In the years before we agreed to produce this cookbook, I had worked occasionally with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and eaten at his restaurants more times than I could count, so I was prepared for both the brilliance of his food and his pleasant demeanor. Yet during our year of cooking together and assembling this book, Jean-Georges never failed to surprise me, with his fierce determination to always get things right, his quick and sparkling wit, his supreme confidence at the stove, and his warmth toward and respect for his employees and fellow workers. For those readers who have not had close encounters with chefs, let me assure you that this is an unusual, if not unique, combination.
That same phrase--"unusual, if not unique"--best serves to describe Jean-Georges's food. It's generally agreed among food writers, restaurant critics, and loyal customers that his cooking is highly creative without being weird, and intensely flavorful despite its simplicity. It is sometimes described as "intellectual" food, which implies that a certain understanding of food and cooking is necessary in order to appreciate what Jean-Georges does. This is utter nonsense: Jean-Georges's combinations are novel, brilliant, even startling, but they are instantly appealing to anyone who likes to eat and is willing to sample new flavors.
Best yet, Jean-Georges's recipes are readily accessible to the home cook; in fact, most of them are easy. When we agreed to work together, I challenged him to preserve the flavors of his food while making the recipes simple enough for home cooks to prepare. His response at the time was immediate: "We don't have to do anything; the food is easy already," and he patiently walked me through the restaurants' menus, discussing each dish and detailing how they were assembled. And, with very few exceptions, the recipes sounded as if they could be taken straight from the kitchens of his three restaurants, Vong, Jean Georges, and JoJo (where the kitchen is, in fact, no bigger than the average home kitchen), and executed at home.
At the end of the day, we were both surprised at how few compromises were necessary to adapt these recipes to the home kitchen. (In fact, we discovered many changes we could make to actually improve the recipes, given the flexibility of the home cook compared to that of the restaurant cook.) Perhaps this was to be expected, because although he has reached the top level of his profession, Jean-Georges is a home cook at heart. His first teacher was his mother, he has a solid grounding in peasant food, he loves simple, intense flavors (and a whole range of textures), and he is constantly striving to make things easier. In the '80s, when he had a reputation to earn, he spent days preparing elaborate oils and combinations of oils. Now he achieves the same flavors by combining herbs and spices in the saucepan, skillet, or blender. Or he makes uncommon sauces, sometimes with common ingredients--like capers and raisins. "It seems to get simpler and easier," he says.
Jean-Georges is always on to something new, and what he tries usually works; he amasses concepts the way other chefs do recipes, and he never stops experimenting with new flavors. For him even failure breeds success: "I cannot know the best use for a flavor until I try it in every way that might make sense," he says.
But he doesn't like to fuss. Like any busy cook, he looks for shortcuts, and he finds them. He is full of delightful surprises, and, regardless of whether you are familiar with his cooking, you will find those surprises throughout this book.
In short, this is one chef's book that should serve to delight rather than frustrate you. I intend to continue to cook from it for years to come.
--M.L. BittmanSimmered Carrots With Cumin And OrangeThis slow-cooking technique (Jean-Georges calls the result a
confit) intensifies the flavor of the carrots. And you can make this dish days in advance; just refrigerate, then reheat--even in a microwave. Add the lemon juice and cilantro at the last minute.
Jean-Georges serves this almost as a sauce with unsauced steamed fish or with SautÚed Chicken with Green Olives and Cilantro.
1 pound carrots, the fresher the better, preferably about 3/4 inch at their thickest part and 6 to 8 inches long
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (not ground cumin)
1 teaspoon grated or minced orange zest
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1. Trim and peel the carrots; leave them whole if they are the size recommended above (if your carrots are bigger, peel them and cut them into chunks or in half the long way). Select a saucepan large enough to hold them, and place the cumin, orange zest, garlic, oil, salt, sugar, and orange juice in it. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring.
2. Add the carrots, cover, and turn the heat to low. The mixture should be bubbling gently, not vigorously, whenever you remove the cover. Cook, virtually undisturbed (you can check the progress if you like) for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the carrots are very tender but not yet falling apart.
