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June, 2010

Guest Chef Nick Lorenzen

By Dennis Linden

Ingredient Challenge: Baby Bok Choy


Chef Nick Lorenzen

Chef Nick Lorenzen , Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, demonstrates that not all recipes need to be long and complicated to taste great. The only criterion imposed on this month’s Guest Chef for the featured recipe was to come up with a dish starring Baby Bok Choy. Chef Nick takes advantage of the fact that this traditional Asian leaf vegetable, both baby and full-sized, will maintain its shape in a hot skillet, allowing this inventive chef to treat it almost like a spinach sauté, but without much loss in volume because of the much firmer, fuller leaf.

"The mild sweetness of Baby Bok Choy can be easily overwhelmed," explained the chef, "So I prefer to use simple techniques and just a few supporting ingredients that emphasize this vegetable's innate flavor. In fact, my whole approach to cooking, especially with fresh produce, is to let the natural flavors speak for themselves as much as possible. Heavy sauces are just not a part of my approach."

Mirin is a sweet rice wine that is similar to sake, but with much lower alcohol content; it can be found with the vinegars in any well stocked grocery market. Chef Nick uses this condiment to build a broth-like liquid that collects and blends the flavors of the only other two fresh ingredients in his recipe, namely jalapeño pepper and garlic. The subtle sweetness of the mirin dampers the heat of the pepper just enough and helps to spread the garlic evenly over the lightly sautéed Baby Bok Choy. If the overall flavor of a dish can be described as graceful, this is it!

From personal experience, I can attest that this is a great side dish for the busy host coordinating a dinner party. The slicing, dicing and measuring of the liquid ingredients take only a few minutes and the quick sauté allows the home chef to concentrate on the main entrée up to the very last minute before service. That main dish can be any meat, fish or fowl, as they all pair very nicely with the light, complementary flavors of this dish.

If the few ingredients have been prepped or measured ahead of time, the sauté should be started about 10 minutes before you are ready to serve. The vibrant green of the Baby Bok Choy glossed in a tasty sheen of sesame oil and topped with sesame seeds, sitting in a shallow pool of mirin broth, makes for an elegant presentation with little fuss. Serve as a first course or side dish. The advantage of cooking with Baby Bok Choy over full-sized Chinese Bok Choy is the ease of preparation. In a stir fry or braising, for instance, the thick stems of the larger Bok Choy must be separated from the leafy greens and cooked far longer. Baby Bok Choy stalks are tender but still hold their shape when cooked. While Chef Nick separates the small leaves to sauté them individually, these miniature heads can also be simply braised whole or halved, then served with a little butter, salt and pepper for yet another simple, eye-pleasing presentation.

Baby Bok Choy
Baby Bok Choy is aptly named, as it is the full-sized variety harvested before the plant has a chance to grow into an “adult” Bok Choy. Each head is seven to nine inches in length with fully shaped leaves on short stalks. In appearance, they are a miniature version of the full-sized heads but much more tender. It should be noted here, that if you come across “Dwarf” or “Petite” Bok Choy in your local market, also known as Pak Choi, this is a completely different variety that will never be more than two to four inches in length with a much tighter bunch of leaves attached to a hint of stalk. Actually, the seed for this variety is very rare and expensive, making availability much more sporadic than the year-round Baby Bok Choy. However, if you are lucky enough find some, scoop them up as these tiny morsels are a deliciously rare treat!

Interestingly, Melissa’s exclusive supplier of Baby Bok Choy grows a Japanese hybrid strain, whose seed is considerably more expensive than the common Chinese variety of Bok Choy. This Japanese variety has a greener shade of stalk, a little thicker leaf; the variety is prized for having more robust flavor than the traditional Chinese varieties.

Of course, being the executive chef for company such as Southern Wine & Spirits, Chef Nick Lorenzen’s recipe would be incomplete without mention of the appropriate libation to pair with this dish. If it is being served as a side dish at the same time as your main course, then that main entrée will most likely define the vintage. However, if this dish is being served separately as a first course, the chef recommends either a Pinot Blanc or a Pinot Grigio as the perfect accompaniment.

Still holding that wine glass, Melissa’s toasts the creativity of Chef Nick Lorenzen in contributing such a tasty and inspiring dish for this article, as well as his years of customer loyalty from the kitchen at Southern Wine & Spirits. He is a valued member of Melissa’s family of partners and friends – a line we gladly blend as a key element to our mutual successes. Cheers & bon appétit, chef!

Sautéed Baby Bok Choy with Garlic and Chile
Sautéed Baby Bok Choy with Garlic and Chile
Serves Two

Ingredients
3 heads Baby Bok Choy
1 jalapeno chile, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup mirin
2 cups water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Preparation
Cut the Baby Bok Choy about 1 in. above the base so that all the leaves are loose. Place in a sink filled with water and wash 3 times just as you would lettuce. Remove from sink, drain water and pat dry. Heat a sauté pan over high heat and add olive oil. Allow oil to get hot, add garlic and jalapeno, sauté for 20 seconds. Add Baby Bok Choy, salt and pepper. Toss the leaves quickly to coat all in olive oil, and then deglaze the pan with mirin. Reduce mirin by half, add the water and reduce by half again. Stir in the sesame oil and plate. Drizzle remaining liquid evenly over each dish. Garnish lightly with toasted sesame seeds and serve.