Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Michael Chiarello - Master Of Salads And My Heart

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello

Salad For Dinner

Raw Corn, Arugula, and Pecorino Salad with Grilled Chicken Breast
Warm Peach and Prosciutto Salad
Old World Italian Fruit Bowl on Ice
Pecorino with Honey and Hazelnuts
Prosecco Digestif

To get the recipes:
Click here

This was a really interesting show where MC used many different techniques and showed us some great ways of doing things, as well as producing his usual topflight recipes.

Michael loves salads so much that he wanted to do an entire show about them and use them as an excuse for a party. He's going to host a salad supper (I hate that word, because I think it implies an diminution of an incredibly important part of the day - dinner) right in the middle of the garden.

He starts with a robust spice blend for chicken that's going to be grilled. He loves to toast his own whole spices and then make a powder. That does result in an amazing flavor and is well worth the effort. Fennel seeds aren't my favorite, but I'm willing to give them another try in this mixture. He's toasting the fennel seeds with coriander seeds and peppercorns until smoky. He pours them out onto a dinner plate to cool. They go into a grinder and he gets them nice and fine. He pours them out onto wax paper. I do that too! He mixes in chili powder, salt and cinnamon right on the wax paper. He sets that aside while he makes the vinaigrette.

Now this is a little DIFFERENT. He's going to use an entire orange - pulp, skin, pith, EVERYTHING - in his vinaigrette. He cuts the orange into small slices, puts it into the blender with a small red onion, sage, the juice of another orange and a little water "which gives it something to move around in." Then he adds the olive oil. (Here's another time when we're told to add it slowly with the machine running. I just can't go into it again* - at least today - but you can add it all at once and the world won't end.) He pours this thick very nice looking dressing into a jar. Why didn't he taste it? Won't it be bitter with the whole orange?

*Check the second to last paragraph in this link.

We see Michael buying prosciutto. A strong handshake ends the transaction. I love to see him out and about. He's so self-assured and manly when he goes into the world and hunts and gathers, i.e. procures, the stuff he needs to feed us.

Back in the kitchen...I really like his almost-black dark green shirt. It's got a little shine to it that catches my eye when he moves. Of course, he could be wearing a sackcloth and it would catch my eye when he moves. He's just so darn cute! Why are we here? Oh yeah, there's "supper" to be made.

It's an hour before the visitors arrive. He's peeling the peaches with a vegetable peeler. The peaches need to be "slightly firmer than you would eat out of hand, because they're going to get heated up." So he wants them to be "a little bit crisper." He halves and pits them, then cuts them into wedges. "The peaches can't be any bigger than the smallest mouth at the table." He mixes lemon juice and water together and soaks a paper towel in it. That gets laid directly over the peaches to keep them from browning. That's smart. The recipe says to just pour the water and lemon juice directly over, but I like this way better.

The peaches will be served with the prosciutto. Michael says that when you're buying something for $20 a pound, buy it by the slice, not the pound. I do that too, especially for lox...gosh, he and I are really on the same wavelength. What do you think that means? He cuts each slice in half width-wise and arranges 2 1/2 slices on each plate (5 half slices). He wraps each plate tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerates it until ready to go. I don't think that's really necessary. That's A LOT of plastic wrap to use (it WAS just Earth Day). Throwing the prosciutto on the plates isn't so time consuming that it can't be done just before serving.

He goes back to his chicken. For the salad he's making today, his favorite, he likes to use a bone-in breast. It stays much juicier. I'm with him on that. Boneless chicken breasts are the Wonder bread of the meat and poultry kingdom. (If you have to use them, use the biggest fattest ones you can find.)

Mike salts and puts "a good amount" of toasted spice rub on each side. He reminds us not to forget the other side, even if it's mostly bone. That little piece in there will taste "flat" if it's not treated the same way as the top. Then he brushes the chicken with oil. Brushing oil on something that's covered in a dry rub isn't the easiest thing in the world. Of course, for MC it's no big deal. The best way to do it is to kind of dab the oil on, with a wide brush.

