Yes, Chris Cosentino loves offal. He’s so strongly affiliated with sweet-talking diners into eating organ meats that he goes by the social media handle @offalchris. His Offal Good cookbook drops August 29. And at his West Coast restaurants, Jackrabbit (Portland), Acacia House (Napa Valley) and Cockscomb (San Francisco), he’s not shy about serving up whole heads, offal and various wild game.
“Only 3 percent of what I’ve ever done has been offal,” he laughs of his reputation. “But because you don’t have to yell at anyone to eat a carrot, no one can get over that!”
Cosentino is equally innovative when it comes to fish and produce. And when looking to make them as flavorful as their meaty counterparts, he uses a pungent secret weapon: pastrami spice (see the recipe).
Inspired by the smoked meats of Montreal, where the sweet spices of clove and star anise used in their pastrami counterparts are swapped in favor of savory chile and peppercorns, the chef builds his own spicy, savory blend with just a hint of warmth. “It’s about building and layering flavor in different ways,” he says.
Cosentino first burns cinnamon sticks on an open fire. Once their curled structures unfold and their natural oils release, he hand-grinds them in a mortar with a hefty dose of peppercorns, mustard seeds, chile, fennel, coriander and bay leaf to balance out allspice, clove and nutmeg.
The final texture feels like a loose au poivre—the coarse peppercorn grind on seared steak—and the rest of the spices release their flavors when kissed by a hot pan or grill. “That’s what makes this so special,” he promises. “You have the spice, you sear, and then you get this bomb of flavor.”
Here are a few ways to flavor-bomb summer sears—for vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Cut a head of cauliflower into four wedges or slice it into thick slabs (keep the core in either way). Steam the cauliflower until it’s just soft. While it’s still warm, press an even coating of pastrami spice into it until it sticks. Then, sear it in a pan or on a grill for a super-savory pastrami cauliflower. “Finish it with Russian dressing, crème fraîche or labneh; add some pickled onions and watercress; and—boom!—you have a beautiful vegetarian meal, especially for someone who was once a meat eater,” Cosentino says.
At Acacia House, Cosentino roasts baby carrots in prosciutto fat rendered overnight in an immersion circulator. If your Cryovac game isn’t quite down pat (yet), roast your carrots in the most delicious fat you have on hand. Then, grind enough pastrami spice to coat them; grind it to a slightly finer texture—not into a powder but to the point where the spices will cook up fast and slightly dissolve. Once your carrots are at their desired texture, drop the pastrami spice in the pan, let it toast, and then toss the carrots to fully coat. Plate and top with something peppery like a chervil salad. “It’s a great way to treat vegetables like meat.”
Cosentino adds his pastrami spice to his traditional brine to “bring all those flavors up together.”
In a large pot, combine three cups of kosher salt; two cups of sugar; two tablespoons of pastrami spice mix; a half cup of maple sugar; two heads of garlic, smashed to expose the cloves; three large yellow onions, julienned; one bunch of fresh thyme; one bunch of parsley stems; six bay leaves; and a half cup of julienned fresh ginger. Add two gallons of water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, let cool, and then add ⅔ cup of pink curing salt, such as Insta Cure #1. Chill the brine in the refrigerator until cold, and then use as you would on all sorts of meat and fish.
Speaking of Fish . . .
For a quick, flavorful grilled fish, rub the spice straight onto tuna steak, sturgeon or bluefish right before searing or grilling. For even more flavor, brine the whole fish for an hour, fillet and cook on a grill with the flesh on a bed of onions and the skin covered with pastrami spice. “Brine it lightly and rub on the skin, and it’ll be gorgeous.”
Briny Grilled Chicken
Brine whole chickens for 12 hours, then rub them with more spice before dropping them on the grill for a super-crusty chicken with sweet and spicy barbecue flavors.
Just Sear the Steak
Want an easy grilled steak with a gorgeous, crunchy crust? Then use the rub as is on your favorite cut, pressing a layer in right before grilling. Make sure you’ve got your technique down—burnt spices are no fun, so watch them if you like your steak well done.
Roast Potato Sides
Take your favorite kind of potato and favorite method of roasting it, and get it halfway through the cooking point. “Then, lightly coat the potatoes in the pastrami rub. Potatoes are dense and take cooking time, so you need to think about your timing and your goals,” Cosentino advises. “If you add the spices too early, the potatoes will be raw and the spice will be burnt, and that will suck.” Timed right, you get a side of potatoes with popping flavor.
Correction: This story originally stated that all of Cosentino's restaurants were in the Pacific Northwest, when they are in fact in multiple cities along the West Coast.
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