Executive Chef Piliouras brings a wealth of experience and excitement to his role as executive chef and partner of Nisi Estiatorio, opened in Englewood, New Jersey in January 2009. (See today’s review in the Bergen Record) His brilliant cooking technique for creating authentic Greek foods using classical techniques and the finest quality ingredients available is one that he developed throughout a long and lauded career cooking in some of this country’s finest Greek and American establishments.
Piliouras got his start working in the kitchens of famed restaurateur Maxime Ribera, a “Certified Master Chef,” whose Westchester (NY) restaurant was awarded three stars from The New York Times during John’s tenure. Under Chef Ribera, John went on to be opening chef at Bistro Maxime (also in Westchester) where he continued to refine his classical techniques and where he also developed a knack with charcuterie. He loved the creativity involved, the sheer art of preparing sausages, pates, and terrines, of curing meats and seafood of all varieties. It was the most valuable education a chef could receive.
Credentials in hand, Piliouras moved on to work at the Livanos family restaurants in Westchester in 1992, where he explored different roles in the kitchen at both City Limits Diner, a fine dining, made-from-scratch restaurant, and Café Meze. During the ensuing five years, his talents and skills well on display, John earned the role of opening Chef de Cuisine at Molyvos, the family’s ultimate dream of a Greek restaurant in New York City, with Chef Jim Botsacos at the helm as executive chef.
Over time, Molyvos earned a reputation for finely executed, authentic Greek cuisine; it was the first Greek restaurant ever to receive three stars from The New York Times. Together, the chefs produced both time-honored and original Greek recipes and they earned a huge following for their work. Through ten years of fine dining and rave reviews, Piliouras developed a strong leadership style as a key restaurant executive, helping the family not only to achieve great success, but to open additional New York restaurants, develop books and generally promote the finest offerings of Greek culture.
In the eleventh year, he was approached by the Mourkakos family to open their dream restaurant, Nisi, in Englewood, New Jersey, just across from New York City by way of the George Washington Bridge. John brings with him his own signature cooking style and recipes, such as the Ouzo-cured Salmon, a silky gravlax-like preparation cunningly made with ouzo. At Nisi, you can taste Piliouras’ own selection of Greek charcuterie, as well as sparklingly fresh whole fish, and sophisticated recipes with lamb, pork and beef, based on the best ingredients he can find.
Chicken Avgolemono, in the style of a Magaritsa
This recipe is made like a Magiritsa, the lamb-based soup, made rich with egg and lemon, that is the first course of a traditional Greek Easter feast.
Yield: 6-8 servings.
kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper to season
3 quarts chicken stock (or canned low-sodium broth)
1 sachet (a small cheesecloth sack tied with kitchen string, containing 2 bay leaves, ½ bunch parsley stems [reserve leaves and remaining stems for another use], 1 bunch dill stems [chop leaves and set aside], 1 head of garlic sliced in half, and 10 whole peppercorns)
3 oz avgolemono (see recipe below)
¼ cup reserved chopped dill
1¼ cups cooked white rice
1 cup thinly sliced scallion, both white & green parts
Rinse chicken well, inside and out, with cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Season inside and out with salt and pepper.
Pour chicken stock into a large pot and place over medium-high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Add chicken to boiling stock, along with sachet. Return stock to a boil, uncovered, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Continue to cook chicken in stock, skimming frequently, for 45 minutes, until chicken is tender (you can tell the chicken is done because you can see the meat begin to pull away from the leg bone, and if you pierce the thickest part of the thigh, the juices should run clear).
Remove chicken to a warm serving platter and set aside. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and discard. Remove the meat and discard bones. Dice meat into bite-size pieces, and reserve.
Strain chicken broth into a pot, discard sachet, and remove 1 cup chicken broth to a separate pot (see avgolemono recipe). Set pot over medium-high heat. Bring soup to a boil and add chicken pieces. Reduce heat to low.
