Chef's Table: 'Mater Matters
FIG’s Jason Stanhope shares fresh recipes for the season’s favorite fruit
Come June, we get the tomatoes that we’ve been craving since the final bite of last fall’s crop. “I’ve come to appreciate the nuances of all tomatoes,” says FIG chef de cuisine Jason Stanhope. “They all have lovable qualities and are very sensitive to the curve balls Mother Nature brings. But different types of tomatoes have very specific functions in our kitchen. They can play a supporting role or be the star of the show.” He calls romas and vine ripes “workhorse tomatoes,” as they welcome many cooking techniques. As for heirlooms, “they’re unpredictable and delicate,” he notes. “I prefer not to cook them, so I can show off their range of textures balance of sweetness, and acidity, and their brilliant colors.”
Stanhope features his heirlooms in the tomato vierge, making them into a straightforward, room-temperature sauce that is a perfect foil for the warm, meaty grouper. He gives them star billing in his chilled heirloom tomato and watermelon terrine, which he describes as “elegant and classic.” Then he puts his vine ripes to the heat, roasting them with olive oil, garlic, and herbs to top his grilled piadina.
While FIG’s tomatoes come from North Carolina’s Blackbird Farm and Wadmalaw Island’s Ambrose Family Farm, you can fill your basket with locals at any of the weekly farmers markets. Straight off the vine and still warm to the touch, all of the varieties pack a flavor punch. “It’s hard to pick a favorite,” says Stanhope. “But one of the best things in the world is a simple tomato sandwich with lots of Duke’s mayo, sea salt, and black pepper. For this, I love a perfectly ripe Brandywine.”
The Scoop: Dishing It Up with Chef Jason Stanhope
RESTAURANT: FIG chef de cuisine
ACCOLADES: Epicurious named FIG one of Charleston’s Top Restaurants
FIRST F&B GIG: Lunch courier and baker for Specialties in San Francisco’s financial district
EDUCATION: California Culinary Academy
FAVORITE Local INGREDIENTS: “The perfection of a Sea Island egg from Celeste Albers is hard to beat. It can be the backbone to a great recipe and center-of-the-plate-worthy.”
Recipe He’ll take to the grave: “The one recipe that is a rite of passage at FIG is the chicken liver pâté. That’s one we don’t share.”
2 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 heads garlic, split in half
4 oz. basil with stems attached, washed
4 Tbs. coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
4 large heirloom tomatoes, about 2 lbs.
1 cup minced shallots
3 Tbs. fleur de sel
1 Tbs. black pepper
2 oz. sherry vinegar
8 (2 oz.) grouper filets, 1 inch thick
8 sprigs thyme
8 lemon slices
1 cup finely chopped herbs (chervil, tarragon, parsley, and chives recommended)
Place two cups of the olive oil, garlic, basil, and coriander in a saucepan and warm over medium heat until you see a slight bubble in the oil. Remove saucepan from heat and let ingredients sit in the oil for one hour. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or chinois.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Score the tomatoes with a paring knife by slicing an X just through the skin on their bottoms. Put the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 seconds, remove, and drop them immediately into a bowl of ice water. Once the tomatoes are cool, remove them and pull off the peel. Cut tomatoes in half. Squeeze them to release the seeds and pulp, which you may discard or save to use in a tomato sauce. Dice the tomatoes. Add the shallots, fleur de sel, black pepper, and sherry vinegar. Fold in one cup of the room temperature infused olive oil.
Preheat oven to 225°F.
Place the grouper filets in a shallow baking dish and coat them in some of the remaining one-fourth cup olive oil. Season with fleur de sel and top each with a sprig of thyme and a lemon slice. Bake the fish for 12 to 15 minutes until tender and slightly opaque.
Remove fish to a platter. Discard the thyme and squeeze the lemon over the fish. Mix the chopped herbs in with the tomatoes and spoon them over the fish. Drizzle platter with juice from the tomatoes and olive oil. Serve immediately.
