Sunday, August 3, 2008

Aaron McCargo, You Had Me At Hello…

Big Daddy's House with Aaron McCargo

Boys Night In

Justin’s Chicken Tender Salad
Josh’s Roast Pork Sandwich
Oven Baked Seasoned Fries

Well, not exactly, but I DO love that movie and Aaron is a friendly enough sort of guy. Oh, lookie here, the Neelys had Aaron over at their show to cook. How did they do THAT so fast? The show ends with Aaron sitting down to dinner with the barbecue couple. They look cozy together.

Aaron’s show starts. We see a quick repeat of his winning moment. We get a glimpse of his Camden hometown and lots of scenes of him in the kitchen. We meet Dad (who looks really young) and Mom (who he says ate anything he cooked) and his sons Josh, Justin and Jordan.

Didn’t he mention that one of his sons had run away right before TNFNS. These kids are young! (And I think he only has 3 kids.) I’m confused…what else is new?

Today’s recipes are inspired by his boys. Aaron is cooking Justin’s Chicken Tender Salad and Josh’s Roast Pork Sandwich, plus Oven Baked Seasoned Fries.

He starts by mixing up a spice mix, using smoked paprika, granulated onion and granulated garlic powder. Stop right there.

I HATE dried onion and garlic and the ONLY time I use them is when I make a Cajun style rub. I figure if Paul Prudhomme requires them in his seasoning mix, that’s good enough for me. This is basically what Aaron is doing with the seasoning, so I'll let him proceed. He’s going to use it as a rub on pork and chicken, as well as on potatoes.

The spice blend is 1/2 cup salt, 1/4 cup pepper, 1/4 cup granulated onion and garlic powder, 1/2 cup smoked paprika and 3 tablespoons seasoned salt. Aaron mixes it up with his hands.

Aaron pounds out the chicken under a piece of plastic to make it thinner and then cuts it into strips. He says his three year old gave him the idea for this salad.

He’s using tortilla chips instead of breadcrumbs. That’s a really good idea. He puts them in a bag and suggests having your kids smash them into crumbs. THAT’S a good idea, too. Aaron gets flour and 3 beaten eggs ready to coat the chicken.

Do you remember my chant? Flour, egg, crumb; flour, egg, crumb. Aaron quickly coats the chicken. I do like to be a bit more precise. I also only use one hand to flour, egg and crumb and I try not to get ooky above the second knuckle. That sounds really obsessive, but really it’s just so I have one hand free for emergencies and who wants to be up to one's elbow in raw-chicken-touched-coating-stuff?

It’s interesting that Aaron is having no problem talking as he’s cooking. That was one of his problems on TNFNS. He seems at ease. He’s got good technique and he’s easy to watch and listen to.

Oh, I can’t believe I just said that. I totally couldn’t understand the last thing he said. I thought he said, “DON’T LET your kids eat the chicken out of the bowl.” And I thought WHO would let a kid eat raw chicken?!! I replayed it and he was talking about the CHIPS. Okay, but the rest was fine.

Oh, this interesting. He’s doing 2 kinds of chicken fingers. He’s crushing up spicy tortilla chips for one batch and blue tortilla chips for another with a milder flavor. The 2 colors will look good together too. You know THIS IS a good idea and it’s a good way to use up the end of a bag of chips.

Aaron pours A LOT of grapeseed oil (a cup) into a frying pan over medium high heat. He likes this oil because it can stand up to a lot of heat. He adds enough chicken to fit the pan, but not enough to overcrowd it. It needs to breathe, Aaron tells us. Because the chicken has been pounded thin, it will cook quickly. He finishes frying and sprinkles over a bit of his spice mix. He tests the blue tortilla chip ones for doneness.

Next is Josh’s Roast Pork Sandwich. Aaron heats a cast iron frying pan to sear the pork. He heats water to cook the broccoli rabe. He shows us a tied pork loin. He splits his seasoning up, so he can use some for the pork without tainting it for everything else.

