Saturday, June 1, 2019

Chef Bolek's Chesapeake Oyster Stew

Several months ago, I got to attend the Oysterfest, which is the annual oyster-centric festival held every fall in St. Michaels, Maryland. One of the key events of every Oysterfest is the oyster stew competition.  Last year, there were six competitors vying for the best oyster stew. I got to be one of the hundreds or thousands of judges. 

After having sampled six different oyster chowders, each with its own style and character, I decided that I would create my own Chesapeake Oyster Stew.  In my Oysterfest post, I wrote about the fundamental characteristics of an oyster stew.  The point was that there are two general styles of oyster stew.  The first is a cream colored soup, with a thinner consistency, both of which are features due to the use of half-and-half.  The other style is more like a chowder, with a whiter color and a much thicker consistency, both of which are due to the use of heavy cream.  Regardless of whether you use half-and-half or heavy cream, the oyster stew should have minced vegetables (celery, shallots, etc.), potatoes, and oysters.  As for the key ingredient, the oysters can be chopped or whole (a consideration that often depends upon the size of the oysters).

For my Chef Bolek's Chesapeake Oyster Stew, I wanted to go in my own direction.  This direction has three primary components.  First, the liquid. I decided to use whole milk, which would give a consistency that would be neither too light or too heavy. It would be just right.  Second, an element of smoke. Many oyster stews have a smoky element to their flavor, which is from the bacon used in the first step. One of the stews that I tried at the Oysterfest had a very smoky character to it, and, that was one of my favorite stews.  However, for my Oyster Stew, I don't want the smoke element to be too overpowering.  I would have to be very careful with respect to my choice of bacon.  I decided on a thick-cut, apple wood smoked bacon.  Apple wood has a milder smoke flavor than other woods, such as mesquite. The apple wood bacon provided a subtle smokey flavor to the stew.  Third, I decided to use whole oysters.  I strongly believe that the whole oysters provides a better presentation, with the oval bivalves "swimming" in the broth, enticing the eyes of the person about to dive into the stew. 

For my first ever oyster stew, I have to say that this was a great success.  This is definitely going to be on my short list of recipes to make, with the only limitation being the cost of the oysters (good ones, especially the local ones, can be a bit pricey, but it definitely worth the extra cost).  A stew like this is a good way to introduce oysters to someone who has never had them before or who is unsure of trying them. 


CHEF BOLEK'S CHESAPEAKE OYSTER STEW
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves several

Ingredients:
1 pint oysters, liqueur strained and reserved
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onions, diced
1 cup potatoes, diced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2  cup of milk
1/2 cup of water
2 ounces smoked bacon
1 teaspoon white pepper
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sea salt, to taste

Directions:
1.  Fry the bacon.  Heat a pan on high heat.  Add the bacon and fry until the bacon is cooked.  Remove the bacon, dice or break into small pieces, and set aside.  Drain the pan of all bacon fat and set aside.  Return 1 tablespoon of bacon fat back to the pan.

2.  Prepare the onions and potatoes.  Add another tablespoon of bacon fat in the pan and heat on medium to high heat.  Add the onions and potatoes and saute until soft.

3.  Cook the oysters.  Add the oysters and cook gently until the edges start to curl. Remove the oysters and set aside.  Strain the oyster liqueur.

4.  Prepare the stew.  Add the oyster liqueur to a pot, along with the milk and cream.  Bring the heat of the liquid to almost a simmer.  Do not boil.  Add the onions and potatoes and heat them.  Add the oysters and white pepper.  Stir gently.  Continue to cook the stew for about five minutes, or until the oysters begin to bcome firm along the edges.  Remove the pot from the heat and serve immediately.

ENJOY!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Smoked Jamaican Jerk Chicken

For the precious few who follow this blog, it may seem that I love Jerk Chicken. There are three recipes already on the blog for Jerk Chicken.  The first one dates back to October 2010, when I made Jerk Chicken as part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge to make a main course from Jamaica. (It is hard to believe that the challenge is in its 9th year, and, I have only completed 34 of the 80 challenges.  I need to get working on that!) The second recipe dates from July 2011, when I made it as part of one of the two Savage Bolek Barbecues that we hosted.  (We haven't hosted one since that time.  We need to do another one.)  The final recipe is Bob Marley's Jerk Chicken, which is one of my favorite Jerk Chicken recipes. 

