Showing posts with label Chef Video. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chef Video. Show all posts

Monday, June 18, 2018

Fried Chicken with Honey-Butter-Rosemary Dressing - Summer's Perfect Food

Last year I had the good fortune to interview chef Wes Whitsell in the kitchen at ManuelaBesides the interview, I video taped Wes demonstrating his signature crispy fried chicken. 

The recipe is easy and quick to prepare. For a dinner the other night when my wife was out of town, I wanted a meal that didn't take too much effort so I fried four chicken legs, made some onion rings and, to balance all that crunchy fried flavor, a plate of sensible salt-boiled carrots rounds and broccoli florets. Delicious!


The Fourth of July is coming up. The fried chicken will be perfect for our picnic, delicious even at room temperature.

Here is the original article, interview and video. Enjoy!

The food is great at Manuela. No question about that, but besides great food, there’s a cool, easy vibe in the bar, dining room and outdoor patio.

Manuela’s casual atmosphere was created by chef Wes Whitsell. The restaurant, like his look, is country-urban. His t-shirt, jeans, a turned backwards baseball cap and an apron fits easily with his hip version of a country café and bar, LA style. Outside the restaurant, he built an organic herb and produce garden to supply the kitchen. He left room for a chicken coop, with a dozen+ chickens whose eggs are served in the restaurant.


Diners make reservations in advance or decide to stop by on the spur of the moment. A lot of people see Manuela as they walk between the galleries at the Hauser & Wirth art complex on East 3rd Street between South Santa Fe and South Alameda Streets. There’s art inside the restaurant as well. In fact, yes, that is a large Mark Bradford canvas in the dining room. The aerial view of Hollywood is for sale so while you eat, you can buy the art.


With as many as fifty items divided between Raw, Cured & PickledSupper and Vegetables, the food at Manuela draws on many traditions but the beating heart of the menu is country. Pimento cheese, country ham, chow-chow, biscuits, deviled eggs, cast iron cornbread, hushpuppies, collard greens, pork sliders, fries and mashed potatoes with gravy are a through line. If you had a picnic, you would do very well to bring Whitsell’s food to your afternoon at the beach. 


This is country cooking with healthy, quality ingredients and fine dining plating. Having lived in Lebanon and France and cooked in some of LA’s most noteworthy restaurants (Gjelina, Blair’s and Osteria La Buca), Whitsell informs his cooking with his superior palate. Take a bite of almost any dish and you’ll experience a pairing of savory, sweet and heat. He cultivates relationships with farmers, dairies, fishermen and ranchers. Follow him on Instagram (manueladtla) and you’ll see how much he loves high quality ingredients and how far he will go to procure them.


When I had a tasting, I ordered his olive oil fried duck egg with melted ramps and anchovy aioli on grilled sourdough. The bottom of the egg had a thin crust, the bright yellow, sunny side quivered. Cutting into the center of the egg released a torrent of yolk that shared its sweetness with the ramps and soaked into the grilled bread.


Ask for the grilled avocado, which you will definitely want to do, and marvel at the beauty of a single, perfectly ripe avocado arriving on a plate, cut in half with grill marks on the soft flesh. The avocado meat has been flavored with crème fraiche, sea salt and Aleppo chili. One mouthful and you’ll give yourself over to its savory tasting of creaminess and heat.

Whitsell elevates familiar dishes and ingredients by adding an unexpected element. He takes the comfort-food-familiar flavors of a baked potato, sour cream and chives to another level when he flavors fingerling potatoes with freshly grated horseradish, crème fraiche and dill. 

He is a master of meat (chicken, elk, pork ribs), seafood (Santa Barbara spot prawns, ahi tuna, California king salmon) and vegetables (beans, peas, cauliflower, turnips, carrots, kale and potatoes). Jars and crocks line the kitchen shelves because he loves pickling and fermenting.  He serves plates of pickled vegetables and uses fermented elements (jalapeno, mustard seeds, radicchio) to spice up his dishes. 


