Monday, November 26, 2012

Silkie Chicken and Khoresht Fesenjan

Silkie Chicken is a breed that is commonly found in China and Southeast Asia.  Unlike most chickens, the silkies have feathers that resemble long fur, making them look like a cross between a long-haired cat and a cartoon chicken.  However, it isn’t until the feathers are removed that things start getting really weird.  The skin of the chicken is inky purple verging on black from the beak all the way down to the talons.  Despite the chicken’s bizarre look it has a flavor very similar to its Western counterparts, mild, but with the depth of flavor as you would expect from a pasture-raised bird.

This week I was inspired by a classic Persian dish called khoresht fesenjan خورشت فسنجان.   They say people eat with their eyes first - which is too bad because this dish is ugly!  It is little more than a bowl filled with chunky brown slop.  Once you get past the initial disappointment and take a bite, you experience a surprising contrast of flavors and textures, earthy – tannic walnut accented with the bright acidity of pomegranate, smooth and rich, yet at the same time crunchy and delicate.  The second I tried it I knew I wanted to create my own version - a version that would preserve the integrity of the original while boosting its aesthetic appeal.  My understanding is that this dish would often be served with tah-dig, the crispy layer that forms on the bottom of the pot when making pilaf.  It might also be accompanied by fresh herbs and other side dishes.

To start I created a stock using the black chicken bones - then sautéed local walnuts and pomegranate seeds with olive oil and onion until they were caramelized.  I let the walnut-pomegranate mix slowly simmer in chicken stock until everything was tender and it could be blended into a smooth puree.    Instead of trying to replicate the tah-dig, we cooked short-grained rice with saffron, then blended it and dried a thin layer onto a silicon mat.  The resulting translucent rice crisps were then dropped into hot rice-oil where they puffed up into vibrant yellow crackers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Chanterelles are moving south along the coast with the winter rains.  Big Sur had a good rain last week and with more expected throughout the month, we should be harvesting fresh chanterelles any day now. Ten years ago, when I first lived at Post Ranch, my roommate and I would find baskets of chanterelles below a grove of oak trees above where the solar panels are now located.  The thought of fresh chanterelles always made a rainy weekend much more bearable.  Many things have changed at Post Ranch since 2001, but I suspect the chanterelles will be where I left them and I am looking forward to hitting the muddy trails in search of them soon.

We celebrate the beginning of chanterelle season with a dish inspired by the landscape.   Pickled chanterelles, roasted chanterelles, chanterelle-almond crumbs, chanterelle-pine meringue, pistachio and red sorrel with a few crumbles of Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sierra Mar's New Lunch Menu

On Saturday we debuted our new lunch menu.  I’m really excited about this line up of dishes - and at $40 for three courses, I don’t think you can find a better value anywhere.  From the housemade goose prosciutto with Post Ranch Quince-Rose Membrillo, to the Butterscotch Cremeux, the menu is filled with exciting, seasonal preparations and fun twists on classic flavor combinations.  Here is a picture of the Yellowfin Tuna with Watercress and Citrus that we featured today as a special.  The entire menu can be viewed below.

Trout Skin “Chicharrón”, Guajillo Chile, Cilantro

Cucumber, Lemon Verbena, Basil Seeds

Quince, Rose Petal, Winter Chicories

Apple, Licorice

Raspberries, Pistachios, Blue Cheese

Watercress, Puffed Wild Rice, Buddha’s Hand, Endive, Mandarin Orange

Carmelized Sunchoke Hash, Asparagus, Sauce Valois

Guajillo-Guava Sauce, Pink Pepper, Avocado, Charred Pineapple

Frisée, Truffle, Parmesan, Chives, Crispy Shallots

Smoked Bacon, Vermont White Cheddar, Tomato, Onion, Garden Lettuce

Poached Apples, Speculoos Crumble, Sweetened Mascarpone Cream, Cranberry “Meringue”

Cocoa Streusel, Bourbon Ice Cream, Brown Sugar Tuile, Chocolate Sauce


Huckleberry Compote, Toasted Pecan-Raisin Bread

Friday, November 9, 2012

Big Sur Food and Wine

Chef David Kinch
 This year's Big Sur Food and Wine Weekend was a great success.  The Post Ranch Inn was buzzing with dozens of wineries and chefs.  .