What ties all three of these recipes together is that the chicken is grilled.  In fact, that is how Jerk Chicken has traditionally been made ... well, almost.  And, that story is the subject of this post.

Jerk chicken originated with the Taino, the indigenous people who lived in Jamaica and much of the rest of the Caribbean before the colonization.  The Taino developed the "jerk" method, which was to cover the meat (usually chicken, but could be pork, goat, seafood or vegetables).  The meat was then cooked slow over a fire.  Now, that is what is reflected in most recipes for jerk chicken.  There is one critical component of the cooking process that is missing.  The Taino cooked the "jerk" chicken not just over a fire, but with green pimento wood.  The use of this wood added a smoky flavor to the chicken, which gave the chicken its distinctive flavor.  Most recipes omit the use of the wood, leaving the jerk chicken something less than the original Taino version. 

For my fourth Caribbean Jerk recipe, I wanted to go back to that original version.  I decided to cook the chicken low and slow over a fire, with wood.  In other words, I would smoke the jerk chicken.  The problem is that I don't have a ready access to green pimento wood.  (Believe it or not, Amazon does not ship green pimento wood chunks.)  So, I did a little research and discovered that any fruit wood, such as apple wood, would work as an adequate substitute for pimento wood.  As I have an overabundance of apple wood, I used that to smoke the chicken.

As one would expect, there is a significant difference between jerk chicken that is just grilled and smoked jerk chicken.  The question for me is which one I liked better. The answer is a close call because, as I noted at the outset, I love jerk chicken.  However, in the end, I am always drawn to the way food was originally prepared.  It is the history buff in me that comes through in my cooking.  Thus, I have to say that I like the Taino approach, to cook the chicken over a fire with the wood. 


SMOKED JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken (about 3-5 pounds)
1 bunch of scallions
6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1-2 habanero peppers, seeded and minced 
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dry thyme
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil

Directions:
1.  Marinate the chicken.  Add all of the ingredients into a very large, non-reactive bowl.  Cover and place in the refrigerator.  Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 2-3 hours, but preferably overnight. 

2.  Prepare the smoker.  Soak some chunks of apple wood in a bowl for at least 1 hour prior to the smoke . Heat a smoker to between 250 degrees and 275 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add a couple of apple wood chunks.  Oil the grate and then place the chicken, skin side up onto the grate.  Smoke the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  The cooking time should take about 30 to 45 minutes per pound, but that will depend upon the temperature of the smoker. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Remove the chicken from the smoker, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 to ten minutes.  Carve the chicken as desired and serve immediately. 

ENJOY!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Indian Style Whole Masala Roast Chicken

Few things intrigue me more, as someone who loves to cook and loves to learn about food, than Indian cuisine.  As someone who loves to dive into the cuisine of a culture or a nation, I am most fascinated by the regionalization of cuisine.  When I first started cooking, I focused on Italy, and I spent a lot of time learning about northern Italian cooking and southern Italian cooking.  Then I started to focus upon the cooking of particular provinces, such as Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Abruzzo.  The focus -- from general to regional -- was fascinating to me.  

In many ways, India is a lot like Italy.  There is northern Indian food and southern Indian food.  But, then there are the regions.  From Punjab to Rajastan to Goa to Kerala (and everywhere in between), there is a wide variety of regional Indian cuisine.  I have made some dishes from some of these regions, like Goa and Kerala, but I have only scratched the surface.  Much more is to come.  

But, for now, a general Indian dish.  I say that because whenever I see a recipe that has a title of _______-style, I know that it is a dish inspired by, but may not actually constitute part of, a country's established cuisine.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, there are very many -style dishes that are very delicious.  (I have made quite a few -style dishes, and, hopefully, they are good).  So, when I saw an Indian Style Whole Masala Roast Chicken recipe, I decided that I had to make it. 

Masalas are spice mixtures.  While one can find masala spice mixtures in stores, the best ones are made at home. Dried whole seeds and pods, lightly toasted, and ground into a fine powder.  Most people don't have the whole seeds, but you can still make your own masala from ground spices, it will just not be as good.  

In any event, the masala for this recipe is very simple. Kashmiri red chile pepper, "pepper powder" and cumin. I wasn't quite sure what "pepper powder" was supposed to be, so I just used more Kashmiri peppers (which you can get from your local Indian food market). This masala was very simple and it worked for this recipe.  In the future, I may try some different masalas to see how they work with a whole roasted chicken. 


