Abalone Ambitions | Sauteéd Abalone

I drive north from Morro Bay, nine miles along Highway 1 to buy abalone, a key ingredient in one of my favorite special dishes. Abalone has been cherished for centuries for its delicate flavor, beautiful shell and, among other believers, its aphrodisiac qualities.

The drive to the Abalone Farm on the north end of Cayucos at Estero Point, along some of the most scenic coastline in California, is as wonderful as the succulent mollusk I’m procuring. Turning left off Route 1, I soon detect the smell of wild sage and rosemary. Cresting the last steep hill of a winding, bumpy dirt road, the farm comes into view. Scores of cement salt water tanks filled with kelp and abalone stretch across the tops of the cliffs above the crashing waves of the blue Pacific below.

The Abalone Farm is the oldest and largest producer of farm-raised abalone (halitosis rufescent) per year, which it supplies to restaurants and ships all over the world. If I arrive during lunch, I may catch a soccer game between teams made up of the farm’s largely Hispanic work force. Brad, the General Manager, usually meets me in the lower parking area, from which we ascend to the production building to pick up my order.

In the production area, six to eight women seated at worktables and armed with tenderizing mallets pound away at the abalone flush to make it tender enough to eat. Brad usually reaches between the falling mallets to grab a couple small steaks for us to sample sashimi style. After dipping them in a mixture of rice vinegar, soy sauce and red chili oil, we down the delicious slices with quick chew.

I like to sauté abalone when I’m not using it for sashimi or sushi. Preparing sautéd Abalone is very simple; however, the trimming is critical. Chris Jones, a long-time friend, taught it to me more than 40 years ago. Chris liked to dive for wild abalone at a time when they were still plentiful along the Central Coast.

Let’s get cookin’!

Sauteéd Abalone

 

Ingredients

Abalone

Eggs

Saltine Crackers

Clarified Butter

Lemon

 

 

Begin with pounded pieces of abalone steak. Dip them in whole beaten eggs, then place them in crushed saltine crackers, breading the abalone on both sides. To sauté, bring clarified butter up to temperature. Place the abalone steaks in a large pan, taking care not to crowd them. Lightly brown the steaks, approximately 40 seconds per side. At the last minute, squeeze a fresh lemon over them and serve immediately, ladling a little of the now browned-butter over them. Any overcooking will cause the abalone to toughen and dry. 

What I like about the dish is its simplicity. There’s no reason to even accompany it with a sauce. The light cracker crust seals in the abalone’s delicate flavor. We serve the dish on our charter yacht, the Papagallo II, and always to rave reviews. 

In 2012, I was hired as a guest chef for a video shoot in Monterey, California, to introduce Dreaming Tree Everyday, a new wine varietal brought out by Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthew’s Band. I prepared Sautéd Abalone for Dave and his winemaker as a part of the shoot. Dave said it was one of the best things he had ever eaten.

Enjoy!

Chef Len

Rack of Lamb | Garlic/Tomato Reduction & Date-Fig Mint Jam

Nothing elevates the simplest of get together’s like a rack of lamb. Let’s get right to it as this is a lengthy one, but well worth the detailed instruction. Your next get together will be a hit!

Ingredients:

  • Frenched rack of lamp.
  • Garlic, chopped
  • All-purpose meat rub spice
  • Butter
  • Roma tomatoes, diced
  • White Wine
  • Dried Dates
  • Mint Sprigs
  • Red chili peppers, dried
  • Mint jelly
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Rosemary

Instruction:

Remove any excess fat at the base of the rub bones of the Frenched rack or on the rib eye itself. Don’t remove all the fat, as it’s an important part of the cooking process; supplying flavor to the finished dish. Season with a dry all – purpose spice rub, or add salt and black pepper with a little rosemary. Rub the seasoning over the entire rack up to three the bones have been Frenched. If the rack is to be charbroiled, wrap the exposed bones in foil to protect them from blackening. If the lamb is to be roasted in the over, the foil is not necessary. If broiling outside on he BBQ grill, start the seasoned rack on the hot part of the fire and brown quickly on both sides. Then move it to a cooler part of the fire to finish cooking, which could take up to 40 minutes depending on the BBQ. Ideal doneness is achieved at an internal temp of 125 to 130 degrees for medium rare. Like most steak – cut meats, the rack should not be cooked to the well-done stage, which greatly reduces the dish’s quality.

