Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Planning the first meal (or; which was overcooked first, the chicken or the egg?)

36 hours from now and I’ll be living aboard the boat. My start date has been postponed twice now because of rain delaying work on the boat, but it looks as if Thursday it is actually going to happen and the big day couldn’t come any sooner.

I’ve slept about 3 or 4 hours a night over the past week because every time I lay my head down on the pillow I begin to go through the lists in my mind of what I should bring; what ingredients I need to find here because it may not be available in the Caribbean; menus of what to make for the crossing, etc. I then end up sitting at my computer ‘til the wee hours of the morning working on my lists and pulling out items from my house that I want to take with me…

One thing that is a minor source of anxiety is that I have yet to cook for anyone on the boat; not Dario, not the crew, nobody! Dario said that he assumed I could cook because of my resume, so he was more interested in interviewing me to find out if my personality would work aboard the boat. Of course, I was flattered that he hired me on my word alone, but now I actually have moments of panic when I begin to think about cooking for him and the crew. Not that I can’t do it, but will they like my style of cooking? Will they enjoy what I’ve made? I’m a little nervous about what I’m going to prepare for them for our first meal together on Thursday. I have no idea how my day is going to go, what shopping I’ll be able to get done (since I’ll be all the way out in Staten Island), or what I’ll have available to me. Dario and crew love Asian food, so this is the menu I would like to prepare for their first meal:

Steamed Mussels in Green Curry and Coconut Milk
Chinese Black Rice with Ginger and Scallions
Bok Choy with Sesame Oil
Soy Poached Chicken

The soy poached chicken dish was prepared for me recently by a chef friend of mine who was doing a cooking demonstration for Gourmet Magazine. He made a broth with soy sauce, dry sherry, scallions, ginger, orange zest, brown sugar and some spices; then brought it to a simmer on the stove top; placed a quartered chicken in the broth and let it simmer for 15 minutes. He then turned the chicken parts over, covered the pot and turned the heat OFF on the stove and let the chicken sit in it’s aromatic soy bath for another 30 minutes. The final product was the juiciest, most flavorful chicken I’ve ever eaten.

Being a chef, and I think a lot of chef’s share this, I tend to get “chickened” out. Not only have I de-boned several hundred, if not a thousand, chickens throughout my career; it is also the most served, and most mistreated item for staff meal at every restaurant I’ve ever worked. When I was in Napa, our staff meals often consisted of the vegetable matter strained out of the stock pot, combined with some hacked up chicken parts, and white rice. Most of us held out and took our calories in beer at the end of the night… In Paris there was a young apprentice, about 14 years of age, named Fabrice and he was responsible for our staff meals which alternated between burnt rice and raw chicken; or raw rice and burnt chicken (and you thought the French were all born cooks!). Order a salad with grilled chicken from your average, or even above average, lunch place in New York City and what you’ll get is something resembling sliced up, grill-marked rubber bands. Really, chicken in this country could be served as a bar snack. It’s usually so overcooked you need four martinis just to choke it down… The “food safety” police have stripped the poor bird, and its offspring the egg (the second most overcooked food in America), of any trace of dignity.

But, the poached chicken I had the other night restored my faith in the bird. And besides, for the most part, the crew isn’t American so they won’t mind their chicken juicy and cooked properly…

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