You know what stinks? I mean really stinks? When a favorite, reliable restaurant sells its soul by allowing quality to take a back seat to speed.
If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry, you’ve heard the term “sandbag.” The term refers to something prepared in advance, then set aside. Sandbaggin’ brings down the wait time, but brings down the quality of the food even more. Sandbags might be a great for hurricane preparation, but they’re horrific as lunch.
While it’s true that many foods can be par-cooked, then finished when needed with no ill effects, it doesn’t work with everything. That’s why it’s important to have a passionate, well-educated, sincere, highly motivated individual—aka Chef—running the kitchen. Many cooks are fabulous, but they’re often willing to create short cuts to speed things up. After all, it’s quite easy to lose one’s integrity when you’re constantly in the weeds and being pushed by shameless front-of-the-house managers.
Therefore, kitchens must choose techniques wisely and possess a near-religious zeal for quality. Braises, stews, soups, are but few examples of dishes whose flavors excel when prepared in advance. Vegetables, such as beans, leeks and winter squashes, can be par-cooked in advance and gently finished when needed. Most high-dollar proteins, such as steaks, chops, chicken breasts, seafood and especially fried items, turn to garbage when cooked in advance. Never, ever, ever sandbag fried items, unless you want food to taste like a greasy, chewy, dry flip-flop!
The trick is to balance the menu with pre- and par-cooked along with à la minute items. A perfect example of this practice is exemplified in the recipe I so generously included today. It’s a Portuguese (yes, I’m still on my Portuguese food kick) version of Cheffed Up surf-and-turf. The idea is to slowly and lovingly caress the flavor from the pork and chorizo stew by carefully simmering in advance. To finish it, you can go one of two ways: steam the clams in herbs and white wine, or simply add the clams to the simmering stew about eight to 10 minutes before serving. Pure genius, a beautiful combination of pre-cooked and à la minute.
CHEF BILL’S BRAISED PORK with CHORIZO & CLAMS
- 3 pound pork butt, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2” cubes
- 6 oz. Spanish chorizo, 1/2“ medallions
- 2 onions, small dice
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 green pepper, medium dice
- 1 red pepper, medium dice
- 1 oz. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 2 oregano sprigs
- 2 oz. white wine
- 8 oz. chicken stock
- 2 cups diced tomatoes
- 1 oz. sherry vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Season pork with salt and pepper. Sear in olive oil on medium-high heat, remove. Lower heat.
- Sweat the onions in the pan, add garlic. Add peppers and briefly sweat; return the pork to the pan.
- Raise heat to medium-high, deglaze pan with wine, add chicken stock. Tie herbs and bay leaves and add to pan.
- Bring to a simmer, cover with a paper lid, lower heat and slowly simmer 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and chorizo. Continue to simmer for 15 more minutes until pork is tender.
- Stir in vinegar, adjust seasonings.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at email@example.com to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!