Every Tuesday, 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 third installment of Chopped All-Stars Rebel Remix, where the things I shouted at my TV last Sunday are written for all to see.
Appetizer: harissa, diver scallops, pink grapefruit, speck
When I compose a dish, especially an appetizer, I like to consider the components in their most basic forms and build from there. A great dish has all of our tastes (salt, sweet, sour, bitter, capsaicin, umami) some exciting texture, a great aroma and visual appeal. Harissa is spicy, scallops are sweet, grapefruit is both sour and slightly bitter, and speck is as close to salty and savory as it gets. The only way the dish resulting from this basket could be horrible is via technical difficulties, or from a cook failing to realize that these guys don’t need much coaxing to play nicely. We aren’t dealing with a mound of veggie terrine that looks like it has already been digested. We are dealing with four gems of gastronomy, and all we have to do is make a nice crown to hold the gems in place. Let’s go.
Diver scallops, aka sea marshmallows, don’t need anything other than a little acid and some salt to be beautiful. Quadruple butterfly them to make a long ribbon of scallops. Hit them with a little lime juice as if we were making ceviche. Add some of the harissa. Don’t be scared. Supreme the pink grapefruit. Supremes are a bit tricky at first, but it’s worth it. Pith, especially in grapefruit, is more bitter than a relative cut out of a will. To do this, peel the grapefruit. Tear it in half along the prime meridian, NOT the equator. Using a sharp knife, cut off the pith of one segment. Find the other side of the segment and do the same. Then cut the membrane off the back like you were skinning a fish made out of grapefruit. Boom! Pretty fruit. If you had all day, you could put this in a solution of pectin-derived enzymes and it would dissolve the pith, but that’s another blog post.
On to the speck. Speck is basically a riff on prosciutto, but it is flavored with juniper, which you have probably had in gin. Anyone who has listened to Snoop Dogg knows that gin flavors go well with juice flavors (e.g., lime, grapefruit), so we are on to something here. Slice the speck and fry as crispy as you can get it. Now cut the speck into ribbons. Wrap the speck and grapefruit in the scallop ribbons. Make four of these parcels per plate, drizzle with olive oil, then crunch up a little fleur de sel on each one.
Call this Spicy Scallop Crudo With Grapefruit and Speck.
Entree: capons, ramps, canned pizza sauce, burrata
Upon opening this basket, I doubt I could contain my snickering or jabs at the other competitors. Why? Google “capon.” Anyway, it’s a bird, so we’ll treat it like chicken. When time is of the essence, a simple butchery tactic, the spatchcock, can turn a big bird into a flat and easy-to-cook hunk of meat in a jiffy. After spatchcocking, heat the oven to 500 degrees F and place two cast-iron pans inside. We are going to improvise the Alton Brown brick chicken-cooking method for speed and crisp skin. Season the bird on both sides with salt and pepper.
Grab the ramps, which are like the oniony angel’s trumpets of spring, and clean them thoroughly. Cut off the roots and the leaves, but reserve the leaves. Shove the whites of the ramps under the skin of the bird. In another cast-iron pan, melt down some butter with some shallots and thyme. Put the whole bird skin side down and cook over medium heat, basting with the butter occasionally, although that might be hard to do because we have three other things we need to get done. Put the burrata in a blender with some milk. We’re making burrata waffles for, you guessed it, Capon and Waffles. Preheat a waffle iron. Put your burrata milk in a bowl, and add some eggs and melted butter. In another bowl, mix some AP flour with a little salt, sugar, baking powder and black pepper. Combine these two bowls and whisk until the whisk can’t stand up on its own. Don’t make the waffles just yet.
Hopefully you washed out your blender because we have to use it again. Chicken and waffles demands maple syrup, so combine some maple with the pizza sauce. If you recall my last Rebel Remix, I explained that the tomato is a fruit and has every right to be in fruity applications. If I told you we were making blueberry maple syrup you wouldn’t bat an eye, so continue to unblinkingly prepare tomato-maple syrup. In order to get this to really work, add some fish sauce. Fish sauce has a remarkable ability to be funky on its own, but the life of the party when given the chance to mingle. In sweet/sour applications, I find that it is a marvelous culinary ombudsman. Pass this mix through a chinois so all of the solids from the pizza sauce are gone but all of the liquid flavors remain below. This is our tomato-maple syrup.
At this juncture we must do three things at once, which is hard to write, but I’ll attempt. Blend up the reserved ramp greens with pine nuts, lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Booyah! Ramp pesto. Flip the bird in the pan. Remove the two 500-degree pans very carefully, and place them on top of the capon. Now you are smashing it down with the weight of two 500-degree cast-iron pans, causing the skin to blister and crispify. Meanwhile, make waffles. Drop a bit of the pesto on the plates. Place one breast and thigh per plate. Cut the waffles in half and present them vertically, like giant corrugated sails pushing your plate to victory. Drizzle with tomato-maple syrup and serve.
Dessert: French toast sticks, port wine, olive oil gelato, dried apricots
The trick with this basket is not in working out the flavors, but in transforming the ingredients into something that is presentable without making bread pudding or a Napoleon, because we’ve all done that before. The first two transformations are easy. Rehydrate the apricots, and reduce the port wine. Lo and behold we can do both at the same time! Chop up the apricots and place them in a saucepan with the port and let her rip.
Here’s where we get crazy. Grate some of the saltiest Italian cheese in the pantry. Soften the gelato in the microwave. Combine the cheese and the gelato, and put it in the ice cream machine. Yes, we are melting the ice cream to remake ice cream with salty cheese in it. Fish out the apricots and get them frozen on the anti-griddle for a quick, melt-free combination with the ice cream. Now to these wretched French toast sticks. We are making these into “garlic bread.” Stay with me, I swear. Put some sugar in a blender with one clove of garlic. We’re making garlicky confectioners’ sugar. Cream this pulverized sugar with butter and thin it out with a little milk until you get garlicky frosting. Put the French toast sticks under the broiler until you get a little char. Let them cool, then spread with garlic-butter frosting. Drizzle some of the port wine reduction over them as well, for effect. Serve with the apricot-Parmesan-olive-oil ice cream.
Naturally, everyone is going to want to dip the sticks in the ice cream, and this is where you smile, knowing that this magical bite has won your favorite charity a truckload of money.