Category Archives: Seasonal Cooking

Burgers and The Food Lab Cookbook

I have been reading through an excellent new cookbook called “The Food Lab” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. First of all, if you like to cook, buy the book. Kenji does a great job of demystifying the process on a number of levels and his book is also fun to read and easy to follow. The recipes are very well-tested and explained and the photography really helps with the explanatory process. As a working chef who has spent over 30 years in restaurant kitchens, I can also attest to the deliciousness of the recipes.

Lately, I have been reading through his discussion of burgers and the logic behind cooking them well. He does a great job of nailing the “smash” burger technique and his “pub-style” burger discussion is also excellent. If you read them and follow his lead you will be cooking outstanding hamburgers at home (pay special attention to his discussion of beef at the beginning of the section).

Back in 2008, when I was the executive chef of the 1770 House and cittanuova in East Hampton, NY, we decided to overhaul our burger operations at both restaurants. The first move was to come up with a better beef blend for the burgers. We had always used ground chuck that typically was eighty percent lean and twenty percent fat (80/20) and we had a pretty solid burger. But I wanted something more indulgent. I approached my friends at Main Street Meats in Farmingdale, NY about the project and after testing a lot of blends we came up with one that used beef chuck as the base and we added brisket, flap meat, and aged rib cap to finish it. The flavor was great, but the texture was not what I was looking for. We tried a grind that was coarser and we finally had our blend. The coarser grind allowed the fat to melt more slowly and gave the burger a better chew. And it was very indulgent.

My burger, originally designed for the 1770 House
My burger, originally designed for the 1770 House. Note the coarse grind of the meat.
Seasoned burger, originally designed for the 1770 House in East Hampton, NY.
Seasoned burger is ready to be smashed and griddled. Use plenty of salt and pepper.

From the standpoint of technique, the burger was already cooked using the “smash” method on a griddle but it was an eight ounce burger, closer to what Kenji refers to in his book as a “pub-style” burger. So the burger I developed for the restaurants was a mash-up of the two styles of burgers he discusses in The Food Lab. Check out my photos (from 2009 I think) and buy Kenji’s cookbook. It’s all good fun.

Toasted burger bun
Toasted burger bun is first buttered
Seasoned burger, on the griddle.
Seasoned burger, on the griddle, after the smash.
On the griddle. Designed originally for the 1770 House in East Hampton, NY. Typically between 75/25 and 80/20, ground chuck, brisket, aged rib cap.
On the griddle and after the flip. Typically between 75/25 and 80/20, ground chuck, brisket, aged rib cap and flap meat.

copyright 2015 Kevin Penner

Summer Food 2015 in Pictures

Here is a photo recollection of the things I cooked this summer and some photos of local foods as well–the things I get to cook.

Copyright 2015 Kevin Penner

Cooking on the East End at Home

I came to the east end of Long Island twenty-four years ago to open a restaurant. At that time, there were a couple of people growing vegetables to sell to restaurants, most from what were large gardens and not farms. There were some people fishing in the local waters and some baymen clamming and harvesting bay scallops who would then sell to local restaurants and markets. The wineries were mostly new and trying to figure out what grapes to grow and how to properly vinify them. Most of the local restaurants were buying their produce and meat and fish from jobbers and distributors who might also have been importers of some European products.

So it is interesting to look back at those times from the standpoint of today on the east end. The North and South Forks of Long Island have become amazing places to cook, farm, fish and make wine. We now have a large number of local oyster beds that produce some of the finest oysters in the United States. The bay scallops, which were adversely affected by a brown tide in the mid-1980s, have come back to solid levels. The wineries have refined their efforts so dramatically that solid and consistent bottlings have replaced the inconsistent and not so good offerings of the time when I came here. We have local wheat and bakers who mill that wheat and make great bread with it. Small scale food production businesses continue to blossom and sell their products in the NYC market and in some cases nationwide. A few farmers on both forks are raising cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens of outstanding quality. The farmers who focus on vegetables are now large and well managed, turning out plenty of fantastic tomatoes, greens, potatoes, onions, garlic, sweetcorn and much, much more. It is now possible to cook in a restaurant that uses almost 100% locally grown, caught and produced products. Who would have thought this was possible when I first arrived? Not me.