Rough textured greens like collards and Savoy cabbage that most chefs roast or boil, Whitsell serves raw. He massages them with kosher salt to coax a softness from their otherwise stiff leaves. To make his Cole slaw, he puts shredded savoy cabbage leaves into a bowl and sprinkles on kosher salt. His fingers go to work, pressing and squeezing the leaves together with the firmness of a Swedish masseuse. In a matter of minutes, those stress-stiffened leaves have relaxed enough to accept some friendly seasoning.  He adds a sprinkling of red onions, pickled jalapenos and mustard seeds, shredded carrots and a hit of apple cider vinegar. Delicious.

The skillet and the bubbles

For his video, Whitsell shows the step-by-step process for making crispy fried chicken. His favorite and mine. 

Two essentials to making great fried chicken: using a heavy duty cast iron pan (and, in my opinion, a carbon steel pan made by de Buyer) and getting the cooking oil to the correct temperature.

The tricky part of the process is cooking the chicken not too fast and not too slow. If the oil is too hot, then the outside will be crispy and the inside will be uncooked. That is why Whitsell recommends making a test piece to help gauge the heat and the time it takes to cook the chicken properly. 


Pour 1” of oil into the skillet, which should reach half way up the side of the chicken pieces. Heat for about 5 minutes. When the test piece is placed in the oil, the bubbles should come up the sides but not over the top. If the bubbles envelop the piece, the oil is too hot. On the video, Whitsell shows exactly the bubbles he looks for.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Spicy Honey Butter

There are many secrets to his recipe. Most importantly, brine the chicken and then marinate the pieces afterwards in buttermilk. 

A cook's tip: if buttermilk is not available, you can make a substitute by measuring out a 1/4 cup of milk or half and half and adding a teaspoon of white vinegar. Allow to sit 15 minutes. The milk will curdle. Add the curdled milk to the amount of milk you need. Mix, refrigerate and use as the marinade. 

Whitsell prefers on-the-bone dark meat to breast meat.

When you make the brine, it should taste like ocean water.

Given the time it takes to brine and dry the chicken in the refrigerator, do all the prep a day or two ahead. Bread and fry the chicken just before serving.

For Whitsell, quality ingredients are essential. That’s why he tracks down Sonoma flour from Grist and Toll, a local mill, and organic buttermilk from Clover Sonoma because he likes their taste and believes they are healthier.


Lower each chicken piece into the pan slowly to avoid hot oil splatters.

Make sure there is a lot of space between the pieces in the frying pan and move the pieces around as they cook for even browning. Work in batches.

Brining & Drying Timeovernight - 2 nights

Prep Time: 15 minutes if using pre-cut chicken, 30 minutes if cutting up a whole chicken

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Resting Time10 - 15 minutes

Total Time: 45 - 65 minutes + Brining/Drying Time: overnight - 2 nights

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 whole chicken or 1 whole chicken cut up, washed, pat dried

¼ cup kosher salt (for brine) + 2 tablespoons (for the flour dredge)

2 cups buttermilk, preferably from Clover Sonoma

2 cups all-purpose white flour or,  preferably, Sonora flour milled by Grist and Toll

1 teaspoon freshly ground cracked black pepper

4-6 cups peanut oil depending on size of cast iron pan

Directions

Brine whole chicken overnight or 6 hours for cut up chicken.

Remove from brine, pat dry. 

If using a whole chicken, after brining, cut off legs, thighs and wings. Filet the breasts off the bones and cut each breast in half. Wash and pat dry each piece. Reserve the bones to make stock or freeze if not using immediately.

Lay the chicken pieces skin side up on a piece of parchment or non-stick paper on the bottom of a cooking pan or baking sheet. Do not cover. Refrigerate overnight.

Mix together flour, kosher salt and freshly ground, cracked black pepper. 

Put 1 inch of oil into the cast iron or carbon steel pan. The oil should reach half way up the chicken pieces. If needed, add more oil. Place on a medium to a medium-high heat for about five minutes.

Place the chicken pieces into the buttermilk or work in batches.

Take one piece of chicken at a time out of the buttermilk. Shake to remove excess liquid. 

Place each piece into the seasoned flour. Pat seasoned flour over the entire surface, making sure all the meat is covered. 

Shake each piece to remove excess flour. Lay onto a clean cooking tray or baking sheet. 


As the dredging progresses, “flakes” will appear in the flour. That is a good thing. The flakes will add crispiness to the chicken.

Use one piece of chicken to test the oil’s temperature. Chef Whitsell suggests using a quarter of a breast. 

