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Susan Puckett

Why you should use every part of the carrot, according to Watershed chef Zeb Stevenson

CarrotsCarrots are at their sweetest and most tender in their youth. Those baseball bat–sized versions might be the workhorses of a good stew, but if you’re going to put them at the center of the plate, you want these root vegetables plucked from the soil as teenagers, around seven weeks instead of 10. “Whenever we get them,” says Watershed on Peachtree executive chef Zeb Stevenson, “we milk them for everything they’re worth.” That includes using their verdant, leafy tops, which Stevenson treats as an herb. Here’s how to follow suit.

Serve them raw
Make a grain-free riff on tabbouleh with carrots standing in for bulgur and carrot tops replacing parsley. First, separate the tops, removing any tough stems. Coarsely chop the carrots and toss with 1 tsp. salt. Let stand for 30 minutes in a colander; the salt will draw out excess water. Place carrots, their tops, 1 peeled garlic clove, ¼ cup olive oil, and the zest of ½ lemon in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and serve with crackers.

Sear them like meat
Remove tops. Halve carrots lengthwise and season with salt. Heat a cast-iron skillet and add 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Place carrots in the skillet, cut-side down, and cook until almost blackened, or about 2 minutes. Don’t flip! “I like the contrast between the deeply charred cut side and the barely cooked top side,” says Stevenson. Arrange on a plate, sprinkle with sea salt, and garnish with chimichurri.

About that chimichurri
Substitute tender baby carrot tops for the typical parsley in this fresh sauce. In a food processor, puree ½ pound carrot tops with 3 Tbsp. olive oil, 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 2 peeled garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds, and ½ tsp. each sea salt and red pepper flakes.

Treat them right
There’s no need to peel these babies. Stevenson simply rubs their delicate skins with a clean, wet towel to remove any debris. As for the greens, agitate them in salted water to remove any dirt.

Drink them
Carrot mimosa, anyone? Juice 1 pound baby carrots, 2 Pink Lady or other tart-sweet apples, and a 1-inch-long knob of ginger; stir to combine. In a large container, mix equal parts juice and Champagne. Pour into flutes.

Zeb Stevenson 101
The Watershed on Peachtree chef has also cooked at Houston Mill House, the gone but not forgotten Dick and Harry’s, Spice Market, Livingston Restaurant and Bar, and Parish, and he crushed the competition on season 12 of Food Network’s Chopped. He’s also a USDA-certified canner.

This article originally appeared in our April 2017 issue.

Chef Jarrett Stieber’s tips for serving radishes like a pro

RadishesRadishes are at their sweetest now, before summer’s high temperatures turn them bitter. Chef Jarrett Stieber is a fan of local varieties like cherry belle, purple plum, and white icicle, which star in dishes at his popular Candler Park pop-up Eat Me Speak Me. “As a kid, I only had the fibrous, factory farmed ones from the supermarket,” he says. “These are so much more tender.” Although prized most for their crunchy texture and peppery bite when raw, radishes become earthy and mellow—more like their cousin, the turnip—when cooked. Below, Stieber walks us through both techniques.

Pick them right
Look for firm roots and bright, perky leaves without pock marks. Wash well, trim away the leaves, and store covered in the refrigerator.

Serve them raw
Stieber’s modern take on a crudité platter (pictured): Flavor softened butter with a mixture of sea salt, sugar, aonori (a type of seaweed found in powdered form at most Asian markets), and a few drops of benne seed oil. Smear the compound butter onto a serving platter, top with layers of whole and halved radishes, and finish with another drizzle of benne oil and salt.

Serve them cooked
Toss halved or quartered radishes in canola oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast in a 400°F oven until they begin to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Stieber also likes to poach whole small radishes in dashi and serve them with fish.

Don’t toss the tops!
But use them right away; they perish quickly. Mix the spicy greens into a salad or quickly sauté them, like spinach. You could also combine them with basil leaves and blend into a pesto.

Jarrett Stieber 101
The chef, who grew up in Sandy Springs, worked his way around some of this city’s top kitchens—Pura Vida, Holeman and Finch, Empire State South, Abattoir—before opening Eat Me Speak Me in 2013. The weekend pop-up has since drawn quite a following, and Stieber was nominated for a James Beard Award last year.

