Chopped: The Home Game

by Jason Roth on January 31, 2010

My mission: combine chestnuts, mango, duck breast, and polenta into a semi-edible, one-dish entree, without getting chopped. Fortunately, no one invited Ted Allen over, so the game was rigged in my favor.

01a_my_ingredients

My mystery ingredients

If you haven’t seen it, Chopped is a spin-off of Iron Chef America in which contestants (actual chefs) are given one basket at a time of mystery ingredients and are charged with creating an appetizer, followed by an entree and dessert. The show is actually more interesting to me now than Iron Chef, even though I found it somewhat simplistic on first viewing, because you’re able to better see the process of creating individual dishes. Whereas Iron Chef makes you sit on your couch, comfortable in the knowledge that you would absolutely wreak havoc trying to do what those guys are doing, Chopped has the tendency to make you want to see if you can pull it off yourself. After the latest episode, Karen and I decided we would challenge each other to a version of the home game. The only main modification would be dropping the time limit.

The rules were: we’d make a visit to the supermarket together and each fill up a basket with four mystery ingredients for the other person: one protein, one carb, one fruit or vegetable, and one ingredient of our choice. We exchanged baskets prior to leaving the store, and then each person was allowed to purchase other ingredients for use in the dish. We were allowed to refer later to cookbooks or the web, but only for guidance in cooking technique, not for recipe ideas. The idea for the dish had to be decided at the supermarket, and you had to use at least some of each of the ingredients you purchased.

The ingredients Karen bestowed upon me were the above-mentioned chestnuts, mango, duck breast, and polenta. The ones I picked for Karen were: ground lamb, a package of basmati and wild rice, leeks, and duck fat. By the end of the night, we would have enough duck fat left over to keep an average person obese through the next world war. But think of it this way: I was seriously considering giving her fish stock instead.

01b_Karen_ingredients

Karen's mystery ingredients. (Whew. Good thing I got her the duck fat.)

As soon as I saw the basket of ingredients she picked for me, the basic idea pretty much came to me immediately: roast the chestnuts and mix them into the polenta, and use the mango as part of  a glaze or sauce for the duck breast. I should probably point out that until this game of Chopped, I had never cooked with chestnuts or duck, and I can’t say I’m a huge fan of mango. But I have enjoyed mango and habanero salsa, so adding chile pepper to the mix made sense. Habaneros were not available, and since I wanted to use a fresh pepper, I picked up what turned out to be a ridiculous quantity of jalapeno peppers.

The corn meal cried out for cheese, but our local supermarket’s huge cheese selection was a blessing and a curse. I was looking for a semi-soft cheese, though, and the word “nutty” stood out to me on a description of a fontina. (Fontina was also one of the recommended cheeses on the bag of polenta, but come on, don’t rain on my inspiration.) For the glaze/sauce, I was thinking honey to help hold the mixture together. I wasn’t big on the idea of one-dimensional sweetness, though, so while browsing the jams and jellies, I saw something I had never used before: lingonberries. Described as both sweet and tart, I thought: what the hell, it’s not like I have $10,000 to lose here. As my vegetable, I would roast carrots and serve the duck on top.

My extra ingredients.

My extra ingredients. (Only 14 times too many jalapenos.)

The first time anyone's pureed mango, lingonberries, and jalapeno? Maybe.

The first time anyone's wanted to puree mango, lingonberries, and jalapeno? Maybe.

The lingonberries turned out to be in the form of a preserves, meaning whole berries with extra juice gelled by added pectin. I pureed some with nearly all the mango and one-half of one jalapeno pepper, to create the glaze/sauce (still TBD). As is usually the case, bits of jalapeno didn’t quite puree, but not a big deal. The tartness from the lingonberries blended well with the mango, and since the mixture was sweet enough as is, I decided to leave out the honey.

For help with the duck breast, I consulted Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef. As much as I wanted to steal his idea of sauteing the carrots in duck fat, I didn’t want to use an ingredient we only had because of the competition. But I did steal his idea of sauteing the carrots prior to roasting, which I did in olive oil instead.

Seasoned duck breast. (The side that doesn't make your arteries cringe.)

Seasoned duck breast. (The side that doesn't make your arteries cringe.)

Where I semi-blundered was in not reading the weight of the duck breasts in Colicchio’s recipe; his were half the size of what I was using. This only affected the roasting time, but enough so it made sense to eat Karen’s dish first. The cooking process would be the same: sear the skin-side of the duck breast for about five minutes, the other side for about one, and then roast in the oven. My duck breast was over a pound, and roasting in the oven took upwards of 15 minutes on 375°. Incidentally, he suggested searing on medium heat, which was a reason I went with his technique over Eric Ripert instructions in another cookbook. (I knew I’d be splattering enough fat without cooking on high.)

