Eric Brenner, executive chef and owner of Red Gravy Italian Bistro, has been hosting Sunday Supper Clubs at the downtown restaurant since October. More than a dinner, each is a full-on cooking class. The cost of the class is donated to Meals to Heal, which supports overworked medical personnel in ICU and COVID units — a cause Brenner is passionate about.
I recently had the chance to attend the December class, which involved preparing a three-course dinner. We sat on bar stools in a private room called Blue, which is behind the main dining room. With class size limited to 12, it was intimate and allowed for plenty of sharing between the chef and students.
The dinner’s three courses included halibut fillets served with eggplant caponata, seared lamb chops with potato-like risotto, and tart cherry clafoutis. The best part was having Brenner do all the cooking while we watched and sipped wine. I took more notes than sipped, however, because Brenner had a wealth of useful tips and I didn’t want to miss a one. Here’s what I learned.
For the eggplant caponata:
“The eggplant is cut into 2-inch cubes and tossed with salt, then placed in a colander to drain,” he explained. “The salt pulls the water out of the eggplant and removes the bitter taste. And it keeps the eggplant from oxidizing and turning brown.”
He had done this ahead of time and roasted the eggplant 20 to 30 minutes at a high temperature and let it cool. During the class, he finished cooking the dish, adding garlic, onions, tomato paste, capers, celery, fennel, red wine vinegar and raisins.
“If you use tomato paste in a recipe, you will need to add some sugar to balance the acidity of the tomato,” he said.
For the halibut:
Just before cooking the fish, it was salted on one side and allowed to stand a few minutes.
“That allows the salt to draw out excess water,” he said, “and allows for the natural sugar to replace the water. Then the fish is cooked in a hot skillet with the salted side going into the skillet. The sugars will lend to the browning of this side of the fish, which will be the presentation side. When the one side is browned, slide the skillet off the flame. Let it rest, and it will complete cooking.”
He continued, “Don’t use too small of a skillet and crowd the fish. Put in one piece and let it cook a second or two. This will allow the skillet to stay hot, and you can then put in another fillet. There’s nothing worse than overcooked fish.”
For the risotto:
Brenner made risotto using potatoes instead of Arborio rice (which is actually risotto).
“The potatoes are cut into very small cubes and allowed to soak in cold water,” he said. “Use a very large surfaced pan. This will allow the water that clings to the potatoes to hit the hot surface and create steam. That cooks the potatoes very quickly.”
He started the potatoes cooking in butter. Then instead of adding chicken stock, as you would making traditional risotto, he added the potato’s soaking water to the pan. As the steam cooked off, he added more water and stirred until the potatoes were completely cooked.
He also added some very thinly sliced leeks to cook along with the potatoes. To finish the dish, he stirred in some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and corrected the seasoning with salt and pepper. It was delicious and so unique.
For the lamb:
Brenner is a fan of Colorado lamb.
“It’s the best lamb in the world,” he said. “The chops are much bigger than other types of lamb. Cook to 120 degrees. That’s the magic number for lamb that will be cooked but still moist and pink.”
For the vegetables:
Keep seasoning for vegetables simple.
“Butter, shallots, salt and pepper is all I use on most vegetables,” Brenner said as he prepared broccolini to go with the lamb. “I love the mild flavor of shallots. Broccolini is one vegetable that can be cooked in the microwave. You want it to steam and allow the butter and shallots to get into the florets.”
For the clafoutis:
Clafoutis is like a pudding cake, and he likes to use dried cherries to make it.
“Fresh or canned cherries are too wet for the dessert,” he said. “They water down the batter. I like to make individual ramekins and do a brûlée sugar crust on top. Use raw sugar to get a nice crunchy crust.”
One thing that stood out was how few ingredients Brenner used. All of them were easily sourced at grocery stores or commonly found in most kitchen pantries.
“I cook clean,” he said. “I use very few ingredients and let the flavor of the food speak for itself.”
“Always salt and pepper near the end of cooking,” he said. “Then you won’t over salt. American cooking uses too much salt and butter.”
Sunday Supper Clubs are held monthly. Cost is $100 per ticket. Visit redgravyco.com.
contact the writer: 636-0271.