Not to pat myself on the back too eagerly, but it takes a certain talent to adapt a fancy restaurant dish into something that you’d really want to eat at home. Years ago, when I was lucky enough to eat at Jean-Georges, I ate one of his more famous dishes: a thin sliver of cauliflower balanced on a perfectly seared scallop sitting in a pool of a delightfully exotic caper raisin sauce. That sauce was unforgettable: both sweet and briny and endlessly fascinating. I knew I had to make it for Sauce Week, but I didn’t want to do anything overly fussy with the cauliflower and scallops. What I ended up making is maybe one of the best weeknight dinners I’ve ever made, and the sauce is so easy, you won’t believe your eyes.
When Rebecca Charles of New York’s celebrated Pearl Oyster Bar first taught me the recipe for her scallop chowder, I asked if it was possible to substitute milk for the cream. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Why would you want to do that?” she asked. Good question.
This recipe (featured in SECRETS OF THE BEST CHEFS, a great holiday gift!) is one of the simplest, most comforting winter foods you can possibly make. Turns out, it’s all about the cream which has the remarkable ability to take on whatever flavors you heat it up with. In dessert, that flavored mixture becomes ice cream; here it becomes chowder.
The first time that I heard the word Sriracha, it was on an episode of “Top Chef” where the chefs tried to make Sriracha ice cream. Even though I’d been eating Thai food since college (at Doc Chey’s Noodle House in Atlanta) and I’d seen the red bottle on the table with the rooster logo, I didn’t know the name of the sauce that it contained.
But Sriracha, a spicy emulsion of chilis, garlic, and vinegar, is prized by chefs all over. You can find it in most speciality stores (Whole Foods has it in the international aisle) and if you squeeze a bit on to your take-out Chinese food or Thai noodles, you’ll punch everything up into the stratosphere. Your mouth will cry: “Oh baby.”
This morning I tweaked a recipe and I wasn’t even cooking. I was reading Twitter (as I do every morning after reading The New York Times, Google Reader, and checking Facebook) and I saw my friend Elise Tweet about her beet hummus. I clicked to the recipe (see here) and then I Tweeted to her: “Have you considered adding horseradish to your beet hummus? I wonder if that’d work?” She Tweeted back: “love the idea of adding horseradish to the beet hummus. yummmmmmm.” That’s what’s known as a Tweet tweak and it’s just one example of the many tweaks I’ve been tweaking, lately, in my newfound life as a recipe tweaker.
Visions of food sometimes arrive and you wave them away like an annoying fly. “Why am I craving lobster bisque right now?” you ask yourself while castrating a horse. “Get that craving out of my head!”
But what you don’t realize, person who is reading this, is that a craving is a gift, assistance from the great beyond advising you on what precisely you are crying out for in the deepest, most desperate part of your soul.
Take the experience I had yesterday. I was leaving work at Food Network (you have to call it Food Network, not “The Food Network” or you get fired) and I walked past the seafood store down there in the Chelsea Market and I had a vision of scallops on a citrus risotto. Was I craving this? Not necessarily. Did I really want scallops for dinner? Maybe, I wasn’t sure. But that vision was insistent. “You must make me,” the vision kept saying. “Scallops and citrus risotto is what you will eat.”
Finally, I caved and bought a pound of large, diver scallops which I brought back on the subway (my lucky subway neighbors!) and when I got off the train I hurried home to look up the citrus risotto from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I also read about it online and after reading my friend Heidi’s post on the recipe (a basic risotto recipe with grapefruit and lime segments added in) I took her conclusion to heart: “god, this would be great with oranges or lemons.”
I made a citrus risotto with lime segments, grapefruit segements and the segments and juice from a navel orange. I seared the scallops Batali-style in a non-stick skillet. And friends, believe me when I tell you, this dinner was a triumph.
I know it’s a triumph because Craig’s reaction to a pretty good meal is often a head-nod; his reaction to a triumph is: “Oh my God, this is so good. What did you put in this? I love this.”
Don’t thank me, Craig: thank my vision. What follows is how you can realize my vision at home….