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From plain to gourmet
Top chefs share kitchen recipes


December 2010

Steak, chops, fish, chicken, pasta: If you’re stuck in a rut in the kitchen, take some advice from the experts. Milwaukee’s creative chefs have numerous techniques to transform the mundane into the gourmet, when it comes to dishes that might appear pedantic at first but have the potential for gourmet status. It’s not merely culinary magic, but imagination that counts. Here is what some of the area’s top kitchen talent have to say about the process.

Sensational Salmon
Tom Peschong, executive chef
Riversite Restaurant, Mequon

"I love salmon. For one thing, it’s now a sustainable fish, one that’s really affordable and healthy. It can be fixed in so many ways, whether grilled, broiled, pan roasted or poached. Back in the ‘day,’ wild salmon was seasonal and relatively hard to get. Of course, wild salmon is still great. Copper River is top of the line, with king, coho and chinook each having different tastes.

"But now, since salmon can be readily farm-raised, the fish has been demystified. Salmon is now produced worldwide; the Norwegians have perfected the technique. I still really like Canadian salmon; Scottish salmon is delicious, too. It’s good for a cook to know where your product comes from. I purchase fish from my regular purveyors in Chicago or Boston, so I know what I am getting each time. The layperson can do the same, just talk with your fishmonger or the guy you deal with all the time at the grocery store. Ask questions. Tim Collins at the St. Paul Fish Co. in the Milwaukee Public Market is really helpful.

"Fish doesn’t have to be prepared any fancy way to be really good. Just a little lemon and seasoning is often enough. We grill our salmon here at Riversite with a spice mixture that we grind. Usually, keeping it simple is best."

Salmon With Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 sprig of French thyme
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups "big" or hearty red wine
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
Sea salt
4 skinless salmon filets, 6-8 ounces each

Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a wide, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallot, pepper and thyme; render for about four minutes. Add vinegar and wine, raise heat to bring to a boil. Reduce until just a few tablespoons remain. Remove from heat and whisk in cream. Then whisk in butter, one piece at a time. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard solids. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and set aside; keeping it warm. Warm remaining oil and add salmon that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, about four minutes. Turn over filet; lower heat and cook for about another four minutes. To serve, arrange filets on a warmed plate and drizzle sauce around each filet. If desired, freshly chopped herbs can be used with fish as garnish. Serve with rice and a full-bodied red wine.

Champion Chicken
John Mollet, executive chef
The Union House, Genesee Depot

"To me, a gourmet dish does not have to be formal. A casual option can be easily made at home. I’m a big fan of paninis because of the endless ingredient possibilities and their inherent satisfying nature. My favorites include a mix of roasted red peppers, red onions and sometimes mushrooms. This mixture can stand by itself.

"At the restaurant, we gather fresh herbs daily from the garden where we grow five varieties of thyme, plenty of chives, oregano and basil, among others. You can use a single favorite or more, available at the grocery, but fresh is always preferable to dry. We also roast our peppers over an open flame and remove the charred, blistered skin. For our purposes here, simply grilling pepper strips and leaving the skin is fine.

"Seeking out a good loaf of bread is important, as it adds a lot in terms of flavor and texture. I prefer a hearty, crusty Italian or a tomato focaccia."

Herbed Chicken and Fontina Panini with Roasted Red Peppers, Onions and Arugula

4 fresh chicken breasts, cleaned of fat and slightly flattened
2 tablespoons or more chopped fresh thyme and other herbs if desired, divided
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large red bell peppers, cut lengthwise into 1-1/2-inch-wide strips
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
8-1/2-inch-thick slices of bread
2 tablespoons extra-virgin or good quality olive oil for brushing
8 ounces Fontina cheese, thinly sliced
8 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch arugula

Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper, then add one tablespoon of fresh herbs of choice. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in heavy, large pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté until cooked through for about two to three minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate. Add remaining four tablespoons oil and garlic to pan, stir over medium heat for 15 seconds. Add vinegar and remaining herbs; bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan. Return chicken to your skillet and heat through, about one minute longer. Remove from heat. Heat a panini press on medium high. Spray the grills with cooking spray or brush with olive oil. Working in batches, grill the red pepper strips until they start to get tender, turning if necessary, for about five minutes. Set aside. If cooking onions, which I prefer, repeat this process with them. Place four bread slices on work surface. Divide half the Fontina cheese among bread slices, top with two tablespoons Parmesan cheese, a chicken breast, sliced if preferred and drizzled with pan juices, along with the bell pepper strips, onion and arugula. Arrange remaining Fontina cheese over all, then top with remaining bread slices, pressing to compact. Brush panini press with oil again. Alternatively brush the outside of bread slices before assembly. Place sandwiches in press, cover and cook until bread is golden and cheese is melted. The addition of a few grilled eggplant slices also contributes nicely to the flavors.

Jason Gorman

Sizzling Steaks
Jason Gorman, executive chef
Dream Dance Steak, Milwaukee

"All food has the opportunity to be ordinary or extraordinary. Sure, the ordinary person can make a gourmet steak. Most of it has to do with cut and grade of beef used. In addition, the cooking method is also key to how a steak eats. Most importantly, the steak should rest prior to cutting into. This will ensure a moist, flavorful steak.

"One basic secret that elevates a plain steak to gourmet status is salt, salt, salt. Bland food equals bad food. Salt is the great equalizer — not enough results in diminished flavors and too much can kill a dish. The purpose is to create balance.

"We provide cuts from grass-fed filet mignon — incredibly unique, raised humanely, sustainable and the healthiest cut. The grass-fed beef is raised its whole life eating rye and barley, which changes the cell structure and produces a low-fat alternative to mass-produced, corn-fed beef.

"My favorite steak is the one you’re eating at our kitchen table. My favorite cut is our American Kobe beef rib-eye. It has the most marbling of all our steaks and the most flavor. The key is the steak has to be cooked at least medium to slowly cook the delicious marbling inside the steak.

"A great steak, seasoned and cooked the way you want, doesn’t always require a sauce, but if you’re paying for it, you’re going to get it the way you want.

"Each steak has a different fat content, some steaks are served on the bone, some can be sliced. So for pairings, remember that these all affect the interaction with wine."

Beef Wellington

2-1/2 pounds beef tenderloin
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped
2 ounces foie gras
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (17.5-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 (10.5-ounce) package beef broth
2 tablespoons cabernet

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place beef in a small baking dish, and spread with two tablespoons softened butter. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until browned. Remove from pan, and allow to cool completely. Reserve pan juices. Melt two tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion and mushrooms in butter for five minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool. Mix together pate and two tablespoons softened butter, and season with salt and pepper. Spread pate over beef. Top with onion and mushroom mixture. Roll out the puff pastry dough and place beef in the center. Fold up, and seal all the edges, making sure the seams are not too thick. Place beef in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, cut a few slits in the top of the dough and brush with egg yolk. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 425 for 10 to 15 more minutes, or until pastry is a rich, golden brown. Set aside, and keep warm. Serve with the black truffle sauce.

Black Truffle Sauce

2 each beef shank bones
1 cup mirepoix, diced
1 pound mushroom scraps
2 tablespoons roasted garlic paste
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped black truffle
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/ 2 cup Wondra flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brandy
3 cups Madeira wine
1 cup cabernet
1 gallon chicken stock

Roast bones until well-browned. Meanwhile, in a separate pan brown mirepoix with butter and olive oil until well caramelized. Add herbs and tomato paste. When incorporated, add sugar and caramelize. Add roasted bones. Add flour and incorporate well. Add brandy and reduce. Add Madeira and reduce. Add red wine and simmer. When reduced, cover bones with chicken stock and simmer for approximately two hours. Strain through fine mesh strainer and return to stove and reduce to desired consistency. Add the finely chopped black truffle, season to taste and serve. This dish serves six to eight hungry diners.

