River & Prairie

As chefs, we’re always on the search for new ways to look at food, whether it’s discovering unique ingredients or developing a new take on a standard dish. The recipe we’re sharing today, River & Prairie, is a new interpretation of the typical Surf & Turf found on countless menus. Who says it always has to be beef tenderloin and lobster tail? And with that, we set about creating a “surf & turf” that makes sense for our region.

We’re nowhere near the ocean, so lobster was out of the question, but we have rivers full of fantastic trout. Though Colorado is a great beef state, there are plenty of native buffalo roaming the open prairie, which produce lean and flavorful red meat.

Now that we’d picked our proteins, we looked at their environment. The trout run in cold and clear river waters, which produce fish with naturally light and sweet flavor. Bison graze on lush grasses and shrubs and occasionally wild herbs and berries, resulting in meat with an earthy and mildly gamey profile. The goal was to highlight rather than overpower these natural flavors, so we looked to pair those proteins with similar but slightly contrasting flavors.

We raided the garden for fresh, sweet, early summer veggies like fava beans, corn and lovely local poblano peppers, then combined them with heirloom potatoes in a colorful succotash. For the sauce, we chose a chilled fresh watercress cream to add a bit of extra earthiness and green, peppery contrast.

Now comes the fun part, the little touches that make all the difference, whether you’re cooking at home or in a restaurant. You eat with your eyes first so it’s important that your plate looks as good as it tastes. Our advice – go the extra mile with a garnish. A simple little salad will add color, texture and flavor, taking your dish to another level for your guests. (Just use things that make sense with the other components.)

For this version of River & Prairie, we simply grilled the fava bean pods and tossed them with some fresh pear tomatoes, a nice olive oil and a little salt and pepper. We chose to grill the trout and bison mostly because… we love to grill, but also because the grill marks look nice and add texture and a bit of char flavor that brings out natural sweetness in the fish and earthiness in the bison. We ended up with a fun dish that you can do almost entirely from the grill from summer to fall and can prepare indoors any time of year. Enjoy!

River & Prairie (summer)

Serves 4

  • 4 de-boned trout filets (or any freshwater fish)
  • 4 (6-ounce) buffalo sirloin steaks (or use beef, if desired)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Early Summer Succotash

  • 1 lb. whole, fresh fava beans
  • 1 lb. new potatoes, in assorted colors
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 medium poblano pepper
  • 1 ear sweet yellow corn, unhusked
  • 2 Tbsp. dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chilled Watercress Cream Sauce

  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 bunch fresh watercress (arugula also works well for this)
  • 2 green onions
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. honey

Bean Pod and Tomato Salad

  • 4 fava bean pods
  • 6 pear tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

To prepare succotash, remove the fava beans from the pods (keep those pods!) and drop the beans into simmering salted water. Cook for five minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, retaining the simmering water, and drop the beans in an ice water bath. Next, quarter the new potatoes and drop into the simmering fava bean water for five minutes, then throw them in the ice bath with the beans. While your beans and potatoes are cooling, cut the onion and poblano pepper into a ½-inch dice and place in a medium bowl. Trim the top off of the ear of corn and throw it on the grill for about 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes until the outside starts to get some color and the glorious smell of grilling corn hits your nose. Once the corn cools enough to handle, remove the husk, shave the corn off of the cob and add it to the bowl of peppers and onions. Remove the potatoes and beans from the ice bath, pat them dry and add them to the bowl. Following these steps will give your succotash a variety of texture and bright colors that will please the eyes and the palate.

Now for the exciting part! Get a large skillet nice and hot (I love a good cast iron skillet and stainless steel will work just fine too, but the food gods implore you, “no non-stick pans!” as the color and flavor are just not the same), add a few tablespoons of your preferred cooking oil, personally I like sunflower, and carefully swirl it around and allow it to smoke. Carefully throw your veggie/potato mix into the hot skillet and toss (or stir). Give the mix a couple minutes to cook and toss (or stir) again. Repeat this process for five to ten minutes or until your veggies are just crisp tender. Add the white wine and simmer for about a minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the cold butter to create a bit of a sauce. Add your chopped green onion and parsley and hit it with some salt and pepper, then taste and add more as needed. There you have it, you’ve made succotash!

For the Watercress Cream Sauce, combine the heavy cream and minced garlic in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Let the mixture simmer until it has reduced to 2/3 of its original volume, then place in refrigerator or an ice bath to chill. Thoroughly wash the watercress and roughly chop the leaves and the top 2 inches of stem, discarding the rest. (I like to keep a few of the nicer, smaller leaves for the all-important garnish.) Roughly chop the green onion from white to green. Put your reduced cream, chopped watercress, green onions and remaining ingredients in the blender and let her rip on the “purée” setting until the mixture is smooth. Store in an opaque container (light will kill the chlorophyll and take away from the lovely bright green color) in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

For the Bean Pod and Tomato Salad, lightly coat the pods with olive oil and grill for 2 minutes on each side or until they get some color and are a bit tender. Cut the tomatoes in quarters from top to bottom and place them in a small mixing bowl. When the pods are cool enough to handle cut them into ¼-inch strips across the pod and add to tomatoes. Add the olive oil and salt and pepper. Gently toss the mixture and leave at room temp until you’re ready to top your steaks.

Now it’s grillin’ time! Start with the bison as it will take longer to cook (depending on your desired temperature, I recommend medium rare). Keep it simple with seasoning, salt and pepper does the trick. Depending on the size of your steaks, give them a fairly liberal dusting.

Next, practice your diamonds! A perfect diamond pattern on a juicy steak never fails to impress and getting there is pretty easy, but you must be patient! If you’re working with a 6 oz. steak, start on a 45-degree angle and give it 3 minutes, give it a quarter turn, 3 minutes, turn and repeat. Four turns at three minutes each will give you gorgeous marks and a nice medium rare steak.

Now for the fish, grilling fish can send a seasoned pro into a tailspin so don’t be discouraged if it’s not perfect. My best tip: spray, spray and spray! Use whatever brand of cooking oil spray you prefer but if you want your fish to come off the grill in one piece with lovely marks, the spray is invaluable. Follow the same quarter turn procedure as with the steaks, but go about 2 minutes per turn as fish doesn’t take long to cook and can dry out easily; we’re not making salt cod here. 😀

When it comes to assembling the plate use your own artistic style but keep a few things in mind. Be mindful of what I call “color clutter” and find ways to add some height to the presentation. Use a plate that is big enough to leave some negative space. I like to use a soupspoon and swipe the sauce through the middle of the plate. From there you can plate it as I did in the photos or put the succotash through the center of the sauce and put the proteins on either side.

Remember, have fun and play with your food! Bon appétit!

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