Fat adrenaline junkies
Everyone who works in the restaurant business knows some of the best, most creative meals take place in the kitchen far away from the limelight and paying customers. I have borne witness to some crazy, inventive shit only a slightly stoned cook could ever dream of. I also have seen epic fails where it required all my diplomatic skills to prevent the premature death by roasting of the guy who made it. The fact is, kitchen folk love to eat decadently delicious food. Maybe it’s the trade off for all the long hours we spend working together in grueling heat, producing amazing food for you to dine on.
Short Rib Pizza
One of the most memorable was Keith’s short rib pizza, he ladled liberal quantities of horseradish bechamel onto a base of our chewy fermented rye pizza crust and topped it with a splattering of spoon-tender beef short ribs and molasses-bacon jam. It was liberally dusted with aged Manchego cheese and freshly microplaned raw horseradish. The first time he made it, we ate our entire mise en place of short ribs and had to quickly prep more for the next day. Seriously, my nipples get hard at the mere thought of it.
As a contrast, I had a French sous chef named Nicolas who danced the fine line of thrifty and frugal, sometimes a bit too closely. One time, he made what he termed a “French Paella” out of old chicken innards and leftover rice he had been hoarding for weeks. It was so bad, my entire staff threatened to walk out if I didn’t immediately make something else. I mean right away. I seriously thought if I left Nicolas alone, even for a minute, they might have lynched him or at least peeled him alive. But bad meals were an anomaly, we loved food way too much to eat crap.
Daube of Beef Cheeks
The best prep cook I ever had was Daniel, a Mexican-Spaniard hybrid who grew up in Mexico City Daniel owned a taco shop in Mexico City, but quickly sold it after coming to work one too many mornings, to find his staff bound and his store robbed.
I had a super popular dish on my menu made from slowly braised wagyu beef cheeks cooked in the fashion of an old-school Southern French daube. The trimmed cheeks were cooked in saffron, tomatoes, cinnamon stick, anchovies, dried orange peel, olives and garlic until they started to melt. Maybe it was a bit over the top using wagyu beef for the already uber tender gelatinous cheeks, but the customers were addicted, so I never dared change it. At the height, we were going through four or five cases of meat a week and the byproduct was endless mounds of fat laced trim.
After braising, Daniel would chop the trim and make crack-like beef cheek tacos with his infamous roasted tomato salsa. Seriously, you could never just eat one or two, it was always like four or five. We ate them with reckless abandon, countless days I went into service overstuffed and hurting, unable to move at anything faster than a snail’s pace. Luckily my food runners were properly trained to keep the flow of strong espresso running to the kitchen crew all night.
Daniel’s secret salsa
Every now and then I still talk to Daniel. I was always too embarrassed to ask for his salsa recipe, but the other day I was missing the camaraderie of staff meals badly and called Daniel, begging him to share it. I braised some grass-fed lamb cheeks, made Daniel’s salsa and happily shared it with my family. My four-year-old Beaumont looked like a possessed demon devouring his tacos, snarling at my dog Lucy to keep her from wandering too close to the carnage.
Daniel's Roasted Tomato Salsa, my version
- 5 tomatoes
- 1 head garlic cut in half
- 1 Vidalia sweet onion cut in half
- 2 guajillo peppers seeded
- 1 bunch cilantro cop
- 1/2 cup oil
- 2 limes zest and squeeze
- salt and pepper
You can either build a super hot fire with mesquite or burn, blacken, destroy five tomatoes in a broiler. Obviously, you get more flavor the first way.
Grill or broil garlic and onion until cooked and browned. Remove skins and reserve.
Mix everything in a low-speed blender and puree till smooth
Adjust seasonings to your taste. I added two heaping spoonfuls of Aji Amarillo pepper paste I had been squirreling away for weeks.
Daniel’s Magic Tacos
I share with you Daniel’s Cheek Tacos with Roasted Tomato Salsa in pictures:
Gather around the roasting pan corn tortillas grilled straight on an open gas burner, salsa, lime wedges, grated Cotija cheese, pickled jalapenos, pickled onions, chopped cilantro and some good beer.
Give these great tacos a try and let me know how they taste!
24 Hour Pickled Vidalia Onions
A quick and easy pickle that is great on tacos, burgers and everything else
- 1 Vidalia sweet onion peeled
- 1 slice beet
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup white vinegar
Slice Vidalia onion thinly and stuff into a pint-sized jar.
Push a slice of beet in.
Boil salt, sugar, water, and vinegar, then pour over onions, screw top on and let sit one day.
Lamb Cheek Tacos
These could be the single most addictive thing you've ever tried in your life. The recipe may seem like way too large for 4 people to eat, but trust me, you won't be able to stop eating until you burst.
- 1/2 cup fat or olive oil
- 5 pounds trimmed Lamb Cheeks
- 2 sweet onions chopped
- 5 carrots peeled and chopped
- 2 ribs celery chopped
- 2 heads garlic cut in half
- 2 dried aji amarillo peppers
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 2 tablespoons ground chipotle peppers
- 2 oranges cut in half
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- sea salt and pepper to taste
Heat fat in a large roasting pan, add lamb cheeks and brown.
Add chopped onions, carrots, celery, garlic, aji amarillo pepper, cinnamon, cumin, chipotle pepper and chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer, cover in aluminum foil and braise in your oven at 350 for three hours, or until the lamb melts.
Remove the lamb cheeks and chop, reserve.
Reduce the cooking liquid till thick and add to chopped cheeks. Adjust seasoning and keep warm.