Kitchen Hooligan

A Hooligan in the Kitchen

Chicken Marsala

November 10th, 2011 by Hooligan

I recently had the honor of preparing the food at the wedding of two dear friends of ours. The menu was fun and varied, with roast pork and my Jameson’s Barbecue sauce, freshly baked whole wheat bread with an herb compound butter, green beans, and a nice ratatouille. The dish that I received the most comments and compliments on, however, was my Chicken Marsala. I’ve been reminded a time or two now by a certain Lion-y friend of ours that I promised to post the recipe for it, so here it is in all its glory… and uh… sauce.

Stock List:
4 Chicken Breasts, skinless/boneless
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Large Shallots, minced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
¼ lb. White Button Mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
½ Cup Marsala Wine (or similar white wine)
½ Cup Chicken Stock
¼ Cup Salted Butter, cut into pats
Sea Salt
Ground Black Pepper
Blended Oil

Method of Preparation:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F.

In a medium or large bowl, combine flour with a healthy dose of salt and pepper. I’m not talking about a pinch or a dash here… I want you to season that flour like you damn well mean it. At least a teaspoon of salt, maybe even 2… and about a Tablespoon of pepper. Don’t skimp on the seasoning.

Heat up your fry/sauté pan, good and hot. If you have a pan that ISN’T nonstick (like stainless steel or cast iron), use it. Nonstick will work here, but not as well. Once the pan is good and hot, drizzle it with enough blended oil to coat the bottom. Once your oil is shimmering, you’re ready for the chicken.

Season both sides of each chicken breast with a pinch or two of salt and pepper. I know you’re thinking, “but I already seasoned the flour! What is he thinking?” Trust me. Season the bird. You’ll be happy you did. We’re fighting the good fight on the front lines against blandness here, people.

Chicken’s seasoned? Good. Dredge it in your seasoned flour, shake off the excess flour and set it into your hot, oiled pan. It should sizzle like a fajita plate. If it doesn’t, your pan wasn’t hot enough.

Allow the chicken to brown on one side (a couple of minutes… the goal here is not to cook the chicken through, but to brown the outside) and then give it a flip to brown the other side for the same amount of time. Once it’s good and browned on the outside, transfer the chicken to a baking sheet and get it into the oven. You’ll want to check it from time to time while you’re finishing your sauce to make sure you’re not overcooking it. Once it hits an internal temperature of 165 F, it’s done. The trick is to move fast enough making the sauce that once the chicken is done, so is the sauce.

Now, in the pan in which you browned your bird, on the same heat (add a tad more oil if there’s not enough left in the pan) add the shallots and garlic. Keep them moving… don’t let ‘em burn. Once the shallots and garlic have softened and become nice and fragrant, add the mushrooms. Again, keep that stuff moving. After a few short minutes, the ‘shrooms ought to be much smaller, softer and browner. At this point, deglaze your pan with the wine. Bring it to a nice simmer and let it reduce. You don’t want to reduce it all the way to dry, but you want it close. When you get it to that point, add the chicken stock and bring it back to a simmer.

Continue to simmer and reduce until the sauce just starts to thicken a bit. As it simmers, taste it. Season it will salt and/or pepper until it’s salty/peppery enough for your tastes. Right at the very end, whisk in one pat of butter at a time until your sauce achieves a nice, velvety texture.

Pour your sauce over your chicken and serve it all with your favorite starch and vegetable. That’s it. Simple as a pimple.

I hope there are a few people out there that will give this one a try and let me know how it works out for them. It’s a classic, and super tasty.

That’s all for tonight! Now… go cook… THIS!


PS. > Congrats again, Drag and Ixy!

The Art of Smoking Brisket

November 9th, 2011 by Hooligan

Brisket, mid smoke

Brisket… That super-awesome, tasty, tender, barbequed wonder-meat. We all know it. We all love it. We all wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, licking our lips with a deep, soul-aching craving for it… okay, maybe that’s just me. Whatever. Brisket, when done right, is a thing of Hellenic beauty. So, there must be only one “right” way to do it, right? One time tested, foodie approved means by which to prepare it… right? Pfft.

