The Dish: Boston chef Karen Akunowicz

The Dish: Boston chef Karen Akunowicz

Growing up in New Jersey, Karen Akunowicz never planned on being in the restaurant industry. It wasn't until her 20s that she tried her hand in the kitchen and soon dreamed of opening her own restaurant.

After culinary school, a year in Italy, and work at top Boston-area restaurants, she became executive chef at Boston's acclaimed Myers & Chang, creating Asian-style dishes that won her a James Beard Award and other big honors.

Now she's moving on to that dream of opening her own venue with Fox and the Knife. The restaurant, which opens this month in Boston's South End, features an Italian-inspired menu in a warm, wine-bar setting. 

Here are some of Akunowicz's signature recipes: 

Smashed fingerling potatoes with Thai chili jam (nam prik pao)

Ingredients

• 2 pounds fingerling potatoes
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
• 2 sprigs fresh thyme
• 5 medium garlic cloves
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil, such as canola
• 1 recipe Nam Prik Pao (recipe follows)
• 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (about 1/4 bunch)

For the Thai chili jam:
• ¼ cup dried red Thai chili peppers (about 12)
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as canola
• 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
• One 1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
• 2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
• 1 teaspoon shrimp paste
• 1 teaspoon fish sauce
• 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar

Directions

• Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and fill with cold water. Add the olive oil, 1 tablespoon of the salt, the rosemary, thyme, and garlic.
• Bring to a boil over high heat. When the water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are just cooked through.
• Drain the potatoes, discard the herb sprigs and garlic cloves, and gently "smash" or flatten the potatoes with the heel of your palm, which is easy to do when they are nice and warm
• Smashing them ensures that you are getting lots of surface area to crisp up when you fry them. The potatoes can be cooked and smashed up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
• In a wok or a large, heavy, flat-bottomed skillet, heat about half the vegetable oil over high heat until it shimmers, about 1 minute. Carefully add about half the smashed potatoes and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cook, without stirring, until the potatoes get crispy, 3 to 4 minutes, and then give them a toss. Repeat three or four times until the potatoes are crispy and charred throughout.
• Remove the potatoes from the wok and repeat with the remaining vegetable oil, potatoes, and salt. Return the first batch of cooked potatoes to the wok and add the nam prik pao, tossing until the potatoes are well coated.
• Serve on a large platter, family-style, garnished with the cilantro.  

Directions (for the Thai chili jam)

• Place the dried chilies in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Cover tightly with a piece of plastic wrap and steam for 10 minutes.
• Removed the chilies from the water; they should be nice and soft.
• Coarsely chop them, seeds and all, and set aside.
• In a small skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
• When the oil starts to shimmer, add the chopped chilies and fry for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the shallots, ginger and garlic and turn the heat down to low. Gently cook for 3 minutes, until the shallots and garlic are translucent.
• Add the tamarind concentrate, shrimp paste, fish sauce, brown sugar and vinegar. Cook gently for 6-8 minutes, stirring, until the mixture becomes thick and jammy.
• Turn off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
• Turn the mixture out onto a cutting board and finely chop the whole mess with a sharp chef's knife until it is sticky and pasty, or run it through a food processor.
• The Nam Prik Pao can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  

Sweet and sour brussels sprouts

Ingredients

• 1/4 cup sugar
• ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
• 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
• 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as canola
• 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 recipe picked shallots (page 312), drained
• ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh mint (about ¼ bunch) 

Pickled shallots ingredients

• ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
• 1 tablespoon of sugar
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 medium garlic clove, smashed
• 2 large shallots, very thinly sliced into rings 

Directions

• In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until it is the consistency of thin maple syrup, 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside. This is the hot and sweet sauce, and it provides the sweet component to the dish. It can be made up to 3 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
• In a wok or a large, heavy, flat-bottomed skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat until it shimmers, about 1 minute. Throw the Brussels sprouts in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. The oil will splatter, so be careful! Don't stir for 2 to 3 minutes, allowing the Brussels sprouts to fry and char on the bottom. (You may even want to walk away so you are not tempted to fuss with them.) Once they are charred on the bottom, start stirring them every minute or so until they soak up all the oil, about 3 minutes more.
• Add about ¼ cup water to the wok and turn down the heat to medium. Let the water evaporate, shaking the wok and moving around the Brussels sprouts so they can finish cooking.
• Taste one to see if it is cooked; you want it to be cooked through but still have some bite.
• Transfer the Brussels sprouts to a large bowl and toss with the hot and sweet sauce, shallots, and fresh mint.
• Serve immediately.  

