Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ceviche and batch cooling

This weekend was excrutiatingly hot. Saturday morning, I went to the farmers market in inwood, and then to arthur avenue to get fish, meat, and some produce. I needed something refreshing and cool for lunch. I made ceviche using scrod from Randazzos. Ceviche is a south american technique of coagulating fish in a citrus or acidic base. Usually, limes, lemons, or grapefruit juice is used. What happens to the flesh of the fish as it is kept in the citrus juice is that it coagulates the proteins, thus cooking (with no heat) the fish. Its also useful to mention that most (pathogenic) bacteria cannot survive in a highly acidic environment, which makes this somewhat raw application consumable. Here's my variation

Scrod, tomatoes, basil puree, chile, shallot, figs, lemon

I make a lot of chili at home. I thought it'd be useful to share a helpful solution to the problem of having to cool down a big batch of chili or any kind of stew. If you were to put a big batch of any kind of stew that's just been cooked into a container in the fridge, it will inevitably go bad. It won't cool down in time, and may alter the temperature of the fridge, thus ruining other things that need to stay cold. Solution: batch cooling. Rule of thumb no 1: temperature danger zone 41-130 degrees F (my chef instructors pounded this number into our brains). Bring food down to within the 80s (around room temp) within the first hour, and you can refrigerate it then. Rule of thumb no 2: The wider and colder the surface area, the quicker the heat will escape.Here's a quick demo:

First, make lots of amazing chili

Meanwhile, put two sheet pans in the freezer.

When done, pour the chili into the sheetpans and stir. When cool to the touch, store in an airtight container

This is also the method restaurants use for batch cooling risotto.

Basic method of making chili
2 lbs ground meat
2 or 3 cans of any beans
Can of crushed tomatoes
spices of choice
onion, diced
garlic, mashed
celery, diced
chiles, diced
dry chiles, rehydrated
handful baking chocolate

In first pan, sweat aromatics (onions, chiles, celery, garlic) until onions are transluscent and release their aroma. Add spices (I add paprika, cayenne, dominican oregano, pepper flakes, scant coriander, smoked salt, garlic powder if I'm too lazy to mash garlic). Add the beans

Meanwhile, in a smoking hot skillet, brown the meat using only enough oil to film the bottom of the pan. Brown meat in three batches. Deglaze last batch with a few drops of worchestershire sauce. Add meat to main pot.

Add dry chilies, and enough crushed tomatoes to submerge the entire mixture in liquid. If its not enough, add any kind of stock, or even water. Stir, and simmer for at least an hour (I simmer as long as I can, sometimes up to 4 or 5 hours to build flavor.

When done, add a handful of baking chocolate.
Batch cool as demonstrated.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tomato Basil lobster roll

My first lobster roll. Ever. Inspired by Aki and Alex. He says it needs lobster lightly dressed in a mayo based sauce, herbs, a spicy kick, and butter fried Martin potato rolls. For herbs I added a basil puree to a basic white-miso mayo.
I cooked the lobster in my office out of necessity. I went to a local supermarket that specializes in international food for this impoverished-yet-incredibly-diverse south bronx area. Lobster, $5.99/lb. 1 point 3 pounds. Check.
It was alive and kicking when I freaked out showed it to my patient office mate. An hour later I went to check on it in the fridge, and it was dead with a chipped claw. Lobsters are evolution's joke; when they die they're sweet flesh turns to mush unless its cooked immediately. I McGuyvered my way around this problem using two plastic bags, an electric water kettle, tupperware. I brought home cooked lobster that had been chilled, perfect
After harvesting the meat, I was left with about 7 ounces of meat and the rest of the weight in discarded shell.

Normally, I'd roast the shells w/ mirepoix and make a stock, but I had no need for lobster stock, or space in the freezer. Sadly, this had to be dumped.

Next I blistered potatoes. Basic blistering technique. Cut potatoes (in this case all blue, and laratte from the hudson valley) to uniform sizes. Dump them in a pot of mildly salted cold water. Boil, simmer until they are almost falling apart. Remove from water and allow to dry. Place on a pan with oil, and shove in a 350 degree oven until they are, well, blistered. Season aggressively (I reach for kosher salt, smoked salt, smoked paprika, and black pepper).