If you Google up “how to smoke a brisket” you will be bombarded with literally dozens… nay, HUNDREDS of opinions on the “right” way to do it. So, to save you the trouble of ever having to defend me as “right” in a knife fight brought on by a heated discussion on the finer points of brisket smoking, let me just say, I’m not here to tell you what is “right.” I’m just going to tell you what I did, and how well it worked. You may draw your own conclusions as to my “rightness,” “handsomeness,” or “manliness.”

So let’s assume that you already know what a brisket is, what part of the cow it comes from, et cetera, et cetera… If you don’t, seriously… Wikipedia or something. I can’t be expected to cover everything for you, I’m a busy dude.

For our recent Halloween / Housewarming party, we decided that a nice brisket was called for, so the first thing I did was call a butcher. That’s right, an ACTUAL butcher, none of this grocery store meat counter nonsense. The grocery store is a great place to find your lean ground turkey and your previously frozen and artificially colored salmon fillets, but when you’re dealing with serious meat, do yourself a favor and contact a serious meat purveyor. You’ll be glad you did. So, by Friday morning I had gotten my hands on two 11 – 12 pound briskets. I ordered them untrimmed, because I believe that with brisket, as with all meats, if you trim all the fat, you trim all the flavor.

“But Hooligan, I’m all health conscious and shit… don’t fatty meats lead to fatty asses?”

Okay… let’s just go ahead and clear one thing up RIGHT fucking now. There ain’t a damn thing in the world wrong with a big ass. That being said… go hide in a yoga class, hippie. You can enjoy your wheat-grass smoothie while the rest of us carnivores enjoy this fine, smoky treat. Leave the fat on the brisket. I mean it. All you need to do to that piece of meat is give it a rinse and pat it dry. No excess labor required.

Let’s take a minute and talk about smoking woods. Settle down, hop-heads… I said smoking WOODS. For the purposes of brisket, I find that fruit woods like apple or cherry give a brisket a nice sweetness. It’s my opinion that mesquite is just too… mesquitey. What I chose to use this time was wood chips from busted up Jack Daniel’s aging barrels. They added a whiskey sweetness to the beef that I found intoxicating. See what I did there? Whatever smoking wood you decide to use, the most important thing to remember is that you gotta soak those chips for HOURS in advance. Like overnight, even. Just cover them with some water and let ‘em sit. When you’re ready to use them, drain off the excess water. That’s it.

So, we have brisket. It’s nice and fatty. It’s been rinsed in some clean, cold water and patted pretty much dry. The next concern is the rub. I used a mix of sea salt, ground black pepper, red pepper, smoked paprika and garlic powder. You’ll note that we don’t call it a “sprinkle.” It’s a rub. Grab handfuls of that flavorful stuff and rub it into the meat. Give that slab o’ beef a nice massage, and don’t stop until there’s so much rub on there that it’s making a nice paste. Not only will this provide plenty of flavor, it’ll help develop a super tasty bark. You want that.

Done rubbed? Good. Now comes the fun part.

I don’t have a smoker. Do you? If you do, you probably know how to use it, so I won’t get into it. For those of us who don’t have an actual smoker, I will cover how to turn a gas grill into a lean, mean, smoking machine.

My grill has three burner elements in it. Most will have at least two. Basically you want to apply heat to your wood chips, but not to your meat. It’s called “indirect” heat. So, I fired up the burner on the far right, put a two dollar foil baking pan filled with soaked wood chips right onto the burner (down below the grilling surface), and put my brisket on the far left, away from the actual fire.

Use a baking thermometer to verify the temperature within your “smoker.” You’ll want to keep it between about 200 and 225 degrees F. Figure on smoking your meat for about an hour and a half per pound of beef, maybe longer. The goal is to get the brisket to an internal temperature of 190 F. That seems to be the temperature at which all that stringy, no-good connective tissue breaks down and becomes juicy goodness. Be careful not to smoke for too long though, or your brisket will dry out, and that will suck buckets.

