In Good Taste: Orient Express
Chef Iverson Brownell choreographs a small-plate menu to capture the art of the Japanese theater
Stumped on serving up Spoleto?
Almost everyone entertains during these weeks of festivities, but many find themselves puzzling over how to pull together a tastefully themed party. We decided to turn to a professional, asking chef Iverson Brownell to take a cue from this year’s lineup and give us a menu with wow-power that wouldn’t break the bank. With his business, Iverson Catering, operating in both Charleston and Park City to serve a star-studded client list, this creative culinarian knows how to rise to a challenge.
Given the popularity of Pan-Asian cuisine, the highly artistic Brownell gravitated toward the intriguing, multilayered production Dogugaeshi, in which creator Basil Twist revives an ancient form of Japanese puppet theater. Crafting a pre-performance menu beyond sushi, Brownell balanced one hors d’oeuvre with two small plates and a dessert, so hosts can select a single dish or serve up the entire menu. Brownell also invited in longtime collaborator Boris Van Dyck from ICEBOX bar service, who fashioned a ginger-spiked saketini and a sake bar that would please even a Japanese expat. Their resulting East-meets-West
fusion set the stage splendidly for Dogugaeshi while honoring Spoleto’s spirit of invention.
B rownell notes that “Sambal Oelek gives just the right Asian kick to the golden purses,” which include Angus flank steak, sweet chili sauce, spring onions, and water chestnuts. This sauce, which originated in Malaysia, adds an intense bite with the flavors of freshly chopped chilies.
(It’s said to contain pepper combinations of habañero, bird’s-eye, Spanish, cayenne, Madame Jeanette, and Naga Jolokia.) Though you can make your own (recipes abound on the Internet), it’s so inexpensive that it hardly seems worth the effort.
Local greens take this salad from satisfying to sublime. Instead of the ubiquitous mixed greens found in plastic containers in every supermarket, look for bunches of fresh arugula, watercress, and delicate mixes of mesclun at a farmers market. Brownell also includes just-picked lemon basil for a garden-fresh note that will leave guests guessing.
An artistic chef with a flair for drawing and painting, Iverson likes to treat a plate like a blank canvas. “How the food appeals to your eye definitely effects how much you’re going to like it,” he says. “Look at what the watermelon radish brings to the salad. Beyond its unique delicacy of flavor, there’s its size and rainbow hue. It’s all about composition.”
An outdoorsman who was once featured on ESPN’s Offshore Adventures, Brownell likes to showcase seafood on his menus. “There has been some concern about the overfishing of black sea bass in the South Atlantic region,” he says. “Were sustainability to become an issue, I would substitute grouper for the sea bass in this dish.” He also notes that he’s a staunch advocate of Wild American Shrimp and supports the local industry by including their catch atop this dish.
“This is our riff on Pan-fusion bananas Foster,” Brownell says of this rolled combo of coconut cream, mint syrup, sweet lotus root, and spun sugar. “If you aren’t into bananas, other fruit fillings, such as a traditional apple pie, will work, too. Everyone likes a little something sweet at the end, and if you keep to the Japanese theme, it should be about fruit. It definitely isn’t going to be chocolate.”
Cook with the Chef
Chef Iverson Brownell of Iverson Catering will be leading a hands-on Asian Inspiration class at Charleston Cooks! Participants will learn how to prepare the artistic dishes that appear on the menu in the magazine’s May 2009 In Good Taste (“Orient Express,” page 112). Charleston Cooks! 194 East Bay St. May 27, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. $60. (843) 722-1212, www.mavericksouthernkitchens.com/cooks
- 5 oz. flank steak, diced small
- 2 Tbs. canola oil
- 16 chives
- 1 tsp. Sambal Oelek
- 1/2 cup goat cheese
- 3 tsp. finely diced spring onions
- 4 oz. canned water chestnuts, drained and diced
- 17 wonton wrappers (four-inch squares)
- 6 cups vegetable oil
- Salt, to taste
- 1 cup jarred plum sauce (available on grocery store Asian food aisle)
In a sauté pan, sear flank steak in canola oil for three minutes, then remove from heat. Lay on paper towels to dry and cool.
Blanch chives briefly in boiling water, then immediately immerse in cold water, dry, and set aside. In medium bowl, mix steak, Sambal Oelek, goat cheese, spring onions, and water chestnuts until well-blended.
Lay all but one wonton wrapper out next to each other on work surface. Place a spoonful of steak mixture into center of each wrapper. Bring opposing corners of wonton square together and pinch to form a “purse.” Tie shut using a blanched chive.
In a small, deep saucepan, heat vegetable oil to 350°F. Fry purses three or four at a time until golden brown and hot through, approximately two minutes. Sprinkle with salt.
Cut reserved wonton wrapper into thin strips. Fry the same way for additional garnish. Spread plum sauce underneath purses for flavor. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- 4 cups vegetable oil
- 1 4-oz. yucca root
- Vinaigrette dressing (see following recipe)
- 48 slices of watermelon radish
- 8 cups fresh greens, washed and drained
- 10 small lemon basil leaves
- 2 cups small diced kohlrabi (a type of cabbage with an edible stem)
- Wheatgrass, for garnish
- 2 Tbs. miso
- 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. water
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup minced green onions
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
In a heavy pan, heat vegetable oil to 350°F. Thinly slice yucca root and fry until crunchy, about 30 seconds. Set aside.