INDIAN STYLE WHOLE ROAST MASALA CHICKEN
Recipe from My Food Story
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken (about 2 1/4 pounds)
2 1/2 tablespoons Kashmiri red chile powder
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1/2 tablespoon pepper powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons of butter
Salt, to taste
3-4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 onions, quartered
3 cloves garlic

Directions:
1.  Prepare the chicken.  Wash the chicken and pat dry.  Mix together the chile powder, ginger, garlic paste, pepper, cumin, honey, vinegar, butter and salt into a smooth paste.  Apply the chile paste all over the chicken, into the crevices and under the skin wherever there are gaps  If you have extra marinade remaining, you can use it to brush the chicken while it cooks. Cover and marinate the chicken for at least 2 hours or overnight.

2.  Roast the chicken.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, Use an oven proof baking dish and add potatoes, onions garlic and lemon slices to the bottom.  Bake for 75 to 90 minutes.  Keep brushing the chicken with the fat and gravy from the pan every thirty minutes or so.  After 1 hour, cover the chicken with oil to avoid the breast from drying out.  Once cooked, cover with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.  

3.  Finish the dish. Serve the chicken with all the veggies at the bottom of the pan.

ENJOY!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Black Ankle Vineyards Pinot Noir (2015)

When one thinks of Pinot Noir, one thinks of France. If asked to direct one's attention to the "New World," one would think of California or Oregon. (I always think of Oregon, because it has the best Pinot Noir wines in the world, in my humble opinion.)  One would never think of Maryland. 

Yet, there is a Pinot Noir wine produced in Maryland.

The wine comes from Black Ankle Vineyards, which is located in Frederick County in northern Maryland.  The fact that Black Ankle can grow Pinot Noir grapes, and produce a wine worthy of having other people drink it, is quite the accomplishment.  This accolade is due to the fact that Pinot Noir grapes are very temperamental and extremely difficult to cultivate.  So many things need to go right.  The grapes are sensitive to fungus and rot.  They tend to do better in cooler climates, but produce fewer grapes.  The margin for error can be very narrow.  But, Black Ankle knows what it is doing; and, quite surprisingly, they produce a very good Pinot Noir wine.

To be sure, the Pinot Noir does not compare to those produced by vineyards such as Bergstrom, Lemelson or Prive.  But, then again, Black Ankle is in Maryland, not Oregon.  And, for a Maryland Pinot Noir, the wine proves to be quite the accomplishment. 

The Black Ankle Vineyard Pinot Noir pours a nice ruby red. Lighter hues shine through depending upon the light. The color would suggest a Pinot Noir along the lines of the California or French style.  Something more fruit forward, rather than the earthier Oregon wines.  

This fruit forward character is also present in the aroma.  Various types of cherries greet the nose, without any hint of something else. Those cherries also carry themselves through to the taste of the wine.  Perhaps this is where the Maryland wine may take a different path from an Oregonian Pinot Noir.  The fruit in the Oregon wines tend to be slightly darker, not just cherries, but perhaps dark cherries or blackberries.  There is also some minerality or earthiness in the background.  None of that is present in this Pinot Noir, suggesting that the Black Ankle Pinot Noir may not be as complex as an Oregonian wine.  But, that does not mean that the Black Ankle Pinot Noir is not good in its own right.  After all, that one can produce a Pinot Noir wine in Maryland is quite the feat. 

This wine is extremely hard to get, which is why my beautiful Angel and I bought two bottles when we had the chance.  It was only available to Wine Club members of Black Ankle.  While this wine is very good, it is not a reason to join the Wine Club.  If you want a reason to do so, try the Crumbling Rock or the Slate.  

ENJOY!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Pan Seared Fish with Gazpacho Sauce and Black Olive Tapenade

Every once in a while, I have a dish that turns out perfectly.  It is a dish that fires on all cylinders and, from start to finish, everything falls into place. It is a dish that, once plated, makes me actually look like a chef. This is one of those dishes ... Pan Seared Fish with Gazpacho Sauce and Black Olive Tapenade.