I will go one step further and say that right now, in 2015, there is no finer place to cook with local ingredients in the United States. There is no other place in the United States where the farming of vegetables, fruits, grains, animal husbandry, winemaking and fishing coalesce to the degree that they do here.

This is a big claim to make, I suppose, in some quarters. But there is no other wine region in the country that has the fish and shellfish available to cooks in their area in the proximity that we do here on the east end. Long Island may be a little late to the game, but it has arrived in a very big way. When you look at the area regionally instead of locally, say from Portland, Maine to northern Virginia, the agriculture, aquaculture, fishing industry and viticulture is truly amazing and often overlooked in the food press.

The food press spends far too much time fetishizing food and chefs. The most important part of what is happening to food in the US, namely the growing demand for well made, well grown, sustainably harvested and distributed foods is happening before the chefs get their deliveries or do their purchasing. It happens on the farms and in the water and in the vineyards. I think in the future we will see restaurants playing a smaller role in food culture. The larger roles will stay with the farmers, fishermen and with the people who are remaking food manufacturing in the country.

The story I want to tell takes place where I am and where I cook. But as the growth of small-scale farming and food production continues all over the country this type of cooking can happen anywhere.

I am a chef. I have been cooking as locally as possible since I was a kid in college cooking for myself. As a chef, I have always supported local vendors and will continue to do so. My next concern is to find a way to get people to learn how to cook again so that they can enjoy delicious, healthful, locally sourced foods in their own homes. People at all economic levels have come to rely on everything from shitty prepared foods sold in big box stores and supermarket chains to high-end restaurants for their sustenance. Cooking at home at a reasonably high level, with amazing local ingredients and making truly delicious food is the future.  And it is not that difficult.

This past summer was the first one in about 30 years that I didn’t spend in a restaurant kitchen. I cooked in a private home. And while I was cooking there I came to the realization that the meals I prepared could be cooked in any home that has running water, a stove, and a few kitchen tools. In the coming weeks and months, I want to provide some recipes and insights that will allow more people to enjoy cooking well, more healthfully and entertaining at home with friends and family. We’re going to be cooking on the east end and we will be cooking at home.



copyright 2015 Kevin Penner

Summer is Winding Down

Summer is winding down but there is still time to enjoy the remaining days by eating tomatoes. Panzanella is one of my favorite ways to eat them. This classic bread salad is great for entertaining at home because it can be started ahead of time and finished at the last minute.

End of Summer Panzanella
2 servings as an appetizer

Preheat an oven to 400F

100 g. fresh country bread cut into 1″ cubes
2 T. extra virgin olive oil

Toss the oil and the bread so the bread is well coated, place on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned. It should have a crispy exterior and a soft interior.

15 g. shallot, minced
15 g. garlic, minced
30 g. cherry tomatoes cut into quarters (I like Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes-they are very small and very sweet)
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. decent quality red wine
1/2 t. kosher salt
90 g. green heirloom tomatoes cut into 1″ pieces-save any juices (I like Aunt Rubie’s German Green)
90 g. red heirloom tomatoes cut into 1″ pieces-save any juices (Stick to larger beefsteak heirlooms like Black Krims)
6 basil leaves-I like Thai basil but any will do
4 T. extra virgin olive oil (Frantoia is good)

Combine all of the ingredients and mix well. The salt will draw the juice out of the tomatoes. Let the ingredients rest together at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Add the bread and let it all rest together for another 20 minutes. Mix it well again and serve in a shallow bowl or on a plate.

This salad works well as a base for grilled fish, grilled chicken, veal cutlets and other mild flavored meats.


copyright 2015 Kevin Penner