Kevin Gillespie is one of the most colorful guys we know–both in tattoos and personality. The executive chef of Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill and season 6 Top Chef finalist bares a lot of culinary secrets–good and bad–in his new cookbook, Fire In My Belly, out next month. (One of our favorite insider tips: after much trial and error, he discovered Velveeta was the secret ingredient for perfecting his Gussied Up Mac ‘n’ Cheese.)
Kevin also lets us in on the fact that, like most of us, he grew up despising lots of foods until he learn to cook them properly. Foods like the dreaded Brussels sprouts.
He writes “It’s not that there is something inherently wrong with Brussels sprouts. There is just something wrong with the way they’ve been cooked for you.” In Kevin’s talented hands, they turn into a rich, creamy, gratin that his family begs him to bring to every family function.
Here are 5 formerly-hated ingredients that he now loves–and you may, too, after trying these recipes.
1. Cabbage ”Whenever my mom made it, the whole house smelled like cabbage for three days.” But by cooking it in a super-hot cast iron skillet and adding coriander, black pepper, and carraway, ”the whole dish took on this incredible flavor and a texture you wouldn’t expect with cooked cabbage.” As for that odor: “The cabbage cooks so fast that those nasty sulfur compounds never get a chance to go airborne!”
2. & 3. Beets and Broccoli ” I never loved broccoli as a kid. . .it was always boiled or steamed to oblivion. And I never got on board with the cheese sauce idea. And I’d only ever had canned beets and they were terrible.” Kevin took a bold step in combining two such unloved foods and created a dish that’s one of the restaurant’s most popular. “This salad plays up the best of both ingredients. The earthy sweetness of the beets tempers the sulfur-y funkiness of the broccoli. If you hate beets and you hate broccoli, wipe the slate clean and start over.”
4. Liver and onions Here Kevin doesn’t mince words. “Liver and onions is abhorred and detested by thousands of people. Yet’s it’s also cherished and devoured by an equal number of liver fans. If this combo has been around such a long time, there has to be something good about it.” Kevin soaks it in raw liver milk all day to temper the taste, and is careful not to overcook. Then he adds chai spices like cardamom, anise, and ginger, and pears. “If you’re on the cusp of trying liver, try it. You might become a convert. (Okay, Kevin. Where you lead, we will follow.)
5. Salmon croquettes When Kevin was a teen, he had a, err, visceral reaction to the smell of these cooking, which took years to overcome. Working at a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, he decided to make some croquettes with fresh Pacific salmon and a thick white sauce flavored with onion, garlic, chives, lemon zest and nutmeg. (We vote yum.) “Only when I tried the real thing did I realize why people loved salmon so much. 25 years of hatred and disgust suddenly gave way to love.”
Kevin shared the love with us and we want to share it with you. Tell us what food would you like to see transformed into something delicious?
2 Tbsp butter
About 1 cup flour
1 cup heavy cream
2 grates of nutmeg
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp chives, minced
1/2 tsp lemon zest
Pinch cayenne pepper
12 oz fresh salmon, finely diced
About 2 cups Panko bread crumbs, finely ground
Canola oil for frying
1. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is dissolved, about 1 minute. Whisk in the cream and the nutmeg and increase the temperature to medium high. When the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium and, stirring frequently, cook the sauce until it is very thick, about 3 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a small metal bowl, press plastic wrap directly onto the top of the sauce and refrigerate until cold, about 45 minutes. The plastic wrap will prevent a skin from forming on
2. Rinse and dry the saucepan and heat over medium-low heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Line a plate with a paper towel and spoon the onion mixture onto the towel to drain. Refrigerate until cold.
3. In a bowl, combine the sauce, the onion mixture, chives, lemon zest and cayenne until thoroughly blended. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the salmon.
4. Shape the mixture into 12 quenelles or cylinders (a small ice cream scoop is perfect for portioning out pieces, a little larger than a golf ball). The shape is important for even cooking and maintaining a creamy center. Spread the croquettes on a sheet
pan and refrigerate until very cold, about 1 hour.
5. Preheat the deep fryer to 350°F or, if you prefer to pan-fry, heat 1 inch of oil in a skillet over medium high heat to 350°F.
6. Spread the remaining flour in a shallow dish and whisk together with a Kevin pinch of salt. Crack the eggs in another shallow dish and whisk together with another Kevin pinch of salt. In a third shallow dish, whisk the panko and a Kevin pinch of salt. Using the 3-step fry prep deep fry the croquettes until GBD (golden brown and delicious), about 4 minutes. If pan frying, cook 2 minutes, turn and cook another 2 minutes. Remove to a paper towel to drain.
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