This dish has been on our menu for more than 20 years, to say it is a crowd favorite is an understatement. We sell a lot of orders everyday, repeat customers exclaiming “it’s the only dish I ever order” or “I came here just for the Chinese Box”.
Here’s the deal with how I came up with it:
In the 90’s I was the Executive Chef of the Bostonian hotel and it’s fancy restaurant Seasons, where every entree was served covered with a silver cloche. The waitstaff would present the cloched entrees to the entire table of guests before uncovering all of the dishes simultaneously with white gloves and much fanfare, the guests loved it.
As the cloches were removed, unveiling the sights and smells of their entrees, the guests were wowed. It was more than a bit too precious for what I wanted for EVOO, I wanted to replicate that “wow” of the unveiling without the pretense.
It was one of those ideas that took a while to come to fruition, it was there, stuck in the back of my head, I new what I wanted to accomplish, I just couldn’t quite pull it together. I was thinking about what I could use as a cover, I even thought about getting some silver cloches to use as a homage to my time at Seasons.
One night after many months of mulling over different options, it just popped into my head. I was driving home after a busy night, thinking about what I often think about, food. POP there it is! Stack different layers of flavor and texture in a Chinese style to-go box invert it on a plate and uncover it at the table. That was the start, from there I had to come up with what the layers would be and in what order it would be stacked.
Since I was using what in my part of America is a Chinese to-go container, the food would be Chinese influenced. I quickly thought that the rice should be placed in the box last, so when it was inverted onto a plate the rice would be on the bottom as a good base to hold up the other ingredients. From the get go I went with a surf-n-turf angle, the first iteration was with Seared Arctic Char, Gingered Vegetable Salad and Orange Braised Lamb. Then I tried Seared Sea Scallops with Braised Pork. Both iterations were very good, but not quite right. Neither had the mass appeal I was hoping for.
Eventually I settled on the current version: Mustard Glazed Rock Shrimp, Gingered Vegetable – Cashew Salad, Hoisin Braised Beef and Organic Brown Rice. Each layer offers something different to the whole. The shrimp layer is sweet ‘n’ spicy with honey-mustard and herbs. Clean, crisp, crunchy gingered vegetable – cashew salad makes up the top-middle layer. The rich, succulent hoisin braised beef is the next layer, sitting directly on top of the final layer of organic brown rice with it’s earthy nuttiness soaking up all of the other flavors and adding some of it’s own texture.
There have been a few changes to this version over the years, early on we were using Jasmine rice from Thailand, which I love. However, as I always try to do, I wanted to make it more local and preferably organic. So, I switched the rice to short grained organic brown rice from California, which doesn’t have the floral aroma and flavor that the Jasmine rice has. But, it more than makes up for that with its own nutty-earthy flavors, as well as being from California and organic, had a lot to do with my decision. Early on we braised beef flap meat from our local distributor, eventually I was able to find a consistent source for local pastured beef, so I made the switch to beef chuck. The most recent change was switching from Gulf Shrimp to Rock Shrimp. This change made the dish taste better, have better texture and made it easier to eat, especially with chop sticks.
So, all of this came from me wanting to add a little wow to our guest experience when a dish was served. It’s been on the menu for so long I sometimes forget how good it is. Every so often I try it again and realize why we sell so many orders. It has the “wow” and a whole lot more!
It is available for lunch and dinner, at dinner we offer it in two sizes and it is always available with organic Maine tofu and our in-house made Kimchi for a vegan variation.