On Figuring It Out

Chef recipes, no-recipe recipes, cocktails, books, movies and more...

Adapting chef recipes …

We’ve had lot of fun cooking during the past couple weeks, and the overarching theme of it has been adapting some of our favorite chef dishes for my home kitchen. I stress my kitchen for several reasons: mine has a gas stove, maybe yours doesn’t. My kitchen, where I cook neck and neck with my wife, Ann, is in a loft on the west side of Providence, RI. This means that it’s a decent-sized kitchen. Maybe yours is like ours when we’re in the West Village: teensy.

My kitchen is one block away from Mekong Market, which means lemongrass and lime leaves and Thai chilis are steps away. Which means I can almost make one of my favorite soups on the planet, Jean-Georges’s coconut curry soup, which was on the opening menu at Vong, JG’s revolutionizing fusion of haute French and southeast Asian cuisines.

Recipes can’t take into account everyone’s kitchen, their available tools, available food. Therefore we always have to be flexible and adaptable in the kitchen. Especially during the pandemic.

Another Asian market, across the street from Mekong, pandemic-closed and so I cannot get fresh galangal anymore. This soup is dependent on galangal, a rhizome, like ginger, but it has a eucalyptus-like fragrance, which makes this soup ethereal. 

I ordered some from Spice Jungle. But it was dried. This meant I had to give it a lot more time to infuse the chicken broth. Not quite as good as fresh, but it added the je ne sais quois to this Thai soup that makes it so amazing. It’s likely still on the menu at The Mercer Kitchen (God bless the chefs there!) in New York’s Soho neighborhood.

I can’t recommend this soup more highly (you can replace the galangal with ginger if you want; it will be delicious but not the same). I made it last Monday night, as the wind howled. It was freezing. Ann had been teaching her NYU writing class via zoom and was exhausted.

What a night for coconut curry soup. Chicken stock fragrant with red curry paste and sautéed onion, and lime leaves and lemongrass, enriched at the end with coconut milk, garnished with shiitakes, roasted chicken leftovers, cilantro and scallion, it restored us. Ann was still talking about it the following morning. Use vegetable stock and omit the chicken for a vegetarian dish. The shiitakes are fabulous on their own in this soup.

Here is the recipe for my version of the one JGV published in the book we wrote together, JGV: A Life in 12 Recipes. (I love that title, thanks Ann!)

A Jimmy Bradley recipe interpreted …

Here’s a recipe I got from Jimmy Bradley, former chef-owner of the erstwhile Red Cat in Manhattan. He’d invited Ann and me for dinner on Derby Day during those heavenly pre-pandemic days. I joined him, julep in hand, in the backyard of his house in Charlestown, RI, to grill the fat lamb chops he’d been marinating.

He had only a gas grill, but a pal of his had given him a bundle of cedar shingles, which he kept feeding the grill to smoke the chops. They were fatty and soon the chops were engulfed in flames.

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, drawing from a vape and exhaling a fragrant plume, offering it to me. 

“Burning the shit out of them?” I asked.

He laughed.

“Best lamb chops I’ve ever had,” Ann told him when she took the first bite. She was right. Best lamb chops, ever.

The night carried on with more bourbon and laughter and an Uber home, during which I read aloud some Wallace Stephens poems Jimmy had mentioned at dinner.

The next day a text came:

Lamb marinade 

Garlic

Dijon

Curry powder

Chili flakes

Honey

Lemon juice

Evo

Water

Marinate at least 24 hours. Then char over open flame.

Now is this a recipe? I think so. Would it fly with Ina? Definitely not. Would it fly with Gabrielle Hamilton? Nope. What says Sam Sifton, creator of the no-recipes section of NYT Cooking?

“That's a classic no-recipe recipe,” Sifton emailed back. “I started the [no-recipe recipes] project on account of emails just like that one from Jimmy. He knows you'll figure it out. Love it!”

And wouldn’t you know it? Sifton told me he’s publishing the no-recipes book just days from now! Pre-order it here. I’m a huge Sifton fan and I have no doubt it will be excellent. (Did you know his that his mom was a famous editor at the esteemed Farrar Straus Giroux, his dad a Federal judge and his maternal granddad a theologen who popularized the Serenity Prayer? Talk about high-achieving families!)

The point here is, Jimmy, knew my interior kitchen. He knew I didn’t need quantities, that I’d figure it out. Sifton based a book on figuring it out. Quantities depend on the amount of lamb. I don’t have cedar shingles, nor am I about to go up on the roof and cross over to Tripp and Ed’s gas grill in the dark on a cold February night.

In the winter I use a grill pan, heating it in a 500˚F oven, both the pan and top. On the stove top, when I put the lamb in the pan, I press the top down on them with all my weight to give them nice marks, a charred flavor, and the ridged pan allows them to pick up more smoked flavor.

But the marinade—this stuff is fantastic even if you cook the lamb in a grill pan or skillet. I made an actual recipe for the marinade, here if you want to try it. I really wish I could share them with Jimmy, face to un-masked face. *sigh*

A Jonathan Waxman  recipe, followed to the T…

I was working on the third episode of my podcast From Scratch for iHeart media, an episode called “Roast,” with Jonathan Waxman (good pals with Jimmy as it happens), because Waxman was famous for his roast chicken. He got very specific about roasting a chicken at home. Listen to his precise instructions in the podcast here.

