Archive for category Higher Learning

Higher Learning: Seared Red Snapper, Braised Swiss Chard, Pickled Chard Stems, Snapper Broth

Monthly Feature
Vivek is back! And we are all smarter for it.

Fall is quite possibly my favorite season. Besides having my favorite holiday of the year (Thanksgiving!), it is incredibly beautiful outside with the leaves changing color to all different shades of red, orange, and yellow, and the food I want to eat warms me up from the inside. Soups and stews that cook on the stove for hours and make the house smell delicious are what I crave.

I was at my fishmonger the other day and he had a beautiful 3 lb red snapper that he fished out from the gulf the day before. I bought the whole fish and new instantly that I was going to make some kind of soup out of it. Halfway through making the stock, however, I changed my mind because it ended up being about 60 degrees outside! Where was my fall weather?! Alas, we adapted.

I figured a sauce made out of the broth would be delicious. So, I fileted the fish and threw all the bones, the head, and the tail in a pot with spices and aromatics to make a delicious broth. I stashed the filets in the fridge until I was ready for them. The broth simmered while I was watching the football games.

To make the actual sauce, I took all my favorite ingredients – bacon, onion, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and cooked them until they were almost like a pulp, to which I then added this gorgeous homemade fish broth. The sauce kept reducing until it was a beautiful consistency and intensely flavored.

Towards the end, I cooked the greens and seared the fish. This truly is a great dish on those days where you just want to lounge around the house, check on the meal once or twice, and relax. The flavors are bright and incredible. The fish is a piece of piscatorial perfection, the broth is savory and has such depth of flavor that it’s a show stopper. The pickled chard stems, a great way to use up those parts, provides acidity and crunch. A great balance of flavor and texture, this is one dish you will surely want to try!

Seared Red Snapper, Braised Swiss Chard, Pickled Chard Stems, Snapper Broth
(recipe courtesy of Vivek Surti)

For the seared red snapper:
4 filets of red snapper, make sure there are no bones, cut into 3 pieces each
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Get a non stick pan over medium high heat and add about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Once the oil is almost smoking, lay the fish in the pan skin side down (must be done in batches). Let the fish get really crispy on the skin side (you want to do about 85% of the cooking on this side). After about 4 minutes, flip it over and cook the fish for about another 1 minute on the other side or until it is done. Remove the fish to a plate lined with paper towels, and repeat until all the fish is cooked.

Braised Swiss Chard:
1 bunch of Swiss chard, leaves removed from stem and coarsely chopped
½ onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a pan over medium heat and sweat the onions in a little bit of olive oil or butter. Once the onion is translucent, but not brown, about 7 minutes, add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and vinegar. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the greens and toss to coat with the onion-garlic mixture. Once the greens have wilted, add about ¼ cup of water and let cook for about 10 minutes until the greens are very tender and all the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Pickled Swiss Chard Stems:
Leftover stems from bunch of chard, cut into diagonals about 1/8” wide
1 cup of rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
6 sprigs of thyme
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt

In a small pot, put in the vinegar, coriander seed, thyme, sugar, and salt, and bring to a boil. Once the sugar and salt have dissolved, cut the heat. Pour the pickling liquid over the Swiss chard stems. Let the chard pickle for as little as 6 hours and up to 2 days in advance.

Saffron-Snapper Broth:
Leftover bones, heads, tails from snapper
2 turnips, quartered
1 onion, quartered
5 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon black pepper seeds
A handful of parsley
A handful of thyme
1 lemon, zested
2 kaffir lime leaves

3 slices of bacon, diced
1 onion, minced
2 bell peppers, diced
1 large tomato, diced
4 sprigs of thyme, 2 sprigs oregano tied together with butcher’s twine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter

Put the leftover bones in a pot with all the other stock ingredients. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to simmer, skimming off any impurities that rise to the surface. DO NOT SEASON WITH SALT. Simmer for about 2 hours and then strain everything through a cheesecloth. Discard the solids.

In a saucepan over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook the bacon until almost crisp. Add the onion, bell peppers, and tomato. Season with just a pinch of salt (no more) and cook until the vegetables are extremely translucent and almost pulp-like. The idea is to cook all the water out of these vegetables. Add the garlic, thyme-oregano bundle and cook for another minute. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan and then reduce until there is barely any wine left. Slowly add the stock and leave the pan over high heat. Reduce the stock until it has reduced to about 2 cups of liquid. Strain the stock and discard the solids. Continue simmering the stock, and mount it with the butter. Now, season to taste with salt and pepper. Feel free to add the juice of 1 lemon to brighten up all the flavors.