Next, dress the harvested lobster meat lightly in any mayonnaise based sauce. Basic mayo technique. The ratio I use for mayo is 1 egg yolk per 100-125ml of neutral oil. Place an egg yolk in a bowl, add 1/2 tsp white miso paste, juice of 1/4 lime, zest of 1/2 lime, pinch paprika, pinch of any kind of mustard, s+p. Whisk in oil in a steady stream (this technique works well in a food processor). Taste and adjust the seasoning. It will most likely need more acid since its such a rich sauce, so you can reach for citrus juice, or any type of vinegar (I go for sherry on most occasions, but I used rice vinegar this time). I added basil puree (blanch in boiling water, shock in an ice bath, puree in a blender or food processor with a little oil) for herbaciousness.
I got these beutiful sungold tomatoes from the farmers market the other day, and they were the perfect accompaniment. The acid of the tomato gave the overall dish the burst of flavor it needed.

Honestly, this was a delicious, affordable use of cheap lobster, but the quality of the lobster was seriously lacking. It was want for fresh lobster, and I don't think I'll return to food bazaar for lobster again. A journey dish like this is worth the trip into the city for super fresh lobster from a reputable retailer, or even a ride over to randazzos. The mayo would have benefitted from more white miso, and some lemon juice instead of lime (I found the lime overpowered the basil). Maybe some garlic or anchovy paste would have been a good addition. There you have it world. My lobster roll. Source your ingredients well, and make sure you don't have to troubleshoot a dead lobster in the office. Lesson learned.

I washed it all down with a nice cold Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. $2.99 at Food bazaar. I've been meaning to try this hefe. It was great with the lobster roll, had some strong grainy notes on the palate and incredibly refreshing. All I needed was a dayboat to be on the LI sound, and it would have been perfect.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Happy friends

A friend hired me to do a dinner for his 3rd year anniversary. He's giving me full reign over the menu, and a generous budget. This friend and I have a good amount of history, so I want to pull out the best stuff for him. 11 or 12 course small plates tasting with 2 or 3 sweet courses, and a cheese course. At the risk of prematurely revealing to he and his wife a menu item, I thought it'd be nice to reveal a play by play of how I thought of one of the courses.

Cinnamon and vanilla butter poached lobster tail half, Jamon Iberico, Idiazabal.

For lunch in the office, I brought it some jamon serrano, and Idiazabal cheese, which is similar in nuttiness to an aged manchego, though its more smokey. Jamon serrano, has a very unique nutty, and spicy characteristic. You can't get these flavors out of these products when you eat them straight out of the fridge; you've gotta let it come to room temp so all of those hidden flavors and aromas can feel safe to come out.
I rolled a few thin slices of idazabal in a single slice of jamon, took a bite and savored. I got notes of cinnamon, almonds, walnuts, and some very light smoke. Jamon Iberico is a ham that is cured for about 2- 3 weeks in the mountainous regions of Spain, and then hung to age and dry for two years as its pounded by the pure winds that bring the ocean's briny characteristic to it. As the meat ages, the flavor gets nuttier and the texture of the fat becomes more supple.
Its been referred to the caviar of cured meats, and the cheapest I've seen it for was $99/lb. I had the pleasure of sampling Iberico at Murray's real salami at Grand Central Market this week, and was floored. It was an embarrassingly emotional experience for me (I think I may have was that good!) I paid closer attention to it, and tasted a faint note of cinnamon.

I will roll six or seven thinly sliced pieces of idiazabal in one slice of Jamon Iberico. I will gently poach the harvested lobster tail meat in cinnamon and vanilla butter, and put them both on the plate for my friends to enjoy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fermented coffee

There is an animal in Indonesia that finds the best coffee beans, eats them, and poops them out. People go hunting for their poo because the coffee beans left whole in them yields the best (read most expensive) coffee in the world. Don't believe me? Read here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Asparagus cookery

exhibit a exhibit b

I mentioned how I learned a decent technique for cooking asparagus from Heston Blumenthal's book in previous post. I do it often. My friend loaned me his Nikon D50, in order to get some professional quality photos for the blog/website I'm working on, so I took it out for a spin while cooking dinner.

The technique is simple. Place asparagus in a cold pan big enough to fit it all in one layer. Pour some oil over the asparagus, but only enough to film the bottom of the pan and lightly coat the asparagus. Put the heat on low, cover with a lid, and cook until its the desired doneness (a bit more toothesome than fork tender for me).