As you slowly lower the test piece into the oil, the bubbles will rise up onto the chicken. The bubbles should not envelop the piece. If that is what happens, lower the heat a small amount. 

Once you have browned the test piece successfully, start frying your chicken.

As you add pieces to the pan, the temperature of the oil will lower. Raise the heat to compensate. 

Work in batches. Don’t crowd the pieces. Leave an inch or two between each piece and the sides of the pan so they cook evenly.

As the pieces are frying, move them around in the skillet for even cooking. Be careful not to knock off any of the crust.

Roughly speaking, each side should brown and cook through in 5-6 minutes, so that’s a total cooking time of 10-12 minutes.

After the pieces are browned and cooked through, let the chicken pieces drain on a wire rack, which is on top of a baking sheet for easy clean up.


The chicken should rest uncovered 10-15 minutes so all the oil drains off and the juices collect back inside.

Spicy Honey Butter

As Whitsell says, “As if fried chicken wasn’t rich enough,” he adds a layer of sweet-heat by drizzling spicy honey butter on each piece.
While the chicken is resting, make the honey butter.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield 4 servings

Ingredients

½ stick sweet butter

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large thyme sprig

3 whole dried cayenne peppers

Directions

Drizzle honey onto sweet butter in a small skillet over low heat. Season with salt, dried thyme and cayenne pepper.

Stir frequently to prevent burning.

Just before serving, pour melted honey butter over chicken pieces.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Baking - Sfogliatella - the Best Italian Pastry You Can’t Pronounce

Growing up in Los Angeles, and this was many years ago, the closest I got to an Italian meal was opening a can of Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs. Only when I moved to Providence to teach at Rhode Island College did I experience authentic Italian cuisine. Living close to Federal Hill, the historic center of the city’s Italian community, I had easy access to Italian delis that imported cheeses, pastas and charcuterie directly from Italy. Every block had a small bakery making cakes, pies, cookies, breads and pastries according to recipes handed down for generations.

I discovered cannoli filled with ricotta cheese studded with flakes of bittersweet chocolate. Twice baked biscotti with almonds. Pastry cream filled zeppole, a fat doughnut of sugared dough, baked or deep fried. I loved them all, but my favorite was a seashell shaped pastry, the deliciously crisp sfogliatella.
What makes this Tuscan pastry so famous is a crunchy flakiness outside and a sturdy, sweet ricotta cheese filling inside. Imagine the best croissant with a thick custardy filling.  And, by the way, the “g” is silent, so sfogliatella is pronounced “sfo-li-a-tella.”

Holiday baking

Some recipes are best saved for the holidays or special occasions when helping hands are available to join in the cooking. Making tamales on your own isn’t easy, but at holidays when you are joined by friends and family, the repetitive work becomes social and fun. The same for making Chinese dumplings filled with savory ground pork and spices.

For me, I’m making sfogliatelle with my family. Happily the pastry can be made in stages, so the work can be spread out over several days. The dough and ricotta filling can be made on separate days and refrigerated. Assembling the sfogliatelle can be saved for yet another day. And, the completed, unbaked pastries can be kept in the freezer for months, available on a moment’s notice to brighten an afternoon tea break or a weekend dinner party.

Executive Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez

For years I searched for an easy-to-follow recipe without success. When I was told that Executive Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez would demonstrate making sfogliatelle in his kitchen at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, I jumped at the opportunity.
Born in Buenos Aires, Fernandez is a worldly student of South American, French and Italian cuisine. His pastries have been served at some of the world’s most elegant hotels, the Park Hyatt, the Marriott Plaza, the Fontainebleau and now the Four Seasons. Before we met, I admired his work on Instagram. His elegantly beautiful pastries are amazing.
Making sfogliatelle requires patience, muscle work and an attention to details. Demonstrating how to make sfogliatelle for the YouTube video on Secrets of Restaurant Chefs, the very affable Fernandez showed how the process can be fun. I enjoyed the passion he puts into baking. He is an artist with a soul and a good sense of humor. While he worked, he filled my head with technical details about the art of baking and fed me samples that put me into culinary heaven.

Sfogliatelle

All-purpose flour could be used, but that would be a mistake. Fernandez uses bread flour because its higher gluten strength gives the dough more elasticity. That allows the dough to be worked repeatedly to create sfogliatelle’s characteristic flaky layers.

