Dear Chef Bourdain;
I’m excited about the new season of “No Reservations” that starts tonight. I hope other cooks and readers check it out too – there’s nothing quite like the combination of new places, new foods and new boozes to open one’s eyes.
Next up, I’m going to invent the “No Reservations” drinking game. Hmm. Wait, maybe not – all thing considered, half the recipes in the Les Halles Cookbook include strict instructions to drink. I’m not sure my liver could handle another layer of Bourdain-inspired degeneracy. Does that make it a terrible idea? Or a terribly GOOD idea?
See you on the boob-tube, chef!
P.S. I’m still waiting for my letter of commendation from Guts Night!
Dear Chef Bourdain;
I’ve hit a milestone! I mean, not while driving, and especially not while driving after all the wine that you’ve totally ordered me to drink and I am helpless to do anything but comply. No, I mean a milestone like something worth noting. Out of 118 recipes in the Les Halles Cookbook, I’ve made 40. That’s a third down since November (four months ago), putting me right on schedule to complete within a year.
Lessons learned so far – don’t fuck up your meez, add cream and butter, use enough salt, use your own stock, drink wine. Specific things I’ll take away already are a great roast chicken recipe, really excellent mashed potatoes, and a killer, low-fuss appetizer that is perfect for any bar-food craving occasion. I know you know about that, Chef.
Some were pretty awful though – some recipes that just don’t work, or seem to be missing something. Like the rillettes, which were weird and bad. The tart alsacienne, which sounded so good but was super bland. And sadly, the coq au vin, which was a ridiculous amount of work for not much to show. (And I realize now I need to write that up!)
I’ve eaten a giant pile of guts, congealed blood, chocolate love potion, and murdered a lemon tart that ended up great on the second go-round. I’ve also learned that it’s the second go-round (and subsequent) that’s really valuable – that’s when you perfect and elevate your dish. If I were a pro, it’s be the second thousand that mattered, I’m sure – but for a home nerd like me, any repetition means it was fucking good the first time and worth revisiting.
Thanks for everything so far, Chef. Assistant Chef Bourdain and I are grateful for all the good food, and good times with people we both love. Though, to be honest, he pretty much loves everyone except squirrels.
Dear Chef Bourdain;
For a long time I was an adherent of the notion that everything is better with bacon. This was a mistake – like telling a friend you like monkeys, and then getting monkey shit for every gift-giving occasion for the rest of your life, I was inundated with bacon-related gifts. Lest I sound like a cad, let me say, bacon-related gift items are pretty much as awesome as they sound. But it did teach me that not in fact quite everything goes better with bacon.
Happily, French cuisine is not one of those things that doesn’t go better with bacon. Let me unpack that unwieldy sentence for you – the recipes in your book often contain bacon, and are always better for it. I hadn’t realized bistro style cooking was quite so bacon-positive. (Must be third-wave baconists, I guess.)
Tartiflette is an obscure name for an amazing dish. I’m pretty sure if we gave it a more appealing name, it would rapidly become a much-beloved bar food like potato skins or buffalo wings. “Tartiflette” doesn’t really convey what a beautiful mashup of potato, bacon and cheese this is. I will henceforward refer to it as “The Triumph of Bacon.” Hmm, maybe that still needs some work.
This one was really easy, too. Boil some potatoes, a skill mastered by everybody who can get potatoes. Skillet up some bacon.
Drain off most of the grease and set aside the bacon. Fry up some onion in the pan until it’s nice and moogly. And that’s it. Remain vigilant, interlopers will have smelled the bacon and the onion and become interested.
Scumbling up the potato, bacon and onions in the pan is easy. Then put in a layer in a casserole, and cover it with rebolochon cheese. Another layer of the mix, and another layer of cheese on top. Melt in oven. Bask in the glory that is one of the most comforting of comfort foods imaginable.
I served this with some crostini to dab it on or scoop it up. I think something like fritos scoops would be white trash…but white-trash-delicious. This also reheated beautifully, in some ways even better than it was fresh out of the oven. In the future in cold weather, I might make this well ahead and reheat as a starter. I’m definitely making while skiing next month – putting this firmly in the “Hit” category.
