A Steely Resolve

Juniper’s Chef Alex Sze and the charms of French steel



Chef Alex Sze

In the world of kitchens, there are many types of pans, from countrified cast-iron skillets to extravagant copper evasées. There are nonstick and stainless, aluminum and enameled—and those are just the materials; we’re not even discussing the designs.

In his open kitchen in Hastings-on-Hudson’s Juniper, Chef Alex Sze keeps it simple. He favors the high-sided French steel pans sold by Manhattan’s JB Prince. This restaurant supply store’s pans (see box at right) have pro characteristics that separate them from the domesticated pack, including steep, angled sides that facilitate certain techniques. “We do a lot of pan roasting at Juniper, so we tip the pan on its side over the fire and baste the food in butter.” Extra-long, raked-up handles make this easier on crowded cook tops, plus they offer room for a cool, two-handed grip when it comes to shifting these weighty beasts.

“The heavy-duty steel shares a lot of characteristics with cast iron,” Sze says. “It weighs a lot, forms a great sear, and you need to season it before you use it. In fact, at Juniper, we don’t use detergents on these pans; we just wipe them out with water.” Like well-used cast iron, these steel pans form a non-stick coating that makes older pans paradoxically more valuable.

Would you recommend this pro gear to home cooks, who may be wedded to expensive All-Clad nonstick pans? “I would,” Sze answers. “These pans are cheap, and they’ll probably last longer. They’re virtually indestructible—you can use metal utensils, put them in the oven, and they’ll never wear out.”

 

JB Prince’s 10”
French Steel Fry Pan

$29.80 in store or online

 

 

36 E 31st St, New York, NY
(212) 683-3553, (800) 473-0577;
jbprince.com

 

This Manhattan standard offers great deals on pro cookware, including these French steel fry pans favored by Juniper’s Chef Sze. While the steel pans are handy inclusions in any ambitious cook’s batterie de cuisine, they come with some characteristics to keep in mind. Steel pans must be seasoned, and they’re not dishwasher safe; also, their long, raked-up handles can be tricky to store in home cabinets. (We hang our own professional pans on hooks in our basement stairwell.) The good news is that these pans cost a fraction of the price of premium non-stick pans, so that it’s possible to buy and use multiples, as Chef Sze does in the pork chop recipe that he offers on page 34.

FRENCH TOAST WITH POACHED PEARS, WHIPPED CRÈME FRAICHE, WILDFLOWER HONEY, AND CANDIED ALMONDS
Serves 2
 
 

French toast with poached pears

FOR THE POACHED PEARS
■ 2 cups white wine
■ 2 cups water
■ 1 cup sugar
■ 1 vanilla bean, split
■ 2 Bosc pears, cut in half
Bring white wine, water, and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the saucepan with the scraped vanilla pod. Cut a round of parchment paper to exactly fit inside the saucepan, then add pears to the liquid and cover with the round of parchment paper. Bring back to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until pears are fork-tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove the cores from the pears and slice each half into thirds. Store pears in poaching liquid.

FOR THE WHIPPED CRÈME FRAICHE
■ ½ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
■ 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
Whisk crème fraiche until soft peaks form. Fold in the powdered sugar.

FOR THE CANDIED ALMONDS
■ ½ cup sliced almonds
■ 8 Tbsp sugar
■ 2 Tbsp canola oil
■ 4 Tbsp water
Preheat oven to 300°F. Combine sugar, water, and oil in a medium saucepan, and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add almonds and toss until they are evenly coated. Drain liquid, and spread out almonds onto a half-sheet tray lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes, until evenly golden brown.

FOR THE FRENCH TOAST
■ 1 cup milk
■ 1 cup cream
■ ½ cup sugar
■ 3 eggs
■ 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
■ 4 slices good quality white bread, sliced ¾ inch thick
■ 4 Tbsp butter
■ Powdered sugar (to taste)
■ Wildflower honey (or your favorite kind of honey), to taste
 
Whisk the milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Add the slices of white bread and let the bread soak up the liquid for about 1 minute. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add one tablespoon of butter and let it it brown slightly. Add the piece of soaked bread and cook for 4 to 5 minutes until golden brown. Flip the French toast and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes on the other side until golden brown. Wipe out pans and cook the other pieces of French toast, adding one tablespoon of butter each time.

TO SERVE
Plate a couple of French toast slices and top with a few slices of poached pears, a dollop of crème fraiche, a drizzle of wildflower honey, a scattering of candied almonds, and powdered sugar to garnish.