To Assemble:
Place a mound of braised greens on the plate and surround with the fish. Ladle some broth around the fish and top with the pickled chard stems.

Vivek T. Surti

Editor’s Note: Please check out Vivek’s blog and also follow him on Twitter!

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Higher Learning: Pork Fat Roasted Chicken

Monthly Feature
Vivek is back! And we are all smarter for it.

Roasted chicken is a pretty simple dish. A whole chicken, rubbed down in some oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and roasted in a hot oven is one of the most comforting meals one can have. It’s delicious, beautiful, and a classic in it’s own right.

But over here at Higher Learning, we’re trying to elevate your everyday meals to make them into memorable experiences. The inspiration for this dish came from this fairly popular trend of cooking potatoes in duck fat. I live in Nashville, and it seems as if every single restaurant now has “duck fried potatoes”, or “duck fat fried tater tots” (which are awesome, btw). And to be honest, it tastes awesome.

So then I figured, what if I can play around with classic dishes and change the type of fat. Voila, we have a worthy post!

I actually made this on Sunday while watching some football games (Go Titans!). I cut up a chicken into 8 parts and seared them in pork fat that I had rendered myself when making another dish. I melted a good amount of fat into my large saute pan, and then browned the chicken on both sides until the skin was crispy. I think put the chicken pieces skin side down in the pan, added a ton of herbs, and stuck it in the oven to roast.

Now, let’s be honest. Pork fat is the king of all fats (hello…bacon?!). It’s creamy, it’s unctuous, and it’s (supposedly) not as bad for you as butter. It’s a win-win-win, if you will. The flavor of the pork fat permeates the chicken, and also makes the skin incredibly crispy. And crispy chicken skin may be my favorite part of eating a roast chicken.

But the fact is that it’s a roast chicken with a different kind of fat. It doesn’t seem like a huge deal. But in fact, it tastes like a completely different dish. Just one little change – using pork fat instead of oil or butter – made such a huge difference that it really made the roast chicken…better. It’s so cool – think about pork fat fried potatoes, or steaks that have been brushed with pork fat and grilled, or bacon, dare I say, cooked in pork fat. The possibilities are endless. Try out some different fats – duck fat, goose fat, beef fat (suet), or even chicken fat (schmaltz) for my Jewish friends on this holiday weekend. Go wild, go crazy. Fat is your friend. Embrace it.

Pork Fat Roasted Chicken
(recipe courtesy of Vivek Surti)

1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 wings, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 breasts, bone in and skin on)
1/4 cup pork fat (or lard)
10 sprigs of thyme
3 sprigs of rosemary
6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled and crushed
1 lemon, zested
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Get a big, wide pan over high heat. Melt the pork fat in the pan until it is almost smoking. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and lemon zest and put in the pan, skin side down. Allow the skin to crisp, about 5-6 minutes until it is a deep golden brown. Flip the chicken over and brown the other side. If there is not enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon or more pork fat. Flip the chicken once more so the skin side is down and add all the herbs and garlic, so they lay on top of the chicken. Baste with some of the fat.

Stick it in a 400 degree oven until the chicken is cooked all the way through (about 160 degrees internal temperature). Remove the herbs/garlic and then put the chicken on a plate to rest. Allow resting for about 5 minutes. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top and enjoy.


Editor’s Note: Please check out Vivek’s popular food blog!


Higher Learning: Grilled Fish (Whole)

Monthly Feature
Vivek is back! And we are all smarter for it.

When I first started cooking a few years ago, I would always buy that which is easiest to cook – a boneless, skinless chicken breast or a skinless fish fillet. As I began to cook more, I made a discovery. There is a lot more to a chicken then just the breasts. And oftentimes, if you learn some basic skills, you can not only eat better, but you can save money in the process. After a few months, I bought a whole chicken. Never before in my life had I ever worked with one. I pulled up a few Alton Brown videos and learned how to butcher one. It took me about 25 minutes the first time, but now I can probably break one down in less than five minutes. It’s invaluable. And a whole chicken (almost 4 lbs), costs me less than $10 at the store. Compare that with your $9/lb boneless, skinless, flavorless chicken breast.

