Here we are again for another round of my Chopped Training. The last round was very random and hectic. I know I said future rounds would be less thrown together. Well… that did not happen.
Okay, so boom. A few of my friends and I were working and being productive for the majority of the day. It was the weekend, and it felt very lame to do nothing but work. So someone ordered some wings from Wing Stop. (Wing Stop’s wings are hit-or-miss, depending on the location and the wing flavor. Those fries though. Their fries + their ranch dressing?! Mm. The flavor.) The chicken wings were on their way, but someone said, “we need an appetizer”. Before I knew it, there were frozen peas, a sweet potato, ground Italian pork, and sriracha sitting on the counter for me to “figure out”. FUN.
Not only did they throw random ingredients at me with 5 minutes notice, but I was cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. Not only was it not my kitchen, but it lacked some pretty basic tools (no shade – I love you, friend). This is basically Chopped Training Extreme at this point.
But my mother did not raise a punk. So I took those frozen peas and that sriracha and made something pretty delicious with it. Of course, there’s video footage (below), but I want to go through a bit of my thought process. I want to share what went through my head during this wild round of Chopped Training. I will highlight the lessons I’ve learned from watching Chopped and how I used them to execute this meal. Let’s get into this.
Mystery Basket Ingredients
- Frozen sweet peas
- Medium sweet potato
- Ground Italian sausage
Here are the results:
Sweet Italian meatballs over sweet potato medallions and a bed of spiced mashed peas
Let’s start with the elephant in my mind when the mystery ingredients were revealed – sriracha. I don’t really like sriracha. I don’t hate it, but the craze of putting the hot sauce in and on everything made me uncomfortable (lol). Yet, here it sat for me to use, and I did.
I knew I wanted to incorporate the flavors and spices I use in more than one mystery ingredient. I’ve learned lots of tricks and strategies from the hundreds of hours of Chopped I’ve watched. One of those strategies is being able to make any random assortment of ingredients by seasoning consistently. For example, if cooking lemon & herb chicken, consider using lemon juice or zest in the side items.
Spicy peas, please?
Another tip I’ve picked up from Chopped is to start anything that needs to simmer, as soon as possible. Especially for the appetizer round. Nobody likes raw, flavorless vegetables. I boiled then simmered the peas and seasoned until they were soft. They were even a little overcooked, to be honest because I knew I needed to mash them by hand. For any vegetables that aren’t started right away, small, bite-sized pieces are ideal. Thin slices are great for helping things cook quickly.
Starting the meatballs
Another priority should be to marinate any meat as soon after the start of the round as possible. So I put salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, and a little of the sriracha into the ground Italian sausage. I added bread crumbs and an egg, rolled them into meatballs, then set them aside for later.
The sweet potato
Remember when I mentioned slicing vegetables thin to cook them quicker? Yeah, the sweet potatoes needed that. The appetizer round isn’t long enough for any roasted potatoes, so I peeled them and sliced into medallions. Then I seasoned them with kosher salt, a little cinnamon and cayenne to mirror the spice in the peas and meatballs. Sauteeing in butter was the quickest way I knew to make them delicious – so I did that.
Back to the meatball
Cooking meatballs usually ends by simmering them in a sauce, but I didn’t have time for that. Time is more than halfway gone. I still have to mash peas, cook meatballs and assemble three plates. No big deal!
Instead of searing the meatballs quickly and letting them finish in a sauce, I cooked them more evenly. I started with a medium-high heat to create a nice crust but then reduced the heat to medium to finish cooking them through.
So back to these spicy peas. Well, they’re still just steamed peas at this point, but they need to become spicy peas. First, to mash them. There was no food processor or blender available so, first, I tried using some odd attachment my friend had for their hand mixer. That was a failure. So I whipped out my handy dandy fork and got to mashing.
The next and very important lesson I learned from watching Chopped is to use tiny samples to test when you’re mixing flavors, textures, etc. In this context, I took out about a 1/4 cup of the mashed peas and started adding a little bit of sriracha at a time until I liked the way it tasted. Noting the approximate ratio, I was then able to add a proportionate amount of sriracha to the rest of the mashed peas.
At this point, I have 4 minutes left. That’s a little over 1 minute for each of the 3 plates I needed to assemble. Totally doable. *eye twitches*
I don’t know if it’s just a trend or a certified top way to plate, but I LOVE to stack food. It gives you the opportunity to set up the perfect bite for those eating. The spicy mashed peas were an obvious base for me. The green against the white plate really made me happy. Next, the sweet potato medallions were placed evenly on top of the mash as a base for the meatballs.
For future rounds, judges’ commentary will be recorded. We will either post the commentary as a video or transcribe it, but I want you all to get the authentic reactions from people who aren’t me.
Overall, I was very pleased with the meatball and sweet potato aspects of the dish. The texture of the peas could’ve been smoother, but next time that’s no problem – I will have a food processor!
Full disclosure: I feel like I broke a cardinal Chopped rule this go ’round. There was no sauce due to time constraints and lack of forethought. This was my only regret from this round of Chopped Training. I left everything else on the stove and on those plates.