Healdsburg Shed chef shares secret weapons for a great Mother’s Day menu
How do Wine Country chefs coax so much flavor out of simple ingredients, bringing out the deep, complex notes of smoke and fermentation while fine-tuning the upper register of citrus and fresh herbs?
With all the skill of a classical maestro, Healdsburg Shed Culinary Director Perry Hoffman has mastered that balancing act - after all, he was the youngest chef in America to earn a Michelin star - and taken it a step further. Last year, he launched a new line of Shed Pantry products as a way to share the flavor-enhancing tricks he uses at the Shed Cafe with home cooks.
“There’s s a big, beautiful wall that chefs use as an arsenal,” Hoffman said of the powders and spices, finishing salts and pickled veggies he relies upon on a regular basis. “We stare at our wall of 300 oils and spices and ground anchovies, and it helps us create.”
At the behest of Shed owner Cindy Daniel, Hoffman developed and launched the upscale line of dehydrated, smoked and preserved products last September. Since then, the product list has grown considerably, expanding upwards to 70-some secret weapons that evolve along with the seasons, from Lemon Salt to Pickled Red Onions.
“Canning, drying, pickling and fermenting are wonderful ways to preserve the bounty from our local farms and to capture seasonal flavors,” Daniel said. “We hope they’ll inspire new worlds of flavor in the home kitchen.”
This Sunday, you could surprise mom with an array of Shed Pantry products, or you could take it a step further by making a light but flavorful lunch that showcases a few of these flavor boosters in action.
For the annual spring holiday, Hoffman put together a three-course Mother’s Day menu: Chilled Asparagus Soup with Caper Tarragon Powder Crème Fraiche; Roasted Halibut with Vadouvan Conserva; and Vanilla Ice Cream with Macerated Apricots, Honey and Shed Lemon Salt.
“Mother’s Day is spring, simple and fresh ... and it’s always brunch or lunch,” said Hoffman, whose mother is a florist and grandmother founded The French Laundry in Yountville. “You should be able to get up afterward and enjoy the day ... take a hike and spend time with mom.”
The chilled soup, made with an asparagus stock, brings out the intrinsic freshness of the spring vegetable. You can simply serve it with the caper tarragon crème fraiche, or go ahead and top it with all kinds of crunchy garnishes, from fresh morels to asparagus tips.
“I like the cool, crisp and green aspect that chilled asparagus has,” he said. “When you cook it, it just becomes velvety and creamy without adding much dairy ... and I like a little something to chew on and bite.”
For the halibut dish. Perry created a conserva - an intense and savory mixture of lemon and olive oil and garlic - that he spiked with the Shed Pantry Vadouvan, a French spice inspired by the masala spice mixture of India.
“I love the sweetness that it has,” he said of the conserva. “It has caramelized onions and garlic and fenugreek, so it has these sweet notes ... and we cook it all down until it’s soft.”
The fish is garnished with sautéed radishes and fiddlehead ferns, which Shed is sourcing from the Mad River area of Mendocino.
“I have always adored it,” he said of the wild fern. “It’s mild and somewhat similar to asparagus ... it’s green and crunchy and almost more about the texture.”
For dessert, what could more delicious than a scoop of vanilla ice cream, finished with some spring fruit and honey spiked with the Shed Pantry Lemon Salt.
“The Lemon Salt is wonderful .. it gives it a little citrus zing,” he said. “The apricots are tart, and they just love a little squeeze of lemon on them ... and the honey gives it caramel and toasted notes.”
Hoffman’s dehydrated powders, which come in unusual flavors like green garlic and charred eggplant, Nicoise olive and shiitake mushroom, have caught the attention of the national press. Last month, Bon Appetit magazine praised the powders as an “instant” way for home cooks to update their spice cabinet.
“People just love the smoked onion powder because it’s so intoxicatingly sweet and rich and smoky ... it’s the new French onion soup packet,” Hoffman said. “The Caper Tarragon Powder is really fun, too. It’s very French, anisey and sweet from the tarragon, and briny and sweet from the capers.”
If you’re enchanted with world cuisines, especially those of the Middle East or Mediterranean, these pantry products can provide a shortcut to authentic dishes that would otherwise be unreachable for cooks who are often long on ambition and short on time.
“I’ve been using powders for 16 years,” Hoffman said. “When you dehydrate produce, you concentrate the flavor of that element ... that’s a way to give people a jump-start. In addition, it’s new flavors and new ways to use those flavors, so it’s an easy way to experiment and play around.”