If roasting, place the seasoned rack in a hot oven at 425 degrees for the first five to ten minutes, until the meat browns. Reducte the temp to 375 degrees to finish cooking, which will take approximately 20 minutes, or when the internal temp reaches 125 – 130 degrees on a meat thermometer half way to the center of the thickest part of the eye to get an accurate reading. The reading should climb the scale steadily, and slow when reaching the desired level. If it climbs too fast, you’ll likely over cook the lamb. Remember the lamb will continue to cook a little after removing it from the oven or broiler.  Paying close attention to the lamb’s temp and how it rises can make all the difference.

When the rack reaches the desired temp range, remove it from the heat and let it rest a couple of minutes before carving. To serve, cut four two-rib portions by running a sharp French knife between the bones and completely through the eye, creating beautiful medium-rare two-bone chops. Crisscross each two-bone pair in the center of the dinner plate to serve with your choice of side items.

In years past, lamp was always served with a small portion of mint jelly, a practice some restaurants still follow, but many more creative sauces and garnishes are available to enhance the flavor of this dish, including two of my favorites –  a garlic and roma tomato reduction and date-fig mint jam.

Prepare the garlic and tomato reduction by warming half of a stick of butter in a saucepan. Add eight cloves of chopped garlic and two dices roma tomatoes, also known as plum or Italian plum tomatoes. Cook down slightly, then add half a cup of white wine and reduct by half. Season with a little salt and pepper, and serve as a reduction or pureed to a velvety smoothness and ladled under the chops.

For the date-fig mint jam, place half a cup each of dried figs and dates in a food processor. Add a few sprigs of fresh mint and a teaspoon of fried red chilies, and blend into a paste. Stir in half a jar of mint jelly until the mixture acquires the consistency of jam. Thin, if necessary, with a little warm water, and serve on the side.

Bon Appetite!

Chef Len

WHERE’S  THE  BEEF? | Serrano’s Chili Verde

Forget the beef, let’s do pork — Serrano’s Chili Verde
     Easy as Uno, Dos, Tres!

I first tasted Serrano’s Chili Verde over 20 years ago at the Bakersfield Country Club, where I was the General Manager.  It was one of the club’s main dishes and often served as a lunch special.  Fidencio Serranc, the first cook at the club, learned the recipe, an authentic Mexican version, from his mother.  We all looked forward to it.  How simple it is to prepare is the most surprising thing about the recipe.  Whenever he made it, the other cooks tossed tortillas on the open fire to heat, and then spooned in helpings of the Chili Verde, rolling up the tortillas for quick, flavorful snacks.  It happened every time a pot showed up on the stove.

 

Ingredients:
2 lbs. pork butt, cubed
1 large yellow onion, diced
10 cloves garlic, minced
20 tomatillos, outer skins removed
4 large jalapeno chili peppers, roasted and diced
5 Tbs. cumin, ground
2 cans green enchilada sauce
1/3 cup lard
chicken stock, optional
salt & pepper to taste
flour tortillas for service

Method:
Melt the lard in a heavy roast pan or skillet. Add the onion, garlic and pork, browning over medium heat.  Brown the tomatillos in a hot oven.  When the pork browns, add the tomatillos, jalapenos, cumin and the enchilada sauce to cover the sauce to cover the meat, then stir.  If necessary, add enough chicken stock to fully cover the meat. Season and slow cook covered in the oven until meat is tender.

Chef’s note:

Depending upon desired taste, a little more cumin and jalapeno pepper can be added to increase the flavor and heat of the dish.

Serving suggestions:

Serve with flour tortillas and Spanish rice.  This is a very versatile dish and can be used in breakfast omelets, tacos, burritos, enchiladas and meat quesadillas.

YUM!

Chef Len

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAUTEED  CALAMARI  STEAK | Keeping it Simple


                                                  


Calamari – What is it?  It is the body of a large Squid with no head; a great protein food source low in fat often referred to as Humboldt Squid.  It is tough and rubbery and always should be tenderized before cooking unless you use a slow cook method.  Sometimes available fresh in fish markets, but most often purchased frozen.  It can also be purchased online.  The frozen product usually comes tenderized, but I always hit it again with a meat mallet to be sure my finished dish will be tender.  This tenderizing step is similar to my Abalone preparation.  The steaks I use are five to six ounce portions, about a quarter inch thick.  Price per pound fluctuates with market but fairly consistent at $5.00 per pound.  Grab your apron and head to the kitchen – let’s get cookin’.

METHOD:

Thaw steak overnight in refrigerator or to thaw quickly, place in a container of cold water for about 15 minutes until pliable.

