Food for Thought
---- — Jim Bailey calls himself The Yankee Chef. His new cookbook, “The Yankee Chef, Feel Good Food for Every Kitchen,” is a compendium of New England foods — and more.
Thirty years ago, Jim Bailey, at 20 years old, leapt, wrists and feet bound, 55 feet from a Skowhegan, Maine, bridge into the Kennebec River. The article in the Lewiston Journal from September 1982 described the young man as a short-order cook and an amateur boxer.
“He took the leap on Wednesday to publicize what, he hopes, is his next profession as a magician and escape artist,” the reporter wrote.
My metaphor may be a reach, but I’d say Bailey is still working as an escape artist, at least allowing his cuisine to escape from the New England liturgy of cornmeal, cranberries and maple syrup. His cookbook covers Northeast recipes from corned goose to plum duff, including excerpts from historical cookbooks in the marginalia, but there are also recipes for Kung Pao Shrimp and Orange Cappucino Cheesecake. Watch those recipes un-tie themselves from “New England,” and get away!
In his signature pink chef’s jacket, Bailey earns his Yankee Chef title if only for his long Maine pedigree and the slow, elegant way his DownEast “r’s” turn into “ah’s.”
“Heatha, it’s a pleasah to meet a nice lady like you,” he told me over the phone.
Does he really talk like that, I wondered. He does. Watch his videos.
Tall, solid, brawny, Bailey’s build reminds us of that amateur boxer he once was.
His biography is studded with tough Maine men in kitchens, struggling with their curious, sensitive souls, and with drinking. Bailey’s grandfather, Sam Bailey, played a fiddle well enough to be accepted into the New England Conservatory of Music; he supported himself by learning to cook. His son, Bailey’s father, followed the same path, playing the same violin, and ultimately owning three restaurants, because a restaurant provides a steadier income than a violin. Bailey describes them all as three generations of violin-playing history buffs from Maine who learned to cook to make a living.
Bailey still plays his great grandfather’s violin, but cooking has emerged as the Bailey strength. Drinking defeated two of them.
Bailey cannot separate himself from the tragic figures who preceded him. The introduction to his book is their story. When you ask Bailey about himself, he starts with his grandfather. But the recipes in the cookbook paint a different picture of this generation of Yankee Chef. From the breakfast oatmeal with pumpkin and maple syrup, to a lengthy section on Whoopie Pies, this book makes me think of Bailey as an enthusiastic gentleman who loves cooking for family and friends, and loves Maine and New England, the old and new.
Here, he cooks his version of beef and onion stir-fry, or as he calls it “smothered beef, and three onions.” By the end of it, you have prepared a beautiful, hearty meal for two. Bailey marinades the beef, and creates a brown sauce to keep the beef tips tender, then he sautés the beef, along with red, yellow and green onions in a large skillet.
Cooking this brown sauce with the broth essentially creates a demi-glace. A demi-glace is a rich brown sauce, which is made by reducing brown sauce and brown stock. The term comes from the word glace, which means icing or glaze.
Onions are another large part of this recipe. Green onions, or scallions as they are sometimes called, have many uses. In stir-fries however, they are mainly used as an herb.
You can use any cut of meat for this recipe, whether it is steak tips or a rib eye. Just make sure that you have bite-sized pieces, as this will reduce the cook time, and make the plate easier to eat.
Beef and Onion Stir-Fry
For the marinade
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper corns
1 tablespoon sherry
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon corn starch
For the stir-fry
1/2 pound marinated beef
3 tablespoon beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoon cooking sherry
1/2 red onion (julienned)
1/2 yellow onion (julienned)
1 cup green onion (chopped, 1-inch lengths)
1. In a medium bowl, prepare the sauce by combining the beef broth, tomato paste and cooking sherry. Whisk together using a fork or a whisk.
2. Cut the red and yellow onions into even long thin strips. Chop the green onions into 1-inch pieces.
3. Saute marinated beef in a medium to large skillet with olive oil, until the beef is browned.
4. Add onions to the skillet and cook them until they become just tender, as this will add texture. Do not allow them to cook all the way through.
5. Add the sauce to the skillet and heat up to a simmer, creating a demi-glace.
6. Serve hot, on a plate and enjoy.
Recipe courtesy of Jim Bailey, The Yankee Chef, 2013.
Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought column weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.