A Few Recent Specials

I promise to deliver the first Anatomy of a Dish entry of the year next week, when I will lay out our cassoulet process and recipes for you. In the meantime, here’s some eye candy featuring specials we’ve done over the last month or so. I confess that the holiday season was so busy I didn’t get much photography done, but here’s a little to tie you over till the next photo shoot.

This is guineafowl with trumpet mushrooms, Perigord truffles, pearl barley, cauliflower, candied kumquat, and pea shoot-pumpkin seed salad. This was an indulgence when we had a full nugget of black truffle left from New Year’s Eve. Guineafowl are unique among domesticated game fowl in that they are indigenous to Africa. We deboned the entire bird and rolled them up into torchons (or roulades) with the skin intact on the outside so we could sear them crisp. The bones were roasted very darkly and reduced to make the jus you see strewn about the plate. The black trumpets were partially dehydrated then fried crisp in clarified butter and the rendered fat from the birds, yielding a lightly crisp texture and rich mouthfeel with their patently earthy aroma and taste. The barley adds a creamy element and mildly earthy taste, cauliflower adds its rich vegetal and sulfur notes to add a mild bitterness and different creamy texture. Candied kumquats add acidity, a resinous citrus aroma, and characteristic bitterness, and could also be thought of as a play on orange with duck even though that wasn’t our motivation. The pumpkin seeds were fried in the butter/guinea fat after the mushrooms to add a rich green oil to the plate and delightful crisp, the pea shoots and light vinaigrette dressing them freshen everything up. This was my favorite dish of the winter (other than gumbo of course.)

This is a Gunthorp Farm rabbit ballotine, crispy leg confit, & chicken fried foreleg with butternut squash & Carolina gold rice risotto, rutabega, chanterelles, and collard sprouts. The ballotine was a fun project where I made a rabbit braunschweiger out of the organs, cavity fat, and trim, and rolled it inside the rabbit’s belly (the same part that makes bacon on a pig,) and the rabbit’s loin inside that, then wrapped the entire thing in bacon. It was a fun way to eat the entire rabbit prepared five different ways on one plate including the jus, which was made by roasting and extracting all the bones, and the braunschweiger as a separate treatment, which it surely is even while wrapped up with the belly and loin. The ballontine looked like this after a brief poaching, before the final searing:

The risotto added a creaminess, the butternut squash added its gentle sweet earthiness, chanterelles evoke the forest so well with game such as rabbit, and the rutabegas – one of my favorite winter vegetables – were confited with the rabbit legs and added their own vegetal bitterness balanced with their innate sweetness that marries so well with fats, and the collards keep it fresh and add a little spice when young.

This is South Carolina fluke (larger flounder) which were brought in whole and butchered, their roe and trim making a stuffing for the filets that was also seasoned with a little crawfish. They’re rolled into cylinders and tied tightly before a quick poaching for service. Served with rose finn fingerlings which were sauteed in butter, roasted leeks, chicory, cilantro, and a spicy peanut sauce. The fluke is flaky and their stuffing is creamy which is complimented by the substantial but creamy texture of the potatoes, earthy minerals and sweetness of leeks, bitterness of chicory, bright green of cilantro, and the richness, acidity, sweetness, and spice of the peanut sauce. The peanut sauce was made with the same curry powder that’s been enjoyed in Charleston for centuries, Indian yellow curry. It was important in trade during the colonial period, and Charleston was a major trade port in the global economy. I’m sure some bonafide native southern chefs have done this at some point, but I applied my previous experience in Southeast Asian cooking and used some other iconic coastal southern ingredients – peanuts, lime, cane syrup – to make a spicy peanut sauce reminiscent of a Malaysian peanut sauce, which has long been a favorite accompaniment to fish for me.

This is Awendaw Spoonbread, which is the only one of these dishes that has yet to be served – it’s on the Valentine’s menu as our bread service for the 5-course menu. It’s named for the Awendaw tribe of Native Americans from north of Charleston who inhabited an area just south of the mouth of the Great Pee Dee River.  We are serving it in a crock because you have to eat it with a spoon, or at least a fork, because it is too soft and creamy to pick up with your fingers. If you like our regular cornbread muffins, you might be interested to know that this recipe was the root of that recipe, but I needed something you could pick up with your fingers, so I adjusted the recipe. This is even better than our cornbread muffins, which I love. It’s actually way better. It starts with hot cooked creamy grits, with an added mixture that resembles a typical Lowcountry cornbread recipe. The grits cream up the cornbread in an amazing way, but the raw cornmeal adds a texture and pure corn richness that augments the grits. This is perhaps the greatest ode to corn in the history of cooking. Not my recipe particularly, but Awendaw Spoonbread: hominy + raw field corn + eggs + sweet milk = supremely rich + impossibly light at the same time. For the Valentine’s Day 5-course menus, we’ll add a truffle and corn mushroom (a.k.a. huitlacoche) butter at the end of cooking and put the lid on the crock, then open it tableside. It will be something.

It seems like when it gets cold outside and the growing season ends and with it canning season, I spend my spare time making ballotines. This is a special we did with a recent Gunthorp Farm whole hog order. When we get these, there’s only a few orders of tenderloin on the whole pig, and it’s special. In this instance, we wrapped the tenderloin in some house tasso and wrapped that in the butt end of the loin, then the whole in bacon. Cure, then poach before searing the outside of the cylinder. We served it with creamed scallions (one of my gazillion Edna Lewis favorites) confit rutabegas, herb spaetzle, and mustard foam. Well let me tell you foam is still a way to add a hint of something to a dish instead of pounding you over the head with it. In this case, we had a very hearty dish that could benefit from the pungent spiciness of mustard, but we thought that straight mustard would not only be boring, but too intense for the entire dish. Yes, there’s a lot of pork and roots and fat and dumplings on that plate, but the other flavors were, if richly flavored, very subtle. Lightening the mustard in a lecithin-based foam seemed like the way to go, and it was a hit.