John Schenk and Michael Vignola have known one another for more than a decade. The two native New Yorkers first met when Vignola, then a teenager, joined the staff at Schenk’s Greenwich Village eatery, Clementine.
These days the dynamic duo showcase their culinary collaboration at Strip House, the Glazier Group’s collection of up-market steakhouses with locations in New York City; Houston; Livingston, N.J.; Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; San Juan, P.R.; Las Vegas and Key West, Fla.
While Schenk develops the menus and oversees day-to-day operations, Vignola is his “man in the field” on location to supervise the opening of new restaurants and ensure all their existing houses meet the same standards of excellence. I met Vignola at the Strip House in the newly renovated Condado Plaza Hotel & Resort in San Juan where I enjoyed a truly decadent dining experience.
Charred strip steak Serves 4
4 1-pound strip steaks Olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt (per steak)
2 tablespoons fresh crushed black pepper (per steak)
Heat a flat-bottomed cast-iron pan to high. Lightly coat steaks with olive oil and season with kosher salt and crushed black pepper. Place steaks in the heated pan and cook each steak on one side until moderately charred (look for a thin layer of blackening), about 8 minutes. Flip each steak and repeat. Insert a meat thermometer into the steak, for rare the temperature should reach 115 degrees; for medium 135 degrees. Let the steaks rest for eight to 10 minutes before serving.
Strip House creamed spinach 6 cups
2½ cups fresh baby spinach (about 1 quart cooked, chopped spinach)
2 cups reserved spinach liquid
1 cup minced shallots
2 cups truffle cream (recipe follows)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons truffle butter
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white truffle oil
Quickly blanch the spinach in salted, rapidly boiling water. Use a skimmer to remove the spinach from the water. Set aside to drain. When the spinach cools to room temperature, squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. Reserve 2 cups of the liquid.
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the shallots until translucent, but do not brown them. Add 1 cup of the truffle cream and bring to a simmer. Whip in the truffle butter and then add ½ cup of the grated Parmesan cheese. Fold in all of the chopped spinach and add the remaining cup of truffle cream during this process. Bring to a simmer. If the creamed spinach looks dry or tight, add a couple tablespoons of the reserved spinach liquid. Fold in the remaining half cup of grated parmesan cheese. Season to taste. Finish the dish with the truffle oil and serve.
For the truffle cream:
½ pound butter
½ pound all-purpose flour
1 quart heavy cream
2/3 cup diced Spanish onion
4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
5 ounces truffle butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Make a roux by heating butter in a sauté pan until it bubbles. Slowly whisk in the flour until the roux thickens. Remove from heat.
In a saucepan, bring heavy cream and onion to a medium simmer and cook until the onion is soft. With a wand mixer, puree the onion into the cream. Slowly add some of the roux until sauce reaches a medium-thick consistency. (It should coat the back of a kitchen spoon, but not approach a custard consistency.) Use the wand mixer to incorporate the truffle butter, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm in a water bath until ready to serve.
Goose fat potatoes Serves 4
4 cups peeled, medium-diced potatoes (about 2 large potatoes)
8 cups goose fat (recipe follows)
4 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Tie the herbs together with twine. In saucepot, combine the seasoned goose fat, herbs and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat. Cook the diced potatoes in the goose fat for about 10 minutes, until they are soft, but hold their shape. Use a strainer to remove the potatoes and place them in a mixing bowl.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season the cooked potatoes with the chopped fresh herbs and gently stir in 1/3 cup of the goose fat. (Do this gently as some of the potatoes will break apart and some will hold shape.) Season the potato mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Pack the potato mixture into well-oiled 4-ounce aluminum soufflé tins. Place tins in oven and bake for 10 minutes. Potatoes should be light golden brown. Cool to room temperature (about 45 minutes). Refrigerate for 45 minutes or overnight, to set.
Remove each potato from the mold with a quick shake. Either place the potatoes in a fryer filled with seasoned goose fat and fry until golden brown or place in a 375-degree oven and bake until hot. Drizzle a little of the goose fat on top at the beginning and mid-point in the baking process.
For the goose fat:
8 cups rendered goose fat
6 thyme stems (pick and chop the herb leaves and set aside)
2 rosemary stems (pick and chop the herb leaves and set aside)
6 garlic cloves, cracked
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 teaspoons ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Heat gently to infuse the goose fat with herbs and seasonings. Strain the goose fat to eliminate the remaining herbs. Set aside until ready to use.
PRESENTATION: Thinly slice 5 cloves of garlic. Coarsely chop ½ cup of parsley. Place the sliced garlic on top of each potato, sprinkle the potato with the coarse salt and top with the chopped parsley.
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