Secrets of 8 Time-Consuming Dishes

By Kelly Dobkin  |  January 7, 2014

The next time you scowl at a $22 price tag on a plate of pasta, consider this - how long did it take to make all the elements that go into that one dish? In some cases - certain recipes can take days, weeks or even months to prepare. It's yet another reason why restaurant food tastes so good: A massive amount of time and complexity goes into making every dish as delicious as possible. Here, we take a look at some of America's most time-consuming dishes, from a three-day pork ragu to a starter that takes nearly six months to prepare - but only one minute to eat. 

  • Tripe & Trotter Ragu with papardelle, Avalon Restaurant, West Chester, PA

    Very few Italian restaurants mess around with tripe, the cleaning process enough is tedious and time consuming enough. At Avalon Restaurant, just outside of Philadelphia, chef John Brandt-Lee does a tripe and trotter (aka, pig's foot) ragu that is a three-day process. He starts by cooking the trotter and cleaned tripe together for several hours with mirepoix, vanilla beans and water. The mixutre is then refrigerated overnight allowing the gelatin from the trotters to coagulate around the tripe and trotter meat.

    The next day, the tripe is cut up and the trotters picked of the meat. Then he sautés onions, carrots, garlic and fennel until soft, deglazes with red wine, crushed tomatoes and chicken stock and adds the tripe and trotter meat. This mixture is braised stovetop for a few hours at low temp then refrigerated again overnight for more flavor. To order, shallots, garlic and thyme are sauteed with oil and butter, then are deglazed with red wine and reduced before adding the ragu. Handmade papardelle are tossed in and the dish is finished with herbs.

    Total time: three days

    Price: $22

  • Foie Gras and Rabbit Terrine at Ristorante Morini, NYC

    Executive chef Gordon Finn makes a unique Italian-style foie gras and rabbit terrine at this uptown NYC outpost that's part of chef Michael White's Altamarea empire. The rabbit is cooked confit style, aka tonno di coniglio - which means it is salted and cured overnight and then rinsed and cooked in low temp with juniper berries and olive oil with porcini mushrooms and held overnight again in the fat. The cleaned foie gras is then cured and marinaded with salt, sugar and passito wine, sous vide and pressed. Then the rabbit and foie mixture is molded into terrines and served with fig mostardo. 

    Total time: 3.5 day process

    Price: $22

  • XO Shrimp, Zentan, Washington DC

    Chef Jennifer Nguyen makes her own XO sauce, a staple in Chinese cuisine, for Zentan's XO shrimp and scallops, a process that takes about 48 hours, Chef Nguyen takes dried shrimp and then roasts and grinds them, dried scallops that are hand shredded and mixes them with the cured ham. Then the proteins are sauteed in shallots, garlic and chili oil and finished with rock sugar and fresh chili. The sauce is served over housemade egg noodles, chives and bell peppers.

    Total time: 48 hours

    Price: $15

  • Peking duck, The General, NYC

    Peking duck can be a laborious dish, but worth every bit of time and effort in the final product. At NYC's The General, sous chef Richard Kenyon shares the process with us from prep to plate, which takes about five days.

    "We get our ducks fresh from Lancaster county. We inflate them with an air pump to separate the skin from the fat, sort of like making duck balloons. Then we eviscerate them, rinse thoroughly and hang to air dry in front of a fan for a minimum 3 days. Some places do this for up to a month. Keeping it dry is essential. Then a bath in maltose sugar bath, and hung back up to dry for at least another 24 hours. Next a controlled roast in out big expensive oven at varying temperatures and ventilations (this took us months to figure out) for about 1.5 hours."

    From there they are blast chilled to comply with health code to 40 degrees and stored hanging in the walk-in fridge. To order, they are fried for 15 minutes at 325 degrees. Chef Kenyon tells us, "The skin pops up like chicharrón, and the meat is a tender braised texture."

    Total time: Minimum 5 days to prep

    Price: $74

  • Pastrami Shortrib Tacos, Empellon, NYC

    Alex Stupak's Empellon in the East Village uses modern techniques to reinvent traditional Mexican flavors and in some cases, combines those flavors with inspirations from other cuisines. To wit, their Pastrami shortrib tacos borrows from Eastern Europe flavors - and they also take a whopping 10 days to make from start to finish. First the bone-in ribs are cured for seven days, then smoked. Then they are rubbed with black pepper and coriander and slow-cooked for another three days. And that's just to make the meat itself. To order, the shredded meat is then topped with mustard seed salsa and pickled cabbage.

    Total time: 10 days

    Price: $16-$24

  • Root beer-braised brisket at Justus Drugstore, Smithville, MO

    This dish which is periodically on the menu at Justus Drugstore, a deeply-DIY restaurant located in rural Smithville MO, takes months to prepare, so it's not always available. Why months? Well chef Jonathan Justus forages all the ingredients for the housemade root beer himself, which includes ingredients like sycamore leaves and sassafras bark. The sycamore leaves and sassafras bark both peak at different times of year - so it's hard to time everything just right. In fact, just about every dish at Justus takes a long time to prepare because chef Justus is only doing hyperlocal, housemade food - that includes making his own vinegars, wines, mustards and lard. 

    Total time: months

    Price: $27

  • Fresh cream with rhubarb, Red Medicine, Los Angeles, CA

    Chef Jordan Kahn's food is known to be meticulously thought out, with dozens of components plated in stunning presentations. The rhubarb cream salad, a dish that Kahn says only takes one minute to eat, is part of their $65 tasting menu and has a five day prepping process and (if you factor this in) a five month growing process to attain the foraged flowers needed for presentation. Kahn prepares a cream custard which is plated in the center, surrounded by a walnut marzipan that's rolled in cabbage powder (a drying process that takes three days). Other components include shaved rhubarb, purple pole beans, onion petals pickled in hibiscus, icicle radishes, shaved beets and a variety of wild flowers for presentation dressed in a rhubarb-verbena vinaigrette. We're exhausted just thinking about it, but hey, we'll eat it.

    Total time: 5 months to grow, 5 days to prep, 10 minutes to plate

    Price: $17

  • Gulyas at Bar Tartine, San Francisco, CA

    Gulyas is a Hungarian broth soup traditionally made with beef, potato, paprika powder, fresh pepper, onion and caraway. Chef Nick Balla of SF's Bar Tartine puts its own twist on the staple soup by using smoked beef brisket and housemade paprika paste, which takes more than a year to create. First, the peppers are charred over coals, the seeds are removed and the mixture is pureed with salt and then it's left to ferment for one year. The paste is used for the flavor base of the soup. The finished dish is served with a side of toast and roasted bone marrow.

    Total time: over a year

    Price: $15