It doesn’t take much to come to the conclusion that cabbage is pretty boring. The flavor isn’t that interesting, if you cook it wrong it reminds one of garbage, and it’s not the first ingredient to come to mind when you think of gourmet cuisine. Cabbage is not an easy ingredient. That may be why when the Iron Chef America theme ingredient was announced as cabbage Bobby Flay looked a bit ticked off. On the other hand, challenger David Kinch had a look of inevitable victory on his face during. As we now know, Chef Kinch completely dominated the battle and sent Iron Chef Flay to defeat. Last Sunday Chef Kinch recreated the dishes for his fans.
Mrs. Salad Is Slaughter does not like cabbage. And she absolutely despises brussels sprouts. So of course we were paying top dollar for a meal featuring cabbage in every course, and one dish that also contained brussels sprouts. But when we were watching the show she kept commenting, “yeah, I’d eat that.” We would soon find out if she could trust her eyes. The dinner wasn’t exactly as prepared in Kitchen Stadium, and I’ll point out the changes when I know them.
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Chef Kinch added an amuse not served in Kitchen Stadium to start things off for us. It was kind of a nod to the corned beef and cabbage dish that Bobby Flay prepared for the battle, only this was pastrami and eggs. All you need is one word to describe this dish: “wow.” It was the absolutely best pastrami I’ve ever eaten. It had an amazing flavor, perfectly spiced, very little fat, and was the ideal of what pastrami is supposed to taste like. When the chef came out after our meal I asked him how long it took to make the pastrami. He said 5 days. It was 5 days well spent.
I usually avoid eggs, but these scrambled eggs were light and fluffy and tasted pretty good. They went well with the pastrami.
I like when a sommelier goes off the board for just the right wine pairing, and this time he not only went off the board, he left the wine cellar. The pastrami and eggs was paired with Hitachino Nest Beer Belgium White Ale. Not only was it a perfect pairing, it was one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted.
The first dish from Battle Cabbage was the salad of sea bream and geoduck clam, toasted sesame, seaweed, and mushroom. The sea bream and geoduck clam brought some pretty strong flavors to the dish but didn’t overpower the cabbage flavor. The toasted sesame seeds really seemed to bring the cabbage to the forefront of the dish. This was a nice fish course that was really a cabbage course.
I love soups and I’m always excited to see what a chef can do with one when I order a tasting menu. For Battle Cabbage we were treated to red cabbage and pear borscht with stone ground mustard, pear and cabbage “choucroute.” The pear brought a sweetness to the cabbage soup without taking away any of the cabbage flavor. The last dish showed that cabbage really likes toasted sesame while the borscht pointed out that it is in love with mustard. The ground mustard really made the cabbage dance in your mouth.
Up next was a salad he called the Cabbage Patch made with the stems, leaves and flowers of the cabbage. It was topped with thin, crispy pieces of country ham. The salad was showing everything that cabbage can be and the crunchy saltiness from the ham was a nice accent. We did find out that the chicory dirt he created for the salad was slightly different than what he did for Iron Chef. On Iron Chef America they are limited to one hour to prepare all five dishes. The “dirt” we had took days to make. I don’t know how good the judges toasted chicory “dirt” was, but mine was great. During the tasting and judgment part of Iron Chef America, the judges described the next dish as “genius.”
Genius doesn’t do it justice for the next dish and if there was ever any doubt about who should win the competition, the stuffed cabbage with forgotten vegetables, exotic spice, and natural vegetable juices would have blown those doubts away. This was my favorite dish of the night. The cabbage was stuffed with vegetables like (I think) turnips and rutabagas. But what really made the dish sing were the Indian spices. They brought everything together and this is something you’ve got to taste to understand.
The next dish was a modification from the Iron Chef competition. On the show he made farro grain cooked like a risotto with napa cabbage (stems and leaves) and fried brussels sprouts. For our dinner he added roasted duck breasts. This dish was very good but the duck did tend to dominate the cabbage a bit. Still, it was excellent. And for the record, Mrs. Salad Is Slaughter ate all of her brussels sprouts.
Chef Kinch did not serve a dessert in Kitchen Stadium – how many desserts based upon cabbage can you think of – but he did add a non-cabbage dessert to the menu and it knocked our socks off. It was dark chocolate hazelnut feuillentine with olive oil icecream and sea salt. Think of the richest dessert you’ve ever eaten. Now double the richness. You’re still several orders of magnitude away from the richness in the chocolate hazelnut feuillentine.
And I know what you’re thinking: “Olive oil ice cream? I’ve never seen that at the grocery store.” I don’t know how to describe olive oil ice cream except as, “great.” And it went really well with the chocolate hazelnut feuillentine.
I’ve always wanted to taste recipes that beat an Iron Chef and now I have. And this battle using an extremely difficult ingredient shows just how good David Kinch is. Manresa will serve this for several more Sundays to give everyone a chance to taste victory.