3. Gently stir the lime juice into the carrots. Sprinkle with cilantro, stir once, and serve.Sautéed Chicken with Green Olives and CilantroJean-Georges developed this dish after a vacation in Morocco, and its flavor is certainly evocative of North Africa. This sauce can be used with sautÚed boneless, skinless chicken breasts. But try it this way if you can--the sauce combines beautifully with the crisp skin of the chicken.
Simmered Carrots with Cumin and Orange sets this dish off nicely.
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2-inch piece cinnamon
A few strands of saffron or 1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric
2 cups Rich Chicken Stock or other stock
2 tablespoons peanut or neutral-flavored oil, such as canola
One 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut up for sautÚing (page 193)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced green olives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 500 F. Place 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, cinnamon, saffron or turmeric, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the stock and increase the heat to high; cook, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the chicken. When the liquid has reduced by about three-quarters and becomes syrupy, turn off the heat.
2. Heat the peanut or other oil in a large, preferably nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the skillet, skin side down, and cook undisturbed until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Turn over and cook on the other side for about 2 minutes. Turn over so the skin is down again, and place the skillet in the oven. Check it after 15 minutes, and remove the pieces as they are cooked through (the breasts will be cooked before the legs; keep them warm).
3. When the chicken is just about done, finish the sauce: Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil, the olives, and some salt (not too much--the olives are salty) and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and cilantro. Remove the cinnamon stick.
4. To serve, arrange the chicken on 4 plates. Spoon the sauce around it, not over it, so the chicken stays crunchy.Rich Chicken StockA stock in which nothing is chopped or browned. This has the mild but rich flavor of chicken and vegetables, but none of the dark, roasted complexity of Dark Chicken Stock.
1 medium onion, peeled
3 garlic cloves, cut in half
2 pounds chicken wings
1 carrot, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 celery stalk
3 or 4 thyme sprigs
1 leek, trimmed and washed
1. Stud the onion with the cloves, then combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan or small stockpot with 10 cups water. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. As soon as bubbles start coming to the surface, adjust the heat so that the mixture cooks at a steady simmer, but not a rapid boil.
2. Cook for about 11/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly, then strain, pressing lightly on the solids to extract some of their liquid (don't press too hard or you will cloud the mixture unnecessarily). Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.Pear Clafouti with Star AniseIf those who attack French chefs for using Asian ingredients in traditional French foods tasted this dish, they'd faint.
The addition of star anise converts this home-style French dessert--essentially sweet pancake batter and fruit--into something exotic.
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, one half reserved for another use
1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons flour, plus a little for dusting the pan
3/4 cup cream, crÞme fra¯che, or plain yogurt
3/4 cup milk
3 star anise, ground in a coffee grinder
1 teaspoon butter
4 ripe pears, about 6 ounces each, peeled
1 teaspoon pear eau du vie or brandy (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Scrape the tiny seeds from one half of the vanilla bean.
2. Beat the eggs with the vanilla seeds until frothy. Add the granulated sugar and beat with a whisk or hand or electric mixer until foamy and fairly thick.
3. Add the flour and continue to beat until thick and smooth. Add the cream, crÞme fra¯che, or yogurt, milk, anise, and salt. Let rest while you prepare the pears and the baking dish.
4. Choose a 9 x 5 x 2-inch gratin dish or a 10-inch round deep pie plate or porcelain dish and smear it with the butter. Dust it with flour, rotating the pan so the flour sticks to all the butter, then inverting the dish to get rid of excess flour.
5. Cut the pears into sixths or eighths, remove the cores, and layer them attractively in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle them with eau du vie, if you like. Pour the batter over, leaving just a little of the tops of the pears peeking through.
6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the clafouti is nicely browned on top and a knife inserted into it comes out clean. Sift some confectioners' sugar over it and serve warm or at room temperature.
Excerpted from Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Copyright © 1998 by Jean Georges Vongerichten. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.