This article originally appeared in our March 2017 issue.

How to make a basic but oh-so-good marinara


Marinara sauceThere’s nothing like a just-picked tomato in the middle of summer—except when you’re making marinara. Fresh tomatoes are too watery, and the taste “just doesn’t compare” to the intensity of those picked at peak ripeness and preserved, says chef Jamie Adams of il Giallo. The ingredients for his sauce are simple: whole canned and peeled Italian tomatoes, a little salt, and olive oil flavored with onions cooked until they’re almost burnt. This sauce can then be refrigerated or frozen as is, or flavored with herbs, a splash of wine, or a little cream. Here’s how Adams prepares this basic but oh-so-good marinara.

To make the marinara:
1. Dump two 35-ounce cans of Italian peeled tomatoes into a food mill fit with a coarse blade set over a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Pass tomatoes through the mill, liquid and all. Discard any large, tough pieces.

2. Bring puree to a hard simmer over high heat. Sea­son with 1 tsp. salt.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat Âľ cup extra-virgin olive oil. When it is hot, add one small onion, thinly sliced, and cook until dark brown.

4. Strain the oil into the bubbling tomato sauce (stand back to avoid spatters); discard the onions.

5. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 20 minutes.

6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7. Let cool and transfer to an airtight container Refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 2 months. (Makes about 1 quart.)

About chef Jamie Adams
After spending five years (and making countless marinaras) in Italy in his young adulthood, Atlanta native Jamie Adams returned home to join the Buckhead Life Group. He helmed the kitchen of Veni Vidi Vici for 19 years until it closed in 2015. Soon after, he opened il Giallo in Sandy Springs.

This article originally appeared in our February 2017 issue.

How to make perfect guacamole, from Superica’s Kevin Maxey


Guacamole recipe“I always thought I liked my guacamole super limey because that’s how I ate it in Texas,” says Kevin Maxey, chef at Superica. “But since then I have found that it’s just as delicious even when it’s just avocado and salt. It’s all about texture.”

Superica’s bright-tasting, extra-chunky version has a few more ingredients than that. But what’s most critical is the ripeness and variety of the avocado (Hass is best). It should yield slightly in your palm with a slight squeeze, but beware, a soft spot could also indicate a bruise. Another test: Pinch the stem to see if it wiggles easily and is creamy-colored underneath.

for 2 cups / 4-6 servings
1 Buy hard, unripe avocados at least 3 days before you plan to use them. Ripen at room temperature.

2 Cut into the middle of the avocados around the pit. Twist slightly and pull the halves apart. Hold the half with the seed in one hand. With the other, gently tap the blade of a chef’s knife into the seed. Give the knife a quarter-turn and pull the seed out of the cavity.

3 Use a large spoon to scoop out the flesh. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining halves.

4 Lightly crush avocados with the bottom of a plastic tumbler so they just begin to break up. Sprinkle with 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt (about ½ tsp. salt per avocado).

5 Fold in ¼ cup finely minced white onion, ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro, and 2 Tbsp. finely minced serrano or jalapeño peppers (add the seeds and ribs for more heat).

6 Gently stir in 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Pro tip Avocados brown quickly, and while a squeeze of citrus might slow the process, it’s not a guarantee. If making ahead, cover with plastic wrap, gently pressing the film against the flesh to keep all the air out.

About chef Kevin Maxey
The grandson of an East Texas cattle rancher, Maxey majored in marketing at Texas Christian University. After nine years under Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern and Craft, he joined Ford Fry as vice president of culinary operations for the prolific restaurateur’s Superica locations and The El Felix in Alpharetta.

This article originally appeared in our January 2017 issue.

How to make Star Provisions shortbread cookies


Star Provisions cookiesThis time of year, shortbread cookies at Star Provisions come dressed for the season—as snowflakes, Christmas trees, and whatever else pastry chef Zibaa Sammander might dream up for this versatile, durable dough. It can be rolled thick or thin. It can be delicate and nearly white (baked slowly) or crisp-edged and golden (in a hotter oven). A tip: Instead of dusting the surface with flour to prevent sticking, roll the dough between sheets of parchment, then chill it for easy cutting.

