Recipe Improv: Chef Chris Cheung

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Today we're playing recipe improv with Chef Chris Cheung of Monkey Bar. (Appropriately enough, it turns out Cheung was born in the year of the monkey.) Cheung is a native New Yorker whose grandparents lived on Mott Street in Chinatown.

He started at Nobu when it opened, eventually becoming the sous chef there, and in 1997, he worked on the opening of Jean-Georges along with Wylie Dufresne, Didier Virot and Jehaingir Mehta (who has also played Recipe Improv). He has also been at Ruby Foos and was a chef/owner at Brooklyn's Little Bistro and Almond Flower Bistro in Chinatown.

I threw zucchini, clams and cashews at Chef Cheung. Not a pretty combo, but that's why it's improv. Here's what he came up with.

Zucchini, Cashews, and Clams Skewers
Yield: 6 appetizers

1 zucchini
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
1 dozen clams, scrubbed clean
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
pinch ground cumin
1/2 cup cashews, toasted and ground

On a Japanese mandoline or with a chef’s knife, cut zucchini lengthwise into long thin strips. In a pan, combine the butter with generous pinches of salt and pepper along with 1 cup water, and bring to a boil. Add the clams, and when they have just begun to open, move the clams to one side of the pan, and add the zucchini to the other side. When clams are completely open, remove them from the water, discarding any clams that haven’t opened. Remove the zucchini, from the pan, reserving the cooking liquid, and lay the zucchini strips out on a cutting board. Remove the clams from their shells, and place one clam on each zucchini strip, and roll it up. Secure with a skewer, placing two clam-zucchini roll-ups on each skewer.

Add the cilantro and cumin to the cooking liquid, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until reduced to glaze-like consistency. Pour the glaze into a small bowl, and pour the crushed cashews into a second small bowl. To serve, lay out the skewers on a serving platter, with the 2 bowls of glaze and cashews side by side. Dip each skewer into the glaze, then into the cashews to coat.

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