For the pickled shallots:

• In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic and heat over medium-high heat until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Let cool completely and transfer to a bowl or storage container.
• Add the shallots and soak in the pickling liquid in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 1 week. The Pickled shallots can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Strain and remove the garlic clove before using.  

Long beans amandine with homemade XO brown butter 

Ingredients

• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 cup sliced natural almonds
• 1 pound long beans, cut into thirds, or 1 pound green beans
• 1/4 cup XO Brown Butter (recipe follows)
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For XO brown butter 

• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons dried shrimp
• 2 tablespoons dried scallops (substitute more dried shrimp if you can't find dried scallops)
• ½ cup vegetable oil, such as canola
• 2 tablespoons chopped Chinese sausage
• One ¼-inch knob of ginger, coarsely chopped
• 1 dried red Thai chilli pepper
• 1 medium garlic clove, chopped
• 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
• ¾ teaspoons kosher salt 

Directions

• In a large, heavy, flat-bottomed skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat until it starts to foam. Add the sugar and 1½ teaspoons of the salt and swirl around.
• Add the almonds and toss, toss, toss until they are well coated, the butter from the pan starts to disappear, and the almonds become a brittle, 2 to 3 minutes.
• Don't walk away from the pan or the nuts might burn. Transfer to a plate, spread in an even layer, and let cool. Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.
• Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Add the beans and cook them ever so slightly just until the color changes, about 2 minutes for long beans and about 1 minute for green beans. Quickly remove the beans from the water with a slotted spoon or dump the beans and water into a strainer. Plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking. Remove the beans from the water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
• Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add the XO Brown Butter. Throw in the long beans and stir with a wooden spoon until the beans are soft and well covered with the brown butter, about 3 minutes. Season with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Transfer the beans to a large platter, top with the sliced almonds, and serve family-style. 

Berkshire pork milanese with hazelnuts, dandelion greens and honeycrisp

Ingredients

• 6 pork cutlets (1 1/2 pounds), pounded 1/4 inch thick
• Kosher salt
• freshly ground pepper
• 1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
• 1/2 cup ground (not toasted) hazelnuts
• 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
• 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 large eggs, beaten
• Canola oil, for frying
• Lemon wedges, for serving
• Dandelion greens, arugula or other bitter greens or hickory
• two honey crisp apples sliced julienne
• 1 c olive oil
• 1/2 c lemon juice
• Zest of one lemon
• 2 T minced shallots
• 1t fresh oregano chopped
• salt
• ground pepper 

Directions

• Season the cutlets with salt and pepper. In a shallow bowl, mix the panko with the cheese, oregano and nutmeg. Put the flour and eggs in 2 shallow bowls. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Dredge the cutlets in the flour, tapping off the excess, then dip them in the eggs, allowing any excess to drip back into the bowl. Finally, coat the cutlets with the panko mixture, pressing to help the crumbs adhere.
• In each of 2 large skillets, heat 1/2 inch of olive oil until shimmering. Add the cutlets to the skillets and fry over high heat, turning once, until crisp, golden brown and cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Drain the pork on paper towels and serve on a platter
• In a Vitamix or food processor, combine olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, shallots, oregano, salt and pepper blend until emulsified.
• In a large bowl, toss arugula, dandelion or other bitter greens, and honey crisp apples with dressing, then top cutlets with salad and serve with lemon wedges. 

Chocolate tofu mousse with black-and-white sesame brittle 

Ingredients

• 8 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 3/4 cup brewed hot coffee or hot water
• 1 pound silken or extra-soft tofu,drained
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 recipe Black-and-White Sesame Brittle (recipe follows) 

Directions

• In a microwave or in the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate and set aside.
• In a small bowl, combine the sugar and hot coffee and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into a blender and add the melted chocolate, tofu, vanilla, and salt. Blend on medium speed until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender jar a few times as needed. Remove the mousse from the blender and divide it among four to six serving bowls. Refrigerate the mousse for at least an hour to firm up it up before serving.
• Break the sesame brittle into small bite-size pieces with your hands, place on top of the mousse to garnish, and serve. The mousse can be made up to 4 days in advance.
• Instead of dividing it into serving bowls, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, stir vigorously to loosen up the mousse for a smooth appearance before dividing it among four to six serving bowls.