The Best Cooking with Chef Nina Compton

A couple of weeks ago I took at cooking class at Bywater American Bistro with Chef Nina Compton (also of Compere Lapin) and New York Times Cooking writer Yewande Komolafe. Throughout the two-hour class, Chef Nina led guests through a cooking class centered around Ricotta Gnocchi in Rundown Sauce and Mango and Crab Souskaye. I had heard of neither Rundown Sauce nor Souskaye, both native dishes to the Caribbean Islands from which Chef Nina hails, but both were transformative: the deep, satisfying umami and silken texture of the Rundown followed the light, bright fruity tang, and sweet brine of the crab salad. They were just mind-blowingly good. Those of us in the class were all kind of moaning and shamelessly licking our plates.

The class was part of NYT Cooking’s larger programming this fall: the NYT Cooking team went on tour this Fall for the first time – inviting food enthusiasts to cook together both in-person and at home. Chef Nina’s class was first in the series that culminated last weekend at the New York Times Food Festival.

Everyone in our class was psyched to be there and the festival itself sold out so here’s hoping for more of this in the future.

I learned a great deal and made some interesting new friends.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Shrimp in Rundown Sauce

Adapted from Chef Nina Compton

Though versions if this strangely named sauce are made throughout the Caribbean islands the original began in Jamaica, where fish or shellfish are simmered in spices, tomato, and coconut milk until the sauce is thick and the protein or shells fall apart or become “run down.”  Chef Nina explained that her Granny often made the hearty dish for breakfast with potatoes or rice, but the classically trained chef likes to serve it with pasta, gnocchi, or warm roti. Figures, since she is a master of them all.

Serves 2-4 

  • 1 pound Jumbo head-on Gulf shrimp
  • 1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Zest of one lime, lemon, and orange
  • 1/8 cup chopped ginger (Chef Nina does not bother to peel it, neither do I) 
  • 1/8 cup minced lemongrass
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1 habanero pepper, torn (by tearing it as opposed to mincing or chopping it when your sauce reaches the desired level of heat simply pluck the intact habanero from the pot) 
  • 2 cups full fat coconut milk
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 cup finely minced scallions
  • Cooked pasta, Ricotta Gnocchi (recipe follows) or warm roti for serving
  • 4 tablespoons chiffonade parsley
  • 4 tablespoons chiffonade mint
  • 4 tablespoons chiffonade basil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  1. Peel and devein the shrimp. Reserve the heads and the shells. Cut the shrimp in half. 
  2. Mix 1/2 cup olive oil with the citrus zest in a bowl and add the shrimp; let it marinate in the refrigerator while you prepare the sauce. (You can also do this the night before you make the sauce.)
  3.  a large rondeau or a large, deep, covered skillet over medium high heat. Add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. When the oil shimmers add the lemongrass, ginger, and habanero. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. 
  4. Decrease the heat to low and add the reserved shrimp shells and heads. Stir thoroughly. When the shells turn bright pink, add the tomato paste and continue to cook until the paste starts to turn a deep brick red, 4- 5 minutes.
  5. Add the coconut milk and enough additional water to cover the shells. Simmer for 45 minutes, then strain through a chinois, pressing down on the solids. Discard solids. Set sauce aside. 
  6. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to a saucepan. Add the scallions and sautee over medium heat until translucent. Add the reserved Rundown sauce and cook until reduced by half. Add the shrimp and the cooked pasta or gnocchi and cook, frequently ladling the sauce over the shrimp and pasta or gnocchi until the shrimp are fully pink. Add the herbs and swirl in the butter. Serve at once. 

Ricotta Gnocchi

  • 1 cup drained whole milk ricotta
  • 1 large egg 
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the water 
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary and for rolling
  •  cup semolina flour
  1. In a mixing bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl until smooth. Add the flour and mix until a soft, slightly wet dough forms, adding more flour if needed. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and gently knead until the dough just comes together. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 day.
  2. With lightly floured hands, shape the dough on a well-floured surface into  1-inch-thick ropes. Cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces with a lightly floured knife. Arrange in a single layer on a lightly floured parchment-lined baking sheet.
  3. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the gnocchi, in batches, if necessary, until they float, about 2 minutes.
The Best Cooking with Chef Nina Compton
Photo provided by NYT Cooking with Nina Compton

Mango and Crab Salad with Souskaye Sauce 

Serves 4 

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1 Teaspoon Baron Pepper sauce 
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons minced celery 
  • 6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 5 ripe firm mangos peeled and diced (reserve the seed and skin and cover with champagne vinegar you can refrigerate the Mango Vinegar for up to a month)
  • 1 cup mango vinegar (see note above)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 radish, thinly sliced 
  • 6 chiffonade basil leaves
  • 6 chiffonade mint leaves
  1. Heat a small sauce pan over medium heat, add the coconut oil, the garlic, scallions, and ginger and pepper sauce and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl, add the white wine vinegar, thyme, celery, olive oil, and 6 tablespoons parsley leaves. Stir to combine. Set the Souskaye Sauce aside. 
  2. Puree 1/3 of the disced mango until smooth. Drizzle in the mango vinegar and olive oil and season with. In In a mixing bowl, dress the crab and diced mango with the Souskaye sauce. Spoon some of the mango vinaigrette on a chilled plate, place the crab salad on top and garnish with radishes, and then herbs.

That’s it from me. Recreating this amazing meal should keep me pretty busy this weekend.

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