Ingredient Challenge: Asian Pear, Ginger, Thai Chile PepperBy Dennis Linden While the ingredients for this dish are few and the prep extremely simple, the layers of flavor that Chef Frank creates on one plate are extraordinary
While breakfast is the most important meal of the day, this is the first ever morning recipe that a Guest Chef has submitted for this feature. In fact, such a delicious first that the dish inspired this writer to invent a brunch event just so I could share it with friends. OK, just so I had an excuse to enjoy it for a third time -- my taste test included a second helping! Chef Frank Deloach, Executive Chef at Early Bird in Fullerton, CA., serves up a great start to anyone's day with his Smoked Salmon, Brioche Toast, Sunny Egg with Ginger-Chile Pepper Dressing. That's a mouthful so, while I certainly gave Chef Frank the credit to my brunch guests, I billed it simply as The OMG!
The dish reflects the Early Bird's focus on serving the first two meals of the day in a warm and friendly neighborhood cafe atmosphere. "It's a simple concept," explained chef Frank, "we offer unique chef-driven food, using ingredients from certified sustainable family farms throughout California, as well as a wide selection of single-origin coffees from around the world."
While the ingredients for this dish are few and the prep extremely simple, the layers of flavor that Chef Frank creates on one plate are extraordinary. Seriously consider the brunch idea, as this recipe can be as easily prepared for twenty as for two. Of course, I did offer my guests a quality, fresh-ground coffee blend; however, special is as special does, so a long-stemmed flute of dry champagne seemed appropriate too.
Chef Frank's Ginger-Thai Chile Dressing is the take-home recipe-within-a-recipe lesson of this dish. I could see the same sauce complementing a rich fish like sea bass, scallops or Ahi tuna. Ginger, hot pepper, lemongrass, lime juice and fish sauce are all very bold ingredients unto themselves. Combined, they play a wonderful bar of flavor notes over the palate that comes off "softer" than the individual instruments playing this tasty tune. Forgive the abuse of musical analogies; it is very difficult to describe this sauce of competing flavors that work together like a practiced orchestra. I did it again... just try it, you will love it!
A quick word about handling lemongrass
: before slicing and trying to pulverize this rather fibrous stalk with a mortar and pestle, pound it flat with a small kitchen mallet. This will help breakdown its stringy fibers for the paste. In fact, use a mortar and pestle that has a guttered lip to the bowl so you can catch all the tasty au jus that will exude from the lemongrass as well as the peppers and fresh ginger. Carefully capture this liquid goodness and recycle it back into the paste for a better consistency and full-bodied taste.
Another culinary lesson/reminder of this recipe is the Asian pear slices that Chef Frank calls garnish. Point being that a garnish is a flavor ingredient, not just eye candy. Here, the pear and mint leaves counter the heat of the dressing, contributing a juicy sweet and refreshing aftertaste to each bite. On the face of it, it's just a few half-moon slices of Asian pears and a sprinkling of fresh mint. However, without them the flavor of this dish would be completely different. Such a subtle addition demonstrates the unique touch of a professional culinary artist. Bravo, Chef Frank!
I had a little difficulty finding the Brioche called for in this recipe, but that was due mostly to my rural location. In a more metropolitan locale this slightly sweet, egg & butter variety of French yeast bread is readily available. If not, a good substitute would be Challa, which is the Jewish version of a crusted, egg and butter yeast bread. Actually, I have thoroughly enjoyed the culinary scavenger hunts that many of this feature's Guest Chef recipes have generated over the years. For the Brioche, though location worked against finding this key ingredient on a retail grocery shelf, I was able to talk a local artisan bakery into making up a batch for me. Fresh bread, still warm from the oven and then toasted, was very special, indeed.
A word about the salmon for this dish. If you do not smoke your own, like I do here in the Pacific Northwest, please make an educated choice over the salmon options that are generally found at retail. Know your salmon's pedigree. For this dish use only a quality, high-oil type, like Sockeye or King (line-caught only). In deference to maintaining a healthy environment and sustainable wild fishery, please avoid farmed-raised Atlantic salmon. Besides, artificial coloring is best suited in clothing, not food.
For the logistics of serving this dish to a large group, Chef Frank's recipe is for a single serving. So, it is just a matter of multiplying the amount of each ingredient by the number of lucky guests you need to serve. From experience, I would suggest adding in enough extra for seconds; unless you are fond of the sound of disappointed guests whining for more! Once this large batch of separate components has been prepared, set up an assembly line designed to serve a warm plate of food to everyone at once. That is, toast all the Brioche and keep the pieces warm in a 200 degrees F oven until a pan (or two pans) of sunny-side eggs can be cooked up. Then race, like a Top Chef contestant with one minute left on the clock, to plate each dish one layer at a time. The nice thing about this race is the taste reward that comes at the finish line. Don't forget the champagne!
Smoked Salmon, Brioche Toast, Sunny Egg, & Ginger Thai Chile Dressing
Serving for one
3 ounces House Made or Good Quality Smoked Salmon
½ inch piece of Fresh Ginger
, peeled and small diced
3 Thai Chile Pepper
, seeded, minced
½ inch Lemongrass Stalk
, peeled to the tender green, sliced thin
1 Tablespoon Honey or Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
Dash of High Quality Fish Sauce
1¼ inch slice of Brioche, toasted
, sliced into small half-moon pieces
5-6 Fresh Mint Leaves
1 Egg, cooked sunny-side up
Place Thai Chile, Ginger, Lemon Grass into a mortar and pestle; smash to a paste
Combine paste with lime juice, fish sauce & honey, set aside until plating
Slice the Asian pear and separate mint leaves
Toast brioche in a pan of melted butter or oil, until GBD (golden brown & delicious)
Wipe pan, add vegetable oil and cook egg on low heat sunny side up To plate
Place bread down, top with salmon, garnish with Asian Pear, dress with Ginger Thai chile mixture. Sprinkle a few mint leave on the pears, then top with an egg and the remaining mint leaves. Enjoy!