The Chef at the Market Still Loves Asparagus
Editor’s Note: It was a real pleasure that last weekend’s blossoming of farmer’s markets coincided with the blossoming of our local asparagus crop. And with the use of real asparagus, we have the excuse to use our real chef contributor, Patrick Sheerin. When the Beet first launched, Pat was executive Chef at The Signature Room, and he contributed this article on his love for markets and his love for asparagus. More recently, with his brother, Michael, he opened the acclaimed Trencherman, where he continues to exercise his passion for seasonal food and high quality ingredients. Things have gotten a little more complicated in Pat’s kitchen these days, but this classic asparagus recipe remains a favorite. Please share with us tales of “your asparagus.”
When you hear the restaurant name “The Signature Room at the 95th“, most people in the food business think about the phrase “tourist trap.” And it is no joke; we get a lot of tourists from around the block to across the globe. It is unlikely that the phrase “one of the largest restaurant buyers at the Green City Market” comes to mind. The reality is that you will find more locally grown fruits and vegetables in my ninety-five story kitchen than you will tourists in the dining room. After our first introduction, courtesy of my good friend Paul Virant at Vie Restaurant, Rob Gardner from The Local Beet inquired about how it is possible for us to plan and buy so much local produce.
As a chef, I have had the pleasure of a few incredible work experiences in Chicago. Call it the luck of the Irish, if you will, but I was a prep cook in kitchens that sourced local produce in the 1990’s – years before this practice was on the industry radar. Fortunately our local farmers grow great vegetables in conjunction with the all mighty and benevolent Mother Earth, a practice which has enabled them to sell a superior product. The Chef’s who source local will all agree that this produce looks better, tastes better and is often more affordable.
Now I have always been the type of guy who enjoys a visit to the outdoor market. Every week I would walk through the farmers market in Federal Plaza and pick up interesting stuff both for the sake of learning and cooking in my kitchen at home (I am a Printer’s Row resident). The items made with fresh, local ingredients tasted better than anything from a grocery; the carrots crunchier, the radishes more flavorful. So when I inherited my kitchen in the clouds six years ago, we immediately began to purchase directly from the farmers at the markets in the area. My goal was to provide a superior product to our diner. Regardless of whether or not they were having a side of whipped potatoes or a plate of mixed greens, it should be the best vegetable they had ever eaten. In my journey through the market that first season as banquet chef, I discovered that Green Acres Farm grew an incredible golden zucchini. The first ratatouille I made with that zucchini was phenomenal; the color popped a brilliant gold and was so dense and meaty that Anton Ego would have drooled over it. While everyone loved that ratatouille they didn’t see it again for a long time because Bruce Sherman at North Pond would buy every last zucchini from Green Acres hours before I could make it to the market each week.
Since I knew that I would never wake up earlier than Bruce, I had to call in reinforcements. Over the next few seasons I carpooled with Paul Virant, met as many farmers as humanly possible and earned some street credit at the market. Eventually, after we purchased produce for a few seasons to supplement the core menu and create monthly specials, the farmers and growers began to remember my face. I was welcomed each week by the voices of enthusiastic merchants looking to sell me the “best eggplant” and the “juciest apple.” On the day that I had to hail two cabs to transport my fruits and vegetables back to the Hancock building, I knew that I had made my mark.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank Paul Virant for the countless times he drove me back to work with my fresh market items (imagine two grown men in a RAV4 sandwiched between crates of squash and flats of fresh berries, and you will see why it is so important to show my gratitude). In the summer of 2007 I was promoted to Executive Chef of The Signature Room and immediately began contracting directly with the growers for more and more items. It was logistically smarter to quit hailing cabs twice a week and establish a regular delivery system. We presently purchase 100,000 pounds of fresh produce, meats and cheese from local farmers in a five state area.
And just in case you were wondering, I have earned some growing power with Green Acres for that highly coveted golden zucchini. In fact, when the summer squash are abundant in the market stalls, be on the lookout for Chef Pat’s Golden Eight Ball Zucchini grown only by Green Acres farms and bred especially for stuffing in a cheesy, 80’s kind of way. That right readers – with a little bit of dedication and 30,000 pounds of produce purchased annually, you too can have a squash named after you.
Grilled Michigan Asparagus (with asparagus bread and truffled egg salad)
The Signature Room at the 95th
John Hancock Center
Executive Chef Patrick Sheerin
4 slices bacon, thinly sliced
20 spears asparagus, washed, peeled, stems removed
Ingredients for Asparagus Bread:
* Please allow 24-hours to prepare
¾ cup shredded asparagus bodies, cut off tips and discard
¼ cup spinach, wilted, sautéed
1 whole egg
1 Tbsp honey
½ cup canola oil
1 cup flour
1/16 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Method for Asparagus Bread:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place asparagus, wilted spinach, egg and honey in a blender. Puree until smooth, slowly add canola oil into the mix. In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry and pour into a shallow greased and floured brownie pan. Bake approximately 45 minutes. Cool to room temperature, slice thin and let dry out in an oven with a pilot light overnight.
Ingredients for Truffled Egg Salad:
3 whole hard boiled farm eggs, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp cup minced truffles
touch of black truffle oil
salt and pepper
Method for Truffle Egg Salad:
Combine all ingredients and reserve for service
Ingredients for Truffle Vinaigrette:
5 whole shallots, roasted-soft
½ cup sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp black truffle peelings
4 oz black truffle juice
1 whole Portobello mushroom-gills from the underside only
1/16th tsp Zanthan gum (find at whole foods)
1 cup canola oil
¼ cup black truffle oil
Method for Truffle Vinaigrette:
Combine the shallots, sherry, truffle peelings, truffle juice and gills in a blender. Add the zanthan gum and drizzle in the canola and truffle oils to emulsify. The mixture should pour like a sauce.
Method for Service:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the 20 asparagus spears in the oven. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and warm for 4 minutes. Reduce heat to 200 degrees and place the bacon slices in the oven until dry and crispy.
Spread egg salad on the bottom of the plate, place the bundle of asparagus on top and garnish with crispy bacon and asparagus bread crumbles.