Chefs spend all week planning and overseeing the execution of elaborate dishes for the pleasure of the dining public. We have often wondered, what do chefs cook, eat and pour on their days off? In this new series, Chefs Cook at Home, we'll visit the personal kitchens of some of our favorite chefs, to see—and taste—what they're up to in their downtime.
Luke Venner, executive chef at New York's BLT Fish, is clearly skilled with seafood. But on Sundays at home, the Colorado native returns to his roots.
"Saturday nights, we would go out for steak, baked potato, steamed broccoli," said Venner, an alum of REDD in Yountville, Calif., Larkspur in Vail, Colo., and Millwright's in Simsbury, Conn. "That's how I grew up. There's a soft spot in my heart for that, so on my day off, I cook a lot of meat. I work with seafood all week long, so it's not uncommon for me to want a hamburger or short ribs or a pork chop."
On one such Sunday in early fall, a walk through Venner's local farmers market yielded the inspiration and nearly all the ingredients necessary for the stew recipe he has shared below. "I had invited some friends over to watch a football game. On my way through the market, I saw all of these great peppers—it was the biggest pepper day that I'd seen. I gathered all these different ones, then bought the short ribs, the corn, potatoes, onions and herbs. I wanted to make a perfect, quintessential Sunday meal, where I could get it going in one pot, put it in the oven for a few hours, relax and have it ready for game time."
The stew as Venner made it that day reflected what was in season in the Northeast in early fall, but its structure lends itself to the kinds of substitutions that winter requires. If fresh shishito or padron peppers prove elusive, a combination of medium-spicy poblanos and sweet, mild cubanelles will provide the green chile flavor that gives the recipe its character. Removing the core and seeds from some or all of the poblanos will temper their spiciness considerably; this can help simplify the question of a red wine match, which was also very much on Venner's mind as he conceived of the dish.
"Although it was a football Sunday, we didn't want to drink beer. I started out with the idea of making a red wine dish, so that informed my thought process as I shopped," said Venner, whose taste runs to Rhône reds. On the advice of the staff at his local wine shop, Brooklyn's Slope Cellars, he paired the stew with a Chilean Carignan, the Louis-Antoine Luyt Carignan Empedrado Trequilemu 2010. Luyt is a Beaujolais native, and those roots shine through in his use of carbonic maceration. The red and black berry flavors in the wine created a pleasant contrast with the green pepper and corn in the stew, while the richness provided by the beef and the strong stock made a match with the powerful, concentrated and inky nature of pure Carignan. And Carignan's typically spicy finish echoes the gentle heat imparted by the peppers.
"I put a lot of meat in this dish," said Venner, "and it ended up being a pretty stick-to-your ribs, intense bowl of food, and I really think the robust Carignan helps balance all that out."
Recipe courtesy of chef Luke Venner, BLT Fish, NYC
Chef's Wine Pick: Louis-Antoine Luyt Carignan Empedrado Trequilemu 2010
Wine Spectator Alternates: Château Maris Carignan Coteaux de Peyriac 2012 (89, $14)
Tortoise Creek Carignan Pays d'Hérault Vieilles Vignes 2012 (85 points, $12)
Equipment: Large, ovenproof pot, parchment paper for a lid, tongs, wooden spoon, ladle
1. Preheat the oven to 300° F. Invert a large, ovenproof pot on a sheet of parchment paper, trace the shape of the pot with a pencil, and cut out the circle, to be used later as a lid. (You may substitute aluminum foil or an ovenproof lid.)
2. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Brown the meat on all sides, working in batches to avoid overcrowding. As the meat is browned, remove and transfer to a bowl or plate until all the meat is done. You may wish to pour off some of the excess fat at this stage.
3. Add the peppers to the hot pan and cook them over medium-high heat on both sides for 3 to 5 minutes, until the skin has been blistered. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onions and garlic. Add a pinch of salt to release some of the juices from the onions. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge the browned bits.
4. Return the meat to the pan and add the stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover with the parchment paper lid and braise in the oven for 90 minutes.
5. Remove the pot from the oven, add the potatoes and return to the oven for another 60 to 90 minutes, at which point the meat should be very tender and starting to break down in the broth. Remove from the oven and stir in the corn or hominy and the oregano. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Use a ladle to skim off the fat if desired. If making a day ahead: Transfer the stew to another container to cool slightly, then refrigerate. Before reheating, skim off and discard the solid fat cap. Reheat gently and adjust seasoning if desired. Serves 6 to 8.