Saveur (November 2013)
Though numerous dishes on this blog give evidence to the contrary, we are, in our day-to-day lives, healthy eaters.
But at Thanksgiving, all bets are off, and we love a little decadence.
If there's a time to haul out the high-fat, high-calorie ingredients, it might as well be at Thanksgiving.
You can rub your turkey in duck fat, run through pounds upon pounds of butter, and pour on cream to your heart's content. You can even take a relatively healthy dish and make it oh-so-not-healthy. Go ahead, smother those poor green beans in bacon fat! They won't mind.
At Thanksgiving, more is more.
That's what initially drew us to this Roasted Onion and Chestnut Compote.
Fasten your seatbelts, Bittens. This recipe's a rich one.
Ideas for gravies and cranberry sauces are abundant at Thanksgiving. But it's rare to see sauces or accompaniments that diverge from those two categories.
This Roasted Onion and Chestnut Compote is the brainchild of Los Angeles Chef Mary Sue Milliken. We've eaten at her Border Grill restaurant in Los Angeles, and Clay has actually met her a number of times (she's on the board of the organization where he works). She authors a feature in the November Saveur about cooking Thanksgiving with her family (you can read the essay -- State of Grace -- online).
So what's in a Roasted Onion and Chestnut Compote? Besides the obvious titular ingredients, there's bacon, brandy, and lots and lots of cream (1 1/2 cups for 6 servings, but who's counting?).
All of which brings us to our other favorite thing about this dish: open flames. You get to light the brandy on fire. It burns tall and bright, definitely offering a moment of "Will the house be burned down on Thanksgiving?"
Here's a little video of Clay with the bacon and brandy flambe. (It starts in slow-motion for added drama!)
We have two regrets about this dish:
First, we were unable to find small purple onions to use in this dish. We looked high and low, but didn't find some that were the right size. We love how the reddish purple onions look in Saveur's photo.
Second, we hate that we didn't double this recipe. Our guests gobbled down this compote. It is a rich, earthy wonder.
It's just the sort of decadance that's called for at Thanksgiving.
While you're adding this recipe to your Thanksgiving menu, let us know: Where does your Thanksgiving fall on the healthy-to-decadence spectrum? Do you even try to think about eating right, or is Thanksgiving a total day off?
Serves 6 to 8
Note from Zach and Clay:
We found that our brandy took more than 1 minute to stop burning once it was lit on fire. The flame rose very high, around 2 feet or so. Be brave, but also be careful.
2 lb. small white and red onions, such as cipolline or pearl, unpeeled, trimmed
¼ cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼" strips
½ cup brandy or cognac
1 lb. fresh chestnuts, peeled and quartered, or one 15-oz. jar whole roasted chestnuts, drained
1½ cups heavy cream
1. Heat oven to 350°. Toss onions in oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet; spread into an even layer. Bake, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, 30–40 minutes; let cool, then peel.
2. Heat bacon in a 12″ skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8–10 minutes. Pour fat from pan and save for future use. Pull pan off heat and add brandy; return to heat and carefully ignite with a match. Cook until flame subsides, about 1 minute. Add onions, chestnuts, cream, salt, and pepper; simmer until cream is reduced by half, 12–15 minutes.