Twenty years ago I lived near Palm Springs, California, and I have loved the desert ever since. I have just returned from a few days at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort in Indian Wells, CA. Beautiful hotel, impressive grounds and a pretty talented group of chefs. So who let the monkey in and what the heck is deep-fried Pepsi? I’ll get to that in a minute.
As I’ve said in the past, catering often is the most fun for chefs in hotels. Faced with logistic challenges and pulling off culinary miracles in places far removed from any kitchen, this is especially true of chefs like Greg Picard at Esmeralda and other large resorts. I have seen many so called “celebrity chefs” completely melt down from the pressures of feeding as few as 200 people at once, though still willing to take the final bow for a flawless dinner. Truthfully, preparation of so many simultaneous meals usually exceeds their capability, leaving it to the culinarians like Greg and his crew to actually cook the food. And that is just for one meal, what about the rest of the day? That’s another blog though.
Back the monkey story. We had all of the meals figured out for the conference, the reason I was there. Breakfasts were on the lawn, perfect with the morning sun peeking out from behind the Santa Rosa Mountains and the soft whirl of fresh juices being freshly squeezed. The gala dinner was planned and in good shape, but all attention was on the State Fair. State Fair? Are you kidding? Sure, we can try something different, but can we pull off a real State Fair with fair food that actually tastes great? Absolutely.
Picture this: a Ferris wheel, winnable stuffed animal carnival games, fortune tellers and jugglers…and a monkey. Cute little lady with great manners. According to the meeting planners, it was thought a monkey would be easier to deal with than the elephant originally planned. Wise choice if you ask me.
Back to the food. Using the idea of the classic smoke-wagon as inspiration, we planned a menu around slow, smoke roasted beef rib over desert citrus wood. I wanted untrimmed, full rib-bone prime ribs with at least 21 days of age for ultimate tenderness and flavor. It took awhile, but when the huge ribs arrived, we knew we were on to something. Rib bones nearly two feet long, these were prime ribs with the short ribs still attached! All it took was a generous coating of sea salt, cracked pepper, thyme, rosemary and garlic coupled with 6 hours of 250 degree smoke to finish this perfection-on-the-bone. Oh, and of course a double stuffed baked organic russet with 3 year cheddar and Strauss Farms sour cream. To that, we added a glistening Char Siew BBQ roast Niman Ranch Pork loin, grilled in-the-shell and “the size of your hand” king prawns with a simple but tasty citrus tarragon butter, 12 hour brined organic chicken in lemon thyme, salt & pepper grilled tuna, side dishes and sauces to customize. Great, now let’s make some fair food, stop taking ourselves so seriously and have some fun!
First on the list: corn dogs. We corn dogged Kobe beef sausage, lobster sausage, and pulled beef on a stick. All of the salads were done in individual shakers, except a Bulgarian feta and cucumber, which was served in a still warm pita bowl so that could travel around the fair grounds with your salad, and then just eat the bowl. Kennebec potatoes were cut for fries either sea salted or the mother lode, finished with bacon, scallions, tomatoes, ranch dressing, cheese sauce and jalapenos. It got even better at the dessert wagon, with the typical funnel cakes ratcheted up with fresh stone fruits, lightly whipped organic cream, bittersweet chocolate and caramel sauces.
Arguably the best was still to come. Delicate house made gelatos were offered with…deep fried Pepsi! Sounds odd, but if you make a classic pate au choux, using Pepsi in lieu of water, the resulting batter when fried will have the texture of a beignet with the flavor of Pepsi. Dusted with powdered sugar, this was State Fair heaven…for some anyway. Thankfully the gym will always be there tomorrow.
Fair food was on my plate today…what’s on YOURS?
Recipe for 12 hour brined Lemon Thyme Organic Chicken
Should feed: 4
Two each 3-4 LB whole Organic chickens
3 each lemons, zested and halved
12 each thyme, 4” branches
1 cup white onion, rough sliced
1 qt water
½ cup kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
2 qts ice water
1 tsp course ground black pepper
½ + ¼ cup good olive oil
How to do it:
1. Do ahead. Using a sharp knife, cut the chickens in half in order to remove the breast and back bones. Carefully follow the rib bones, removing them and finally the thigh bone, leaving only the leg and wing bones intact. Keep chilled.
2. Using a microplane or zester, scrape the lemon zest into two equal portions. Squeeze enough lemon juice to reserve 2 tablespoons.
3. Toss the lemon halves with the sliced onions, thyme, and ½ cup olive oil. Place into a shallow pan, roast in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until the lemons are softened and the onions have started to brown.
4. While the onions roast, bring the one quart of water to boil, then add the salt and sugar. Stir to dissolve, remove from the heat. Add half of the lemon zest.
5. Pour the ice water into the salt solution. Add the entire contents of the roasted lemon-onion-thyme mixture. Bring the brine temperature to below 40F (an ice bath works well).
6. Approximately 12 hours before cooking, pour the brine over the semi-boneless chickens, discard the brine. Keep refrigerated.
7. For service: Remove the chickens, wiping off any brine. Do not rinse. Lightly coat with remaining ¼ cup of olive oil, the remaining lemon zest and the reserved lemon juice. Liberally season with ground black pepper.
8. Using a preheated, clean, well oiled grill, grill the chickens skin side first for 5 minutes and then 4-8 minutes on the bone side, depending on how thick the breasts are.
Alternatively, these can be pan roasted by searing skin side first in a hot pan before placing chick, pan and all, in a hot oven to roast.
9. Finished when the skin is crispy and the thickest part of the leg and breast read 165F, let the birds rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
Deep Fried Pepsi
Should feed: 4
1 ¼ cups Pepsi
¾ cup W hole butter, unsalted
½ tsp Salt
1 ½ cups Flour
6 Whole eggs
How to do it:
1. Place Pepsi and butter in tall sided sauce pot. Bring to a boil.
2. Add the salt and the flour all at once time, beating together over medium heat until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot smoothly
3. Transfer to an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beating in the eggs added one at a time, adding each one only after the last has been incorporated. Batter should be stiff enough to hold stiff peaks.
4. Place the batter into a piping bag or small bowl.
5. Heat 4” oil for frying (peanut oil works the best, but Canola is also satisfactory), in a high sided pot or deep fryer to 360F.
6. CAREFULLY drop ½”x 2” lengths or small quenelles (oblong balls) into the hot oil. Fry until a deep gold brown. Generally, the dough will be fully cooked 3-4 minutes after having risen to the surface of the oil.
7. Scoop out the cooked Pepsi, draining excess oil, dust liberally with powdered sugar and serve as is, or make it a fried Pepsi Float with the addition of ice cream!
What an Event, and what a Great Brined Chicken Recipe...
Thanks for Sharing.
SO...what is deep-fried pepsi????
-Maria Jose Rojas
Fried Pepsi? Now I've heard it all.
-I Luv Cooking