Fried chicken livers with pickled onions and pepper jelly

Liver let fry

Originally appeared in the November 21, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

You know the old adage about imitation as a form—nay, the sincerest form—of flattery, right?

That sentiment is not unlike that venerable literary chestnut, as suggested by Saul Bellow, that a writer is a reader moved to emulation.  Back in the summer of 2007 I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans; and when the most opportune occasion presented itself, I surreptitiously broke away from my traveling companions in favor of a solitary stroll through the city.

I happened on a treasure called Cochon (French for hog or pig).  After being seating and settling on a mint julep, I couldn’t help but start with a plate of the fried livers with pepper jelly and toast.  Several bites into the experience, my impression was that the dish was an ingenious riff on the time-honored liver and onions.  So—as my linguistics professor used to say—no tricks here, folks; this is a humble interpretation of an established classic from Cochon.

Like most variety meats, chicken livers are absurdly affordable, making the magical transition from offal to awfully refined all the more impressive.

And if you’re averse to variety meats, I urge you to try this particular variation.  Who knows, you just might be moved to emulation.  Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader—see you next week.

Fried chicken livers with pickled onions and pepper jelly

Serves 6

  • 10 ounces chicken livers, drained
  • As needed, whole milk (to soak livers)
  • 1 ½ cups Drake’s fry mix
  • ½ cup coarse cornmeal
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons jalapeno jelly (plus water to thin)
  • As needed, sliced and toasted sourdough baguette

Pickled onions

  • 1 white onion, cut in half and sliced very thin
  • 5 fluid ounces olive oil
  • 2 fluid ounces white balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch of kosher salt, cracked black pepper
  • Generous pinch of granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (plus more for garnish)

1.  In a heavy-bottomed, high-sided stockpot (or home deep-fryer, if you have one), heat canola or peanut oil to 350°F.

2.  After draining livers, place in a bowl and cover with whole milk; place in refrigerator and soak livers for 1 to 2 hours (this will draw out impurities, sweeten the livers, and help create a batter before frying).  Meanwhile, pour balsamic vinegar in a medium-size bowl, and slowly whisk in olive oil to form an emulsion.  Add salt, pepper, and sugar, and heat mixture slightly (either over a double-boiler or in microwave).  Whisk again to maintain emulsion and pour over sliced onion; fold in parsley and set aside.

3.  Place pepper jelly in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Thin out slightly with a small amount of water (adjust consistency to your preference).  Set aside.

4.  Combine Drake’s with cornmeal in a shallow dish.  In batches, remove livers from milk and dredge in flour cornmeal mixture.  Deep fry livers until golden brown; drain on rack and season with additional kosher salt and pepper.  Serve fried livers on top of baguette toasts along with pickled onion, pepper jelly, and garnish with Italian parsley.

Pan-seared ribeye steaks with gremolata and parmesan polenta

Polenta: the cornmeal show-stealer

Two words:  cornmeal mush.  But please, dear reader, don’t let the ostensible lack of descriptive gentility fool you.  As Craig Claiborne writes in his New York Times Food Encyclopedia, “There are three foods of consummate goodness that may be served as either as main course or a side dish in the Italian kitchen.”  Claiborne lists rice (in the form of risotto) and, of course, pasta before giving a venerable nod to polenta, which, as the author suggests, “is infinite in its variations, is relatively and regrettably little known and appreciated in this country.”

To alleviate a bit of burden for the well-intentioned initiate, I recommend and instant variety of polenta, available along with the dry pasta or rice aisle at your local market.

Employing the cornmeal concoction as a side dish for this polenta permutation, I’ve paired it with a pan-seared ribeye and—supplying a callback to Italian cuisine—garnished with gremolata, an aromatic condiment composed of fresh herbs, garlic, and lemon zest.  Uncork a bottle of pinot noir (for sipping and for deglazing your pan for a loose, red wine reduction) and you’re set.

Is it mush?  Sure—I’ll respond with a shrug.  But it’s a noble sort of mush, my friend.

Pan-seared ribeye steaks with gremolata and parmesan polenta

Serves 2 – 3

  • ½ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 3 – 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
  • 14 – 16 fluid ounces low-sodium chicken stock
  • ½ cup instant polenta
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese (plus additional for broiling)
  • ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2, 1-pound ribeye steaks
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • As needed, olive oil
  • ½ cup pinot noir

1.  Prepare gremolata, place in a lidded container and reserve in refrigerator.

2.  In a medium-size saucepan, heat stock to low simmer; add in polenta and cook until softened.  Add parmesan and stir in butter; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Cover and set aside.

3.  Season exterior of ribeye steaks with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  In a sauté pan over high heat, add a small amount of olive oil and pan-sear steaks to desired doneness.  Remove steaks, place on a plate, and cover with foil; allow to rest for at least ten minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and, using a wooden spoon, deglaze pan with red wine; allow to reduce by half before adding rendering steak juices from holding plate.

4.  Optional:  place polenta in small crocks, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and toast the top under a broiler.  Serve ribeyes with pan reduction and garnish with gremolata.