Grill for 8 minutes on each side. Preheat the grill (today he's using a grill pan) on high and then after the chicken goes on, turn it down to medium. Remember that after you put the chicken on the grill, skin side down, don't move it for 3 or 4 minutes - you want those nice grill marks.

He's dealing with the corn now and telling us that a beautiful salad can be ruined by not cleaning the corn properly. Bits of corn silk do not a good salad make. He gives us a couple of great tips. After you've removed the husk and most of the corn silk, rub the rest off with a kitchen towel and that will take care of that. To cut the kernels from the ear, he places the ear of corn in the center of a bundt pan and then cuts down each side. The bundt pan holds the corn in place AND catches all the kernels as they fall from the ear. Very clever.

He's apparently using the corn uncooked in the salad. The recipe does say to use absolutely fresh corn. If you want to cook it, just blanch for less than a minute in boiling water.

MC doesn't want to toss the salad with the dressing until just before serving, but he can still get it ready to go in the bowl. With his beautiful blue(?) eyes flashing, he tells us, "Nothing displeases me more than a salad that's been tossed 45 minutes before you eat it." Ooh, I love finding out what makes you tick, Chef. Let's see if he gives us any more dirt...No such luck.

He puts the dressing, the whole orange one, in the bottom of the bowl. Then the corn, "Corn has a thick skin, so it can have bit of dressing" on it, then the arugula. He seasons up the arugula and shaves pecorino over, not mixing it yet.

Next we see him walking in the garden with a long-haired blonde. He leaves her (a bit reluctantly...am I imagining that?) and goes back to the kitchen. He takes his lemon-ed peaches out of the fridge. He's going to heat them in a beurre noisette based sauce.

He adds butter to a hot pan. He tilts the pan back - this is important - so that the butter stays on the edge of the pan. If he allows the butter to go every which way, part of it will brown prematurely and you'll have a bitter result. As soon as the butter foams (now you can let the butter seep back to the middle of the pan) and subsides (it should be light brown now), add the thyme and balsamic vinegar off the heat.

He is such a master. Season when warm, "so the salt melts nicely." Peaches go in. Toss. Toss. Flip. Flip. You want the peaches warm on the outside, cool on the inside. (Reverse that and that's how I feel about you, Michael.) The peach slices go on top of the arugula and then he places both (artfully) on top of the previously arranged prosciutto.

The recipe says to use spinach. Either would be good. I'm not sure why he's using arugula here, when he's about to finish another arugula salad. He gets the corn and arugula salad out and tosses it all together. He shaves the pecorino overtop and adds the chicken. Dee-licious.

Next shot is him talking to the blonde's cleavage. "Peaches are like asparagus." They are?! "When they come in season, you eat them 3 or 4 times a week and when they're done, they're done."

He pours the Prosecco, adds a raspberry and a slice of peach to each glass. I do love that. He likes Prosecco, because it's low in alcohol and high on flavor.

Then remembering a scene from his childhood, he shows his tablemates how his grandfather used to peel an orange, leaving the peel in a single piece. He puts the fruit in a bowl, adds some pecorino cheese and toasted hazelnuts. He drizzles over honey. Wow, what a ravishing chef, I mean dessert. He reaches over...to a brunette this time, and wipes the corner of her mouth, "Hold on, you got a little nut right there."

Oh, Michael, Michael, I dropped an orange slice down my blouse. Can you help me? I'm visualizing being in the garden...I close my eyes...I'm drinking his Prosecco Digestif...He reaches over...and I...I...I hear EMERIL talking? Oh my gosh, what's going on? I open my eyes and glance up. Oh no, they're repeating the Food Network Awards. I run from the room. My special moment with Michael has ended terribly abruptly, but his recipes live on forever.

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