Another Day in Poe's Kitchen at The Rattlesnake

Chef Brian Poe shows you the world in the back of the house.

Archive for August, 2009

Snake, Rattle and Roll: Serrano-Infused Rattlesnake Cakes with Mango-Jalapeño Puree

Walking into the kitchen at the Rattlesnake was one of my riskiest career moves. Still is…Not because I have to deal with the Rattlesnake, capital R, but because I have to deal with the rattlesnake—small r. It comes special delivery from Arizona via Jersey.

No, no, it’s not live. Its head has been removed; decapitation is the first step of “harvesting” rattlesnake, because there’s some evidence that the head can still strike for up to two hours after its removal. Makes your skin crawl a little, doesn’t it? Mine too, but don’t worry, it gets better…in fact, it gets delicious!

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Early on I did a bit of polling to see what people wanted out of the Rattlesnake to make sure Poe’s Kitchen reflected that. The consistent answer: “This place would be a lot cooler if it actually served rattlesnake.” Passersby on Boylston would regularly ask the doorman: “Do you guys serve rattlesnake?” I had to get my hands on some—and we had to do with it what we try to do with everything else on the menu: ensure it’s of excellent quality and prepare it simply so that the goodness comes through.

Back in Arizona at the Pinon Grill, I served rattlesnake, but it came already ground up, so all I had to do was mix it in with other ingredients. I searched for my old purveyor, but for some reason I could not find him. It took me three months to even locate the product again—and I mean, I looked five times a day the whole time.  When my friend Lance from Fossil Farms finally came through for me, he told me that the reason I couldn’t locate anything online was because the gentleman that hunted and gathered the snakes was bitten—and therefore out of commission for a while!

So when the first delivery arrived, I wanted to be the guy to open the box. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, after dreaming for months about what I would do with it. I cut the box open and dug through the Styrofoam. Then suddenly I felt it—and saw it. Instantly I jumped! Frozen on the bone and perfectly coiled in a clear Cry-o-vac bag, it naturally gets the adrenaline going. In other words, I freaked out for a minute.

It’s on the prep table, though, that snake becomes the most bizarre thing I’ve ever cooked. I had decided to marinate the snake in buttermilk and cilantro for 24 hours. The next day I pulled it from the marinade to check it and suddenly, half the body moved. It was because of the way it was attached to the bone, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was alive—or the pain in the back of my neck from freezing up with fear!

We cooked the snake at a very low simmer for about an hour in a fresh batch of buttermilk, adding cilantro as it cooled so the flavors would infuse, then spent another hour cleaning the meat from the multitude of bones with a fork. The best way, we agreed, to reduce the shocks I’d gotten during prep was to make rattlesnake cakes.

I was a little reluctant when I put the dish on the Unleashed menu—was it too weird?  Would anyone order it?  So I offered it as a one-ounce taster—and we sold out in three days! Now we sell roughly 70 orders a week (that’s about 2.5 snakes worth!) This past week, we sold out on Thursday night around 9 pm.  We prepared more for Friday-night service and within two hours we sold out again! Tables on the roof deck were ordering six at a time, all on one plate. I’ve finally put the cakes on the regular menu due to the high demand. So get here early, because these snakes move fast! 

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Serrano Chile–Infused Rattlesnake Cakes with Mango-Jalapeño Puree

Makes about 15. Can be made with crab instead of snake if desired.

For the cakes:
2 lbs. rattlesnake (or lump crab)
1 each red, green, and yellow bell pepper, diced fine
2 serrano chiles, diced fine
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
1/2 c. red onion, diced fine
1 c. Ritz cracker crumbs
2 eggs
1 t. Habañero Tabasco

Combine all ingredients well and form into 2 oz. cakes. Reserve in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

For the mango-jalapeño puree:
4 mangos, peeled and deseeded
1/2 t. garlic
1/2 t. shallots
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed
2 jalapeños, chopped and seeded
1/2 c. hazelnut oil, or 2 t. fresh hazelnut if available
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white wine (I suggest a J. Lohr–style riesling)
1/4 c. lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Reserve.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the base of a large, hot sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil. Sear the cakes for about 1 min. per side, then place in the oven for about 8 min. more.