1 For about three dozen 2½–inch cookies, measure 4 cups bleached all-purpose flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 1½ teaspoons kosher salt. Cube 4 sticks of high-quality unsalted butter and bring to room temperature.
2 Place sugar and salt, then butter, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then run at low speed until blended. Raise speed to medium and mix for about 5 more minutes so that it’s very light and creamy.
3 Reduce speed to low and add flour slowly, one-third at a time. Mix until ingredients are just combined.
4 Place half the dough in the center of a pan-sized piece of parchment paper, then top with another piece of parchment. Use a rolling pin to flatten dough to ÂĽ-inch thick; transfer to the baking sheet. (May be wrapped in plastic and frozen at this point.) Repeat with remaining dough.
5 Cut out shapes and place cookies on another baking sheet lined with parchment, spacing them about an inch apart. Wrap any unused dough tightly in plastic and place in freezer.
6 For pale cookies, preheat the oven to 225ËšF then bake for 65 to 75 minutes. For a golden cookie, preheat the oven to 350ËšF and bake for 10 to 12 minutes (add 5 to 10 more minutes if cookies are frozen).
 7 Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Decorate as desired.

To ice the cookies:
1 Mix together 3 cups confectioners sugar, ÂĽ cup milk, and paste or liquid food coloring a tiny dot at a time; transfer to a pastry bag or squirt bottle with a fine tip.
2 Outline the cooled cookie with icing, let dry slightly, then “flood” the center with more icing (thin with a teaspoon more of milk if needed), using a clean toothpick or tip of bottle to spread the icing to the border.
3 Let cookies dry for at least several hours or overnight before storing in a sealed container at room temperature.

(Tip: Baking pros like Sammander use more stable royal icing made with pasteurized egg whites or meringue powder for decorating; tutorials are widely available online. She likes to cover the cookies with white icing first, let it dry, then mix gel and liquid food coloring together and apply with a paintbrush to the cookies—like mini-canvases—to achieve a watercolor affect. For a wide selection of supplies, she recommends paying a visit to Cake Art in Tucker.)

Shake it up: 2 fun variations on the recipe

Cinnamon bars
1 Substitute an equal amount of brown sugar for the white.
2 Roll the dough ½ inch thick.
3 Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until it just begins to firm up.
4 Remove from the oven, slice into rectangles with a sharp knife, and return to the oven for 8-10 minutes until baked through.
5 Let cool until slightly warm, then toss with cinnamon sugar.

Rosemary-cornmeal cookies
(These sometimes appear on cheese boards at Bacchanalia)
1 Substitute ½ cup cornmeal for equal amount of flour. Add 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary to the dough.
2 Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.
3 Top with your favorite coarse salt.

About pastry chef Zibaa Sammander
Sammander’s degree might be in computer science, but she’s spent her career in the kitchen, with stints at Bacchanalia, Jöel, the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, the Peninsula Chicago, and other restaurants. She joined Star Provisions six years ago.

This article originally appeared in our December 2016 issue.

How to make South City Kitchen’s shrimp and grits


South City Kitchen shrimp and gritsThe rustic texture and toasty corn flavor of stone-ground grits bear little resemblance to the bland porridge of Jason Starnes’s youth. At South City Kitchen, he uses a 50/50 blend of earthy, yellow grits from Mills Farm in Athens and sweeter-tasting white grits from Riverview Farms in Ranger. Slow cooking and constant stirring bring out the natural starch and create an ultra-creamy consistency. Starnes pairs them with shrimp, housemade Tasso ham, and smoked tomato-poblano gravy. “There are a million ways to go with grits,” he says.

 1 Pour 3 cups water and 1 cup heavy cream—any more will make the grits too rich—into a heavy saucepan set over medium heat.
 2 Add about ½ tsp. kosher salt and a few grindings of pepper to the liquid.
3 Once the water is hot, but not boiling, add 1 cup grits in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to keep the grits from scorching.
4 When the water is close to boiling, reduce heat to medium-low. Keep stirring, and don’t rush. As the grains slowly release their starch, they will cling to the spoon, like a custard. Taste for tenderness. If the grits thicken too much, thin with a little water.
 5 When the grits are almost done, turn off the burner. The residual heat will finish the cooking. Add ½ stick butter and stir until melted.
6 Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe: South City Kitchen Shrimp and Grits with Smoked Tomato Gravy: 4 to 6 servings
This full recipe that’s been a menu favorite since the early days of its 24-year-old sister restaurant in Midtown.

