Friday, July 20, 2007

French Dinner

Big French Dinner because I've been reading Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook too much. The menu:

White Truffle Oil Infused Custard and Sabayon with Chive Chips
Cauliflower Panna Cotta and Bowfin Caviar
Bread, Pate, Cornichons
Moules Marinieres
Wild Mushroom Soup and Crisps
Red Snapper and Sea Scallop with Asparagus
Strawberries and Blue Berries with Lime Sugar

The mushroom soup starts first:
There's the mise. Pretty easy. Sautee the shallots, dump in mushrooms, dump in chicken stock, some parsley, cook, puree, and then add some sherry. Yes, I'm using store bought chicken stock but at least it's organic and it says "free range." I don't have a stock pot and I don't have 10 pounds of chicken bones. Call me lazy.
Mise for the lime confit that'll go with the dessert. Zest from two limes, a bit over 1/2 cup of sugar, and a cup of water. After the water come to the boil and the sugar is dissovled in it, you dump in the zest and get to see and smell something fantastic:
Mmmmmmm. The water turns green right away and you smell a rush of citrus aroma. Excellent stuff. This'll reduce by about half.
With the mushroom soup and lime confit cooking, I try a parmesan chip. Basically, grate some parmesan-reggiano onto a silpat and form into a circle. Bake in the oven at 275 until golden and crispy.
There we go. Parsley goes in. Taking a cue from Keller, I do my best to skim the foam from the top. Could have avoided this step had I started off with clarified butter but oh well. Time to check on the parmesan crisp. Ooooooh:

Yes, that's a delicious piece of crispy cheese there. OK, now let's do a whole bunch:
Silpats are necessary mainly because the crisps come out very fragile, so you need a trustworthy non-stick surface. They'll also come out soft so they can be shaped and molded. But if you're not gentle with them after they harden, they WILL break. Careful.
The mise for the cauliflower panna cotta (except for gelatine). Cook Cauliflower in water, and then reduce cream and blend. Eventually, gelatine goes in and with its help it sets into a custard-like consistency. Hence the panna cotta.
And time to start the chive chips. The mise is simple but the work is time consuming. My mandoline doesn't want to cut uniform width slices, especially not at the paper-thin setting so I had to do all the knife work with my trust Chinese cleaver. A bit difficult. Also, oops, I used a Yukon Gold. No good. They shrink when baked. Need to use russet.
The cauliflower's a cookin' and the chive chips are assembled. Another Silpat brushed with clarified butter will go on top of this. And another cookie sheet as well. This will keep the potato slices pressed to each other until the finish baking.
Meanwhile, the panna cotta is done! Blended, salted to taste, and mixed with gelatine. Goes into the fridge to set. Made a mistake this time around and reduced the cream too much so it's not setting smooth and flat. Ah, but the chive chips are done.
Yeah, they're a little burnt and see how they shrunk? Oh well. Russets next time. And potato burnt with butter and a bit of salt still tastes good.
A happy fridge, but time to go to sleep and restart the cooking the next day. How does a master chef like me organize all this cooking? Uh...yeah...well...
Right. On to making the holders for the custard. Thomas Keller's got an egg cutter. I have a serrated knife with which to make 8 notches on an egg shell and try to break off half of it without killing the entire thing. I gave up after 4 (though I was starting to get the hang of it at the end. See the one in the back? Pretty straight huh?).

The containers made, it's time for the actual custard. Some white truffle oil, some eggs, some cream, some milke, and a blender. Pour in to eggs and bake in a bain-marie. The mise:
When you finish pouring (I couldn't get all of the bubbles out no matter how hard I skimmed), this is what it looks like. Keller suggests putting them in the original egg carton and it's a great tactic. What I'd add is to poke some holes into the side of the carton. When the eggs go in, they form a pretty tight seal with the carton so water doesn't get into it easily, which means air pockets, which means your eggs might start floating around.
Most of the remaining things need to be done a la minute, or at least a la 30 minutes. But the dessert is easily prepped beforehand so time to mix the strawberries, blueberries, and the lime confit:
Yummy! Looks good huh? Let that sit in the fridge and start wondering what to do with my own lunch. I had some small potatoes left from frying up chips (to go with the soup, no pictures, but basically potato slices fried in clarified clarified butter, or in this case lard) so I cut them up and made myself some potatoes and kielbasa. They went with chive scrambled eggs:
After the break, I finished up the pana cotta dish:
Ooooh, look at that. I didn't have oyster juice so I used a little bit of dashi instead. And a big chunk of bowfin caviar. Now, the dinner guests thought this was pretty freaky when they had it since it's cauliflower custard with caviar (which not everyone liked either). I was also a bit ambivalent about it at first but then I liked it a lot at the end, probably because I could taste what it had potential to be. A little bit less reduction of the cream, a little lighter gelatin on top, and better caviar. It looks interesting though. Nice contrast between black and white and salty and sweet. OK, one more thing I can prepare before hand:
Easy and delicious desserts. Just combine the berries and the lime confit, add some sour cream, and decorate to taste. A mint leaf might be a nice accent color but I didn't have any. OK, on to work on the final mise (seen below). The mussles and little necks were washed, the red snapper and scallops washed and dried. Butter, shallots, and parsley for the Moules Marinieres. Bacon bits (with bacon grease saved) chopped up along with bacon grease and flour ready for the red snapper, along with some lime and lemon juice. Also some grated ginger ready to be cooked with some lemon juice to go along with the sea scallop (to be pan seared in bacon grease like the red snapper). So both the snapper and scallop have lemon sauce on them but there's a twist of ginger for the scallop. Asparagus is cut and washed and in the fridge. That's it!
So what else to do?

1) Custard was baked but I screwed up the sabayon. Sabayons require water (I didn't know that) but all I used was truffle oil. Oops. So the yolks just...cooked and then hardened. No good. So the canape turned into just custard and chive chips.

2) Panna Cotta and Caviar was served straight from the fridge (after being warmed to room temp).

3) Pate and cornichons and bread (warm out of the oven!) were served as I started the moules and warmed up the mushroom soup.

4) Moules (and some little neck clams actually) was served along with bread to mop up the mess, as Bourdain would say.

5) A ring of dots of truffle oil surrounded a pan seared fresh chanterelle floated in the middle of the mushroom soup. Also per Bourdain's suggestion. Plated this one a bit early and soup was a bit cold by the time it made it to the table. Was cooking the main course while the soup was being eaten.

6) Pan sear the fish and scallop with another pan for the asparagus. Plate, cook sauce quickly in remaining pan juices, drip over fish, and serve. Then rush to the table and sprinkle bacon bits over plate because you forgot to do it.

7) Bring out the dessert.

Done! Yes, I forgot to take pictures during dinner service but I was, I hope you understand, a bit busy.

More cooking to come.


Jennifer said...

omg luke. you're a god. that's all i can say.

carolyn said...

bowfin???? what a travesty. Here is where you get acceptable domestic caviar:

i have a jar of russian caviar in my fridge in boston. let me know next time you're on the east coast, and if we sync up, you can try making this again, for me :)