the kitchen became curious, the smell alone was bringing them all in like a BBQ version of the pied piper. The broth tasted like the essence of smoked ribs, a pure liquid version of everything good about BBQ. That’s when the old brainstorm clouds started to move in and the madness began. I grabbed an old Larouse and brushed up on my consume technique. We gave it a go, and ended up with a dark tea colored clarified broth! To complicate the madness we made little balls out of some uncooked roasted poblano cheddar cheese grits and deep fried them to golden perfection. When you bring them both together you now have a hot cup of…. BBQ Matzo Ball Soup! The BBQ broth brings forth the entire flavor of the smoker, the essence of BBQ, while the grits act like the matzo balls but with a fun spice and texture all their own. A truly “something out of nothing” dish that is so good it’s just funny!
Stay tuned for more inspired dishes from Lon Lane's Inspired Occasions Research and Development Department!