In the video, Fernandez uses a recipe to make 50 sfogliatelle. Not that he bakes that many at one time. He freezes the unbaked pastries, taking out each morning only the number he needs for the hotel’s breakfast service. Freezing does not diminish the quality of the sfogliatella which are freshly baked before serving.

To make his sfogliatelle, Fernandez includes semolina flour in the dough to add color and texture. He also uses semolina in the filling because that is a traditional ingredient and because Semolina gives the filling density as well as its characteristic yellow color. By contrast, pastry cream which is not as dense would melt when the sfogliatelle are baked in a hot oven.

Fernandez uses a room-sized Rondomat sheeter machine to flatten and stretch the dough. “Little by little,” as he says in the video, the dough softens and thins. At home you will use a rolling pin and a lot of elbow grease. Have friends help with the process or take breaks. If you want to rest, place a damp kitchen towel over the dough.

Creating multiple layers gives the pastry its distinctive crispy, flaky quality. This is the most labor intensive part of the process. The result is worth the effort.

If you do not have a small rolling pin, pick up a ½ - ¾ ” dowel, 5-6” in length from a lumber yard or hardware store. When you get home, sand the dowel and treat with a light film of safflower oil. Dry and clean before using.
Special equipment

2 large, sturdy rolling pins

1 small rolling pin or ½ - ¾ ” dowel, 5-6 long

Wooden spoon

Wire whisk

A large work surface

A heavy duty electric mixer

1 metal ring, 3 ½” 4 in diameter, the ring of a small spring-form pan will do nicely

Parchment paper or Silpat sheets

Yield: 10 -12 sfogliatelle

Time: 4 hours + refrigeration overnight for the dough

The Dough

Sfogliatelle are famous for being deliciously crisp. Three things create that wonderful quality, a dozen+ paper thin layers of dough with fat between the layers and using bread flour with more gluten to create thin, stretchable sheets of dough.  

For the fat, unsalted butter can be used, but Fernandez recommends an equal mix of unsalted butter and Sweetex Z or Crisco because butter melts too easily. Please note that Sweetex is an artificially sweetened fat. Fernandez uses a different product, Sweetex Z which has zero trans fats.

Even though fat is essential to making the sfogliatelle's layers crisp, in the heat of a 400F oven, the fat all but disappears.

Ingredients for dough

4 cups bread flour
2 cups semolina flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 cup + 1 tablespoon water
4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature or 2 cups unsalted butter + 2 cups Crisco or Sweetex Z
½ cup all-purpose flour for dredging when assembling the sfogliatelle
¼ cup powdered sugar for dusting before serving
Ingredients for ricotta filling

2 ½ cups whole milk
½ rounded tablespoon fresh orange zest, avoiding all the bitter white pith
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups semolina
5 egg yolks
1 ¾ cups cow’s milk ricotta cheese

Directions

Before making the dough, whip the unsalted butter or unsalted butter and Crisco or Sweetex Z in a mixer for ten minutes using the paddle attachment so it is very soft and fluffy. Use at room temperature.

Making dough with layers using a simple fold

In a mixer fitted with a hook, combine the two flours, salt and honey. Blend on a low speed to mix well, then slowly add water. Continue blending on a low speed about 10 minutes. Increase the speed and blend another 2 minutes.
Touch the dough in the bowl of the mixer. If it feels too dry, add a small amount of water. Turn on the mixer and incorporate the water. Be careful not to add too much water. If the dough becomes soggy, you cannot add more flour. 

Transfer the dough from the mixing bowl to a work surface. Work the dough with your fingers until it is in the shape of a fat log. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let rest 10 minutes on the counter. Do not refrigerate.

After resting, remove the plastic wrap. Dust the work surface with bread flour and position the log in front of you, the long way. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough away from your body. The log of dough will flatten and elongate.

To create layers, fold 1/3 of the dough from the end closest to you onto the middle. Fold the other 1/3 from the opposite end on top of the first fold. This is called a “simple fold.”

Roll out the dough. Flip the dough over and rotate it clockwise a quarter turn. Press down on the folded dough with your hands. Roll out the dough again. Allow the dough to relax a minute or two before making the next simple fold.

