Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Seared into Memory

Our last Family Meal buffet, tonight’s specialty of the house is to create a pasta bar. Chef Wanda gave me boneless chicken breasts to trim and marinate however I wished – I worked on the marinade using white wine, fresh thyme, crushed garlic, dried herbs and slices of fresh lemon. The chicken marinated for about 45 minutes while we decided how we are going to combine our available ingredients to make something delicious.

We decided to roast some red peppers, blanch lots of broccoli and make a garlic-infused oil as our base sauce. To give the chicken a head start I fired up the grill and seared a quadrillage (crisscrossed grill marks) on both sides of the chicken breasts. The grill was so hot that my hand was burning as I flipped over the chicken. I wrapped my hand in a kitchen towel as I clung to a pair of tongs to protect myself from the blazing heat of the grill. Ultimately, the quadrillage looked beautiful and the two sheet trays of chicken went into the convection oven with some of the crushed garlic and slices of lemon to finish cooking.

We cooked copious amounts of bow tie pasta, combined that with roasted peppers, broccoli, soft roasted garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, fresh chopped herbs and the garlic infused blended olive oil. The pasta had a wonderful fresh flavor with a subtle garlic flavor. Our other team members made a creamy red sauce with penne and grilled Italian sausage – a spicy, flavorful combination.

The last half of the evening we had one more opportunity to work with David Arnold, FCI’s technology food guru. We played with meat glue also known as transglutaminase – a substance used in cooking to bond proteins together like imitation crab meat and those familiarly shaped Chicken McNuggets.. Transglutaminase in molecular gastronomy gives chefs an opportunity to experiment and push the culinary envelope. The meat glue we used was in a powdered form and looked like a beige-colored confectioner’s sugar.

Dave took thin flank steak and glued on chicken skin to make his take on chicken-fried steak. The steak was deep fried until the skin was crispy and flavorful and then served to us to sample. The chicken skin stayed secured to the meat and the crispy texture gave way to the juiciness of the meat. Next experiment in flavor, we glued boneless chicken breast to dark meat and a stuffing and rolled the meat into a perfect roll. While we waited for the glue to work its enzymatic magic we tried a low-temperature steak that “cooked” in a vacuum package immersed in 135 degree water for 48 hours. The beauty of steak cooked in this manner is that it can never over cook and when you are ready to serve it all you need to do is give it a quick sear on the grill. Dave took the steak out of the package and he decided to deep fry it for about 30 seconds. The result was a juicy, tender, perfectly pink cut of steak with a buttery texture.

These past few days with Dave Arnold have been fascinating and as I reflect on our time spent with Chef Wanda in Family Meal, Chef Janet in Production and Chef Nic – our dedicated lead chef for Level III and Level IV – I will miss the camaraderie of working with three fantastic and charismatic chefs and the opportunity to learn more from their culinary expertise. Hats off to my student team as well, we excelled at the many challenges we faced and we worked together synergistically – the close bond we formed will always be a part of my culinary journey.

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