So, while I’ve been buying whole chickens since, I never have forayed much into the world of seafood. Lucky for me, there is an awesome new seafood vendor in Nashville called the Louisiana Seafood Company. Two buddies from Baton Rouge have some fishing boats and drive up to Nashville every week to supply us with the freshest shrimp, crabs, crawfish, grouper, snapper, and whatever else they find. I’ve become good friends with them over the past few months and I decided it was time for me to buy the whole damn fish. I picked up an amazingly fresh gulf snapper and said I’m gonna cook it whole.

I really wanted to taste the fish, so there really isn’t even a recipe. I just stuffed the cavity of the fish with some lemon slices and fresh parsley. Sprinkled in some salt and pepper and let it sit while I fired up my grill. I put the grill on high, rubbed the fish down with some oil, and threw the fish over the smoking hot coals. I cooked it on one side until it was nicely charred, and then flipped it over to cook on the other side. Once it was nicely marked, i moved the fish over to the cooler side of the grill, put on the lid and let the fish finish cooking. I’ll tell ya – cooking a whole fish on the grill might even be easier than cooking a fish fillet, because nothing sticks to the grill.

By having the fish bones, the meat stayed beautifully moist and juicy. The skin was incredibly crisp from the hot coals. And once you learn the basic anatomy of a fish, it’s very easy to fillet. You can also get the great little pieces of meat from the collar and the cheek of the fish (but those are cook’s benefits – no one but you and me has to know!)

I didn’t dress up the fish with anything, but now that I’ve learned the technique I bet you could do all kinds of stuff – like rub it with some ginger/garlic/cilantro/lime juice (how we would make it in India), or crust it in your favorite spice rub, or make a powerful sauce with red curry, coconut, and kaffir lime. The possibilities are endless. But at the end of the day, you get a whole fish – it’s tastier, it’s usually cheaper, and you’ve just elevated yourself to some higher learning. Now isn’t that what it’s all about? Enjoy folks!


Editor’s Note:  Please go check out Vivek’s personal food blog…you won’t regret it!

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Higher Learning: Roast Chicken with Beurre Blanc

Monthly Feature
Vivek is back…and we are all smarter for it!

I can see you guys reading this post. You know what roast chicken is – everyone does. But what in God’s name is this beurre blanc sauce? Am I right? To be honest, when I first came across “beurre blanc”, I was dumbfounded and had no idea what it was. I was at this restaurant and ordered these beautiful seared scallops. I asked the waiter what “beurre blanc” was and he said it was a white wine and butter sauce. I like butter. I definitely like wine. This was a no brainer! The sauce was just amazing – it’s rich and creamy, but also lends great acidity because of the reduced wine. You could put this sauce on anything and it’d be amazing.

The key to beurre blanc is to reduce your wine until its almost a syrup and then to slowly whisk in super cold, cubed butter until it melts and forms an emulsion, similar to a vinaigrette. Today, I’m giving you the recipe with a simple roast chicken, served with lettuce, peas, and asparagus. But feel free to put this on some grilled salmon, pork chops, or a salad! Whatever you do, just make some of this sauce!

Roast Chicken with Beurre Blanc

1 whole chicken
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, cut in half
1 bunch of thyme
1/2 head of garlic
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stuff the lemon, thyme, and garlic into the cavity of the bird. Truss the chicken and then rub it down with olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and roast in a 450 degree oven for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the thickest part of the thigh register at 160 degrees. Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes.

Beurre Blanc
2 shallots, sliced
2 cups dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
1 cup white wine vinegar
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 black peppercorns
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes and very, very cold
2 tablespoons freshly chopped chives
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

* Put the shallot, wine, wine vinegar, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns into a saucepan over medium heat and simmer until the wine is reduced to a syrup. Strain the sauce into another pan and add the cream to the reduced wine. Then slowly whisk in a small amount of butter until it melts, then add another small bit, until all the butter is used up. The sauce should be velvety and thick and cohesive. Add the chives and season with salt and pepper.

To assemble: Carve the chicken how you like and give everyone a piece with some beurre blanc. I made a simple salad with lettuce, some fresh peas/asparagus which have been quickly blanched. It’s a delicious dish and as much as I love roast chicken, this dish is all about the sauce.