David McCann

Longtime test kitchen assistant David McCann puts the red-hot appliance through its paces.
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A longtime Food & Wine Test Kitchen pro spills the tea on cleaning stubborn cooking stains, from baked-on roasting pan crud to scuffed-up cookie sheets. Plus, the most bizarre, ridiculous, and effective cleaning solution he has ever encountered.
The Kitchen Arts & Letters founder died this week at the age of 84. Longtime KAL patron and F&W Test Kitchen Assistant David McCann pays tribute to the man who made cookbooks his life.
David McCann layers root vegetables into this riff on a holiday classic.
This recipe for a three-root gratin is reinvigorated by a hearty combination of rutabaga and celery root. Rutabaga and celery root bring an earthy depth and an engaging, subtle sweetness, giving a classic gratin a flavorful lift. Classic gratins lean on heaps of Gruyère; here, robust Parmigiano-Reggiano cuts in with more intense flavor, accentuating the root vegetables instead of smothering them. The salty bite of the Parmesan, along with the brightness from the celery root, transforms what could be a stodgy side into a reimagined classic that will have you coming back for seconds. Use a mandoline to slice the vegetables for best results.
The ultra-sharp kitchen slicer is notorious for both pro-level cutting abilities and excruciating injuries.
Learn your way around your kitchen. Learn your way around your life.
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It's tough out there, so get your culinary kicks where you can.
Learn your way around your kitchen. Learn your way around your life.
It's tough out there, so get your culinary kicks where you can.
When I was younger, one of my favorite things was any kind of "stuffed" food. Stuffed chicken breasts. Stuffed mushrooms. Stuffed peppers, grape leaves, pork. You get the idea.There was something magical about cutting into one thing only to find something altogether different on the inside. Alas, many stuffed foods have been consigned to the "old-fashioned" category. But I'm convinced they deserve to return to the table.Picture a stuffed chicken breast cut into rounds that show off the multicolored stuffing inside, fanned across the plate—I'm pretty sure no one would reject that as dated. Or how about beautiful, deep green Swiss chard leaves (like this recipe from Justin Chapple) filled with a wildly savory ground pork and rice stuffing, just begging to be eaten.But today I have a recipe for you that could hardly be easier or less intimidating—stuffed pork loin. It's easy enough to make for your family on a Tuesday night and beautiful enough to save for guests on Saturday.Pork loin, not to be confused with the much smaller tenderloin, is fairly lean, very inexpensive, and easy to work with. And the best part: it requires only three very simple cuts to butterfly it in preparation for stuffing. (See my recipe below for specific directions.)The stuffing is an herb pesto, which can be changed depending on what's in season or what you have available in your refrigerator that you need to use up. My recipe leans on tarragon, chives, basil, parsley, scallions, and lemon zest to form a light, bright pesto that will flavor the loin from the inside. But feel free to use whatever you have on hand. No scallions? Use a couple of tablespoons of minced onion. For the herbs, use a mix of whatever you have on hand that's green and soft, like arugula or even kale; you'll need about 2½ to 3 cups of leafy, flavorful greens. (You could even substitute about ½ to ¾ cup store-bought pesto, in a pinch.) For a bit of luxury, I've added some prosciutto, but feel free to omit it or use whatever thinly sliced cured meat you have around.All you'll need to do is open up the pork loin, pound it to an even thickness, salt the meat, paint it with the pesto, top the pesto with the prosciutto and cheese, roll it back up, tie it, and roast it. The whole procedure takes about an hour, and the results are delicious—and anything but outdated.
The first “fancy” meal I cooked for my husband Charlie way back in 1981 was from Craig Claiborne’s cookbook, and I’ve been cooking it ever since. It’s a beautiful French-style chicken breast poached in a wildly flavorful and decadent tarragon cream sauce. Definitely not everyday fare, but for those special occasions ... wow. I’ve made a few small revisions over the years, but the spirit of the recipe remains the same.In 1986, Charlie’s Mother was turning 70, and it had been a tough few years for her. Therefore, a big surprise celebration was in order. I offered to cook as delicious a meal as I could come up with. Now, realize I had never cooked for the woman who would become my mother-in-law. She was a proud North Carolina farm woman while I was, and remain, an urban Yankee actor. Needless to say, there was a lot riding on this meal. As the date approached, I was cast in a show and so couldn’t travel to North Carolina to cook.These days Charlie is a decent cook, but in 1986 his skills were ... limited. So we devised an emergency improvised cooking school. I gathered all of the ingredients, and he watched like a hawk as I made the dish. Then a few days later, we did the same again. And then he cooked it, with me standing over him, offering gentle hints. It was not bad. For the fourth try, I went to the other room of our two-room apartment, put on my headphones, and pretended not to worry as he made the dish entirely on his own. It was good! I was quite proud of both the teacher and the student.Fast forward to the dinner. By all accounts, Charlie’s rendition of the main course was stellar, and his mother was thrilled with her boys for going to all that trouble for her. (And yes, she came to consider me one of her boys, and it meant the world to me.) So, thank you, Mr. Claiborne, for both the dish and what it meant to my relationship with Harriet Otelia Browder.This version is my current update of my go-to recipe. Here, dried morels get a quick soak in hot water, which renders a super-flavorful broth that adds another layer of richness to the cream sauce. It’s classic, comforting, and just as good, if not better, than a warm hug on a cold day. I’m pretty sure Harriet would approve.