What’s seeming to be the heart of bistro style cooking is recipes that are relatively easy, keep well and reheat nicely, and are very delicious. The challenge has been finding some of the ingredients that would be very common at the actual Les Halles, but are esoteric here in Los Angeles. But the methods I’m learning, and the heart of the style are really valuable. It’s kind of like practicing kata or forms in martial arts – first you learn the individual moves, then you see how they go together and flow from one to another – but the work of making the cognitive leap from understanding parts to the whole that is greater than the sum of those parts takes time, repetition and some stroke of inspiration.
So far those strokes of inspiration have, happily, involved a lot of bacon. What a wonderful discovery!
Yours with bacon;
Dear Chef Bourdain;
Doesn’t “Carre D’agneau” sound like a character from a chick-flick like “Sex In the City” or something? I’m going to name a character in my next story “Carrie Lamb”. She (or he) should somehow exhibit the characteristics of being delicious, covered in mustard and crumbs, and easy to prepare.
Since the crust is really mustard, herbs, and crumb, I feel like there ought to be an “en croute” in there somewhere. I am neither an expert in the French language nor cuisine taxonomy though, so I’ll stick to telling you how fucking awesome this recipe is. It is. (Fucking awesome that is.)
MLF (Acronym for My Lovely Fiancee if you’re just joining in) is a huge fan of eating any sort of baby animal she can, and in particular, lambs. Those adorable little bastards just look incredibly tantalizing to her – like in a cartoon when the wolf and the rabbit are trapped on a life-raft and the wolf just sees a big drumstick instead of the rabbit’s face? That’s how she sees adorable little lambykins bounding around in the Spring meadows. So for Valentine’s Day, it was a given I’d be making lamb for her. Originally it was going to be a lamb shank, but your only recipe for shanks is “Agneau au sept heurs” which, true to its name, takes seven hours, not really practical on a week night for a working stiff.
I picked up a couple of frenched lamb racks. When I got home on Valentine’s Day night, I heated up a pan nice and hot, and seasoned the lamb on both sides. I seared it so it was nice and brown and let it stand. It was a simple matter to slather it with herbs, dijon and bread crumbs, and put in a roasting pan for the hot oven.
Whipping up the sauce from the searing pan was easy while they cooked. I’ve noticed in general that your recipes in the book take about 1/3 again as long as you say they ought. I theorize that my oven just isn’t as hot as a professional oven. (That is also not a euphemism.) Anyway they came out more than just a little raw, but having seen this before throughout this project, I knew to leave the oven hot just in case. A few extra minutes did the trick, and they were perfect.
The fat side was nicely seasoned with the dijon crust. The fat that ran along the edge of the bone had melted into the meat, and that particular bite was especially delectable. It’s like I could taste that little lamby-wamby’s innocence. And it was delicious! Mmmm, innocence. And now that I’ve eaten that innocence, I’m more innocent, right? Or does that just work with fat?
We also reheated some of the tartiflette to go with it, and if it’s possible, it was even better the next day when everything had melted together and mixed. The same was true of the lamb – I took the leftovers in to work the next day and they were even more complex, nuanced, and superb.
This one was a definite hit, Chef. It doesn’t take too long, there’s next to no prep, the ingredients aren’t too obscure, and the results were truly excellent. This is another recipe that goes in my back pocket of things to whip up if I have short notice and unexpected guests.
So delicious, and so adorable! Thanks Chef!
Dear Chef Bourdain;
I have a tiny mortar and pestle. That’s not a euphemism. I mean the kitchen implement, and the one I have is a great size for say, crushing herbs or making almond dust. (Internet commenters, I have provided you with some excellent straight-lines here, I expect top-notch work!) But it’s too small to crack enough peppercorns for steak au poivre for six people. Sterner measures were called for.
So there were my peppercorns, crushed with the best tool I had for the job – a warhammer. Hey, it’s not just my weapon-of-choice for the zombie apocalypse, it’s also a handy tenderizer and whatnot!
