Crab risotto with Calabrian chiles, coconut milk, and dende oil
Crab risotto with Calabrian chiles, coconut milk, and dende oil Credit: Julia Thiel

The Chef: Matt Troost (Three Aces)

The Challenger: John Manion (La Sirena Clandestina)

The Ingredient: Dende oil

“I want to shake John Manion so hard for giving me this,” Matt Troost said of his ingredient. Reddish-orange and semisolid at room temperature, dende oil is extracted from the fruit of the African oil palm (it’s also known as red palm oil but is not the same thing as palm kernel oil, which comes from the fruit’s pit). Common in Brazilian and West African cuisine, it’s rarely used outside of those areas.

He had some trouble tracking it down until Manion referred him to “a grocery store that’s next to a gas station on the corner of Fullerton and Western. I can’t even believe I found it there,” Troost said. He describes the flavor of the oil as somewhere between nutty and grassy, unlike anything he’s familiar with. It’s not particularly strong or offensive, he said, but it is very distinctive.

Troost had a few ideas for what to do with the oil: making an aioli, adding tapioca maltodextrin to turn it into a powder, using it to confit something, or finishing a dish with it. He chose the last option, making a risotto and swapping out some of the traditional Italian ingredients for more South American ones. “I figured I could take a little bit from Brazil and a little bit from Italy and just kind of mash them up,” he said.

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Starting with a traditional risotto of short-grain rice and broth, Troost added king crab, Calabrian chiles, basil, cilantro, and scallions, finishing it with dende oil and coconut milk rather than butter or cream. He could taste the dende oil in the finished dish, he said—it was subtle but definitely present. “I would probably say I’d rather have it without the dende oil, but that’s just my taste,” he said. “I’m going to leave the Brazilian food up to John.”

Three Aces’s Matt TroostCredit: Julia Thiel

Who’s next:

Chris Curren of Stout Barrel House & Galley, working with ghost peppers, one of the hottest chiles in the world. Troost used to serve them on a secret off-menu pizza he called the “ghost-faced killa.” “It had ghost chiles and porchetta di testa, which is basically pig’s face. So we had the ghost, and the face, and it would kill your mouth.” (He no longer serves it.)