Big high five to Best New Chef 2011 George Mendes of New York City’s excellent Aldea on the publication of his first cookbook, My Portugal, which debuts today. It’s a beautiful journey through his family history, the dishes he grew up loving and the flavors he seeks out when he travels to Portugal. At an intimate dinner at Aldea last night to celebrate the book’s release, Mendes prepared five courses of dishes from the book. It’s no accident that the entire first chapter of the book is dedicated to the humble ingredient salt cod: the briny cured fish was the star of the meal, in the form of a simple salt cod, potato and egg casserole (bacalau à gomes de sá), a Portuguese twist on the Spanish tortilla. Mendes capped the night with outrageously good cinnamon-sugar doughnuts called sonhos (“dreams”) and crispy egg custard tarts (which were intended as take-home gifts for breakfast. I may or may not have eaten mine on the train ride home).
Even his simplest recipes are smart and ultra-versatile. He explains the unusual technique he uses for his brilliant garlic oil recipe: "We boil the garlic in three changes of water to remove its bitterness and astringency. We then steep it in the olive oil to soften the texture and bring out its natural sweetness and addictive garlicky flavor.” We are definitely addicted. Order the book here.
MAKES ABOUT 1/2 CUP
kosher salt, to taste
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fill a small bowl with ice and water. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and salt it lightly. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately transfer to the ice water. When cool, drain well. Repeat this process two more times.
In a small saucepan, bring the oil and garlic to a simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer until the garlic is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve; reserve the garlic cloves for another use. The oil can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.