 

STROZZAPRETI PASTA (COOKED IN THE STYLE OF RISOTTO) WITH SAVOY CABBAGE, PANCETTA, BLACK TRUFFLE, AND SUNNY SIDE EGG
Serves 4
 
 

Strozapretti Pasta

■ 2 quarts chicken stock
■ 1 Tbsp olive oil
■ ½ lb pancetta, diced
■ 1 medium onion, diced
■ 2 cloves of thinly sliced garlic
■ 1 sprig fresh thyme
■ 2 cups Savoy cabbage, shredded
■ 4 Tbsp butter
■ 2 cups dried strozzapreti pasta
■ 1 cup white wine
■ 2 tsp black truffle oil
■ 4 Tbsp chopped chives
■ 4 Tbsp chopped parsley
 

FOR THE PASTA
In a large pot, heat chicken stock until simmering. Add the olive oil to a fry pan placed over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until it releases its fat and slightly browns, about 5 minutes. Add onions, sliced garlic, a sprig of thyme, and sweat the mixture slowly over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent. Season mixture to taste with salt and pepper, then remove sprig of thyme and discard. Add Savoy cabbage to the pancetta mixture and sweat over medium heat until the cabbage is tender (about 10 minutes). Re-season with salt and peppe, if necessary. Transfer the cabbage and pancetta onto another plate. Add 4 tablespoons of butter to the pan. Add pasta and toast over medium heat until it’s slightly fragrant. Add wine and cook until all of the raw alcohol smell is gone. Add two cups of hot stock and let the mixture simmer. As the stock cooks into the pasta, continue adding ½ cup of stock at a time until absorbed and stir until the pasta is al dente. Return the cabbage and pancetta back into the pan. Drizzle in black truffle oil, chopped chives, and parsley. 
 
FOR THE SUNNY SIDE UP EGGS
■ 4 eggs
■ 2 tsp butter
■ Parmesan cheese for grating
■ Freshly ground pepper
Heat 1 teaspoon of butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook eggs gently for 2 minutes, or until whites are just set.
 
TO SERVE
Serve pasta in bowls with a sunny side up egg on top, a grind of fresh cracked pepper, and grated Parmesan.   

 

PAN-ROASTED PORK CHOP WITH WARM BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD, CIPOLLINI ONIONS, APPLES, AND HAZELNUTS
Serves 4

Pan-roasted pork chop

FOR THE WARM BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD
■ 2 cups Brussels sprouts, split in half lengthwise
■ ½ cup cipollini onions
■ 2 Tbsp olive oil
■ 2 Tbsp butter
■ 2 cloves garlic, crushed
■ 2 sprigs of thyme
Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 2 heavy skillets over medium-high heat, and when hot, add olive oil. Add Brussels sprouts to both pans, cut side down, and sear until golden brown. Split cipollini onions between both pans and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 1 teaspoon of butter to each pan and cook until butter is slightly brown and smells nutty. Add one clove of smashed garlic to each pan, and one sprig of thyme. Transfer the pans into a 375°F oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes until tender. Remove from oven and keep warm.

FOR THE SHERRY VINAIGRETTE
■ 2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
■ ½ tsp Dijon mustard
■ 1 tsp chopped shallot
■ 6 Tbsp olive oil
■ salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together the sherry, mustard, and shallots. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
 
FOR THE PORK CHOPS
■ 2 Tbsp canola oil
■ 4 pork chops, about 10 ounces each
■ 4 cloves of garlic
■ 1 sprig of rosemary
■ 2 Tbsp butter
Heat 2 heavy skillets over medium-high heat. Add canola oil. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Place two pork chops in each pan and sear until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and sear the other side until also golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Split butter, rosemary, and garlic between the pans and continue cooking the pork chops, occasionally basting them with the fat until they're nearly cooked (internal temperature reads 130°F). Remove fom heat and allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes.

TO SERVE
■ ½ cup sliced apples
■ 4 Tbsp chopped roast hazelnuts
■ 4 Tbsp sliced chives
■ Salt and pepper to taste
Toss the roasted Brussels sprouts mixture with the apples, hazelnuts, chives, and sherry vinaigrette. Serve with the roasted pork chops.

Julia Sexton is a Westchester-based food writer whose CRMA award-winning Eat.Drink.Post. blog appears at westchestermagazine.com.

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