Sunday, June 22, 2008

Iron Chef

The Event
Every year the Sports Club at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas does an "Iron Chef" competition. This year was no exception. The rules are simple - 4 teams, one secret ingredient, a shared pantry, countertop burners only (no oven), 90 minutes to make 2 or 3 dishes. How hard can it be? Oh, and of course the club members are wandering around, getting up close and watching carefully, and a film crew was filming it for television.

First, the staff at the Four Seasons are to be commended for arranging this excellent event. It was part of the regular theme of "Club Dinners", and about 95 people came to watch. I had the honor of being the captain of team 4. The other team members were Juan, Elena, and Kathryn. All good cooks, and a more compatible group would have been hard to find.

We knew ahead of time what the secret ingredients might be - it was going to be either "onion family", "pepper family" or "zucchini family". Zucchini are also known as courgettes (for European readers). We had done some work ahead of time thinking what we would make for each secret ingredient, so that when the ingredient was unveiled, we would have less time planning and more time to cook. Especially as we knew that if the ingredients were onions, we would need a lot of time - caramelized onions would play a strong part in our dishes and that is a good 45 minutes to an hour monopolizing a burner.

The general observations that I gave to the team were, "keep what we are doing simple and tasty, and the key is managing the time carefully."

The ingredient was unveiled and was onions, so here's what we did.

Asian inspired onion soup:
The idea for this was to have a clean tasting soup that clearly said "onion", but didn't have any of the tongue coating effects that sauteing the onions would leave. This dish was executed beautifully by Juan and Elena.

1 1/2 cups diced sweet yellow (e.g. Vidalia or TX 1015) and white onions
10 scallions - white and 1/2 green parts
7 cups chicken stock
4T soy sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar+1/4 cup water mixed. (Should be rice wine vinegar, but not available)
1 cup dried mushrooms reconstituted and chopped
1 chicken breast cut into small bite sized pieces
2T dark sesame oil (divided use).
3 cloves garlic mashed to a fine paste
1 finely chopped chile pepper (we used jalapeno because that is what was there!)
Salt to taste
3 eggs lightly beaten with 2T water
Finely chopped red pepper for garnish

Into a saucepot put the diced onions, 8 of the chopped scallions (white and 1/2 the green parts), chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, mushrooms (chopped into the same sized pieces as the onion and chicken), and the chicken. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Towards the end of the time, add 1T sesame oil and the mashed garlic, chopped chile pepper and salt if necessary. That depends on the soy sauce you use. Set the soup aside.

Before serving (we did this with 15 minutes to go), reheat the soup to a simmer, swirl in the beaten egg. Serve in bowls garnished with diced red pepper, the remainder of the green onions (white and most of the green) cut on the bias and a few drops of sesame oil on the surface.

Tilapia on a bed of caramelized onion mashed potatoes, garnished with flash fried yellow squash peel and basil


This dish was designed to create intensely flavored mashed potatoes, but with no dairy. The dairy in a traditional mashed potato tends to overpower the delicate fish. The fish was rolled and served vertically with some quickly sauteed yellow and red peppers and green onions as a kind of visible stuffing. The yellow squash peel and basil were flash fried in 375 degree oil to make them very crispy and feathery. This dish was executed mostly by Kathryn, with help from me on some of the fiddly bits.

3 Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 8 pieces each
Salt to taste (divided use)
2 Sweet yellow onions and 1 white onion
2T Vegetable oil + 1T for the peppers/fish
2 cups Vegetable (peanut is better) oil for flash frying the garnish
3/4C Extra Virgin Olive oil (doesn't have to be the highest quality!)
1 yellow squash (or zucchini) peeled with a vegetable peeler - use the peel only
8 Basil leaves
Julienne strips of red/yellow pepper
4 green onions (green parts only)
4 tilapia fillets
Salt and pepper to taste
Small amount of very finely chopped lemon zest

Peel and chop the onions pole to pole in thin slices. Add 2T of vegetable oil to a large saute pan, warm the pan and add the onions and about 1t of salt. Heat over medium until you hear a slight hissing, and then turn the heat to medium low and cook the onions down, stirring frequently. The onions will darken and sweeten. If you want a little more sweetness add a good pinch of sugar. This step takes almost an hour. This recipe will use 2/3 of the caramelized onions. Once the onions are caramelized, they need to be turned to a puree. For the contest we did this by turning them out onto a board and running a knife through them several times. This left a little texture in the onions.

