While doing their part to maintain social distance, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs and business owners for their best advice on how to make easy, wholesome meals using simple pantry staples. Find out how to make the most of your groceries in this Q&A series, which outlines some pro tips for creating nutritious and comforting from-scratch meals, snacks and more.
Dakota Kolb is the executive chef of Quincy Street Bistro, a casual neighborhood eatery that recently reopened under new ownership. The comfort food menu includes newer items such as Buffalo poutine with house fries, bacon fat Buffalo gravy, crispy chicken and blue cheese crumbles. Quincy Street Bistro currently offers dine-in, takeout and delivery via DoorDash. Online ordering is available.
What’s your favorite ingredient to work with and why? Do you have a secret weapon spice or ingredient? My favorite ingredient to work with would have to be farro. It’s an ancient grain, a very versatile ingredient and a very hearty grain. The desired cooking method for this grain would be the same as if you would cook long-grain white rice.
My secret ingredient would be lemon juice. I started becoming a fan of lemon juice when I began working at Pastaria in 2016. We garnished our Brussels sprouts before we finished them in lemon juice, and ever since then I’ve tried to incorporate an acid into each one of my dishes. As cooks, it’s our job to balance fat, acid and salt, and adding an acidic element such as lemon juice will usually balance all those components out. Some of my favorite easily accessible cooking acids are lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, lime juice and white distilled vinegar.
My favorite thing to use acid in is a marinade for different proteins – it acts as a tenderizer. I would start by using a little bit of oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley as a marinade for chicken. Another application would be making your own salad dressing, like a vinaigrette. An example of a quick vinaigrette would be a ratio of three parts oil to one part vinegar or acid. In this case, you’re going to use balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Then in a Mason jar or bottle, shake it up and emulsify.
Another everyday application would be making homemade fries. One of my tricks that I use is using a small amount of white distilled vinegar in the blanching process. It helps keep its sheen, gives you your desired crisp feel to the fry and is an umami bomb on your palate.
What is one of the most versatile skills a home cook should master, and why? I feel that one of the most versatile skills a home cook should master is whole chicken cookery. There are many different ways to break down a chicken. A very simple way would be to take off the legs first, cutting them as close to the back part of a chicken as possible. You should have a thigh and the drum connected to each other. Repeat this on the second leg.
Then I would move up to the top of the chicken to fabricate the chicken wing. The easiest way to take off the chicken wing is by holding the chicken by its wing, finding the joint in which the chicken wing and the carcass are connected and cutting right along the joint; repeat on the other side. Now all you have is two breasts and the carcass. Take your hand and run it along the breast bone. Once you find the breast bone, make a small incision on both sides of it, and use those incisions as a guide point to cut out both breasts of a chicken. What you should have left is the chicken carcass.
Whole chicken cookery is so valuable for the home cook because there is little to no waste. I would take the chicken bones or chicken carcass and use onion, celery and carrots or any fresh herbs that I had on hand such as parsley and thyme to create a simple chicken stock. Chicken stock is something very useful to have on hand because you can use it as a soup base, gravy or as braising liquid. You can make a meal from nothing with just chicken stock as your base.
When you're cooking at home, what are your favorite go-to comfort dishes to make? My favorites would be a roasted chicken breast with a creamy lemon-parsley risotto and a roasted broccolini with shaved garlic, pepper flake and lemon juice. Another dish that I like to make is a basic shrimp scampi with a white wine-lemon-butter sauce and angel hair pasta or white rice. I’m a big fan of rice. I could eat it every day of the week.
Can you share a recipe for a snack or meal idea that incorporates some of the ideas you've discussed? I’m a big fan of chicken thighs. I think it’s a part of the animal that people don’t usually use. For this recipe, we’re going to use the chicken thighs that we fabricated above along with the lemon juice we also talked about. I'm going to start by sweating garlic and onions, making sure they’re nice and translucent. I will then add the amount of farro I would like to cook off, and then after it is nice and roasted, I would add my chicken stock and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. After it is done cooking, take off the heat and add lemon juice and chile flakes.
Now, we’re going to make the chicken jus by taking chicken stock, putting it in a sauce pot and reducing the stock by half. Once the chicken stock has been reduced by half, take butter and emulsify the chicken jus – it should be nice and creamy. After you do that, you can throw some parsley in the sauce.
Grab a sauté pan and pan sear the chicken thighs fat side down to get nice crispy skin. Once you have cooked your chicken thighs all the way through, it is time to assemble. Use your farro as a bed and put your chicken thighs on top along with the chicken jus. You can cook whatever vegetable with this that you desire; any vegetable will go great with this dish.