Chinese Box

shrimp

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.

seasons bostoian

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.

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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.

Lamb Sandwhich

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Continuing with the lamb we received from Feather Brook Farm- A sandwich on our lunch menu.

Slices of Roast Lamb Leg with Smoked Cloumage, Pickled Green Tomatoes, Lettuce, Red Onion and Carolina White Barbecue Sauce on Mark’s Cumin Focaccia

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lamb leg in the immersion circulator

We marinated the legs in a mixture of garlic and spices and then sous vide’ the legs at 137 degrees for 3 hours. We then chilled them in an ice bath, finally put a nice sear on them before slicing them.

The cloumage is an artisanal fresh, creamy cheese from Shy Brothers Farm in Westport MA, which we smoked in our backroom smoker.  The Lettuce was grown in The Food Project’s greenhouse in Roxbury, MA. We pickled the Kimball Fruit Farm’s green tomatoes last September.  Mark our excellent lunch sous chef made the Focaccia.

Sous Vide

 

sous vide
/ˌso͞o ˈvēd/
noun

Sous vide, which means “under vacuum” in French, refers to the process of vacuum-sealing food in a bag, then cooking it to a very precise temperature in a water bath. This technique produces results that are impossible to achieve through any other cooking method. –  Anovaculinary 

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Our sous vide station.

I have been cooking for a long time, starting in the late 1970’s.  First as a prep cook in a neighborhood restaurant, while in high school, making beer money.  I had no passion for food at the time.  I was still feeling my way through life, not sure what I was going to do.  Slowly, and I mean really slowly, I found that I not only was pretty good at cooking, I was actually enjoying it.  Looking back I don’t think it was the food that I was falling for.  Rather, I was an impressionable young man who enjoyed the camaraderie, the manual work and the fact that a free beer was never far from reach.  However, the more I cooked and discovered new foods my passion finally blossomed…I digress.

This post is supposed to be about sous vide, my digression stems from- In those many years of cooking there have been a few techniques or processes that I have learned which have changed the way I cook and think about food. Cooking sous vide is probably the biggest one for me, with whole animal butchery / charcuterie being a close second (see my 10 part “Death of a Pig” blog post).

When I first encountered cooking sous vide I remember thinking- cooking something in a pot of water in a plastic bag…how lame; what skill does that take?  Well, I was quite wrong.

About 14 years ago we started experimenting using a big pot of water, Ziplock Bags and an instant read thermometer on a burner where we would constantly check the temp and adjust the heat.  I quickly realized that this was a great  cooking method.  We could perfectly cook a piece of meat ahead of time, taking the guess work and timing with a lot more possibilities of screwing something up out of the equation.  Once the meat was cooked ahead of time, perfectly, all we had to do is once the customer ordered and it was time to pick-up the meat all you had to do give a quick sear to the meat and serve it.  No more inexperienced cook fucking-up an expensive piece of meat.

Our experiments started with meats using the ziplock method, now we have several immersion circulators and a restaurant size vacuum sealer that are in constant use cooking all sorts of different things; red meats, burgers, chicken, vegetables, eggs, fish and even an occasional pudding for part of a dessert.  Gone are the days of over cooked chicken breast (sorry, Trisha), every chicken breast we serve is moist and tender.

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My initial trepidation was replaced with “why wouldn’t we cook this way”…a little bit more forethought (prep before service) equals serving a better, more consistent product, it only makes sense.

Sous vide cooking is not just for the professional kitchen,  My Anova immersion circulator and FoodSaver vacuum sealer have been an integral parts of my home kitchen for the past 10 years.

I highly recommend all cooks- pros, wanna-be pros and amateurs to get into sous vide cooking.

The below link is to an informative article in Bon Appetit Magazine.

https://www.bonappetit.com/story/what-is-sous-vide-cooking

 

 

 

 

More Lamb Love

Just like I said in the previous post- ” the chops will sell out quickly”, they did.  We’re on to the loins, which also will be gone fast.

I marinated the loins with a lot of herbs, shallots, garlic, mustard and EVOO

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Next I vacuum sealed them and sous vide them for 2 hours at 137 degrees.

 

At pick-up I seasoned the loins with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper and then seared the loins.

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After letting the it sit for a few minutes I put a few thick slices on the plate with the rest of the ingredients. The final result is perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious!

