On the menu: As with all diners at the restaurant, The First Couple was presented with Parmesan cheese biscuits and deviled eggs, as a chef's welcome. After, Mrs. Obama had the pistachio-crusted chicken breast with coconut-ginger-chili sauce and string vegetables [Ed. note: whatever those are], which is also served with lo mein noodles (in pic). The recipe, in an odd twist of Six Degrees of Obama Foodorama, calls for lemongrass, which Mrs. Obama made iconic on Inauguration Day. The President ordered the "Grouper special," but when we called Table Fifty-two to inquire about what this dish entailed, the actor/model/waiter on the other end of the phone line had no clue. Alas. And in an odd bit of playing it close to the apron, Chef Smith wouldn't "admit" to the Trib reporter whether or not the President and First Lady ordered dessert, but he did say that his Pecan Pie was sent upstairs to their private dining room. Okey dokey, Art Smith, International Chef of Mystery.
Now, we're not ones to quibble with presidential food choices, so we'll quibble with Chef Smith's food choices. Grouper is not usually a good choice for fish, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it almost always has a stunningly high level of mercury, unless it's farmed, and there are no Grouper farming operations that we know of. And, too, Grouper is on all kinds of seafood watch lists; we follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, and they list almost every kind of Grouper as fish to be avoided (there are 82 kinds...). We're hoping that Chef Smith, for the sake of patriotism, chose one of the three Northern Hawaiian island Groupers that are acceptable when caught on a long line. Now 21-Gun salute, please! Here's the recipe for the First Lady's entree:
4 boneless chicken breasts
1 quart buttermilk
1 pound salted pistachios, shelled and toasted
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup fresh thyme
1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grapeseed oil to taste
*Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
1. Cut the chicken breasts in half. With a meat mallet pound until ¼-inch thick and place in a nonreactive bowl. Pour the buttermilk over the chicken, cover, and let sit for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.
2. In a food processor, place half of the pistachios, half of the Parmesan cheese, and half of the herbs. Pulse 5 or 6 times until the mixture is finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat this step with the rest of the pistachios and combine with the other pistachio mixture. Place the flour in another bowl and season it with salt and pepper.
3. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and prepare it for assembly. Preheat a large nonstick sauté pan over medium-low heat with a thin coating of grapeseed oil. Remove one breast, shake off any excess buttermilk and dust the breast with flour on each side. Dip only one side of the chicken back in the buttermilk and press pistachios onto that side. Repeat that step with all of the chicken.
4. Place the chicken in the sauté pan, pistachio side down, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn and cook the other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Place in the oven to finish cooking for 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove, let rest for 5 minutes and then slice to serve with the Coconut-Chile-Ginger Sauce and the prepared noodles (recipes, of course, below).
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
2 blades lemongrass, chopped
3 (1/2-inch) piece, fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 cup sweet white wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
2 tablespoons Chinese black bean chili sauce
1 (8-ounce) can coconut milk
½ cup (1stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add the tablespoon of butter, the shallots, lemongrass, ginger slices and wine. Reduce to half.
2. Add the broth, red curry paste and Chinese black bean chili sauce and reduce to half again.
3. Add the coconut milk and reduce to half a third time.
4. Remove from the heat and whisk the bits of butter into the sauce until all the butter has been incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. If you reheat, do not allow the sauce to boil or the butter will separate. *The sauce can be made ahead of time because it keeps well in the refrigerator.
Lo Mein Noodles
4 large shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and julienned
4 stalks asparagus, cleaned, blanched and julienned
½ cup julienned yellow squash
½ cup julienned zucchini squash
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoon Mae Ploy sweet and sour sauce
¼ teaspoon sriracha chile paste
Salt and pepper to taste
8-12 ounces fresh lo mien noodles (commonly found in the refrigerator section of an Asian grocery store)
Place the canola oil in a preheated sauté pan with the julienned vegetables and sauté for 1 minute. Add the sweet and sour sauce, srirracha chile paste and lo mien noodles. Continue to cook until the noodles are just hot and season to taste with salt and pepper.
*Art Smith's recipe is from the 2008 Chicago NECA convention website. Yes, it's the National Electrical Contractors Association, where Mr. Smith was giving a presentation. He really is an International Chef of Mystery, huh? He originally developed the recipe for Oprah, and there's a video of the prep here, at Today show's website.
*Hat tip to the lovely Jaqueline Church, aka Leather District Gourmet. Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch IPhone App is here. Awesome downloadable seafood watch pocket guides, divided up by regions in the US, are available here.
*Picture of Mrs. Obama from Reuters.