Well, it is definitely fall. To most people this is the beginning of close family events and memories. A time when we begin to hunker down for a winter season and start to fill our pantry with those ingredients that are unique to the season. From a chef’s perspective it is the time for “real” cooking and the best opportunity to earn a profit.
In a previous post I talked about the challenges surrounding profitability when so many restaurants focus on high cost, center of the plate ingredients. Steaks, chops and premier seafood items are not only difficult to make money with; they are also those items that truly take the least amount of cooking skill to prepare (no offense to all of those exceptional grill cooks that work in restaurants).
Fall and winter bring out opportunities for roasting; braising and poaching that require an acute understanding of seasoning, development of stocks, broths, braising liquids and marinades. Slow cooking gives a cook ample opportunity to draw out the flavor from a dish whether it is protein, vegetable or even fruit. Chefs begin to integrate compotes and chutneys as complements to the dishes they place on menus and introduce rich flavors that have been missing since the beginning of spring.
Root vegetables and squash are not prevalent so restaurants can introduce butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash; parsnips and turnips; red, golden and candy cane beets. These full flavored fall vegetables take on robust flavors when roasted, braised or stewed.
Chefs are now able to work with other cuts of meat and game as well as lesser-known varieties of fish that work extremely well with roasting, poaching and braising. These slow cooking methods of cooking are too hearty for the spring and summer months. Briskets, shoulder, and shanks have a significantly lower price point than center cut steaks and chops, and these colder month methods of cooking allow accomplished cooks to work with oilier fish, whole fish for roasting, and fish stews like bouillabaisse and cioppino. Moving away from higher cost lobster, scallops, swordfish, and tuna will open the door for restaurants to generate a higher rate of return without sacrificing quality and flavor.
The profitability of a restaurant does evolve around menu and chefs who understand how to work with the seasonality of ingredients and coax flavor and value from them is a chef who positions the restaurant for ultimate financial success. This is the chef’s job.
*Sear the cut of meat that you choose to use. This caramelization enhances the flavor of the protein and adds depth to the fond in the pan – a flavor enhancement for your braising liquid.
*Roast a mirepoix (2 parts of onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery) and add to the seared protein in a deep rondo or roasting pan.
*Deglaze the pan used for searing the protein with a dry red wine.
*Add enough braising liquid (appropriate stock) to cover the meat half-way.
*Season with salt and pepper, add fresh herbs (thyme and bay work for most meats, sometimes rosemary and mint – especially with lamb), cover with silicon paper and foil and braise in a slow oven (300 degrees F.) for typically 3-5 hours depending on the size of the protein, until fork tender.
In a restaurant, this can take place a day or two in advance. The line cook would simply re-heat the protein in a small amount of stock and finish with a sauce derived from straining and thickening the liquid from the original braise.
**NOTE: The picture in this post is of Osso Buco prepared by Executive Chef Christian Kruse from Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes, Vermont.