Secrets of a Restaurant Chef with Anne Burrell
The Secret to Pasta Bolognese
Grilled Asparagus with Poached Egg, Parmigiano and Lemon Zest
There are three things you should know about restaurant chef Anne Burrell. The first is that even though her spiky white/blonde hair is in the same vein as Guy Fieri, she’s a complete original from flailing her arms around as she's making a point to her choice of earthy (literally) language to describe what and how she’s cooking – crud, crap – it’s all a part of her vernacular.
The second is that she’s been Mario’s go-to-gal on the Iron Chef, chosen by the great one to assist him. If anyone can spot talent behind the stove, it’s M.B.
And the third factoid about Anne is that Frank Bruni is a great fan of her work with a deep fat fryer. Those things are good enough for me to know that she has plenty to teach us.
The show begins with Anne telling us that “Pasta Bolognese is not just a meat sauce…it’s passionately learned by experience.” You take the sauce “to the edge of disaster and then yank it back.” “Just like toast, it’s best one step before it’s burnt.” I’m not sure I agree with THAT, but I’m getting that this will be one flavorful sauce.
Anne chops carrots, celery and onions roughly and then puts them in the food processor to PURÉE. Hmmm…interesting. She tells us that breaking them down will allow the vegetables to give out all their goodness.
Anne smashes garlic and throws that in the food processor. "Purée, Purée, Purée,” she chants. She heats a big sauté pan with olive oil and adds the vegetables, which have been puréed, in case you missed that.
Anne says “browning the crap” out of the vegetables develops layers of flavors. I might have put it differently, but I get her point. She warns us not to skip this step. She adds a good amount of salt.
She starts her poached eggs, by filling another pot with a couple of inches of water. Her secret trick is…wait, I know, I know…add some vinegar, which sets the white instantly. You can also add it when hard boiling eggs, in case you crack one slightly as you add it to the water. She adds 3 tablespoons of vinegar.
She goes back to her browning vegetables and stirs them well, then goes to her see-through fridge to get the asparagus. They still have a purple tinge to them, which means they’ve been picked recently she tells us. Anne cuts the tips off and puts them in her “thank you for coming bowl”. Wait, that had better not be a RR garbage bowl. It actually could be…I’m going to try to not hold that against her, because I quite like this show.
The asparagus go on a sheet tray. Anne cuts a loaf of Tuscan bread into thickish slices, which she’ll grill.
After waving her arms around, she goes over to the fridge to get the ground round, which she says is pretty “muscly” and perfect for Bolognese. She adds it to the pot, telling us it has to brown, brown, brown. She adds LOTS of salt. “Big, high seasoning from the beginning” is important. She pours olive oil over the asparagus and rolls them in it. She adds them to her stove top grill with the bread slices. Anne says she’s going to poach the eggs ahead, because “she can”. They can sit in ice water. She turns the asparagus.
Back to the eggs – hands start waving, water is boiling, more hand waving, the heat gets turned down. She calls it an Egg Jacuzzi. She cracks the eggs carefully into the pot. (I like to crack them into a little bowl and pour them into the simmering water.)
She removes the eggs and puts them in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking. She takes the asparagus off the grill and puts them back on the sheet pan, then rubs cut garlic over the grilled bread before drizzling oil over for a big fat finish.
Anne goes back to the Bolognese and stirs it vigorously. She says she has achieved “crud-dom”. Okay, that’s gross, but I know what she means. She wants all those little browned bits on the bottom of the pan, which will give the sauce flavor. She opens a can of tomato paste and adds an entire large can. She’s going to brown it for 4 to 5 minutes. She stirs it in, lets it brown, stirs again and lets it brown again.
I sort of wish Anne would stop saying, “at the restaurant we do this”, or “at the restaurant we use that”. Just say WHICH restaurant. She has a lengthy bio with tons of cooking experience. She’s obviously referring to either Centro Vinoteca or Gusto Ristorante e Bar Americano. All they would have to do to clarify this is to have a shot of Anne walking into a restaurant with its name clearly visible in the opening sequence. You know…a la Giada, when she’s strolling through a pastry shop or a market.
Over at the stove, it’s time for “happy hour’ as Anne adds an entire bottle of Cabernet. “It helps to bring our sauce together.” She’s reducing it by half and also uses the wine to scrape the stuff off the bottom. Lastly she adds water and starts reducing the sauce. Then she’ll add more water and reduce, more water and reduce etc. She tastes it and throws in a handful of salt...not just a pinch or a bit, but a handful. She keeps reducing it and stirring. More walking away, more stirring every once in awhile, as she cooks it a total of 3 to 4 HOURS.
I can see why Anne chose these recipes – not the trendiest ones in the book. They illustrate various techniques that she wants us to learn that we can take and use elsewhere in other recipes. I’m all for that.
I still remember what a revelation it was the first time I made a real ragu from Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking. Just as Anne describes it, you soften the vegetables COMPLETELY (although they weren’t pulverized like these). Then Marcella took you through various separate steps - sauté the meat, add wine and boil that away. Add stock and let that cook for awhile. Then the tomatoes get added near the end almost as an afterthought, certainly not the central flavor of the dish.
For the pasta, Anne seasons the water in the same heavy handed way as the sauce, so it’s like sea water. She doesn’t want underseasoned pasta hitting her carefully crafted sauce.
Anne explains this sauce takes care and time and patience. She’s ladles half the sauce out of her pot, presumably to save for another time. She tosses the slightly undercooked spaghetti into the sauce remaining in the pot. She tossy tosses it way up in the air. Wow! She could be a champion arm wrestler. She adds just a bit of pasta water. She wants the pasta and the sauce to be as one.
Back to the resting eggs for a sec. She adds them back into the salted poaching water.
Fresh lemon juice, coarse salt, extra virgin “finishing oil” get tossed with baby arugula. Grilled asparagus goes over. Bread gets doused with more oil. Anne takes the egg out of the water and “makes a pit stop” on a paper towel to blot the water off the egg. Then onto the asparagus. She grates a generous amount (I can’t imagine Anne being less than generous with anything) of Parmesan and zests some lemon rind over. She arranges the toast on the plate and done!
The spaghetti and sauce are looking good. She adds cheese and olive oil to “set the perfect texture”. She stirs well and plates it. She runs down her secrets to a perfect Bolognese:
She cooks and browns every stage - vegetables, meat and tomato paste.
She takes her time.
She cooks the wine down.
She lets it cook for hours.
Anne finishes off the dish with more cheese and more “erl” - oil. She loves it and tells us she’s going back for more. I think I’ll come back for more. She has a lot to teach us.
She seems like the quintessential restaurant chef – big and bold, down to earth and coarse, yes, but with a cultivated palate and she’s a lot of fun. I have to give kudos to the Food Network for bringing her aboard. Let’s just hope that the same people who thought Adam was an appropriate choice as a potential host on the Food Network keep Anne around for awhile and let her do her thing.