Saturday, January 9, 2010

top chef experiment: take four (southern fried chicken skin with squash casserole and tomato)

Three out of the four Top Chef recipes that I have recreated thus far have been Kevin's.

What's with that?

When I look at the list of recipes that I copied down from the Bravo website (no criteria other than instinctive stomach growling) there is a fair mixture of the different chefs. But something about Kevin's dishes have just drawn me to make them first.

Maybe it's the apparent simplicity of Kevin's food that makes it seem like a good way to wade into Top Chef re-creationism.

Or maybe it's the obvious comfort food aspect of Kevin's cooking. The stick-to-your-ribs ingredients and preparations are perfect for this time of the year.

Still, maybe it's because when I start out to cook one of Kevin's dishes I recognize that my Mom would have loved it. The flavours are bold, but simple. The ingredients stand on their own. There's no completed technique or scientific component to cloud the experience of the food. It's just straightforward good cooking and a wonderful understanding of flavours and how to bring disparate components together on a plate.

The simplicity in Kevin's dishes is derived in part from his focus on local, sustainable and organic ingredients. This is another reason I'm drawn to his recipes. 

When you look at Kevin's food, at the same time thinking about his food philosophy, you can't help but realize the simple logic of a focus on the ingredients in your immediate environment. 

"What grows together, goes together." 


Kevin's food is harmonious. It is comfortable. Most importantly it is damn good.

And that is in no small part due to his food philosophy.

For this week's Top Chef recipe I cooked one of Kevin's finale dishes; the one inspired by his mother. There was something about the decadence of cooking just the chicken skin for the dish (after so many years of eating skinless chicken breast I couldn't resist!) That and the squash puree that Tom Colicchio specifically complimented Kevin on totally called out to me.

Southern Fried Chicken Skin with Squash Casserole and Tomato
1/2 onion julienned
1 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic mashed
* 1 1/2 cups butternut squash diced into even pieces

3 tbsp heavy cram
lemon juice to taste
2 cups cherry tomatoes
skin from one chicken
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp pepper
1 tbsp salt
frying oil
olive oil

* I used 2 small carnival squashes that I received in my Good Food Box. The taste is quite similar to butternut squash but milder.

Chicken Skin:
Remove skin from chicken.
Remove all fat from skin (should have only thin layer of skin remaining.)
Place in small bowl or ziploc bag and add salt, pepper, cayenne, sugar.
Rub mix all over skin.
Refrigerate for at least one hour.
Blot dry with paper towel.
Fry in oil at 370 degrees until golden brown.
Break into shards.

While chicken skin is refrigerating:
Saute onion and garlic in butter over medium heat until lightly caramelized.
Add diced squash to onions.
Reduce heat to low and simmer until squash in fully tender (about 30 mins.)
Add cream to squash mixture.
Transfer squash to blender (or hand blend) on high.
Season with s&p and lemon juice to taste.
Pass through chinois.
Reserve mixture.

Score tomatoes.
Blanch them in boiling water and then shock in ice bath.
Peel skins.
Season with s&p and olive oil.

To Serve:
Spoon squash mixture onto bottom of plate.
Top with tomatoes.
Sprinkle on chicken skin shards.

I know Kevin wasn't totally on his game in the final challenge and I know that (obviously) it wasn't the favourite dish of the day. But it was still a damn good dish.

For me it was another experience of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. 

On it's own, the chicken skin was pretty salty for my taste and the tomatoes, well, I wasn't sure I understood their role at first. The squash, on the other hand I could eat anytime, anywhere,  under just about any circumstance.

A bite of all the components together though? Suddenly the chicken skin is refreshed by the tomato and balanced again with the earthy squash. The citrus of the squash cuts through the density of the chicken and adds brightness to the raw tomato.

Each ingredient is most effective in bringing out the notes of the others.

Another Top Chef success!

Any requests for next time? Dishes? Specific chefs?


denise, the prime magpie said...

Yum, what a rich and delicious dish! I don't watch a ton of TV, or rather, I listen to it, since the TV isn't within sight of when I'm in the kitchen, so I tend to keep it on non-competitive cooking shows while I putter about. I feel like I'm getting the best parts of those shows by just reading your posts! :)

Anonymous said...

I have to say, when I heard him say he was going to jazz up chicken skin I thought I must've misunderstood. I say that, while knowing how much I enjoy nibbling the bits of chicken skin that 'accidentally' separate from the meat when I'm browning it.

There is something decadently tasty about that crisp skin. I'm still bummed he didn't win. As for suggestions, how about something from the TC Masters series? Maybe from Chef Keller (I think he's SO typically French hot!) or Anita Lo

Brie: Le Grand Fromage said...

how interesting! i've not seen chicken skin cooked before. very pretty dish.

Laura said...

I am LOVING your top chef experiment series... makes all their fancypants cooking seem entirely accesible and infinitely less intimidating. I just watched this episode this week (a little behind)and thought it was such a fantastic dish. It's simplicity almost seemed like an "In your face, Voltaggio's" which made it even more appealing.

If you are taking requests, maybe bring some love and redemption to Carla's infamous sous vide strip steak from last years finale? That seems to stick out as a memorable meal, but maybe for the wrong reason!

redkathy said...

Your photo is, well, lets just say I can taste this from here! I read the recipe title to my hubby. He's a southern boy... His reply, "Now that's something I'd eat!"

Cookin' Canuck said...

A meal of chicken skin? Count me in! We don't get the channel with Top Chef, so I appreciate experiencing some of the recipes through your site.

Jeannie said...

Chicken skin? Don't eat that often unless it comes with the chicken meat. But that you managed to make that dish looks very appetising.

Ms Bibi said...

I was little skeptic when I read chicken skin, but this looks absolutely delicious.

My Man's Belly said...

Arrrrgh! And I just skinned 5 chicken breasts and threw the skin away (palm to forehead).

Fuji Mama said...

I couldn't agree more with your guesses as to why Kevin's dishes have been drawing you to them. I think his humble attitude and desire to show people that simple can be delicious and gourmet is also extremely appealing and makes me want to eat his food! This dish looks fab and definitely one I need to try.

bonnie said...

I love this. I love chicken skin...this would be great at a dinner party.

Mother Rimmy said...

I've never heard of cooking with chicken skin. That's what I love about Foodbuzz. I have the opportunity to see what other cooks are doing, and learn from them. Your recipe looks delicious!

Caveman Cooking said...

Sooooooo, Jenn ... when are you competing in Kitchen Stadium? ;) said...

You had me at chicken skin.

I laugh in the face of fat and cholesterol ;) ... stuff like this is way too yummy to pass up!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Sounds so awesome. I love Kevin's food. I would be more willing to have him cook for me than any other contestant on this past season's Top Chef. Not that there wasn't an abundance of talent this time around; his cooking just speaks to me. Simple, humble, and super-fresh. Yum.

Jessie said...

that looks amazing, sadly I do not watch Top Chef :( I need to watch it online since I keep hearing about all of these tasty dishes on that show

Vegetable Matter said...

Kevin was our favorite -- he should have won. He got too flummoxed by Prithi in that last challenge and never recovered. My younger son, Leo, cried when he lost. Now as a vegetarian, I can't endorse his love of the pig, but I am a Southerner-in-training, so great job on this recipe!

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