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We got a lamb

Tad in a Hat

Farmer Tad

Farmer Tad from Featherbrook Farm in Raynham, MA brought us a lamb.  It’s our first lamb in a long while, unfortunately our long-time supplier of local lamb bought-the-farm and we had been looking for a new supplier.

feather brook logo

 

Tad, who already brings us chickens, rabbits and eggs mentioned to me that he was growing a few lamb and wanted to know if we were interested in one of them.  I jumped right on it, telling him we would happily take one of them off his hands.

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Tad’s lamb awaiting processing

We have a long history of serving locally produced lamb.  I have been butchering and cooking them since long before we opened EVOO.  I became quite proficient at it; I would time myself to see how long it would take to butcher the lamb into the desired pieces for roasting and braising.  I can easily break-down a lamb in less than 7 minutes; my record is 2 lambs in 11 minutes.  Keep in mind butchering is my least favorite job to do in the kitchen, I’m a closest wanna-be vegetarian and I just want to get it done as quickly as I can.  The below video of me breaking-down a lamb is a couple of years old.

 

 

We have already started serving the chops with some braised meat:

Herb Marinated Grilled Lamb Chops and Braised Lamb with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Crushed Olives, Pickled Cauliflower, Parsley, Marcona Almonds, Goat’s Milk Feta and Mint Salsa Verde

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Being just one lamb there are not a lot of chops, even paired with braised lamb meat we will only have 7 orders before we switch the chops out with roasted loin which will only make an additional 5-6 orders. Later this week or perhaps the beginning of next we will have a roasted lamb leg sandwich on the lunch menu and a braised lamb dish, possibly a pasta dish. Then it will be gone…

 

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loins to be sous vide

 

 

 

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legs waiting to be marinated, roasted and sliced for sandwiches

 

 

New Vegetarian Dish

Polenta Croquette with Braised Spinach, Stracciatella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Parsley, Last Summer’s Tomato Sauce and Pine Nut Crunch  

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I have written in the past about my approach to vegetarian dishes, you can check out my previous post here.

 

This dish came about when I was thinking about what should we do with all of the plum tomatoes that we put up in Mason jars this past summer.  To me that’s the coolest thing about this dish; we are using local tomatoes in the middle of January. Sure they’re not fresh tomatoes. However, they were bought from local farms (Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, MA and Kimball Fruit Farm in Pepperell, MA) during the height of the local season. So.. we are still supporting the local community and best of all- they’re freaking delicious!

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To go with the tomatoes-we made polenta croquettes with Four Star Farm’s (Northfield, MA) cornmeal.  We braised The Food Project’s (Roxbury, MA) spinach and topped the croquette with  stracciatella from The Mozzarella House (Peabody, MA).

This one of the many vegetarian dishes that we have produced where you don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy.

Spotlight on Peter and Colleen McCarthy

About a year ago (maybe, closer to 2) we got a new website; with the new site my blog got lost in the shuffle for a while. Well it’s back and I’m going to start with a post that Steve Kurland our business partner and the general manager in Kendall Square produced for EVOO’s 20th anniversary.  At the time we had been periodically writing a spotlight about different employees.  Steve would ask them a bunch of questions and I would write an intro with a few anecdotes about the employee and through in a few photos. For EVOO’s anniversary post Steve wanted to Spotlight Colleen and I.

I’m pretty sure that this post did go out on social media, so it may be old news to some of you.  But I do think it should be in a blog since there is so much of our and EVOO’s history in it.

 

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Me and Colleen in Spain.

Spotlight on Colleen and Peter McCarthy, by Steve Kurland

I first met Colleen and Peter when I lived in Union Square. EVOO was just opening in its original location on Beacon Street in Somerville and I loved the place. The food was locally-sourced, unique, and of course delicious. It was the atmosphere though, that first attracted me. I could feel the love and care in EVOO. The staff truly cared, and everyone did their best to make EVOO successful. As a guest, EVOO was warm,welcoming, and customers quickly became regulars. 

evoo's old sign

EVOO’s original sign from Beacon Street in Somerville

I soon became friendly with Peter and Colleen, so when I looked to get out of the corporate restaurant world, I asked if they knew of any opportunities at independent restaurants. Luckily, this was just as Za, in Arlington, was getting ready to open. so timing was perfect. It has been 14 years. and I am genuinely happy I found such great partners.

