If we feel pressured to come up with a standout hostess gift, we can’t imagine the strain on highly acclaimed chefs. They have access to a gastronomical wonderland, so it should be easy for someone, like James Beard winner Marcus Samuelsson of N.Y.C’s much extolled (and Obama-approved) Red Rooster restaurant, to grab a luxury gourmet goody and call it a day. However, that doesn’t cut it for the former Top Chef Masters champion, who prefers to bring a homemade token of appreciation for a personal touch.
This means rolling up his sleeves and making a fresh loaf of cornbread and a jar of “bird funk”, a sublime umami spread consisting of chicken, miso paste, and lemongrass. Luckily for us (and your host), Samuelsson details the recipes for his holiday go-to present in his newest culinary tome, Red Rooster Cookbook ($23; amazon.com) so you can whip them up at in your own kitchen. Note: These edibles may have a limited shelf life, but we’re confident that the combo is good for at least two years of repeat invites. Read on for the recipes below.
Cornbread and "Bird Funk"
For the Bird Funk
2 cups chopped chicken skin
1 cup ground chicken thighs
1 cup small dried shrimp*, pulsed in a food processor until chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed, smashed, and minced **
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons white miso paste***
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
For the corn bread
1 cup cake flour
1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo powder ****
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 3/4 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or thawed frozen)
How to Make It
For the Bird Funk
Line a rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Spread out the chicken skin and freeze for 30 minutes. Put through a meat grinder or pulse in batches in a food processor to mince the skin. Scrape the skin out into a saucepan.
Add the remaining ingredients and turn heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat renders and the funk begins to brown, about 45 minutes. Keep cooking, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the funk is a deep rich brown, about another hour and 15 minutes. The funk will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for about 1 week.
For the corn bread
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray a 9-x-5-inch loaf pan with pan spray.
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, Aleppo pepper, and salt together in a bowl.
Whisk the sour cream, buttermilk, eggs, yolk, and melted butter together in another bowl until smooth.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until combined. Fold in the corn.
Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth out the top. Bake until the bread is browned and pulling away from the sides of the pan and a skewer poked into the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
Cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the sides and turn out the loaf. You can cut it now— the slices will be messy—or cool completely. It will keep for four days, but a better plan is to freeze individual slices.
** Trim off the woody root and discard the very tough outer layers. Slice the lemongrass length-wise and set, cut side down, on your cutting board. Grab your biggest chef's knife by the handle, Grab your biggest chef's knife by the handle, blade pointing up, and smash down on the stalk with the end of the handle, working your way up from the root end to break the lemon grass into long fibers, then mince.