The idea is that blanching asparagus in water extracts a lot of that excellent asparagal flavor into the blanching water. Not enough of it stays in the stalk. Also, the pigmentation of asparagus is water soluble, but not oil soluble. Easy fix, cook it low and slow in a little bit of oil. The recipe adds little fat to the asparagus (its not a sponge so it doesn't sop up the oil), and keeps it pretty green. THIS IS THE EASIEST WAY OF MAKING ASPARAGUS SUPER FLAVORFUL!!!! All of the flavor is really in there. Try blanching it in salted water, shocking it in ice water, and reheating it in unsalted water. Then try this method. Leave a comment.

Admittedly, I overcooked the asparagus (exhibit b). I should've took it out when it was just done (exhibit a). I had a bit too much fun w/ the camera and its excellent manual settings.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I took this photo on the corner of 79th and 3rd last night. Strangely, I was tempted to somehow disconnect the line of liquid nitrogen, seal it, and hail a cab. I wouldn't have gotten that far. Apparently, NYC has several random dewars of liquid nitrogen strategically placed around the city to depressurize lines on the power grid.
I still fantasize about being able to make ice cream in less than 20 seconds with Liquid nitrogen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

At the market

Saw some awesome herbage at the market, and thought of buying a few pots for a dinner this thursday w/ fresh garniture. They had super fragrant pineapple sage, french sorrel, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, purple basil.
I'm still not sure if I'm really on for this thursday; my client hasn't gotten back to me after I asked for a deposit. But if I am, I can think of a few dessert ideas with pineapple sage, and chocolate mint. I just think it'd be really cool if I brought in some potted herbage into their kitchen, and while plating, snipping some herbs freshly just like Sean Brock.

A brand new sous-vide hack

I've fantasized of buying an immersion circulator, which is low temperature water oven in which you submerge food in a vacuum sealed bag, and cook it for prolonged periods of time. The point of this is precision and consistency when cooking food. There are tremendous benefits to cooking meats this way: they will practically never overcook, it yields incredibly moist, succulent meat, it cuts service time (because you put it in, cook it through, cool it down, and forget about it until its time to serve, then you sear it to order). The problem is, this equipment can cost more than $1G.
I've thought of a few hacks that I've never tried, such as buying a fryolater and putting water in it since the temperature can be regulated precisely. I read an awesome article this morning by and MIT grad/private chef in Massachussettes who happened to have discovered his own money saving hack. Want a hint? It involves a cooler.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Of risotto, chickenless broth, and ruined stockpots

Risotto has made me very happy the last two days.
I usually have keep chicken stock in my freezer, but had no reason for it so I haven't made any in a while. Shamefully, I went to the supermarket yesterday and bought some chicken base. Except, this chicken base wasn't made with chicken. It said "no chicken base." I checked the ingredients and saw "autolyzed yeast extract," which is codeword for MSG. I'm not against MSG, and I sympathize with those who can't have it, its a powerful vehicle for umami which is why commercialized neighborhood chinese food tastes so good (next time you order, look out for big tubs that say "MSG." I prefer to add umami to a dish by using kombu kelp, miso paste, or a high quality soy sauce.
This base made a broth that was so good I could eat it by itself. However, it's a bit too salty to reduce into a demi glace, unless diluted. It made my risotto for the past two days extra chicken-y, regardless whether my broth had bird in it or not.
I still prefer the process of making my own stock.
I do miss my stockpot. Its been out of commission ever since I sterilized it for lacto-fermentation. I was going to make a vat of sauerkraut for an event in december, and was measuring a plastic plate that fit perfectly into it. The problem was that it fit so perfectly, I couldn't take it out. Ruined stockpot.


My regular client takes issue with the fact that I've made it a new policy to take deposits before events. Now, he's got a pretty expensive palette; food cost for this guy has reached about $700 for 10 people. That's my money being spent, and interest charged to my credit card. We'll see how he responds when I start charging tax.

A friend of mine told me some wise words: when you sell yourself short, your communicating to your clients that they should expect you to be cheap consistently. When you go ahead and change any little thing, expect some kind of resistance if you haven't lost them already. I really hope I didn't lose them!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

weird dream

After typing the beet foam idea yesterday, I refined the thought process. I couldn't stop thinking about it last night, and apparently the fact that I was asleep made no difference.

