Chefs’ Picks for a Cold-Weather Potluck
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Potlucks are always a delicious choose-your-own eating adventure, but this time of year seems to bring out particularly comforting dishes. For fall and winter gatherings, many chefs draw inspiration from memory-lane-tripping family recipes, while others rely on tried-and-true party tricks to ensure that their dish is a hit. Here’s what pros around the country can’t wait to make for cold-weather potlucks.
Joanne Chang, Pastry Chef and Owner of Flour Bakery, Boston
Joanne Chang may be best known for her beloved Boston bakery, Flour, not to mention her sticky-bun takedown on Beat Bobby Flay, but she’s got a savory side, too. Her crowd-pleasing potluck dish is her mom’s pork and chive dumplings. It’s the same recipe that Chef Chang learned to make as a kid at her mom’s side, including the all-important technique of pleating. “The more pleats, the better! I used to pleat these and make them sit like little sofas, and I would play house while she was preparing them,” recalls the chef. The dumplings bring together a blend of fatty and lean pork, pungent garlic chives and napa cabbage (a key ingredient for juicy dumplings) and are served with a spicy black-pepper-and-soy dipping sauce. Chef Chang insists that they’re easy to make — you can even prepare them ahead of time and heat them before serving — but you can also sample them at her restaurant, Myers + Chang.
Justin Wills, Executive Chef at Restaurant Beck, Depoe Bay, Ore.
Oregon transplant Chef Justin Wills spends his days turning out stunning seafood dishes that rival the view at Restaurant Beck in Depoe Bay. But when he want to returns to his roots, the chef cooks up something a bit different in his kitchen. Having grown up on the south side of Des Moines, Chef Wills channels the flavors of his youth by re-creating the chicken stew with polenta that his Italian-American grandmother made for local American Legion hall potlucks. Chicken thighs and legs are cooked low and slow with mushrooms, potatoes, onions, garlic, bay leaves, olive oil and plenty of butter, but the unsung hero of the dish is the polenta, which is made using an old-school technique. Chef Wills explains: “The most-important step in making Friuliani Polenta [named for the region of his family’s heritage] is the ‘Sape’; it translates to ‘to hoe.’ Essentially [it’s] turning the pan on its side over the flame and slapping and folding air into [the polenta].” The polenta is then poured onto a wooden board to cool; once cooled, it’s cut into slices with thread or wax-free dental floss. The stew is ladled on top of the fluffy polenta squares, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and finished with pecorino.
Jamie Bissonnette, Co-Owner of Little Donkey, Cambridge, Mass.
When the temperatures dip, Boston-based chef Jamie Bissonnette dusts off his Dutch oven and cooks up a pot of his mom’s chili. Chef Bissonnette sticks to the family recipe by simmering caramelized pork and beef, garlic, peppers, Goya kidney beans, tomatoes and lots of chiles in Budweiser. The chef in him can’t help but tinker, so he adds warming spices like cinnamon and clove, a little fish sauce for depth and umami (he recommends soy sauce as a substitute if you want to keep it fish-free), and sometimes green curry paste for its herbaceous brightness. A pat of butter served on top lends each bowl an extra hit of richness and a glossy finish. “I love just having a pot … bubbling away for friends coming [over] to watch football,” he says. As for what to serve with the chili, he recommends “extra butter and some yellow cheddar on the side, and definitely Wonder Bread.” Perfect for mopping up every last drop.
Kelly Fields, Executive Pastry Chef and Partner at Willa Jean, New Orleans
At New Orleans bakery-cafe Willa Jean, Chef Kelly Fields churns out nostalgia-inducing pastries, so it makes sense that she’d never show up to a potluck without dessert. Her go-to treat? An easy, seasonal fruit crisp. When Chef Fields was growing up, her mom baked most weekends, and the first cool day signaled the arrival of apple pies and crisps. “I remember the warm smell of the house during fall, and love to think that feeling registers with everyone who I am able to bake for now,” says the chef. She tosses an autumnal duo of apples and pears with sugar, butter, flour and warm spices, blankets it with a brown sugar-oat topping and bakes it “until it has thick, slow bubbles and is golden-brown on top.” You can make this foolproof dessert year-round with any combination of fruit; Chef Fields suggests making it your own by experimenting with different spices in the oat topping.
