“All natural, hand-made, small batch—these are some of my favorite buzz words,” Chelsea Doohan told us when she and John Wilson came to Highfield Hall in April. Chelsea is the beverage director, and John and Molly Wilson are the owners of Water Street Kitchen in Woods Hole, where John is the chef. Chelsea started us off by vigorously mixing some Empress Cocktails.
“I take a culinary approach to cocktails,” she said. “We try to use local ingredients as much as possible. Right now, I’m playing with some flavored vinegars, which are brighter in flavor, like lemon juice. I got some coconut vinegar at LeRoux Kitchen on Main Street—they have quite a variety—and I’m liking it added to some of the cocktails we offer at the restaurant.”
Participants in the class asked about flavor combinations. John replied that he highly recommends “The Flavor Bible” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. The book contains thousands of ingredient entries, which are organized alphabetically and cross-referenced as well. The book has been called a “treasure trove of spectacular flavor combinations.” Considering the “deliciousness” of the offerings at Water Street Kitchen, one can see why John likes it so much.
As John was making kimchi pancakes, the conversation turned to kimchi (pronounced kim-chee) and how to make your own. “We make it all the time,” John said. “It’s a Korean fermented dish—we take cucumber and radishes, and add some cabbage and chiles. We add gochugaru—a dried smoky red pepper, and gochujang paste, which adds a sweet, tart, umami tang. Kimchi is salty and tangy—there are hundreds of varieties of kimchi available.” John graciously brought jars of his kimchi for us all to take some home.
After the pancakes, John moved on to mussel soup. “My wife, Molly, gets the credit for this,” he explained with a smile. “She said we needed a mussel soup on the menu, but we didn’t want to make a Billi Bi, which is a traditional soup that is served either hot or cold.” The history of Billi Bi dates back to Craig Claiborne, who brought this cream of mussels soup to the New York Times in the 1960s. Together with his longtime kitchen collaborator Pierre Franey, they refined it over the years.
It’s said that Billi Bi has been called “the most elegant and delicious soup ever created”—but that’s because they haven’t tasted the WSK version. Once the mussels were poached, John showed us how to plate the soup. “Start by putting some potatoes in the bowl, then top them with some shelled mussels. Add a little fresh thyme and parsley, and, if you want to serve it as we do, put the soup in a teapot and pour that over the potatoes and mussels.”
The small details, including the fresh thyme, combined with the Prince Edward Island mussels, made for a soup that surely Claiborne and Franey would enjoy. And so that you can enjoy it also, visit the restaurant in Woods Hole. If you just can’t wait, here is that recipe, along with some others from the class.
The Empress Cocktail
2 oz Empress Gin
¾ oz lemon juice
½ oz each: chamomile rich syrup and coconut vinegar
Shake ingredients with ice for about 20 seconds. Double-strain (strain out the little ice chips using a fine strainer) into your favorite glassware. (Chill glassware in the freezer first.) Garnish with dried coconut or pea shoots when in season.
Pancake Dipping Sauce
1 cup soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
¼ cup rice wine vinegar (not seasoned)
1 TBSP packed brown sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 TBSP thin cut scallion rings (optional)
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
2 tsp chili flake or favorite Asian hot sauce (definitely optional)
Combine all ingredients in bowl and whisk to combine; serve with kimchi pancakes.
Makes five 6-inch pancakes
Two and ½ cups kimchi (homemade or store-bought)
½ cup white onion (small chop, pea size)
1 tsp kosher salt (optional)
1 tsp sugar
½ cup plus 2 TBSP filtered water
½ cup reserved kimchi juice
1 ¼ cups AP flour or gluten-free equivalent
5-10 TBSP high-heat blended cooking oil
Strain the kimchi (reserving liquid) and rough chop the kimchi; set aside. If you have a kitchen scale, place medium bowl on scale, start at 0; combine the chopped kimchi, onion, salt and sugar in bowl and record weight. Divide total weight by 5 and portion into 5 small bowls or cups.
Combine reserved ½ cup kimchi juice and water and distribute evenly among portioned kimchi. Place any portions that you are not going to use right away in refrigerator (will keep a long time).
For each portioned pancake mix add ¼ cup of flour, mix to combine. Heat pan with 1 TBSP oil on medium high heat until you just reach smoking point, swirl oil to coat surface. Add 1 portion of pancake mix to pan, paying careful attention; it may splatter a bit.
With a rubber spatula, gently press pancake mix to fill bottom of the pan, making sure pancake is even thickness. Cook 4-6 minutes on medium heat, adding a little oil as necessary (you are semi-frying), and jiggle pan occasionally to check if pancake is released from bottom of pan; you may need to help it release eventually. When edges are crisp and bottom is nicely browned, flip pancake over with wrist flip motion or carefully flip with spatula.
Cook an additional 3-4 minutes, bottom should be nicely browned as well and pancake should be set in the middle. Remove from pan onto paper towel or resting rack to cool slightly. Cut into 4 equal wedges for dipping or place on plate and top with fresh scallions, bean sprouts or other favorite toppings; serve with dipping sauce.
2 onions (rough chop)
4 cups dry white wine
1 bunch parsley (rough chop)
6 sprigs thyme
½ pound butter
2 bay leaves
½ TBSP paprika
½ tsp cayenne
½ TBSP black pepper
1 TBSP salt
2-3 pounds Chatham or PEI mussels (washed and de-bearded)
Bring all ingredients except mussels to a simmer in a medium deep pot; add mussels, cover and cook until all mussels open, discard any that do not. Remove from heat, remove mussels from liquid and cool; strain broth through a fine mesh strainer (ideally cheese cloth as well) and reserve the liquid. Pick mussels from shells and set aside.
2 cups strained mussel broth
2 medium-size Yukon gold potatoes, diced to ¼ inch
1 TBSP mussel broth
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 quart light or heavy cream
½ tsp paprika
2 tsp picked thyme leaves
2 tsp parsley leaves chopped
Bring mussel broth and potatoes to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender; while cooking, whisk corn starch and 1 TBSP broth together. When potatoes are cooked though, stir in cornstarch slurry, and bring back to simmer—mixture should thicken slightly. Add picked mussels, herbs, spices and heavy cream; bring back to simmer, check seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.