On the base of a large platter, pour the puree, then place the cakes on top and drizzle a bit more sauce over them. Now you’re ready to snake, rattle and roll!

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Charting the Heat in Poeville Units: a few words on jalapeños and habañeros (+ recipes!)

Scoville units were developed during a 1912 experiment in which a sugar-water solution was sprayed on the tongues of chile tasters until the capsaicin—the “heat” of a pepper—could no longer be detected. The ratio of capsaicin to sugar-water determined the number of Scoville units. So, for instance, a bell pepper measures 0–300 Scoville units; a jalapeño is 10,000–15000 units; a habeñero is 100,000–300,000 units. (Here’s a good example of the Scoville Scale.)

Poeville units are what I’m developing in my own kitchen. At one end of the scale is the jalapeño, which I compare to a jog on a treadmill in a gym without air conditioning. It’s uncomfortable, but escapable; the discomfort will go away soon enough. At the other end is the habañero, which is more like a full marathon run barefoot in pure humidity on scorching asphalt. You think you might die, but you keep chasing that runner’s high anyway. 

Jalapeños hail from the city of Jalapa in the Mexican state of Veracruz. They also come from Oaxaca, Chihuahua and the border regions of the Southwest. In their smoked form, they are known as chipotles. I choose to play with these little green devils in dishes like my jalapeño clam chowder

chowder in the making

because I can control the heat level to the point that most customers can handle—just enough to make them break a tiny sweat. Bite into a jalapeño and you’ll get a hint of green bell pepper at first, with the heat cranking up slowly. Take a spoonful of the chowder, and the creamy comfort of the clams and potatoes will keep you in New England until the last minute, when that last little jolt reminds you that you are really in Poe’s Kitchen—the no man’s land between New England and Latin America!

For chowder eaters who can take a little more pain, we make jalapeño powder by slicing the peppers and dehydrating them overnight.

dehydrating jalapenos

Then we puree the dried, super-concentrated pods into a powder and sprinkle it sparingly over the fried clams that accompany the chowder just before serving.   

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As regulars develop a tolerance and come in search of even hotter dishes, I treat them to the more tropical but meaner habañero (meaning “from Havana”). It is one of the hottest of any of the chiles grown in Central America and the Caribbean. In fact, it’s 50 times hotter than the jalapeño and should be handled with gloves, because it can even irritate the skin. Because it has citrus undertones, we pair it with Mexican shrimp, which we marinate with cilantro in Narragansett beer, then top off with a straightforward habañero puree. (Check out the gallery for a glimpse.) This dish comes with a warning label, two more warnings from the server and an advisory beer or three for the brave souls willing to jump into the firepit! After taking that leap, one guest of mine paced in front of the restaurant for 20 minutes, cursing me and the peppers too. But when I went to check on him, he laughed and said, “It just tasted so good I couldn’t stop eating it!”     

Here are the recipes for both the powder and the puree. Use them wisely! By the way, one of my all-time favorite reference books on chile peppers is The Great Chile Book by Southwestern cuisine pioneer Mark Miller.  The book can be viewed in its entirety here.

 

Jalapeño Powder

15 jalapeños yield about 1/2 c.

Destem peppers and cut in half lengthwise.  Place in a Ronco-style dehydrator for one day, rotating the bottom tray to the top every 2 hours until all jalapeños are dried. Place in a blender or spice grinder and puree until a fine powder is formed. Can be stored indefinitely.

If you do not have a dehydrator, place the jalapeños on a cookie sheet atop a baking rack. Set oven at lowest possible temperature and place tin the oven. Check every hour until peppers are dried. In convection ovens, this can happen in about 2 hours. In others, it can take 5 hours. Just keep checking!

 

Habañero-Citrus Puree

Yields 2 cups or about 20 servings

1/2 c. orange and red habaneros
1 c. high-quality extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar

Destem the peppers and halve them lengthwise; whether you remove the seeds depends on your taste for danger! Combine all ingredients and puree in a blender. Refrigerate until needed; it can keep about as long as your average condiment.