Bring the potatoes to a simmer in a large pan of salted water until they are just cooked through. Do not overcook. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and put back on the heat briefly to drive out any remaining water. Rice the potatoes. and mix with 2/3 the caramelized onions. Stir in the warmed olive oil, add salt/pepper to taste.

Salt the squash peel for about 15 minutes and pat dry. Bring the 2C of oil up to 375 degrees. You can tell that it is hot enough when a small piece of bread dropped in browns very quickly. Put the squash peel into the hot oil (carefully it will hiss and spit) and leaving the heat medium high, cook until crispy. (3 minutes or so) Remove the fried peels, set aside to drain on paper towels. Leaving the heat medium high, add the basil leaves. These will spit and hiss even more! They take about 30 seconds to become crispy. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Gently saute the julienned peppers and the scallion ends in a little oil. Set aside.

Roll the fish fillets and tie. Season with salt/pepper. Cook them in the oil on all sides.

To serve, using a 3 inch diameter ring, make a round of the mashed potatoes. Gently set one cooked tilapia fillet so that it has a hole pointing upwards. Fill the hole with the strips of julienned vegetables. Sprinkle a little lemon zest onto the fish. Garnish the dish and the plate with the flash fried peel.

Caramelized onion ice cream with fresh mango


Heston Blumenthal would have been proud. We had some time left, and Kathryn is an ice cream fan. Knowing how sweet caramelized onions are, she thought it would be a good idea to make an ice cream using them. To freeze the ice cream quickly without an ice cream maker was the major challenge. The kitchen had a supply of dry ice, so we borrowed from Heston Blumenthal's approach and used the dry ice to freeze the ice cream. This was truly a team effort. Kathryn for inspiration and base recipe, Elena for mixing (adding the dry ice is a 2 person operation), Juan for harrying chefs to get vanilla, etc. Chris for ensuring that the onions were the right texture and sweetness and for the preparation of the mango.

2/3C Heavy whipping cream
1/3C Whole Milk
1/3C Granulated sugar
1Vanilla bean - seads scraped out
1/3 of the caramelized onions from the previous recipe
1 mango
1lb of dry ice pulverized in a plastic bag

Chill a large stainless steel bowl in the freezer. Add the milk, sugar and vanilla bean seeds to the bowl and mix until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the cream and whisk the mixture incorporating a little air. Addd the cooled, pureed, caramelized onions and chill it in the freezer. Do not allow it to freeze or crystallize.

Pulverize the dry ice in a plastic bag. Make sure the dry ice is essentially powdered. Add the dry ice into the ice cream base 1 cup at a time. Taking great care because dry ice can cause "freezer burn" on any exposed flesh. All the while you are adding the dry ice, whisk the ice cream base. This incorporates extra air and prevents crystals from forming. The ice cream will foam slightly and set. You want to add enough dry ice so that the ice cream is soft set. Cover the ice cream and transfer to the freezer until ready.

Meanwhile on the serving plate, fan 1/2 a mango, dust with a little vanilla and immediately before serving (in our case with 1:30 on the clock) place a scoop of the ice cream onto the plate.

The Overall Experience

Sadly we didn't win :-(. We did have a wonderful time cooking together. We made new friends, our ie cream was the talk of the evening. We executed our dishes well, we achieved the goal of creating relatively simple dishes and were never under time pressure. So we felt we deserved our beverages afterwards!

1 comment:

nicisme said...

The onion ice cream sounds brilliant! Sorry that you didn't win, but it sounds like you had a fabulous time even so.

Nice recipes you have here! We just need you to get hold of a camera and take a few snaps for us to drool over!