Chef's Tour of Pike Place Market

Seattle's Pike Place Market is a truly wonderful place. Fishmongers, farmers, flower stall vendors, and local artisans set up shop in this historic space. For chefs and home cooks alike, this is the place to find that extra special ingredient.

Throughout the year, local chefs volunteer to give tours to help raise money for the market's non-profit organization. After the tour, the group returns to the chef's restaurant. Together, they prepare lunch based on treasures found that day.

Seeing the market through a chef's eyes is a wonderful experience. In tune to the rhythm of the seasons, they quickly find the gems. That purple balled blossom I passed up as mere color for the display turns out to be garlic blossoms--delicious sauteed and added to dishes just like garlic. Sour cherries were overlooked until I learned their season in the Pacific Northwest is counted in mere weeks.

Not only does the chef turn you on to the great ingredients, but he knows who to buy from. Tourists think it's cute that one of the fish mongers does their signature "throwing of the fish". Hovering around, cameras at the ready, they wait to capture the image of a whole fish soaring through the air. In today's tour, the chef scoffs at that fish monger. "Never buy fish from them...throwing the fish bruises it." I shuddered to think about the time my parents were visiting and not only did they throw our fish, but skipped it across the top of an icey display between us and the skipping a rock on a smooth pond. It only makes sense that our carefully selected salmon would suffer under that treatment.

Today Ethan Stowell, the chef I work with, toured 10 people around the market, then came back to his restaurant for lunch. Tour attendees received copies of the recipes: English pea soup with poached duck eggs and pumpernickel croutons and seared ahi tuna on a cauliflower, ligurian olive, and parsley salad. In a last minute addition...the chef decided to gild the lilly and added a couple more dishes: beef carpaccio with chives, arugula, and olive oil and for dessert...a bay leaf scented creme brulee.

Learning techniques from a chef can be revolutionary for the home cook--including me. While I lingered about playing hostess and making sure everyone had wine, I watched him cook and put emphasis on key points. Here's a few tips from his preparation of the English pea soup:

For the soup
Chef's soups are the best I've ever had...and he's got a secret ingredient. Ready? Mineral water. "What???" Yes, it's true. Other chefs I know look at me dubiously, then say, "That's a really expensive way to make soup." He doesn't care. It's the flavor that matters most.

The chef says, "It never made sense to me that when you're making a vegetable soup, people put chicken stock in it. That's not vegetable soup...that's vegetable and chicken." What about vegetable stock? "If you make a stock that includes carrots, celery, onions, etc. then you make for example, a pea soup....the flavors of that stock come forward and mask your primary ingredient. You no longer have peas being the most dominant flavor." Instead, he replaces all liquid with mineral water (San Pelligrino). It has a slight mineral quality, a clean finish, and you vegetable of choice remains the most dominant flavor. What about the bubbles in the mineral water? They cook off with the heat.

For the poached duck egg
When you add poached eggs to soups, the liquidy yolk acts as an enrichment as well as a flavor component. Chef prefers duck eggs because the flavor is richer than chicken eggs.

To demonstrate poaching the eggs, raw eggs were cracked into demitasse cups. Then, he carefully tipped the cup over the garbage and threw out some of the egg white. This resulted in a tighter white surrounding the yolk and significantly less floating bits of egg white during the poaching process.

With the water hot and barely there bubbles, he tipped the cup into the water, being careful not to release the egg. He actually captured some of the hot water in the cup to help set the egg, then gently released it into the hot water to continue cooking. This prevents the egg from sticking to the bottom of the poaching pan.

For the pumpernickel croutons
The night before you make the croutons, put the bread in the refrigerator. The chilled bread is easier to cut.

Here's the recipe:

Union Restaurant's
(Serves 4)

For the Soup
3 Cups Shelled English Peas
2 Cups Pellegrino Water
1/2-Cup Cream
1 Small Onion Chopped
2 Tablespoons Butter
Salt and Pepper
For the Poached Duck Eggs
4 Fresh Duck Eggs
2 Tablespoons Champagne Vinegar
Water For Poaching

For the Pumpernickel Croutons
1/2 Loaf Fresh Pumpernickel Bread, Crusts Removed, Cut into 1/4 inch Squares
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

For the Soup

Sautee the onions in butter until soft but not browned, add the Pellegrino and bring to a boil. Add the peas and simmer until tender. Remove from the heat. In a blender, puree in small batches until very smooth. Strain through a fine sieve; add the cream, season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

For the Eggs
Bring a pot of water to boil, add the vinegar and reduce to a simmer. One at a time, crack the eggs into the water being careful not to break the yokes. Simmer until medium, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, place on a paper towel to dry. Season with salt and pepper.

For the Croutons
Coat the pumpernickel with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake at 350ยบ until crisp.

Final Presentation
Divide the soup between four warm bowls; place an egg in the middle of the soup and sprinkle with croutons. Serve hot.