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 final installment of the Chopped All-Stars Rebel Remix. It is bittersweet to pen this, as it signals an end to a really fun five weeks of shouting at my TV, but as you are about to see, the finale is where one retires the pea-shooter in favor of the potato cannon, and I really love potato cannons.
Appetizer: soft-shell crabs, sake, crunchy peanut butter, sea beans
I spent most of my formative years and adolescence in the great state of Maryland, where we enjoy soft-shell crabs whenever possible. Nothing is more gratifying than a sandwich with crunchy legs sticking out of a nice potato roll. If you’ve never had the treat, head to your local sushi bar and order a spider roll. Don’t be scared, it’s 100 percent cooked and 110 percent spider-free. You’ll notice it has a crunchy texture that reveals silky sweet meat with a whisper of funk. That’s the mustard, aka the guts, highly prized among many. Fancy chefs here in Brooklyn are smearing crab guts on brioche and charging as much as a whole crab would cost. Anyway, the soft-shell crab is a very tasty morsel I hold in very high regard. To prep them, cut off their faces without hesitation. Flip them over and pull open the key. This will open up the body for you to remove the feathery gills. Voila.
Heat up some oil to about 375. Make a tempura batter with rice flour, AP flour and, instead of club soda like I recommend in my recipe, we’ll use the sake, but not before running it through a siphon to carbonate it. This will be an incredibly light and airy batter because we have a double-acting bubble-maker. First, sake contains alcohol, which vaporizes faster than water, so it will produce bubbles very quickly, and secondly, by carbonating it, we are making even more bubbles. Bubbles in batter are a good thing. Imagine batter as a sort of doily, where each hole in the doily is air and the space around it is batter. Keep this on ice until we are ready to fry.
Sea beans, aka pousse-pierre, are one of my favorite ingredients of all time. Part herb, part condiment, they are basically just little drops of saltwater, ready to be diced up and added to anything that requires a little salt. Seafood is a pretty obvious choice. I used to have a mentor who would say, “If it grows together, it goes together.” We’re going to use these to flavor a special sauce. In a saucepan, combine the sea beans with coconut milk, some crunchy peanut butter and some sliced bananas. Mix this up, keeping the bananas visibly chunky. Let the sauce reduce until the liquid is nappé consistency.
Drop a few strips of bacon into the hot oil. Don’t tell anyone, but at my restaurant, I speed-cook my bacon in the deep fryer. When the bacon is crisp, remove it to drain. Now dredge the crabs in rice flour and dunk in the tempura batter. Fry these critters in our newly bacon-scented oil until, you guessed it, GBD. Here’s where we get crazy. Fry twice the amount of crabs as judges. We’re making a very special sandwich.
To plate: Place one soft-shell crab on a plate, season it with a little lemon juice, then top it with bacon and a spoon of banana special sauce. Now add another crab on top and season with lemon juice again.
Behold, the world’s first Elvis-Inspired Soft-Shell Crab Double Down, and this is just the appetizer round.
Entree: suckling goat, broccoli rabe, farro, cheddar-filled pretzels
Suckling goat may look like something from a horror movie, but check it: Goat is eaten all over the world and is freaking delicious. A suckling goat, no less? I’m in heaven. I used to be scared of whole animals, but land creatures all have the following: ribs, breasts or bellies, legs, thighs, a spine and a head. Once you understand that, butchering animals is pretty easy. So, yeah, just go in there and separate all of those parts like you’re a goat mechanic. Once you’ve got the critter in small pieces, separate the meat from the bones and put it through a meat grinder. Everyone else is going to try to cook the individual parts, and this will be their undoing, trust me.
While everyone attempts to speed-cook the farro, you be a smart cookie and pulverize the farro in a food processor to make farro flour; mix this with a little AP flour, and make a pasta dough with some eggs, a little water and salt. Run this through a pasta machine a few times. When that’s done, set the dough aside for just a moment.
Pulverize the pretzels, then mix them with some oregano and the ground goat. Just like that, we have the makings of cheesy pretzel-y goat meatballs. Brown these guys in olive oil, and hold them in a warm oven until plating time.
Pull off a ball of pasta and roll it into a thin snake like it’s Play-Doh and you are 4 years old. This is an actual pasta shape, called pici, and it is really pretty classic with goat or rabbit. Boil the pasta. In the five to six minutes that the pasta is boiling, chuck the rabe in a blender with olive oil, parsley, lemon juice and whatever nuts are lying around. Booyah: pesto.
Plate this dish by channeling your inner grandma, because if your inner grandma was Tuscan and had these things lying around the house, she’d probably make this.
Call this dish what it is: pasta with pesto and meatballs.
Dessert: freeze-dried grapes, marrow bones, Marcona almonds, cannoli cream
If you’ve seen the first act of Rebel Eats, you know what glory can come from luxuriously fatty meats paired with nuts and grapes. Start by placing the marrow bones in the freezer. This will make the marrow pop out with minimal mangling once we are ready. Blend up those freeze-dried grapes with some maple syrup. Call this grape-le syrup. Toast up those nuts, then chop them up nice and rough. Use a colander to get any of the mini chips out of the cannoli cream, and blend this with some nutmeg, salt and heavy cream until it resembles something worth consuming. Now we make marrow pancakes. Marrow, to me, is basically bone-butter, so we’ll treat it like butter in the pancakes. Pop out the marrow, then mix it with egg and milk. Combine this with some buckwheat flour, salt, sugar, a dash of cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. Make pancakes the size of half dollars, sprinkling a few almonds and nuts onto each one before turning. Make about 40 of these so each judge can have a huge stack of tiny pancakes. Serve the cannoli cream in a ramekin and the grape-le syrup warm.
Nothing beats a stack of tiny pancakes, because living in all of us, even Geoffrey Zakarian, there is a kid who just wants to eat tiny pancakes for every course of every meal.