2 cups Smoked Tomato Gravy (recipe follows)

Stone-Ground Grits:
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups water (plus more, as needed)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup stone-ground grits (SCK uses a mixture of yellow Mills Farm grits and white grits from Riverview Farm)
4 Tbsp. butter

Shrimp topping:
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp
8 ounces Tasso ham, cut in small dice
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup chopped poblano chiles
1 Tbs. plus 1tsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the Smoked Tomato Gravy (this can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen).
Make the grits (see Technique for more details): In a heavy saucepan, heat cream and water to a simmer over medium heat. Add ½ tsp. salt and a few grindings of pepper.
Slowly stir in grits, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue to cook and stir until tender and smooth, about 30 to 45 minutes. Be careful not to let it scorch.
Add butter and stir till melted. Adjust seasoning as desired. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Cook the shrimp: In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until oil is shimmering but not smoking.
Add ham, chiles, and garlic, and sauté for a minute or two, until tender.
Add the shrimp; cook and stir just until shrimp begin to turn pink, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add 2 cups sauce; reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until shrimp are cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add butter and adjust seasoning. Serve over cooked grits.

Smoked Tomato Gravy: 1 quart
You’ll only need half this recipe to make shrimp and grits for 4 servings, but go ahead and make the full batch and freeze the rest for later. It would be great over fried chicken or pork chops, with rice or mashed potatoes. If you don’t have a smoker or don’t want to fool with smoking the tomatoes, you can skip that step. It will taste different but will still be delicious.

1 (14 ½-ounce) can diced tomatoes
½ stick (2 ounces) butter
ÂĽ cup chopped yellow onion
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp. minced thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken stock
1 ½ tsp. Texas Pete
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 bay leaf

Pour the tomatoes, juice and all, in a square cake pan. Cold-smoke in a smoker for about 45 minutes, or in the residual heat of a covered charcoal grill after the coals have died down. (Or, omit this step. It will still taste delicious without the smoky flavor).
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and thyme; cook and stir until tender, about 2 minutes. Add paprika, Old Bay, and cayenne, and cook for 1 minute longer.
Stir in flour to make roux; cook and stir about 2 minutes, until raw flavor disappears.
Add stock, Texas Pete, Worcestershire, and tomatoes; simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until thickened and bubbly.
Add lemon juice; season to taste with salt and pepper.
Roughly puree with an immersion blender or in the bowl of a food processor. Return the mixture to the saucepan, add bay leaf, and allow to steep over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf. Label, date, cool, and store the gravy in the refrigerator until ready to use, if not using immediately.

About chef Jason Starnes
Ever since Starnes was a child in Hickory, North Carolina, he’s known he wanted to cook professionally. After studying culinary arts at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and cooking in several hometown restaurants, Starnes moved to Atlanta. He worked in catering before helming the kitchen of the Westin Hotel’s revolving Sun Dial restaurant. In May the Fifth Group named him executive chef of South City Kitchen’s Buckhead outpost.

This article originally appeared in our November 2016 issue.

Cooking duck breast is tricky. Noble Fin’s Jeb Aldrich shares how to get it perfect every time.

How to saute duck breast
Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

No one wants to mess up a pricey cut of meat, but duck breast can be tricky: dry when overcooked and gummy when undercooked. But when done just right—medium with perfectly rendered fat and crispy skin—it’s beautiful. “Duck has a sweetness and tender, meaty flavor that’s comparable to a steak,” says Noble Fin’s chef de cuisine, Jeb Aldrich, who explains how to get perfect results every time.

How to saute a duck breast
1 Pat dry 2 boneless, skin-on duck breasts, whether fresh or thawed. Aldrich sources his from Maple Leaf Farms.
2 Score the skin by making parallel diagonal slashes, about 1/8 inch apart. Be careful not to cut through the flesh. This allows the duck to cook more evenly and the fat to render more quickly.
3 Place breasts in a bowl with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. salt, several grindings of black pepper, and 2 Tbsp. minced fresh basil. Turn to coat evenly; let marinate about 1 hour.
4 Set breasts skin-side down in a cold saute pan. Over medium-low heat, allow duck to render its fat, about 5 minutes.
5 When the thick cap of fat has melted down to a crisp, golden-brown sheath, about 1/8 inch thick (lift edge up with a spatula to check), add 2 Tbsp. butter to the pan and baste with pan drippings for 1 minute to ensure even cooking.
6 Flip and cook on the other side, basting constantly, about 2 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 130°F.
7 Remove duck to a cutting board. Let rest 5 minutes, then thinly slice.