Colicchio’s suggestion to slice some criss-crossed lines into the fat (not into the meat itself), and his suggested five minutes on the skin/fat side, gave the duck the perfect sear. I cooked the other side for a minute, which also seemed to be the right amount of time, and then placed the duck breast on top of the carrots and roasted it. Oh, and it was at this point that I decided to paint on the mango-lingonberry-jalapeno mixture. It looked good, and it was able to conveniently squish down between the slits in the meat. The recipe for an 8-oz. breast recommended five minutes in the oven, and like I said, it ended up being around 15, though I didn’t count. The result looked quite nice:

Extra juicy duck breast (well, at least until I hacked it up to see if it was done cooking)

Extra juicy duck breast (well, at least until I hacked it up to see if it was done cooking)

Almost forgot to describe the polenta. That, I had done by this time. I had roasted the chestnuts for about 15 minutes in the toaster oven, and after hearing two loud “pops”, I realized that a couple of them had exploded out of their shells. I then stabbed each of the remaining nuts as a preventative measure. I threw the unshelled nuts and some chopped fontina into the food processor with some truffle salt and then mixed into the polenta. (We had just eaten the ridiculously good polenta at Scarpetta made with preserved truffles, which gave me the truffle salt idea. One note on truffle salt: the pro is that it seems to keep indefinitely, the con is that it doesn’t add much truffle flavor.) I tried to keep things somewhat healthy by skipping cream in the polenta, but I was missing it. I think I actually would have preferred some milk or cream over the cheese. I guess I can’t get over the childhood memory of cheesy grits.

Am I chopped?

Am I chopped?

When I put the duck into the oven, I was pretty sure I had seared the duck good enough and rendered as much fat as I was going to. Looking at the photo now, I’m not so sure. But I’ll say this: it tasted good, and we both thought the skin was great. I added a bit more of the sauce as I was eating it, but Karen didn’t think it needed much more than the glaze. The carrots, after further cooking underneath the duck, were super tasty. The polenta I felt was cheesy without really improving the flavor so much. The chestnuts were somewhat evident, though it isn’t something I would rush to do again.

So, who won the competition?

Well, here are the extra ingredients Karen picked up to complete her meal:

Karen's extra ingredients

Karen's extra ingredients: lemon, rosemary, thyme, mint, one carrot, peas, and Greek yogurt

And here’s her final dish:

Karen skewers the competition

Karen skewers the competition

Since she already had rice as a carb, she opted against a lamb burger and opted instead for a seasoned kebab. The leeks, along with various spices such as cumin and coriander, were inside the kebab. She painted the kebabs with a little duck fat, and also used some with the carrots and peas in the rice, which was cooked in beef stock. She served it with a Greek yogurt sauce flavored with garlic and herbs.

I thought Karen’s rice definitely beat my polenta in flavor, and the yogurt sauce was delicious with its mint, garlic and lemon juice. My carrots kicked butt, but I think the proteins were very much on par, though I think the flavor and doneness of mine was a bit better. In the end, though (drum roll, please), I guess I’d have to go with Karen’s dish overall.

Not a bad game to play on a Saturday evening, I have to say, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a supermarket. Well, unless you count that time in college when I ordered a live lobster from the seafood section and set it free in aisle 7.

(Read Chopped: the Home Game – Round 2)

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy February 1, 2010 at 8:22 pm

This sounds like a great game to play! And what delicious looking food you’ve created…might be a good game to try in our home.

Jason Roth February 2, 2010 at 8:44 am

It was fun. I have to admit, though, I was wondering whether (as non-chefs) we’d need to refer to cookbooks at the meal-planning stage. Fortunately, Karen convinced me otherwise. (There’s nothing a little trash-talking won’t cure.) On the other hand, it’s possible we were either lucky as hell, or weren’t as ruthless about each other’s food picks as we might have been. Whatever the case, the results were good.

Anna February 2, 2010 at 9:44 am

Wow!! I’m so impressed! I agree that you could have rendered that duck fat a bit more, but overall you got a great sear on it!

Funny that you both had duck on the brain. :) I think we’re going to try it sometime.

(ps- Thomas Keller’s fried chicken? Two thumbs up.)

Michael/Chopped chef on show February 4, 2010 at 9:49 am

Hi Jason,
As a chef who competed on Chopped ~twice now…I found your blog very interesting and I must admit~ “I could not stop reading the blog on Chopped: the home game!” I am glad you had fun with the food items you used for the battle! I am sorry she won, but the two of you worked hard at the competition…As you know it is pressure, just think you had time to spend with someone you love and enjoy to be next to. When we are on the show sometimes we do not always like the person who is cooking one table down from ours….as you see on the show. It was nice to see you and Karen pick great food items, spend time with each other, learn some new things from Tom’s Cookbook and battle it out for a winner…way to bring cooking back to the home! Kudos my culinary adventure chef!
Yours in food,
Michael/ chopped for a burnt brownie!

