What is there to say about American food? The topic is so broad, it's hard to even know where to start.
In honor of independence day, we wanted to pay homage to some of our favorite American flavor profiles while still creating a unique yet playful dinning experience.
snacks - short rib stuffed mushroom; "everything bagel" deviled egg with smoked salmon and caviar;
shrimp "cocktail" with herbed cream cheese; nacho cheese potato skin with pulled pork
When I sat down with Ben and Alex to plan out this menu, our creative thought process immediately turned into a discussion of our favorite American appetizers; the simple dishes we fondly remembered from our family get-togethers.
Short Rib Stuffed Mushrooms
Stuffed mushrooms are about as classic as it gets, with everyone having their own variation. For our stuffed mushroom bite we started by slow braising beef short ribs. After cooling slightly, the short ribs were shredded, while the braising liquid was reduced into a sticky, flavorful glaze. The shredded rib meat was then recombined with the concentrated glaze, and mixed with a little goat cheese for both depth of flavor and richness.
The short rib mix was then stuffed into large cremini mushrooms that were de-stemmed and hollowed using the point of a table spoon. From here it's just a matter of roasting in a hot oven until the rib meat is slightly browned on top, and the mushroom is fully cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Everything Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon & Caviar
For the deviled egg, we wanted to offer something familiar and comforting, but put a spin on the simple classic -- a flavor structure you commonly wouldn't find at a family gathering. We decided to draw inspiration from our east coast friends in the form of smoked salmon on an everything bagel.
The egg yolk filling was mixed with sour cream and cream cheese, and seasoned with toasted sesame seed, poppy seed, celery seed, and minced onion that was sweated in a mixture of white wine and butter. After filling, the deviled egg was topped with a piece of smoked salmon, a spoonful of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, and a fresh sprig of dill.
Shrimp "Cocktail" Canape
When I recently had a bunch of my Stella co-workers over for the Mayweather-Pacquiao Fight, I pulled this one from the vaults because, 1) it's about as easy as it gets, 2) it's incredibly tasty, and 3) it always gets a sideways glance from professional "food snobs" that have yet to be introduced to this dish's awesomeness.
The at home version is simple; place a block of Philadelphia cream cheese in the center of a plate, cover with a good mound of bay shrimp, and douse with an egregious amount of spicy cocktail sauce. Serve along side a couple of butter knives and Ritz crackers, and let everyone go wild.
... if you're rolling your eyes at me, it's OK, I understand. You refuse to believe something so simple can be one of my all time favorite appetizers. But try it at your next party, and you'll be sending me a thank you e-mail in short order ... once your hand as a chance to recover from all the high fives you received ...
For our dinner, we spruced up the presentation a bit by turning this simple appetizer into a composed cannape; cream cheese whipped with chervil and chives, butter poached prawn, and homemade cocktail sauce. I was tempted to bake my own butter cracker, but to be completely honest, there's no beating a Ritz when it comes to this application, so that's what we stuck with.
You see, Alex is pretty much an idiot savant when it comes to constructing what we lovingly refer to as "white trash" flavor structures. Case in point, his gooey, nacho cheese style sauce is second to none. Forget the bechamel based mornay, when Alex makes cheese sauce, he uses a trick straight from the commercial food play book -- sodium citrate.
Sodium citrate is a powerful emulsifying agent that allows you to melt cheese directly into a liquid base, in this case, milk. That's right, no starch thickener, no roux, no 100 year old mother sauce.
The result you achieve is a super cheesy, gooey sauce, just like you get out of can, only better.
Doctored with jalapenos and other spices, the sauce was poured into fried fingerling potato skins, and joined with pulled pork, sour cream, and a healthy squeeze of sriracha.
Don't worry ... we've already shot video on Alex's cheese sauce with a few different variations, as well as our method for pulled pork. Stay tuned.
Scratch Clam Dip with Lotus Root Chips
No Thanksgiving would be complete without eating copious amounts of clam dip and ruffles while waiting for the turkey to finish cooking. My younger brother and past Stella Sommelier, Nathan, has turned clam dip into it's own minor art form.
For this dinner we wanted to tackle something that is rarely, if ever, done; clam dip from scratch. We started with fifteen pounds of little neck clams and steamed them in a mixture of white wine, garlic, shallots, and butter. After the clams opened, the resulting liquid was reduced to concentrate its flavor and then re-incorporated with the shelled and diced clams.
From there we pretty much followed the basic clam dip game plan; sour cream, cream cheese, chives, lemon juice ... pretty basic stuff. But since we started with fresh clams and their resulting liquor from cooking, the flavor was absolutely amazing. It was served with a side of freshly fried lotus root chips, and of course, I forgot to take a picture. ;-(
First Course - Lobster Louis
lobster louis; sun gold tomatoes, charred asparagus tips, salmon roe, iceberg lettuce broth
After our epic snack session, it was time to send out the first course.
