There’s a tornado coming. But that doesn’t faze Kristen Kish, who’s preparing dinner for friends in the South Boston loft of her mentor, Barbara Lynch. The Top Chef winner and former Menton chef de cuisine is preparing a summery meal of market vegetables and halibut, with a gussied-up version of a favorite childhood dish for dessert.
The Rolling Stones are playing on Spotify, and Kish’s girlfriend, Jacque Westbrook, opens a couple of beers. “Let’s use these,” Kish calls, handing over a stack of plates painted with blue-and-yellow roosters. “Lydia gave them to Barbara.” (The Lydia in question is noted chef Lydia Shire.) Kish is here tonight because Lynch’s kitchen is bigger than hers — she lives just a few blocks away from the accomplished chef and businesswoman whom Kish calls her “bestie.”
So it’s not surprising there were no hard feelings when Kish opted to leave the Barbara Lynch Gruppo earlier this year to pursue several not-yet-revealed projects. She’s mum about her exact plans, but it’s easy to infer that she’s going to stick around Boston, especially since Westbrook has just relocated from New York City.
Kish also has a tightknit group of friends in the business, which is obvious when the intercom starts to beep. They include David Cavilla, chef de cuisine at Lynch’s Sportello, and a friend who was a regular at Stir, another Lynch property where Kish worked.
Then it’s time to eat. A tangle of green garlic scapes and pile of fava beans tossed with grapefruit and brown butter sit atop a wooden butcher block in the center of the table. They’re accompanied by individual dishes of lemon-garlic aioli that look like warm clouds and are crowned with crispy soppressata bits. Kish instructs everyone to sweep the scapes and fava beans through the rich aioli with hands instead of utensils. “I love to eat with my fingers — any time there’s butter dripping down my wrists,” she laughs.
Kish jumps up and she and Westbrook clear the first set of plates. Pan-seared halibut is next, served with smoked ham-hock fennel cream and fresh peas, radishes, and baby red potatoes. (Kish says vegetable stock can be subbed for her homemade ham.) A pea falls to the floor as she’s finishing the sauce, and Kish stops it with her foot and tosses it in the trash.
“Dave, can you plate?” she asks.
“Yes, chef Kristen!” he bellows.
Boom. Thunder crashes. Somebody mentions the tornado warnings they’ve been following online. The world beyond Lynch’s nearly floor-to-ceiling windows looks ominous, but Kish doesn’t even look up, christening each guest’s bowl of fish and vegetables with a drizzle of Oyster Creek Mushroom Company’s candy cap oil (she picked it up at Siena Farms South End, where she also bought most of tonight’s perfect-looking produce). Every chef has tricks, and this is one of hers: The mushroom-infused oil tastes like maple and lends the sauce a nutty, sweet quality.
Back at the table, Kish is clearly having a good time. She’s the rare host who actually takes time to enjoy the party. How can she cook, serve, and have fun, all at once?
“I still write a prep list,” she says. “I organize. I draw pictures. I figure out what I’m going to make ahead of time, and I multi-task.”
For dessert, she’s making her beautiful season’s-end strawberries with tiny cubes of angel food cake, vanilla-scented milk anglaise, and shards of homemade meringue. Except it seems the weather has bested this Top Chef — the meringue, she realizes, trying to break it up, has gone chewy. “I should have kept it out of the humidity,” she says.
But nobody seems to care as the rain stops and sun winks out as quickly as it earlier had disappeared. “Really, it’s all about the company,” Kish says, pouring out just a little more wine for a guest and turning back to laugh with her friends.
Kristen Kish’s recipes edited by Lisa Zwirn
ROASTED GARLIC SCAPES AND CHARRED WHOLE FAVA BEANS
Finger food is always fun at a casual gathering. Here, roasted garlic scapes, the thin, curved stalks of the garlic plant, and fava beans — just pick the beans from the pods with your fingers or your teeth — are used for dipping into homemade aioli sprinkled with crispy bits of soppressata. Once garlic scapes and favas go out of season, feel free to substitute green beans or scallions.
1 large red grapefruit
½ stick unsalted butter
½ pound garlic scapes, stem ends trimmed
3½ tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil
1 pound fava beans (whole pods)
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Halve the grapefruit top to bottom. Use a small, sharp serrated knife to trim off the rind, then cut the segments from the membranes. Place the segments in a bowl. Squeeze the remaining juice from the halves into the bowl.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Let it bubble, swirling the pan occasionally, for 1½ to 2 minutes or until deep brown, watching carefully that it doesn’t burn. Remove the pan from the heat. Slowly add the grapefruit and juice to the brown butter. Watch for splattering. Season with salt to taste.
On a large baking sheet, toss the scapes with 1½ tablespoons oil to coat. Season with salt. Roast for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges turn golden.
Meanwhile, rinse the fava pods, cut off the ends, and cut a slit along one of the seams to open the pods slightly. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining oil until shimmering. Add the fava beans in one layer, sprinkle with salt, and cook for about 6 minutes, turning once, or until charred in spots. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully drizzle the brown butter and grapefruit over the beans, tossing to coat.
Serve on a platter with aioli (see next recipe) dipping sauce.
LEMON AND GARLIC AIOLI WITH CRISPY SOPPRESSATA
Makes about 1 cup
3 egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic
½cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup canola oil
¼ pound soppressata, cut into small dice
In a blender, combine the yolks, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and 3 tablespoons water. Blend on medium speed for a few seconds. In a measuring cup, combine ½ cup olive oil and the canola oil. With the motor running, very slowly pour in the oil. The mixture will start to thicken. Add ¼ teaspoon salt. Increase the speed to medium-high and blend until the aioli is fully emulsified, similar to mayonnaise consistency. (You can refrigerate for up to 3 days.)