Michael/Chopped chef on show February 4, 2010 at 9:51 am

How do I sign up for your blog? I do not see a Facebook link anyplace?
please advise…
M

Jason Roth February 4, 2010 at 10:18 am

Thanks, Michael, and sorry about the brownie. (I think I have your rematch on DVR, so I’ll root for you, anyway.) And thanks for your perspective. I get enough pressure trying to finish two components at the same time (or put two ingredients together). If I were on the show, I’d probably run into the pantry and hide under the spice rack.

I am still a Facebook hold-out, which is kind of ironic since I have access to my wife’s Facebook account from my iPhone. One of these days… For now, there’s a “subscribe” button at the top-right for RSS feeds (if you use MyYahoo! or Google Reader, for example), and there’s an “Email Updates” box on the upper-left side of each page. (You’ll get an email containing new posts whenever something is posted.)

I see from your homepage that we’ll sort of be in your neck of the woods this weekend. Looking forward to a meal at Stage Left in New Brunswick.

Geoff February 20, 2010 at 8:27 pm

This was a really great (and mouthwatering) read. Inspirational, too– I challenged my girlfriend to our own version of the competition tonight. I’d just gotten a copy of The Flavor Bible and I’ve been itching to put it to use…

Jason Roth February 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Thanks, Geoff. And interesting book. I just added it to my Amazon wish list.

By the way, Michael, you asked about following this site. I completely forgot to mention my Twitter feed, on which I link to all new blog posts.

Jason Roth February 27, 2010 at 11:26 pm

So, Geoff, who won? And what did you make?

Geoff March 1, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I’ve been writing up a blog post detailing our endeavor that should be done in a day or so– I’ll happily send you a link. The short version is: It was kind of a draw, we both had a ton of fun, and we’ve eagerly agreed to make such competitions a regular thing.

Geoff March 4, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Our version of Chopped-at-home is up now. Thanks again for the inspiration! Speaking of which, now I’m dying to try my hand at bierocks. Damn, those look good.

Jason Roth March 8, 2010 at 5:11 am

Very cool, Geoff, glad you gave it a try and that it came out a success. And I think I need my own sous chef.

ken heidorn October 26, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Thanks for the blog. My wife Sue and I are going to have a Halloween party where we have 3 baskets like the Chopped show and have each couple blindly pick one of the baskets. Then let the creating begin. We are not chefs but I would think for those of you who are it might be fun if someone put together basket ideas in the form of game. We may have a back up plan, ordering pizza, if we flop. Thanks again. Ken

Jason Roth October 26, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Sounds fun, but do you have enough ovens and burners for everybody?

ken heidorn October 28, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Well first of all we plan to make a night of it, with some beer and wine. Plus we have out door gas grill, a couple George Foremans, so we will make it work. Each couple only makes one of the baskets. I wonder if you could give me some advice. The appetizer items include coco puffs, orange juice concentrate, shrimp/chicken, and original idea was asparagus but we do not think we can get fresh asparagus, what would you suggest for asparagus replacement. Thank You so much for responding. Ken

Jason Roth October 29, 2010 at 7:25 am

Ah, your plan sounds great. And in a sense, makes the evening more relaxed (i.e., less competitive) by having each “team” do their own course.

Your appetizer sounds freakin’ tough, if I may say! As far as a recommendation for a vegetable, how about one that traditionally pairs with chocolate and/or often shows up in desserts? Zucchini maybe? Or pumpkin?

ken heidorn October 29, 2010 at 8:32 am

Thanks. Would you like a recap following the evening? I think pumpkin it is. Ken

Jason Roth October 29, 2010 at 8:43 am

Definitely, you can post it right here, if you’d like.

ken heidorn October 30, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Ok, we had the appetizer and we coated the chicken and shrimp with Cocoa Puffs, flour, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Then we pan-fried the meat. Then we cooked the pumpkin in the microwave and pureed it with orange concentrate and brown sugar. Then we plated the sauce over the meat. For our standards, it was a hit. Should have thawed the shrimp more and should have used more Cocoa Puffs. Will fill you in on the rest later. Thanks again. Ken Heidorn

ken heidorn October 30, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Main dish basket was venison, grape Kool-Aid powder, rye crackers, carrots. Cooked carrots, onions, water in the microwave and baked them topped with glaze of water, grape Kool-Aid, brown sugar and butter, and then topped with crumbled up rye crackers, butter and pecans, and more brown sugar. The venison was marinated in teriyaki sauce and orange concentrate, cooked on a grill, and topped with a pineapple sauce mixed with teriyaki sauce. It was great. Ken

ken heidorn October 30, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Just finished dessert, which was a basket of Dr. Pepper, blueberries, sour cream, and toaster waffles. They made a syrup of blueberries, Dr. Pepper, sour cream flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, and thickened with flour and milk. The waffles were cooked and topped with ice cream and the blueberry syrup. We decided we all won our category. Thanks for your help and the interest you showed; it added to the fun we all had. Ken Heidorn

Jason Roth October 31, 2010 at 6:02 pm

“Should have used more Cocoa Puffs.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that about a chicken and shrimp dish… well, I’d have one nickel.

