lamb medallions

Riverhead Table: A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS by Marlon James -- WITH Marlon James!

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS by Marlon James took the world by storm when it was published in 2014. It’s a New York Times bestseller and won the coveted Man Booker Prize last year–that means it’s the best work of fiction written in the English language. That’s a big deal!

We’ve heard that many book clubs have taken on the challenge of reading Marlon’s 700+ page novel, so we figured there was no better time than the present to give it the #RiverheadTable treatment. But this time we turned the heat way up! Not only did we ask Marlon to cook a traditional Jamaican feast with us (he said yes), and not only did we partner with the soon to open Brooklyn restaurant Winsome (thanks for letting us use your kitchen and dining space, guys!), but we also ended up making dinner for 20 PEOPLE. That’s right. 2-0. A few members of Marlon’s family, NYC friends and our awesome apron partners Jones of Boerum Hill all came ready to eat. 

Here is where this edition of #RiverheadTable gets interesting for our readers: Marlon’s cooking style is as laid back as it gets, meaning his recipes come from memory and are often improvised. He created two of the dishes we ended up serving at dinner on the spot! Which means the menu we’re about to share with you isn’t exact by any measure. We did our best to keep track of everything Marlon did or had us do in the kitchen, but we can’t promise that we got it completely right. 

What we can promise is this: after five separate grocery runs and four hours, dinner was delicious. We know you’ll have a great time trying to recreate Marlon’s dishes for your next party. So put on your apron, chill a bunch of beer in the fridge and invite A LOT of friends…otherwise prepare your fridge for a hefty amount of leftovers!

Jamaican Jerk Lamb with Honey & Pistachio Crust with Wilted Watercress

Ripe Plantains in Raisin & Cinnamon Reduction

Potato Rundown

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Patties with Tomato & Molasses Sauce

Jamaican Jerk Lamb with Honey & Pistachio Crust with Wilted Watercress

For the lamb:

4 racks of lamb (or whatever the butcher thinks can feed 20)

2 bottles Jamaican Jerk Seasoning (Walker’s Wood or Eatons – NO EXCEPTIONS)

Salt

Black pepper

Canola oil 

For the crust:

Canola oil spray

1bunch chives, minced

1 bunch thyme, leaves separated from stems and minced (stems discarded)

1 bottle honey

1 bunch sage, minced

1 cup plain bread crumbs

1 pack shelled pistachios, crushed fine but ideal to have some chunky pieces in it

1 pack cashews, crush to a fine powder


For the wilted watercress:

10 cups watercress leaves with stems

10 cups arugula 

Pre-heat your over to 400 degrees. Using a sharp knife, cut the rack of lamb into individual medallions of fairly uniform thickness. In a large bowl coat the medallions in honey and Walker’s Wood Jamaican Jerk Seasoning (VERY IMPORTANT: The only other acceptable substitution for Walker’s Wood is Eaton’s—others simply won’t do). Heat a generous amount of canola oil in a heavy skillet or sauté pan over a medium/high flame. Fry the medallions in batches for about 1 minute per side until browned. Set aside. 

Make the honey/pistachio crust while the medallions cool! Mix your finely crushed cashews, pistachios, bread crumbs, thyme, sage, and chives together. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

When the medallions have cooled, spray a thin layer of canola oil on each side of the medallions and generously coat in the nut and bread crumb mixture. You want a thick crust! 

Once medallions are coated, spray medallions again on each side with canola oil and roast on a large baking sheet in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, depending on medallion thickness. You want the inside temperature to be about 130 degrees for medium rare, and the crust to be slightly browned. Take the medallions out of the oven when done and keep warm. 

Now make the vegetables: Quickly heat up the arugula and watercress in a lightly oiled sauté pan, about one to two minutes or until just gently wilted. Use this as bedding for the lamb medallions! 

