Monthly Archives: February 2021
Steak. It’s what’s for dinner, or so the marketing department of The Beef Council says. But not in the W-T household. Alas…
A little background: My Dad owned a small grocery store in Chester, PA, and the family owned a gourmet food market in South Beach. I grew up on good meat—mostly beef and lamb—we were, until I was 11 a strictly Kosher household, so pork wasn’t part of my childhood, until…well, that’s another story for another time.
The family also owned a meat-processing and packing business in the area of shallow North Philly—near Girard Avenue, for those in the know—known as the “meat-packing district” (some day I might relate the story of beef kidneys and my senior prom, or the story about the time my Dad passed on the opportunity to become the sole distributor of hamburger to McDonald’s, but those are yet other stories for another time). My Dad and his brothers operated this business for the distribution of meat products to seven small grocery stores in Philadelphia, Chester, and Ardmore. But they kept all the best products they could get their hands on for themselves—mostly because the best products were priced out of the range of the neighborhoods where their stores were located.
So, great steaks, chops, and roasts were on the dinner plates several times a week. I had no idea what a privilege that was until I got older and had to buy my own groceries. But still…
But from a very young age—maybe six or seven—I was interested in investigating food and how to make it better. My mom was an awful cook—boiling spaghetti was a challenge—but thought she was a great one. I ended up adding spices and flavorings to her recipes when she wasn’t looking, and developed skills of using herbs and spices, and of being able to remember and repeat recipes. Mom always thought it was her cooking that tasted so great. In reality she didn’t know where in the kitchen the salt shaker lived.
Very early on I began experimenting with steak sauce; it turns out my Dad LOVED spicy foods (Mom didn’t), and the steaks he brought home were the very best that could be had. So I started messing with sauces, to find one that both he and I loved, and that packed not just flavor, but heat; I have since learned, from my chef/mentor, that it takes no talent to make food suicide-hot. Any fool with a bottle of hot sauce and a loose wrist can do that. The real skill is making spicy/hot food TASTE GREAT (this has become my kitchen mantra).
Eventually I settled on one sauce blend that struck just the right note for both of us. I’ve been both fooling with it and making it ever since, and I’ve pretty much got it down to a science now. And I no longer mess with the recipe. I believe it’s pretty much perfect.
You might try making it yourself, and let me know what you think. And the quantities of peppers—there are six different kinds in the sauce—are to your liking, but I’ve got to tell you, this one is pretty darn spot on.
Try it for yourself:
Cheffzilla’s Six-Pepper Steak Sauce
1 cup chili sauce (I like Heinz)
1/2 cup Heinz A-1 sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon red pepper sauce (Tabasco or Frank’s?)
1 teaspoon Asian chili-sesame oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons finely ground white pepper
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper (or more? This is where the heat comes from; the rest of the peppers are flavor)
Four to eight hours before you need the finished sauce, combine the first five ingredients—the liquids—in a medium bowl with the red pepper flakes, mix well, cover with plastic wrap for 1/2 – 1 hour and set aside.
Add the remaining ingredients, mix well, cover, and place in the fridge until ready to use. The sauce will keep in the fridge for up to three months, but use it up and make more.
I finally got to do some real cooking. I haven’t done much of that recently, what with us being empty nesters and all—both working, dogs and cats pretty much at war with each other, and my nicely blossoming indoor orchard of citrus trees. And then there’s the pending living-room remodel.
Sometimes there just isn’t much time left for real cooking. You know the kind I mean—where I actually get to start with making a stock, where I layer in the flavors thoughtfully one at a time, where I actually start with a found recipe and adjust and adapt it to my personal style and preference. Plus, since I’m now 50 pounds lighter than I was 11 months ago and plan to keep it that way, the choices I have from on-hand supplies is a bit different. Butter and flour as main ingredients aren’t much in the plan any more, so flavors and textures come from other, more creative places.
So there I was on a Friday evening, sipping quietly on a syrupy Zinfandel, and thinking through my dinner prep plan (yes, Virginia, we actual trained cooks think and make a plan).
Tonight’s menu was built around a tasty shrimp and white-bean stew with fresh basil and lemon zest, and a surprise. And it meant actually cooking!
Heaven in a kitchen.
E thought it was pretty good. I thought it was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a very long time. So good that I just had to write about it here, I haven’t been so inspired in a while, but tonight’s dish just struck that chord—definitely a major-seventh in D. I hope you’ll try this one. It’s a winner!
SHRIMP AND WHITE-BEAN STEW
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 pound jumbo shell-on shrimp (21-26 count), peeled, deveined, and tails removed, shells reserved
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans (1 can drained and rinsed, 1 can left undrained)
2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
4 garlic cloves, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
1. Dissolve sugar and 1 tablespoon salt in 1 quart cold water in large container. Submerge shrimp in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove shrimp from brine and pat dry with paper towels.
2. While the shrimp is brining, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add shrimp shells and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn spotty brown and skillet starts to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and carefully add 1 cup water. When bubbling subsides, return skillet to medium heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Strain mixture through colander set over large bowl. Discard shells and reserve liquid (you should have about 1/4 cup). Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add the onion, garlic, anchovies, pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in now-empty skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1 can drained beans, 1 can beans and their liquid, tomatoes, and shrimp stock and bring to simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
4. Reduce heat to low, add shrimp, cover, and cook, stirring once during cooking, until shrimp are just opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in basil and lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and serve.