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.
Barclay Stratton is chef de cuisine at Merchant's in Nashville, Tenn., housed in an historic building that was once a hotel and, before that, a pharmacy and wholesale drug company that produced an alcohol- and opium-based "curative." Today, the restaurant serves casual bistro-style fare on the first floor and a lightly Southern-inflected fine dining menu on the second floor, which is Stratton's domain. The wine list has just under 200 selections, with an emphasis on food-friendly California wines.
"I try to cook at home as much as possible, even on my days off," says Stratton, who, prior to joining Merchants, honed his skills at Ristorante degli Arche in Tuscany, Blue Hill in New York City and Lenoir in Austin, Texas. "I always feel a need to provide a pleasurable meal or experience for friends, family or even myself. I definitely get satisfaction and even a period of relaxation from cooking just for myself." As a well-traveled Texas native, Stratton both staves off homesickness and recalls past travels through his cooking.
"In Texas, cabrito (goat) is commonly eaten at taquerias and family Tex-Mex joints. I've eaten goat meat for as long as I can remember," says Stratton. "I really enjoy cooking with North African ingredients and flavors at home. This dish, with the harissa and spices, marries my love for those products with my experience living in Tuscany and cooking a hearty ragù with pappardelle." He adds that you may substitute lamb for the goat meat in the recipe.
On his days off, Stratton also tries to make time to check out the competition, which grows ever more intense as Nashville's culinary profile continues to rise. "I tend to go to places that I wish I had been the chef of at some point. I get a little jealous, but it inspires me to keep pushing and get better every day."
Recipe courtesy of chef Barclay Stratton of Merchant's Restaurant, Nashville, Tenn.
Wine Director Matt Tocco's Wine Pick: Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Ynez Valley Black Bear Block 2005 (92, $58)
Wine Spectator Alternates: Beckmen Syrah Santa Ynez Valley 2011 (88, $25)
Austin Hope Syrah Paso Robles Hope Family Vineyard 2012 (89, $42)
For the marinade:
Combine the harissa, spices and salt, and stir together to form a paste. Rub the meat all over with the mixture and let sit for at least 8 hours, refrigerated.
For the braise, and to finish:
1. Heat half the olive oil in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat. Brown the meat evenly on all sides, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Remove the meat to a plate, drain off any excess oil and add the remaining olive oil.
2. Add the onion and ginger to the pan and cook over medium heat, scraping with a wooden spoon to dislodge browned bits. Once the onions begin to brown, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add red wine and cook until it is reduced and glazes the vegetables. Add the tomatoes and preserved lemon and return the meat to the pan. Add water to just cover the meat and bring to a boil.
3. Cover the pan and simmer on low for 1 1/2 to 3 hours, checking the meat every 30 minutes after the first 90 minutes, until it is tender and falling apart. Add more harissa to the sauce if desired, depending on your taste for heat and spice.
4. Bring the mixture back to a boil to reduce the sauce, then stir in the kale and butter. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil and season it with salt. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until it is not quite al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of cooking liquid, and add it to the pan with the braised meat and sauce. Toss all ingredients together, adding some of the reserved pasta water if necessary to keep the mixture loose. Serve in pasta bowls, with extra preserved lemon alongside if desired. Serves 8 to 12.