TENDERIZING:

Place steak between two sheets of cling film and lightly pound with meat mallet. It is best to pound from the edges and work toward the center. Don’t pound too firmly as the steak will tear and be difficult to work with.  It normally doubles in size after pounding.

BREADING:

Use the standard breading procedure. Dredge in seasoned flour, dip in egg wash, and then place in breading media to coat.  I use Panko, but crushed Saltine Crackers also work well.  During the breading, the thin steak may be a little difficult to work with. Don’t worry if it breaks in two, just bread both parts.  After breading, you can go right to sautéing then service.  The tenderized steak can be refrigerated an hour or so before cooking or wrapped and frozen for future use.  The quality is best if cooked soon after breading.  In many restaurants, it is breaded to order then sautéed.

SAUTEE:

Use Canola or Vegetable Oil.  Choose a frying pan large enough to accommodate the size of the steak. The oil should be approximately a quarter inch deep and brought up to temperature before placing steak in pan.  Do not deep fry.  Oil should lightly sizzle when steak is sautéed and not crackle like a house afire. If that happens, the oil is too hot.  The best way to check oil temp is to lower the edge of the steak into the oil and it should gently sizzle then place the whole steak in. If there is no sizzle, the oil is not hot enough so wait for the temperature to come up.  Sautee on both sides until golden brown, this should not take more than four minutes. If the steak starts to curl during cooking or if it gets an air pocket underneath it, cut the edge or pierce the pocket with a paring knife until the steak lays flat.

FINISH:

When cooking is finished and steak is plated up, drizzle one or two tablespoons of melted butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon over the top. Garnish with fresh chopped Parsley; best served immediately.

CHEF’S NOTE:

If you’re serving several people and don’t have room on the stove, it’s okay to hold the cooked steaks in a 200 degree oven until served (best no more than 10 minutes).  On the yacht, we accompany this dish with fresh tartar sauce or a homemade Arrabbiata Sauce with Angel Hair Pasta.  Dish pairs well with Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay or a nice Pinot Noir.

Butta Bing, Butta Boom!

Chef Len

 

 

” W T F “. Where’s the food ?

WTF.
More often than not those three letters conjure up a much different meaning than “where’s the food” . Those three letters can go before a statement adding an extra punch to comments that are “unbelievable” , “a total surprise” , ” frustrating” , “angry” or any number of  emotions one might experience in our daily lives.  For the purpose of this my first blog pertaining to “Yacht Food Experiences” . I choose to highlight the more positive and complimentary side of the “WTF” expression. If you will a “WTF” spoken with laughter and joy.

By placing WTF in  front of  “Thats unbelievable  , How does he do it?  , I’m totally surprised,  or How  delicious was that ” ,  I think you get the drift.  So WTF let’s get into the meat of this first of many blogs to  follow – and begin sharing food experiences onboard the motor yacht  Papagallo II.

As the owner and chef onboard during charters , most of my time is spent in a 66 sq. ft. space , that’s 6ft. wide  by 11ft. long . It’s called the galley. During peak service times , especially wine pairing dinners , I share the space with two servers, my wife Midge and Jeanette who also doubles as a line handler. With the close quarters it is not unusual bumping butts in the heat of the battle of a five course pairing.

The galley is equipped with all electric equipment ( Coast Guard requirement)  consisting of Jenn-Air range top (four elements) , three rack oven , microwave, dishwasher, two door refrigerator / freezer combo, and a 26 lb. capacity ice machine.

My cooking style and recipes have evolved over the last 50 plus years (Yes 50 , I began my career at age 13). That style is very intuitive . I take ,  measurements by eye, check flavors and textures by taste , and know aromas by nose. With our time and space restraints onboard “Mise en Place” and pin point timing is essential in creating a  memorable experience for the guest cruising with us.

While we are cruising , many guests will peek into the galley or peer  through the galley window on the port side to check out the symphony of movement taking place as the night’s fare is plated up for service. Their voices muttered in soft tones express astonishment at the dishes we are able to create in the cramped conditions. This is when we begin to hear the  compliments after a couple of courses and glasses of wine. A favorite is “WTF , how do they do what they do in that space? ” or “WTF, I thought the food was catered in.

Once in a while we hear a “Holy Shit” that was fantastic! 

When the cruise is over and we assist the guest off the yacht amidst much hugging, hand shaking, fist bumps, air kissing, and broad smiles , the comment that overwhelmingly wins the day is; “The Cruise was Magical.” That’s just fine with us reinforcing the fact that we have done our best , a job well done. So , WTF. Where’s The Food ?

Stay tuned for my next blog,

Chef Len