Friday, February 15, 2013

Staff Meal Recipes

One thing we do in the Oak Cafe kitchen is prepare staff meals. I suppose this could be compared to cleaning out the refrigerator on a larger scale. The best situation is where we can find something left over from production - trimmings, a few peppers, an onion, some garlic, fish bones, whatever - and turn it into a meal worthy of a chef.

There are a lot of benefits to this. We reduce food waste, since all those limited quantities of food are eaten instead of thrown out. We learn to think on our feet, because the ingredients choose us instead of the other way around. We're thrifty, since expensive ingredients are generally taboo - although occasionally obligatory.

There's nothing wrong with any of this food. It's just that it's funny sizes or shapes, not enough to serve, or extra from a cooking class that didn't need that much halibut after all.

So, here's what I've done so far.

Quick French Fish Soup
We filleted several cases of branzino, leaving lots of bones. There was only one logical thing to do: make fish stock. Since we were already at it, why not whip up a batch of soupe de poissons?

- branzino bones and meat scraps from fish stock (fumet).
- leftover tomato juice
- garlic
- tarragon, fresh, chopped
- potatoes, fine dice
- fish stock (fish bones, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley stems, bay leaves - we were out of thyme)

  1. Bring the tomato, stock, garlic and potatoes to a simmer in a stock pot or rondeau.
  2. Take out the fish bones and run them through a food mill to squeeze out whatever meat you can. Don't go too strong, since you're doing this bones and all. Add the fish paste to the soup.
  3. Use an immersion blender to purée everything in the soup pot.
  4. Add a bit of brandy that you found in a bottle at the back of the liquor cabinet.
  5. Add the tarragon.
  6. Just before serving, add some pastis (or anisette, but be careful since this stuff is not as dry as real pastis).
  7. This should be served with roux and croutons, but that's another thing with staff meals - they have to be done quickly without fooling around.

Cuban Poutine
We were doing a Cuban menu. We had bits of steak, trimmings left over from prep. There were a few jalapeños, and there are always onions and garlic. We had some badly cut julienned yuca fries, too. So, what if we sautéd the meat, jalapeños, onion and garlic, then added a bit of flour and oil to make a roux, then added some leftover papaya-mango-citrus juice to create a tangy gravy? Something we could then pour over the yuca for a kind of poutine, less the cheese curds (we didn't have any).

- scraps of beef
- garlic
- jalapeño
- cilantro
- onion
- flour (AP)
- mango/papaya/citrus juice
- oil


  1. Fry the yuca - like French fries with an initial oil blanch, then a second frying to crisp them up.
  2. Sauté the meat in some oil. When the meat is showing some color, remove it and set aside.
  3. Sauté the onion, jalapeño. Add the garlic toward the end, give it a few tosses and set it aside with the meat.
  4. Add some oil to the pan, then add some flour, stirring constantly. When the roux takes on some color, temper with the juice, stirring constantly. Heat until the gravy thickens and the flour cooks.
  5. Put the meat and other ingredients back in the gravy, give it all a stir.
  6. Plate some yuca, then pour the gravy over it. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Sautéed Halibut
There were two beautiful fillets of halibut left over from another class. This is one of those times where staff meal could use a premium ingredient. Since staff meal must be done quickly, the fish was left skin on, thrown into a pan where the skin would stick, then taken out with a spatula, leaving the skin in the pan. After you've made your quick pan sauce, some skin might still be sticking. No problem since a bit of water added to the pan softened it up enough for an easy cleanup. Skinning the fillets in advance would have wasted a lot of time, but cooking this way sidesteps the issue. If the fillets were patted dry, and the fish were scaled, the skin could have been fried crisp during the sauté process. But that would have taken more time!

- halibut fillet, skin on, rinsed.
- garlic
- dry white wine
- oil for frying
- salt, pepper
- freshly squeezed lemon juice
- cilantro, chopped
- parsley, chopped
- butter, melted


  1. Roughly chop some cilantro and parsley, squeeze with lemon juice and salt lightly. Set aside.
  2. Trim out the fish into about 4 ounce portions, leaving the skin on. 
  3. Heat a sauté pan, and when the oil is hot add the fish off the flame (in the interest of fast prep, the fish was not patted dry - if you add it over a high flame, the oil will spatter and catch fire)
  4. The skin will stick to the pan. This was the idea, no worry.
  5. When the fish is cooked from the bottom up, but not all the way, sprinkle some maldon flake salt on the fish and place the sauté pan under the salamander to broil.
  6. Watch the fish - you just want a slight broil, not charred embers.
  7. When the fish is ready, take a spatula and run it between the skin and the flesh leaving the skin in the pan. Set the fish aside.
  8. Place the pan on the flame and add the herbs and white wine. Scrape a bit if you like. Add the melted butter, stir and strain the sauce.
  9. Plate the fish either on the sauce or plate and pour the sauce over. Garnish with the cilantro/parsley/lemon and serve.

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