Ask the Chef

September 21, 2005  ...  by Chef John Pisto

Where are the best raisins in the world? I found them - giant, golden botrytised (noble rot) raisins that have the flavor of Chateau d'Yquem, the most expensive, luscious and rich wine in the world. Each infected raisin has the flavor of honey, ripe melon, ripe strawberry and heavy butterscotch. Absolutely delicious, plus it's low on the glycemic index. Get them at Andy's Orchard (408) 782-7600 they will ship!

Reminder: This goes out to all you serious mushroom folks. The International Medicinal & (edible) Mushroom Conference to be held from October 12th-17th in Port Townsend, Washington. Also

check out Paul Stammets' new book called Mycelium Running (10 Speed Press) (800) 780-9126 or check out Paul's web site

Folks, thanks for your responses on your favorite seafood restaurants and dishes. I will be sending out cookbooks, as long as you give me an address.

Q). Our family loves scallops, but the family budget prohibits us from buying them. How do you prepare and cook skate wings so they taste just like scallops?
Via email

A). Skate and rays eat crustaceans and that's why they taste so good! Plunge the wings into hot water and the skin will come off. Don't cook them yet but plunge into cold water after to cool. Using a cookie cutter that fits between the cartilage, cut out round pieces (they may be small) and set aside your "fake scallops". If there is still some meat on the remainder of the wings, poach them in salted water until the meat comes off the cartilage. Toss with olive oil and lemon. Place on top of a salad. As for the fake scallops, dredge them in flour, egg wash, and bread crumbs. Deep fry (don't overcook) and serve with lemon tarter sauce or use them in any other scallop recipe.


Q). John, Love your show and your restaurants. I am in the Navy at the Naval Postgraduate School and will be heading to Sicily for three years in December. I am wondering if you have any great restaurants over there you might be able to recommend so I can really enjoy the Sicilian cooking. I will be at the Naval Base called Sigonella, which is between Siracusa and Catania. Appreciate any input you can provide. Thanks.
Doug Harold
A). Oh yes, I know the base your talking about. As for Sicily, we never had a bad meal while we were there for five weeks. Make friends with the locals (naval officers) and dine out with them, that way you'll never be ripped off. Be sure to visit the open market in Catania for fresh sea urchins; almond cookies, baccala, stockfish, fresh grilled sausages and fresh swordfish involtini in the town of Randazzo. A walk in the forests above Randazzo is not to be missed. Most Sicilian wines are pretty good but avoid the local vodka and bring your own Grey Goose. Above all, feel free to explore, it's very safe.
Q). Dear John, Love your column and always turn to it first thing. I have your Old California seasoning which I use on practically everything. Is it any different from Sensational Seasoning which you have mentioned in your column? If it is, which seasoning would you use when?
Thank you.
Ia Boelter, Via email

A). Yes it is different. Use the Old California seasoning on meat, casseroles and in barbecue sauces. Use Sensational Seasoning on meat, seafood, poultry.


Chef: I am not a very good recipe writer so I will do my best and hopefully you will fill in the "blanks" or the "whoops." I hope you do not mind my using the narrative form. Here goes--First you start with artichokes and either steam them or simmer them until you can stick a knife through them with little resistance. Separately, you want to prepare both hollandaise and béarnaise sauces and combine them. Remove the tough outer leaves and the stems (save the stems). Remove the choke--the hairy part but leave the hearts in among the tender leaves. Now the fun begins. Lightly fry some Canadian bacon and place a slice in the artichoke (or several artichokes as you wish to prepare). Next comes some poached eggs resting on the Canadian bacon. Add some of the combined sauce on the eggs. Then comes the poached oysters  (lightly poached). All this sits on a bed of romaine lettuce. Garnish would include cherry tomatoes, black olives, and toast points. An ice accompaniment would be
chilled vodka and caviar (or pink champagne). We re talking major YUM! Please let me know if this is worth a try. Yes, I tried it and I liked it very much. One more thought, if the artichokes are on the small size you might want to place the oysters around the base of the artichokes resting on the romaine lettuce. As an option, you could place baby chilled asparagus spears around the oysters and fill in with the cherry
tomatoes and olives. A beautiful culinary mosaic! The combinations and variations on this thing abound! Love your show Chef, I never miss it (and that includes the re-runs). Ricardo

Thanks Ricardo - What you have described is an eggs benedict "New Orleans Style". Sounds good. I just might make it next time we tape, so keep an eye out.

Hurricane relief! On October 7th, the Monterey Aquarium will be hosting a benefit from 7:30 to 10:30 pm, featuring over 60 local chefs and more than 30 wineries, with 100% of the proceeds going to

 the Red Cross. At $95 per person, this is going to be a big one folks. For my part, I will attempt to make the largest jambalaya west of the Mississippi, using my five-foot pan. We're talking 60 pounds of rice, 75 pounds of chicken and 6 liters of olive oil. I think you get the picture. To get more information on this, the granddaddy of all local relief efforts, call (831) 375-5730 or check out

For more info about John Pisto's fine restaurants
in Monterey, California, click here.

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