After folding, rolling out, flipping and rotating the dough 15 times, you will have created dozens and dozens of delicate layers. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel. The dough needs to rest and so do you. Take 10 minutes and have a cup of tea.

Making fat dough thin

Now that you have created layers and made the dough softer, the dough needs to become thinner.

Fernandez uses a Rondomat dough sheeter. He can handle a large recipe because the mechanical rollers do the physical work of rolling out the dough into a sheet almost thirty feet long. In your kitchen, you will use a rolling pin and a lot of upper body strength. But even though you are using a smaller recipe, your sheet will still be quite large. As you roll and thin the dough, it will spread in length and width so clear your counter for this step. You will need the space.

Sprinkle bread flour on the work surface. Make a simple fold one time, then roll out the dough. Because the sheet will become too large for the work space, you will wrap the dough around the second rolling pin.

Once you have rolled out all the dough and accumulated it on the second rolling pin, check the thickness. If it is not yet paper thin, roll the dough out again. You may have to do this step several times until the dough is paper thin. Once all of the paper thin dough has accumulated on the second rolling pin, you are ready for the next step.

Adding fat for crispness

In order to create croissant-like flaky layers, a fat is required. Using your hands, apply a thin film of room temperature butter or the mixture of butter-Crisco or Sweetex Z on the work surface.
Place the rolling pin with the sheet of dough on the back of the work area.

Keeping the sheet attached to the rolling pin, pull forward on the dough and lay a length of the unbuttered sheet on the work surface. Use a sharp knife to trim off and discard the rounded end of the dough so the edge facing you is square.

Spread a thin layer of fat onto the sheet of dough on the work surface.

Start a new roll. As Fernandez shows in the video, use your fingers to lift the end of the buttered dough off the work surface and roll it away from you.

To unwind another length of dough from the rolling pin, lift the roll of buttered dough and bring it back toward you.

Continue that process, pulling dough from the rolling pin onto the work surface, spreading on fat and adding that length to the buttered roll, until you have buttered all the dough.

As you create the buttered roll, the ends will become untidy. No worries. You will trim those later.
When you have applied fat to all of the dough, the roll will be in the shape of a large log. Give the entire log a final coat of fat, seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Ricotta Filling

You can make the sweetened ricotta filling and refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to three days until you are ready to assemble the sfogliatelle.

Directions

Combine whole milk and white sugar in a pan over low heat. Whisk to combine. Add orange zest. Increase the heat.
When the mixture boils, add semolina all at once and whisk well. The mixture will thicken quickly. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently to combine. Avoid burning.

Switch to a wooden spoon when the filling becomes paste-like. Continue stirring. Reduce heat. Cook another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Use a spatula to transfer the thickened mixture into the mixer bowl. Be certain to scrape off all of the batter that has accumulated on the sides and bottom. Allow to cool for a minute.

On the mixer, use the paddle attachment to aerate the filling. Run the mixer at a low speed for a minute. Increase the speed and run for another 2 minutes.
To prevent splattering, before adding the egg yolks, stop the mixer and lower the bowl.  Add yolks. Change the mixer speed to low. Mix for a minute. Increase the speed and run another 2 minutes.

Once the filling is creamy, use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and incorporate all of the mixture. Run the mixer again at higher speed.

Add ricotta using the low speed and, once incorporated, increase the mixer speed to high. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again for 10 minutes on medium to aerate the filling.

Once the filling is creamy, allow to cool. If not using immediately, place in an air-tight container and refrigerate for up to three days.

Assembly

When you make the individual sfogliatella, work in batches of four. Plastic wrap and refrigerate the other sfogliatelle so the fat doesn’t soften.

Organize an assembly line on the counter with the four sfogliatelle rounds, the bowl of ricotta filling, the small rolling pin, the metal ring, a large spoon and all-purpose flour in a bowl.

The mini-rolling pin makes flattening out the dough faster and easier but if one is not available, use your fingers to stretch out the dough.

Directions for assembly

Preheat oven to 400F.

Remove the buttered dough from the refrigerator and unwrap.

Lightly flour the work surface. Use your hands to press, stretch, roll and reshape the log. Roll the log back and forth and squeeze with your hands, keeping the shape round until the diameter is reduced to 2 ½”.

