Michael Isabella may not have won the title of “Top Chef” Wednesday night, but he has won the hearts of foodies who want a taste of the pepperoni sauce that elicited what some call an “orgasmic” reaction from judge Gail Simmons.
We spoke to Michael about the sauce craved 'round the world, which was served over braised pork shoulder with turnips and cabbage.
“In a competition, you don’t know what you have to work with,” he tells Bites. “The biggest thing when you compete is that you want to build the flavors over the courses. I knew that I wanted to do pork or lamb for the last course. When I saw the pepperoni, I thought, ‘This is great with pork, I mean, it IS pork.’ I had never made it before, but I took the idea and ran with it. Everyone was blown away by it, and it has turned into this huge thing. I’ve never seen a pepperoni sauce like that before, and I think it just came together really well.”
In response to fans all a-Twitter about the savory sauce, Michael said it will be on the menu, served over wood-roasted chicken, at his Washington, D.C., restaurant Graffiato, which is set to open in May.
Too hungry to wait until then? Michael gave us a quick tutorial on how to make the pepperoni sauce. He didn’t have measurements on hand, so you’ll have to do a little experimentation there. Luckily this isn’t chemistry class, where going wrong has direr consequences.
“It’s actually pretty easy,” he chuckled. “You’re going to laugh.”
Saute onions, garlic, chili flakes and fennel seeds in olive oil. Add chopped pepperoni, and let it sweat for couple minutes. Add a can of San Marzano tomatoes and add some chicken stock. Don’t add too much liquid, as you want the sauce to be hearty. Cook the mixture for 45 minutes, until the pepperoni gets soft and moist. Puree “the heck out of it” in a blender and salt to taste.
The uses for the sauce are limited only by your imagination, so get to work!
Michael says he’s thankful for his fans’ support, and says he’s been working nonstop preparing for Graffiato’s opening. And while we may be pumped up for pepperoni sauce, Michael’s go-to comfort meal is still his grandmother’s fresh gnocchi (you know, the one that brought him to tears in Episode 11), served with tomato gravy.