I had a dream that I served a composed cheese course with a tasting of goats milk cheese with white beet preserves, baby beet greens, and a beet and goat cheese espuma at an event. The plates kept coming back full. I asked my client what he thought about the tragic cheese course and he said no one knew what the hell they should do with the foam. People thought it was purple dish soap.

Is it pathetic of me to have a nightmare involving foam?

Friday, March 26, 2010

ISI whipper

Coconut espuma
Heirloom corn espuma
Espuma de parcha (passion fruit for a coquito based cocktail my dear friend and I worked on)
Almond foam

In the works
beet foam (for a composed cheese course)
pomegranate foam
Sauce choron (bearnaise w/ tomato compote)
Foie gras foam (not sure if its an economic idea)

Incredible idea

Sean Brock, and incredible farm to table, hydrocolloid using, texture modifying chef that sticks to his roots in South Carolina has a great idea for keeping his the fresh herbs he uses for his garniture completely fresh: keep them under a growing lamp under the pass in the kitchen and snip them when plating:

Check out his blog post

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I've been thinking of an edible medium for a foie gras hors d'ouvres. One thing I came up with was a foie gras tart. Problem is, how do I get the FG custardy, or acqueous enough to pipe into a tart shell. Another thing I thought of was a sort of FG wellington, with a seared scallop of FG encased in puff pastry. Still tinkering....

Monday, March 22, 2010

An ode to the book review

As a private chef with very limited restaurant experience, my main faucet of knowledge are both the foundation I received in school seconded by some excellent cook books.

Top 2 inspirational tomes I purchased in the past year

The Flavor Bible
An indispensable reference tool. The masterpiece of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (authors of Culinary Artistry). They interviewed dozens of chefs across the country and asked them to synthesize the flavor combinations they use in their restaurants. This book is a lexicon of ingredients, and it lists the other ingredients that pair well with them. It lists the seasonality of all things, and the best way to prepare them according to their research. If I had more restaurant experience, I would rely heavily on the flavor combinations I would have learned and tasted in the kitchen. Since I don't, I am often inspired by this book. Here's an example of how I've been able to benefit from this book. Dish: Sauteed bay scallops with heirloom corn puree, and emulsified coconut Jus. The listing for scallops include corn. This lead me to think of the bond that scallops and corn share in flavor: delicate sweetness. Something else with that quality, but with a more nutty component: coconut. Texturally, everything is soft, so it needs something crunchy. Flavor wise, everything is has a delicate balance of sweet and savory but points towards the sweet side. In order to balance the texture, there are different things I can introduce, crisped corn kernals for example. To balance the flavor, I introduce heat, either cayanne, or a pepper thread. I serve this at events as either an hors d'ouvre on a bamboo spoon, or an appetizer. Thanks Karen and Andrew!

The Fat Duck Cookbook
An epic culinary volume that accomplishes ten-fold what it seeks to accomplish; what the French Laundry cookbook did for Thomas Keller's philosophy the Fat Duck Cookbook does for Heston Blumenthal's. The synopsis of this philosophy: Basic and advanced knowledge of food science is very useful in a restaurant kitchen, especially since it helps to achieve every restaurant's goal of efficiency. This book is broken down into three sections: Biography, Recipes, Science. Heston is an exceptional food writer (especially considering the breadth and success of his restaurant) and I found myself laughing while reading the bio. The recipes show you the nuts and bolts of his ideas and his process. The science section, I'm still refer to. He conscripts several scientists to offer an essay on several topics (such as is flavor preference nature or nurture; Flavor, aroma, and taste, etc). I've learned so much. As far as application, Heston has taught me an interesting technique on cooking asparagus that preserves all of the flavor and its vibrant green color that involves no water, no salt, and no immersion circulator. Thanks Heston!


Welcome to Jonathan Mendez's official culinary blog! I'm an active private chef/caterer, and I have some pretty interesting experiences working out of the homes of some Manhattan socialites. Here, I plan to include recipes, photos, quips, ideas, and my own debrief of each event from the perspective of the busy kitchen.

Coming up:
Dinner Party for 10 on April 8th in Chelsea
Cocktail/buffet fundraiser dinner in NYC penthouse: May 5th
Mid August: bridal shower for 40, Yorktown NY
Potential: August: Wedding for 120, location TBD.