I’m pretty handy with a steak, if truth be told. Knowing how to nicely pan-roast a good cut of meat was one of the skills I came into this project having if not mastered, at least journeymaned. But I was looking forward to this dinner – I found some really beautiful filets mignon at the local Costco. They were really thick, and a deep, dark red color. Like theater curtains. Of meat. Like you, I don’t think filet deserves the reputation it gets, it’s kind of bland. But it certainly has a buttery, toothsome texture, so kicking up its flavor with some pepper for spice, butter, cognac and to add some fat and flavor? Yeah, I’m in. And the prospect that the pan would flame up made it even more enticing!
I had two pans large enough to use, and six steaks to do. Because everyone was sitting down together, I couldn’t do them in batches, per se, they all had to finish resting at the same time. So I got both pans ripping hot. Not as hot as I normally would, because your instructions call for a a little less heat, presumably because of the butter rather than oil – lower smoke point and all. I seared ‘em up nice and brown, then transferred all six into the cast-iron pan in the pre-heated oven.
It was then that it was time to make the flame happen!
No flame. I was excited about this, too – giant gouts of flame are ALWAYS fun, and when they’re combined with delicious meat and booze? That’s a fiesta, Chef. A goddamn fiesta! But there was no flame here, just the steam and smoke. I realized why, after the fact – because this pan hadn’t roasted in the oven (the other one was doing that) it wasn’t as hot as it otherwise might have been.
So, the cognac didn’t flare up, but the resulting sauce was still pretty amazing. Hard to go wrong with butter, fat, cognac and seasoning though, right? I de-glazed the second pan with the sauce when it came out of the oven too, not wanting to waste any of that delicious frond.
I served up the resulting symphony of beast, flame, booze and warhammer-crushings with truffled pommes frites, sauteed asparagus, and love. That’s the secret ingredient.
HAHA. No, just kidding, the secret ingredient is definitely the booze.
Have some booze for me, Chef.
P.S. The leftovers the next day might have actually been even better, chef!
Dear Chef Bourdain;
What motivation is there in life for the heterosexual male of greater import than to woo women? In this endeavor, the God of nature and the world has given us a few allies, not least of which is chocolate. (And my machismo, but that only works for me. Mostly.) So recipes that involve not just chocolate, but really good chocolate are like solid gold when it comes to wooing women – particularly when the operations order involves deploying them in the immediate proximity of Valentine’s Day. This was a carefully orchestrated hit, Chef, and …well, a gentleman would say no more. Nor shall I.
So as the opening phase of this particular operation, I gathered my meez. You’ll note that I happened to find the precise brand of chocolate you mention in the book – and happily they carry it at the Whole Foods down the street. Vahlrona, to be precise. But I threw in a little Dagobah chocolate for the second layer, because it’s really, really good, and also named after Yoda’s planet.
You’ll note the exercise supplements in the background. While my sudden vast increase of butter and cream intake hasn’t actually gained me any weight, neither has it lost me any. If I’m going to remain in my current stunning pear-shaped physique, and not outright spheroid, I’d better start lifting heavy things guilty of nothing other than sizable inertia due to the interaction of mass and gravity. So I’m on that. But in the mean time. Chocolate!
Step one is to get your chocolate nice and melty. This is pretty easy – hot water and a mixing bowl. Maybe I’d have used a proper double-boiler, but when in doubt I’m following your instructions.
Happily I’ve taken your “don’t fuck up your meez” mantra well to heart, and thus had already separated my eggs when the chocolate was melting. I whipped up the whites until they had soft peaks. When the chocolate was melted, I added gran marnier and it quickly changed color and consistency into something really sticky and really shiny. I mean, still obviously chocolate, it’s not like it turned into The Silver Surfer’s boogers or something. But a real obvious change in state.
After that I added the yolks and melted in the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon. Unfortunately, I let this sit for a while to whip up the whites a little more. I’m afraid it might have had a negative effect. Once I mixed in the whites (blended with sugar and cream) it was still really dense.
