In the last year I have been stunned by the number of rising chefs appearing on television programs, videocassettes, radio shows and in regional symposiums. Many young restaurant practitioners no longer seem content to have diners at their culinary mercies but seem determined to explain (in some cases defend) the bizarre dishes they are creating under the catch-phrase "new American cuisine."
Quirky as any dish may appear to my old-fashioned palate, a vocal rationale by its creator is almost always harder to digest.
At a recent symposium on American cuisine in Charleston, I was asked to give the opening address. I chose "American Food: Coming? Or Going!" as my topic.
I guess I went a bit too far when I announced that too many chefs were not only self-taught but that they glorified in their lack of formal culinary training. I cited bechamel (basic cream sauce) as something most current chefs would rather skip.
In my opinion, the finest use of bechamel sauce is in chicken hash, a recipe credited to the 21 Club in New York City.
21 CHICKEN HASH
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons flour
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons dry Sherry
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small white onion, halved and sliced thin
2/3 cup half and half
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Melt 4 teaspoons butter in heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Whisk in chicken stock and cook until thick, about 5 minutes. Add Sherry and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in chicken. Spoon mixture into buttered, shallow 1- to 1 1/2-quart serving dish. Keep warm in 200-degree oven.
Melt remaining butter in 1-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining flour and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes.
Whisk in half and half, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Beat egg yolks in small bowl. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup hot cream sauce. Beat this mixture back into saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Be careful not to boil. Stir in cheese. Spoon over hash and place under broiler to lightly brown top, about 1 minute. Serve immediately. Garnish with parsley. Makes 4 servings.
Salsa is a sauce of another color. Salsa usually blankets a finished dish or is served as a dip.
SALSA BROILED CHICKEN AND SHRIMP
2 medium green Anaheim chiles or 2 Italian frying peppers, seeded, chopped
1 hot green chile, seeded, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 3 1/2-to-4-pound chicken, cut into pieces
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled, deveined
Combine Anaheim chiles, green chile, shallot, garlic and 1/3 cup oil in container of food processor or blender. Process until smooth, adding more oil, if needed. Stir in parsley and cilantro. Remove 3 tablespoons mixture and reserve.
Place chicken in shallow glass or ceramic dish. Toss well with remaining salsa mixture. Let stand covered 2 hours.
Toss shrimp with reserved 3 tablespoons salsa mixture in small bowl. Let stand covered 1 hour.
Broil chicken on lightly greased broiler tray about 4 inches from heat source until crisp and meat juices run yellow when pierced with fork, about 20 minutes per side.
During last broiling period, add shrimp to broiler tray and broil until pink and firm, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Makes 4 servings.