What a treat to spend a few hours in the company of venerable chef, cookbook author and culinary educator John Ash!
I saw him as he prepared a culinary “trip around the world” for guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events, but the evening included a world of perspective from his rich experience with regional food and wine.
Along with demonstrating recipes, Chef John – a double James Beard Foundation award-winner — dished out stories as well as tips on cooking techniques, sustainable fish, spices and his own current favorite products.
The first dish, Israeli Hummus, relies on cooking dried chickpeas rather than the canned variety, plus grinding ingredients in a food processor longer than might seem necessary to ensure a creamy texture. Remember to soak the beans with baking soda to soften them and let them cook more evenly. He suggests poaching the garlic to make it sweeter.
As he artfully plated the dish, he explained: “You never want to put something in the middle of the plate…for a bull’s-eye presentation.” It turns out his degree in fine arts has come into strong play in the kitchen. “Everything I wanted to do with paint on a canvas I could do with food. Plus, you get to eat it!” he adds.
Chef John describes Miso Soup with Clams & Spinach, his second course, as simple but “rich in umami.” He admits to using hon dashi—dashi granules—rather than homemade dashi broth (a keystone of Japanese cooking), but says it’s a fine combination with the clam stock and white miso. A drizzle of sesame oil or smoked olive oil completes the dish.
As he prepared Black Cod in Spicy Coconut Broth, Chef John urged guests to download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app on best fish choices. The cod is deemed completely sustainable and – a bonus for chefs – is difficult to overcook. His recipe calls for laksa, a Malaysian-based curry, which brings together the four flavor gods: sweet, sour, hot, and salty. Some guests said they would have been satisfied with the laksa alone!
For dessert, guests enjoyed Lime Posset, based on an English drink of hot milk curdled with ale or wine. He cooked, curdled, whisked and chilled heavy cream, sugar, lime juice, and a pinch of dried ginger and topped it with berries. Sweet and simple.
At the end of the evening, guests applauded the kitchen and server crew, all students and graduates from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, which serves homeless and low-income adults building employment skills.
Many guests already look forward to Jan. 16, when Chef John returns for an event with frequent collaborator Chef Mei Ibach. The duo will present a menu based on the exotic products of Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc., in Sebastopol, with the prize-winning wines of Merry Edwards Winery. – Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos by Neely Wang.
Here’s a lighter dessert for the holidays:
Lime Posset – Serves 6
2¼ cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Pinch of dried ginger
Whisk together the cream and sugar in a stainless steel pot with high sides. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, whisking often. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed. Keep an eye on it, because the mixture can overflow while simmering.
Remove the mixture from the heat and immediately whisk in the lime juice and ginger. The mixture will curdle slightly. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes. Whisk one last time until very smooth and creamy.
Divide the posset among six 6-ounce ramekins. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to sufficiently set and thicken the posset. Serve chilled.
Note: Can be made 2 days ahead; store refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap.