Watch Delta chef Adam Wendt turn the humble yellow onion into the star of the show | Bleader

Watch Delta chef Adam Wendt turn the humble yellow onion into the star of the show

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Onions have been cultivated for at least 7,000 years. They're one of the most common ingredients in almost every cuisine. So when Gabino "Bino" Ottoman of the Ruin Daily challenged Adam Wendt, chef at the soon-to-open Wicker Park restaurant the Delta, to build a dish around yellow onions, Wendt had his work cut out for him. "It's kind of a crazy ingredient to be challenged with, because it literally goes into everything," he says. "It was just figuring what I wanted to do, and then trying to throw as much onion at it as I could."

Wendt's first thought was to make liver and onions, a dish he grew up eating. His mom would fry calves' livers in bacon fat, but Wendt decided on chicken livers instead. Then he figured out seven ways to incorporate onion, starting with the marinade for the livers: he pureed raw onion with buttermilk and vacuum-sealed the mixture with garlic, thyme, and salt, letting it sit overnight with the livers. Then he drained the marinade, dipped the livers in a mixture of buttermilk and Dijon mustard, and dredged them in flour with spices and onion powder before deep-frying them.

Adam Wendt, chef of the soon-to-open Wicker Park restaurant the Delta - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • Adam Wendt, chef of the soon-to-open Wicker Park restaurant the Delta

Instead of just frying onions to go with the liver, Wendt made a caramelized onion marmalade and a roasted onion aioli. For the first, he cooked yellow onion slices and garlic in bacon fat until the onion caramelized, then added sugar and bacon along with white balsamic vinegar and thyme. The aioli, in addition to pureed roasted onion, included canola and olive oil, egg yolks, white vinegar, sugar, Dijon mustard, dehydrated onion, and cayenne, all blended in a food processor. Tasting it to check the seasoning, Wendt's eyes widened. "Wow. It's really oniony," he said. "That'll work."

Wendt had a couple more uses for his onions: in one, he cooked them down with squid ink, dehydrated them, and pulverized them to make black onion powder. The second was simpler: raw and thinly sliced in a salad of Fresno chiles, mustard greens, and fried green peppercorns with a little olive oil and lemon juice. All the elements came together on a mustard-yellow plate: first the marmalade and aioli, then a fried chicken liver, topped with the salad and finally the black onion powder.

His overall goal was to keep the dish light, Wendt says. "It's hard to do with onion after you cook it, because it gets such a savory-sweet flavor it's hard to cut through that richness." It worked out, though. "Onion definitely comes through. Every single component of the dish was hit with onion in some form or another, so if it didn't come through I didn't really do a good job. But it's there, big time."

Onion-brined chicken liver with yellow onion marmalade - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • Onion-brined chicken liver with yellow onion marmalade

Who's next:
Wendt has challenged Ashlee Aubin, chef at Wood and Salero, to create a dish with Manischewitz gefiltefish in gelled broth. He had to be specific, Wendt says, because otherwise "I figured he would go and have one of his Jewish friends make it for him, and it might actually be delicious. I wanted him to use the nasty canned stuff that comes in a jellied liquid. It's kind of terrifying."

Onion-brined chicken liver with yellow onion marmalade

Onion brine
150 g yellow onion
450 g buttermilk
15 g garlic
5 g thyme
5 g kosher salt

Puree raw onion with buttermilk, vacuum-seal with livers, thyme, garlic, and salt. Let sit overnight, then drain.

Dredge
250 g chicken livers
200 g AP flour
10 g kosher salt
2 g black pepper
2 g Old Bay
1 g onion powder
1 g garlic powder
1 g smoked hot paprika
1 g cayenne
450 g buttermilk
10 g Dijon

Mix buttermilk and Dijon, set aside. Mix dry ingredients well. Toss marinated livers in the dry ingredients and shake off excess dredge. Dip livers into buttermilk Dijon mixture and return them to the dry ingredients. Fry at 365 degrees 3-5 minutes, until golden brown. Season with kosher salt immediately after removing from oil.

Onion marmalade
300 g yellow onion
100 g bacon
12 g garlic
4 g fresh thyme
50 g sugar
75 g white vinegar
Kosher salt

Render bacon on medium heat until crispy. Drain off fat and reserve. Sweat onions, garlic in bacon fat until translucent. Add sugar and cook until melted down. Add vinegar and cook until thick. Remove garlic clove and thyme sprig. Season with salt.

Aioli
150 g yellow onion
5 g onion powder
10 g Dijon
20 g granulated sugar
25 g white vinegar
7 g garlic
40 g egg yolk
400 g canola oil
Kosher salt

Roast onions at 325 degrees until soft, about 45 minutes to an hour. Puree and cool. Add roasted onion, onion powder, garlic, Dijon, sugar, salt, and vinegar to food processor and emulsify. Pulse in egg yolks. Stream in oil until thick.

Black onion powder
150 g yellow onion
10 g squid ink
2 g kosher salt

Slice onion paper thin. Sweat with salt on low heat, stirring regularly until water is cooked out of the onions. Add squid ink and repeat. Spread thin and dehydrate. Grind to a powder in blender.

To plate: Spoon marmalade and aioli onto a plate; top with fried chicken liver. Garnish with black onion powder and a small salad of petite bitter greens with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil.

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