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The Dish: Chef Patrick O'Connell of The Inn at Little Washington

Patrick O'Connell is a self-taught chef. For almost 40 years, the D.C.-native has presided over The Inn at Little Washington in the Blue Ridge Mountains
The Dish: Chef Patrick O’Connell 05:02

A meal at The Inn at Little Washington is an extravagance, but its chef and owner Patrick O'Connell doesn't want customers to focus on its extravagance. O'Connell is a self-taught chef and presides over one of the few Five Diamond institutions in the world. The Inn is also one of the only restaurants to win a near perfect 29 out of 40 with Zagat for food, service and décor, year after year.

Here's how to make some of O'Connell's signature recipes:

Chicken with Morels

Serves 6-8


1 whole chicken, broken down into 8 pieces or 6 bone-in chicken breasts

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons clarified butter or vegetable oil

1 ½ cups fresh morel mushrooms, thoroughly cleaned and dried, halved if necessary

½ teaspoon minced shallot

¼ teaspoon minced garlic

1/3 cup white wine

½ cup chicken stock

2 cups heavy cream

Pinch of fresh ground nutmeg

Wild Rice Pecan Pilaf (see recipe below)

2 tablespoons chopped chives


1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper.

2. In a large, heavy bottomed casserole or dutch oven, over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of clarified butter or vegetable oil and sear chicken until golden brown on both sides. Remove the casserole from the heat and set aside.

3. In an oven safe sauté pan over high heat, add the olive oil and remaining butter. As soon as the butter begins to brown add the morels and sauté, stirring rapidly just until the edges begin to brown and crisp. Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallot and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant and cooked through but not browned. Remove half the mushrooms and set them aside for garnish.

4. Add white wine and reduce until almost dry. Add the chicken stock and the cream to mushroom mixture. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer until the cream sauce is reduced by a quarter. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

5. Pour the cream sauce over the chicken in the casserole and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165. Remove from the oven.

To Serve:

1. In the center of a large, warmed serving platter place bed of Wild Rice Pilaf. Arrange the chicken on top of the Wild Rice. Scatter the reserved morels over top of the chicken.

2. Spoon the additional mushroom cream sauce around the chicken and serve any additional mushroom cream on the side. Sprinkle the chicken with chives.

Wild Rice Pecan Pilaf

(Serves 4)


½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup wild rice

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium sized carrot, peeled and minced

1 stalk celery, minced

½ cup white mushrooms, minced

½ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley


1. In a medium sized saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add the ½ teaspoon of salt and the wild rice. Boil, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes, or until the grains begin to pop open and the rice is just tender. Drain and set aside.

2. In a 10 inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the carrot and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the celery, mushroom and pecans. Sauté for about 2 minutes more, stirring often. Add the rice and sauté until thoroughly combined. Add the parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Truffled Popcorn

Pop 1/3 cup raw popcorn in an air popper or in your favorite popcorn popper following the manufacturers' directions.

Ingredients to dress the popcorn

⅛ cup melted butter

2 tablespoons good quality truffle oil

1 tablespoon finely minced fresh parsley

½ cup grated, aged parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 small, fresh, white or black truffle (optional)


1. Place the warm popped corn in a large mixing bowl.

2. Toss the popcorn with the remaining ingredients, reserving the truffle to grate at the table.

Minted English Pea Soup

Yield: 10 demitasse cups or 6-8 portions as a main course


3 pounds fresh English peas, unshelled (about 1 ¼ pound of shelled peas)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 leek, well cleaned and finely chopped

1 medium Idaho potato, peeled and diced

8 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1 small bunch of fresh mint

salt, sugar and freshly ground white pepper to taste


1. Shell the English peas (discarding the husks) and set aside.

2. In a 4 quart sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the diced onion and chopped leek and cook until tender but not browned.

3. Add the diced potato and 7 cups of the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 10 - 15 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat.

4. In another 4 quart saucepan, blanch the peas in lightly salted boiling water until tender, (about 5 minutes). Drain and shock the peas in ice water to stop the cooking and set their color.

5. Drain the peas and add them and to the potato and leek base. In small batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth.

