There is mischief in Amar Santana’s eyes as his exuberant laughter fills my kitchen with culinary joy.
He is relaxed, his confidence driven by a passion for cooking and a well-proven skill sets. The celebrity chef joined me to share the secrets of his silky corn pudding, a versatile side dish that can accompany everything from steak to sweetbreads.
Watch the joy in his delicious fun.
This day he teamed it with chicken breast, cooked sous vide and then sautéed at the last minute to make the skin golden brown and potato-chip crisp. Scrumptious.
A finalist on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef,” he also starred in a cooking competition show in South Korea, “Korean Food Battle.”
He says that he is so recognizable in South Korean that fans approach him on the street to say hello and take selfies. I wonder what those Korean judges and fans would have thought of his corn pudding. I bet they would have adored it.
Santana along with his business partner Ahmed Labbate, has opened The HALL Global Eatery at South Coast Plaza. In addition to their other restaurants, Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach and Vaca in Costa Mesa, the new spot is in an enormous space that occupies inside over 7,500 square feet, plus patio seating. Read about it at cathythomascooks.com.
“It will be an all-day eatery, for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he explained when we videotaped before it opened. “One part will be a coffee shop – think of Starbucks but everything is better. Instead of a $7 microwaved sandwich, come to me for homemade brioche and eggs that are made fresh in front of you. Freshly squeezed juices. Come in for breakfast one day before you go to work, then come in for lunch the next, then the next day to grab something to take home for dinner or eat dinner there.”
Favorite Knives: Feder knives – he says that they are works of art, handmade to order in upstate New York. He loves his 10-inch chef’s knife and the oyster knife that he says opens oysters as simply as cutting through butter.
Eateries of Choice: He loves Asian food. Chong Qing Mei Wei Szechuan Restaurant in Irvine – he says that the pepper shrimp is amazing, nice and spicy. It’s Tan Cang Newport Seafood in Santa Ana for lobster. And LSXO in Huntington Beach where he says that Chef Tin Vuong is a major talent.
Typical breakfast: He likes the fresh juice drinks at Mother’s Market. His usual is the Liver Cleanse (beets, lemon, ginger and parsley), plus on the side, two-ounces of wheat grass and two-ounces of ginger. He says that they will make great fresh juice combos at The Hall.
Here’s the formula for the simple-to-prepare corn pudding. Although the chef served it with challenging-to-prepare accompaniments, it’s so delicious you can simply serve it with grilled steak or chicken, or roasted Brussels sprouts or sautéed wild mushrooms or roasted salmon. Or, if you feel like it, put it into a bowl and eat it with a large spoon.
Amar Santana’s Corn Pudding
Yield: 2 servings
2 ears fresh corn, husks removed
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
For the video: cooked skin-on chicken breasts (boned except first wing joint), demi-glace based sauce with truffles, corn puffs (see cook’s notes)
Cook’s notes: Santana made the corn puffs with corn juice made by juicing corn kernels in an electric juicer. He combined the corn juice with some rice flour in a saucepan, then cooked it, stirring constantly, until it became a glutenous dough. He spread it out on plastic wrap and steamed it, then put it into the dehydrator for 24 hours. Voila!
1. Remove corn kernels from cob by holding upright and running a knife down all sides of the cob. Chef built a little wall around two sides of the cutting board with whole ears of corn to prevent kernels from flying off. Juice kernels in an electric juicer.
2. Place corn juice in small saucepan. Add salt. Whisking constantly, cook on medium heat until bubbles around edge of pan disappear.
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …
Fresh chard is delicious combined with pasta, cheese and crunchy breadcrumbs.
Chard with Spaghetti and Crisp Breadcrumbs
Yield: 4 servings
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided use, plus more for drizzling
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
12 ounces bucatini or spaghetti
5 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 serrano or 1/2 jalapeno chile, thinly sliced (remove seeds for milder spicy heat)
1 bunch small Swiss chard, ribs and stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped or torn (about 5 cups – be generous)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup coarsely chopped mint
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
For serving: finely grated Pecorino
1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in small skillet over medium. Cook garlic, swirling in pan often, until lightly golden and crisp, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer garlic to a small bowl with a slotted spoon.
2. Add panko to same skillet and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 3 to 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl with garlic.
3. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente (tender but still firm to the bite), about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
4. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook anchovies, mashing with a wooden spoon, until only a few flecks remain, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add chili and Swiss chard and cook until Swiss chard is slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Add butter, pasta, and ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to Swiss chard mixture and cook, tossing often with tongs and adding more pasta cooking liquid if sauce looks dry, until sauce is emulsified and coats pasta. Remove from heat and stir in mint, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
5. Divide pasta among bowls. Drizzle with oil; top with garlicky breadcrumbs and Pecorino. Source: Bon Appetit magazine