Laurie Wolf's new Portland, Oregon Chef's Table cookbook is a powerful tour of Portland's current restaurant scene, dense with household names, beautiful photography, and humanizing profiles of our leading chefs. Over 70 carefully documented recipes are drawn from over 60 Portland restaurants, including several for popular dishes we've seen on menus for years. Far from the annual Jamie Oliver modeling portfolio—with its handful of insouciant glug-and-smash guidelines—this thoughtfully designed volume is replete with unique, scaled-down recipes that are easy to recreate in a standard home kitchen, with easy-to-source ingredients.
Wolf, a prolific Portland-based food journalist and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, gives nearly equal weight to sections of Small Plates, Soups, Brunch, Sandwiches, Large Plates, and Desserts & Pastries, with vegetarian—and even a handful of vegan—recipes distributed throughout. There are signature dishes one would hope to see in such a work, such as Park Kitchen's Flank Steak Salad With Blue Cheese, Country Cat's Pecan Spoon Bread, and Laurelhurst' Market's Roasted Marrow Bones With Basil Pistou, Pickled Shallots, Capers & Toast (their emptied marrow bones make a highly ineffective conduit for a tequila shot—ask me sometime).
Less-Difficult Dishes That Sound Impressive
Olympic Provisions provides a dead-simple recipe for a homemade porchetta—an impressive stuffed, rolled pork roast you've seen on the menu at a half-dozen places around town—which calls for nothing more than pork belly, ground sausage, and four pantry-standard spices that we've all got gathering dust next to the garam masala. Pok Pok makes Andy Ricker's Yam Muu Krob (crispy pork belly salad) easy for the common cupboard by flat-out suggesting you buy the labor-intensive pork belly from a Chinese barbecue joint (many restaurants will sell this). A side of Garlic Roasted Asparagus With Croutons and Manchego from Le Pigeon puts Gabe Rucker's talent with simplicity and flavor matching in anyone's hands, for an outlay of about eight dollars.
More Complex Recipes
Spicy Remoulade & Esplette Oil gives an excellent and sophisticated recipe for remoulade sauce, great for any grilled red meat. For those of us always looking to elevate our personal fried chicken technique, two are provided: Beaker & Flask's Fried Chicken Legs start with a pork fat confit of the legs, followed by a quick five-minute deep fry in canola (the bird is cooked through in the confit; the final fry is for crisping). Our legion Pine State Biscuits devotees are awarded with a detailed scratch recipe for the Reggie Deluxe, the restaurant's ne plus ultra fried chicken and biscuit sandwich; you'll need your own biscuit recipe, but the chicken preparation and sausage gravy building are detailed from the ground up (the chicken soaks in buttermilk for two days, so start wanting this dish well ahead of time).
A dinner of EVOE deviled eggs (recipe in the online version of this article), Dove Vivi kale salad, and Cheese Bar's Northwest Tuna Melt, with Nostrana's simple panna cotta for dessert, called for no special equipment outside of a food processor (for making the sandwich's roast garlic mayonnaise), required no particular experience or strength of technique, and produced solid results. The subtle spice and fragrance of fresh horseradish give the lowly but ubiquitous deviled eggs noteworthy distinction; the kale salad, with its sharp and lively lemon, oil, and shallot dressing, is completed with grated ricotta salata (and holds perfectly overnight even when dressed); the albacore tuna salad (buy the expensive stuff, it's worth it) becomes grown-up thanks to a mayonnaise flavored with fresh herbs and roasted garlic.
Criticisms and Conclusions
In places where I had hoped for a signature recipe, a restaurant is occasionally highlighted with a dish outside of their wheelhouse. Poor Nostrana is curiously featured not for their pizze or gnocchi, but for a dessert—hardly their focus—and Cocotte's entry features not a comforting, warm French staple, but a salmon mousse, which killed all those people in The Meaning of Life. In some cases I found the recipes needing further clarification: the roasted garlic mayonnaise for Cheese Bar's tuna melt doesn't say anything about roasting the garlic (so, naturally, I did the safe thing and poached it before straining through beet-stained cambric), and I couldn't un-mold the panna cotta to save my life (six tries, six sloppy piles; perhaps I just don't understand powdered gelatin yet).
These are minor quibbles any chucklehead will figure out on his own, though, and they are quite rare; by and large the book is a leading entry in the too-small field of Portland-centric cookbooks. Mrs. Wolf has created a timely and rich resource for home cooks both here and abroad, and one which will add appreciably to the home cook's repertoire.
EVOE Deviled Eggs (Serves 6)
6 large eggs, hardboiled and peeled
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tsp freshly grated horseradish
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp champagne vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp melted butter
½ cup brioche crumbs
Carefully cut the eggs in half, removing the yolks and placing them in a small bowl. Set the egg white cavities aside. Add the mayonnaise, horseradish, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper to the egg yolks and mix well [until creamy].
Fill the egg white cavities with the yolk mixture, pressing down gently.
Dip the stuffed eggs into the melted butter, filling side down, then into the brioche crumbs.
Place the eggs, crumb side down, in a nonstick skillet. Cook until golden brown. Serve warm.
Recipe included courtesy of Laurie Wolf.
Egg-peeling tip: crack cooked eggshells on all sides, then start peeling (under running water) at the fat end, where the air bubble that naturally forms during boiling tends to appear.