Place 3 oz of avgolemono in a stainless steel bowl and add 1 ladle of hot chicken stock, whisking constantly to incorporate. When thoroughly combined, add one more ladle of hot stock and incorporate. When combined, slowly pour the egg mixture into the soup, whisking. Fold in dill and cooked rice.
To serve: ladle soup into warm bowls and sprinkle each with scallions.
Make the avgolemono sauce:
1 cup of chicken stock (or low-sodium canned broth)
2 Tbs. and 1 tsp. lemon juice
½ tsp flour
2 eggs, whites & yolks separated
freshly ground white pepper to taste
Pour the stock into a sauce pot and bring to a simmer.
Fill a double boiler pot about one third of the way with water, and bring it to a simmer.
Combine the lemon juice and flour in a stainless steel bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the egg yolks and whisk until thoroughly combined.
In another stainless bowl fitted for a double boiler, whip egg whites with a pinch of salt until fluffy. Slowly drizzle the yolk mixture into the whipped whites, whisking constantly to maintain the volume.
Place the bowl over the simmering pot of water (the double boiler) and cook, whisking constantly, until the egg mixture becomes light in color, and the sauce begins to thicken, approximately 4 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the broth to the eggs, very slowly at first, to temper the eggs, graduating to a quick pour, until all the broth is used. Continue cooking sauce, whisking, for another 2 minutes while the sauce thickens. Reserve sauce off the stove in the double boiler. Do not apply more heat or the sauce will curdle.
Greek Easter at Nisi Begins at Midnight April 18th
Baby Lamb Spit-roasting Out Front, Crack of Red-dyed Eggs Inside
From ancient times to modern day, the most important holiday on the Greek calendar remains Easter, and at Nisi they will honor this sacred day in style. The greatest of the Easter traditions, an outdoor, spit-roasted whole baby Spring lamb, will be done directly outside the main entrance to Nisi, where guests and passersby can see the tender lamb cook to a crispy, juicy turn. Lamb is the centerpiece of all Easter celebrations at Nisi, both the midnight meal served Easter Eve, April 18, and the Easter Sunday feast, from noon until 8pm on April 19. A four-course traditional menu, expertly prepared for modern tastes by Chef John Piliouras, is $60 per person, exclusive of gratuities and tax. The four-course menu is the only option on Easter Eve, but on Sunday, guests may enjoy it as a complete menu, or order from it a la carte. Wine pairings upon request. The regular menu will also be available. To reserve for midnight Easter Eve, one seating, or Easter Day, phone (201) 567-4700 or visit www.nisirestaurant.com.
The four-course Easter menu begins with Magiritsa, a soup made from all parts of the lamb, consumed immediately after church services to break the long Lenten fast. At Nisi, a selection of mezedes will be served along with the soup, a leek and cheese pie, sautéed sweetbreads, and taramosalata, a caviar mousse, all of which symbolize re-birth and Spring. The menu continues with a lively salad, and then tender pink slices from the spit-roasted baby lamb, and roasted potatoes flavored with lemon, olive oil and oregano. A traditional dessert, galaktoboureko, a light, crispy dough wrapped around custard, finishes the meal. Extra delights that grace the Greek Easter table include tsoureki, a braided bread baked with eggs dyed the color of red to symbolize the blood of Christ. Those same eggs are passed separately; and guests crack their egg, one against another. The person whose egg does not break will experience good luck throughout the year.
For Easter, fresh whole baby lambs are marinated in a light bath of lemon, garlic, olive oil and oregano, and then slowly roasted for about three hours. On Easter weekend, lambs will be roasting on the spit outdoors, rain or shine. Nisi serves lunch Monday through Saturday from noon to 4pm, and dinner daily, 5 to 11pm and to midnight Friday and Saturday. Dinner served Sundays noon-8pm. Private parties in a secluded room with seating for 60, a fireplace, private restrooms and separate entrance. To reserve for lunch, dinner or a private party, phone (201) 567-4700 or visit www.nisirestaurant.com.
90 Grand Avenue, Englewood, New Jersey