In the Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 15, we go over classic salads, one of which is the seafood Louis. Traditionally, a Louis salad is made with shrimp or crab, dressed with a hot sauce and mayo based dressing, and served alongside ice berg lettuce, boiled egg, tomatoes, and asparagus.
In our version, we used the Louis as a jumping off point to inspire a chilled lobster salad.
The claw and body meat of the lobster were dressed with sauce vierge which we doctored with minced celery & red onion, pimento (a classic Louis flavor), and diced carrot that was simmered in a 50/50 mixture of champagne vinegar and sugar. For a small burst of heat which is traditionally achieved using hot sauce, we instead opted to use a mixture of togarashi and berbere spice.
The half lobster tail was laid on top of the dressed body meat and garnished with charred asparagus spears, salmon roe, and sungold tomatoes.
Instead presenting our "Louis" in a traditional ice berg lettuce cup, we instead turned the ice berg lettuce into a broth. The ice berg was blanched, along with some spinach for added color and flavor, and blended until smooth in our VitaMix. We added just a touch of xanthan gum to slightly increase the viscosity, and incorporated a small drizzle of canola oil, which helped to smooth the entire mixture.
If you attempt to make a green puree such as our ice berg broth at home, remember not to add any acid. The acid will quickly destabilize the chlorophyll molecules in any green puree, turning it from bright green to a drab, canned green bean color.
For more information on the science of blanching and it's various applications when prepping food, I recommend that you listen to the Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 4.
Second Course - Pork Ribs & Apple Sauce
'pork ribs and apple sauce," shaved mustard greens, corn muffin beignets, stone fruit bbq sauce
A play on "pork chops and apple sauce," this dish was inspired by our love for BBQ pork ribs. Instead of braised mustard greens, a classic BBQ side, we instead served the mustard greens freshly shaved, dressed with a touch of mustard oil. This helped brighten the overall flavor structure of the plate and cut through the richness of the rib meat.
The corn muffin beignets were made with "Jiffy" muffin mix using the pate a choux method of cooking the dough twice. Milk was brought to a simmer with the addition of a small pat of butter, after which the muffin mix was added and cooked over low heat for 60 seconds. The egg was then incorporated into the warm dough, and the whole mix was reserved in a piping bag.
The chilled batter was then piped into hot frying oil, which caused them to puff up and crisp, resulting in a sweet, airy, and crunchy corn muffin bite.
For the pork ribs we started with a generous dry rub, allowing the ribs to marinate for two days in our fridge before smoking and then slow braising in a reinforced and reduced chicken stock.
The braised ribs were then stripped from the bone with the collagen carefully removed. The resulting braising liquid was reduced to about 1/10th of it's original volume and then mixed with the deboned and diced rib meat.
The rib mixture was then mixed with 1% transglutaminase by weight, an enzyme that allowed the meat to hold together when we latter sliced, seared, and glazed with stone fruit BBQ sauce.
The rib mixture was then rolled into a free-form terrine using the technique demonstrated in this video, and hung in our fridge overnight to set.
Right before serving, the rib terrine is sliced into round fillets, seared, glazed, and roasted in a hot oven for a few minutes to set the BBQ glaze.
From an execution standpoint, this is a great way to serve a lot of ribs; you can easily make this terrine days or even weeks in advance (using 0.2% sodium nitrite in your dry rub will set the rib's pink color and allow you to preserve it in the finished terrine wrap for at least one month). When it comes time to serve, you simply slice, sear, and re-heat with your choice of glaze. You also have the added benefit of a more refined presentation without the mess of dealing with bones.
Proof of Concept (not served) - Rib Sandwich on Sourdough Potato Roll
reconstructed prok rib sandwich on a sourdough potato roll with sone fruit BBQ sauce
Oh yeah ...
Did I mention that if you ever want to make the most amazing rib sandwich, this is a great technique to play with? This is what the McRib should taste like!
Third Course - Peanut Butter & Jelly Brioche Doughnut
brioche doughnut, peanut butter-maple glaze, strawberry & blue raspberry jelly, captain crunch crumble
We finished the evening with a play on peanut butter and jelly.
The doughnut was made using our brioche bun recipe which we scaled to 30 grams each, and formed into a doughnut shape before allowing to proof under refrigeration for a few hours. When dessert time came, we fried the doughnuts to order, dipped in a peanut butter and maple glaze, and topped with crushed Captain Crunch cereal, because ... why not?
Home made strawberry jam on the bottom, with blue-raspberry jam on the sides.
Simple. Decadent. Delicious.
... and a great way to end our American Classics dinner!