“I think I’ve nailed down the apple-fritter recipe from Donut World,” says Reed Gordon, chef de cuisine at Greensboro Country Club.
He’s been furloughed at home since before Easter Sunday, and his days have been filled with recipe experiments and increased family time.
“We tried Beyond Beef for the first time and it was good,” he says. “We made tacos. Cumin, coriander, fajita-spice blend I found at Super G. It has MSG in it. It makes everything taste better.”
Mostly, he’s been cooking with his daughter, Reece, who’s 6.
“We’ve been making bread, pancakes and she’s been helping me in the kitchen,” he says. “She has a little knife. I watch her very carefully. She loves it.”
Gordon also has had time to streamline and hone his teaching skills.
“I’ve had to retrain myself on how to slow down and find a better way to communicate,” he says. “It’s going to help me teach grown-up chefs when I get back to work.”
Mistakes happen — especially in the kitchen — but showing compassion while communicating clearly and concisely is a skill shared by all great chefs.
One simple but special dish Gordon has been making at home is beef laarb, Thai beef lettuce wraps. He got the idea from a Gordon Ramsey show on the Cooking Channel.
“The mark of a good chef is being able to take leftovers and make that into a special,” he says. “A special isn’t new and fresh ingredients. It’s taking what you have on hand to make something, well, special.”
Laarb is a simple dish, and can be made with things on-hand at home.
Laarb (pronounced exact how it is spelled) is a minced-meat dish popular in Thailand and Laos. In its simplest form, it’s comprised of crispy bits of ground meat mixed with fresh, hot chilis, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and fresh cilantro. If you don’t have fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce is a reasonable substitute. It’s often served with crisp cucumber, pickled onions, steamed white rice and fresh herbs wrapped up in lettuce leaves. The most difficult part of the recipe is having the patience to leave the meat alone while cooking.
The key to making laarb is mastering the art of browning the ground meat so it’s actually brown and not gray, mottled or discolored. Just heat oil in a skillet—cast iron is best—and then spread the ground meat out in a single layer, patting it down with a spatula to make sure that the meat is cooking evenly. Let it hang out for a few minutes, and then a few minutes longer after that. Before you know it, it’s time to add some funk to the pan in the form of fish sauce, a dash of soy sauce and lime juice to brighten it up.
Laarb: Crispy Beef Lettuce Wraps
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 2 red or green Thai chilis, thinly sliced
- 1 lb ground beef (80/20 mixture)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, divided
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce (such as nam pla and nuoc nam)
- 2 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tsp brown sugar (light or dark)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (parsley is a good substitute)
- 2 heads Bibb or butter lettuce, leaves separated (iceberg is fine here too)
- Steamed white rice and lime wedges (for serving)
- Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add garlic, ginger and chilis and cook, stirring, until garlic is just beginning to turn golden, about 30 seconds.
- Add ground beef, season with salt and pepper and cook by breaking up the meat with the edge of a spatula. Press down firmly to help the beef brown until cooked through, browned, and crispy, about 6–8 minutes.
- Remove all but a scant bit of grease from the pan. Lower heat to medium.
- Deglaze the pan with fish sauce and soy sauce. Add brown sugar, lime juice and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of pan until liquid is almost completely evaporated, about 2 minutes.
- Remove pan from heat and fold chopped cilantro into the beef mixture.
- Serve beef with lettuce leaves, white rice and lime wedges.