Key Ingredient

Monday, January 16, 2017

Watch Publican Anker chef A.J. Walker make gluten-free falafel

Posted By on 01.16.17 at 04:10 PM

In our gluten-averse society, a gluten-free grain that's virtually unknown sounds all but impossible. Job's tears, which have been consumed for centuries across Asia, are technically not a grain (the plant is part of the grass family), but that didn't stop Bon Appetit from declaring them "the next cult gluten-free grain" last year. In the case of the wild strain, Job's tears are often dried and used as beads, while the softer domesticated version can be steamed like rice, ground into flour, boiled to make tea, and brewed into beer.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Watch Blackbird chef Ryan Pfeiffer make a dish with a British condiment that ‘looks like shit but tastes good’

Posted By on 11.14.16 at 11:36 AM


British food is famously bad, and British potato chips (or "crisps," as they call them) are famously weird. When Lay's started introducing flavors like cappuccino and southern biscuits and gravy a couple years ago, the company must've known that the Brits don't even blink at chip flavorings such as prawn cocktail, beef and onion, roast chicken, ketchup, oyster and vinegar, and Marmite. So it's not particularly surprising that the UK brand Walkers once introduced a potato chip flavored like Branston Pickle, a pickled chutney first made in Branston, England, in 1922. Blackbird chef de cuisine Ryan Pfeiffer, challenged by the Betty's Rachel Dow to create a dish with the condiment, didn't come across the potato chips (they've been discontinued), but he did track down a couple jars of Branston Pickle on Amazon.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Watch the Betty’s chef create a dish with amaranth, a tiny seed with a bloody history

Posted By on 10.14.16 at 12:46 PM

Five hundred years ago, growing amaranth in Mexico was a crime punishable by death: the Spanish invaders had outlawed cultivating or even possessing the staple crop. Key to both the diet and religion of the Aztecs, amaranth seeds were mixed with honey and human blood, formed into cakes shaped like the gods, and then eaten in religious ceremonies—a practice with which the conquistadors took issue. But despite the ban, enough amaranth continued to grow in the wild that it never died out, and today throughout the continent there's increased interest  in the high-protein, gluten-free seeds (while it's often called a grain, technically amaranth is a pseudocereal, like quinoa and buckwheat).

So when Sarah Jordan of Johnny's Grill challenged Rachel Dow, chef at the Betty, to create a dish with amaranth, Dow had no trouble finding it. Working with it was another matter. "It kind of tastes like dirt," she says. "Definitely extremely earthy. I probably wouldn't choose to eat it very often." Amaranth can be ground into flour, boiled like rice, or popped like popcorn. Dow tried preparing it a couple of ways, and found that popping it was harder than she expected—"If the pan is too hot it burns [the seeds] before they pop; if it's too cold nothing happens."

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Watch a Johnny’s Grill chef make chorizo with ‘wheat meat’

Posted By on 09.16.16 at 02:07 PM

"I'm a good Irish girl who has meat and two veg for most meals," says Sarah Jordan, the chef at Johnny's Grill. Vital wheat gluten, a staple for vegetarians and the main component in seitan—often used as a meat substitute—wasn't exactly in her wheelhouse. But when Christine Cikowski and Joshua Kulp of Honey Butter Fried Chicken challenged her to create a dish with the protein found in wheat (also called "wheat meat" or just "gluten"), Jordan, who'd never worked with the ingredient before, rose to the occasion.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The chefs at Honey Butter Fried Chicken make chicken wings with ‘a pop of ant’

Posted By on 08.12.16 at 02:33 PM

Eating ant eggs is common in Mexico, where they're called escamoles, and in Thailand, where they're used as a tart accent to salads, omelets, and other dishes. In Chicago, though, the ant eggs and pupae of the type usually consumed are few and far between. So when Tony Lomanto and Anthony Alfonsi of Kuma's Corner challenged Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp to create a dish with ant eggs, the Honey Butter Fried Chicken chefs had to do some searching.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Watch Kuma’s Corner chefs make a spotted-dick burger

Posted By on 07.18.16 at 05:09 PM

"People don't take it very kindly when you ask for spotted dick," Tony Lomanto of Kuma's Corner says. Challenged by Pat Niebling of b>Three Floyds Brewpub to create a dish with the British dessert, Lomanto and his sous chef, Anthony Alfonsi, called a couple of stores in search of it—eliciting mixed reactions—before ordering it online. While it's possible to make the steamed suet pudding from scratch, the dessert with the chuckle-worthy name also comes in cans. (In 2009, a British catering company briefly changed the name to "Spotted Richard" on its menus in an attempt to avoid "unwelcome and childish comments," as a spokesman told the Telegraph, before public outrage forced them to reinstate the original name.) 

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Watch how the sausage gets made at Three Floyds Brewpub

Posted By on 06.13.16 at 01:21 PM

Lavender "tastes like potpourri, like soap," says Three Floyds Brewpub chef Pat Niebling. "It's not great. I can't wait to not use it again." In fact, the scientific name for lavender comes from the Latin word for "wash"—the ancient Romans used the flowers as a bath scent, among other things.

Challenged by Donermen food truck chef Shawn Podgurski to create a dish with lavender, Niebling and sous chef Scout Hughes had to start from scratch: Niebling hasn't used it much since culinary school, he says. Hughes notes that one year they made a lavender barbecue sauce at Three Floyds, "and [the lavender] was all you could taste." That sauce didn't stick around for long. 

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

This video recap of the 2016 Key Ingredient Cook-Off will make you ravenous

Posted By on 05.26.16 at 01:49 PM

We came, we saw, we ate. And ate some more.

Sixteen of Chicago's best chefs—from restaurants such as Topolobampo, Dos Urban Cantina, and Analogue—prepared 
16 incredible dishes at last week's Key Ingredient Cook-Off at Venue One in the West Loop. Each one contained one of four chosen ingredients: chorizo, plantains, achiote seeds, and tomatillo. 

Attendees and our panel of experts tried them all—in between plenty of beer and cocktails—and voted on their favorites. In the end, there could be only two winners:

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Get tickets to the Reader's Key Ingredient Cook-Off happening this Friday, May 20

Posted By on 05.16.16 at 12:34 PM

Dave Beran, Executive Chef at Next
  • Dave Beran, Executive Chef at Next

We've picked 16 of Chicago's most talented chefs—from such restaurants as Fat Rice, Topolobampo, Blackbird, Dos Urban Cantina, Analogue, and more—and challenged them to cook a dish using one of four chosen ingredients this Friday in the West Loop. That's where you come in: Get a ticket to this year's Key Ingredient Cook-Off, sample all 16 dishes, then vote for your favorite. 

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Watch Shawn Podgurksi of the DonerMen food truck create a fantasy dinner inspired by Dungeons & Dragons

Posted By on 05.06.16 at 08:00 AM


"I'm not opposed to tofu," Shawn Podgurski says. "I'm just not a big fan." The DonerMen food truck chef—he identifies as "a real meat-and-potatoes guy"—was initially stumped when Jeff Wang of the Yum Dum Truck challenged him to create a dish with the pressed soybean curd. Soy-based products, he says, are often used as substitutes for his favorite ingredients to eat and to work with: meat, heavy cream, butter. "I don't really like to substitute," he says. 

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