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World Cruise Dispatch: Jon Ashton’s Tips for Being a Better Chef

Lead image courtesy of Paragon Pixels

It’s surprisingly simple to be better chef (instantly!) with Crystal Serenity guest chef Jon Ashton’s tips, plus two of his favorite recipes.

By Joe Kita

During the current World Cruise, Crystal’s popular Wine & Food Festival theme programming featured some of the greatest culinary and cocktail talents in the world (see previous post about the “Liquid Chef,” Adam Bernstein.) Here, famed chef, Jon Ashton, takes some time away from his entertaining cooking demos and special menu planning and preparations to share some surprising tips of his masterful trade.

Sing while you’re cooking

Jon Ashton, the guest chef aboard Crystal Serenity during the second leg of its World Cruise, listens to the Beatles. He’s from Liverpool, and their music makes him happy. He believes a quiet kitchen produces uninspired meals. “When you’re in a good mood, when you’re joyous, it comes across in the food,” he says.

Cehf Jon Ashton may not be singing in this particular photo, but he does recommend it in your own kitchen.
Cehf Jon Ashton may not be singing in this particular photo, but he does recommend it in your own kitchen. (photo courtesy of Paragon Pixels)

Practice the art of mise en place

It’s a French culinary term that means “everything in its place.” So before you start cooking, prepare and measure out all the ingredients, along with any necessary pots, pans and utensils. Make your counter look like a Food Network set prior to filming. The more organized you are, the fewer mistakes you’ll make. “And always read the recipe twice,” notes Ashton.

Never straight-jacket a recipe

Everyone’s taste buds differ. Trust yours, not the chef who created the dish. Don’t be afraid to tweak it by adding additional salt or pepper or, if it’s too sweet, some lemon or vinegar. “You know what you like,” says Ashton, “so have confidence in your taste buds.”

Get yourself a sous vide device

“It’s the new home-cooking essential,” says Ashton, “It will be your best friend because you’ll never overcook a piece of protein again.” Just seal your salmon, chicken or steak into plastic pouches or glass jars and put them in a water bath for up to six hours. The device circulates and heats the water to a precise temperature – a process that tenderizes the protein and makes it incredibly convenient to finish on the grill, under the broiler, or in a frying pan (30 seconds each side) and serve to guests. It is the simple chef’s secret to the perfect piece of meat or fish.

Grill out in any weather

Don’t let a monsoon or blizzard stop you from barbecuing. After cooking your meat indoors, place it on a tray. Take one piece of charcoal that you’ve heated until gray, put it in a ramekin or cup, and drizzle a little canola or olive oil on top. Then cover the meat and charcoal with foil for 30 to 60 seconds. “The oil causes the charcoal to smoke and imparts a lovely grilled flavor to the meat,” says Ashton.

Marinate with kiwi

This fuzzy fruit from New Zealand has “high acidity that is fantastic for breaking down the fibers in meat,” he says. For marinating, use about ½ kiwi per one pound of chopped meat. (See recipe for Chicken Tacos below.)

Add garlic with two minutes left

When making tomato sauce, most home chefs toss all their ingredients into the pot first and let them simmer. If you’re a garlic lover, add a clove or two to taste a couple of minutes before serving. It refreshes the flavor that has gradually faded with cooking, says Ashton. (The same approach works with spices used in curries.)

Have a “cookie of the day”

Ashton delighted Crystal guests with a different cookie-of-the day for 11 consecutive days on the World Cruise. Why, you may wonder, amidst all the gourmet pastries on the ship, is a cookie-of-the-day necessary? “It’s only a small cookie, a small treat, but it’s special,” he explains. “You’ve been out all day on tour, and it’s nice to have that little surprise when you return. My Granny always used to say, ‘Son, if you haven’t received a compliment by 5:30 you’re allowed to give yourself one. This cookie is your compliment.” (See recipe below for his favorite.)

Brush your bread

Think about what touches your tongue first when biting into a sandwich. It’s not the filling; it’s the bread. So treat it with extra care. Swipe on a bit of herb or garlic butter, or sprinkle on some salt or pepper, and lightly toast it. It’s the secret to a sensational sandwich.

Use the dishwasher as a food warmer

When you run out of stove space in the final throes of preparing a big family meal, pop the potatoes or vegetables in the dishwasher and hit the heat button. It’s great for emergencies because the dry heat keeps food warm without cooking it further. “Just make sure nobody hits the rinse cycle,” says Ashton.

Jon Ashton's Beer-Marinated Chicken Tacos with Spiced White Sauce (photo courtesy of Paragon Pixels)
Jon Ashton’s Beer-Marinated Chicken Tacos with Spiced White Sauce (photo courtesy of Paragon Pixels)

Jon Ashton’s signature recipes

Beer-Marinated Chicken Tacos with Spiced White Sauce

Marinade

¼ cup garlic cloves, peeled

¼ onion, peeled

¼ cup chopped scallions

¼ cup ancho chili powder

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

2 jalapeno peppers

½ bunch fresh cilantro

¾ cup beer

Juice and grated zest of 1 orange

Grated zest of 2 limes

½ kiwifruit, peeled

¼ cup mirin

Good pinch of kosher salt

Good pinch of sugar

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into strips

Spiced White Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise (try to find one made of only egg yolks, not whole eggs)

¼ cup water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon ground caraway

¼ teaspoon ground sumac

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Just a sprinkle of ground turmeric

Pinch of xanthan gum (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Instructions

Marinade

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a blender or food processor and puree. Rub the marinade all over the chicken and marinate the meat in the refrigerator, covered, for at least an hour and up to 2 days. When you’re ready to grill, heat the grill to medium, brush with oil, and cook the chicken for 10 minutes, until it’s nice and charred and cooked all the way through. (This can be done day before.)

Spiced White Sauce

Whisk mayonnaise, water, and lemon juice together until smooth and no lumps appear. Add caraway, sumac, cardamom, and turmeric; stir until combined. Add xanthan gym (optional) and mix until it thickens slightly. Add black pepper to taste. Store in the refrigerator. Use liberally.

 

Grandpa Schult’s Swedish Cookies

Ingredients

Cookie Dough

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter (2 sticks)

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 bottle almond extract (1 fl oz)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 egg

Topping

1 egg, slightly beaten

½ cup pearl sugar

 

Instructions

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt on medium speed for about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. The mixture should be smooth but not fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add egg, followed by the almond extract. Turn off the mixer, add the flour all at once and pulse the mixer until the risk of flying flour has passed. With the machine on low, mix just until the flour disappears into the dough. Give the dough a couple of turns with a sturdy, flexible spatula. Turn the dough out onto the counter and divide it in half. Gather each piece into a ball and shape into a disk. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough ¼-inch thick between pieces of parchment. Slide the parchment-sandwiched dough onto a baking sheet – you can stack the slabs – and freeze for at least 1 hour, or refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Brush dough with egg and top with pearl sugar. Have a 2-inch-diameter cookie cutter at hand. Working with one sheet of dough at a time, peel away both pieces of paper and put the dough back on one piece of paper. Cut the dough and drop the round on a parchment-lined baking tray.

Save the scraps from both pieces of dough, then gather them together, re-roll, chill and cut. Bake the cookies for 16 to 19 minutes, rotating the tray after 10 minutes, or until they feel firm to the touch and are golden brown around the edges. Transfer the tray to a rack and let the cookies rest for about 10 minutes before carefully lifting them out onto the rack to cool to room temperature. Continue with the remainder of the dough.

Learn from some of the world’s most esteemed culinary experts on 2017 “Wine & Food Festival” Experiences of Discovery sailings. Themed voyages explore Asia, the Canary Islands, South Africa, and South America and the Amazon.

 

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