Zarlington

Za, 138 Massachusetts Ave. Arlington

Colleen is one of the kindest people I know. She truly cares about all the people she comes in touch with at the restaurants. Long-time guests are friends, and Colleen goes to great lengths to take care of employees who need her help.

I admire Peter’s high standards and drive, but mostly appreciate his passion. He puts his imprint on the restaurant every day–through his concern for people, and for our environment. He has taught so much to so many, and has worked on sustainability long before it became the popular thing to do.

Colleen

You are a proud and capable CPA. How were you drawn into the restaurant business?

Pete dragged me in… For years, Pete aspired to open his own restaurant. I knew he would someday open a restaurant but honestly didn’t think about how it would impact my career. At the time I was working for Parent, McLaughlin & Nangle, CPAs, and really enjoyed my job. 

PMN

We opened EVOO in June 1998, and for the first two years I worked both jobs. I would work at PM&N during the day, and then head to the restaurant most nights. It was pretty exhausting (especially during tax season), but hey, I was only 29 and we didn’t have kids yet, so it’s what I did. 

A few years in, the front of the house manager told us that she was moving on, so Pete and I talked it over, and I made the decision to leave public accounting and work at EVOO full-time. It wasn’t an easy decision, but a decision I’m glad I made. Of course, we weren’t sure about how we would be working together, but figured we’d give it a shot. It’s been great. As long he understands that I’m always right things will go smoothly! 

As EVOO comes up to its 20th Anniversary, how is it different than you thought it would be in 1998?

I never thought we’d be operating in a larger space in Kendall Square, that’s for sure. 

We opened ‘old’ EVOO on Beacon Street in Somerville. It was a 70 seat restaurant with a small bar and open cooking line. We had an amazing core staff and a lot of long-term regular guests. One of our regulars was developing the Watermark Building, and invited us to take a look at the space. At the time, our son Shane had just been born, and we had recently opened the first Za in Arlington, so I was in no position to take on that move. 

evoocambridge

A few years later, when the residential piece was complete, we were approached by yet another regular who was in charge of leasing the space at the time. This time around, the move made sense… so after twelve years, we moved EVOO to Kendall Square. The ‘new’ EVOO has 120 seats, including three rooms that can be private rooms. We also opened a second Za location in an adjacent space, with a shared bar. I’m not sure what I was thinking taking on this project when our kids were one and four, but it was a good decision. Kendall Square is a pretty cool place to be!

dining room

You are surrounded by your family and long-time friends at work. How did this happen?

First and foremost, I’m really lucky to work with my husband, Pete. The rest sort of just happened. Dan, my brother, was the first employee; he worked the bar a few nights a week to help us when we first opened. 

Nina, who I’ve known since I was 16, and grew up with Pete, started working with us a few years later. Steve was a regular and friend at ‘old’ EVOO, and he became a co-worker when we opened Za in Arlington. He became a partner when we opened in Kendall.

Then, there’s a whole lot of people that started working at EVOO and Za who have  become long-time friends. I joke I’ve known Tiego for over half of his life. We’ve even had a few nieces and nephews of long-time employees come to work for us, so that’s pretty cool. We are really lucky to have such a great bunch to work with!

Do you have a favorite all-time EVOO menu item?

Beef Tenderloin EVOO

The Garlic and Parsley Studded Beef Tenderloin with Sweet ‘n’ Smoky Onions, Sour Cream Whipped Potatoes, Carrots and Orange Béarnaise is my all time favorite EVOO dish. I used to joke with Pete that if he ever took it off the menu, our marriage may be over. He did take it off the menu for a short time (was he testing me??) because he wasn’t able to locally source the cut he wanted to offer. Thankfully, he was able to find a new source for local grass fed center cut tenderloin, so our marriage survived! 

What do you look for when you go to other restaurants?

Good food and good service. Sometimes you want to just go out and grab a quick dinner, but the food should still be good and the service, welcoming and friendly (see pet peeve below!). Obviously, the restaurant has to be clean too. It’s always interesting to watch the way the staff interacts. My kids even comment on various things we see. We usually joke those are the things we discuss in the car on the way home

What makes you crazy when you go to other restaurants?

My biggest pet peeve is when no one thanks me on the way out, or says goodnight. I find it especially frustrating when employees and managers are standing right there, but don’t acknowledge us, or bother to thank us. There are so many dining options, and feeling appreciated on the way out or not impacts whether or not I want to go back. It’s your last impression on the way out.