Using a sharp chefs knife, remove 1” of the uneven dough on both ends and discard. Cut the log into ½” thick rounds.  At this point, the slices can be plastic wrapped, refrigerated and stored for a day or two.

Working with one piece at a time, shape the dough into a round with your fingers and lightly dredge in the all-purpose flour.
Place the dough on the work surface. Use the small rolling pin to flatten the dough until it is half again as large as it was. If the layers come apart, press them back together.
Adding the filling is easy. Use your fingers to soften and slightly stretch the middle of the dough. Make a circle with your thumb and index finger. Lay the thin round of dough over the opening between your thumb and finger. Create a cone shape by gently pressing the center of the dough into that opening.
Spoon two large tablespoons of ricotta filling into the cone and center of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling. Press the edges of the dough together and create a conch-shell shape. Lay the sfogliatella on the work surface.

Use the metal ring to trim the ragged front edge of the dough.
Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. Place the sfogliatelle on the sheet pan with ½” spacing between them.

Baking

If you want to save any of the sfogliatelle for later use, refrigerate or freeze them as described below.

Directions for baking

If serving right away, place the parchment paper covered sheet pan in the preheated 400F oven and bake 35 minutes, checking that the sfogliatelle brown but do not burn.
Allow to cool. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Refrigerating and Freezing

If reserving for use within 72 hours, keep the sfogliatelle on the parchment paper covered sheet pan. Lay another parchment paper on top and seal the sheet pan in a plastic bag.  Place in refrigerator.  Remove before serving and bake as directed above.

If reserving for even later use, place the plastic bag covered tray with sfogliatelle into the freezer. Once frozen, remove the sheet pan. Put the frozen sfogliatella into an airtight bag. They will keep up to six months in the freezer.

Baking After Freezing

Remove from the freezer the number of sfogliatelle you want to bake.

Place on a parchment paper lined sheet pan, cover with parchment paper and seal in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for one day so the sfogliatelle defrost slowly.

The next day, bake as described above.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Comfort Food, Italian Style: Making Gnocchi with Chef Mirko Paderno

What’s your favorite comfort food? Do you prefer savory or sweet? Maybe a hot fudge sundae topped with whipped cream puts you in a Zen state. Maybe it’s a fresh-out-of-the-oven chicken pot pie with wild mushrooms or mac n’ cheese with extra cheddar. For Chef Mirko Paderno, a plate of freshly made gnocchi reminds him of home in Northern Italy. In his Vinoteca and Culina kitchen, he showed how to make gnocchi.
Often served in upscale restaurants as a fine dining dish, gnocchi is as basic to Italian home cooking as pasta. The sauces may change and the markings on the little “pillows” may differ depending on the region, but gnocchi is made with three basic ingredients: potatoes, flour and (most often) an egg.
Although there are a variety of opinions about how to make gnocchi, for Paderno if you can boil water and roll out a pie crust, you can make gnocchi. No special kitchen tools are required.

And, he loves gnocchi because of it's versatility. Perfect in winter with a hearty meat sauce or in summer with a light pesto or butter sauce.

Making gnocchi is his yoga
Rolling out the dough puts Paderno into a relaxed, Zen state.  On rainy days, he enjoys making gnocchi with his teenaged daughter.

A James Beard Nominee and a seasoned veteran of kitchens in Italy and Los Angeles, he began his culinary career at the Four Seasons Hotel Milan. With his appointment as Executive Chef at Culina and Vinoteca, he has come full circle, returning to the Four Seasons family. In between, he worked in some of Los Angeles’ best restaurants. Piero Selvaggio’s Primi, Cecconi’s, Oliverio at the Viceroy and DTLA’s Officine BRERA.

But when he was a teenager, he wasn’t certain what he was going to do with his life. That’s when he enrolled at the Cesare Ritz School in Marano. At the time, he wasn’t that focused on cooking. One of his teachers, Abramo Magnani saw talent in him. But Magnani told him point blank, if he didn’t focus and apply himself, his talent would never amount to anything. In one of those wonderful moments when a person’s life changes forever in a good way, Paderno accepted the challenge.
At Vinoteca and Culina, that determination has paid off. His reworking of the menus has created dishes that give local diners an authentic experience with modern Italian food. Unlike many hotel restaurants, Paderno makes changes to the menu depending upon the seasons, the availability of quality ingredients and feedback from his diners. He combines the California love of seasonal food with Italian regional touches. 

