Chef Kevin Penner: Eating My Words

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Sugar Snap Peas and Ricotta Cheese

On the east end of Long Island we are currently deep in the spring season. In fact, summer starts tomorrow. In my culinary garden (and on most of the local farms) we are currently harvesting lots of spinach, swiss chard, zucchini, radishes, arugula and a LOT of lettuce variations. The local strawberries are coming in now as well as are garlic scapes, spring onions and sugar snap peas.

Sugar Snap Peas & Ricotta

Sugar Snap Peas & Ricotta

Today the peas made their debut for lunch. The combination of sugar snap peas and ricotta cheese is classic in Italian cuisine and often includes pasta in the equation. In this recipe we keep it light and fresh. I think Marc Vetri worked with this presentation in a dish at Vetri in Philadelphia but his version included nuts and other flavors. I wanted to keep this more garden-focused. Here is how it worked out:

1 pint of ricotta cheese, whipped in a food processor
1 pint of sugar snap peas, stemmed and cleaned, blanched in boiling, salted water for 1 minute and chilled
1 large torpedo shallot, minced
1 lemon with the skin microplaned and juiced
1 chive flower, flowers removed
3 T. extra virgin olive oil (I used Pianogrillo from Sicily)
Freshly gound black pepper
Jacobsen Sea Salt (other flaked sea salt works well–I like Maldon salt)

To assemble the dish:

Spoon the ricotta cheese onto a large plate and smear it back and forth. It will be a bed for everything else.

In a bowl combine the peas, shallot, lemon juice, lemon zest and olive oil. Stir them well and spoon them over the ricotta cheese.

Sprinkle the sea salt over everything and then grind the pepper over all of it. Use plenty of salt. It’s salt. Then sprinkle the chive flowers over the dish.

You can eat it as is with a fork or smear it all on toasted country bread. The delivery system is up to you.

Roasting a Chicken

I have never been a huge fan of chicken. Recently though, as better and properly raised birds have become available, I have changed my tune. Farmers like Holly Browder in Mattituck, NY use old and flavorful breeds and raise them naturally so that the birds cook well, smell great and taste intensely of chicken. Roasting a chicken is no longer a waste of time.

I have always been a reader and mostly of non-fiction. And as a chef I have always been on the lookout for better ways to do the things I do. One of the things I always check out online is the work of J. Kenji López-Alt on Serious Eats. He also has a new cookbook coming out called The Food Lab. Kenji has covered the idea of brining

Dry Brined Roasted Chicken

Dry Brined Roasted Chicken

really extensively and his dry brining technique for poultry has vastly improved chicken and turkey in America. I use it and love it. The basic idea is to combine salt and baking powder and season your chicken well ahead of cooking it. The salt will penetrate the meat and the baking powder will help to break down the proteins in the skin and allow it to cook and brown more efficiently with a crisper final outcome.

A few years ago my friend Ina Garten asked me to stop by her kitchen to be in an episode of her show The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. Ina has been a fan of my chicken dishes for a number of years at the 1770 House and this episode, Chicken 101, was dedicated to covering the basics of roasting chicken at home. My suggestions focused on finding really good chickens to cook. The dry brine takes this up a notch.

When I roast a whole chicken in this manner I do it well in advance of serving it. I give it time to rest and let the meat absorb the roasting juices. I like to remove the skin before carving the bird and I keep it crisp by putting it back in a hot oven while I break the bird down. Once the carving is done I slice the skin and arrange it randomly over the sliced chicken. It tastes good.

Bacon. Make it at Home

Bacon at Home

Bacon at Home

What is better than bacon? You can eat it for any meal of the day and sneak it into any number of dishes. It works in salads, it works in pasta dishes and it certainly works with eggs. The rendered fat can be used in a warm vinaigrette for hearty greens and and potato salads welcome it with open arms.

If you combine it with roasted shallots and sherry vinegar it works as a sauce for fish when blended with melted butter. Bacon can be used almost anywhere in a meal and it will make the meal better.

Here is how I make it. Simple, easy and versatile. Bacon is a food for every meal.

Home Cured Bacon

Ingredients

5 pounds pork belly, skin on
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 teaspoons pink curing salt
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons smoked sweet paprika

Directions
Rinse the pork belly and pat dry. Transfer to a reseal able 2-gallon plastic bag. To make the spice rub, mix the kosher salt, pink salt, brown sugar, honey, red pepper flakes, paprika and cumin in a bowl. Coat the pork belly all over with the mixture.
Close the bag and refrigerate 7 to 10 days, flipping once a day, until the pork belly feels firm. It should take 7 days for a thin belly that is about 11/2 inches thick, longer for a belly that’s 2 to 3 inches thick.

Remove the pork belly from the bag, rinse thoroughly and pat dry. Refrigerate the belly on a rack, uncovered, 48 hours.
Set up your smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions using Applewood chips, and set to 200 degrees F. Smoke the pork belly 3 hours, or until the bacon reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F.
Remove the rind (optional), then slice and cook as desired. To store, wrap the bacon in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 week or freeze up to 2 months.

All recipes here are Copyright 2014 Chef Kevin Penner

Summer and Steak

My good friend J. Kenji López-Alt from the seriously good website Serious Eats recently published a great guide to cooking steak. What could be more perfect as summer rolls around? If you take a look and follow his advice you will be eating the best steaks of your lives this summer.

Beef Rib Chops

Beef Rib Chops

An update

A new site with new content is coming soon!

More Meatloaf

Spring has Sprung

Spring seems to finally be on the horizon. The snow is melting, days are getting longer and there is anticipation about what will soon be growing and what we will be cooking.