Bradley Kilgore, Executive Chef at Alter, Miami
In the kitchen at Alter, located in Miami’s artsy-chic Wynwood neighborhood, Chef Bradley Kilgore delivers a roster of refined and artistic new American dishes. For potlucks, though, he keeps it surprisingly casual and makes deviled eggs — a comfort classic that’s perfect for gatherings in warmer climes. His unusual spin on the party-food classic includes adding chorizo, an ingredient he discovered while exploring Chicago’s Mexican neighborhoods. “You want to get fresh, ground chorizo, not the Spanish dry stuff,” Chef Kilgore advises. The chorizo gets cooked down with onion and garlic, plus a kicky blend of smoked paprika and jalapeno. Once the chorizo is cooked and cooled, it’s minced with the typical filling of cooked egg yolks, mustard and mayo, then piped into halved hard-boiled egg whites. Chef Kilgore suggests making more than you think you’ll need to satiate the crowd, saying, “They usually get eaten immediately, even before everyone arrives!”
Jordan Andino, Chef-Owner of 2nd City, New York City
At his fast-casual West Village eatery 2nd City, Chef Jordan Andino is known for adapting traditional Filipino dishes to a taqueria-style menu. Though he loves dreaming up madcap mash-up creations for his restaurant, he pulls out the fail-safe recipes for potlucks. So when the leaves start to change color, he’ll likely bring a big batch of his hot, spiked apple cider to the gathering. He’s been making the same recipe since college, which calls for doctoring up fresh apple cider (Chef Andino prefers the one from Red Jacket Orchards) with nutmeg, cinnamon sticks and fresh Granny Smith apples, and upping the boozy factor with Jim Beam bourbon. “It’s easy to make, as you combine everything in one pot, and is always the hit of the party on a cold winter night!” says Chef Andino.
Paul Berglund, Executive Chef at The Bachelor Famer, Minneapolis
At his downtown Minneapolis restaurant, The Bachelor Farmer, Chef Paul Berglund prides himself on transforming simple ingredients into transcendent dishes. For cold-weather gatherings (which happen more often than not in Minnesota!), he likes to spruce up sauerkraut — an oft-overlooked side dish of fermented cabbage — by braising it with bacon, brown sugar, tomatoes and sparkling wine. “Braising sauerkraut is an Alsatian tradition,” Chef Berglund explains. “The dish they’re most famous for is called choucroute garnie — it’s one of my very favorite dishes.” But instead of braising the sausages in the sauerkraut, as is traditional, he tops bratwursts with the braised ‘kraut. For a wild-card dinner pairing, try serving it alongside grilled swordfish or tuna — it’s unexpected but totally works.
2 large yellow onions
1 pound smoked bacon, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 cup peeled and finely diced tomatoes, either fresh or from the can
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup sparkling white wine
4 quarts raw sauerkraut, strained
Peel the onions. Halve them through the root end. Thinly slice the onions. Cut the bacon into 2-inch-long pieces.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot with sides at least 4 inches tall, cook the bacon over medium heat until it just starts to color. Add the onions, stir, and cook over low to medium-low heat until they are tender, making sure not to get any caramelization on them. Turn down the heat, if necessary.
Once the onions are tender, add the sugar, wine and tomatoes and mix with the onions and bacon.
Next, add the sauerkraut and cook until just warmed through. Serve with grilled or roasted pork.
Pork and Chive Dumplings photo courtesy of Myers + Chang and Chicken Stew with Polenta photo courtesy of Stormee Wills
Depending on your needs, some cuts are better than others.