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Black Cat's Good Fortune

Boulder chef-turned-farmer Eric Skokan celebrates the local roots of his delicious seasonal recipes in a new cookbook



Con Poulos

When Boulder chef/farmer Eric Skokan says, “I love learning new things,” he isn’t kidding. With four children, two bustling restaurants, 130 acres of rural Boulder County land, 1,200 Freedom Ranger chickens, 140 Tunis and Karakul sheep, 120 American Mulefoot hogs, 20 heritage turkeys, 16 geese and a bunch of shaggy Highland cattle, Skokan and his wife Jill have created a richly seasoned and steadily simmering life. And now the energetic entrepreneur is sharing the bounty of his harvest in a beautiful new cookbook, Farm Fork Food: A Year of Spectacular Recipes Inspired by Black Cat Farm.

When Skokan came to the Rocky Mountains as a young chef 18 years ago, he planned to work here for just one summer. But, “I fell in love with Colorado almost immediately,” he admits. “This is a place to put down roots.” And that’s literally what he’s done: In recent years, Eric Skokan has planted the seeds of a homegrown food enterprise that has blossomed into two Boulder restaurants—Black Cat Farm Table Bistro and Bramble & Hare—that showcase fresh ingredients grown or raised on Skokan’s own Black Cat Farm.

The restaurants’ daily offerings rely on what’s happening with the crops and the livestock that day. “Instead of bending the world to my will,” Skokan says, “I have to bend to the will of the farm.” What he can’t grow or forage himself, he sources close to home. “Local farmers put their hearts and souls out into the field to grow these great ingredients,” he says. “The goal in the kitchen is to transfer that inspiration from the farm to the table as simply as possible.” That may sound like an old-fashioned lesson, but it’s one we might all heed—from a life-long learner who can now add “teacher” to his list of accomplishments. Here, Skokan shares a few locally inspired recipes from his new cookbook, Farm Fork Food.

RECIPES

Sautéed Heritage Turkey with Prosciutto, Sage and Chanterelles
Taking a cue from the classic Italian dish Saltimbocca, this dish is a quick alternative to a whole roasted bird. The slices of breast cook up quickly and stay very tender. I love to feature our heritage turkeys and our handmade dried hams this way. Serves 4

2 pounds heritage turkey, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 medium onions, julienned
3 cups sliced chanterelle mushrooms
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons white wine
3 sprigs fresh sage
1 cup thinly sliced prosciutto or dried ham

Season the turkey on one side with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan over high heat, sauté the turkey in the oil until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
Turn the turkey slices and cook 1 minute more. Transfer to a platter to rest.
Return the sauté pan to the heat. Add the onions, mushrooms and butter. Cook until the onions just begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping to loosen any stuck bits. Add the sage and prosciutto and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt.
Divide the turkey slices among four warmed plates. Top each with the onions, mushrooms and prosciutto and serve immediately.

Red Lentil-Crusted Grouper with Saag
Crusting fish or seafood in lentils is a fun and easy way to add complexity, crunch and delicious flavor. I discovered the technique while experimenting with making flours from different grains. This lentil crust not only adds texture but a layer of flavor, too. The curry spices are a fitting accompaniment as is the bright citrus and saag, a traditional curried spinach. Serves 4

1 medium onion, diced
¼ cup minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
4 tablespoons plus ¼ cup sunflower oil
8 cups chopped spinach
¼ cup yogurt
Sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped orange zest
2 tablespoons chopped lemon zest
1 tablespoon sugar
Lemon juice
1 cup red lentils
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 pounds grouper, cut into 2-ounce pieces
1 cup orange supremes
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

In a large sauté pan over high heat, combine the onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Cook until the onion begins to color, about 4 minutes. Mix in the spinach and cook until it just wilts, about 5 minutes. Drain any liquid in the pan through a colander. Return the spinach to the pan and mix in the yogurt. Season with salt and set the saag aside.
In a small pot over high heat, combine the citrus zests with enough water to cover and boil for 1 minute. Strain off the water and replace with fresh water. Repeat the process three times.  
Transfer the zests to a blender. Add the sugar, lemon juice to taste and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Purée on high speed until very smooth, about 3 minutes. With the motor running, add 3 tablespoons water to emulsify the citrus purée. Season with salt, transfer to a bowl and clean and dry the blender.
Combine the lentils and spices in the clean blender. Blend at high speed until the lentils are reduced to a powder. Transfer the lentils to a flat dish.   
Season the grouper with salt, then dredge the fish pieces through the lentil mixture, shaking off the excess.  
In a large sauté pan over high heat, sauté the fish in the remaining 1/4 cup oil until crisp on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes total.  
Arrange the fish on four dinner plates. Place several spoonfuls of the curried spinach and the citrus sauce alongside. Garnish with the citrus segments and the cilantro. Serve immediately.

Pistachio Financier with Pear & Chocolate
Financier is the most regal of cakes, made with nut flours and lots of butter. As if it needed more, I’ve paired it here with poached pears and freshly grated bitter chocolate. The combination is stunning. Financier is best eaten fresh, still warm from the oven. Try freezing the leftovers, if you like (although there rarely are any). Serves 8

3 cups raw pistachios
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ pound unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs
2 cups white wine
2 pieces star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
4 pears, peeled
1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 cup heavy cream
Unsweetened chocolate, finely grated

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a cake pan.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pistachios, flour and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and the salt. Process until very smooth.  
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the butter until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Stop the mixer and add the pistachio mix. Mix on low speed until incorporated, then increase the speed to medium. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully combined between each. Stop and scrape down the bowl if needed. The batter should be light and fluffy.
Transfer to the prepared cake pan and bake until set, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
In a medium stainless-steel saucepan over medium heat, combine the wine, spices, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the pears. Cook until the pears are just tender, about 10 minutes. Let the pears cool in the poaching liquid.
In a small saucepan over very low heat, combine the chocolate, the ground spices and half of the cream. Warm, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is fully melted, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, beat the remaining cream with a whisk to stiff peaks. Add the whipped cream to the cooled chocolate and stir well.
Slice the cake with a sharp knife. Divide among eight dessert plates and top each slice with a dollop of the chocolate sauce. Slice the pears in half and divide the pieces among the plates. Sprinkle the grated chocolate on top of the pears and serve immediately.

Farm Fork Food: A Year of Spectacular Recipes Inspired by Black Cat Farm by Eric Skokan (Kyle Books). For more information, visit farmforkfood.com.

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