Chef Marcus Samuelsson Spreads His Charm at a Central Market Cooking Class

Chef Marcus Samuelsson (photos by Carol Shih)

Cool-as-whipped-cream Chef Marcus Samuelsson dropped by Dallas on Wednesday night to promote his new autobiography, Yes, Chef inside the Central Market on Lovers Lane. Approximately 50 people raptly paid attention to the 42-year-old chef whose resume includes preparing the first state dinner for President Obama in 2009 and winning Top Chef: Masters just a couple days before. Now he owns Red Rooster in Harlem and judges Food Network’s show, Chopped. When does this chef ever sleep? I have no idea.

The James Beard award-winning  Samuelsson told us he dined at Angelo’s Bar-B-Que and Sonny Bryan’s while he was here. “I had a damned good meal for lunch today and I haven’t eaten anything after that. I think the whole combo was 14 bucks,” says the charismatic chef. Throughout the two hour cooking class, Samuelsson led the audience through a three-course dinner menu that one guest noted “omitted dessert.” We started out with an open-faced gravlax sandwich, transitioned into crispy coconut fried chicken with collard greens, and ended with an Ethiopian-style lamb hash. All the while, Samuelsson barely cooked (a tad disappointing) and instead regaled us with stories about his childhood in his grandmother Helga’s kitchen.

Jump for cooking tips and a fried chicken recipe.

In Yes, Chef, the author details how he went from having tuberculosis in Ethiopia to getting adopted by middle-class white parents in Göteborg, Sweden where he cooked in his “grandmother’s food factory where she accepted child labor.” There he learned how to work with different parts of animals, which helped him secure the winning title for Chopped: All Stars 2012 when he had to prepare a dish with beef heart in under thirty minutes.

But even with all his successes, Samuelsson’s focus is on the younger generations and helping Harlem grow into a dining destination. “I have big ambition with our cooks. I want it to mean something to work in Harlem the way it means to work in Yountville. My immediate goal is to pump out really good young cooks and good maître d’s.. and maybe they’ll open across the street from me. That’s success. What we do – what I do – is not so much for me right here, right now. I’m fine, I’m good for a long, long, long time.”

Open-faced gravlax sandwich with purple mustard, pickled fennel, and gravlax

Marcus commentary: “Gravlax doesn’t actually lose a lot of flavor when you cure it, which is great because maybe [someone is coming over to your house and you have nothing except gravlax]. You can bring out the gravlax, throw some potatoes, maybe add some caviar from New Year’s Eve, and you are the man.”

Marcus’ tips: “Farm-raised salmon is more consistent, you can sear it, grill it.” It’s good if you’re throwing a party for 25 people. “If you want to do intense, special-occasion salmon, try to get the wild Alaskan salmon.”

Coconut fried chicken with collard greens

Marcus commentary: “If I were doing a party for a lot of people, this is the chicken that I would serve. Because you can actually prepare ahead this chicken, and you’re not going to lose flavor. If you have a party on Friday, you could start buying your chicken on Wednesday, cure it, cook it on Thursday, then quickly just fry it on Thursday and pop it in the oven.”

Marcus’ tips: Panko is better than bread crumbs for frying chicken. “If you want to get super crispy, you can mix rice flour and Panko, starch and Panko…if you want to get fancy, mix water chestnut flour and Panko.”

Coconut Fried Chicken Recipe

Ingredients (Serves 6)
3 tablespoons peanut oil, plus 4 cups for frying
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Scotch bonnet chilies, chopped with seeds and ribs removed
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 cup coconut milk
Juice from 2 limes
4 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg whites
2 cups panko
1 teaspoon salt

Instructions
1. Heat 3 tablespoons peanut oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add the chicken and brown on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the garlic, chilies, and curry paste and sate until golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add teh coconut milk, lime juice, 1 cup of water and return the chicken to pan. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until chicken is cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2. Combine cornstarch and panko together.

3. Dip chicken in egg whites then roll it in the panko-cornstarch mix. Coat well.

4. Heat the peanut oil in a large, deep pan to 350F. Carefully add the chicken pieces and fry until golden brown on both sides, about 4-5 minutes total cooking time.

5. Place on paper towel to remove excess oil. Season with salt.

Marcus answers questions; Ethiopian-style lamb hash with berbere, egg and cottage cheese

Marcus commentary: “If you want to serve something different, this is the perfect brunch dish. Take your leftover barbecue, pair it with potatoes, pair it with yams, and you’ll have a very unique dish.This dish really sums up Ethiopia-meets-Sweden, poor man’s cooking.”

Marcus’ tips: “Probably one of the easiest things you can do in a kitchen – you can take classic buttermilk (or even regular milk or goat milk), bring it to a boil, and it will start breaking. Boil it, take it off the stove and just strain it through a sieve. Let it sit for a good 15 minutes. Then you have your own cottage cheese. Then you can season that with salt, lemon zest, tarragon.”