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CoastLine: A Place At The Table With Dean Neff, Pt. 1

Dean Neff
Roasted Chicken Thighs with simple rice pilaf, glazed kohlrabi, and kohlrabi top chimichurri

As the best chefs around the world recognize the importance of cooking with diverse ingredients and sustainably grown food, one local chef is unpacking why, and he's teaching simple but solid cooking techniques.  

Dean Neff is on a mission to highlight both diversity of ingredients and smaller protein portions.  He also wants restaurants and private citizens alike to visit and buy from their local farmers’ markets where they can come face to face with the people who produce their food.


Dean Neff, James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef in the Southeast, former co-owner and chef of PinPoint Restaurant in downtown Wilmington; teaches cooking at The Seasoned Gourmet; pop-up meals at Wilmington bakery Love, Lydia in the works

Margaret Shelton, owner, Shelton Herb Farm, grows herbs, fruits, vegetables, edible flowers, garden plants

Recipe for roasted chicken thighs with simple rice pilaf, glazed kohlrabi, and kohlrabi-top chimichurri 

You will need…an oven preheated to 350°F and a cast-iron pan 

Roasted Chicken Thighs

Changin’ Ways Farm Holly Ridge, NC, Dave Borkowski

See notes on *schmaltz and **brine below. Brine is optional.

4 Bone-in Skin-on Chicken Thighs

salt and pepper

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper on all sides. Place skin-side down in the dry cast-iron skillet over low heat. Allow the thighs to gently brown without moving then around too much. Once you have gotten evenly golden and crispy skin, flip and place into the preheated oven. Cook for 12-17 minutes or until the meat in the center of the thigh and close to the bone has reached 165°F. Drizzle the chimichurri over the chicken as it comes out of the oven. 

*Note on Schmaltz…

Schmaltz traditionally refers to the rendered fat of chicken or goose. The larger lesson here is that utilizing animal fat for cooking can save you money and add great flavor. Be careful not to burn it!

Reserve the all or the excess chicken skin and mince finely. In a medium-large saucepot, add the skin and cover with cold water. Bring to a gently simmer and slowly reduce all of the water out. This is called “rendering” the fat. Continue to render over low heat until the chicken skin bits turn golden brown, being careful not to burn. Strain the bits and reserve to top on pureed soup or salad. Save the Schmaltz for cooking.  

**Brining chicken is a great technique to add moisture or juiciness to meats. While it is not required, it is especially good when used with free-range chickens. Free-range birds are more muscular because they move more than commodity chickens. I do think that they taste better than the “big name” farm birds and that the texture is actually nicer too. 

You will need…large pot and ice

Basic Brine

¾  gallon water

½ cup sugar

1 cup kosher salt

3 sprigs of fresh thyme (bruised with the back of a knife)

2 sprigs of fresh dill

2 sprigs fresh oregano

2 cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoons whole black peppercorns

1 gallon of ice

1 lemon (sliced)

Bring the water, sugar, salt, thyme, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and juniper mixture to a boil. Stir well to make sure the salt and sugar are dissolved completely. Remove from the heat and add the ice, the lemon, and the oregano and dill. Chill to 38 degrees F or lower before using. Different meats take different amounts of time for the brine to take effect. A large chicken thighs breast needs a full 24 hours, whereas a catfish fillet will only require 2 hours of brine time. 

You will need…2-5 quart cylindrical, straight-sided pot with lid

Rice Pilaf

Cooking rice is often overcomplicated to home cooks. This technique enables cooks to cook great, consistent rice whether it is for 10 or 100, the only change being the amount of salt and olive oil.  

2 cups white rice

1-2 tablespoons of butter, schmaltz, or oil

1½ teaspoons of salt 

Rinse the rice 5-10 times with cold water. The rice is clean enough to begin cooking when the water pouring off is clear. Using a cylindrical pot with a tight-fitting lid, add the washed rice (you could have washed the rice in this pot) and cover with one inch of water.  This means that from the top of the leveled-off rice in the pot, the water should be exactly one inch off of the top. This step is very important so you may want to measure to make sure your memory of an inch is accurate. 

Now that your rice is in the pot…Turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil, immediately turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook on low heat for 17 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving

You will need…medium sized sauté pan or dutch oven (without the lid)

Glazed Kohlrabi

(Farmage, Castle Hayne, NC Andrew Lorek)

3 cups of clean kohlrabi cut into 1 inch pieces, greens and stems removed & reserved

2 tablespoons canola (or similar cooking oil)

¼ teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons cold butter

½ cup low sodium stock (of any kind, or water)

½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (optional) 

salt to taste

In a medium sized pan or skillet over medium-low heat, add the oil until it shimmers. Add the kohlrabi and sauté until golden brown on all sides (about 8-12 minutes). Add the sugar, the butter, the stock, and thyme. Simmer lightly until most of the liquid had reduced and the remaining liquid has lightly thickened lightly to coat the kohlrabi. Turn off the heat and season lightly with salt.  

You will need…large bowl and sharp knife

Kohlrabi Greens Chimichurri 

(Shelton Herb Farm Leland, NC Margaret Shelton)

You can substitute carrot tops, radish tops, beet tops or just use herbs 

2 cups kohlrabi greens *(blanched, shocked, and finely minced)

½-1 cup finely minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons finely minced fresh dill (substitute in-season oregano)

2 cloves garlic minced

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/8 teaspoon cumin

5 coriander pods

1/8 teaspoon chili flakes

1 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar

salt to taste

In a large bowl, add all of the ingredients and allow to meld covered in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Use as a fresh herb sauce or marinade for meats and vegetables. 

***Big Pot Blanching is a technique that is especially important when blanching green vegetables. We want to quickly cook the green vegetables while retaining the brilliant green color.  Big pot blanching requires three important things. First, the water needs to be at a rolling boil. We must not put too much of the item being blanched in the boiling water at a time because we will drastically cool down the boil, and increase the likelihood that our green color will fade to brown. Secondly, the water needs to be salted at a ratio of ¼ cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water. Lastly, the vegetable being blanched needs to be QUICKLY & TOTALLY submerged into heavily iced water. With leafy items like kohlrabi greens, make sure and squeeze all of the residual water out before using. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.
Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR