For renowned Chicago chef Paul Kahan, food was a family business. His father owned both a deli and a salmon smokehouse in the city's West Loop neighborhood. After college, Kahan became a line cook and then a sous-chef, before joining with a business partner to open his first restaurant, Blackbird. A string of successes followed.
Kahan is now the executive chef and owner of 11 restaurant concepts, including The Publican, Avec and Nico Osteria. He's won three James Beard awards, including outstanding chef and best chef in the Midwest. His first cookbook, "Cheers to the Publican," was just released.
Here are some of Kahan's signature recipes:
Pork shoulder and white grits
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons annatto seeds
1 1⁄2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 1⁄2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera (hot smoked Spanish paprika)
1 1⁄2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1⁄2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup salt
1 (10- to 12-pound) pork shoulder, cut into 4 equal pieces by your butcher
6 pounds lard
Verjus glaze ingredients
1 cup honey
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 1⁄2 quarts verjus
1 quart Pork Stock or Chicken Stock
2 heads Belgian endive, separated into spears, rinsed, and dried
2 cups shelled pistachios, toasted
4 cups red table grapes, halved
Juice of 2 lemons
Freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 cup saba
1. To make the confit, start with the spice rub: In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds, annatto seeds, and peppercorns for 1 minute, or until the oils start to release and the spices become aromatic. Transfer the spices to a spice grinder or blender. Add the pimentón and red pepper flakes and blend into a fine powder.
2. In a small bowl, mix the spice powder with the sugar and salt. Spread the rub evenly over the pork shoulder pieces, then transfer the pork to a covered container and refrigerate for 5 days. When ready to confit the pork, rinse the meat under cold water until the rub is removed. Pat dry with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
3. Add the pork to a large, ovenproof stockpot and add enough lard to just cover the pork. Cook over medium-low heat until the lard is hot and melted. Cover the stockpot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 2 1∕2 hours. The meat should be just tender enough to be pulled apart. If necessary, cook for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the shoulder from the oven and let it cool in the lard. Transfer the meat and lard to a covered container and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Remove the pork confit from the lard the day before you plan to cook it. Let the shoulder pieces sit at room temperature for about 1 hour prior to cooking. Wipe off as much fat as possible.
4. Light the grill to medium-high according to individual unit directions. Place the lamb chops over direct heat and grill, turning once about halfway through. They will need about 6-8 minutes for rare, 8-10 minutes for medium, 12-15 minutes for well done.
5. Meanwhile, make the verjus glaze: In a large saucepot over medium heat, combine the honey, bay leaf, thyme, and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Add the verjus and stock and reduce until 3 cups of liquid remain. The mixture should be slightly thick, tacky, and still pretty tart from the verjus. Set aside 2 cups for cooking the pork and save the remaining cup in the fridge. The glaze will last for up to 1 week and is great with just about any type of pork or richer meats.
6. Place the pork confit over direct heat. Once you start to get nice char on the first side, flip the pieces and start to brush on the verjus glaze. Continuously flip and glaze the meat for a total cooking time of 15 to 18 minutes, until the outside of the meat is charred and the inside is hot. Remove the pork from the grill and set on a serving platter.
7. Make the salad: In a large bowl, combine the endive, pistachios, and grapes. Dress the salad with lemon juice and olive oil; season with salt and pepper to taste.Mound the salad on top of the pork and drizzle saba over everything.
White grits ingredients
2 quarts whole milk
1 pint white grits (we like Geechie Boy Mill)
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco sauce (optional)
1. In a large saucepot over medium-low heat, bring the milk to a simmer. Stream in the grits while whisking and then reduce the heat to low. Slowly cook the grits, stirring every few minutes, for about 30 minutes, or until the grits are tender. Stir in the butter and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a dash of Tabasco, if you want.
2. Serve the grits immediately, or cool them and save for later. Reheat the grits over very low heat in a wide, shallow pan, stirring in 1 to 3 tablespoons milk to loosen and keep them from burning.
1 gallon water
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon BBQ Rub (recipe follows)
1⁄4 cup kosher salt
1 pound carrots, cleaned and halved
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1teaspoon sea salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1⁄4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 sprigs dill, torn
1 batch Ranchovy Herb Dressing (recipe follows)
1. In a large pot, combine the water with 1 cup of the BBQ Rub and the kosher salt. Bring to a boil, add the carrots, and cook until they're just about fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Drain the carrots and set aside.
2. Build a fire on one side of a charcoal grill and let it burn down to embers. Toss the blanched carrots with the remaining 1 tablespoon of BBQ Rub and the olive oil in a large bowl.
3. Arrange the carrots on the grill over direct heat and cook, moving them around a bit, until they have some char marks and are finished, about 5 minutes.
4. Pile the carrots on a serving plate, season with the sea salt, drizzle with the lemon juice, and garnish with the pecans and dill. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice, if needed. Dress the carrots with the Ranchovy Herb Dressing and serve
1 teaspoon high smoking-point oil, such as rice bran, sunflower, grapeseed, or peanut
3 cups corn kernels (from 4 to 5 ears)
1 1⁄2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Juice of 2 limes
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Garlic Aioli (recipe follows)
1 teaspoon piment d'Espelette
4 springs cilantro, leaves picked from stems
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and let it get to the point of almost smoking, it's so hot. Add the corn and sauté until it's tender, about 3 minutes.
2. Stir in the butter and half the lime juice with a pinch of salt and a few cracks of pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning if you think it needs it, adding more lime juice if you want.
3. Transfer the corn to a serving dish and spoon the aioli on top and sprinkle on the piment d'Espelette. Garnish with the cilantro. Grate about 1∕4 cup of Parmesan over the top (at the restaurant we always do this at the last second because it tastes better that way) and serve.
Garlic aioli ingredients
10 cloves garlic confit
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
4 large egg yolks
1 raw garlic clove, finely grated
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
1⁄2 cup oil from garlic confit
3 cups grapeseed oil
Freshly ground pepper
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic confit, lemon zest, lemon juice, egg yolks, grated garlic clove, and 1 teaspoon of the ice water.
2. With the food processor running, slowly stream in the garlic oil. Once the mixture is thick, add 1 tablespoon of the remaining ice water. With the processor running, slowly stream in the grapeseed oil, adding the remaining ice water a few drops at a time until the aioli is a little thinner than storebought mayonnaise.
3. Season the aioli with the lemon zest, salt, and pepper to taste. Transfer the aioli to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.