Published in the May 2013 issue
Chef Michael Kaphan, Purdy's Farmer & the Fish, North Salem, New York
I'm a chef who grew up in the era just before the green-market revolution. Like so many others, my mother was a Birds Eye queen, and the Jolly Green Giant was her best friend, always hiding in the cupboard. So as I grew older and my passion for food grew, I wanted to come up with a simple, tasty, and healthy way to prepare garden or green-market vegetables. After many years of cooking, I find myself always returning to this one tried-and-true technique. It never fails me, and my guests always want to know how I did it. Simplicity, I tell them. The secret lies in the technique, and after a couple tries, you'll pick it right up. To use a restaurant phrase, it's done à la minute - "in a minute," or done to order. The goal is a reduced sauce clinging to vegetables that still have their picked-from-the-garden taste.
There's another phrase in professional kitchens: mise en place, meaning all the ingredients prepped and in place before you start cooking. So now when I tell you these vegetables go from place to plate in about four minutes, you know what I mean.
RECIPE: Asparagus and Morels*
- 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided in half
- 1 shallot, diced
- 1/2 lb pencil asparagus, cut on the diagonal
- 5 medium morel mushrooms,** cleaned and halved
- leaves picked from several sprigs of thyme
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- wedge of lemon
- coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the butter, the shallot, asparagus, morels, and thyme, swirling the pan to disperse.
When the vegetables start to sweat out (but before they pick up any color), add the chicken stock. It will sizzle and come quickly to a boil. Add the remaining butter, and as it melts, toss to coat the vegetables with sauce. There shouldn't be a pool in the pan.
Squeeze in lemon juice and adjust seasonings if need be. (It will depend on the saltiness of the stock you use, so taste before you commit.)
*Other excellent vegetable combinations: Sugar snaps and shaved hakurei turnips, corn kernels and shiitake mushrooms, English peas and fava beans, snow peas and sunchokes, haricots verts and summer squash.
**If you can't find morels, use 3 oz of another seasonal wild mushroom, like chanterelles or porcinis - or shaved truffles if you want to splurge.
The Esquire Cooking School: May
How to Cut Vegetables
The Diagonal or Bias
Use on straight, slender vegetables, like asparagus, scallions, and carrots. The elongated oval exposes more surface area and reduces cooking time, useful in stir-fries. For asparagus, trim rough ends. Holding the knife at an angle (the sharper the angle, the more elongated the oval), cut the stems on the diagonal, adjusting the angle of the blade so pieces are uniform.
Increases surface area of carrots, celery root, parsnips, onions, beets, etc., so more of the ingredient touches the pan. If you're sweating the vegetable, it shortens cooking time, preserving fresh flavor; if browning, it means more surface to brown - also more flavor. Trim round sides so that each side has a flat surface. Cut crosshatch-style into quarter-inch cubes.
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