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Years ago, while appearing with the Royal Shakespeare Co. in London, I had a week off and decided a treat was in order. Charlie, my other half, met me in London, and we took a ridiculously cheap flight to Italy. Of course Venice was on the agenda, and especially a restaurant recommended by all of my friends at Food & Wine—Osteria Alle Testiere. Upon arrival, we tried to book a reservation, but no luck. I was crushed, but I was in Venice, so I couldn’t really feel that bad.We took the advice of friends who were seasoned Venice visitors and let ourselves get lost. I believe that’s the only way to see Venice. It was magical. And then, late in the afternoon, we somehow found ourselves outside the shuttered doors of Alle Testiere. I started to feel sorry for myself again, and when I turned to share my sorrow with Charlie, he was nowhere to be found. And then I saw him, on his hands and knees, crawling underneath the metal security gate! As I watched in horror ... nothing happened. I waited, sure that he was about to be arrested. Then he appeared, slithering out from under the gate, looking both a mess and immensely pleased with himself. If we agreed to eat very, very early, and to not linger endlessly after our meal, they graciously agreed to let us be the first customers that night. We raced back to our hotel, showered, changed, and raced back. We then proceeded to have one of the best meals we’ve ever had. I had Schie con Polenta: tiny Venetian brine shrimp with white wine and garlic served over soft polenta. It was a meal and an evening I will never forget, thanks both to Charlie and a wonderful restaurant crew.Since flying to Venice for dinner isn’t possible for most of us, this magical meal is easy to, if not replicate, at least approximate. I say that because I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to find the famous Venetian gray brine shrimp stateside. These shrimp are seriously tiny and sweet. But we all have access to great shrimp at our fishmongers. All you need to do is make a batch of polenta, which isn’t hard at all; it just requires some stirring. And while the polenta simmers away, all you’ll need to do is cook some garlic and white wine and stock, add butter, and, literally two minutes (at most) before you want to serve, toss in the shrimp. The cardinal sin when preparing shrimp is overcooking them, so cook until they’re mostly pink, then toss in the butter, the lemon zest, and about half of the parsley. The remaining moments of heat while you plate is enough to finish the cooking. Complete the picture with the rest of the parsley, and let yourself dream of canals, and San Marco, and the Rialto, and … ah, La Serenissima!
Saffron Risotto
Rating: Unrated
2
Risotto. Even the name sounds romantic and delicious. Leave it to the Italians to make a bowl of rice sound seductive. The amazing thing is that it tastes even better than it sounds. It’s rich and creamy (without using ANY cream) and deeply flavorful, while using only a few ingredients. And it takes less than half an hour. It’s a knockout dish you can tackle with just a little stirring and a little time.Thirty-plus years ago, my husband and I decided to have a commitment ceremony on our 10th anniversary (this was back in the days before marriage equality). After that long and wonderful day surrounded by friends, we went back to our tiny Brooklyn apartment (with the eight folks sleeping on our floor), and I made risotto for everyone. To this day, people can’t believe I made such a “difficult” dish at the end of a day like that. But I have to let you in on a little secret: risotto is not difficult at all. The only part of making this wonderful dish that could possibly be considered even remotely difficult is the stirring. And the stirring is simply time-consuming, nothing else.Risotto Milanese is as classic as it gets. I’m generally leery of updating classic recipes. But in this case, my update makes it a lot easier to make this beautiful dish. One of the classic ingredients in this risotto is bone marrow ... not generally something most people have in their larder. But Snake River Farms, one of America’s great meat purveyors, solves that problem. They package and sell dry-aged beef fat, called Chef’s Gold. The flavor is rich and complex, and you can store it in your freezer. And it whips into the risotto just like the butter most recipes call for at the end of cooking. It’s an excellent stand-in for marrow in this dish.I love basic risotto, though I often add some herbs. When we’re in the mood for something else, I may add sautéed mushrooms, or diced chicken breast that I essentially poach in the rice. But truthfully, this Saffron Risotto is the sine qua non. This decadent amalgam of saffron, stock, Parmigiano, and rice is as comforting as it gets. It’s the perfect dish for celebrating important milestones—no matter how tired you are!
Originally served at Seattle’s Hotel Sorrento by chef David Pisegna (and published in The Best of Food & Wine collection from 1988), this throwback salmon dish stands the test of time. We simplified the original recipe, but didn’t change a thing about the velvety, wine-blushed beurre blanc; keep it warm and serve it immediately for the best results.