Fish n' Chips, missus?
Today I have a guest blogger, please give a warm welcome...
This is Juan-Luis, of DonJuanna. Sam has graciously allowed me to take over her blog for the day. Back in December, after I contributed to the fund drive for Unicef Menu For Hope that Sam helped to organise, I won the prize of four fantastic cookbooks, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, The Tante Marie's Cooking School Cookbook, Chocolate Obsession, and last but not least, The French Laundry Cookbook.
She said if I made a recipe from one of the books, took photos, and then wrote about it, she would post it on her blog.
I settled on a recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook, that seemed both difficult enough that it could go tits-up at any moment, but easy enough that I stood some small chance of success. Red Mullet with 'Palette d'Ail Doux' and Garlic Chips, or in other words, Fish and Chips. My intention was to follow the recipe to the letter, unless it was impossible to find the right ingredient affordably, or if the effort it would take was deemed too great. I knew the dish would be good no matter what because just about everything in the recipe was fried, has butter added, or has butter added and then fried.
Before I begin, I want to share my secret to successful gourmet cooking.
First up, the garlic palette.
I boiled up the garlic (three times. Of course! You couldn't justify charging $50 a plate if the garlic weren't boiled at least three times. Sheesh), mashed them gently, mixed with hard boiled egg yolks (and butter) and froze the mixture.
Ater this was frozen, I cut small rounds out of it, about 2" in diameter. I wanted to do this with a cookie cutter or similar, but I had to do it with a knife, giving them a jagged oval shape.
These circles were dipped in flour, heavy cream, and panko (japanese breadcrumbs). This was a messy, difficult affair. Recipe diversion #1 - we didn't have any flour left, so I used cornflour. This raised some questions - wouldn't beated (beaten?) egg yolks make a better binding material for the breadcrumbs than cream? Why panko and not 'ordinary' breadcrumbs?
Afterwards, I returned the newly breaded palettes to the freezer. The rest of the recipe was 'relatively' healthy, but within these innocent palettes were probably several hundred calories of heart-stopping goodness.
Nextly, the Parsley Coulis.
Parsley is an ingredient that I use occasionally (mostly in my Mama's hamburger recipe, yum), but never often enough to justify buying a big bunch of it, most of it ends up going soggy and composting itself in the vegetable drawer, but this recipe called for 3 or 4 decent sized bunches of the stuff. Based on what it was asking me to do with it, and that I was only cooking for me and Donna, not the six people in the recipe, I bought only one bunch, which still seemed waaay too much.
Then, big pot blanching. The book has a whole section on the correct way of putting green vegetables in boiling water, so again it is something that they seem to take seriously. I tried to do the same.
After the boiling, the draining, then the pureeing, and then more draining.
I like way the green really pops in these photos. Makes me think I should enter them in the most recent flickr foodography with its green theme.
Of course, I had to have an accident while I was cooking. Plus, the glass shards added a crunchy texture to the parsley.
Next.. a break. It was a gorgeous day, so Donna and I took off to nearby Bon Tempe lake near Fairfax on the North side of Mount Tampalpais, and had a lovely hiking interlude.
Now, the garlic chips.
I sliced the garlic as thinly as I could using Donna's sort-of mandoline, then did as instructed and boiled them in milk. This was to preserve the garlicy flavour but take the edge off so it doesn't make you a pariah for the rest of the evening. Once boiled I had to discard and replace with fresh milk, and repeated this three times.
What's with this three times thing?
Donna had the idea that maybe we could use the garlicy milk for some kind of pasta sauce, or for a visiting child we didn't like, but it ended up going bad in the fridge as too many things do. Damn you 60 hour-plus weeks!
It was time to deep fry these goodies. Recipe departure #2 - instead of using canola oil throughout as instructed, I used vegetable oil. I didn't even think about buying canola oil - I thought the vegetable oil we had was the same thing. I've never really deep fried anything, so I was a little nervous about this step, but they turned out pretty good.
All this was pre-amble, it was now time to make the meal itself and combine it all together.
Another novelty - I made some beurre monté to mix with the previously made parsley coulis, and voilá! French words. I took the palettes out of the freezer, threw them in some more oil and fried 'em up. The house really smelled like a cheap diner at this point. Next, Le Garnish. Finely chopped shallots in the blender, added to a few parlsey leaves and olive oil, mixed together. Done. Easy peasy.
Lastly, the fish. Recipe departure #3 - this is a biggie, after all, it's the title of the dish itself. But when I asked for Red Mullet at the fishmongers, he stared blankly at me. "I wouldn't know where you could find that", he said. And if he didn't know, I figured my chances were slim. So we settled, somewhat arbitrarily, like people playing musical chairs seizing the first thing they can to sit on, on Pacific Rock Cod.
This got thrown into the frying pan, 'kissed' on each side, as they say, (although if someone says they want to kiss me but what they mean is 'boil you in hot oil', I may be forced to reconsider), and it was done. Layered all together, and...
So, how was it? Well, after all that, I thought it was good but... not great. The flavours were all pretty subtle - parsley, fish, a little garlic. I would love to know how actual Red Mullet would change that balance. Donna was more complimentary of the whole thing, and she isn't one to mince her words, so I trust her opinion as an honest observer.
I learnt a whole bunch - beurre monté, why we might need a tamis in our kitchen, creative uses of parsley, deep-frying, taking my time to make lots of little pieces of a meal, how quickly I can clean off a piece of fish when it falls on the kitchen floor (3 second rule!). Donna commented, not for the first time, how picky French cooking can be about preparation and how she wants to learn more about the science of it all. When we go to the French Laundry for the first time at the end of May, I'm almost tempted to order the dish to see how far off the mark I was.
Please check out my other blog, and put it in your favourite RSS reader. Oh, and there are a few other nice pics of the making of this recipe - you can see my flickr photo collection. Ta Sam!
A big thanks to Juan for the care he took with this post. I will let you all in to a secret: he doesn't have a digital camera - all these pictures were shot on film! Please make sure you go and check out his blog.
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