Who cooks at home, and what’s your favorite dish to make?

When he’s home, Pete cooks, we are pretty spoiled. Unfortunately for me, Pete’s not home most nights, so the nights I’m home, I’m head chef. I call myself a mom-cook. I cook pretty basic food, but I think I cook it pretty well. 

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Our son Shane (13) will eat anything, and I mean anything. He was the kid who wanted to try a fish eyeball when he was 11 (no thank you). And then there is Caitlin (10). She’s a little fussier, but she’s come a long way. The other day, I asked them what my best dish is. Shane said steak and cheese subs, and chicken piccata.Caitlin said homemade mac ‘n cheese, and fettuccine alfredo. We always make it a point to try to sit down for dinner together on the nights we’re home. 

 

Peter

You have spent so much of your life and career working with and promoting local food and local purveyors. What motivated you to start working this way?

seasons bostoian

While working at The Bostonian Hotel in the 1980’s and 90’s, I was exposed to a few local farmers: Eva Sommaripa from Eva’s Garden, Verrill Farm’s, Ken Ryan’s Van, and Roger Jones to name a few. They were so passionate about what they were growing, I wanted to support them by buying as much as of their produce as we could use. It helps put meaning into what we do; we strive to be a part of our community.

As EVOO comes up on its 20th anniversary, how is it different than you thought it would be in 1998?

I don’t know, in 1998 we were just trying get by; there was a lot to figure out. We were mostly thinking day to day not really looking too far ahead. After a few years, we settled in and moved ahead, opening Za in Arlington. A few years later we moved EVOO to Kendall Square and opened a second Za location in an adjacent space. It will be interesting to see what the next 20 years will bring. 

You are surrounded by your family and long-time friends at work. How did this happen?

They all threatened to expose me for what I really am. So, we’re stuck with them.

Where do you like to eat when you’re not working?

My favorite place to eat is at home, with Colleen and our children–whether it’s a simple meal on the grill, or an elaborate all day experience, there is no place I would rather be. 

Do you have a favorite dining experience (other than EVOO and Za, of course)?

It’s sunset on the beach in Nerja, Spain. I’m with my brother Steve, brother-in-law Dan and a couple of friends, and we go into the beach-side bar and for some beer, and ask about food. The proprietor sends us out to the beach with our beers, assuring us food will be taken care of. 

espetos-de-sardinas

A few minutes later the proprietor is making a wood fire on the beach, stoking it, adding a bit more wood as needed, replenishing our beers. Once the coals are just right he brings a bucket of fish out to the fire. He skewers the fish on fairly thick planks, slits the skin to keep it from curling while cooking, and seasons the fish with coarse salt. He then jammed the planks into the sand, so the fish would lean over the fire, with their drippings creating a pleasant smoke while gently cooking them. All the while, he kept the beer flowing. When the fish was finished, he simply slid the fish off the planks on top of some crisp romaine lettuce, adding a healthy squeeze of lemon juice and a long drizzle of EVOO. It was so good!!! Quite often the simplest preparations are the best.

Paul Bocuse

The other extreme would be upon visiting Paul Bocuse’s eponymous restaurant in Lyon, France, where the master himself met Colleen and I at the door with flutes of Champagne, giving us a wonderful personal tour of the restaurant, followed by a perfectly prepared and presented 8 course meal. 

You mentor many people? Any hints for others, and did you have an important professional mentor?

Treat people how you would want to be treated. 

Kitchen work is stressful enough; you don’t need some egotist with a tall hat and limited skills yelling at you, blaming you for their inadequacies. 

Give good directions and constantly follow through with critiques that will make your cooks better. Understand that everyone is different, so you should find ways to use an individual’s strengths, and guide them to better their weaknesses.

Bill Poirrier

Chef Billy Poirier

Professional mentors? Billy Poirier was the Executive Chef at the Bostonian Hotel when I started working there in 1987; it was an eye-opening experience. My previous experiences at lesser quality restaurants, and at culinary school paled in comparison to the food being prepared at the time, which was, all made in-house with seasonal ingredients.

Other mentors whom I did not work with, but respect their work, are Gordon Hamersley, Jasper White, Lydia Shire, and Alice Waters.