Food, in its most basic form, sustains us. It fuels us and, when eaten right, keeps us as healthy as possible. But beyond the three square (or six-mini) meals a day, and between the meat, vegetable and starch, food can transport us back to days with loved ones or simpler times for a dining experience that’s just as fulfilling as it is filling. This especially comes into play during the holidays, when Christmas pickles and dreidel games spark friendly competition between siblings young and old and, win or lose, everyone gets a chocolate-covered cherry cookie, made using a recipe that spans generations.
Long Island chefs shared the foods they wait months to enjoy. Some are old dishes, some are part of new traditions, and some were willing to dish on the recipes while others, in true chef fashion, decided to keep it a secret. But the good news is, you may catch it on a specials menu for a noteworthy holiday surprise.
Stephan Bogardus, North Fork Table & Inn
The dish: Deer Ham
The backstory: “I hunt deer, geese, rabbit and the occasional duck, so I incorporate game into my personal holiday very consistently,” Bogardus says. He likes to incorporate his game into the meal, particularly venison ham, but the forage-to-fork journey had some twists and turns.
Bogardus grew up in a family of hunters. His uncle, who was also his grandfather, was a skilled hunter and quickly taught Bogardus’s brother to catch geese. Bogardus always wanted to tag along, but by the time he was old enough, his uncle’s health was declining. His father took him upstate, where he didn’t have much luck. Then, he started bow hunting on Long Island with his friend, Joe.
“Finally, after a year of time, many dollars and lots of misses…I was able to bring something to the table,” Bogardus says. Having hunted the food, he has a personal connection to it, and Bogardus is able to marry that with his professional expertise. “My favorite product I make with venison is when it’s brined and smoked into ham. It can be eaten hot or cold and is delicious with mustard sauce, black pepper and Brussels sprouts.”
- 3-10 pounds Venison (off-the-bone and free of sinew, see below for more notes)
- 360 grams salt
- 360 grams light brown sugar
- 42 grams InstaCure #1 (pink salt or TCM are other common names)
- 4 liter water
In the words of Stephan Bogardus
“First is the selection of the meat. I prefer to use major muscle groups from the hind legs including the top round, bottom round, eye round and rump. These cuts can be eaten when cooked to temperature and sliced thin on a bias but prefer wet cook techniques, such as braising or stews. I highly recommend using Top Round and Bottom Round whole muscles from the hind legs.
Combine salt, sugar, TCM and half the amount of water in a pot and put it on the stove over high heat. Bring to a boil and add the other half of water. Allow it to cool or use ice instead of water to cool the brine quickly.
Place the brine in a large plastic container in the fridge and submerge venison in it for three to five days. Use a weight, such as a plate, to make sure the meat is fully submerged and move the muscles around every day or two to avoid pressure points from forming. Pressure points will cause the brine to be absorbed unevenly.
On day five, remove the meat from the brine and dry it with a towel. Place it on a plate and allow it to dry in the fridge overnight to allow a pellicle to form which will help the smoke stick to the meat better during cooking.
Day 6: Fire up the smoker to 185 degrees and use your favorite chips — I really like hickory. Add the chips, get smoking and then add the deer. Smoke it for two to three hours or until the interior temperature has reached 155 degrees.
When the meat is warm, put it back in a large container and pour some apple cider over it. This acts as a second brine and will help keep the meat moist through cooling, storing and heating if you so desire.
Venison ham holds well in a bag with a little apple cider to keep moist for about two weeks. I enjoy gently bringing to a boil and slicing thin just like pork ham. Or, try slicing it really thin and making a Reuben out of it with whole grain mustard and homemade sauerkraut!”
William Muzio, View
The dish: “A simple but flavorful fluke Crudo along with six other fishes to celebrate The Feast of the Seven Fishes,” Muzio says.
The backstory: The Feast of the Seven Fishes, a celebration of Christmas Eve with dishes of fish and other seafood, is an Italian-American tradition (though others who with an “eat-big-or-go-home” motto on the holidays have also joined in). Muzio has been digging in since he was a little boy and began bringing new ideas to the table when he entered the restaurant industry. He recalled:
“When I was 17, I worked at a restaurant in Manhattan called Chicama. The chef was Douglas Rodrigez, and that’s when I first got introduced to ceviche and crudo. I got to try all the different types of ceviche, and my favorite was the fluke ceviche. Many years later, I worked at Le Bernardin also in Manhattan. It’s considered the number one seafood restaurant on the planet. While working there, I learned a technique called flash marinating, where you don’t marinate the fish ahead of time. Instead, you marinate the fish “a la minute” which translates to in the minute — A.K.A. right away. That’s when you can see and taste the real beauty of the fresh fish. When you marinate it too long, the acid breaks down the fish and essentially “cooks” it. I started trying different dishes at home for the holidays, and this one tends to be a favorite.”
The recipe: Though he gave some hints into the methods, this one’s a secret.
Jeremy Blutstein, Almond
The dish: Potato Latkes
The backstory: “I’ve been a lifelong sucker. From mediocre soggy ones from Zabar’s that my Great Aunt Shirley used to pass off as her own at Chanukah dinner to the ones I make myself. The crispier and saltier, the better. My homeboy Jason Weiner, the self-proclaimed latke king of Brooklyn [and chef de cuisine at L&W Market, where Blutstein also works as a chef], brings it pretty hard.”
The recipe: “The process is a heavily guarded secret,” Blustein says, though he did divulge that the potatoes come from Marilee Foster.
Ryan Keough, Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas
The dish: Fennel Orange Salad Recipe
The backstory: “Every December, we release our Feast of the Seven Fishes menu at Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas, and I cannot wait until we start cooking this menu each year. Out of all of these dishes, my favorite to cook is scallops. Most consumers are unaware that most if not all fish are only available during certain times of the year because they will migrate into and away from Long Island every year. Scallops represent one of the most delicious harvests of late fall and winter. Our scallops recipe for this year’s menu has a shaved fennel salad with orange segments and a simple carrot puree.”
- 1 fennel bulb
- 1 orange
- 1 red bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons chives, diced finely
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the fennel as thin as possible so that it is almost transparent. Peel the orange and cut it into segments. Cut the red bell pepper into small stripes. Combine everything into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice and olive oil to dress the fennel salad and chives to garnish.
In a medium sauté pan, add olive oil on high to medium heat. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Once the sauté pan is hot, arrange scallops around the edge of the pan and sear for about three minutes on each side. Once cooked on both sides turn the heat off, take the pan off the stove, and squeeze lemon on top of scallops. Combine salad and scallops together to make our perfect holiday dish.
Chef’s Tip: One word of caution for cooking at home: Look for “dry” scallops that are naturally light tan in color and firm when selecting and purchasing.