Simple Art of Cooking: Make Dinner Like Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli

Baked chicken with chickpeas and vegetables

Celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli, a force in the kitchen as an Iron Chef, with appearances as a judge on the Food Network competition program Chopped (one of my favorites) hosted a “Trade Talk” event at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBE) last month. This disciplined, determined and talented young woman grew up with parents of Italian heritage. Her mother, Maria, cooked her way through the cookbooks she edited; yet Guarnaschelli didn’t know what she wanted to do until she graduated college. The epiphany happened when she found cooking—a project she could believe in and something she was passionate about. Guarnaschelli expanded on her culinary journey in New York City, Los Angeles and France working in some of the top restaurants, such as Guy Savoy, an eponymous three-star kitchen.

At the SOBE Wine and Food Festival, Guarnaschelli gave a fast-paced cooking demonstration under a Kitchen Aid-sponsored tent set up on the gorgeous white sand beach. Guarnaschelli kept the audience engaged with humorous quips from her repeated request for questions. This made for a very lively and informative program, where she demonstrated a homey dish of braised chicken with tomatoes, and Bananas Foster, as offered below.

Serves 6 to 8

4 tablespoons canola oil
6 chicken thighs
6 chicken legs
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 teaspoons chili flakes
1 large white onion, peeled, halved and thinlysliced
1 large ginger knob, peeled and grated
6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes
2 cinnamon sticks
4 fresh or dried bay leaves
Water, as needed

1. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over high heat. Arrange the chicken thighs and legs on a tray in a single layer and season them with salt, to taste. Turn the pieces on their other side and season again. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, carefully add the chicken to the oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. Resist the temptation to move or turn the pieces. Allow them to brown on their first side, about 3 to 5 minutes. Use metal tongs to turn the chicken pieces to sear their second side, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a tray and set it aside.

2. In the same skillet, add the cumin seeds and chili flakes, stirring rapidly to give them a quick toast, about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onions, ginger and garlic and stir to combine. Season the ingredients with salt, to taste, then add the tomatoes, cinnamon, and bay leaves. Allow the mixture to cook and all the flavors to come together, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pan, keep the heat low and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes. (Chef’s note: If the sauce becomes overly thick or begins to stick to the bottom of the skillet, feel free to add some water, about 1/2 cup at a time.)

3. When the chicken is cooked through, remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Taste for seasoning and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve alongside braised cabbage, if desired.

Serves 4

3 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 firm bananas, peeled, sliced lengthwise and crosswise
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 pint vanilla bean ice cream

1. In a small saucepan, combine the rum, vanilla extract, brown sugar, molasses and cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and stir to dissolve the brown sugar. Shut off the heat and keep warm on the stove.

2. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the skillet feels pretty hot, add the butter and allow it to brown slightly. Toss in the bananas and arrange them, with a wooden spoon, in a single layer in the pan. Sprinkle with a tiny pinch of salt and cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Turn them on their second side and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Pour in the rum mixture and stir to coat. Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream.

Guarnaschelli is executive chef of Butter in NYC. She is the author of Old School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook (Clarkson Potter, 2013).

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