The recipe comes from a cookbook that I bought several years ago.  My beautiful Angel and I visited the Little Inn of Washington for a brief vacation.  We had dinner there, which was perhaps one of the best meals that I have ever had.  The kitchen, and, indeed, the entire inn, is run by chef Patrick O'Connell.  We had the opportunity to meet the chef and, before the trip was over, I had purchased a book of his recipes.  The book is Refined American Cuisine.

That book sat on my cookbook shelf for a very long time.  I have to admit that many of the recipes seemed daunting.  A kind of culinary intimidation, looking at something that I thought was unattainable given I lacked the skills and experience of a chef, let alone a chef of Patrick O'Connell's statute.

I have come to learn that there are emotions more powerful than fear.  One such emotion is love.  My love for my Angel propelled me to open that cookbook and search for a recipe to make for her.  I decided to make Pan Seared Fish with Gazpacho Sauce and Black Olive Tapanade. This dish combines the simplicity of a pan seared fish with the brightness from a gazpacho.  The crust created by the salt and pepper in the pan provides a flavorful start and an interesting contrast to the silky, smooth gazpacho.  The fresh vegetables provide a second contrast to the gazpacho.  All of which is topped off by the earthy black olive tapenade.

It is amazing what one can accomplish when fueled by their inspiration.  My inspiration is my beautiful Angel and it produced a wonderful dish.  Until next time....



PAN SEARED FISH WITH GAZPACHO SAUCE
AND BLACK OLIVE TAPENADE
Recipe adapted from Patrick O'Connell, Refined American Cuisine
Serves 6

Ingredients (for the gazpacho sauce):
3 1/2 pounds red ripe tomatoes, cored and 
     coarsely chopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients (for the gazpacho salsa):
1 tablespoon peeled, seeded and minced tomato
1 tablespoon  peeled, seeded and minced cucumber
1 tablespoon seeded and minced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon seeded and minced green (or orange) bell pepper
1 tablespoon seeded and minced yellow bell pepper
1 teaspoon seeded and minced jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients (for the croutons):
2 pieces thinly sliced white bread
2 tablespoons black olive tapenade

Ingredients (for the fish):
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 fish fillets, about 3 ounces each, skin on
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients (for the garnish):
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1.  Prepare the gazpacho sauce.  In a blender or food processor, puree the tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, onion, celery and garlic in batches until smooth.  Strain the mixture.  Add the olive oil, Tabasco, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, cumin, and celery salt.  Mix well and refrigerate.  When the puree is thoroughly chilled, season to taste wtih salt and pepper.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve and allow to come to room temperature before serving.  (Note: this makes about 5 cups of sauce but you will only need 1 cup for the recipe.  The rest can be served as soup on the following day.)

2.  Prepare the gazpacho salsa.  In a small mixing bowl, combine the tomato, cucumber, bell peppers, jalapeno pepper, red onion and shallot.  Stir in the parsley, tarragon, celery salt, extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.

3.  Prepare the croutons.  Preheat the broiler.  Cut out six rounds of bread, about 2 inches in diameter, and place them on a baking sheet.  Toast the bread rounds under the broiler on both sides.  Spoon the olive tapenade on the toasts and set aside.

4.  Prepare the fish.  In a non-stick skillet, heat the oil over high heat.  Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper.  Cook the fish, skin side down, for about 2 minutes or until the edges are crisp and golden. Flip the fillets and cook them on the other side for about 30 seconds.  Keep warm.

5.  Finish the dish.  Pour 2 tablespoons of the gazpacho sauce into each of 6 serving bowls.  drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil around the sauce.  Place 1 tablespoon of gazpacho salsa in the center of each bowl.  Place 1 hot fish fillet on top of the salsa and lay 1 crouton of black olive tapenade on each one. 

ENJOY!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Bulgogi-Style Squid

For the few avid readers of my blog, you might have noticed a trend in some of the posts.  That trend involves South Korean-inspired recipes.  (I say inspired because, let's admit it, I am not a professional chef, and, I am a total rookie at cooking South Korean food).  It began with my personal culinary challenge to cook a main course (and two appetizers) from South Korea, which was part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes.   That was followed by an effort to Ojingeo Bokkeum (South Korean Spicy Squid).  And, then, there was the efforts at experimentation, first with Gochujang Chicken and now this recipe, a effort to create a Bulgogi-style squid. 

I realize none of this actually comes close or even approximates true South Korean cuisine, but, there is something about the use of peppers -- whether Gochujang or Gochugaru -- that has gotten my attention.  The heat of the chiles used in South Korean cuisine are different than the chiles used in other cuisines, such as the Piri-Piri chile, the Ancho chile, or my beloved Hatch chile. 