It is always tempting at times like these to jump the gun in the kitchen. But for the next several weeks in the northeast United States we will still be relying on vegetables that have been kept through the winter.

And that’s just fine. We can still celebrate these vegetables and begin to lighten the way we handle them. Juicing the vegetables and using them to create light broths can replace roasting them for rich purees. Spice blends emphasizing more delicate flavors and aromas can replace heavier – handed combinations. The seasonal changes in fish and meat availability will take care of themselves as they always do quite well.

Now is not the time to push the seasonal changes, it is time to follow them and embrace them in their refined and natural ways.

Marco Pierre White: White Heat 25

When Marco Pierre White‘s first cookbook, White Heat, came out in 1990 I bought it right away. The package itself was quite remarkable for the time because it didn’t look like any other cookbook. Most of those books had a stodgy aesthetic designed to appeal to frumpy, self important gourmands who unapologetically used cornstarch slurries to thicken their sauces and who delighted in feathered sauce in-lays for presenting their desserts. Creme anglaise with raspberry coulis? Yep, very pretty back then. This book was, more or less, the exact opposite of all of the other cookbooks of the time.

I was working in Seattle as pastry chef for Nordstrom’s catering operation in those days. I was about five years into my career at the time and I was bouncing between the pastry and savory sides of the kitchen. Then, as now but maybe to a greater degree, cooking was a blue collar profession requiring the practitioner to disavow the life of a human being in favor of servitude, shitty hours and even shittier pay. The day I walked into University Bookstore on University Way in Seattle and saw the book on the shelves, after walking past the usual assortment of pan handlers and drug addicts, is burned into my mind. The look of the book was one thing that really resonated with me and the other was the half-hearted reference to the Velvet Underground album ‘White Light/White Heat” and the heroin-ish culture it suggested.

And then there was the food. Marco was always careful to call out those who influenced his cooking and that was unusual in those days. The Roux Brothers lemon tart and Pierre Koffmann’s pig trotter were given their full due as I recall. The various descriptions of life in the kitchen, before it became somewhat appealing, were accurately detailed. The photographs, recipes and ruminations about his food were entirely compelling and at the time a bit groundbreaking. Water Vinaigrette? I always loved that name as a compelling marketing ploy for a dish it was a part of on a menu or in a book.

So now the word comes of a 25th anniversary edition of the book. I will give it a look. I still have my original copy of it and it’s in decent shape. That is something of a miracle considering that I opened it everyday for the first two years I had it in my collection. And it is my turn to give Marco his due because I lifted a recipe or two for my menus and I might do it again.

 

Small Food: Fundraising for a Sustainable Business

In a world dominated by big businesses who feel entitled to anything they want and have no issues with leaving a trail of waste, mistreated workers and toxicity behind them we have a different proposal in mind. William S. Valentine, a friend and great chef, agrees that we need to make good food a more democratic proposition and that is why we also plan to support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans.

To that end we are moving ahead with a project tentatively called North Fork Food. You can read about it below and although no location for the business is mentioned in the post we are looking in and around Riverhead, NY which is in near to the farms, brewers and wineries of the east end of Long Island.

North Fork Foods (Penner & Valentine)

What will it be?

A butcher shop/charcuterie producer and purveyor featuring a wide variety of cured meats, smoked and made in house relying upon farmers from Long Island and upstate New York. We will also carry some of the finest internationally produced cured meats as well with products coming from Italy, Spain, France and Eastern Europe. Fresh sausages and other assorted links for cooking will also be available.

We plan to offer whole animal butchery emphasizing grass-fed and pastured beef, pork, lamb, goats, chickens, ducks and fresh eggs. A custom butchering and portion control program will figure into this too.

We will also sell locally caught smoked and cured fish and a wide variety of house cured/preserved/pickled and fermented vegetables and condiments such as hot sauces, kimchi, mustard and aioli. We plan on offering a line of unique dairy products such as house churned butter, yogurt, cheese, crème fraiche and tofu as well as a curated selection of retail and consumer packaged goods from food artisans on the east end and all of Long Island.
The overarching focus will be on local, sustainable, organic, antibiotic/growth hormone-free products and our packaging will be reusable and compostable.

Cooking classes, food preservation classes, knife skills and fish and meat fabrication courses will be available to interested people as well.

It is our intention to sell to retail and wholesale customers such as restaurants and specialty food retailers and we hope to develop a robust e-commerce business as a part of what we do.

The principles are chefs William S. Valentine and Kevin Penner who between them have 60 years of cooking and food preparation experience in restaurants, food manufacturing and recipe development/consulting.
It would also be nice to open a store featuring NYS wines and spirits next door to provide one stop shopping. We are open to adding this to the concept.

We are in full fundraising mode and are searching for a suitable location for the business on eastern Long Island. We anticipate working with a crowd-funding platform and are open to angel investors and venture capital groups. Equity will be available for qualified investors.

If you have any questions feel free to email us at valentineculinary@gmail.com or chefkevinpenner@gmail.com for more information.

Disruptions in Food: New Models

The upcoming period of disruption in the world of food will be staggering. In my opinion companies like McDonald’s and other fast food giants will not be climbing back on top. Millennials can see past the old marketing models and they don’t seem to have much interest in fast food.

In this post I want to simply list some interesting new things on the food horizon and briefly look at how they are a threat to the things as they are in the food and restaurant (and even spirits) industries in America. These lists are far from exhaustive–feel free to comment and add more.

 

Fresh Casual Operators (Restaurants)

A couple of these businesses haven’t even launched yet and some have been around for a while but have been nimble enough to refocus their direction. Feel free to discuss via email at chefkevinpenner@gmail.com.

 

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