This is not the way I roast a chicken. As noted previously, I salt it heavily, throw it in a 450˚F oven for one hour, let it rest for 20 minutes. He roasts his at a lower temperature, rubs it with olive oil before hand, and, this he stressed, basting was key. I liked to baste, but it depended on if I were busy or not.

The pleasure in basting is watching the skin crackle as you spoon the hot, golden fat over it.

For the “Roast” episode, Ann and I, cooking in our West 12th St. apartment, followed Waxman’s instructions to a T. And what I saw was something new, though I’d basted a thousand birds.

Skin is composed of a layer of connective tissue (which is what gets crispy) on top of a layer of fat. The fat holds water which steams while roasting, softening the skin. Basting with the hot oil heated the fat, releasing more and more of its moisture, thus rendering the skin super crispy.

So I learned something by following a recipe exactly (though I still roast a chicken the way I roast a chicken).

A non-recipe from Waxman … the Brussels sprouts salad.

Waxman published Barbutto this past fall and we gave the actual recipe for his Brussels sprouts salad a go. It, is, fabulous. And crazy simple, doesn’t even use oil. If you can get your Brussels sprouts very thinly cut (sharp knife or mandoline), put these three things on them and toss:

  • Lemon juice

  • Grated Pecorino Romano

  • Toasted almond slivers or slices

It is so good. But Waxman has alway been a genius at simplifying.

Chef and restaurants right now…

Are hurting. Besides actually eating at restaurants or ordering carryout and leaving a generous tips, here are some other ways you can help, from Gotham mag.

Corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day? Corn your own!

Never a better time to corn your own beef. Here’s how. Here’s Sifton’s version of my version. (We haven’t seen The 40-Year-Old Version, but we highly recommend watching Wanda Version, I mean Vision. It’s a blast.)

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What we’re drinking …

Absinthe! I wanted to make a Sazerac for the weekly Friday Cocktail Hour and found a bottle of St. George’s absinthe. We made the cocktail live on IGTV and it was excellent. But so was the absinthe. 

It’s the custom to pour absinthe over a sugar cube using a special perforated spoon (I actually own one, thanks to my thoughtful beloved). I have to say, just adding a little sugar to some of this absinthe makes an excellent drink.

And another absinthe cocktail we found is the bartender and author Jim Meehan’s “The Sun Also Rises,” a rum-absinthe riff on the Hemingway Daiquiri which calls for grapefruit juice. Instagram live recording here. Emotional one for Ann, fanTASTic cocktail, and a fun Billy Collins poem.

What we’re watching…

By far the best thing we’ve seen recently is, In and of Itself, the filmed play Derek DelGaudio, a magician story-teller, created and performed hundreds of times at the Darryl Roth Theater in Manhattan. Ann and I saw it there (Derek chose Ann to leave the play and come back next night; if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about; she was Ms Tomorrow—fun!). I found the filmed version more powerful because it includes numerous iterations and interactions with the audience. We were stunned by his sleight of hand, and I found myself weeping at the audiences response. (On Hulu.)

Listen to Del Gaudio’s astonishing life on this Fresh Air episode, pegged to his memoir, Amoralman, which I intend to read.

The Sound of Metal is a brilliant film about a heavy metal drummer who goes deaf, an extraordinary performance by Riz Ahmed. Don’t let the metal part keep you away—this film is about the impact of deafness and what it means.

Also, the great Frances McDormand, gives another brilliant performance in Nomadland.

And we tuned into Dickinson, because we just got Apple TV (we’re get-rid-of-cable converts), and episode 1 of this show about the 19th century reclusive poet blew us away with it’s bizarre, surreal reimagining of Emily Dickinson’s life with period detail, contemporary speech and music, and a story line that has young Emily literally riding in a carriage with death.

What we’re reading…

Me, on Ann’s insistence: Elizabeth Bowen’s The House In Paris. How is Bowen, born in Dublin in 1899, not better known?

Ann is loving Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, says it’s bonafide page-turner. It takes place in my home town, Shaker Heights, OH, so that’s what I’m reading next.

And links we’re liking…

More evidence that drinking a lot of coffee is good for the heart, yay! (NYTimes)

I was glad to read Bret Stephen’s dismaying NYT Op-Ed on woke culture, and it ain’t fun. And I like fun, goddammit, fun is good.

The Times did kill his Op-Ed of the firing of veteran Times-man, Donald G. McNeil Jr., another sad story of woke culture. We loved and valued McNeil’s incisive reporting on Covid-19. McNeil recently published his account of the events that lead to his ouster on Medium, in four parts. Here’s Part One. I will really miss his reporting and am astonished by what The Times did. What a loss.

Want something easier on the brain? Try these word games at Haggard Hawks.

Eater looks at what people eat when they lose their sense of taste from Covid.

I had never heard of this seasoning before and intend to give it a try. Furikake, from Food52.

Just found this today, the amazing story of what was behind this woman’s mirror in her New York City apartment. Astonishing videos (the woman’s TikToks) and story from Gothamist.

And I conclude with this delightful video of Jon Batiste showing Stephen Colbert his New Orleans:

Till next time, stay safe and have fun in the kitchen!

Michael

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