Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Michael Chiarello, My Favorite Bike-Riding Chef

Biking Picnic
Spring Vegetable Rice Salad (Insalata di Riso)
Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Grilled Mushroom Vinaigrette
Napa 'Road' Mix

To get the recipes:
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Michael is packing a meal to go. He's serving "a movable picnic on a bike ride in the Napa Valley." Being a cyclist, he tells us, you can eat anything you want. Oh, THAT'S how he stays so trim.

He's making one of his "favorite sandwiches of all time". Did he just say "Che-vatta"? Yes, he did. Have I been mispronouncing Ciabatta all this time? He slices the however-you-pronounce-it bread in half crosswise and drizzles over olive oil. Then he sprinkles on salt and pepper and toasts it. I thought he told us always to drizzle with oil AFTER toasting. I guess that's just for bruschetta.

He takes shitake mushrooms and mixes them with 1/2 cup olive oil (remember HE'S cycling, if we're not, perhaps we should cut that oil by a bit.) He adds garlic, which has been Choppy-Chopped, thyme, salt and pepper. "Mushrooms are 90% water, so I like a nice hot grill" to cook them on. Listen to the chef. Always cook your mushrooms over high heat. In fact, I can't think of a case where you shouldn't.

Michael seasons the chicken breasts before grilling them. He salts and peppers them liberally and then adds a little olive oil. Then he turns them over and seasons the second side in exactly the same way. That's a good lesson, because, admit it, don't you sometimes skimp on the seasoning on the second side? The chicken goes on a medium grill to cook for a few minutes.

The mushrooms are done - they took about 7 or 8 minutes. Mike turns off the grill and leaves them there to cook all the way through.

He moves on to a vinaigrette. He minces shallots, 2 teaspoons of thyme - one for now, one for later - and roughly chops Italian parsley. He adds olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.

Michael turns the chicken and, again, he turns off the heat to allow them finish cooking slowly on the second side. Smart.

He slices the mushrooms - do it anyway you wish - and adds them to the vinaigrette. He packs it up happily. He's quite pleased.

He pulls the chicken off the grill. He lets it cool and THEN slices it, so he doesn't lose all the juices. He cuts them at a 45 degree angle, which he says keeps them a little more tender.

Then he asks one of those questions perplexing humankind for eons..."How do you take greens on a bike ride?" I have asked myself that countless times and my answer has always been the same..."very carefully". But Michael comes up with another answer. He spritzes them with water and wraps them in a paper towel. He spritzes THAT with water and places the whole thing in a ziplock bag. He puts that in another bag with a cold pack. Then MC does something inexplicable. He packs a little container of "store bought vinaigrette."

Michael, why would be watching you if we wanted to use salad dressing out of a bottle??? We can do that ourselves WITHOUT watching you. I get that you want to get on the road and get moving. But why can't those beautiful mushrooms, dressed in that nice vinaigrette, get mixed with the greens? Or bring a bit of balsamic vinegar to toss them in...

Probably sensing my discomfort, he moves on quickly to a "one of (his) favorite salads of all time - a little spring rice salad." He's featuring a lot of favorites today. He has an interesting method for cooking Arborio rice. He uses LOTS of water "to keep the rice moving around." He brings it to the boil and simmers for 15 to 20 minutes.

To add to the rice salad, Michael cuts asparagus on an angle. As soon as he feels a little resistance to his knife, he makes one more cut and then discards the stems. He blanches the asparagus with peas for a minute and a half. Meanwhile he gives the rice a nice stir, so it doesn't stick. He takes out the asparagus and peas and lays them out on a paper towel.

Next he blanches fava beans for 3 minutes. He cools and peels them and adds them to the other vegetables. Use Lima beans if you can't find fava beans. Now here's what interesting to me. He's PEELING fava beans, for goodness sake, but he's using store-bought vinaigrette. It doesn't compute.

We come back after a break to Michael getting his bike ready for the road. I'm sure it's some kind of awesome bike, but I don't know a Schwinn from one that's handmade of titanium. I'm just hoping we get to see him in those tight biker shorts.

He explains that our bodies can only store about 1 1/2 to 2 hours worth of energy and after that you have to refuel, so it's important to take along a good lunch.

He dices some ham to add protein to the rice salad. He adds diced cubes of pecorino as well. He drains the rice and puts it out on a cookie sheet to cool. He zests a lemon on top of the rice. He also chops basil and parsley. For the dressing, he juices lemons and adds salt and pepper. The salt sort of melts in the lemon juice. He adds olive oil and containerizes the dressing separately. The rice, veggies, ham and cheese are in another container. Why isn't he putting at least a little of the dressing on the rice now? And why is he using a rather small spatula to mix it, which could mush the rice? He needs a big fork to do the job.

He starts on the trail mix. He mixes dried pears, dried nectarines and dried figs. He's juliennes the pears and nectarines. "Having a hard time finding a date?", he asks us. "No problem, I got a handful right here." Good one. I just LOVE dried fruit humor.

He adds dried cherries, and toasted hazelnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds. He adds a few little Asian sesame snacks and bags them up for his friends.

He packs up everything in his backpack. 3 frozen water bottles will keep everything cold.

We come back to Mike and his friends cycling. I don't see any helmets. Mike, we don't want another Corzine episode, do we?

They pull off the road and Michael's 2 friends wait for him to assemble lunch. He puts the mushroom mixture on top of the bread, then adds the chicken and then the citrus vinaigrette. He dresses the arugula in its bag and that goes on top. "Big old Dagwood." He adds the vinaigrette on top of the rice. I'm sorry but he absolutely could have dressed the rice salad at home.

He serves the guys and they talk about what else? The food, of course. I love it. Just 3 guys in shorts, off their bikes and talking food. What could be better?