Complete the meal with a white bean puree and a quick cassoulet-like vegetable stew.

Quick Vegetable “Cassoulet”
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté 1 tsp minced garlic and 2 Tbsp minced shallots in a little butter and olive oil until tender. Stir in mixed fresh herbs (5 minced basil leaves, plus the leaves of 4 thyme sprigs and ½ rosemary sprig) and 2 cups fresh, blanched legumes (field peas, butter beans, English peas etc.), along with 1½ cups chicken broth. Add 4 quartered, oven-dried (or sun-dried) tomatoes and 3 to 4 cipollini onions (or 6 to 8 peeled pearl onions) that have been tossed in olive oil and roasted in a 450°F oven until tender and slightly blistered, about 30 minutes. Simmer about 5 minutes until peas are tender. Add another 1 to 2 Tbsp butter before serving.

White Bean Puree
Melt 2 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add 1 Tbsp minced shallot and 1 tsp chopped garlic. Saute 1 to 2 minutes or until tender. Add 1½ to 2 cups drained cannellini beans and heat through. Puree in a food processor, then transfer back to the saucepan and season with salt and pepper. If needed, thin with a little chicken broth.

About Jeb Aldrich
Inspired by his dad, the veteran Atlanta chef Jay Swift, Aldrich started out washing dishes as a teenager before earning his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Charleston. In 2006 he moved to Atlanta, landing kitchen gigs at Canoe and Jöel, then traveled to work in Austria and Italy before returning stateside in 2009. Today Aldrich runs the kitchen at his father’s new restaurant in Peachtree Corners, Noble Fin.

A version of this article originally appeared in our October 2016 issue.

Technique: How to make Fried Green Tomatoes, from Home Grown GA’s Kevin Clark


Home Grown GA Fried Green TomatoesIt wasn’t until Kevin Clark opened Home Grown GA that he came to like this Southern classic, which can easily turn thin and soggy. What’s his secret? Slice the tomatoes no less than ¼ inch thick, then salt and pepper them generously about five minutes before frying. Give the slices several good tosses to evenly distribute the seasoning. And instead of the traditional cornmeal, he uses panko Japanese breadcrumbs.

 1 In a medium bowl, whisk 4 large eggs. Place 2 cups panko Japanese breadcrumbs in a second bowl and 2 cups all-purpose flour in a third bowl.

 2 Pour ½ inch canola oil into a cast-iron skillet. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set it next to the skillet.

 3 Trim ½ inch off the stem end of 4 medium green tomatoes. Cut tomatoes into ¼-inch slices and place in large bowl. Sprinkle 2 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. coarse-ground pepper.

 4 Shake the bowl vigorously to toss the tomatoes and seasoning. Repeat every minute or two for about 5 minutes.

 5 Heat oil to 375˚F (invest in a thermometer for best results).

 6 Dip each tomato slice in flour, shaking off excess, then dip in egg wash and roll in crumbs, coating evenly. Place finished slices on a wire rack set on top of a pan.

 7 Drop a few of the tomato slices into hot oil and fry until golden, about 2 minutes on each side.

 8 Transfer to paper towels. Repeat with remaining slices.

 9 Before serving, toss with kosher salt.

About Kevin Clark
Clark believes his most valuable training came via his friendship with Michael Greene of Matthews Cafeteria, the Tucker institution that’s been in Greene’s family since 1956. “I grew up in that kitchen,” says Clark. “I make my biscuits the same way he does.”

This article originally appeared in our September 2016 issue.

Technique: How to make the Iberian Pig’s gazpacho

Iberian Pig gazpacho
Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

The gazpacho that appears on the summer menu at the Iberian Pig stays true to the traditional formula of ripe tomatoes, vegetables, herbs, olive oil, and vinegar. What distinguishes Eric Roberts’s version from the original Andalusian recipe is the assembly. Instead of pounding the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle, he purees the tomatoes in a Vitamix. To add more textural contrast and visual appeal, he chops and folds in other vegetables and herbs by hand.

