Cooking Tips From Philly Chefs

chef_tips200Most people assume the best part of my restaurant reviewing gig is the eating, but chowing down isn’t really my favorite aspect of the job — what I like best is interviewing the chefs I write about. Often, in the course of our conversation, the chef sheds some light on how my favorite dishes were prepared. This kind of nuts-and-bolts cooking info sometimes makes it from my notebook to the finished review, but it always gets filed away in the part of my brain dedicated to cooking and recipe development, another passion of mine. Here are some of the most useful tips I’ve accumulated over the years. Thank you, chefs!

Perfect Pasta Dough From Fond restaurant
When making homemade pasta, thinness and delicacy is always my goal. At Fond restaurant, chef Lee Styer makes just that kind of dough. He told me that the surprising trick to delicate dough is to knead it more than you think you have to, and run it through the pasta machine a few times before making the sheets progressively thinner.

Rich Risotto From Alphabet Soup
At the just-closed Alphabet Soup in New Jersey, the insanely creamy mushroom risotto was one of the best dishes I sampled. Chef Jayson Grossberg explained that the dish was enriched with mild, buttery brie cheese to achieve that memorable flavor and texture. He picked up the tip from an American chef in Italy.

Better Beets From Zahav
My favorite part of Zahav’s platter of salads is the tahini-rich beets. But the sauce is only half the story. Chef Michael Solomonov first roasts the beets in kosher salt for an intense earthy flavor and dense, tender texture.

Crystal-Clear Consommé From Koo Zee Doo
When David Gilberg, who just opened Koo Zee Doo restaurant in Northern Liberties, was chef at The Ugly American, he made a flavorful turkey consommé that was so clear it sparkled. He achieved this by clarifying the stock with an egg raft — you simply stir beaten egg whites into a simmering stock and skim them off as they solidify and rise to the surface, taking all the little bits that cause cloudiness with them.

Wonderful Wondra From Pub & Kitchen and Mémé
Remember Wondra, the stuff in the blue box your mom used to thicken up gravy on Thanksgiving? Well this ultrafine flour is a staple in chef Jonathan McDonald’s Pub & Kitchen pantry. It’s part of the light, crisp coating for his addictive calamari. (Chef David Katz at Mémé also uses it for his awesome mussels as well.)

Best Brown Butter From 10 Arts
My favorite dish at 10 Arts is the trout in brown butter, mainly because chef Jennifer Carroll’s version of this sauce delivers amazing depth of flavor. She told me that you have to cook dangerously when it comes to brown butter; the sauce must come right up to the edge of being burnt for best results.

Excellent Escargot From Bibou
If you ask 10 people about escargot, most of them will say the dish’s rubbery texture is a turnoff. But escargot shouldn’t be rubbery — the texture should be as perfectly tender as the snails turned out by chef Pierre Calmels at Bibou. He says the secret is to allow the snails to cool in their poaching liquid. I’ve applied this tip to other poached proteins with excellent results.

Knockout Gnocchi From Blue Horse Tavern
At the Blue Horse Tavern, chef Grant Langdon Brown creates gnocchi that includes some chestnut flour. The resulting dumplings are more flavorful than the all-potato version, and their texture is far more forgiving. Almond flour works, too.