Ripe Plantains in Raisin & Cinnamon Reduction

6 large ripe plantains, still slightly firm

2 medium green apples or 1 large green apple, peeled, cored and finely diced

1 container of cranberries

1 cup orange juice, plus extra

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder, plus more to taste

2 tbsp stick of unsalted/unsweetened butter

1 can chunky cranberry sauce

1 bottle canola oil (or similar)

1 bottle of red cooking wine

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Slice plantains on a diagonal, about a ½ inch thick. Deep fry in 350-degree canola oil until light golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. The center of each slice should no longer be tough or raw. Set aside. In a medium sauce pan throw in the cranberries, apples, 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup red wine, cranberry sauce, and cinnamon powder. Simmer it over medium heat, stirring frequently until it reduces and thickens quite a lot, roughly 15 minutes. This is a reduction sauce so you want it to be the correct consistency – be patient! Once the sauce is ready, place the plantains in an oven-proof baking dish and pour the sauce mixture over them. Toss well. Add a 2-second pour of red wine and of orange juice (just enough to moisten the mixture—we told you this would be inexact and interesting!), toss and mix. Put the dish into the oven, uncovered, for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes take the dish out, add 2 tablespoons of butter on top of the plantains, smear all over the top and then put the dish back in the over for another five minutes. Toss a final time and serve warm. 

Potato Rundown

2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and quartered (or 3-4 lbs yellow baby potatoes, not peeled and cut into halves)

1 can coconut milk

1 bunch thyme, leaves separated from stems and minced (stems discarded)

1 bunch tarragon, minced

1 bottle coconut oil 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil your peeled and quartered potatoes (work in batches if necessary) until you can slightly pierce through a piece with a fork. Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a sauté pan or large skillet. Add boiled potatoes (again working in batches if necessary) and sauté with thyme and tarragon. Add coconut milk to the pan little by little to keep the potatoes moist and continue to simmer until they are nearly mushy but retain their shape. Stir occasionally so that the potatoes don’t burn, then season with salt/pepper to taste.

(That’s Richard, Marlon’s brother!)

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Patties with Tomato & Molasses Sauce 

For the patties:

4 cans black beans, drained

3 large sweet potatoes, quartered

½ -1 cup cooked brown rice

1 small bag of whole wheat flour

1 large egg, beaten

Canola oil

1 small bundle of chives, minced

Half of a large red onion, minced

Small bundle of tarragon, minced


For the sauce:

4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 bottle of molasses

Salt and pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Place your sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with some canola oil before placing in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Roast until you can push a fork through the meat of the potatoes, then remove from oven and let the piece cool slightly. When cool enough to touch place the piece in a large bowl and use a potato masher (or your hands) to mash them completely. Set aside. Empty all four cans of drained black beans into a bowl and mash, again either with the potato masher or with your hands. Combine the mashed sweet potatoes and beans, and then add the cooked brown rice and the beaten egg. Mix well. Add minced chives, tarragon, red onion, salt and pepper. Add a dusting of whole wheat flour and mix well again. Grab a handful of the mixture and form into a patty. Repeat until you’ve used all of the mixture. Carefully deep fry for approximately 3 minutes or until the outside of each patty is slightly crispy. Top with additional salt and pepper to taste. 

Make the sauce while the patties cool: Place your roughly chopped tomatoes into a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the tomatoes into a saucepan and simmer over medium heat. Add a little bit of molasses until you reach the sweetness and flavor you desire. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on the side so that your guests can put as much or as little of the sauce on their potato patties as they like!

And there you have it! A home style Jamaican feast for your next book club or dinner party. Thanks again to Winsome, Jones of Boerum Hill and Marlon James for making the latest #RiverheadTable one to remember! 

How To Make The Fanciest, Most Restaurant-Worthy 3-Course Dinner For About $15 A Person


There are two things you should know before starting this post, because it is long and full of detail. One, these are the easiest and most rewarding potatoes you will ever make in your young culinary lives, so I hope with all my being that you will put this recipe to good use at some point. It’s my own recipe – doctored up and figured out over the years – so the measurements are imprecise. But so is life! You’ll probably need to adjust it as you go, and I encourage you to. Enjoy the flexibility that is cooking (as opposed to the rigid, scientific scariness of baking, but more on that later).

Two, before you embark on any food journey, you should know about the most fabulous website in the world – which Marc introduced me to, I cannot take credit for this – because it will change your life. Wines Til Sold Out, a discount online wine store, presents the user with one bottle at a time and sells a bunch of them at INSANELY LOW prices until there are no more. Because of this website, our house has a wine rack that is constantly full in the most flossy, ostentatious way with at least 20 different bottles. (And since you buy several bottles of each type at a time, we are able to stock the stuff we like.) Get on this site. The bottle we’re drinking tonight cost us a mere 11 dollars – discounted from over 30. (For the recipe, I am also using another bottle of cooking white wine that I always have on hand, it costs about 9 bucks and gets used over time.)

