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 series, Chefs Cook at Home, we visit the personal kitchens of some of our favorite chefs, to see—and taste—what they're up to in their downtime.
"This time of year I never want to turn the oven on at home, so I do a lot of food on the grill," says Nicole Pederson, executive chef at Found Kitchen and Social House in Evanston, Ill. Her day-off dinner strategy is a common one, though she brings a chef's edge to the plate, finding a handful of ways to amp up the flavor in her deceptively simple recipe for grilled pork chops and peaches. The chops are tenderized in a brine that includes piquant green coriander seeds, for example, and the green harissa, sure to become a back-pocket recipe, takes on a round, mellow garlic tang after the cloves are toasted in a dry skillet.
"I'm obsessed with all things harissa, and this one is so easy, because you only have to cook the garlic," says Pederson, who studied culinary arts at the Art Institute in her hometown of Minneapolis, and cooked at Hotel Bellevue in southwest France, La Tour in Vail, Colo., and New York's Gramercy Tavern before moving to Chicago. Once there, she spent time in the kitchen at Lula Cafe and C-House restaurant, then helped to open Found, with Amy Morton, daughter of legendary steakhouse owner Arnie Morton.
Pederson suggests grilling freshly picked corn on the cob to go along with this meal, and pouring a Muscat d'Alsace to echo the sweetness of the peaches and mellow out the herbaceous, spicy harissa. A dry or off-dry Riesling from Alsace or the Finger Lakes would also be at home at this table.
Recipe courtesy of Nicole Pederson, executive chef of Found Kitchen and Social House, Evanston, Ill.
Nicole Pederson's Wine Pick: Paul Blanck Muscat D'Alsace 2012
Wine Spectator Alternates: Keuntz-Bas Alsace 2011 (86, $18)
Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 2012 (89, $15)
Thirsty Owl Riesling Finger Lakes 2012 (88, $15)
For brining the pork chops:
Combine all ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Place the chops in a nonreactive casserole dish and pour the brine over. Cover and refrigerate for no more than 2 hours. Remove chops from refrigerator about 15 to 20 minutes before grilling.
For the green harissa:
1. Heat a dry skillet over high heat and add the garlic cloves. Toast, turning with tongs, until dark brown and tender.
2. Transfer the garlic to a blender, along with the peppers, seeds and vinegar, and blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the herbs and blend until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. With the motor running on low speed, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Season the harissa with salt to taste. Makes about 3 cups. Note: You may store any excess harissa, covered and refrigerated, for up to two weeks. It makes a great condiment for eggs, steak, chicken, beans or steamed vegetables.
To finish the dish:
1. Preheat the grill or a grill pan to medium-high heat.
2. Remove the chops from the brine, brush off any whole peppercorns or seeds on the surface, and pat dry with paper towels. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Rub the cut surface of each peach half with a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Cook the chops on the grill for about 6 minutes per side. Cook the peaches on the grill, cut side down, for about 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Serve each chop atop a spoonful of the harissa, with peaches alongside. Serves 4.