Lexus Grand Tasting Booth
Dungeness Crab and Pink Pearl Apple for The Lexus Grand Tasting
  There were many great events- but for me the highlites included the collaborative dinner with Chef David Kinch from Manresa in Los Gatos,  The Lexus Grand Tasting and The Tour de France. 
  Chef Kinch and his team were wonderful to work with - and as expected his food was quite inspiring.  Seeing the choreography of sending a six course dinner for ninety people out of the Sierra Mar Kitchen was also exciting.
Yulanda's Croquembouche
  I owe a huge thanks to the Sierra Mar team and a handful of volunteers who made everthing happen. 
  Unfortunately I was so busy most of the weekend that I forgot to take many pictures - so if anyone has photos they would like to share it would be much appreciated.   (thanks to James Anderson and Amber Kirpes for two of the photos posted here)


Calm Before The Storm for Saturday Night Kinch Dinner

Yulanda Admires a Pheasant for Friday Night  Tour de France

Thursday, November 8, 2012

California Bay Laurel

  As you drive past the gate, into Post Ranch, the right side of the road is flanked by tall California bay laurel trees.  This time of year they produce a small green fruit, called a bay nut, which turns red and purple as it ripens.  The California bay laurel had many historical uses, including: using the leaves to treat headaches and digestive issues, eating the roasted nut pits-which were believed to be a stimulant, eating the ripened fruit and using the leaves to keep insects away from stores or acorns and other food.   Today the trees are largely forgotten aside from the pleasant aroma they provide along local hiking trails.
  One reason many chefs shy away from our indigenous bay laurel is because it is quite strong.   I have heard the local bay laurel contains ten times the phenolic compounds of a true European Bay Leaf.   I have found that the tender young leaves are more similar in potency to a European bay leaf while the larger leaves have a strong flavor and spicy-tannic bite, which explains why they are said to have been used by early Spanish explorers as a dried condiment for roasted meats in place of black pepper.

  The season for fresh bay nuts is very short and I want to take advantage of them while I can.  Tonight we prepared wild boar tenderloins brined overnight with fresh bay laurel leaves and maple syrup.  We prepared a sauce by blanching the ripened bay-nut fruit and blending it with sea salt and local olive oil to create a bright green – aromatic puree.   The seeds from the fruit were roasted at 300 degrees until dark brown- then grated with cocoa butter, brown sugar, smoked salt and guajillo chile.  The resulting powder had the refreshing menthol quality of fresh bay- with the toasted-musky aroma of the roasted nut; it is a great compliment for the roasted boar.   Quickly charred fuyu persimmon and swiss chard from our garden with pumpkin seed goat cheese finished the dish.

  The customer is always right… unless they are wrong.

   This week we had a guest return his steelhead trout to the kitchen swearing it was salmon.    The server politely explained the fish that we use, but the customer refused to believe that the fish he was served was a trout.  This is not the first time a customer has questioned the authenticity of steelhead trout, a mistake that is understandable given the thick dark-orange filets with abundant marbling that resemble king salmon.   In the past it has never bothered me, but recently there have been accounts of markets and restaurants misrepresenting the fish they serve.  Several sushi restaurants have been caught serving farm raised tilapia as wild sashimi grade snapper and  serving farmed Atlantic salmon in place of wild king salmon.   I take a great amount of pride in the quality of ingredients we serve and in the integrity of our menu- so the fact that someone would doubt its accuracy– and leave believing they were served the wrong fish- did not sit well with me.

  After a few minutes of internal debate I went to our walkin and pulled a fresh steelhead trout from the ice.  I wiped the fish off, grabbed it with a towel, and proceeded to the dining room.   Apparently it is not common for chefs to walk through the dining room with a twenty pound fish- and several tables watched with great interest as I made my way through the dining room and directly in front of the gentleman who had returned his lunch.   

  “I understand you have a question about our steelhead trout, and I understand your confusion.  Steelhead is actually an anadromous rainbow trout that is born in fresh water and later migrates to the ocean.  Unlike a salmon steelhead are able to return to their spawning grounds without dying.  The easiest way to tell this trout from a salmon is to look at its mouth.”  Holding the trout with one hand I pry open its stiff mouth revealing a tiny row of sharp teen protruding from ivory gums.  “The inside of the steelhead’s mouth is white as opposed to salmon that have black mouths.”  I shifted the fish and pulled the fin below the trout taut.  “Another way to tell is by looking at the anal fin – on a steelhead you will find 8-12 vertical rays and on  a salmon you typically find 15-19.  It’s one of my favorite fish.”         “How was your pork?” 

    The man sat back in his chair silently listening to my dissertation.  He thanked me for coming out and said his pork was delicious and that he was really enjoying his meal.    I can't blame him for being skeptical, and I wish more people would question the ingredients they are served (preferably at another restaurant).    At least this time, not only did the customer get the right fish- he also got a great story to tell about his lunch at Post Ranch.