Reflecting that dual vision, Paderno worked with Sommelier Amanda Craig who created a wine cellar with a comprehensive selection of wines from around the world but especially from Italy and California. In a tasting flight I selected she paired an Arneis from Piedmont with one from Santa Inez and a Vermentino from Liguria with one from Arroyo Secco in California. The differences were marked. All were delicious.

Gnocchi Made with Cold Potatoes

For Paderno, two details are key to making the best gnocchi. The potatoes must be steamed over salted boiling water so the flesh does not become water-logged. And, the dough must be made with cold cooked potatoes so less flour is needed.

By using cold potatoes, the dough can be prepared before the meal, even the day before. But if hot potatoes are used, when the egg and flour are added, the gnocchi must be cooked immediately to avoid becoming soggy.

Paderno uses Idaho russet potatoes because they have a neutral flavor, the better to work with a variety of sauces. But he suggests using any potato you enjoy, even sweet potatoes or purple potatoes.

Paderno uses “00” flour which blends easily with the potato. If “00” is not available, use all-purpose (AP) flour.

The amount of flour used partly depends on the moisture of the cooked potatoes. Getting the right density takes a bit of practice. The gnocchi dough should be not too dry and not too damp. Like pastry dough, with a dusting of flour, the gnocchi should roll out without sticking on the work surface. Watch the video to see Paderno’s technique.

Serves 8

Time to prepare: 30 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2.2 lbs. Idaho russet potatoes, washed, skin on
14 ounces “00” or AP flour
2 tablespoons AP flour for dusting
1 extra large egg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Place a steamer on the bottom of a large pot. Add water only to the bottom of the steamer. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Place potatoes in the pot. Cover. 

Depending on the size of the potatoes, cook 20 minutes or until a paring knife can be inserted into the potatoes easily. Add water as needed if more steaming is required. Remove when the potatoes are soft but not mushy.

Allow potatoes to cool. Peel and discard the skins or reserve to sauté for breakfast. Run the cooked, peeled potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill using a fine blade.

Sprinkle work area with flour. Place potatoes on the work area. Create a “volcano,” the way you do when making fresh pasta, with a depression in the middle of the mound. Dust flour over the potato and place a raw egg into the center of the volcano.

Using fingers, work the egg, flour and potato together until all ingredients are combined. Create a ball.

At this point, the dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap or placed in an air-tight container and refrigerated to use later or the next day.

Before cooking the gnocchi, make a sauce. That can be as simple as a butter sauce with a little pasta water or as complicated as a braised meat ragu.
Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Work in batches. Cut off a cup of dough at a time. Using both hands, fingers and palms, roll the potato dough back and forth until it takes the shape of a dowel, about 1” in diameter.

The dough is forgiving so if the dowel breaks apart, start over.

Once you have made a uniform shape, create individual gnocchi using a pastry cutter or chefs knife. The gnocchi should be approximately 1” long.
It is important to mark each gnocchi using a fork, your finger or a gnocchi board. The indentations will help the sauce stick to each gnocchi.

Fill a large pot with water. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil.
The gnocchi cook quickly, anywhere from 30-60 seconds. To determine how much time is needed, place several test gnocchi into the water. If the first gnocchi breaks apart, either the water is boiling too fast and/or the potato dough needs more flour, in which case you can return to the work area, gather up the gnocchi, sprinkle with flour, knead together, roll out and cut again.

If your gnocchi hold their shape, after 30 seconds remove one to taste. Then after 45 seconds. And another after 60 seconds. Decide which you like and use that timing to make the rest.

Working in batches, carefully drop a dozen gnocchi at a time into the boiling, salted water.

Using a wire strainer, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water.

Drain and add to the heated sauce, which can be as simple as sautéed San Marzano tomatoes with olive oil or a tablespoon or two of pasta water mixed with melted butter like Rodolphe Le Meunier’s salted French Beurre de Baratte.

Serve each plate of gnocchi hot, topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Chef Mirko Paderno, Vinoteca and Culina, Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, 300 S. Doheny Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90048 

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