So, first and foremost, let’s break down what this dinner entails:

-An aperitif (the best part of any meal, which Americans need to latch onto in our cultural narrative). I believe that one should have at least one full drink whilst nibbling and awaiting the real meal, so that is what we’ll do here. Count a glass of the red you’re going to be having later as part of this, or have a bit of white, a beer, or a cocktail. Whatever you have on hand. Something light if possible.

-A full dinner with roast meat, potatoes, and a vegetable.

-A nice, simple, elegant dessert.

And to do this, you will need (rough estimates on prices for two people, things like salt/pepper/oil I won’t count because YOU SHOULD HAVE THIS):

-A nice, crusty loaf of bread – $2

-Olives and peppers for the aperitif – $3 if you fill your Tupperware up judiciously at the olive bar

-Yukon Gold potatoes, enough for two (ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES, WHITE POTATOES ARE FOR THE WEAK) – $1.50

-Green beans (frozen are fine, but fresh feel fancier) – $1.50

-One yellow onion, medium size – $.75

-One bulb garlic –$.50

-A light, thick meat of your choice for two. (Could be chicken breast, pork loin, or whatever. This time I’m using pork butt because the butcher recommended I try it, though I usually use pork loin, but it’s a really adaptable recipe and can use most white/pink meat. ) – ~$9

-Herbs de provence (you get them in a jar, any supermarket. You should always have a jar of this on hand, they are nature’s most versatile herb blend)

-Black pepper

-Salt

-Olive oil

-Some cooking white wine (that you should also have on hand, but if you don’t, add about 7-9 bucks to this cost)

-A handful of berries, I chose blackberries – $3

-A slice of cake from the bakery where you got the bread – $3.50

-A nice, light red (or richer white) BOTH OF WHICH YOU ACQUIRED AT A SENSIBLE DISCOUNT RETAILER, BECAUSE YOU ARE SMART – $10

So there are your prices! A little more than 15 per person, but just about! And there are things you can skimp on if you are in a pinch. So let’s get down to the food itself. First on the list, and coincidentally, most simple: The Aperitif.

As you can see, there isn’t a whole lot of work that goes into this. Break off a piece of crusty bread, have some olives and peppers (or cheese, or hummus, or whatever you like here) and a nice drink. The aperitif is not supposed to be substantial in terms of food (the point is to get your appetite going), and it’s much more about the experience than the actual course. So take this time to linger, have an olive or so, dash in and out of the kitchen, and generally revel in the criminally-underappreciated “before the actual meal” period of the evening. It will make any dinner instantly feel a million times more luxurious.

Now, onto the preparation of the main course. This meal is called

Roast Meat Of Some Sort With The Sumptuous Chelsea Winetatoes And String Beans

As you can see, this is all incredibly fancy and French. But don’t let it intimidate you! The preparation is extremely simple, all you need is a large cooking dish (like the one seen here), a pan, and a pot in which to blanch your beans. All in all, this recipe takes about 2.5 hours from start to finish, but the vast majority of that is spent enjoying the aperitif while the potatoes roast away. The secret to my potatoes being so unbelievably delicious is in the name – they are cooked with white wine. This renders them tender, aromatic, and the perfectly rich kind of savory. Combined with the herbs, garlic, and onions, you are in for a serious potato-y treat.

To prepare the taties:

-Preheat your oven to about 400 degrees.

-Cut your yukons into nice little cubes about half the size of your standard ice cube, as shown in the photo.

-Cut your onion into nice frito-sized “onion chips,” and mix them all around with the potatoes in your pan.

 

-Mince about four cloves of garlic into a nice, fine mince.

-Put your minced garlic into the bottom of a drinking glass.

-Top with a few teaspoons of herbs, and a generous amount of salt and pepper (several good pinches of each), as seen here:

 

-Add in about a glass’ worth of white cooking wine. You can (and maybe will) add more to taste as you go.

-Add about three tablespoons of olive oil.

