On January 20, Marcus Samuelsson appeared at the South Coast Plaza Home Store to perform a cooking demo to publicize his latest cookbook, New American Table. He’s a member of Macy’s Culinary Council, which partners with celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Cat Cora on fast casual restaurants at Macy’s locations across the U.S. Samuelsson developed Marc Burger in Chicago and South Coast Plaza, so his hamburgers were in full effect, along with two other comfort foods.
Throughout the evening, Samuelsson shared personal stories that hinted at his development as a chef. He harkened back to his early childhood in Ethiopia, saying, “I was born in one of the poorest countries in the world, but the food was incredible.”
After six months in France, Samuelsson was ready for new challenges in the U.S. At that point, the chef told him, “You can’t leave three-star Michelin to go to the land of the burger.” Samuelsson not only left a three-star Michelin. Years later, he owns his own hamburger concept (Marc Burger).
Later, Samuelsson discussed the fact that chefs used to go to France to cook before returning to their home countries. “12, 15 years ago, it all changed and chefs started coming to America,” he says, “because of what was happening on both coasts.” He referenced influential chefs like David Burke, Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower. Google also started propagating American culture, so the U.S. became ground zero for culinary sojourns. “We are constantly questioning what is American food,” says Samuelsson, “but as long as we question, the food will evolve.”
Samuelsson started by preparing a grilled salmon sandwich on pumpernickel with honey mustard, tomato, onion and avocado, a variation on a classic combination from his formative years in Sweden. While Samuelsson was grilling the fish, a woman made it clear that she’s not a fan of salmon based upon a prior experience. Samuelsson challenged her to try the salmon, and she stepped up, child in hand, to retrieve his version. After she got back to her seat and took a bite, he asked how it went and got the thumb’s up. Score another salmon conversion for Samuelsson.
While grilling the salmon, Samuelsson dispensed advice on choosing fish. He said to make sure it’s odorless. Touch the fish and as long as the skin bounces back, you’re in the clear. Also, if a fish has cloudy eyes, you’re out of luck. “Demand sushi quality fish regardless if you use it for sushi or not,” he added. Sushi grade is center cut, not bruised and is classified by grade A, B or C.
He transitioned to fried chicken, “one of the coolest, trendiest dishes,” and a dish that spans nearly every culture. Samuelsson was “inspired by Asian cooking,” incorporating chile, garlic, curry powder and coconut milk, which he calls “the game changer.” He said using panko “makes it crispy and light.” He said to fry chicken in grape seed or peanut oil, not extra virgin olive oil, which is better for finishing a salad or risotto.
Samuelsson pairs his chicken with greens and advises cooking the greens with bacon in the Asian-inspired fried chicken oil. He mixes collards and bok choy for textural contrast. Bok choy is soft and light. Collards are tough.
Samuelsson asked where to find the best hamburgers, and people named The Counter, In-N-Out, Tommy’s, Morton’s and Burger Bar. He then delved into his own approach. Samuelsson suggested buying a piece of flank steak and chopping it up. “Flank would be perfect,’ he added. “Ribeye would of course be nice, but there are better ways to use that cut…If you don’t want beef, lamb is fantastic. You have a great flavor profile. Garlic, paprika and cumin, you want to add those flavors in.” Duck leg is another option. In Sweden, if you mix two different meats, it’s no longer a burger, it’s a pattie. No matter the meat, avoid buying a grind. Samuelsson advised a 70/30 meat/fat ratio. “Less than that, the burger’s going to be dry, no matter what you do.”
Grill on high heat and use a good bun. It’s also important to have a good meat to bun ratio and to “Butter the bun so it’s nice and rich.”
Chef Samuelsson’s staff distributed a handout with three of his recipes: the BBQ Burger, Fried Chicken and Collard Greens, and the Grilled Open-Faced Salmon Sandwich. All three recipes would take up a lot of pixels, so here’s just one, for Fried Chicken and Collard Greens
3 tablespoons, plus 4 cups for frying – peanut oil
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
To Taste – salt
To Taste – 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
2 limes, juice from
4 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg whites
2 cups panko
1 teaspoon salt
Heat 3 tablespoons peanut oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Working in bitches, add the chicken and brown on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the garlic, chilies and curry paste and saute until golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the 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.
Combine cornstarch and panko together.
Dip chicken in egg whites then roll it in the panko-cornstarch mix. Coat well.
Heat the peanut oil in a large, deep pan to 350ºF. Carefully add the chicken pieces and fry until golden brown on both sides, about 4-5 minutes total cooking time.
Place on paper towel to remove excess oil. Season with salt.
Yields 6 servings.
6 bacon slices
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 cups (about 6 ounces-about 2 bunches) very thinly sliced collard greens
4 cups (about 1-1/2 pounds-about 2 heads) very thinly sliced bok choy
Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Drain on paper towels, and crumble into small pieces. Set aside.
In small saucepan, bring the coconut milk and soy sauce to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard and crumbled bacon. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large straight-sided pan over low heat. Add the garlic, and slowly toast until pale golden brown, about 10 minutes. (Be careful not to let it burn). Lift the garlic out of the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the collard greens and cook, stirring frequently, until the greens start to wilt. Stir in the coconut milk mixture and cook for about 20 minutes, until the greens are tender and the sauce has thickened.
In a separate pot bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil. Blanch the bok choy, and fold into the collard greens during the last minute of cooking. Stir the reserved garlic into the greens and serve.
Yields 6-8 servings