6. Strain through a fine mesh chinois twice. Add 1 cup of the heavy cream. Return the soup to low heat and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and sugar as needed. Add the bundle of fresh mint and steep in the soup for 10-15 minutes. Remove and discard the mint. At this point if the soup is too thick, add some of the remaining vegetable stock to thin it out.

7. Just before serving, whip the remaining ½ cup of heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Gently fold it into the warmed soup.

Chilled Asparagus Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

Serves 6


1 bunch large green asparagus, washed

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Dijon Vinaigrette (See recipe below)


1. In a medium sized saucepan bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil.

2. Meanwhile cut the bottom pale section (about 2 inches) off of each asparagus stalk. With a vegetable peeler peel the bottom exposing some of the white interior.

3. Blanch the asparagus in the boiling water for 4-5 minutes or until tender but al dente. Remove with tongs and shock in a bowl of ice water until chilled.

4. Remove from the ice water, pat dry and place in a mixing bowl. Add the Dijon Vinaigrette, salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mixing bowl and arrange on a platter to serve.

Dijon Vinaigrette


¼ cup Dijon mustard

1/8 cup rice wine vinegar

1/8 cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup neutral oil like canola

Salt, sugar and freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Combine the mustard, rice wine vinegar and lemon juice in a blender and pulse to combine. With the blender running and the oils in a steady stream.

2. Adjust the seasoning as needed with salt, sugar and black pepper. Store in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

Sautéed Turnips and Bok Choy

Serves 6


3 bunches of tender baby turnips, peeled, halved and the tops trimmed to ½ inch

4 heads of baby bok choy, cleaned and cut in half

¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Over high heat, bring a medium sized sauce pan of lightly salted water to a rolling boil.

2. Blanch the turnips for 2 minutes or until tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and chill in a large bowl of ice water. In the same pot of water, blanch the bok choy halves for 1-2 minutes or until tender. Remove and add to the same bowl of ice. Vegetables can be blanched 1 day in advance and held in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

3. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the blanched turnips and bok choy and sauté quickly until heated through and the liquid has started to thicken into a syrupy glaze. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste with sugar, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and serve.

Panna Cotta Parfaits with Red Fruit Jelly

Serves 8

You will need 8 tall champagne flutes or parfait glasses.

Ingredients make the red currant jelly

1 ½ cups red currants, fresh or frozen

1 ½ cups halved and pitted cherries, fresh or frozen

1 ½ cups strawberries, stemmed

1 ½ cups raspberries

3 whole star anise

1 strip orange zest

½ cup sugar

½ cup cold water

1 ¼ cranberry juice

2 ½ teaspoons powdered gelatin

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


1. Strip the red currants off their stems.

2. In the top of a double boiler or in a large stainless steel bowl, combine the red currants, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, star anise, orange zest, sugar and water and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set the mixture over a pot of simmering water and cook for about 40 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, place the cranberry juice in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. When the gelatin has softened, place the bowl over a small pot of simmering water until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

4. Stir the dissolved gelatin into the warm red fruit mixture. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and add the lemon juice. You should have 2 ½ cups of strained juice. If you have less, add more cranberry juice until you have 2 ½ cups of liquid.

5. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Ingredients to make the panna cotta

3 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk

¾ cups sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 ½ teaspoons powdered gelatin


1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the cream, ½ cup of the milk, the sugar and vanilla bean. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

2. Place the remaining ½ cup of milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. When the gelatin has softened, place the bowl over a small pot of simmering water until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

3. Stir the dissolved gelatin into the hot cream mixture, cool to room temperature and remove the vanilla bean

To assemble the parfaits:

1. Carefully fill each of 8 parfait glasses one quarter full with the cooled fruit liquid and refrigerate until set.

2. Pour an equal layer of the liquid panna cotta mixture on top of the chilled fruit jelly and refrigerate until set.

3. Pour another layer of fruit liquid into each glass and refrigerate.

4. Finally, fill each glass with a final layer of the panna cotta mixture and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve:

8 sprigs red currants or raspberries, for garnish

Serve the parfaits garnished with sprigs of red currants or raspberries.

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