Cooking minus the mystique

Chef advises keeping it simple in the kitchen

Chef advises keeping it simple in the kitchen

January 07, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

WILLIAMSPORT - John Walla, owner and chef of Black Eyed Susan restaurant and catering, said when it comes to cooking, it doesn't have to be overwhelming.

"It's all about planning," he said, standing in his restaurant's kitchen. "Knowing that you have all your ingredients ready before you start saves you from running all over the kitchen."

For those who want to learn a new recipe and some kitchen tips, John Walla will host a cooking demonstration from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8 at the Women's Club in Hagerstown. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the door. Money will benefit the Women's Club.

Cooking doesn't have to be hard, said the 24-year veteran. New cooks just need to know where to start.

"The biggest thing is to use top-quality ingredients," he said.

Walla encourages those who want to create in the kitchen to keep food seasonal. For instance, he said, he's recently added oysters to his menu because they're in season.


When it comes to creating a dish, Walla believes that simplicity is best and that dishes shouldn't be overly complicated.

"You don't want to have too many ingredients," he said, noting about six or seven ingredients are enough.

Walla said any chef knows that tasting is an important part of cooking. "You should always taste as you go," Walla said. "It's harder to take away too much salt later than add it as you go along."

Walla encouraged those who are just finding their way around a kitchen to experiment. "You can learn from your mistakes," he said.

The dish he demonstrated the day The Herald-Mail stopped by was inspired by chicken Norfolk, which involves chicken and ham. Walla put his own spin on the dish - a Maryland spin - by using lump crabmeat and country ham in the dish. The sweetness of the crab is set off by the saltiness of the country ham, he said.

The ingredients for his dish can be purchased at any local supermarket, he said. He suggests looking for a nice quality crabmeat, such as Phillips crabmeat. Walla said claw meat can even be used for a more cost-effective dish, but it won't have the same texture.

Walla said he likes to use angel hair pasta in his dish. The pasta is light and adds to the dish. The secret to good pasta is simple: water. "Sometimes people don't have enough water for the pasta," he explained.

He suggests four to five parts water to one part pasta.

To test pasta, Walla goes by the old chef's trick of throwing it up against the wall to see if it sticks. Don't overcook it. "There should be a little bite left in the pasta," he said.

There's a reason the kitchen is considered the heart of the home and it has to do with food. "Cooking should be more of a family socializing event," he said. "You should be come together as a family to cook."

Cooking tips

John Walla's list of six things every chef needs:

o A good olive oil

o Kosher salt or sea salt

o Sriracha (Thai-style) hot pepper sauce

o Good-quality wine

o Sherry vinegar

o Heavy-bottomed pan

If you go ...

WHAT: Cooking with John Walla

WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8

WHERE: Women's Club, 31 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown

COST: $12 at the door

CONTACT: Reservations are recommended; call the Women's Club at 301-739-0870

Crab and country ham pasta

1/4 cup country ham, cut into the size of a matchstick
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1 tablespoon
6 ounces lump crabmeat (see cook's note)
8 ounces angel hair pasta, cooled
2 tablespoon chives
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Place a sauté pan over medium heat. Place country ham in pan and fry about a minute to extract the fat. Add whipping cream and 3 tablespoons cheese. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium low.

Reduce sauce by one-third. Add crabmeat and heat through.

Add angel hair pasta, letting sauce heat up the pasta so that it's not overcooked. Add chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Fold sauce over pasta.

Remove from pan and place into pasta bowl. Dust with more Parmesan cheese. Garnish with chives for color.

Cook's notes: Jumbo lump crabmeat can be replaced with claw meat. Also, this dish can easily be converted into a casserole by adding 1 egg, sprinkling the top with Parmesan cheese and placing it into a casserole dish. Bake it at 350 degrees at 15 minutes.

Serves one very hungry diner; could be shared by two.

- Courtesy of John Walla, chef of Black Eyed Susan restaurant

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