He tells us about his restaurant in Camden. Wait, he never said anything about a restaurant. Maybe it closed and instead of whining about it like Adam, he became a chef in a hospital and actually did something with his life…

He coats the pork with the spices. Aaron adds a bit of grapeseed oil to the hot pan. (I’m seeing a trend here.) He puts the loin in fat side down in the hot oil. He rolls it all four sides. It’s browned-burned. He puts it on a rack on a baking sheet into the oven. No hint as to the temperature or time.

Aaron cuts the broccoli rabe into one inch pieces. He blanches it in salted, boiling water for one minute. (I’m not sure that’s enough time to tone down the bitterness.) He gets another frying pan ready with oil, garlic, and cayenne. He heats that until the garlic is just brown. Aaron says the broccoli rabe will be ready in 2 or 3 minutes. (That’s more like it.) He throws the drained greens into the frying pan. He shakes it nicely and adds his seasoning and then cooks it for a minute or two.

Aaron starts on his fries. He grabs his ingredients.

Hold on a second. Let’s digress to speak about his speaking. He is definitely not using the Queen’s English. Do I care? Actually, I don’t. Maybe it’s because I like him that I don't mind his colloquial speech. He’s not so over the top that I can't understand him. Perhaps the reason it’s ok with me is because he’s SPEAKING. I admit there may be an issue when and if there’s a Big Daddy cookbook. I’m not sure how “I also gonna need me some fresh herbs,” is going to translate to written form. All I can say is that he’s a pleasure to watch. He’s easy going, so is his language and so what?

He’s using a mandolin to cut his potatoes. That’s funny, my friend A just asked me if I thought she should get one. THAT is the one piece of kitchen equipment that I have never missed. I guess if I had one, I’d use it all the time, but I like having a pile of vegetables in front of me with a knife to do my dirty work…..

So Aaron French fries his potatoes on a mandolin (it sure is quicker than by hand) and pours over what looks like a lot more than a quarter cup of grapeseed oil. He says don’t drown them, but because you’re not frying them you can afford to use a reasonable amount. He strips rosemary and chops it with thyme and puts that with the potatoes along with chopped garlic in oil. He adds 2 tablespoons of his seasoning and mixes it around. “There are a lot of happy flavors going on around here.”

They go on 2 baking sheets in a single layer. He makes sure to use all the oil and seasoning in the bottom of the bowl. He bakes them at 325°F, no at 350°F, no at 400°F. What?!! I’m confused.

Aaron puts together the salad. He cuts a head of romaine, drains the black beans and cuts tomatoes. Romaine and field green go on a platter. The beans go over that. (I like to rinse them until the water doesn’t have any foamy stuff in it.) Next Aaron sprinkles over cheese (what kind?) and then adds the tomatoes and the chicken fingers. It looks pretty. He chops up and sprinkles some fresh cilantro over.

The pork loin comes out. Still no hint about time or temperature. Aaron slices it as thinly as possible. He cuts ciabatta rolls in half and puts them cut side down on the cutting board. Huh? He covers them with provolone cheese, then pork, then the broccoli rabe. None of this is easy, because the tops are domed and everything is sliding off of them.

He gets out a tabletop grill and manages to get these leaning tower of Pisa sandwiches in there and barely closes the top. He does this, he says, because the tops and bottoms are already crusty. THIS way the soft insides of the roll will pick up some texture. That’s fine, but I think he needs to SQUASH THEM DOWN more. There is no way to eat that.

Aaron takes out the fries. The sandwiches have compressed (a bit). He tastes one. “This is so good. It’s making me cry.” He brings Justin to the table. He makes him wash his hands first. Aaron serves him some salad. He offers him some Peppercorn Ranch Dressing…out of a jar.

Okay, where did THAT come from? Please don’t tell me from a supermarket shelf. There’s no way of knowing, because the Food Network, which DID do a good job of rushing Aaron to air before we all forgot about him, has not seen fit to post his actual recipes. I hope the links at the top will have the recipes soon.

