Chef Mike Liotta
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Recipe by Mike Liotta, chef de cuisine, Quarter Kitchen

I spent my early years in the South. I know, an Italian family that grew up in the South, right? But I think it’s a really cool mix. We moved to New York, where my parents had a restaurant, and then we moved to San Diego. My mom always worked in restaurants. I grew up rolling up silverware. She had a place called Granger’s Café in North Park. She made everything from scratch and her café did really well.

I still like to mix traditional foods. For example, I like the old flavors of Italian food like red-wine-marinated steak. Sometimes I pair it with a fried egg or a biscuit. I don’t mix them all up at once, but you get the idea. Sometimes I make cornbread but I use it for polenta. Now we do a smoked maple-glazed pork belly with charred onions and finish it with a relish made with anchovies. It’s pretty fun and unique but familiar at the same time.

I worked in my mother’s restaurants after school prepping food and cooking and serving on the weekends. When I was going to college I wanted more money, so I got a job as a line cook at night. I went to UCSD and majored in creative writing. I did some short stories that were published. I guess every art has a science behind it. And vice versa.

After college I realized I just love to cook, so I kept going. I kind of got exposed to the other side of stuff, the more competitive style of line cooking. I went to Loews [Coronado Bay Resort] and worked at the Market Café there. James Boyce hired me and William Bradley was there at the time. There was a nice pedigree around me, and I picked up some good habits.

I have a seven-year old son and a daughter on the way. Mica will eat anything — any meat and any vegetable that’s raw. That’s what we eat at home. Meat and shaved vegetables and spinach. I like to grill a lot. We do pizza night, too. My wife does a lot of the cooking, but whenever I have a night off I like to cook for everyone.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4–6

  • 1 whole chicken (can’t go wrong with a Rocky Roaster from Whole Foods Market, Seisel’s, or Iowa Meat Farms)
  • 4 cups free-range chicken broth (or homemade if you keep that around)
  • 1 bunch parsley, washed and choped
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tin (2 oz)  anchovies, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, cleaned
  • 2 lemons peeled for zest
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 orange peeled for zest
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 cups quinoa, rinsed well in cold water and drained
  • 1 bunch asparagus with the bottom 2 inches trimmed off
  •  2 zucchini or yellow crookneck squash, sliced lengthwise to grill easily
  • 1/2 pound cleaned spinach (I like Savoy or Bloomsdale because it holds up well to heat.)
  • 1 lemon, juiced for finishing
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  •  extra virgin olive oil for dressing

HOW TO DO IT

To butterfly the chicken, lay the chicken breast side down. Using kitchen shears, cut out the backbone, making the cuts as close to the spine as possible. Once the spine is out, open the bird like a book all the way back until you can see the breast bone. Pull back until the bone pops out and then remove it. Save and use the back and the giblets to fortify the chicken broth. 

In a blender, puree the parsley, oregano, anchovies, garlic, lemon juice and zests, vinegar and oil until smooth.  Season heavily with salt and pepper.  Rub this puree all over the top and bottom of the chicken.  Allow to sit at room temperature for one hour prior to grilling. 

In a saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer and add the giblets and spine. Cover and keep the broth at a simmer while preparing the rest of the meal. 

Prepare your grill and have the temperature set at a medium flame. Start the bird skin side up on the cooler end of the grill until the edges begin to look cooked, moving around often to find the right spot.  Use the cover of the grill to help trap the heat but don’t let the inside get too hot, especially if using charcoal or wood.  Cook the bird 90 percent of the way with the bones down, finishing on the skin to get a crisp char on that side.  Allow the meat to rest while preparing the rest of the food.

To prepare the quinoa, rinse well and drain in a fine-meshed sieve. Pour the simmering broth over the quinoa in a metal bowl.  Promptly cover the bowl and allow to steam until serving. Use a fork to fluff the kernels (much like couscous) and dress with some olive oil, salt, and pepper just before plating.

Dress the asparagus and squash in olive oil, salt and pepper and grill until nicely charred but still crisp.  Remove from the grill and allow to cool in a metal bowl.  Roughly chop the squash and mix with the asparagus, spinach, and any juices remaining in the bowl.  Add a squeeze of lemon and some chopped scallions just before serving.

On a nice-sized platter, spoon the quinoa in the center, arrange the vegetable mix on and around the quinoa, and place the chicken on top, drizzling any drippings from the chicken onto the whole platter.  I enjoy adding some piquant cheese to this dish such as feta or an aged goat cheese. 

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