Pour small amount of vinaigrette on the bottoms of eight four-inch plates. Fan six radish slices out on each.
Place greens and lemon basil leaves in a bowl with the remaining vinaigrette and toss. Divide salad among plates, placing in center of radish circles. Put a few pieces of kohlrabi on each radish slice. Garnish with fried yucca root and wheatgrass.
Mix miso and mustard in bowl. Whisk in water and lemon juice. Stream in oil and whisk. Add ginger and green onions. Season.
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup mirin (a Japanese cooking wine)
- 3 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 8 2-oz. black sea bass fillets
- Salt and black pepper
- 16 oz. rice vermicelli noodles, al dente
- 16 medium Wild American Shrimp, peeled, deveined, and sautéed
- 2 cups sugar snap peas, blanched
- 1/2 stalk lemongrass, white center only
- 1 cup micro greens
- Fried taro chips
In small saucepan, simmer soy sauce and mirin until reduced by half. Set aside.
Heat vegetable oil in large sauté pan until it shimmers and slides easily across the pan and is almost smoking. Season sea bass fillets with salt and pepper. Working in batches, place them skin-side up into hot oil. Cook until fish is golden and easily releases from pan (about two to three minutes). Flip fillets and cook another two to three minutes.
While fish cooks, heat half of soy-mirin reduction in large pot. Add noodles and toss to coat. Make noodles into little nests on eight four-inch plates and top with seared fish. Skewer shrimp and place one skewer into each fillet. Divide sugar snap peas among plates and lightly drizzle with remaining soy-mirin reduction.
Lightly grate lemongrass over dish. Top fish with micro greens. Garnish with taro chips.
Al Dente Rice Vermicelli Noodles
16 oz. rice vermicelli noodles
Add noodles to boiling salted water and cook for about two minutes, or until dente. Strain and set aside.
Sautéed Wild American Shrimp
16 medium Wild American Shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and black pepper
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat vegetable oil in sauté pan, then sear shrimp in oil for about 45 seconds on each side, or until pink in color and firm. Set aside.
Blanched Sugar Snap Peas
2 cups sugar snap peas
In a pot of boiling water, blanch peas for about 45 seconds, then immerse in cold water to stop cooking, drain, and set aside.
Fried Taro Chips
1 4-oz. taro root
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
Thinly slice taro root. Heat vegetable oil in a sauté pan, then fry slices until crisp. Remove, season with salt, and set aside.
- 16 wonton skins
- Banana filling (see below)
- 1 egg
- 4 cups canola oil
- 1 lotus root, thinly sliced
- Powdered sugar
- Mint syrup, for garnish
- Spun sugar, for garnish
- Coconut cream sauce, for dipping
- 3 bananas, thickly sliced
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1/3 packed cup light brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 4 oz. dark rum
Lay wonton wrappers out next to each other on work surface. Spread a small spoonful of filling along top fourth of each wrapper. In a small bowl, whisk egg for one minute. Use pastry brush to apply a bit of egg around edges of each wrapper. Roll wrapper over filling and keep loosely rolling to the end, sealing edges.
In small pot, heat oil to 375°F. Fry lotus root slices until crisp. Remove and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Set aside. Gently place filled wrappers in same hot oil. Cook until golden and crispy, about three minutes. Remove, pat dry, and slice into bite-size pieces.
Arrange spring rolls on serving plate. Drizzle mint syrup around edge of plate, then garnish with spun sugar. Serve with coconut sauce.
Cook bananas, butter, and sugar in sauté pan over medium heat until sugar begins to caramelize. Move pan off burner, then add vanilla and rum. Replace pan on stove, taking care to stand back, as rum will ignite and produce small flame until alcohol cooks out. Remove pan from heat and allow bananas to cool, then use two forks to crush them into a paste.
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 packed cup mint leaves
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and simmer until reduced by half. Remove from heat, add mint leaves, and steep for two hours. Strain and refrigerate.
1 cup sugar
Place sugar in small pan over medium heat, stirring until it forms a liquid, roughly 20 minutes. (Using a wooden spoon tends to break down the sugar faster.) Once liquid, drizzle over parchment paper, making any designs you wish. Allow to harden, which happens almost instantly, then set aside. (Be sure not to touch the sugar, as it reaches 365°F and will badly burn you.)
Coconut Cream Sauce
1 cup Coco Lopez
2 Tbs. chopped lemongrass
Put Coco Lopez and lemongrass in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and remove from heat. Allow lemongrass to steep for two hours. Strain and keep at room temperature.
- 1 1/2 oz. sake
- 3/4 oz. Domaine de Canton (ginger liqueur)
- 1/4 oz. Cointreau
- 2 oz. fresh mandarin juice
- 1 tsp. grenadine
Candied ginger slice, for garnish
Fresh mandarin slice, for garnish
Place all ingredients except garnish in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into chilled martini glass (or serve on the rocks). Garnish with ginger and mandarin slices.
Styled by Kathy Aydlett