Happy Sunday everybody!
Well the summer’s drawing to a close, and I don’t know about you, but this summer has been a great one. I’ve still got a couple of things planned up my sleeve, but we’ve got food to talk about, so lets get to it.
When we spoke last time, I mentioned hitting a little roadblock, namely the trouble finding some of the crazier ingredients and materials required for some of the art projects, I mean recipes, in the Alinea cookbook. So this week, I went out to my local library and took out a copy of this:
I’ll wait till I cook through a couple more recipes from here before giving you an actual, well thought out review of the book, but suffice to say, I’m very excited to have this in my home. The recipes are beautiful and intricate, done with classic French technique and complete attention to detail. Some of the ingredients will be a little more difficult to source, I’m not sure I’ll ever shell out the money for truffles, and there are lots of milk and meat issues, namely with butter being in just about every single dish. However, there is lots that can be adapted and learned from here, and my goodness, the many pictures are super drool-worthy.
In honor of the nine-days being over, I decided to do the meatiest dish of the whole book. Yup, Yabba Dabba Do was Fred Flintstone’s favorite exclamation, in case you couldn’t really place that line. The dish is named in honor of America’s favorite prehistoric man, because of this ingredient–
That is a 3.5 lb. hunk of rib meat, on a bone which I had to french myself, because apparently if I ask my local butcher to do it for me, it adds another $3/lb. I was more than happy to take care of things on my own. Live and learn folks!
Before I could get working on the dish, I needed to make one of the ingredients for the sauce, veal stock. I can already hear the skepticism. “Why can’t you just use the boxed Manechvits (sp?) beef broth? Does it really make that big of a difference?”
Yes. The answer is a clear and unequivical, yes.
Besides for the fact that any processed product is gonna have lots of stuff that, if you knew about, you wouldn’t want to put in your body, and that it’s much more satisfying to make all these things on one’s own, the taste of any homemade stock versus the junk you can find in the store are not in the same universe. And the recipe we’re talking about is one that comes from one of the best chefs in the world, so, yeah, Manechewits is not my thing. Unfortunately, this recipe also calls for about 20 hours of hands-on cooking time, so you’re gonna have to clear your schedule a bit before getting started.
Here’s how we got started. I had to cut the recipe down a little bit, but here’s 7.5 lbs. of veal bones, which needed to be blanched.
They get covered with twice as much water, brought slowly to a simmer, and then drained. This allows lots of the blood and impurities to coagulate and be easily removed.
Here they are after the blanching.
Notice the change in color. These get brought to a simmer again, and the water is skimmed constantly the entire time, which is key to producing a clear stock. Once the liquid is simmering, two cups of tomato paste and the following aromatics get mixed in-
That’s carrots, leeks, garlic, onions, parsley and tomatoes (not shown). The stock is then brought to a simmer again, and skimmed constantly while it reduces for 4-5 hours.
The bones and aromatics are then strained out, and then covered with water and brought to simmer again. The purpose of this is to make a second, weaker stock, called a remoullage. This second stock is skimmed and reduced and then strained, before being mixed back in with the first stock.
That’s the remoullage on the left, before going through the reduction process.
A note on skimming and straining, by the way. Keller makes it very clear the importance of these two practices, to the point that in the French Laundry itself, no liquid is passed from one container to another without being strained through a chinois or tamis.
Once the two stocks are married, they are reduced until all that’s left is two quarts of stock. Yup, we’ve started with a total of 24 quarts of water, and end up with 2 quarts of stock. That’s a whole lot of concentrated flavor. Here’s the end result.
It smelled so amazing, I’m wondering why there isn’t a Yankee Candle scent called “French Laundry’s Veal Stock”.
This, by the way, is what was left in the chinios in the straining before the stock ended up in that workbowl.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any of that ending up in my bourdelaise sauce.
Now that the stock was finished, I could get started on the pommes d’anna. Full disclosure, I have no clue what that translates to into English, so any French speakers out there, feel free to help me out.
I cooked ten prunes in enough chicken stock to cover, until they were soft, or about twenty minutes.