Published in: on November 17, 2012 at 6:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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Caesar salad with steak and blue cheese

Caesar reinterpreted

Originally appeared in the November 8, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

I realize there are more than a few conservative, culinary purists who would baulk at the liberal rearrangement of a traditional Caesar salad.  But hey, before you come to bury Caesar, at least give this week’s recipe a chance.  That being said, I am indeed one of the subscribers to this adage:  that the barometer for a chef’s skill should be the professional prowess of how they construct a classic Caesar.

The backbone of all noble Caesars is an emulsion essentially containing anchovies, eggs, oil, and parmesan cheese (and some additional seasonings).  The steak is solely employed to make this salad an entrée, and the additional elements—the egg, the tomato, and the haricot vert—well, they just sounded like they’d get along with the rest of the gastronomic gang.  And what’s that with two types of cheese?  Though I’d never have had the courage to tell one of my estimable chefs this, I have the guts to tell you, don’t sweat it.

And yes, I also realize that we’re ebbing away from salad season; but, like all the classics, we can always conjure an occasion to enjoy them.  And, like all the classics, we can always find an excuse for reinterpretation.

Caesar salad with steak and blue cheese

Serves 3 – 4

For dressing:

  • 8 – 10 anchovies (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 2 large, cage-free eggs, beaten
  • 3 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 1 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

For salad:

  • 20 ounces strip steak
  • 1 – 2 heads of romaine lettuce, cleaned, chopped into bite-size pieces, rinsed and drained.
  • 3 – 4 hardboiled eggs, chilled, cut into quarters
  • 4 – 6 ounces haricot vert (French green beans), blanched, shocked, chilled
  • As needed, cherry tomatoes, halved
  • As needed, crumbled blue cheese, for garnish

1.  For dressing:  mash anchovies and garlic together to make a paste.  Beat in eggs and lemon juice until smooth.  Beating constantly with a whisk, slowly add in olive oil to form an emulsion.  Add in Parmesan cheese and season to taste.  Place in refrigerator while you prepare remaining components.

2.  In a sanitized kitchen sink fill with potable water, rinse the chopped romaine and drain thoroughly; reserve in refrigerator.  Blanch green beans in boiling water, shocking afterwards in ice water to halt cooking process; drain and reserve in fridge.  Prepare hard-boiled eggs, peel and chill.  Season steak with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, and in a sauté pan over high-heat, sear steaks on both sides.  When desired doneness is reached, place steaks on a plate, cover with foil, and allow to rest for ten minutes before slicing.

3.  In a large bowl, toss romaine with desired amount of dressing.  Plate each serving with a mound of dressed romaine, and arrange haricot vert, eggs, steak, and tomatoes on top.  Garnish each salad with crumbled blue cheese.

Apricot chicken with balsamic and pistachios

Your voice in the culinary conversation

Originally appeared in the November 1, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Giving credit where credit is due, I owe my colleague, chef Jodi Traub, a nod of thanks for this week’s recipe.  “I was looking for a new way to serve cornish game hens,” says Traub, who has a penchant for recipes with complicated flavor combinations.  “Brining,” she points out, “is the key to making the birds so succulent.”  But Traub also gives a nod to the original dish, explaining that she’d made some alterations to a recipe she’d discovered on a popular cooking website.

And in keeping with this perpetual cycle of recipe tinkering, that’s what I’ve done here:  replacing the game hens with chicken thighs and making my own minor variations.  Chicken thighs are woefully economic and, when properly prepared, succulent and flavorful.  I’ve also employed a bit of stock to add some cooking liquid to the braising mixture.

Traub often serves rice pilaf and steamed green beans as accompaniments for this dish, but I encourage you to devise your own favorite combination.  In fact, that’s what this is all about, right?—taking these recipes and coming up with your own gastronomic permutations and alterations.  So don’t be shy:  join the culinary conversation.


Apricot chicken with balsamic and pistachios

Serves 2

  • Brining solution: ½ cup sea salt plus 40 fluid ounces water
  • 4 medium chicken thighs
  • As needed, olive oil
  • ½ onion, small dice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar plus ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup apricot preserves
  • ¾ cup chopped dried apricots
  • ¼ cup chopped, shelled pistachios
  • As needed, chopped fresh parsley
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1.  In a large pot, warm water and dissolve sea salt for brine.  Allow mixture to cool completely before pouring over thighs in a container large enough to cover thighs.  Soak in brine for at least 2 hours.  Afterwards, remove from solution and pat dry.

2.  Preheat oven to 400° F.  Heat olive oil in a high-side sauté pan; season skin-side of thighs with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, and pan-sear thighs (skin-side down) until exterior is golden brown and crispy.  Remove chicken from pan and reserve on plate.

3.  Add onions and cook until translucent and tender; add garlic and sweat briefly.  Add a bit of oil along with flour, stir to form a paste (called a roux).  Add in balsamic and water; stir in apricot preserves.  Return thighs (along with rendered juices) to pan and cover; place in oven for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until thighs juices are running clear.

4.  Remove braised thighs and keep warm.  Strain braising liquid through a colander or chinois and keep warm.  If you like, add a bit of chopped apricot to this sauce.  Serve thighs with sauce, and garnish with chopped apricot, parsley, and pistachios.