Spring has Sprung

Spring is springing up all over and you may want to start thinking about putting away the braises, stews and heavy offerings that sustain us all through the winter and start thinking about food that is more appropriate to the coming season. When you are deciding what to cook, you want to strive for balance, for the perfect mix of elements that will provide the ideal foundation for the seasonal enjoyment of a dish. One has to take into account the matters of textures, flavors, salty versus sweet, spicy versus mild, unadorned versus complex.

Some foods are just perfect for the springtime, as the cold weather finally gives way and can give us a taste of the first flavors of summertime that’s just around the corner. Jerk Chicken, one of my favorites from my days working in Jamaica, tastes incredible in warm weather, made hot and spicy by the scotch bonnet peppers (the hottest in the world) and washed down with an ice cold beer. You want to pair it with something fresh and cool, like a vine-ripened tomato salad with fresh basil and a splash of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Avocados are creamy, delicious and nutritious and never more tantalizing than when they’re featured in a creamy, smooth guacamole. You can serve it up with chips, over rice or in some nice, warm soft tortillas. Fold the jerk chicken in them with a dollop of guac and you’re in business. I’m also sending along a dead-simple recipe for Peppered Shrimp, which are deep-fried and delicious. Same as the jerk, you can serve them up over rice, in a tortilla, just go ahead and dip them in the guacamole or eat them plain out of the fryer.

But don’t forget that cold beer.

Thanks to all of you who watched the debut episode of the new season of Dinner: Impossible at the X-Games in Aspen.

JERK CHICKEN AND TOMATO SALAD
Copyright, 2006, Robert Irvine, All Rights Reserved

4 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 cup fresh thyme leaves
2 white onions finely chopped
1 cup chopped scallions
2 hot scotch bonnet peppers
2 cups low sodium soy sauce
8 lbs. of cut up chicken – say 8 drumsticks and 8 thighs

1½ pounds juicy tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 red onion, cut julienne
½ cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place the limes in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave until the essential oils in the skin are released. These limes will be hot coming from the microwave, so set aside and let them cool before squeezing them.

Using a blender (or a food processor), blend all the dry ingredients – allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, thyme, onions, scallions, peppers (while wearing gloves) – together to make a pulp. Return to the limes and squeeze the juice into the blender through the feeder tube. Make sure you use the lime oils which were released by microwaving, as well as the juice you’ve squeezed. Then add the soy sauce through the feeder tube. Mix well.

Place the chicken pieces and lime skins in a container which you will be able to cover tightly. Pour the marinade over the chicken and rest in the refrigerator overnight (or a minimum of 4 hours). Keep tightly covered and away from other foods, as it will taint them.

Roast in the oven in a covered pan at 300 degrees for 2 hours plus another 30 minutes uncovered at 400 degrees. The important thing is that you “check for doneness.” When the chicken is done, the flesh will feel firm and the juices will run clear. You can also use a meat thermometer which should register an internal temperature of at least 180 degrees.

To make the tomato salad, mix tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, red onion, basil in a mixing bowl. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature family style.

Yield: 8 servings

SALT AND PEPPER SHRIMP
Copyright 2007, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

1 liter canola oil, or enough as needed to deep fry
2 pounds 21-25 size shrimp, peeled and de-veined
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons Irvine Spices Roasted Garlic Pepper Seasoning
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1 fresh lemon
12 “lobster” rolls (with slit on top)
2 cups fresh lettuce (such as red leaf or green leaf), rinsed and dried with a salad spinner
and sliced julienne
2 large ripe tomatoes, seeds removed and diced

Heat oil in deep fryer to 375 degrees. Shake flour, cornstarch, Roasted Garlic Pepper Seasoning, and salt together in a plastic bag. Add shrimp to bag in small batches and shake to coat with flour mixture. Deep fry until golden brown.

Remove to paper toweling to drain and squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.

Places into lobster rolls with shredded lettuce and tomato. Serve with your favorite seafood sauce.

Yield: 6 servings of two sandwiches each

GUACAMOLE
Copyright, 2006, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

2 ripe avocados
½ cup red onion, diced
1-2 Serrano chilies, stems and seeds removed and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 ripe tomatoes, seeds removed and diced
2 cloves garlic, roughly diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice each avocado in half lengthwise, pop out seed and slip off the skin. Smash the avocado in a bowl and add onion, chilies, cilantro, lime juice, tomatoes, and garlic and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and let sit in refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow flavors to combine.

Yield: 4-6 servings