Dan Van Rite

Pork Party
Dan Van Rite, executive chef
Hinterland, Milwaukee

"With any cooking, you should always start with good products. We brew our own beer and use the spent grain and mash from that process to feed our pigs that are raised in Door County, thus keeping the food chain in a circle. I prefer heritage hogs — there’s better marbling with them — while many of today’s pigs are more lean. We take a whole hog and use everything, from the belly and loins, to the legs, shoulder and head. When you get in a lot of meat like this, you need to be creative as a chef.

"We make bacon, crisp pork belly and a lot of other dishes, even head cheese, which might be scary for some diners. But it’s delicious if there isn’t too much gelatin. I’m also making Vietnamese pho (soup) broth with chicken, pork shank, marrow bone, fish-flavored stock, star anise and cardamon. Even the tail can be used. There is a lot of meat on that."

Pork Loin or Pork Chop Brined in Apple Cider

1/2 cup of salt
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 gallon of water
1/2 gallon of apple cider
6 pounds of pork loin cut in half, or six, 14-ounce pork chops
Combine ingredients, except for the meat, and bring to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar. Cool completely.

Apple Cider Glaze

1/2 cup of honey, maple syrup or brown sugar
1 cup cider
Combine ingredients; reduce until thickened.

Main Dish: Submerge loin/chops for eight to 10 hours; take out and pat dry. Cook evenly on both sides, roughly seven to eight minutes on one side, then turn over for another seven to eight minutes. Brush glaze on loin and cook on wood fire grill or finish in 350-degree oven until meat temperature reads 140 degrees. Pair with Hinterland’s Vienna-style, malty Oktoberfest beer; serve with spaetzle and braised red cabbage.

Pasta Perfect
Walter Williams, executive chef
Centro Cafe, Milwaukee

"For pasta, I love working with cavatappi because of its texture and accessibility to grab with a fork. Its spiral shape helps to give a nice presentation with its accompaniments. Other pastas can be fun as well, especially when combining with certain ingredients. As far as a favorite sauce, I like a red pepper cream sauce because it works so well with fresh vegetables and/or chicken so it can accommodate a variety of dietary needs.

"When cooking perfect pasta, an ordinary person can do the same as an established chef if you have the desire, commitment and focus to follow directions, along with the ability to take criticism. You must love what you do whether at home or in a professional kitchen.

"I think al dente is the best way to prepare your pasta because you can eat it as is or cook it to the desired texture. We do not currently have the space to make our own pasta but with our expansion under way, to include a bar and lounge with full alcohol service, we will be able to start doing so. We buy all our gluten-free pasta from the Gluten Free Trading Co. and buy our other pastas from a variety or sources offering the best quality.

"I think the freshness of the ingredients elevates a plain dish to gourmet, from vegetables to fresh herbs and spices. We do utilize local cream, eggs and milk and vegetables when available. We have even used some Riverwest-grown lettuces and herbs from our employees’ gardens.

"Pasta doesn’t have to automatically be unhealthy. We have several dishes that are cooked in either olive oil, light white wine sauces or marinara, and many also have an array of vegetables, add some shrimp or chicken and you have the makings of a well-balanced meal."

Pasta Primavera

4 ounces each: fresh basil, eggplant, red pepper, yellow squash, zucchini, broccoli, spinach
2 ounces butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces marinara sauce
3 ounces white wine
1 tablespoons garlic
1 pound spaghetti

Cook spaghetti al dente ("six-ish" minutes), drain under cold water. Put veggies, olive oil, butter and garlic in a pan and sauté with salt and pepper for about four minutes. Add white wine and cook down for one to two minutes. Add marinara, basil and spaghetti. Stir and cook for two to three minutes; serve immediately after. Serve with Lamura Nero d’ Avola, a Sicilian red organic wine; along with a cannoli for dessert. 


This story ran in the December 2010 issue of: