Last week I wrote about seeing Eric Ripert & Anthony Bourdain speak at Macky Auditorium, and I came up with the brilliant idea of starting my own “chef-inspired dinners.”
This weekend was certainly a culinary adventure, including both my chef-inspired dinner and The Taste of Pearl event (more to come on the latter). Come Monday I experienced one of the worst food hangovers of my life.
But let’s continue.
Saturday’s menu included:
Tuna Tartare with Endive
Poached Beef Shank with Herbed Vinaigrette and Celeriac Salad
Fennel-Scented Panna Cotta with Wild Strawberries
Let’s start with the tuna tartare.
I’m a firm believer in teaching a man to fish instead of just giving him one. This weekend I also learned that saying holds true with cutting fish too. Because my family are not seafood eaters, I never learned how to purchase and prepare fish properly. I know I should really learn this basic skill, but I’ve always been a “wing it” kinda gal. I diced up the tuna as best as I could, but I’m sure there’s a better (cleaner) approach that I’ll investigate for next time.
Unlike my last foray into purchasing tuna at Whole Foods (1 pound is wayyyyy too much fish for 1 girl), I thought that I had the upper edge by purchasing a mere ½ pound for this appetizer. Sadly, ½ pound is still too much for 2 people, and Chris did his share of covering the excess.
Ripert has a lovely, classic recipe for tuna tartare. It included a fresh, vibrant vinaigrette made with cornichon, caper, shallot, lemon juice, dijon, olive oil, sherry vinegar (which I was missing, so I substituted white wine vinegar) and cilantro. The result was a well-rounded flavor with accented notes of acid and brightness from the lemon and a garlic/onion flavor from the shallot. I particularly appreciated his tips for presentation, which included using endive and stacking the tartare in a way that was reminiscent of a temple:
The endive also made a perfect little “boat,” which was an elegant way to eat the tartare. And the bread? Chris made a lovely batch of fresh pain a l’ancienne which was a delicious accompaniment. Next time we think we’ll brush a little olive oil on the slices and toast (or grill) it to resemble more of a crostini.
Onto the main course.
The menu changed slightly from my original plans, only because the beef shank at whole foods was frozen instead of fresh (and if I have learned anything from Top Chef it is to use fresh ingredients wherever possible). Part of being a cook is rolling with the changes, so I opted for a lovely strip steak. Knowing that there was an herbed vinaigrette that would accompany the vegetables and meat in the recipe, I decided to keep the marinade simple by adding some ginger and soy sauce. I seared the steak with a little olive oil on the stove before finishing it in the oven. The result was a perfectly moist, medium-rare steak that paired beautifully with the herbed vinaigrette (to go with the beets and watercress).
To accompany the steak, Ripert included a recipe for a celeriac (celery root) and apple salad, which was tossed with some dijon, crème fraîche, lemon and salt and pepper. I admit I’m not a huge fan of the flavor of celery, but I found the flavor subtle, pairing well with the sweetness of the apple. Overall everything seemed in perfect harmony on my plate.
Here I am, showcasing the main course as best as I can (plating is something I really need practice on):
Coincidentally the herbed vinaigrette was quite similar to what I made for the tuna tartare, with the exception of adding tarragon. At the end of the night I had 3 variation sof the same vinaigrette, so for simplicity I packed them all together in the same mason jar.
Chef-inspired dinner #1, featuring Eric Ripert was nearly complete.
The verdict? Delicious! This was by far the most advantageous meal I’ve ever put together (and that includes Thanksgiving), and both Chris and I were satisfied with A) the lovely French flavors, and B) my ability to execute.
After dinner I set about making the panna cotta.
I should’ve realized that the panna cotta required 4 hours to set, and it was already 9:30pm by the time I got to boiling the cream & fennel on the stove. As a quick substitute, I opted to make a crème brûlée in addition to the panna cotta (Chris gave me a kitchen torch that I’ve been itching to use). This recipe came from Nigella Lawson. And though Nigella warned me that my custard could split, I took my chances.
Sure enough it did split, resembling more of a chunky, curdled pudding instead of a smooth and luscious custard. So I did what anyone would do: I tried it again. This time I kept the heat on the stove low while I beat the egg yolks and cream together, and as Nigella promised I soon developed a thick, creamy custard.
See the difference? Unfortunately we didn’t have crème brûlée that night either because my new torch did not come with gas. Sigh.
We however stocked up on gas the next day and while my torch skills could use some work, the dessert was still most delicious:
Cooking (and baking) is all about texture. When my chocolate seized the first time I made a soufflé, and the result was a thick, gloppy chocolate mess, I knew it was wrong and I tried again.
Overall I think the meal was a big success, and I learned some new techniques while also expanding my regular flavor profile that I tend to cook with.
And the panna cotta? I finished that as well. This dessert was extremely easy to make: bring the cream and sliced fennel to a boil, then let simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavors infuse. Strain out the fennel, add in your gelatin and pour into a sprayed ramekin. Let it set.
I know Ripert has a special strawberry sauce outlined in his book, but I decided to keep it simple by reducing a little butter, Grand Marnier and strawberries on the stove:
And the finished dessert:
Though my panna cotta was thin (I made two, and my husband had the lion’s share), it was extremely delicious. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of fennel, and I think I’ve bought fennel bulb maybe twice in my life. But the pairing of the sweet, rich strawberry sauce was such a delicious combination that I’m certain this will be on the menu again this summer.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my culinary exploits. Got a chef-inspired dinner I should explore? Let me know!