I’m chopped to pieces

Apr. 01, 2014 @ 10:02 AM

“Chopped” is a show on Food Network. Four chefs are confronted by three baskets with four mystery foodstuffs in each. With them, they must cook an appetizer course, then main course, and finally dessert. The time is limited, and the pressure is immense. 
After each round, one contestant is eliminated, so at the dessert cook-off only two remain.
The Kid and I are big fans of the show, and do lots of back-seat cooking.
“Really, hash? Out of ideas already?” 
“Noooo! Not the truffle oil!” 
“Don’t put those greens on the hot food! They’ll be completely wilted!”
This week I decided to play “Chopped” with The Kid. Armed with my cash, my child picked up four items at Whole Foods.  I would be presented with the mystery foods, and cook a (hopefully) edible, and maybe even delicious, meal.
The rules would be a touch different. The ingredients had to include one protein (meat, or meat-like substitute). Only one course and I’d have no competition or time limit. And no seafood; I never cook it, so it would be an insurmountable curve-ball.
Finally, my very own mystery basket arrived.  With the four cryptic components:
1) Bison flank steak. I was kind of impressed with this one. Exotic, but not totally out there. But I had a concern. Flank steak from a cow, which is much fattier, is really easy to overcook. Bison is very, very lean. I would have to tread carefully.
2)  Broccolini. An Asian hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan (I don’t know what kai-lan is either). I’ve never eaten broccolini, but I’m curious.
3)  Chipotle in adobo. This one is hilarious to me. The Kid hates this on principle. My little chef can’t abide the product because of its trendiness. It’s actually smoked jalapeno peppers in a tomato sauce. 
4)  Mango. This one is hilarious to my child. I’ve always hated mango. I think it tastes like baby food. But, my lot in life is to use it, so I shall.
My plan was to make a barbecue sauce with the chipotles and mangoes. I’d sear the steak in my cast iron, then paint on the barbecue sauce, and finish it under the broiler.  It would be served on a bed of my Anson Mills grits, cooked according to the directions of the Carolina Inn’s Chef James Clark (good thing there’s no time limit; they take at least an hour to cook). 
As for the broccolini, I decided to make a slaw. I’d keep it raw, and dress it with an Asian/citrus kind of thing. No mayo though; I want something light to balance the rich grits and red meat.
On the big day I started by poaching some crushed garlic cloves in olive oil. I’d add this to the mango and chipotle.
When I asked The Kid how hot the chilis were, all I got was an evil smile, and this: “You’ll have to taste for yourself.”
So I did.
Yowza! That stuff is hot. An hour after a tiny, tentative sample, my mouth was still burning. Because of this I would only use the adobo; the spicy tomato sauce in which the smoked peppers were packed.
I peeled and rough chopped the mango, and threw it in my food processor along with the adobo, the garlic oil, red wine vinegar, ketchup, some dried thyme, salt, pepper, and my secret ingredient, Chinese five spice powder.
I stuck it in the fridge, and turned my attention to the broccolini. I washed it, and then cut off the ends of the stems. Then I chopped the stems to about a quarter of an inch, leaves and all. The florets I left a bit longer, 3/4 of an inch or so.
I tossed it with a dressing I made with lemon, Dijon mustard, olive oil, honey, a little peanut butter, and a couple drops of toasted sesame oil. I added salt and pepper and a pinch of five spice like the BBQ sauce.
My mystery basket turned out pretty well.  The steak wasn’t overcooked, and the sauce wasn’t too spicy. The slaw was a nice cool, crunchy counterpoint.
But to be perfectly honest, the tastiest part of the plate was Chef James’ awesome Anson Mill grits.

Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.