In a small skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the soppressata and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes or until browned and crispy.
To serve, spoon the aioli into shallow dipping bowls and top with soppressata.
HALIBUT WITH FENNEL AND SMOKED HAM HOCK AND VEGETABLES
Tender fish fillets meet braised lemony potatoes in a smoky-rich ham hock cream sauce dotted with spring peas and crisp radishes. As a finishing touch, Kish suggests drizzling a little candy cap mushroom oil, which has a unique earthy maple flavor, over the dish; if you can’t find it, use a high-quality olive oil or skip this step.
> For the ham hock and vegetables
2 pounds smoked ham hock
3 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, 2 bulbs cut into quarters and 1 into thin slices; chop fronds and reserve 3 tablespoons for garnish
1 tablespoon grape-seed or canola oil
3 scallions, white parts only, thinly sliced; slice green tops and reserve 3 tablespoons for garnish
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons white wine
½ cup heavy cream
9 radishes, sliced
¾ cup shelled fresh or frozen peas
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground sumac
In a stockpot, combine the ham hock and quartered fennel and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 2 to 2½ hours or until the stock is flavorful and the meat falling off the bone.
Pour the contents of the pot through a sieve set over a large bowl. (Discard the fennel and ham hock or pick the meat off the bones and save for another purpose.) Skim the fat from the stock. Pour the stock back into the cooking pot and set over medium heat. Simmer, uncovered, to reduce the liquid to 2 cups. Prepare in advance.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the sliced fennel, sliced white parts of the scallions, and sliced shallot, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until softened but not browned. Stir in the wine and cook for 2 minutes or until evaporated. Add the 2 cups reduced ham hock stock and cream. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes or until reduced slightly and thickened. Add the radishes and peas and cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until the peas are tender. Stir in the lemon juice and sumac. Taste for seasoning.
> For the halibut and potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ pounds baby red potatoes
2 cloves garlic, smashed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2¼ cups or more vegetable stock or water
Salt and pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil
6 pieces halibut fillet, 4 to 6 ounces each
3 tablespoons sunflower sprouts or chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons candy cap mushroom oil or olive oil, for drizzling, optional
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the potatoes and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the thyme, butter, and enough stock or water to reach about halfway up the potatoes. Season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Remove the lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the liquid evaporates. Add the lemon zest and juice and parsley and toss to coat the potatoes.
While the potatoes finish cooking, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the grape-seed oil. Season the fish with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes or until the bottoms are golden. Turn and cook the other side for 4 to 7 minutes (depending on thickness) or until the fish is just cooked through.
To serve, spoon some of the ham hock cream sauce and vegetables into 6 large shallow bowls. Divide the potatoes and fish among the bowls. Add a little more sauce and sprinkle with sprouts or basil, reserved scallion tops, and reserved fennel fronds. If desired, lightly drizzle the fish and potatoes with candy cap mushroom oil or olive oil.
STRAWBERRIES, ANGEL FOOD CAKE, AND MILK ANGLAISE
You’ll probably have extra cake and meringue, perfect to nibble on the next day. And while these recipes aren’t difficult, they do take time. As a shortcut, you can buy prepared angel food cake and meringue at many grocers.
> For the cake
Butter for the pan
Granulated sugar for the pan, plus 1/3 cup
5 egg whites, at room temperature
1½ tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon lemon or vanilla extract
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and sprinkle with granulated sugar. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. In a small bowl, mix together ‚ cup granulated sugar and the confectioners’ sugar. As the mixer is running, slowly add the sugars to the whites, and then add the cream of tartar and a pinch of salt. With the mixer on high, beat until stiff peaks form. Beat in the lemon or vanilla extract.
Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. In 2 additions, sprinkle the flour over the beaten whites, folding gently with a stiff spatula to incorporate. Make sure there’s no remaining flour visible. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until the cake is pale golden and firm-springy to the touch. A cake tester inserted into the cake should come out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Before serving, cut as much cake as needed into small (¾- to 1-inch) cubes.
> For the milk anglaise
4 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk
½ cup half-and-half
½ vanilla bean
In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar until light and thick. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and half-and-half. Use a small sharp knife to cut a slit down the length of the vanilla bean. Run a dull knife or small spoon down the inside of the bean to scrape out the tiny seeds; add both the seeds and the bean to the milk mixture. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat.
Slowly dribble about half of the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture while whisking constantly. Proceed slowly so yolks don’t curdle. Once the yolk mixture is hot, slowly pour it into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture while whisking constantly.
Set the saucepan over medium-low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Heat for about 5 minutes (the mixture may bubble slightly but don’t let it boil), stirring, until the anglaise is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Pour the anglaise through a fine sieve set over a bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl partly filled with ice cubes to stop the cooking. After about 10 minutes, place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the anglaise (to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate.
> For the meringue
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
3 egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
Heat the oven to 220 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Carefully pour the hot simple syrup into a measuring cup; you need ½ cup for the meringue.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, place the egg whites. Beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and a pinch of salt. Continue beating on medium and slowly add the hot syrup in a steady stream. Once the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form.
On a large (12-by-17-inch) baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, spread the meringue in a thin layer about ¼ to ‚ inch thick. Place in the oven for 3 to 4 hours or until dry. It will crisp up more as it cools. Store in a cool, dry place. Break into 2-inch shards.
> To assemble
3 cups strawberries, hulled, and halved if large, or other fresh berries
1 pint strawberry or raspberry sorbet
Tarragon leaves, optional
To serve, spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of anglaise on each of 6 dessert plates or in shallow bowls. Place about 6 berries and 6 pieces of angel food cake on the anglaise. Top with a scoop of sorbet and place a few shards of meringue on top. Sprinkle with tarragon leaves, if desired.