Sammy Hagar on How to Cook Like a Rock Star

Sammy Hagar has a theory about his paella recipe. It's pretty simple, but profound all the same. You see, paella is like sex. Or making it is. "Well," he explained over the phone, "you're just...working it. You know?" But Sammy speaks with a comforting, irresistible authority. He’s well aware that he's an unlikely cookbook author — even though he's at the helm of the Cabo Wabo Cantina franchise, with locations in Las Vegas, Hollywood, and Lake Tahoe, and even though he co-owns the romantic California chophouse El Paseo, Sammy Hagar's culinary expertise still isn't what precedes him. This is the man who fronted Van Halen for a decade, and you’ll be forgiven if you think "Right Now" before you think of his expertise on cooking lobster tail.


Equal parts sophisticated and back-to-basics, Hagar has unique taste. He's passionate about the crunch one needs in a good chicken-fried steak (the recipe he includes below has all the secrets), and he has strong opinions about stock (you should make your own). He talks romantically about a simple osso buco, a bottle of good wine, and the pleasure of gravy with coffee grounds mixed in — a surprising trick he learned from his grandmother, who would scoop the grounds from her percolator. But most importantly, his new cookbook Are We Having Any Fun Yet? is about sharing food with other people: each recipe comes with a story, whether it’s an anecdote from a Thailand trip with his wife Kari or an aside about texting a friend a picture of what he just made for dinner. "I couldn’t do this all by myself," he says of his many businesses and the meals that come from them. "I wouldn’t want to."

Chorizo and Pork Loin Paella

Serves 6 

Ingredients 

  • 1⁄3 cup olive oil
  • 1 chorizo sausage, 6 or 7 inches long, cut into ¼-to ½-inch-thick slices
  • ½ lb boneless pork loin, cut into ½ cubes to 1-inch pieces
  • 1 bell pepper, red, yellow, or green (you decide), cut into 1-inch squares
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 or 6 whole tomatoes, good fresh ones if you’ve got them, blanched and peeled
  • 7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • A big pinch of saffron
  • 2½ cups bomba rice
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp paprika (I like regular paprika, but use smoked paprika if you want; this is your deal)
  • zest of one lemon

Directions  

  1. Put the olive oil in the pan, get it nice and hot, and brown the chorizo on both sides. You want the oil to take on that good chorizo flavor. Then take the chorizo out and do the same with the pork. When it’s browned, too, set it aside with the chorizo. Put the bell pepper in the pan and sauté it ’til it starts to soften, then add the garlic and let it soften, too.
  2. Crush the tomatoes with your hands, get them nice and pulpy, add them to the pan, and let that sauce cook down for 7 or 8 minutes, scraping up all those burnt-meat bits from the browning as you go.
  3. When the sauce is starting to thicken up, add the stock and boil that thing for about 10 minutes. Then add the saffron and put the meat back in. Now you’re ready for the rice. Sprinkle it in as evenly as you can and shake the pan a few times so the rice spreads out as smooth as you can get it.
  4. Then just leave that mixture roiling with the heat at medium-high. After 10 minutes, turn the heat real low, so the paella is barely simmering, and leave it like that for another 8 minutes. It might look to you like it’s getting dry. But really what it’s doing is getting done.
  5. Take the pan off the heat, sprinkle the paella with salt and pepper, paprika, and lemon zest, cover it with a towel, and set it aside for 5 or 10 minutes. Call your friends and family to the table.

Sammy's Veal Osso Buco

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients 

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 6 veal shanks, about 2 inches thick (I like the center cut because it has the most marrow)
  • Flour for dredging
  • 2 cups dry white wine, like pinot grigio
  • 1 cup veal, beef, chicken, or vegetable stock (homemade is always better)
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1½ cups diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • salt
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • zest of ½ lemon

Directions  

  1. Preheat the oven to 300º.
  2. In a deep ovenproof pot big enough to hold all the shanks, heat the olive oil and butter on the stovetop over medium-high heat.
  3. Dredge the shanks in flour, shake off the excess, then brown the shanks on all sides in the oil-and-butter mix, about 5 minutes. When they’re good and brown, stand the shanks in the pan with the narrower side of the bone facing down. (If you put the wide part down, the marrow has a better chance of oozing out, and you don’t want that.)
  4. Add the wine, stock, garlic, tomatoes, carrot, and thyme. The liquid should rise about two-thirds of the way up the shanks. You don’t want the shanks to be submerged. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Cover and cook in the oven for about 2 hours.
  5. After 2 hours, check the meat. You want it falling off the bone, so if it isn’t, put it back in and keep checking every 15 minutes or so.
  6. Remove the shanks and set them aside on a platter. Set the pot on the stovetop over medium-high heat and reduce the liquid just a bit. I like it just a little thick and sticky, and the flour you dredged the shanks in should help with that.
  7. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt to taste.
  8. Garnish with lemon zest and parsley.

SAMMY'S NOTE: When I serve osso buco, I always put white bread on the table. Not a fancy baguette. I'm talking plain old presliced, store-bought white bread. Something bland and starchy. It’s just a delivery system for what’s going on top. First thing I do is spoon some marrow out of the shanks and spread it on the bread, with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of parsley.

Then I dig into the rest of the meal.

Dean's Chicken-Fried Steak

Serves 4

Ingredients 

  • 4 6-oz beef tenderloin steaks, evenly pounded and thin
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • barbecue-spiced flour (recipe follows)
  • salt

Directions 

  1. Submerge the beef in the buttermilk and let it sit for 30 minutes. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet. Add enough oil to extend half an inch up the side of the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium.
  2. To a wide, shallow bowl, add the barbecue-spiced Flour mix. One by one, remove the steaks from the buttermilk. Let the excess buttermilk drain from the meat.
  3. Place one steak in the flour to cover and press firmly so the coating sticks. Remove the steak and set aside on a platter. Do the same with all the steaks.
  4. Carefully place the steaks in the oil, watching out that you don’t get splattered. That shit hurts. Cook for 3 minutes or until golden brown, then turn over and cook the other side for 3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the beef from the oil onto paper towels, allowing the oil to drain.
  5. Season with salt and serve.

For Dean's Barbecue-Spiced Flour Mixture

Ingredients 

  • ½ tbsp paprika
  • ½ tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp chile powder
  • ¼ tbsp cumin
  • ½ tbsp hickory-smoked
  • salt
  • ½ tbsp sugar
  • ½ tbsp granulated garlic
  • ¼ tbsp cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tbsp chipotle pepper
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 

Directions 

  1. Mix all the ingredients together.

From Are We Having Any Fun Yet? by Sammy Hagar. Copyright © 2015 by Sammy Hagar. Reprinted by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.