Every week, Justin Warner, winner of Food Network Star Season 8, is back remixing the Chopped All-Stars baskets as seen in the episode Sunday night in pure Justin Warner style: edgy, intense, passionate and full of wit. If you’ve ever watched an episode and found yourself yelling at the TV, “I would have made this and that instead!” then these are the posts for you.
by Justin Warner
Welcome to the fourth installment of the Chopped All-Stars Rebel Remix, wherein I attempt to give you drilling rights on my brain as I attempt to assemble an array of exciting edibles from four seemingly incongruous ingredients.
Appetizer: vanilla cupcakes, chicken tenders, avocados, kochujang
I’ve been doing this “write about Chopped” thing for a little bit now, and this basket is just too freaking insane. Cupcakes? Really? Before assembling these ingredients, I would look around: I want to know which contender offended the Basket Curators in a previous life. This is a bad, bad basket. Personally, I also abhor chicken tenders. They are too perfect, too cookie cutter. Meat should have personality and character! I digress. Kochujang, or gochujang, is a Korean pepper paste. It’s got earth and funk and a little heat. I’ve seen a few Korean grandmas dilute it with lemon-lime soda, and in my restaurant I use it to glaze frog’s legs. Avocados are no biggie. What isn’t good with a slice of avocado? This leaves the cupcakes. Why?! It’s like someone is trying to cause grief and pain. At least they are vanilla, which is a great flavor with chicken. Before you get bent out of shape, consider that bourbon chicken sounds delish and that bourbon often contains vanillin, which is the chemical compound for which vanilla was named, so vanilla and chicken are best buds. Capish?
First, get a vat of oil going to 350. I know chicken tenders are generally fried and that this isn’t my most-creative solution, but my most-creative solution doesn’t involve cooking the chicken and I doubt anyone outside of Japan wants to read that. Now to speed-marinate the chicken: Chuck the tenders along with a hearty spoon of kochujang and some buttermilk into a sous-vide bag. If you’ve ever seen an ad on late-night TV where a machine shrinks clothes in bags to save space, this is pretty much the same thing, but food-grade. The idea is that if we suck all of the air out of the bag, the liquid ingredients will rapidly permeate the microscopic spaces in the chicken tenders. Let this bag of vacuum-sealed joy sit until we’ve got 10 minutes on the clock.
Cupcakes. Scrape off any icing from the cupcakes and reserve. Dump the cakes along with some salt, cornstarch and AP flour in to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse. We are making crumbs, using the cornstarch and AP flour to desiccate the cupcakes. We did this a few Rebel Remixes ago with banana bread, and this technique is now my go-to way for repurposing horrifying leavened ingredients.
Scoop the goods out of the avocados and mash with the vanilla icing. Avocados are pretty much the butter of the fruit basket, so mixing avocado with more butter and a little sugar isn’t going to kill anyone, provided we add a generous amount of lime juice to even it out. Chop up some cilantro, a shallot, then mash this all up to make guacamole. Everyone is going to make guacamole, I know, but ours tastes like vanilla, which makes all the other guacamoles just mashed avocados.
Pop the seal on the vacuum bag and dredge the tenders in our crumbs, then drop into the fryer. When they are GBD, they are ready to serve, with a little ramekin of vanilla guac.
Call this dish KFC (Kochujang Fried Chicken) With Vanilla Guac.
Entree: skirt steak, matzo crackers, sweet orange gelatin cups, collard greens
After vanilla cupcakes, almost anything would be a dream to prepare. Skirt steak is tough — not to work with, but to chew. If you’ve ever had fajitas, you’ve probably had skirt steak, and fajitas will be our inspiration. Also, skirt steak needs to be cooked forever or very quickly, and fajitas are the “quickly” route.
Traif as it may be, we are going to leaven those matzo crackers. Grind them up with some salt, baking powder and baking soda. Mix up some buttermilk, egg and melted butter. Combine to make pancake batter. Overmix the batter. Yes, overmix the batter. I don’t want fluffy, airy, pancakes. I want something with more tensile strength to hold a pile of meat. By overmixing the batter, the gluten network that is holding it together will be in Hulk mode, and we’ll have some deliciously tough matzo pancakes. Heat an oven to 200 to keep them warm, because we’re going to be making them nonstop for the rest of the time allotted.
Slice the collards as thinly as possible. Mix this with some sour cream, lime juice, salt, sugar, cilantro and some chipotle adobo (the sauce from the can of chipotle peppers). Booyah, slaw! Collards are in the same family as cabbage, so why not treat them as such? Also, why bother cooking collards in 45 minutes? Everyone knows that’s not the way to make collards.
Slice the skirt steak against the grain as thinly as possible. Quickly sautee it in hot oil with some garlic and shallots. Add some cumin seeds. Once you smell the cumin, dump in the orange gelatin cups. Yes, we are deglazing with gelatin — it’ll melt into a liquid and allow us to scrape up some of those lovely flavor bits. Orange and cumin also work together like Sonny and Cher. Now, add salt and lime juice to correct the sweetness of the Jell-O.
Assemble the fajitas, sit back and watch your competitors try to cook the collard greens.
Dessert: circus peanuts, passion fruit puree, graham cracker cereal, curry powder
Remember on Food Network Star when I made that no-bake cookie in the Chopped challenge? The Hershey’s kisses and graham crackers reminded me of my favorite lunch lady, Delores. Flashback yet again. When was the last time you had a marshmallow-cereal treat? Who wants one right now? Exactly. We’re making marshmallow-cereal treats. Microwave those circus peanuts with some butter, curry powder and a little salt. Stir this mix up and add it to the graham cracker cereal. Put this in the fridge to set up.
Since that took about five minutes, we can get really crazy with the passion fruit puree. Start by adding some puree to some heavy cream in a charger full of nitrous. Refrigerate that. Now let’s cook some with a little water and some agar agar. Once that comes to a boil, drizzle it over the marshmallow-cereal treat. This will seep in through the cracks and fill those cracks with some very acidic candy-like gel. Finally, mix the last of the passion fruit with some sugar and a little gin. Put it in the ice cream maker. Sorbet!
When it comes time to assemble, cut out a square of treat, top with a scoop of sorbet and add a blast of whip.
Call this a Graham Cracker Treat With Three Ways of Passion. This should put a smile on everyone’s face, including yours and the charity that you are supporting, because next week you are about to take it all home in the finale.