Requisite Tuna Tartare with Pickled Ginger–Wasabi Sorbet

Like fried calamari, sliders, and beet salad, everybody’s got to have their take on tuna tartare; this is mine. I’ll be serving it tonight at Yelp’s sold-out Red Carpet Gallery Gala—but if you’re not among the lucky ticket-holders, never fear: it’s on this week’s Unleashed menu at Poe’s Kitchen too!

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Tuna Tartare with Wasabi and Pickled Ginger Sorbet

Serves 8 with leftover sorbet

For the tartar:
½ c. quality soy sauce
½ t. fresh ginger, diced finely
1 t. finely chopped chives
2 t. rice vinegar or tarragon vinegar
8 oz. sushi-grade tuna, diced

Combine the first four ingredients and reserve; add tuna to marinate in the refrigerator about 30 min. before serving.

For the sorbet:

1 pint high-quality lemon sorbet
about 3 t. chopped pickled ginger
about 2 t. wasabi powder combined with simple syrup (¼ c. warm water + 2 t. granulated sugar)

Allow sorbet to sit at room temperature for about an hour or until it is just soft enough to easily remove from container (it should not have melted completely).

In a food processor, place sorbet and ginger and puree until fairly smooth; if small pink pieces of the ginger remain, that is fine. Next, with the processor still running, spoon in the wasabi syrup. Turn off processor and taste for kick of wasabi. Personal preference is key here; just remember that both the wasabi and the ginger flavors intensify with time.

Place the sorbet back into a container, cover and refreeze. (Can be made far in advance; will keep for weeks.)

To finish:
When you’re ready for your party, pour the excess soy vinaigrette off the tuna and place about an ounce of fish atop each of eight serving spoons. Scoop small balls of sorbet on top and enjoy!

The Savor of Summer in a Bucket of New England

In Boston, what happens in the sky stays on the roofdeck. This week’s weather was phenomenal—and conducive to classic New England cooking with a kick of heat. The entire staff agreed that if we were not here, we would certainly be at the beach.

And we figured that was what everyone who walked through our front door was thinking too.

So we brought buckets of beer back to the drink menu, added a little Jimmy Buffet to our sound system, and placed piles of New England’s shoreline glory on the tables.

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In the bucket!                                                                 Outta the bucket!

It was awesome to see groups of friends gathered around sharing stories, booze, and seafood, toes tapping to “Margaritaville”!

 
BUCKET OF NEW ENGLAND
Local Clams, Mussels, Lobster, Crab Claws, Chorizo and Onion in Jalapeño Broth

Serves 4.

Broth 
(Note: Clam juice can be substituted.)

2 lbs. lobster bodies (available from your local fishmonger)
2 carrots, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
1 c. chopped celery
1 t. tomato paste
1 3/4 oz. cognac
1 ea. sprig of fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano
1/2 t. black peppercorns
1/2 t. coriander
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 gallon water

In a pan, roast the lobster bodies at 400 degrees in the oven for 10–15 min. (until shells are bright red). Reserve along with any remaining pan juices.

In a hot soup pot on the stove, drizzle just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add onions,carrots, garlic,  and celery and sauté until onions are opaque. Add roasted lobster bodies and juices. Allow the juices to reduce, then add cognac. Allow to reduce again, then add remaining ingredients, adding water last. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for at least 90 min.

Remove from heat, allow to cool, then strain through a fine mesh sieve. Return to stove and leave to simmer gently.

Bucket

2 lobsters, split in 1/2 down the middle
4 lbs. littleneck clams
4 lbs. Prince Edward Island mussels
2 lbs. crab claws
3 lbs. spicy chorizo, sliced thin
2 Spanish onions, halved and cut into thin strips
3 jalapeños, chopped, with seeds
6 cloves garlic
1 shallot, chopped
Salt and pepper
3 t. old bay seasoning

In a hot soup pot on the stove, glaze bottom with quality olive oil. Add onions and chorizo and allow chorizo to cook through, constantly stirring. Before it’s fully cooked, add jalapeños, then garlic, then shallots and seasonings.