This recipe goes in a different direction, away from the chiles toward bulgogi.  I have made one bulgogi recipe in the past ... Flank Steak Bulgogi.  I noted in that post that flank steak is technically not the right cut of beef for Bulgogi. (It is ribeye.)  Now, I am throwing everything to the wind and using perhaps one of the most un-Bulgogi of ingredients: namely, squid. This was an experiment in creativity and, for a first time, it worked out fairly well.  The sweet (honey and sugar) combined with the salty (soy sauce), tied together by garlic, ginger and sesame to produce a fairy tasty dish.  


BULGOGI-STYLE SQUID
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 pounds of squid, cleaned, slice bodies in 1 inch pieces 
      tentacles
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon rice wine or mirin
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

Directions:
1. Prepare the squid.  Combine the soy sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar, honey, rice wine (or mirin), garlic, ginger, and sesame oil.  Add the squid and toss.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 

2.  Cook the squid.  Heat a pan over medium high to high heat.  Add the squid in batches and cook covered for about 3 to 4 minutes or until translucent.  Once the squid is cooked, serve with rice and a side, like broccoli.

ENJOY!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Indian Flank Steak Tacos

For me, fusion cuisine is something of an issue.  I am a big fan of a wide ranges of cuisines, for the ingredients, the cooking processes and, of course, for the dishes produced.  When one starts picking and choosing from two or more cuisines to produce a dish, that becomes a little more problematic.  To be sure, there are some very good examples of fusion cuisine.  But, there are also a lot of misfires.

Yet, despite all of my misgivings about fusion food, this recipe caught my attention.  It involves the fusion between Mexican cuisine and Indian cuisine.  The smells and flavors of Masla-marinated meat served in naan to produce what is one of the most quintessential dishes of Mexican cuisine ... the taco.  Perhaps it is the fact that I like tacos.  Maybe it is the fact that I love Indian cuisine. Either way, I was determined to make this recipe.  And, apart from the need to improve my ability to cut flank steak on a bias, the recipe got me to rethink my view about fusion cuisine. 

The key to this recipe is the masala.  It begins with the classic of garlic and ginger, but only chiles, vinegar, curry leaves and onions are added to complete the masala.  (If you don't have curry leaves, don't worry, it will still turn out well.)  Once the masala is prepared, then the meat must be marinated.  The recipe calls for at least one hour of marination, but I would go at least two hours if not a little longer.  Once the steak is marinated, a quick grilling over high heat on the grill ensures that the steak will be incredibly delicious.  Just cut it on the bias to reduce the chewiness and serve with grilled naan, the onions, and the cilantro.  

Maybe fusion food is not that bad after all. 


INDIAN FLANK STEAK TACOS
Recipe adapted from Tasting Table
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the Masala):
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large red onion, diced
1/2 cup packed curry leaves
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 serrano chile (or jalapeno chile), minced
1 three-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Ingredients (for the tacos):
1 pound of flank steak
1/2 red onion, plus more for serving, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Grilled naan, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
Cilantro leaves, for serving

Directions:
1.  Prepare the masala.  In a 12-inch skillet, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and cook  until translucent and lightly golden, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the curry leaves, garlic, serrano (or jalapeno) and ginger and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes more.  Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender with the remaining masala ingredients.  Blend until smooth and let cool completely.

2.  Marinate the meat and the onions.  In a large bowl,  toss the flank steak with the masala to coat.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss the sliced red onion with lime juice and set aside. 

3.  Grill the meat.  Light a grill or heat a cast iron grill pan over high heat.  Grill the steak, flipping once until caramelized and medium rare, 7 to 8 minutes.  Let rest for 5 minutes, then thinly slice against the grain on a bias. 

4.  Finish the dish. Serve the steak with pieces of grilled naan, sliced red onion and lime wedges, garnishing with cilantro leaves.

ENJOY!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Iron Chef: Octopus

If memory serves me right, it has been a long time since I have stepped foot in Savage Bolek Kitchen Stadium.  My last challenger -- Radish Sprouts -- got the better of me.  While the three dishes each highlighted a certain creativity (for who would have ever thought of a radish sprout broth), the execution fell short of the expectations that I had set for myself. 