In general, good job. Producer Gordon Elliot is clearly letting Aaron being Aaron. I like him, so I like the show. If you’re not a fan, you won’t like the show most likely. Lucky for you, you'll have your Sunday afternoons free. Me? Remember how I started this post, so I’m sticking around hoping he doesn’t say bye-bye too soon.


Emiline said...

The show sounds good. I can't believe his show is already on!

I've never used a mandolin before. It's one of those tools that you probably use a lot, once you try it. Or maybe not.

I feel the same way about garlic and onion powder...unless...let's say you need intense onion flavor in a short amount of time - what do you do?

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I want you to know that the first blog I read (and HAD to read) when I came back from vacation was your TNFNS recap. You officially had me addicted.

I hate powdered onion and garlic too! I will make all sorts of substitutions to avoid them.

My knife skills are AWFUL. I do loves me my mandoline. I don't have the patience or the dexterity to chop things properly with a knife.

Nancy said...

I am so glad to read your comments about the McCargo show because we did not get the new show here in Tucson. They programmed the "Star" show over and over again so it was extra disappointing not to see the "star" in action. Neither do we get Anne Burrell or Jamie Oliver so it makes Food Network Musing a must read for me.

Anonymous said...

I didn't watch TNFNS but watched Aaron's first show and found him very pleasant and relaxed in front of the stove and camera. I hope he works out because he's much better than the gal who won the last season. Please, oh please, would you review Ask Aida?? I didn't like her show at all. The questions Aida fielded weren't really answered and that techie guy reading the emails and showing the videos is annoying. What's your take on Aida?

Anonymous said...

I wondered about the kid thing as well, when they showed his family at the end of the season finale. If he's only 31, maybe this was a son he had when he was younger, and either gave up for adoption, or maybe is being raised by the baby momma's grandparents? So it's "his" son, but he doesn't raise him, and so that's why even though his son ran away, he was there? Dunno.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I love the idea of the crunched up tortilla chips! What an awesome idea!

For me, I can never justify the use of dried onion, but dried pulverized garlic, I can see a use for at times, but very few.

Sue said...

They were smart to get things going quickly.

You’d probably love a mandolin. But wait, you might cut your hand on that too.

The strong onion or garlic flavor that you get from the powder is so artificial tasting to me that even though it’s intense, it’s yucky... although, as I said, I have used it in rubs.

If you want a strong onion or garlic flavor, probably the best way to get it is to sauté it in oil. 99% of the time, I soften my onions first, because I love the sweet deep flavor that gives them. But if you crank up the heat and let them brown before they’ve softened and while they’re still crunchy, you’ll get a nice pungent onion-y flavor. The same for garlic, but, of course, it burns easily.

Awwwww, thanks Rach. Maybe you should have postponed your vacation until the show was over. (Okay, that would be a little over the top, just to have seen Adam.)

I’m with you on the powdered onion and garlic.

That’s impressive that you use a mandolin, but all you need to do to improve your knife skills is to sharpen your knives regularly and just get chopping!

Hi Nancy,
I’m so glad I have such a faithful reader. I didn’t know the FN varied its schedule in different parts of the country. That makes no sense. You’ll live without Aaron, but no Jamie?!! That’s not fair.

Yay, Anon!
We agree!

I haven’t seen Aida, but for YOU, I’ll take a look. Watch for it…

Hi Amy,
I felt weird wondering about it, so I’m glad I wasn’t the only one. No, I really think he must have been talking about the oldest of his 3 young boys. And now that you reminded me that Aaron’s only 31, that’s who it must have been. He wouldn’t have said he only has 3 kids, when there was a 4th that he actually mentioned on the show. Would he?

Hi Jenn,
I love the idea of tortilla chips as a coating too.

I'm curious what your Italian cooking mentors would say if you asked them about using dried garlic or onion. I hope they don't attack with you a rolling pin...

Anonymous said...

Are you located in the SF Bay area? I just wanted to let you know that Aaron McCargo will be on ABC 7's "the View From the Bay," Thursday November 12th. If you want FREE tickets to the show you can call the ticket request line at 415-954-7733. He will be cooking Festive and Healthy Holiday Treats.