Add clams, then warm lobster stock (or clam juice) to cover all of the shellfish about to be incorporated. Turn heat to high; when stock begins to boil, add mussels, lobster, and crab claws. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

Place shellfish in a bucket; serve to your friends with a side of good bread and butter. Return pot with remaining broth to stove to continue to boil—it just gets better the more it reduces.

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Speed Dating at the Stove

After a while, the interview process for cooks begins to seem a lot like speed dating.

from Impactlab.com

from Impactlab.com

You know, where groups of men and women meet at a bar to go on mini-dates, making small talk in five-minute shifts until the bell rings, then moving on to the next person. It’s basically adult musical chairs—a stressful game even when you’re a kid.

The questions are quick and direct.

“What’s your favorite cookbook?”

“I don’t read cookbooks.”

Ding, ding, ding…Next!

***

The next one explains to me that he doesn’t read cookbooks; he uses the Internet as a reference. Interesting, I say, because he has a point. While I still reference my copies of

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Jasper White’s Lobster at Home, Jody Adams’s In The Hands of a Chef, Eric Ripert’s A Return to Cooking, Gordon Hamersley’s Bistro Cooking at Home, and everything Charlie Trotter’s ever written, I too constantly surf sites like Star Chefs, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and BostonChefs. So hey, let’s see what this kid’s got!

“OK, what’s your favorite website?”  

“Ummm, you know, the stuff I find on the Web.”

Ding, ding, ding…Next!

***

“How did you develop an interest in cooking?”

Bachelor #1: “God told me to.” Ding!

Bachelor #2 (a muscle-bound, tattooed guy with a shaved head and a fu manchu): “I have just always loved cooking ever since I started watching the Food Network. I saw that blonde lady with the big bosoms and I just knew, chef, I really knew that I could be that lady, but better.” Ding! Ding!

Bachelor #3: “I knew I wanted to cook when I watched my mother make jellies from all of the different berries we had while I was growing up on the farm.  I found it fascinating to watch her clean the chickens, using every part in a different sauce or casserole.”  

“Interesting,” I say, “because in your cover letter you state that you are proud to have grown up under the tutelage of your single father, an autoworker, in downtown Detroit…” Umm, ding ding ding! Next…

***

“My friend John Gorham taught me as a young man that, with the long hours we work in the food and beverage business, we can truly have the best and worst moments of our careers in a single day. Tell me about your worst day that turned into your best.”

“I was once Tasered by a chef.”

“Are you kidding me?”  

“No, my chef had a really good sense of humor and he thought it would be funny if he Tasered me when I messed up. I found it to help me create some of my most interesting cuisine.”

Dear God, my friend, I want to hire you just to show you that not all chefs are like that! We do like young cooks who want to learn, and we do like to teach. But with a stun gun? Ding!

***

“So your resume reads: Tremont 647, KO Prime, Scampo, and Sel de la Terre. Wow! Tell me about your experiences working for such great chefs.”

“Absolutely amazing. They really know how to cook.”  

Good answer, I tell him, and offer to bring him in for a day. I’ll pay him, show him what we do, and then he can tell me if he’d like to work with me.

It’s the middle of lunch on Friday when he comes in to stage. I’m excited—I’ve got great expectations from someone with a background like his. So here we go: this is how we plate this dish, I say, this is how we prepare the next one. This is every secret to everything we know.

He says, I’ve got this, and I’m filled with confidence.

The first plate he prepares is returned to the kitchen. Then the second. I make quick phone calls to the chefs the kid name-dropped in the interview. “Oh, yeah,” they say, “that kid. He worked for me for like two days.” Ugh!

***

It’s finally time for dinner service when one of my dishwashers walks in and says, “Chef, this is my brother, and he wants to cook.” He points to a kid with an Atlanta Braves ballcap on backwards. But at this point, what have I got to lose? Let’s get him in whites and give him a try, I figure.

An hour later, it’s just me and him, delivering food out the window like we had cooked together for years. I turn to him mid-rush and ask, “What got you into this biz?”

“I don’t know, chef, I just like to cook.”

“OK, kid, you’re hired.”

