Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chef Sean: Coast to Coast

West Coast - Cali

On the Lamb: Chef Sean knew he wanted to cook lamb shanks, so I decided to take him to Iowa Meats. $7.99 a lb - wow! That was a bit more than we expected (especially when we saw them later at Whole Foods for $3 less a lb.), but I’ve never been so pleasantly shocked by a shank. These lambs must have been using Thigh Masters with the amount of meat lodged on their legs.

But their pumped up gams didn’t make them tough guys and with Chef Sean’s method of searing, then braising them in homemade Harissa sauce (tomato, coconut milk, cumin, allspice, coriander, honey, chilies), he'd been successful in creating a full on, fall-off-the-bone, flavor factory.

Using the old noodle: Well, stick a feather in Sean's cap and call it macaroni. Elbow macaroni was the key to this Mom-style, mac-n-cheese that reminded me of a savory M&M with its crisp, outer shell and gooey inside that melted in your mouth (not in your pan) with a cheddar base and handful of jack cheese for extra creaminess.

Dressed to impress: A simple salad of mixed greens, shaved carrots and heirloom tomatoes highlighted the chili/honey dressing that I could have drank by the glassful. But I did feel it needed one more element of crunch – maybe croutons - either way, the dressing should be bottled.

Dessert-ed Island: But I was most impressed with dessert for its elegant splendor, ingenuity and depth of flavor (apparently I was too busy eating to take a picture). Chef Sean married the suppleness of crème brulee and bright notes of citrus in his coconut milk & lime crème anglaise that was accompanied by a small island of mango sorbet. A refreshing getaway, in both taste and perspective, from the average dessert.

East Coast - Jersey

Major Rib-off: With Jersey's suffocating, summer humidity, it would have been torture to turn on the oven, so barbequing was the natural choice. We hit up Drew’s Market where baby back ribs were $7.99 a lb – again?! What were they, platinum ribs? Five racks cost over $100! Apparently our meat buying abilities were horrendous on both sides of the country and if we didn’t have a $65 gift certificate, we would have walked.

But I had other worries running through my mind when Chef Sean decided that the ribs would be cooked from start to finish on the grill. I usually begin mine in a low temp oven with a shallow, beer bath, but he insisted that 100% grill time would work. And with over $100 of meat riding on it, I hoped he was right.

Show us your tomatoes: Summer in Jersey = tomatoes and sweet corn. But I didn’t want to go to down the street to Matt’s Farm Market because they will rape you…well, your wallet anyway. That’s why on the way home from Manasquan beach (yet another reason I was nervous – ribs were grilling away while we were in the ocean!), we noticed Smith’s stand* flashing their tomatoes from the side of the Highway 71 and had to stop.

Smith’s basket of Jersey tomatoes, eight ears of corn, fresh romaine lettuce, avocado, an orange = around $15.

Matt’s basket of Jersey tomatoes, eight ears of corn, fresh romaine lettuce, avocado, an orange = bend over.

*There's another Smith's Farm Market on Allaire Rd that I remember being more expensive, so I don't know that they're affiliated with each other, but this stand was very reasonable.

With veggies taken care of, it was time to check on the ribs. I don’t know why I ever doubted Chef Sean because these babies were beauties. Their “low and slow” phase had tenderized and now it was time to get sauced. The homemade, barbeque glaze with Karo syrup and Mexican coca-cola formed a candy-apple-eque shell surrounding a juicy, meaty center…how many licks does it take to get to the center of a rib pop? *Crunch*...the world may never know.

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