Falling in love with Key West was one of the most natural events of my life. I was freezing in the so called Spring of 1971 and I had arrived after hitchhiking from near the Wisconsin-Illinois border to a party my friends were having in Champaign, Illinois and then taking a ride with two brothers and a girl we just met that night. We were broke, white as doves and spellbound by the quiet old houses on the little lanes and alleyways that were Key West then and for a hundred years before. I hadn’t lived in a place with this much soul ever before.
Being in love with Key West again is easy too.
This morning the doors and windows are open in our home and the sound of a gentle breeze cycles nearly constantly down the length of the canal refreshing the tall palms as she goes.
I have set up the smoker once again under our house. Our son, Justin, bought it for me and it may as well be an Easter present in that I’m getting so much joy out of it. He stopped at “Robert is Here” in Homestead, Florida on his last trip from Miami and picked up a large case of ripening plum tomatoes. (I’m sure Justin had one of Robert’s irresistible Strawberry-Guanabana Milkshakes too).
An hour ago I cut the tomatoes in sections so that the smoke could get easily into the cells of the waiting fruits. I dressed them with kosher salt, smoked Spanish pimentón, Balsamico and XVOO. I will add oregano leaves to them soon. Then I will make the smoker ready with hickory I’ve soaked a few hours in warm water and add them to the fire box.
I like having smoked tomatoes in our pantry. I’d made a batch a few days ago and with them, in part, I prepared a Smoked Tomato Cream for Spice Roasted Chicken. I slow-cooked some mirepoix vegetables first and added some Riesling Vinegar as they neared caramelization. I added home made Chicken Stock and then let that cook down before adding some organic cream we love. I took about a cup of the smoked tomatoes and pulsed it quickly in the food processor and set them aside.
While the reduction intensified I seared and roasted the cut up, seasoned bird, (saving the bones for future stocks). I also carefully washed, chopped and cooked two large leeks in sweet butter until they were tender and set them aside.
When the chicken was cooked evenly I let it rest in the oven and then strained the cream sauce through a medium strainer, discarding the spent vegetables. Then I combined my smoked tomatoes, cooked leeks and “fortified” cream sauce in one pot and quickly heated it. It is best to warm cream sauces quickly. I learned that lesson from the great Italian teacher Marcella Hazen. She cautioned that one must heat cream on high heat and quickly (!) to reduce it or it would “kill the cream and its natural sweetness”. (I paraphrase a bit I’m sure). I have learned that wise council from her and try to pass it along to all of my cooks.
Janet roasted some potatoes so with our leeks and tomatoes as our vegetables within the sauce we were ready to plate. I sliced the chicken off the bones like it was Thanksgiving for some reason. Maybe it was the reason that I was thankful… for our food, for the smoker, for family and for this place.