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to wipe the bowl
1 cup of warm water, 100-120°F
1 cup bread flour, plus extra to flour the work surface
1 1/2 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. SAF instant yeast
4 summer tomatoes, about 2 lbs.
4 cloves garlic, sliced
Herbs of your choice, washed, picked, and chopped
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. piece of Parmesan
1 (8-oz.) burrata, drained (fresh ricotta may be substituted)
1/2 lb. arugula, washed and dried
Red chili flakes to your taste
Combine two tablespoons of olive oil and water in a measuring cup. Put the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a food processor or a stand mixer with a dough-hook attachment. With the machine running, add the liquid and let the machine run until a sticky ball forms.
Wipe a bowl or deep container with olive oil. Put the dough in it and cover with a light kitchen towel. Set the dough in a warm place for two hours, or until doubled in size.
Remove the dough and divide it into four pieces. Form the pieces into balls, then flatten them into disks one-inch thick. Put the disks on a baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let set in a warm place for 15 minutes.
While the dough is on its first rise, preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil.
Slice the tomatoes about half-inch thick. Lay the slices in one layer on the baking sheets. Top with the garlic and herbs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets every five minutes, until they are soft but not falling apart.
To finish the piadina, heat a grill to medium-high.
Shave the Parmesan with a vegetable peeler and set aside. Chop the burrata.
Flatten the disks of dough. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll each into a nine-inch round approximately one-fourth inch thick. Brush the disks with olive oil. Grill them on both sides for two and a half to three minutes, until the crust gets crispy.
Top the piadina with the burrata, tomatoes, and arugula. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Drizzle with olive oil and top with the shaved Parmesan.
10 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, divided
1 (5 lbs.) seedless watermelon (there will be extra for snacking)
6 sheets silver-strength gelatin (or substitute 2 tablespoons of granulated gelatin. Follow the package directions to dissolve. Be sure all granules are dissolved.)
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground black pepper
Purée six pounds of the tomatoes in a food processor. Fit a mesh strainer over a deep bowl and line it with a double layer of cheesecloth. Wrap tomato purée loosely in the cheesecloth and tie off ends with kitchen string to form a sack. Attach the sack to the handle of a wooden spoon, remove the strainer, and suspend the sack over the bowl. Refrigerate. Clear liquid tomato water will drain through the cheesecloth for about 24 hours. If any red liquid begins to appear, discontinue draining. Do not squeeze the cheesecloth or the tomato water will cloud. You need two cups of tomato water. Discard the solids.
Line a 1 1/2 quart by volume, 11" x 6" x 4 3/4" glass loaf baking dish with plastic wrap. There should be overhang to make removal easy.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Score the remaining four pounds of tomatoes with a paring knife by slicing an X just through the skin on their bottoms. Put the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 seconds, then drop immediately into a bowl of ice water. Once the tomatoes are cool, remove them and pull off the peel.
Slice the tomatoes into half-inch slices. Cut the watermelon into half-inch slices. Remove rind. Gently press tomato and watermelon slices between paper towels and let drain.
For the aspic:
Place the gelatin sheets and three cups of cold water in a pan and let the gelatin soften, five to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, warm a half-cup of tomato water in a medium saucepan. When the sheets are soft, lift them from the water and gently wring them out. Add them to the warm tomato water. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring, until gelatin has dissolved, about one minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add remaining tomato water and stir until well-combined. Season with salt. Strain and let cool to room temperature.
Place a layer of tomatoes in the lined terrine and cover with a half-ounce of aspic. Then place a layer of watermelon, trimming the pieces as necessary to fit. Cover with half-ounce of aspic.
Repeat, seasoning every other layer with salt and black pepper. When the terrine is full, cover with plastic wrap and place it gently in the refrigerator. Allow to set for at least four hours, or overnight.
Unmold, slice terrine 1/2" thick, and serve ice cold. Garnish with feta, sunflower sprouts, or your favorite tender green, an aged balsamic vinegar, and lots of good extra-virgin olive oil.