A Cooking Class with Bobby Flay
While still in his 20s, Bobby Flay took the restaurant scene in New York by storm with his bold and innovative Latin-influenced cuisine, showcased first at Miracle Grill and later at his own restaurants, Mesa Grill and Bolo. Now barely into his 30s, Flay has become famous among food lovers everywhere through his bestselling cookbook Bobby Flay's Bold American Flavors and his appearances on shows like Lifetime's The Main Ingredient and TVFN's Grillin' and Chillin'. He's just released an approachable new book of menus for casual entertaining, Bobby Flay's From My Kitchen to Your Table. He came to New York cooking school De Gustibus at Macy's to demonstrate recipes from the new book with his customary flair and good-natured, rowdy style.
As Arlene Feltman Sailhac, director of the De Gustibus program, said as she introduced the class, "When Bobby's here it's not a class, it's a party. So welcome to Bobby's party."
About the Book
Bobby Flay's From My Kitchen to Your Table reflects what Flay calls his philosophy of entertaining: "When you come over to my house and you want me to feed you, nobody is getting their own plate," he says. "I'm putting everything out on platters, we're eating family style, we're serving almost everything except for dessert at the same time. What does that do? It makes for a really festive time, but more importantly, it gets you, the cook, out of the kitchen and enjoying your time with your guests." Many of the recipes in the book are designed to be done ahead of time and combined in casual menus of four or five dishes that complement each other well. Most feature Flay's signature explosion of sweet, sour, salty, piquant flavors from chiles, citrus zest, capers, vinegar, molasses, fresh herbs, and ground spicesthis is not tame food, but neither is it haphazard. For all their intensity, Flay's tastes are meticulously balanced and seasoned to perfection, layer by layer. His solid grounding in technique also reveals itself at every turnthroughout the class, Flay explained what he was doing and why, whether it was reducing sherry vinegar to concentrate its flavor and give it the texture necessary to become a glaze or sweating vegetables for stock to bring out their flavor without coloring them as one would in a sauté.
About the Menu
Flay got the party rolling by serving a sweet and potent Passion Fruit Sangria made with passion fruit purée, white wine, brandy, and sliced fruit. Next came a piquant salmon tartar, seasoned with mustard, chipotle chiles, lemon oil, capers, and scallions and stuffed into lightly spicy roasted Spanish piquillo peppers. Flay demonstrated how to make the dish starting with a whole salmonhe made it look quite simple. Although he admitted he didn't expect most of us to go home and start filleting our own fish, he did encourage us to try it because whole fish tends to stay fresh longer. Plus, he said, you can use the center fillets in one dish and use the thinner ends for the tartar. When looking for the freshest fish, Flay advised us to trust our gut feeling: "You walk up to a fish, and you look at the fish, and you say, it's fresh, because you can see it. If it looks tired, it's tired! Buy something else." Next came grilled rare tuna made flavorful with a sweet-sour sherry vinegar and honey glaze and served with a spicy fresh tomato salsa. With the fish dishes, we drank a wonderful rosé from Joseph Phelps's Napa Valley vineyard, made with Grenache grapes in the style of a Provençal Tavel. It was richly fruity but completely dry, perfect for summer drinking.
The next dish on the menu was a stunningly gorgeous fresh green pea risotto, perfect for spring with its bright green color and lively coriander-spiced flavor. The secret to the color: a puree made from frozen peas. "I don't know how they do it," Flay said, "but they find really green and sweet peas." Fresh peas are added along with the frozen pea puree just at the end of cooking. (For Flay's tips on do-ahead risotto, see below.) Then came a wonderful, simple chicken dish, sautéed on the bone, finished in the oven, and served in a quick pan sauce made with shallots, garlic, tarragon, and a crisp white wine from Spain called Albarino. We drank a spicy, fruity, full-bodied but not heavy red wine, also from Joseph Phelps, called Le Mistral with the chicken. Made in the style of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the wine can stand up to spicy flavors but still feels light enough for summer suppers. Mesa Grill pastry chef Wayne Harley Broman demonstrated the dessert recipe for usa rich and heavenly Chocolate Coconut Bread Pudding, made with day-old brioche, that was encouragingly simple to make.
Tips from Bobby Flay
- For sautéing or grilling fish (or anything else), Flay has two pieces of advice for avoiding sticking and forming a nice crust or grill marks: One, get the heating element, be it grill or pan, very, very hot, and two, resist the urge to move the food once you've put it down. "It drives me nuts watching people," he says. "They put something on the grill, and what's the first thing they do? They move it, to see if it's sticking. Of course it's sticking! Leave it alone! It will come away from the grill when it's formed a crust. Same thing with sautéing. I know it's hard, but you have to just not touch it."
- Proper seasoning is the single most important thing you can do for your cooking. "Salt and pepper bring out the flavor of every ingredient, Flay says. "You have to season with salt and pepper at each stage of cooking, so every layer of the dish is right. And when you're cooking fish or meat, season both sides. If you're not doing that you're not cooking." Flay likes kosher salt, both for its flavor and because he likes the fact that the crystals are big enough so that you can feel them between your fingers and know how much you're using.
- The secret to hassle-free entertaining is to get organized and plan out each step of the menu you're making ahead of time. "When I'm cooking at home," Flay says, "my cupboard doors are filled with notes. I know what I'm going to do first, what can last, what I have to do at the very last minute." Taking 20 minutes to write down a plan of action will save you a lot of stress.
- Don't be afraid to make risotto at home. "Master chefs have a whole time-consuming ritual with risotto that I totally respect," Flay says, "but you know, I grew up in New York. I don't have time for that. So I say, raise the heat up to high and stir fast." The total cooking time is 10 or 12 minutes, rather than 25 or 30. Flay also shared a restaurant kitchen tip that can allow you to do most of the work hours or even days ahead of time, making risotto much more manageable for entertaining. He says to follow the recipe until the risotto is about three-quarters cooked, then take it off the heat and spread it out on a sheet pan to quickly stop the cooking. Cover and refrigerate, then when you're ready to serve it, break it up, put it back in the pot, add a bit of stock or water, and bring it up to temperature. Cook just a few moments, then add the final flavorings (the frozen pea puree, fresh peas, cheese, lemon, herbs, and spices, in this case). "Finish it up, put in in a bowl, and you have perfect risotto," Flay says.
- When you're cooking with wine, Flay says, don't use one you wouldn't drink. When you cook with wine, almost always you're reducing it to concentrate the flavor. If the flavor's no good, concentrating it will only make it worse."
- One more tip: "All those dried spices you've had in your cupboards for the last three years? Out! Throw them out," says Flay. "They don't taste like they're supposed to anymore. They've been around forever, because if you had them for three years, the company had them for five. Buy whole spices, and grind them when you need them and they'll be really fresh."