Monday, April 9, 2007

Michael Chiarello....Let's Hear It For The Eggs

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello
Egg-ceptional Breakfast Bar

Chiarello's Classic Omelet Technique
Caponata "Agrodolce" (Sweet and Sour)
Spinaci (Spinach) alla Padella (Frying Pan)
Grilled Red Onions
Salami Bits
Stove-Top Preserves

To get the recipes:
Click here

Michael is entertaining today by setting up an omelet station and offering many different fillings. He says, just serve up eggs for an easy, entertaining style. I've actually never heard him use the name of his show before. I would argue that while his recipes, as usual, are outstanding, this idea of making omelets-to-order at home is anything but "easy entertaining".

You have to have so many pans going at once, chop so many different things at different times AND then stand there making omelets the entire time, that it's really hard work. Plus, the first omelet is cold before the last one is made.

He starts with salami. This is interesting, he takes a heel of salami (the recipe says ONE POUND - that sounds like rather a lot) and processes it very finely. He sautés it in olive oil and he ends with little bits - sort of like bacon bits. What a wonderful flavoring for an omelet. Plus, it’s a really good way to use up leftover salami and you can freeze it too.

He goes on to grilling onions. He slices red onions “finger thickness", (I do not like that analogy) and over-seasons them, explaining that half the seasoning will come off while they’re being grilled.

Michael goes on to blanch 2 pounds of spinach, and then “shock” it in ice water to stop the cooking and keep the green color.

Back to the onions. Make sure they’re cooked all the way through. Any ingredients that are added to an omelet must be precooked, because the omelet cooks so fast.

Now, he’s chopping garlic on a really cute cutting board. It’s not really a board, it’s more of a flexible sheet. He carries it over to the pan and dumps in the ingredients.

Ok, at this moment he has about 18 things cooking at once. This is why I say omelet stations are not for the feint of heart. HE is completely unflappable, but you or I…I’m not so sure. There isn’t even a bead of sweat on his un-furrowed brow. Of course, to MC this is child’s play.

The battle to get all the ingredients ready continues apace – the grilled onions are chopped, chunks of lemon are sliced. Huh?? What are the lemons for? They appear to have no other purpose than to make the dish that’s going to hold the cooked spinach look pretty. Do yourselves a favor. Skip that step. You will be using every pot and pan in your kitchen for these ingredients. You don't need no lemons.

He goes on to some absolutely yummy looking strawberry conserves. Oh good, we’re seeing some of his fancy tosses of the sauté pan. I LOVE IT WHEN HE DOES THAT! Basically, this conserve is just a quickly made jam. Here’s an interesting lesson in pot use. Because he wants the mixture of strawberries, sugar, lemon and seasonings to reduce quickly, he puts them in a skillet instead of a saucepan. The sides are much lower, the surface area is greater and the jam will evaporate more efficiently and thus cook faster. Very smart.

He’s getting the cheeses ready. He is using 4 different ones – a fontina, a French feta (from sheep), a Sonoma goat cheese, and a blue cheese. Have the cheeses at room temperature, because you would never think of adding a cold cheese to a warm omelet, would you? I didn’t think so.

He cuts thick slices of bread and makes toast in the oven. There are several advantages to this. You can, of course, cook more at one time. Also, the thicker pieces mean that the middles stay soft, while the outsides are crunchy. And thick pieces hold up better than thin slices.

The jam is done. See, I told you he was doing 10 things at once. He pulls a spoon through the jam. When it holds the line for just a second, it’s done. Really ruby red and delicious looking.

In the midst of all this cooking activity, Michael’s friend
Mariano Orlando of Hundred Acre Winery comes over to help with the caponata. Between the two of them, they chop copious amounts of eggplant, zucchini and other vegetables and herbs and dress the whole thing with a sweet and sour vinegar/sugar mixture. Michael talks about the dance that chefs do in the kitchen when they’re trying to get out of each other’s way. Mariano says, ”Don’t toucha my layg.” He’s quite a card.

The most notable thing about the 2 chefs cooking together is when they are standing side by side tossing their ingredients in their sauté pans so effortlessly AND EXPERTLY. It is beautiful to watch. Michael, playing the part of the young upstart, just had to sneak in a few more tosses. I think that riled old school Italian Mariano, because then he told Michael to use a WOODEN spoon, instead of metal, so he wouldn’t bruise the vegetables. WHAT was he thinking?

Finally, the huge amount of ingredients is laid out and the guests arrive. They are invited to choose their fillings, while the chef gets the omelet pan ready. He starts with a little skinny minnie (with lots of cleavage). He invites her to cook the omelet. He shows off by cracking the egg on his HEAD, yes, that’s what I said. Men are just like little boys, when they’re trying to impress an impressive chest. Oh, and she doesn’t know what to Michael comes up behind her, puts his arms around her and shows her how to HOLD the pan. With your hands, sweetie. I don’t see him doing that with any of his swarthy male guests. I’m just jealous, because I wasn’t there, and, believe me, if it got his arms around me, then I wouldn’t even know what an egg is.

About his omelet cooking method, it is fairly standard, except that on the show he says to cook them “low and slow”. The recipe makes no mention whatsoever of which heat to use. I usually use medium high heat all the way through.

There is another thing he doesn’t mention, which I think is noteworthy. Omelets, or any egg dish for that matter, cool down VERY quickly. Make sure the plates are warm to give your guests at least a small chance of eating something hot.
I guess if you have a chef that sizzles, you mind less about an omelet that doesn't.

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