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Brooklyn Chef's Table, Our Cookbook of the Week

Stuffed Cabbage at Mill Basin Kosher Delicatessen
Stuffed Cabbage at Mill Basin Kosher Delicatessen
All photos by Eric Isaac, courtesy Globe Pequot Press

Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.

Brooklyn Chef's Table: Extraordinary Recipes from Coney Island to Brooklyn Heights By Sarah Zorn, 224 pages, Lyons Press, $24.95

Brooklyn native Sarah Zorn wasn't expecting to write a cookbook. But, as food editor for L Magazine and Brooklyn Magazine, she knows her way around the Brooklyn food scene, and when Globe Pequot Press contacted her out of the blue one day and asked if she could write a book in two months, she gleefully agreed (after, of course, Googling them to make sure it wasn't some kind of scam). "I wasn't planning on writing a cookbook," she says, "but if I HAD been planning to write one, this is absolutely the one I would have written!"

The author grew up in Park Slope in the 1980s and bounced to Ditmas Park, Bay Ridge, and other parts of town before landing in Bath Beach: "I have an incredible track record of leaving neighborhoods as soon as they get hot," she says, and while Bath Beach may be a million miles from the center of the hot, "New Brooklyn" culinary cutting-edge, she says it's telling that even at the very edge of the borough, where the sea meets the sky, there is this amazing culinary diversity: "I can't think of many other people, even in Brooklyn, who can walk down the street and get hand-pulled noodles, and then go and get a Dominican breakfast, and then have Georgian bread."

Which, to Zorn, is no surprise: "I've found it endlessly amusing that outside media has tried to paint what's going on in Brooklyn's food scene as a trend or something new -- like, 'Oh, look at this! Brooklyn's food scene is popping! There's reason to go across the bridge!' To me, as somebody who grew up here, who honed my love of food here, Brooklyn totally has an identity in and of itself...I can't think of many other cities in the world where you can get Guyanese food or Haitian food or Szechuan food or Georgian food or Pueblan food or Polish food. That's so unique to Brooklyn. Manhattan doesn't stand up to us when it comes to that."

In the book are dishes from more than 50 Brooklyn restaurants -- longtime institutions like Tom's Diner and Mill Basin Kosher Deli and decidedly new-wave outposts like Do or Dine and SCRATCHBread -- in clear, easy-to-follow recipes anyone can cook at home. With each restaurant, Zorn gives the chef a chance to tell his or her own story, so the book becomes not only a useful kitchen tool, but an anthology of vignettes telling the Brooklyn story. And there are few things that could be more Brooklyn than that.

The book drops today, and Zorn will be at Owl's Head Wine Bar (479 74th Street, Brooklyn, 718-680-2436) in Bay Ridge at 8 p.m. tomorrow for snacks and a signing and at Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn 718-222-4111) on Thursday.

On the next page, we chat with Zorn on borough food history, salmon ramen and the varied uses of winter squash.  

Pancakes from Tom's diner
Pancakes from Tom's diner

What is the oldest recipe in this book and where did you come from? In order to get a real view of the overarching evolution of food in Brooklyn, which is what this cookbook is all about, I wanted to get some of the real, dyed-in-the-wool Brooklyn institutions. So amazingly, Tom's Restaurant, which has been open for upwards of 70 years, gave me their most popular pancake recipe, which is their Danish pancake with ricotta cheese and lemon, and it's really what they're known for. I grew up going to Tom's Diner and Mill Basin [Kosher Delicatessen]... A lot of the places I grew up going to are now gone -- I didn't grow up eating the chicken at Allswell or the ramen at Chuko. So it goes back to those old institutions, like those pancakes from Tom's, or the stuffed cabbage from Mill Basin.

If you could give one piece of cooking advice to the world, what would it be? I don't find myself working from cookbooks that much anymore, but I think if you're just starting out, you should not feel embarrassed or afraid to work from a cookbook, because it's all been thoroughly researched and laid out for you with every tiny direction -- usually with pictures -- so you can make sure you're doing things correctly. Especially when you don't necessarily have a mind that sees a fridge full of ingredients and knows how to put them together in unique and interesting ways, it's totally great to take inspiration from a cookbook, follow everything to the letter, and once you have that in your system, go and make it your own.

What cook(s), living or dead, do you most admire? Oh my goodness. Sarah Moulton -- I'm a little too young to have grown up watching Julia Child, but my first experience watching somebody cook -- and being just so entranced by what they were doing and wanting to take part in it myself -- was watching Sarah Moulton and her shows on TV. She's my idol, for sure...Her cooking is really accessible, she does really beautiful food that you'd be happy to serve at a dinner party, but it's absolutely nothing that anybody from any skill level couldn't execute.

