You think I'm bitter about my lack of reference in the CTrib's Sunday front pager on eating local [ed., won't give one that one up, huh?], what about the lack of notoriety I got for breaking the Paul Virant Iron Chef news. My sole blog scoop! Anyways, in anticipation of seeing my favorite local chef (although these days he's ably challenged by so many others, especially Rob at Mado) on a forthcoming epsiode of Iron Chef, my wife and I have have taken to recording and watching the week's episodes each Sunday on TV Food Network. We had more reason to catch this week's episode because it featured the judging of Chicago food writer and woman of the world, Louisa Chu.
Would we watch Iron Chef America but for the inclusion of people we know? Probably not. We barely watched it until we learned of PAUL VIRANT IRON CHEF CHALLENGER. Still, we now watch regularly. Flat out, it's not close to the original. Sure, you cannot duplicate the camp value of that one, from the giggling ingenue du jour to the What's Up Tiger Lily voicing to the older woman judge whose varied titles include soothsayer. Still, we miss many features of the original.
Foremost, the competing version of Iron Chefs contain competing versions of what it means to be a secret ingredient. It seems that secret is not quite as secret in the USA version. This is apparent in the USA version. As soon as the bell rings, the chef-testants know what they are doing. Contrast to the original where there was a true sense of improvisation. You could literally see them thinking and planning their meals. The rules in our version specify five dishes. In the real version, you never knew how many dishes the chefs could create. There were episodes where the chefs could barely manage two dishes. My wife and I like watching what the chefs create on the US version; how they treat the ingredients, and especially, the techniques employed. We watch mostly because it is the best cooking show on the station. It is not, however, as challenging or as riveting.
Our other complaints are mostly of style. The original's opening montages, the overly dramatic introductions of the histories of the Iron Chefs and the biographies of the challengers is not duplicated in the least. Moreover, the upstart version misses the rivalries, contrived or not (I say not) running through the series: the Ohta Faction, traditional vs. modern, redemption of family honor. Nothing against Alton Brown, who brings some wit and food expertise to the program, but he cannot come close to Dr. Yukio Hattori who could whip out some obscure culinary tidbit out of his tush. Finally, the US version excludes one of the key moments in the original, the over-the-top voice-over descriptions of the prepared dishes. My wife and I watch, but we know what we are missing.
Beyond the inclusion of Ms. Chu, this week's episode hit home for the localvore, summer squash. The judges and commentators maligned the vegetable, but anyone eating local about now is happy to get recipe ideas. Not to give away too much if you have not seen the show yet; one dish really appealed to me, zucchini in a harissa-spiked vinaigrette. I made my version last night.
4 smaller zucchini (think about six inches)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of Aleppo pepper
5 (or so) beads of allspice
Olive oil, salt, pepper
Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. From the small end, cut in 2; from the fatter end, cut in 4--if your squash is fatter cut the whole thing into fourths.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil, add the zukes, cook for about five minutes until tender.
Crush the garlic, Aleppo pepper and allspice, then salt and pepper, add the juice of one lemon. Let the flavors mingle and the pepper hydrate.
Combine the cooked vegetable with the dressing. Pour only a bit of olive oil over. It should taste bright and spicy.