“ This is a cookbook from a serious chef who knows how to make fun of himself and lighten up the whole process. Cooking need not be an overly complicated, overwrought process with eighteen ingredients and fourteen pans. Though you can try using a good iSi siphon and a smoking gun (not that kind of smoking gun). And occasionally some nitrous oxide. Oh, and good ingredients, of course. Plus a spirit of fun. You have the cookbook. Now, as your mother would say, ‘Go play!’”–Tom Colicchio from the Foreward
I am a big fan of Bravo TV’s hit television series Top Chef. Over the 10 seasons of Top Chef two contestants stand out as my favorites. Kevin Gillespie from Season Six and Richard Blais from Season Four and Top Chef All-Stars. I recently took a look at Kevin’s new cookbook, Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking. A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Richard Blais’s first cookbook Try This at Home: Recipes from My Head to Your Plate.
Richard recounts a story from his season of Top Chef that I remember well. It was the moment when Richard Blais became my favorite chef of that season. Richard had created a dish of linguine and clam sauce. The linguine, though was not traditional pasta but thinly shaved sweet potatoes paired with conch and oregano.I remember thinking how much I wished I had the knowledge and creativity to come up with ideas like that. But it wasn’t the dish as much as Chef Blais’s response to the judges praise that stood out the most to me, “I pretty much hate everything I cook,” he told them.
It was this dedication to his craft combined with an insecurity about his ability as a chef. When you combine his insecurities along with his sense of humor it’s no wonder Chef Blais remains one of the more popular chefs to have ever appeared on Top Chef. I have been eagerly anticipating the release of Try This At Home: Recipes from My Head do Your Plate for almost 6 months. It did not disappoint.
The recipes in Try This at Home (TTAH) might just be the most challenging of any cookbook I’ve read, but at the same time they are also some of the most inspiring. This is not a cookbook, necessarily, for a home cook or home eater who does not have a little daring in their food heart.
With recipes like New Yorkshire Pudding with Licorice-Spiked Creamed Spinach, Macaroni + Headcheese or Smoked Caesar Salad you might need to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to cooking and eating. Chef Blais also breaks out the liquid nitrogen in a couple of recipes, although on of the recipes is for a non-edible quick hair gel made of duck fat. See what I’m talking about on your comfort zone?
Although there is certainly a great deal of whimsical, yet edible, dishes in TTAH it isn’t all just fun and cooking games. This is a cookbook that will enlighten you and offers a good solid foundation to those who want to increase their knowledge about the kitchen.
Richard’s section on My Favorite Pieces of Equipment will give you a good idea of, not only where you’re going in the book, but also where you can go in your kitchen. From an iSi Siphon to a Spoon you’ll learn what Chef Blais thinks is important to have in the kitchen, but more importantly you’ll learn the why of its importance.
“A new way to make a dish is always on Richard Blais’s mind”
Try This at Home: Recipes from My Head to Your Plate will do one of two things for your cooking perspective. It will either inspire you to cook outside of your box or it will turn your kitchen experience upside down. The book might, just might do both. Chef Blais has written a cookbook that I can’t put down. I find myself picking it up just because and every time I do something new leaps off the page with me. I doubt I’ll ever use liquid nitrogen when cooking but I can sure picture chicken-flavored Agar-Agar Noodles being on the dinner table soon.
- 12 head-on large prawns or jumbo Black Tiger shrimp
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus (optional) more for garnish
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1?4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 ounces pancetta,finely diced
- 1 large prawn or jumbo Black Tiger shrimp, shelled, deveined, and finely minced
- 2 anchovies, mashed, or 1?2 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 1?2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup Tomato Sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1 cup instant polenta
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon white truffle oil(optional)
- Put the 12 prawns in a bowl or large resealable plastic bag, add the oil, garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary, lemon zest, salt, and pepper, and mix until well coated.
- Cover, or seal the bag, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, to make the sauce: Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until just crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the minced prawn, anchovies, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring to break up the prawn, until the anchovies are dissolved,2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to asimmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce is very thick, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Keep warm over very low heat until ready to serve.
- Bring the milk, stock, and salt to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat.
- Whisking constantly, slowly pour in the polenta in a slow, steady stream, then whisk until very smooth. Cook, whisking, until the polenta begins to bubble and get very thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the butter and truffle oil, if using. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Cover to keep warm.
- Heat a cast-iron grill panover medium-high heat. Remove the prawns from the marinade, shaking off the excess oil, and grill, turning once, until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
- To serve, divide the polenta among four large plates. Place 3 prawns on the polenta on each plate, and drizzle the sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the chopped herbs and serve immediately.