The dishes served were not necessarily French, and in fact included distinctive hallmarks of other national cuisines (opaa!), but the French influence – and the mentoring spirit of Julia Child – was certainly there.
You may recall that the specifics of this theme were revealed at the Fondue dinner party: a knife draw which provided each team with two French culinary terms or techniques that should be in the skillset of any self-respecting Brigade de Cuisine -- chefs and home cooks alike. Each team had to use one or both in their course. Here’s the line-up:
Appetizer: Coulis and/or Flambé (Ellyn)
Main course: Julienne and/or Buerre Noisette (Ilise & Ann)
Dessert: Bain Marie and/or Mirepoix (Kathleen & Karen)
First up was a Pear Fizz. This cocktail was so amazing it's getting its own post with recipe, history and tasting notes. Look for that to come soon, but in the meantime suffice to say WOW, this drink is not only delicious and incorporates perfectly the mousse technique but it's also beautiful with the ombre coloration on the glass which results from dipping the rims into vanilla flavored balsamic vinaigrette. Never in a million years would I have thought to do that, so Thank You, Greg for opening my mind and my tastebuds to something new.
Mousse - A general word for any number of frothy, airy dishes, both sweet and savory, usually lightened with whipped egg whites or cream.
Bâtonnet - Translates to "little stick". The bâtonnet measures approximately ¼in/ by ¼in x 2½-3 inches. It is also the starting point for the small dice.
Flambé: A technique by which alcohol is added to a dish and ignited, both for effect, and to burn off the alcohol.
Coulis: A thick sauce usually made from one main ingredient, such as raspberry coulis.
Starting us off was a plated green salad lightly dressed with a champagne vinaigrette and topped with julienned multi-color carrots and toasted hazelnuts.
Very simple, only a few ingredients, yet extremely fresh, delicious and spring-y.
Julienne: A knife technique by which food is cut into slender, matchstick pieces.
Beurre Noisette: Butter that has been cooked until it turns a golden brown color, often used to sauce fish.
For their recipes, Kathleen and Karen turned to the classics -- Julia Child's recipe for the creme anglais (adding 1 tablespoon of rye, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and the seeds from one vanilla bean for additional flavoring), and to Molly Wizenberg (aka Orangette) for the chocolate cake.
Bain-marie: The French name for a water bath, a technique by which delicate foods such as custards are baked at a gentle, controlled heat: the food is placed, in its container, into a larger pan into which boiling water is poured. Then the pan is either placed in the oven, or on top of the stove.
Mirepoix: The name for a mix of vegetables, usually carrot, onion and celery, roughly chopped, and used as a foundation for stocks, stews, soups, roasts, braises and sauce.
Definitions of French cooking terms and techniques used in this post come from these sources.
Yield: 8 servings
- 16 tablespoons butter, divided
- 24 ounces sliced white mushrooms
- 4-½ tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 6 hazelnuts
- 6 almonds
- 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1-½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 20 pearl onions*
- 40 lima or peeled fava beans**
- 8 halibut, sea bass, red snapper or other filets, 4 ounces each***
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- ¾ cup cream
- 40 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 24 small fingerling potatoes – cut into sections if large
- 4 tablespoons minced fresh marjoram or oregano
- Place 6 tablespoons of butter and mushrooms in large skillet and turn heat to high. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, then drizzle with honey. When mushrooms brown, add lime juice, vinegar and soy sauce, and pour into medium saucepan. Do not clean skillet.
- Add 3 cups water to skillet and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Pour into saucepan and simmer mixture over medium-low heat for about 30-40 minutes, until the broth has reached the golden-brown color and flavor that you like. Strain using a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract all of the good flavor; reserve liquid and discard solids.
- Meanwhile, combine nuts, coriander, sesame seeds and pepper in a small dry skillet. Turn heat to medium and toast mixture, shaking pan occasionally, until spices are fragrant, just about two minutes. Grind to powder in mortar and pestle or in a spice or coffee mill.
- Place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by one inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until potatoes are fork-tender but not mushy. Start checking at about 8 minutes, and again in 1-2 minute intervals after that. Once done, drain, rinse in cool water to stop the cooking, and set aside.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt it. Use this simple technique to peel and cook the pearl onions* all in one easy step - about 5 minutes, or just until tender. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add beans and cook for about 2 minutes**, or just until tender. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
- Prepare a bowl or pan of ice water. Set aside but nearby. Put 6 tablespoons of butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Stir, scraping down the sides with rubber spatula, until butter foam subsides and butter turns nut brown. Immerse bottom of pan in bowl or pan of ice water to stop cooking (about 30 seconds), then return to stove and keep warm over lowest possible heat.
- Put nut and seed powder onto plate. Season fillets with salt and cayenne, and brush with cream on all sides. Dredge only flesh sides in spice mixture and set aside.
- You’ll need to cook the fish in 2 batches. Put 2 tablespoons butter in skillet large enough to hold half of the fish filets in one layer. Turn heat to medium-high. When butter melts, add fish and turn heat to high. Cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, turning once, until fish is cooked through.
- Place cooked filets on a baking sheet in a warm oven, about 300° F.
- Add final two tablespoons butter to skillet, melt butter, and add remaining fish filets. As before, cook 3-4 minutes per side. Once done, add filets to the baking sheet in the warm oven for a few minutes more, until you’re ready to plate.
- Combine mushroom stock and browned butter and heat through; season to taste, then stir in onions, beans and tomatoes.
- Put fish fillets in individual bowls and surround with broth and vegetables. Garnish with marjoram and serve.
* Cook the pearl onions in their skin, remove from water and cool for a few minutes, then squeeze the cooked onion out of the end. Use whole if small, otherwise carefully slice in half.
** I purchased them ready-cooked in a vacu-seal pack from Whole Foods, so no need to cook as noted in this step above. Just bring them to room temp before mixing into the broth during the final steps.
*** A typical fish filet is 6 oz. We went smaller here due to the overall richness of this dish and the abundance of other food on the menu. Feel free to adjust per your own preferences.
Make Ahead Tip: I cooked the potatoes and onions the day before and chilled separately in the refrigerator. Also the day before I ground the toasted nuts & seeds, storing in an airtight container at room temperature.
The mushroom broth can be made a few hours before serving time. Just keep in the fridge and bring back to room temperature before continuing with the final steps listed above.
Drinks: An Absinthe taste-off: Absinthe Verte (from Great Lakes Distillery) vs. Absente brand liqueur from France (France won). Melon Splash cocktail made w/ Bourbon, Green River & melon liqueur. Organic or biodynamic wines. And a grasshopper for dessert! (Dan and Greg)
Appetizers: Green pea soup. Bruschetta with cheese & caramelized spring onions. Salad of green herbs and arugula. (Kathleen & Karen)
Main Course: Roman-style Artichokes. Baked Pacific Cod with Quinoa. Asparagus salad with Avocado and Tomatoes. (Ann & Ilise)
Dessert: Whoopie pie with mint filling in a “garden” of chocolate cookie crumbs, gummi worms and whipped cream (Ellyn)