These get chopped up and mixed with sliced shallots, waiting to become filling between layer of thinly sliced (1/16″) Yukon gold potatoes. Since I couldn’t find any regular sized ones in Giant at 12:00 P.M. Thursday night, I had to buy these instead.
This worked out just as well, because the recipe calls for the potatoes to be trimmed down into 2″ diameter rounds.
You begin by brushing an oven-safe, nonstick skillet with canola oil, then one layer of potatoes. Season that layer with salt and pepper, and top with a little prune mixture. Next, another two layer of potato, then salt and pepper and more prunes. Repeat until you’ve got nothing left to layer, and gently pour 1/4 more oil over the top. I cooked the potatoes over medium low heat for 5 minutes, then transferred the pan to a 425 degree oven. You’ll see what they looked like at the end.
For the bourdelaise, I poured 1 cup of red wine into a medium saucepan with sliced mushrooms, carrots, garlic, onion, parsley, thyme and a bay leaf. That simmers until almost all of the liquid evaporates, and then 1 cup of veal stock and some peppercorns are added.
This simmered for 20 minutes, then was strained, and transferred to a small saucepan, ready to reduce and be strained some more.
Before making the steak, I cooked up the mushrooms. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually find chanterelles, so I used oyster mushrooms instead. I broke them apart and sautéed them on medium high in a little earth balance vegan butter until they were golden, then seasoned them with a little salt and pepper.
Now I know I’ve been talking a whole bunch about the benefits of cooking meat sous vide. It’s easy and it’s pretty much foolproof, and can transform a cheap cut into a thing of beauty.
I did not cook this rib steak sous vide.
Since a whole lot of this book is about classical techniques, I decided to go old fashioned and show that perfection can be achieved even without the assistance of any fancy gadgetry, relying only on one’s instincts.
I started by salting the meat liberally in both sides a day ahead of time. This is necessary even for kosher meat, which is salted as part of the kashering process, because during kashering, all of that salt is rinsed off. The salt seasons the meat, and enhances its ability to go through the Maillard reaction, or what we know as browning, creating thousands of new flavor compounds in the process.
I took the meat out of the fridge an hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature, to ensure that the meat cooks evenly. Then placed it in a roaring hot pan with a little canola oil, searing on the first side for five minutes.
I then flipped it and seared the other side for three more minutes.
At this point, I drained off most of the oil from the pan, then added about three tablespoons of vegan butter and places the pan in my now 450 degree oven. Every five minutes, I would flip, and then baste the steak with the butter and pan juices. I did this for around twenty minutes, or when I could tell by touch that the meat was nearing medium rare.
What do steak and eggs have in common? If they’re almost done in the pan, they’ll be done on the plate. Meaning, always take your steak, or your eggs, off the fire before they are fully cooked. The carry-over heat will continue to cook them to completion.
I mentioned instincts before, because to really be a successful cook, you need to develop them and trust them. That means paying attention to what things look, smell and feel like when you know them to be done cooking. It means being able to measure ingredients somewhat accurately without a teaspoon (only when cooking though, which is not as much of an exact science as baking.) And it also means trusting them when a recipe you’ve read seems to be a little off. Most of the time, recipes should be viewed as guidelines, not as hard and fast rules. And always taste your food as it cooks. How else do you expect to keep your cook’s body in shape?
After the meat was done cooking and resting, the Pommes came out the oven and the sauce finished reducing, we enjoyed a great steakhouse dinner.
The meat was cooked perfectly–delicious crust on the outside, perfectly even, pink and tender on the inside. The bourdelaise was just fantastic. The combination of the stock, wine and aromatics was so good that I would bathe in it if I could. I mean seriously, why would people pay to bathe in mud when there’s bourdelaise?? I think I may be onto something here. Even the potatoes, which admittedly, I was the most skeptical about, prunes and all, were really out of this world. You’re still able to have your meat and potatoes without it all really being too heavy.
All in all, a fabulous, hearty dish, and a great way to start my foray into French Laundry cookery.
Until next time,