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Monday, December 21,2009

A sophisticated dish fit for a dinner party

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.Ned Jawhar, 31, is a focused young man. We learn this when we cook alongside him at Cielo by Angela Hartnett in the Boca Raton Resort. He's invited us to watch him prepare Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Legs Over Lyonnaise Cabbage With Port Wine Reduction.

It's the perfect dish for entertaining at a time like Christmas. It's easy to prepare ahead and finish at the last minute, it can be served warm or at room temperature, and it works for a plated meal or on a buffet. What's more, the dish with its Port Wine Reduction and Lyonnaise Cabbage sports festive green and red colors.

To prepare this dish for us, Jawhar works quietly and very cleanly. "If you have any questions, just ask. I tend not to talk much when I work," he says.

He also explains that he likes a quiet kitchen. "No music, no banging pan lids," he says, regularly wiping his cutting board with a blue cloth dipped into water in a small green pail.

His every movement is precise and focused. "I use one hand to get into the wet side of a recipe, and the other I keep dry to touch the handle of a knife or open a drawer. That way things don't get messy," he says as he bones a chicken leg with surgical precision.

The chicken legs he usually uses are the high-quality, air-chilled variety raised in Canada. And they tend to be quite small. So for today's demonstration, we are using more easily found chicken legs from the supermarket. He marvels at their size.

The recipe he prepares for us step-by-step is like all his food, "simplistic but labor intensive and sophisticated. There's a lot of thought behind everything I do," he says. And a lot of tasting. The chef always has a clean spoon at the ready so he can taste a sauce or stir a pot.

He does both for these mousse-stuffed chicken legs that are wrapped in prosciutto and poached ahead of time so at the last minute they can be browned in a skillet and sliced for serving.

Time in the skillet reheats the chicken and crisps the prosciutto on the outside. The chef slices the rolls crosswise into attractive pieces and serves them over savoy cabbage tossed with beautifully browned onions flavored with bacon, grainy mustard and sherry vinegar to create an impressive entree. The final fillip is a drizzle of Port Wine Reduction.

Yes, this recipe has many steps, but none is difficult. And, along the way you will learn some very useful techniques — caramelizing onions, boning a chicken leg, making a savory mousse — that will serve you well for a lifetime of cooking. Each of these techniques can be used to create an array of dishes.

You will also see how Jawhar works to blend fine ingredients (think truffle oil made with Italian white truffles and bacon smoked over apple wood).

"The main component of my dishes is the ingredients," Jawhar says. "They have to star. You buy good ingredients and let them shine. Let their natural flavors come through."

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