Michael Symon: My Culinary Hero

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I’ve talked a lot about Smitten Kitchen on here and a lot about Chopped. Both have taught me so much about cooking and food and have helped me to gain confidence in my own kitchen. As my culinary skills have developed though, I have found a new “kitchen hero”: Michael Symon, of Iron Chef, Symon’s Suppers, and The Chew.

My admiration of Michael Symon, I’m almost embarrassed to say since he’s so respected in the TV Chef community, started with The Chew. I have never even heard of him before that. I liked him right away because of his shiny bald head, his crazy laugh, and the way he seemed to be able to take Mario Batali down a peg. Don’t get me wrong, I love Batali, but its nice when he’s next to someone who is just as talented but a lot less showy about it. Michael Symon is just that. He works in New York but lives in Cleveland and all of his restaurants are in Ohio. I like that he seems to have limits set for himself and won’t just open a restaurant in New York because he’s famous now. He seems to really take pride in his projects and doesn’t want to cheapen them by doing something just for the sake of it.

I found out about his undefeated Iron Chef-ness on Chopped (obviously!). He was on an All Stars show and of course won the first round. To watch him cook in a competitive environment was really awesome. I knew from The Chew that he is obviously talented, but to watch his performance on Chopped really allowed me to see how skilled and nuanced he is in the kitchen. I was just so impressed with his performance on the all stars show. When he got to the second round, and forget to put the fried okra on his plates, I wasn’t even mad at him. I almost felt like he was giving his fellow all stars a gift, since they know they can never beat him on Iron Chef (or he literally just forgot the fried okra).

You can imagine my excitement when I discovered Symon’s Suppers one Sunday morning. Its just Michael Symon, talking to the camera, cooking his family’s recipes and visiting local businesses. He spends a lot of time in the Union Square Farmers Market and specialty shops all around Brooklyn. Honestly, the fact that I have never run into him breaks my heart every time I watch the show! But of course his recipes are perfection! I love watching him cook because of his awesome technique, which thankfully he breaks down for the rest of us, but also because he is really loving what he is doing. At the end of each show he tastes the food and describes for us what we’re supposed to taste if we do it right. He talks about brightness and acidity cutting through richness, and sweetness offset by tartness. You can tell that he loves the eating and the experience of being in the kitchen as much as the cooking.

I bought Michael Symon’s new book, Michael Symon’s Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers, a couple of weeks ago. I went to his book signing, dying to meet this culinary legend. Sadly, as I’ve been known to do, I got completely tongue tied and didn’t ask or say a single thing that I had planned. I just told him that I think he’s fantastic. I was shocked by how much taller he was in person than I expected. He always seems pretty compact on TV. He was very nice and signed my book “live to cook,” which I pretty much do anyway, so its kind of like he really “got me.”

It’s sad though, that since Evan doesn’t eat beef, and we really don’t eat pork at home, that I won’t be able to make many of the recipes in Carnivore. I was excited to find a recipe from Symon’s Suppers in the book that I adapted to be made with chicken thighs instead of veal shanks (veal ribs in the book). This is the most successful thing that I made during the hurricane. The braising liquid was so smooth and flavorful, I kind of just wanted to drink it. I also loved that this is a one pot meal!

Thanks for the inspiration, Chef Symon. Hopefully the next time we meet I’ll have a little bit more to say to you and won’t behave like a school girl with a crush.

Braised Chicken Thighs with Gremolata
Adapted from Michael Symon’s Braised Veal Shanks

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 lbs chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
1 large onion, sliced
2 large carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds
salt
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 fresno chili, quartered
2 Tbsp tomato paste
3/4 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
black pepper

Gremolata

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp olive oil
zest of half a lemon
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 garlic clove, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Add the thighs to the pan skin side down, in batches if necessary, and brown on each side, 6-8 minutes for skin side, 3-4 for other side. Transfer to a plate. If browning in batches, repeat with the remaining shanks.

Add the onions, carrots, celery, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt, thyme, garlic, rosemary and chiles to the pan and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until glossy, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, scraping to deglaze the pan. Add the chicken stock and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Taste the simmering braising liquid at this point; it should taste seasoned. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up, cover and braise on the stove top, until the meat is very tender, 45 minutes to one hour.

Gremolata: When almost ready to serve, combine parsley, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and garlic in a small bowl. Stir to combine.

To serve, remove chicken to a serving platter or individual plates, spoon the sauce and braising liquid over top of them. Sprinkle with sea salt and garnish with the gremolata.

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One thought on “Michael Symon: My Culinary Hero

  1. Pingback: Comfort Food Solution: Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese « Think well. Love well. Dine well.

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