1 Halve 4 large, ripe heirloom tomatoes from stem to bottom, cut out cores, then quarter. Place in a blender, in batches if necessary, and pulse until smooth. (If desired, press through a sieve for an even silkier soup base.) Pour puree into a large glass bowl and set aside.
2 Peel and dice 1 medium red onion.
3 Core and halve 2 large red bell peppers. Remove seeds and membranes, and dice.
4 Remove ends of 2 hydroponic cucumbers. Vertically slice off four sides around the seedy center. Discard center, and dice each of the sides.
5 Add vegetables to tomato puree. Remove stems from 1 bunch fresh cilantro. Chiffonade leaves, and add to the bowl.
6 Add ÂĽ cup each sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil; slowly stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are fully incorporated. Season to taste with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
7 Refrigerate mixture in a covered container for at least 2 hours before serving.

Roberts’s crouton recipe
To make the croutons: Heat oven to 350°F. Slice a baguette ¼-inch thick and again into small squares. Place onto a sheet pan and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh cracked black pepper. Toast in the oven until edges begin to crisp, 5 to 10 minutes.

Eric Roberts
Illustration by Joel Kimmel

About Eric Roberts
As a young boy in Rome, Georgia, Roberts would shuck corn and snap pole beans from his grandparents’ garden for Sunday feasts. He earned his first kitchen paycheck at a local diner as a teenager. Eventually he made his way to the big city, helping Buckhead Life Restaurant Group open Kyma in 2001. Two years ago he took over as executive chef of Decatur’s beloved Spanish outpost, the Iberian Pig.

This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.

Technique: Local Three’s Chris Hall on how to sear scallops

Shelve the olive oil and butter if you want a crisp sear

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Fresh, plump sea scallops take well to all kinds of cooking methods: poaching, grilling, baking. But the most common approach is searing, a lightning-fast technique that’s easy to pull off if you know what you’re doing—and easy to screw up if you don’t. “Searing is all about creating flavor and texture: crunchy and golden-brown on the outside, and soft and beautiful with a briny sweetness on the inside,” says Local Three executive chef Chris Hall.

Achieving that caramelized sear (and avoiding a rubbery texture) requires perfectly dry scallops. Otherwise, “they essentially steam in their juices instead.” Hall suggests buying large sea scallops (1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter) that are labeled “dry-packed.”

“If you see a milky-white liquid in the container with your scallops, that’s not good,” says Hall. “They’ll never sear properly.”

1 Pinch off and discard the tough abductor muscles stuck to the sides of the scallops.
2 Line a pan with several sheets of paper towels. Set scallops on top, about an inch apart. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight. Pat off any remaining moisture.
3 Season with a pinch of coarse sea salt, sprinkling about 8 to 10 inches above the scallops. “The crystals disperse more evenly this way,” Hall says. Repeat with freshly ground black pepper.
4 Add 3 Tbsp. oil to a cast-iron skillet or any thick, heavy-bottomed pan. Choose an oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed, peanut, or vegetable oil. Heat on medium-high until you see oil “shimmer and dance, with a couple of wisps of smoke,” says Hall.
5 Add scallops, seasoned side up, with enough space between so you can easily turn them. (One large skillet should comfortably hold 6 to 8 scallops. If necessary, cook in batches, wiping skillet in between to remove burned bits.) Cook approximately 1 minute, or until the bottoms begin to brown.
6 Flip and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook a few seconds more, until the outside begins to crisp.
7 Immediately turn off heat and slide scallops to the side of the pan. Add a few pats of butter and fresh thyme. Baste scallops with sizzling butter and serve.

Local Three Chris Hall
Illustration by Joel Kimmel

Chris Hall
“My grandfather worked in sales and was accustomed to entertaining clients all the time,” says Hall, the executive chef at Local Three, which he helms with partners Todd Mussman and Ryan Turner. So during his early years growing up in Atlanta and Detroit, “I was often the youngest kid in the fanciest restaurants in town, dining with the grown-ups in my little Eton suit.” He refined his skills at Philadelphia’s Le Bec-Fin and later at Atlanta’s Canoe before opening Local Three in December 2010.

This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.

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