The Making of The Fat Ham, Part 5: Menu tasting
Biscuits and hot chicken and oysters. Oh, my.
Kevin Sbraga of Sbraga restaurant on South Broad Street is planning his second restaurant, The Fat Ham, at 3131 Walnut St. in The Left Bank in University City.
In Part 1, he let us in on a design meeting for the space, which he hopes to open in November.
In Part 2, the rubber hits the road as he and his associates went on a road trip to explore Southern cusine.
In Part 3, Sbraga and company meet the press.
In Part 4, construction starts on the space.
The Sbraga/Fat Ham chefs and cooks, with a culinary tour of the South behind them, set out to develop the menu for The Fat Ham.
That's where menu development comes in, and Fat Ham chef Aaron Gottesman and sous chef Gabe Alcaraz have spent the last few weeks futzing with variables: Brine the chicken? What kind of flour should be used in the breading?
Then came the biscuits. Their informal masterclass with oldtimer Phila Hach at Hachland Hill gave them ideas. But Alcaraz still had all sorts of options and what-ifs. Flour - self-rising white, white, spelt, rye? Shortening - lard, butter, what?
The kitchen at Sbraga, which by day usually hums with prep for the evening's service, had been turned into a lab.
The guys had narrowed down the options to A or B, and Sbraga would make the final decisions.
(All aided by a tasting of Fat Ham cocktails.)
A tray of yeast rolls - gloriously browned and spinkled with sesame seeds - sat temptingly on the bar. They'd be stuffed later with fried oysters.
The chicken came out of the fryer and was whisked to the bar on several plates. Forks materialized and everyone dug in. Crunchy, sweet, meaty chicken. And then...
"That's the cayenne," Sbraga explained. "It's dry. It doesn't hit you at once."
They were going for what they called "Nashville hot," an inside joke from the tour. And they achieved it.
Sbraga and the chefs did not see an advantage to brining the chicken, so that step was eliminated. They agreed that self-rising flour worked best for the breading.
Biscuits were tasted. The final product will use a little butter and lard and will be made with self-rising flour.
Oysters - and the tasters were not fussy about the variety, though Blue Points and Cape May Salts were tested - would get a breading of cornmeal and panko.
They settled on a recipe for collard greens, which involves removing the stems, and starting a pan of oil, garlic and shallots. The greens go in with a ham hock, which gets cooked down. They remove the ham, shred it, and return it to the greens.
There's now a mustard green salad dressed with a warm vinaigrette that only slightly wilts the greens; a topping of sesame seeds and scallions adds crunch.
Meanwhile back at the ranch - er, at 3131 Walnut - construction continues.
The project is on track for a soft opening around Nov. 25.