In order to thoroughly smoke my two 11 – 12 pound briskets, I used three whole pans of wood chips, most of a cylinder of propane and 18 – 19 hours of smoke time. I turned the briskets over once, halfway through smoking, and made sure to change their direction as well, so as to make sure that I wasn’t keeping the same end of the brisket pointed at the heat source for a solid 18 hours. Every hour or so I would pop open the “smoker” to check the temperature and to mop the brisket with apple juice. Plain old, straight apple juice. Helps to keep things nice and moist.

Once I was happy with my brisket’s internal temperature and tenderness, I pulled it from the smoker and let it rest for a good 30 minutes. During this time, a crowd of party-goers gathered to “ooh” and “ahh” over it. The aroma coming off of it was simply maddening. By the time I started carving the brisket, folks looked like they were about ready to start chewing on each other. But carve I did. The brisket was so tender the knife just glided through it. Pockets of fatty juice popped and ran out over my board as I cut. Every platter of brisket that I put on the buffet disappeared in a flash. Conversations dimmed and halted as everyone dug in. My Jameson’s Barbecue sauce was applied liberally by many. One party goer expressed a desire to make sweet, sweet love to my brisket. You know who you are… I don’t have to point fingers.

Cutting the brisket

All in all, I declare brisket success!

So really, is there someone out there who will read this and think, “God save us, he knows NOTHING about brisket!” Undoubtedly. In fact, I’m sure there are roughly a million Texans who, as we speak, are discussing the finer points of brisket smoking based on generations of trial and error passed down the family tree. Whatever. I’m no barbecue god. I just know that when my brisket hit the table, people ate… and ate… and ate, and were happy. Isn’t that the point of it all? To see that look… you know the one… on the faces of the people that you’ve just slaved over a hot stove for. That blissed out, slightly stoned expression that tells you you’ve done it “just” right? I love that look. I live for it, and that’s why I cook.

Thanks for reading. Now go smoke something good!


PS. > Thanks to Chip for the extra pic!

Salumi and Seafood

March 8th, 2011 by Hooligan

On the eve before the first day of my final semester in Culinary School, while I should be looking forward to class tomorrow and all the wonderful things I will learn, I can’t help but cast my mind back to an amazing but simple meal that I prepared a little over a week ago. I still dream about it… I long for it.

While making preparations for a large Oscar Night menu, I decided that if we were going to be doing the “fancy food” thing, we would be remiss were we to fail to include some truly choice cured meats. What I’m saying here is that NO cheese plate is complete without some salty, savory, meaty goodness to back it up.

For those of you familiar with my random blog blatherings, you’ll remember some previous mention of Chef Mark DeNittis. What I may have failed to mention previously, is that the Chef owns and operates a salumi shop in Denver called Il Mondo Vecchio. While I have long considered Chef D to be a friend, mentor and all around class act, what I’ve come to learn over time is that he is also one hell of a cook and craftsman. One full of talent and passion for his work.

I made the drive across town to Il Mondo Vecchio for what the Chef calls “Loading Dock Fridays,” when the savviest of meat fanatics can taste and buy IMV’s tastiest of wares. Upon entering, I was treated to a hearty handshake and a full tasting of IMV’s full available line of salumies and cured, whole muscle meats. It was like being in meat heaven. Seriously.

After much careful consideration (and multiple tastings) I settled on a hunk of excellent Red Wine Bresaola and a chunk of the best Prosciutto I’ve ever had the privilege of putting in my mouth. Chef D was generous enough to throw in some of his Vino e Pepe Nero salumi to boot. With my carefully wrapped packages in tow, I greedily scurried back to the truck and made my way home.

The PLAN was to save the IMV delicacies for the Sunday festivities, but c’mon… there was no way we could wait. I started slicing the second I got home. Being in possession of a couple pounds of fresh mussels and a bottle of white wine, we had our main course all set… I figured the IMV meats would compliment it perfectly. Buddy was I ever right. Such a meal! The mussels were cooked perfectly, and we relished scooping up shells full of buttery, garlicky sauce which we slurped enthusiastically. The Vino e Pepe Nero was spicy and fantastic. The Red Wine Bresaola filled our heads with beefy, tannin tinged warmth… but the prosciutto… the prosciutto melted on the tongue, coating our mouths in salty, fatty wonderfulness and was the most talked about portion of the meal. I could probably sit here and type out a thousand words TRYING to describe to you the flavors and textures of these incredible treats, but instead I’m going to just recommend that you do yourself the biggest favor you’ve ever done, and get some of this stuff for yourself.