***

And so it goes, just like the dating game. Just like a real-life love affair. I’d been looking everywhere for my perfect match, going on date after date to find that one person, accepting no less than perfection while the rest of my staff worked extra hours and met extra demands. Then one day, when I’d just about given up—wham! Out of the blue, here’s my new line cook!

The morals to this story? One is for me to take to heart: the best things come when you least expect them. And the other’s for you young cooks out there: when you go in for an interview, don’t tell the chef what you think he wants to hear. Because in cooking, as in love and in life, all any of us want to hear is the truth.

Summer-Winter Swirl: Barbecued Elk Loin with Wild Boar Bacon–Chive Potatoes & Pan-Fried Arugula

The other day I asked the guy I get my rattlesnake from, Lance Applebaum of Fossil Farms in New Jersey, what else he’d recommend on a whim. (His inventory’s so varied you have to wonder if Fossil Farms isn’t a front for Noah’s Ark. Kangaroo, emu, yak, antelope, partridge, turtle, you name it.) 

When he suggested elk, I was surprised, because I associate elk with fall and winter. But then I got to thinking about the challenge of using cold-weather ingredients to spice up a warm-weather dish. And if there’s anything a chef craves, it’s a challenge! With a light sauce to keep the gaminess in check, I could do a twist on summer barbecue, plus sides that would play off the flavors in potato salad. 

The result, currently available at Poe’s Kitchen, has been a big hit right off the bat. Stop by and try it (you can tell your server I sent you myself!)—or, if you’re brave enough to wrestle with one of these,

image from Tahoe Gourmet Market

image from Tahoe Gourmet Market

try it in your own kitchen, then let me know what you think!

Grilled Honey-Glazed Texas Elk Loin with Wild Boar Bacon–&–Chive Whipped Potatoes & Pan-Fried Arugula

Serves about 15

Barbecue Sauce

2 T. butter
1/2 red onion, diced
3 garlic cloves
6 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 c. ketchup
3 T. Dijon mustard
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. honey
1 t. cayenne
1 t. ancho chile powder
1 t. pasilla chile powder
1 t. paprika
1 t. Worcestershire sauce

Sweat onion and garlic in butter. Add tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients; remove from heat, puree in a food processor or blender, and cool.

Elk Marinade

1 elk loin
Juice of 3 lemons
1/2 c. chopped fresh thyme
1 c. honey
few T. butter, reserved

Mix the first three ingredients together and combine 2 cups of barbecue sauce. Cut elk loin into about 15 7 oz. filets and marinate in mixture for up to 24 hrs.

Wild Boar Bacon–&–Chive Whipped Potatoes

6 potatoes (preferably Yukon Gold),  peeled and quartered
1 t. garlic
1 t. shallots
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 T. butter
2 t. chopped chives
pinch of nutmeg
water
1/2 lb. of cooked wild boar bacon, chopped into small pieces (equal parts of fried prosciutto and applewood bacon can be substituted)
salt and pepper to taste

While elk is marinating, place potatoes in a pot, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes, then pour off remaining water and add the rest of the ingredients. Bring back to a boil, then turn off heat and allow to steam for an additional 10 minutes. With a wire whip, whip until smooth.

Pan-Fried Arugula

3 t. olive oil
1 t. garlic
1 t. shallots
1 t. finely diced tomatoes
4 c. arugula
splash of white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 t. butter
pinch of ground coriander

Just before grilling the elk, add the olive oil to a hot sauté pan and give it a few seconds to heat up. Then add the garlic, shallots, and tomatoes; after about 15 seconds, add the arugula and white wine. While keeping the arugula moving constantly, add salt, pepper, butter, and coriander. Remove from heat and reserve.

To complete the dish:

Remove elk from marinade and place on a hot grill, marking each side and seasoning with salt and pepper. Grill no further than medium rare.

At the same time, bring the marinade to a boil in a pan on the grill. Brush some of the marinade on the meat as it cooks. After about 10 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and incorporate the reserved butter into the sauce to make it shiny. Put the potatoes in the center of the plate, layer the arugula over them, and place the elk chop on top. Spoon the sauce over the elk.