-Add a little bit less than a glass’ worth of water, enough to fill the drinking glass entirely. It will look strange and unappetizing once it’s all combined and strirred up, but fear not!

 

-Take about half of this tincture and coat the taties lovingly, as seen here.

 

-Place the potatoes in the oven and let them slow roast for about an hour, stirring them occasionally so that they are nice and evenly coated/caramelizing, and adding a bit more of the tincture if they seem dry and sad.

(They will look more or less like this after an hour)

 

Now! Onto the meat. (This will happen during the hour that the tates are in their first roasting round.)

One word on this: I’m using pork butt here as I mentioned before, but I would recommend a beginner use loin. It’s a little easier to work with, as it’s a much less marbled cut of meat.  Butt (or shoulder, basically the same) has an excellent flavor that I really love, but if you’re a beginner, keep it simple. Chicken breast and loins (medallions of lamb or pork are also great here) are as simple as you can get.

Anyway. You’re going to want to rub both sides of the meat with a little salt and pepper, and leave the meat out long enough that it can get a bit dry. (As Julia Child taught us, meat must always be dry before searing, or it won’t get all nice and wonderfully brown.) 

Once your potatoes are starting to feel a bit cooked (but not brown and crispy yet, this should be like the above photo, after about an hour), go ahead and sear your meat in a medium-hot pan for about 2 minutes on each side, or until it is nice and brown and sear-y on the outside but still has much cooking to go within. (This will depend on the thickness of your roast, of course. If you are doing chicken breast, be even more judicious about how long you sear, because the breasts cook quickly and can get tough.)

While the meat is searing, and you are still awaiting your potatoes, you can snip the ends off your beans and blanch them in boiling water for about 4 minutes, or until nice and green and lively. Just enough to get them not crunchy and weird before you give them a quick once-over in the pan with a bit of butter and salt (and maybe a squeeze of lemon, if you’re feeling daring).

Once your meats are seared, transfer them to a little cubby you make in your potatoes, and add the rest of the tincture, as seen here.

 

Continue roasting for approximately 60-75 minutes, or until cooked through. (Mine took a long time, as it is a big piece of butt!) This will be enough time for your roast to be juicy and well-cooked within, your potatoes to be nice and brown, and your onions to be positively caramelized. Use your judgment here, you’ll know when it’s caremelly and wonderful. It’s not a science, it’s an art!

In the meantime, sautee your string beans in a pan with a pat of butter and a decent sprinkling of salt. You should be able to eyeball this, I trust you.

 

Now, take out your roast, and gaze upon it.

 

Now plate! Served with a nice glass of red (or white) and a hunk of crusty bread, it’s the perfect, most aromatic and satisfying meal. Enjoy!

Onto the dessert. 

I’m going to be really honest with you here: I am terrible at cooking dessert. To be kind, is not my specialty, and I have burned more tarts than I have saved. The precision of baking – as I mentioned before – alienates me, as I tend to experiment and wing it when in the kitchen. I wish that I were better at desserts, and I hope to progress in writing this blog, but for now I am terrible at them. So what do I do? I get a nice, big slice of cake at a bakery (where I got my bread), and some berries to spruce it up and make it look a little more homemade. (I also love the way the tartness of berries contrasts with the rich, creamy sweetness of the cake. It’s a great combination, and a great end to a meal.)

Cut the slice in half – I find a bit of cake goes a long way – and serve. Nothing complicated here.

 

Now, the two of you retire to the couch to watch a profound foreign film and digest the whole thing over a glass of whiskey, and cuddle the night away. (Or, if there are a lot of you, you let the meal run long into the night with great conversation and after-dinner drinks and coffees.)

Despite the length of this post, it’s an incredibly simple meal to execute, and it always feels as indulgent as going out for a big dinner on the town. I am forever an advocate of the dinner party – whether for two or ten – and this has been one of my standby meals for a long time. I hope that you will enjoy it (if you make one of these things, please let me know!), and most of all, I hope you will join me in finding more frugal ways to enjoy a great meal than always going out to restaurants and overpaying for mediocre pasta.

Going out for dinner can be great, yes. But there is a deep satisfaction in knowing you can make something just as good at home – and for a fraction of the price.

Bon appetit!