Go to the website… and have a look around. You can read about the various products, hand crafted and cured in house… you can follow the IMV guys on facebook, or sign up for the newsletter… but whatever you do, go to the “Where to Buy” tab and click on the Mondo Foods banner. Order up some product. Mondo Foods will send it right to your doorstep, and then you can slice it thin and let your tongue do the dancing.

So, I’ve decided to do something a little differently from now on. Rather than hiding recipes in the middle of long-winded blog posts, I’m going to write up the recipes separately and post links to them in said long-winded blog posts.

To that end, today’s recipe is of course the aforementioned mussels, prepared in a white wine butter sauce.

To read the recipe, you can click on the link below, or the picture.

If you have any access to fresh mussels, I really recommend you try this at least once… it’s crazy easy and tasty as hell.

Moules Mariniere (Mussels)

Well, kids… that’s it for today. Stay tuned this week for a full compliment of recipes from Oscar Night, including Baked Brie with Brandied Blackberry Sauce, Chicken Liver Pate, Easy Shrimp Ceviche, Ham and Spinach Quiche, and Chianti Braised Short Ribs. Mmmm… tasty.



Fire in the Hole!

November 25th, 2010 by Hooligan

Tonight was technically only the second time in my life that I’ve unintentionally set a kitchen on fire.

The first time was when I was about 14, and my (then) 5 year old brother and I were trying to work out “French Toast and Bacon” on our own. There was a mishap with a dishtowel. I won’t get into it here…

So, in the interest of imparting some hard-earned (and smoky) knowledge, allow me to fill you in on something I learned tonight. The next time you’re making a quick-bread (tonight it was pumpkin-bread) and you find that you have a little extra batter after you’ve filled your loaf pan to the appropriate level, at no point should you think to yourself, “Self, being the frugal individual that I am, I can’t just throw out this extra batter, but it’s not nearly enough to bake all on its own. HEY! I know! I’ll just add it to THIS loaf pan and end up with one slightly taller loaf!”

No. There’s a reason you don’t overfill your pan, and that reason is fire.

When that sucker starts to rise, that precious extra bit of batter is going to end up overflowing onto your oven’s heating element. That’s when the fun starts!

It went a little something like this:

“Mmm… sure does smell good in here. It smells all pumpkin bready… with a hint of… smoky barbecue? The hell? I’d better go investigate. Hey, neato! That’s actual FIRE right there in my oven!”

Unfortunately, there was no one on hand to pass me a marshmallow on a stick. Now THAT would have been a party!

In closing: That yummy extra batter? Throw that shit out. It’s extra dangerous.



Salmon Chops with Grilled Summer Squash

August 13th, 2010 by Hooligan

What’s good, family?

Just a quickie to let everyone know I’m still alive, and to brag about tonight’s dinner.

Salmon Chops

I took a nice looking salmon filet and cut it into thirds, leaving the thinner belly part of the filet attached. To me they look like fishy little lamb chops. I seasoned each “chop” liberally with kosher salt, pepper and finely ground rosemary, then set them into a hot pan with a little EVOO.

The squash, which came to us via the garden of one of my fiancée’s coworkers, got drizzled with a tiny bit of oil and set onto a hot grill. A couple of flips, and a few deft slices and there you go. You just don’t have to do too much to summer squash. It’s beautiful and delicious just as it is. Don’t mess with it too much; you’ll probably just fuck it up.

In the center of the plate, you see a ring-molded mound of garlic and herb couscous. Nothing fancy here… it came out of a box. I prefer Near East brand, if it matters.

I finished the plate with a sprig of fresh rosemary, and a few dabs of a balsamic reduction. No mystery there either, really. It’s balsamic vinegar, cooked over med-high heat until it reduces to a syrup. PROTIP: you can tell it’s done when it just coats the back of a spoon.

So that’s it. Simple ingredients prepared VERY simply and presented nicely. It just doesn’t get much better than that.


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