Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why Aren't You Using Chili Threads?

I always learn a lot when I attend Collaboration Kitchen at Catalina Offshore Products, but it's the small unusual stuff that I'm exposed to that tickles me the most. Last month's Collaboration Kitchen featured Cafe Chloe's new chef Devon Junkin and he created a variety of wonderful, very accessible seafood dishes for the crowd. There's not one that I can't see myself making in my kitchen, from the delightful Hamachi Crudo with its crunchy apple and radish slaw to the divine Nicoise Salad and Bouillabaisse. But the folks I was surrounded by did double and triple takes when we were brought the Seabass with Vegetable Nage. Yes, the dish was warming and packed with lovely flavors--but what we were all spellbound by were the skinny long red threads perched atop the seabass filet. Chili threads.

All of us had to have them. Had to know where we could get them. Very simply, they were the coolest garnish ever.

I did a bit of research on them and found that they're Korean in origin so I got in touch with my friend Debbie Lee, an L.A.-based Korean-American chef and the author of Seoultown Kitchen. Debbie said, "Oh, you mean Silgochu! Yes, they are basically shredded from the pepper and dried. They can be very spicy as well. I use them to enhance soups, stews, and often use inside my Jeon items to add color and a kick of heat. My grandmother put them in her celebratory mung bean pancakes as well." (Jeon-style refers to dishes that are dredged in flour, then dipped in egg batter and fried.)

The threads can be found at Specialty Produce, but also at Korean markets and online spice shops. I bought a bag of them at Zion Market  for less than three dollars. They aren't crispy--more like elongated saffron threads. I tried toasting them, but they burn quickly. Toasting brought out some pepper aroma and a bit of heat, but I don't think you need to toast them and Debbie said she doesn't.

I added the chili threads to a luxurious cauliflower soup my friend Candy Wallace gave me. They added color and a little bite at the back of the throat to the creamy texture. They make even scrambled eggs look ravishing. I even found a delightful sounding recipe for warm rosemary olives with chili threads on the blog Feasting at Home. You can get even more ideas on Pinterest.

But, how about enjoying Devon Junkin's lovely Seabass with Vegetable Nage? It's a perfect cold-weather meal, thanks to the sauteed savoy cabbage and that dreamy light broth that makes the nage.

Seabass with Vegetable Nage
from Devon Junkin of Cafe Chloe
(printable recipe)

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 pounds seabass filets, skin on
1 savoy cabbage, sliced
3 yellow onions, 2 of them sliced
2 turnips, sliced
2 celery roots, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1/2 pound butter
1 cup white wine
Chili threads

For the nage:
Sweat down two onions, the turnips, celery root, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns in two tablespoons butter. Add wine and reduced by half. Add one gallon of water, bring the nage to a simmer, and cook for one hour. Season and strain through a chinois. Slowly whisk in all but two tablespoons of the remaining butter.

Pre-heat oven to 350° F.

For the cabbage:
Cut out the cor and cut the cabbage into long strips. Julienne the remaining onion and sweat down in two tablespoons butter. Add the cabbage and sweat down. Add one cup of the nage, season, and cook until the cabbage is tender.

Sear the seabass, skin side down, until crispy. Flip and finish in the oven.

In a shallow bowl, add the cabbage and nage. Top with sea bass and garnish with chili threads.

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