It was interesting to hear your recap. You took a tough one for yourself, and it sounds like the Cocoa Puffs really contributed, if you actually wanted more of them. But I think that entree basket might have been the toughest. It was smart of them to add the additional ingredients. Pecans with the rye crackers sounds like a good move. That sounds like a hell of a dish.

We decided to do round 3 ourselves last night. I will do a write-up soon.

Valerie March 12, 2011 at 11:39 am

I haven’t seen any 2011 blogs on here yet….I hope you guys are still going strong! Me and my guy are Chopped fans as well and love what you all are doing and want to do the same. First off….can you tell me where we can get the baskets like the ones they use on the show? I think that would be a good start and then I’m going to ponder on what ingredients I want to use to give Jeff….he is usually the chef in our house and I think he will do great….and I’m hoping I can as well! But, each person critiques the other? When and if this happens….I will also do a write-up if you want…!!! I hope someone lets me know about the baskets!

Jason Roth March 15, 2011 at 9:17 am

My work and travel schedule has been crazy – but thanks for checking in! Have a lot to write about.

Hmm… don’t know about the baskets. As I described, my wife and I just exchange the secret ingredients in the grocery store, which lets us buy additional items we might not have at home.

Janice July 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I have been planning a Chopped – Birthday Edition party for my 17-year-old daughter and 5 of her friends…all avid Chopped fans (as are my husband and I and our other kids). Was looking for some inspiration on the ingredients to include and found your posting and was laughing hysterically. My daughter canNOT cook (she once wrote instructions for making a grilled cheese on an index card!!!). So…we’re doing 2 teams of 3 chefs…each gets the same basket and needs to create an appetizer….then a new basket for both (the same for each) for a dessert. I know I want to include a pineapple for each and a package of Pillsbury biscuits (the kind that pop out of that tube container)…not sure what else. The party is this Thursday….will write more after it happens! Gotta go stock the “pantry and fridge”!!!! Thanks for the inspiration!!!

Jason Roth July 27, 2011 at 6:55 am

It sounds like a great idea for a party, since they can deliberate about the ingredients. And I’m hoping and assuming you have a huge kitchen!

Lisa R. September 14, 2011 at 9:48 am

I’m scheduling a Chopped party with a few friends/neighbors and found your blog while looking for inspiration for making the party unique. Last time we had this party we got together over several glasses of wine and picked out ingredients from a bowl. We each prepared a dish using: Pork Salami, Potato, Red Cabbage, Feta Cheese. Not the easiest ingredients to work with for sure.

I love the idea about going shopping together and exchanging baskets. We’ll see if the group goes for it.

Sarah October 22, 2011 at 2:11 am

Me and my friend did this against her sister and her sisters friend (we did teams) and it was a dessert course and her dad was the judge for our mystery ingredients he chose: strawberries, maple syrup, quinoa, sun-dried tomato hummus and farm fresh eggs! We ended up making a French toast sandwich with a strawberry purée and Hummus! It actually tasted good! Then under the sandwich we had caramelized quinoa! We were being timed for 30 minutes! The other team made a strawberry quinoa crepe with hummus in the crepe mix! We were being judged on presentation, creativity, and taste! I think we won :)

Jason Roth October 24, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Lisa, Sarah: It’s pretty cool that you’ve both given it a shot, too. And Sarah, you kept with the 30 minute rule, I’m impressed. Out kitchen and, um, kitchen skills, are not quite up to par to add the stress of a timed contest.

Vinnie Seidita November 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Last night we play Chopped – The Arctic Edition

In this game you look in your freezer and and pick out three items for your meal. I picked frozen spinach, pierogies, and pine nuts. I combined these with pantry items: bacon, dried cranberries, balsamic vinegar, and onions. The result was a terrific dinner. I can;t wait to play again soon

Jason Roth November 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Vinnie, I really like that version. And it’s a lot cheaper, too.

jillians jerky December 6, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Still waiting for a comment, I would like to see if any of you judges
would be able to pull it off in the amout of time you give to your chiefs
to complete the meals you feal are quality !

Jason Roth December 6, 2011 at 2:29 pm

You realize that I’m not an actual judge on the show, right? (I wouldn’t have the gall to criticize most of those contenders!)

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