After that challenge, I decided to take a sabbatical from the Iron Chef battles. I needed to work on my creativity, my skills and my dishes.  As the days, weeks and months passed, I spent my time trying new foods, cooking with new ingredients, and honing my skills. 

But, as helpful as this time away from Savage Bolek Kitchen Stadium has been, the Iron Chef must return to face another challenger.  A challenger who could be as creative and crafty as the Iron Chef.  Coming from far away, this challenger will present the Iron Chef with many more opportunities to express not only his creativity, but his love for cuisines around the world.

Allow me to introduce the challenger ... OCTOPUS. 

FIRST COURSE

The first course is a nod to Japanese cuisine, with Taku Su, a cold salad that combines octopus with cucumbers and seaweed.  All of the ingredients are tied together with a vinaigrette of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar with sugar and salt to round out the taste .


TAKO SU (OCTOPUS SALAD)
Recipe from Just One Cookbook
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the octopus):
1/4 pound octopus cooked, sliced thinly
1/2 English Cucumber
1/2 tablespoon dried wakame seaweed
1/2 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

Ingredients (for the vinaigrette):
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds

Directions:
1.  Prepare the octopus. Slice the octopus very thinly.  

2. Prepare the cucumber.  Alternatively peel a 1/2 inch side strip lengthwise, leaving a strip intact.  With this method, the cucumber slices have some decorative dark green accents and a little bit of extra crunchiness.  Cut the cucumber into small pieces using the cutting technique Rangiri.

3.  Prepare the seaweed.  In a small bowl, soak the dried seaweed in warm water.  Let it soak for 15 minutes.  Drain and squeeze the liquid out.  Set aside.

4.  Prepare the vinaigrette.  In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

5.  Finish the dish.  Add the cucumber, octopus, seaweed and sesame seeds and toss all together.  Chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes.  Serve immediately.  

SECOND COURSE

The second course takes its inspiration from Mexican cuisine, with the octopus being served with a sauce featuring the smoky heat of ancho chiles and the sweetness of honey.  Much like the Tako Su, the mild flavors of the octopus work as a tableau upon which the flavors of the sauce can show themselves.  The hardest part is making sure that the octopus itself, as the secret ingredient, is not eclipsed by that sauce. 


GRILLED OCTOPUS WITH ANCHO HONEY SAUCE
Recipe adapted from Tom Colicchio
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the octopus):
1/2 pound octopus tentacle, cooked

Ingredients (for the sauce):
2 dried ancho chiles
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons of honey
1/8 cup of grapeseed oil or vegetable oil

Directions:
1.  Prepare the sauce.  Toast the chiles over moderate heat, turning, until fragrant and pliable, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the vinegar, honey and garlic and bring just to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and let stand until the chiles are softened, about 20 minutes.  transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.  With the machine on, add the grapeseed or vegetable oil until incorporated.  Season the sauce with salt.

2.  Prepare the grill or broiler.  Heart the grill or broiler.  Grill the cooked tentacle until the suckers start to crisp and brown around all of the edges, about 4 minutes.

THIRD COURSE

For the final dish, I draw upon Hawaiian cuisine.  This is a play on the popular dish of Ahi Poke; however, instead of the rare tuna being the star of the poke, it is octopus.  The avocado, tomato and onions in this dish, combined with the lemon juice, provide a very bright background that allows the octopus to take the center stage.  The fish sauce provides that salty, umami flavor that rounds out the dish . 


HAWAIIAN OCTOPUS POKE
Recipe adapted from Cookpad
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1/2 pound octopus tentacle, cooked
1 avocado
1/2 tomato
1/4 onion
1 bunch green onions
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 clove grated garlic
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil

Directions:
1. Prepare the avocado. Pit the avocado, peel and dice.  Put the diced avocado into a bowl and mix with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to prevent discoloring.

2.  Prepare the onion.  Cut the onion in half and slice thinly along the grain.

3.  Prepare the octopus.  Slice the octopus.  Put it in a bowl and mix with the fish sauce and garlic.

4.  Prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Cut the tomato roughly and chop a generous amount of green onions.

5.  Combine ingredients: Put the avocado, onion, tomato, green onions, sesame oil and white sesame seeds in a bowl and mix.  Chill in the refrigerator.

6.  Plate the dish.  Just before plating, add the octopus and mix well.  
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