Chefs' Picks: Comfort Food

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Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.

For many of us, comfort food means home-cooked flavors of nostalgia. But comfort-centric cooking has become a huge trend in restaurant cooking, too, and chefs can be counted on for hearty, sometimes greasy and always gratifying comfort dishes. Here are some of their favorites to whip up or order, some that are reminiscent of their own childhood favorites and others that are twists on the classics.

Poutine
The Quebec import in its most-classic form is fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. But since it’s made its way stateside, chefs have taken liberties, adding their own toppings and twists on the original.

At the Madison Blind in Madison, Wis., Chef Chris Cubberley throws in a wild twist with the addition of elk meat. “I braise the elk with seasonal ingredients — currently winter squash and cipollini onions, and fry the potatoes in duck fat,” he says. “Then, it is all tossed together, with the cheese curds added last so they just start to become melty.” He then finishes the dish with a heavy sprinkling of herbs.

Chef Amir Hajimaleki of Austin’s Oasthouse Gastropub, a German-accented pub, makes his poutine carnitas-style. He takes salt-and-pepper-seasoned French fries and tops them with smoked-bacon-fat gravy, tender carnitas, crumbled goat cheese and cilantro microgreens. “I thought it would be fun to take what Canadian pubs do best and mix it with our love for carnitas in the South,” he says.

Pot Roast
For Chef Josh Stockton of Detroit’s Gold Cash Gold, pot roast is what warms his soul during the winter. “It’s what I grew up eating in Michigan,” he says. “It was a winter staple, especially at my grandpa’s house. He always braised his beef in stock, with lots and lots of carrots and potatoes. I lightened up the recipe a little, by adding white wine and orange juice to the braise.  But it is still the one dish I always want to eat when it starts getting cold outside.”

Savory Pies
For Brad Miller of Ox & Son in Santa Monica, Calif., the ultimate comfort food can be found at neighboring Aussie Pie Kitchen, a quick-serve shop serving up inventive savory pies. His order is the Steak & Shiraz pie. “The crust is perfectly flaky and buttery,” he enthuses. “The steak is soft and cooked with the right amount of herbs and spices. Get it with mashed potatoes and smothered in gravy!”

Shepherd’s Pie
British chef Damon Gordon of the West Coast’s King’s Fish House goes back to his roots when it comes to his favorite comfort food. “Shepherd’s pie represents comfort food personified to me, as it brings back memories of when I was a kid back home in England,” he says. “It is a great meal to eat anytime of the year, and can be made with meat and vegetables of your choice — a true one-stop shop for comfort food.”

Shepherd’s Pie

4 large Yukon gold potatoes (peeled and diced)
4 tablespoons blended oil
1 pound ground meat (beef or lamb)
4 ounces butter
4 ounces diced white onion
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 ounces diced carrots
4 ounces diced rutabaga
1 sprig of thyme
1 cup red wine
2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cups veal stock
1/4 bunch flat-leaf parsley
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil

Method:
Place the peeled and diced potatoes in a pan, and cover with water and season with salt. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.

Heat the oil in a thick-bottomed pan and then add the meat and sear. Season well with salt and pepper and then remove from the pan to a plate and drain off all excess fat. Add the butter and the onion, shallots and garlic, cooking until just aromatic, then add the diced vegetables and thyme. Season, then cook over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the meat back into the pan, and then add the red wine and reduce by two-thirds, then add the soy sauce and veal stock and cook for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Chop the parsley and then mix into the meat mixture and place in 4 cast-iron dishes.

When the potatoes are ready, strain from the water and then add back into the pan and “dry” over a low heat to remove as much moisture as possible for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan all the time.

Place the potatoes through a ricer or mash them with a potato masher, and then correct seasoning. Add the olive oil and then disperse the potato among the 4 cast-iron dishes. Place in a moderate oven for 10 minutes and then serve immediately.

For more hearty gooey and cheesy finds, including ramen, dumplings, breakfast sandwiches, mac and cheese and more, check out these favorite spots for comfort classics.

 

Photos courtesy of Chris Bradley Photography, Kerrin McKaig, Gold Cash Gold, King’s Fish House