What's your go-to seasonal ingredient right now, in mid-December? I really love winter squash. Obviously, spring and summer are super exciting at the greenmarket, and you don't really need to be too creative; almost anything is going to be just incredible, no matter what you do to it. But the real prize of the winter greenmarket is squash. And if you find a good greenmarket, you get a whole variety, and they're all incredibly different. So what you can do with kabocha is entirely different than what you can do with butternut squash, which is entirely different than what you can do with cheese pumpkin and curry squash. They lend themselves really well to sweet preparations, and savory preparations, so that is my go-to in the winter.

Name one unusual or unexpected recipe in the book. What I thought was so cool was the salmon mazemen from Yuji Ramen. He burst onto the scene as one of the stands at Smorgasburg, but now he has an in-house restaurant at Whole Foods, and he's opening his own restaurant. But I loved, besides the fact that he opened in Smorgasburg, there's really not much traditionally that connects ramen -- first of all -- Japanese cuisine, and mazemen, which is this newer broth popularized in Tokyo, to Brooklyn foods. So this particular ramen, which he gave me the recipe for, was inspired by our bagels and lox with cream cheese. So I just love that. It's something incredibly old-school tied to something incredibly new-school, and it's basically a bagel with the schmear, but except instead of the bagel, it's ramen noodles, but it still kind of has the cream cheese on top and the smoked salmon. So I loved that somebody that's new to this country -- certainly new to Brooklyn -- is really making the effort to embrace what is essential to Brooklyn food culture. I got a real kick out of that.

Click to the next page for an Old-School/New-School recipe.  

Samon & Cheese Mazemen
Samon & Cheese Mazemen

YUJI Ramen's Salmon & Cheese Mazemen Serves four

Ingredients: 1 pound raw salmon fillet 1 pound Sun brand mazemen noodles

For the salmon cure: 1/2 c sugar 1/4 c salt 3 T ground sansho pepper 1 lemon cut into halves, reserved separately

For the cheese sauce: 1 small wheel Camembert 1 quart heavy cream

For the sweet shoyu tare: 1/2 c soy sauce 1 T brown sugar

For the garnish: 1 bunch (about 10 leaves) fresh shisho 1 T bonito flakes 1/2 c kizami nori

Preparation:

ONE DAY AHEAD: In a mixing bowl or food processor, combine the sugar, salt, sansho pepper, and zest from half the lemon until evenly mixed. Remove the skin from the salmon fillet if it is still there. Portion the salmon into three similarly sized pieces. Toss the salmon gently in the rub mix to coat evenly. Place in a clean, airtight container and all to cure overnight in the refrigerator.

TO PREPARE THE CHEESE SAUCE: Cut the whole wheel of Camembert into roughly 1/2 inch cubes. Brink the heavy cream just to a simmer in a small pot. Add the Camembert, reduce the heat, and stir until the cheese is thoroughly melted. Note: The rind will not melt much, but should be allowed to soften. Puree the melted cheese mixture with an immersion blender or in a blender until smooth. The mixture should look like thick cream but not a thick sauce yet. Different brands of Camembert may yield slightly different textures. We use Herve Mons Camembert. Pour the mixture into an airtight container and allow to cool in the fridge.

DAY OF SERVING: Mix soy sauce with brown sugar and reserve. Rinse the salmon thoroughly with room-temperature and then pat dry. Cut into thin (1/8 inch) slices and reserve. Thicker portions of salmon may need to be cut in half horizontally so the slices are about 1/2 inch wide. Roll fresh shiso into a loose bundle and cut across the leaf into 1/4 inch strips. Reserve in a damp paper towel. Cook the mazemen noodles in a large pot of water at a high boil for two minutes, drain, and portion into four bowls.

Top each portion of noodles with one tablespoon of the chilled cream sauce and about two ounces of salmon. Drizzle two tablespoons of the sweetened soy sauce over each portion. Sprinkle bonito flakes on the salmon and cheese. Garnish with a small bunch of kizami nori and a pinch of the cut shiso leaf. Grate the zest of the remaining lemon half evenly over the portions and serve.

Editor's note: ***Many of the ingredients will be available at Whole Foods, but if you're having trouble sourcing them, check Sunrise Mart (29 3rd Avenue, 212-598-3040) in the East Village, or your local Japanese grocery. AND BE SURE TO BUY ONLY THE FRESHEST FISH!!!

Check out our Cookbook of the Week archives for more like this.

Find me on Twitter: @findthathannah




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