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"Batali vs. Besh: Battle Andouille" - February 26

Editor's Note: What follows is a televised-move-by-televised-move recap. Because a sixty-minute battle, intro, and judgment has to be edited into 45 minutes of airtime, not every move will be shown.

The Challenger: The first challenger of season three is John Besh, the head of the kitchen at August in New Orleans, which has since reopened after Hurricane Katrina. He blends the flavors of New Orleans Cajun style with the essence of France.

A change in this season.. The Chairman allows the challenger to choose his or her opponent. He challenges Iron Chef Mario Batali. "I want the best chef in America."

Prepare for battle.

The Crib Sheet:
BATALI
Anne Burrell & Mark Ladner, sous-chefs
VS BESH
Erick Loos IV & Todd Pulsinelli, sous-chefs
21 years EXPERIENCE 18 years
Italian COOKING STYLE New French
7-3, won last battle against Tamara Murphy BATTLE RECORD Challenger

The Theme Ingredient: Andouille sausage.

The Rules: Each chef must create a five-course meal, with each course utilizing the theme ingredient, within 60 minutes. The judges will score the dishes on a 20-point scale: 10 points taste, 5 points plating and presentation, 5 points creativity and use of ingredient. The chef who best articulates the theme ingredient through his dishes wins.

And now, with an full heart and an empty stomach, the words of the Chairman's dear uncle.... "Allez cuisine!"

The Battle: We're off! Batali is caring parsnip while the team makes a plan... Besh is cutting up andouille, a Louisiana sausage. But compared to what he's been through, this seems to be nothing...

"We wanted to get our restaurant open as fast as possible. Now we're making sure that our neighborhood restaurants are opened. Doing what we can for the heart and soul of New Orleans cuisine."

Mark is working on the casing of the sausage while preparing Dungeness crab.  Besh broke down some andouille and added it to fish stock. Todd is working on white asparagus, while Anne is working on a pasta. Mark is processing the sausage, while both challenging sous chefs get some preparing in.

About this ingredient. This sausage is made from pork loin and shoulder, smoked over pecan wood, and encased in a cow's intestine. The IC is "going to boil the hell out of some greens." Besh is boiling some sheets of gelatin, while he asks Batali if he ever saw crawfish that big before. "Is that Texas crawfish?" "That's a crawfish on steroids, yeah."

Batali is adding porcinis to a base with parsnips and onion. Meanwhile... the thymus of an young cow (or, of course, sweetbread)! Anne, having failed with a cork screw, is going with a knife to open up a bottle of wine. Meyer lemon curd going on in the challenger's kitchen, while Batali is cooking up a chile concoction while Anne is peeling asparagus.

The challenger is cooking the skin of the sausage down, while Mark is cooking partridges. The challenger is cooling the lobster they had cooking. "Fifteen minutes have elapsed." Time to meet...

Tonight's Judges:
TV anchor Lester Holt (NBC's "Today Weekend")
Author Melissa Clark ("Chef, Interrupted")
Chef/author Art Smith ("Back to the Table")

Back to Battle: Thirty-seven minutes left, and we're cooking anchos and asparagus. Besh is straining part of the crawfish boil with sweet corn and sausage into the gelatin. "He's making andouille jello." IC is making a polenta.... "Grits. We call it grits when we're dealing with andouille."

Blanched sweetbread gets added with some apple cider for the challenger, while the IC is making a ravioli with mint, broccoli, ramp, and cheese. The artichokes are getting fried, while Mark is making partridge broth.

The challenger is making a chive oil. The Iron Chef is frying lemon pieces, while the artichokes are out. Crawfish are boiled and blanched on the challenger's side. Batali is frying cipolini onions in olive oil, and the sausage is also cooking...

"Thirty minutes have elapsed." The challengers are using andouille-infused oil and a gelatin molds. He's got pasta, asparagus, sweet bread, crawfish, and lobster, while the IC has artichokes, cipolini, and partridge.

Let's revisit a graphic from last season....

Andouille in America is made from the shoulder (butt) the loin. In France, it's made from the belly of either pigs or cows.

The casing is pure intestine. You could use the synthetic stuff, but why would you want to?

Bird... Andouille-stuff artichokes. All the Iron Chef. Besh piped andouille mascarpone into a pasta for filling. Twenty minutes left... The IC is making soup, while his lemons are off the heat. The challenger made a vinaigrette to pair with the asparagus.

The challenger is using the andouille to spice some scallops, while the Iron Chef is making an onion-jalapeno relish. Tomatoes and olive oil... sounds like a salt. The challenger is blanching potatoes and porcinis for a puree. Anne is working on a ravioli. Meanwhile, the challenger has agnolottis. Now he's grilling split sausage. The Iron Chef is stuffing porcini caps with andouille, bread crumbs, and parmesan for roasting.

The Myer lemon curd is starting to set.  Batali is working on his potatoes, while Besh's scallops sound like winners. "These guys that I'm working with have lost their apartments. Lost all their clothing. They lost everything. To have a week to come up here to New York, cook in Kitchen Stadium, it's just gonna be fun. We're not going to sweat the small stuff."

"Fifteen minutes to go." Mark is sprinkling paprika into the andouille oil, while the challenger is working on grits. He strained it out and added mascarpone to it. All this while he cooks shrimp.

Anne is now making the ravioli, but with less than 10 minutes remaining, she has some time to make up. Meanwhile, the challenger is making a crawfish boil en gelee. Meanwhile, the IC is working all of his boilers going, meaning he has no room to take his sausage broil to... until he sees the salamander. The shrimp goes into the fire...

Besh has started plating his en gelee and grits. The IC is asking for Hollandaise. Anne is stuffing the artichokes, while the IC begins his plating. "Five minutes to go." The fried sweetbread is out. Batali is working from the outside of Kitchen Stadium, while Besh is plating asparagus and beignets.

"Three minutes to go." Anne is refrying her artichokes, while Eric is slicing truffles. Meanwhile the triangle pasta is almost done on the IC side. And I believe we have six on the challenger's side... even with the beignets still waiting to be plated.

The IC side is almost finished plating their five. "One minute to go." Both teams have spent the entire sixty minutes cooking, and it looks like all six are down. It's now about the finishing garnishes... "Five seconds... Three... two... one..." Put it down.. walk away. Battle Andouille is history. And now, judgment day.

Judgment (Batali): "When faced with Big Easy sausage, we decided to match every course with the Big Easy meets Italy." Dishes: Parsnip & Porcini Soup with Stuffed Porcini, Andouille and Crab Stuffed Artichoke, Polenta with Andouille Crab and Shrimp, Broccoli Rabe & Mint Ravioli with Andouille Sauce, Partridge & Sausage Scarpariello.

Judgment (Besh): "My theme was to make sure andouille was the flavor that resonate with each dish." Dishes: Crawfish Boil En Gelee, Andouille Agnolotti with Sweetbread & Lobster, White Asparagus and Andouille Soup & Salad, Crawfish & Andouille Grits, Scallops & Porcini with Andouille Butter, Andouille Beignets with Meyer Lemon Curd.

Batali's courses match big flavor with big flavor. Besh's courses balance flavors while restraining on the theme ingredient. It could go either way.

Whose cuisine reigns supreme? The verdict is...

  IRON CHEF CHALLENGER
Taste 25 26
Plating 11 15
Originality 13 14

... 55-49 in favor of Challenger John Besh. Besh received a perfect score in plating, which sealed the victory in an otherwise close match. Closing words from Alton: "There will be much rejoicing in New Orleans tonight, and I doubt that there is an American alive who minds the idea of that."

Until next time, we bid you good eating.

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