Riffing on backyard bash standards—watermelon, steak, strawberry shortcake—the 2011 James Beard Outstanding Chef has created a Details-only menu of gourmet dishes key to America's food heritage. His lineup will have you and guests chanting, "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
PICKLED WATERMELON SALAD
"Who does not look at a big slice of watermelon and think summer? But this unique melon has a fascinating history in the nation's cooking. Some historians will tell you that the Spanish introduced watermelon to America. Historians say it, seriously, not just me! The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, had a recipe for pickled watermelon. That is my inspiration for this salad."—José Andrés
For the pickled watermelon:
*10 cups water
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 3/4 tbsp freshly cracked black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 small serrano chile, trimmed and seeded
1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
8 scallions, trimmed
10 bay leaves
3 cups cider vinegar
1 seedless watermelon
For the dressing:
*3 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 cup California Arbequina olive oil
Strain the pickling liquid through a cheesecloth into a medium pot. Set aside. Cut the watermelon in half crosswise. Place the halves cut side down and cut each into 4 pieces. Take 1 of the pieces of watermelon segment and slice lengthwise into wedges, trying to slice the rind so the width is as uniform as possible. Remove the green skin from the watermelon rind with a vegetable peeler. Using a sharp kitchen knife, separate the white rind from the red flesh. Place the watermelon flesh on a platter, cover with plastic, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Bring 5 cups of water to a simmer over medium-high heat, add the white watermelon rinds, and cook until the bitterness is lost and a little soft, about 30 minutes. Strain the rinds and submerge in an ice bath. Once cool, place the rinds in a large jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cover the rinds with the cooled pickling liquid, cover with lid, and let pickle in a refrigerator overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
For the dressing, combine the cider vinegar and salt. Slowly pour in the olive oil while continuously whisking to emulsify.
For the garnish, place 8 cubes of watermelon flesh on each plate. Place about 5 pieces of pickled watermelon rind around the plate. Crumble the cheese over each plate and drizzle with dressing. Garnish with microgreens and sea salt and serve.
"This comes from the original Joy of Cooking written by Irma Rombauer. I have a 1931 first edition in my collection. It's a recipe that has been overshone by shrimp cocktail. But this is an original gem."
For the grapefruit dressing:
*1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
4 tsp sherry vinegar
4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
"We often forget the roots of where these dishes come from. It was not originally made with a sponge cake, as you sometimes find, but with a 'short' cake, cakes that were made using butter and crumbled apart like a scone. You can find one of the first mentions in America in The Lady's Receipt-Book, published in 1847. For our America Eats Tavern, pastry chef Rick Billings elevated this humble dish by coring the strawberries and filling them with a strawberry gelée to add a special texture to the dish and a more intense strawberry flavor. For making this dish at home, be sure to find the ripest unblemished strawberries that you can, preferably from a local farmer, plucked fresh from the field."
Serves 6 to 8
For the shortcake:
*1 cup flour
3 1/2 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
10 tbsp cold butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tbsp Greek yogurt
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
3 tsp raw sugar