I poured it out into the souffle cups I’d set aside for the purpose and realized it barely covered the bottom. This seemed chintzy to me. (Is that a word I can use that’s not based on some ethnic slur?) It also seemed way too dense, and not at all like the light and fluffy consistency I think of as being “mousse.” So I quickly whipped up a second batch with the left over chocolate. That’s pretty cool, it sort of tells me that this isn’t a terribly hard thing to scratch together in a hurry.
Later on I was serving truffled fries, steak au poivre and asparagus, so I had lots to do. It was nice to be able to tuck this in the fridge and pull it out as needed. (This is true of so many things, especially when you realize I refer to my shorts as “the fridge.”) Dutiful to your imprecation, I did not even think about Reddi-Whip or Cool-Whip. Actually, that is a lie – because you mentioned it, I couldn’t help but think of it. It’s like of someone jumped out from behind your couch and said “DON’T THINK ABOUT ELEPHANTS!” you’d probably think about elephants. Also what they were doing behind your couch, and why the strange man in the clown shoes had an ocelot on his head…err, wait, no, that’s just me.
So I whipped some cream fresh, and here’s the proof.
The result wasn’t like any kind of mousse I’ve had in the past, but it was really good. It was incredibly rich, and my double-helping was too much for everyone but the most gluttonous of eaters. (That’s pretty much just me.) In the future I’ll just use smaller serving vessels, like even something as small as a highball or shot-glass. But intricacies of glassware aside, it had a great, rich flavor. It wasn’t too sweet (like all of your desserts) but was very complex, creamy and delicious. With the none-too-sweet freshly whipped cream on top, it balanced really nicely and made a perfect cap to the dinner.
The rest of the work, of course, was done by machismo after the guests went home.
P.S. And by “the work” I mean “eating the leftovers.”
Dear Chef Bourdain;
Really, you could just skip this post and take a look at that picture. I mean, we talk about food porn from time to time, but …yeah. Blood sausage cack-n-ballz. Yum!
So I have story about the primary ingredient in boudin noir, and like a lot of good stories, it’s got a bit with a dog.
One day, I came home from work to find that Assistant Chef Bourdain (who goes by Blink when he’s not in the kitchen) had broken into a bag of blood meal fertilizer while I was out. Blood meal fertilizer is, in fact, just congealed blood in a bag, exactly like boudin noir – only for the garden instead of the plate. So there’s congealed blood scattered all over the kitchen, and in a big pile in the dining room on the carpet, too. And the dog looked very uncomfortable, and vaguely guilty, not unlike someone slinking out of a fetish club. Clearly he’d eaten most of a three pound bag of congealed blood.
After some fevered research, I found that he would probably be okay since it was organic and whatnot. Not unlike boudin noir. He groaned a little bit, but otherwise had an average evening. Flash to the next morning, when I’m blearily going through my morning ablutions. So bleary was I, I even brushed my teeth and splashed water on my face without turning the bathroom lights on. I fed the dog, filled his water bowl, and smelled the undeniable odor of dog farts. Given that the dog wasn’t in the room, this was an impressive achievement. With a dawning sense of horror, I looked down. That was no fart, that was…all over my shoe. But the dawning horror didn’t stop there – oh no, with a sinking heart I saw that poo-ey footsteps reversed my path from the kitchen sink, through the dining room, the living room, the office, and back to the bathroom – where a pile of 90% boudin noir had been deposited by my groaning dog.
Spending the day cleaning up the World Of Poo that I temporarily inhabited, I never really thought one day I’d cook and eat the very same stuff with some caramelized apples. And yet…
The actual recipe was fairly easy. I still managed to fuck it up pretty spectacularly, but fortunately it was with easily replaced ingredients. Honestly, you wouldn’t think applying heat to butter and sugar to create caramel was all that hard. And yet, I succeded in creating the below revolting mess.
So I tried again, and this time I came up with something that could more properly be described as caramel.
All that remained was to coat the apples in the caramel, and the blacken the sausage in a pan before putting everything in the oven.
You describe boudin noir as “some of the best eating on earth,” a phrase I’ve observed you only use for stuff that would generally be considered “exotic” at best…but hey, it’s your thing. And I can sort of see the appeal – it’s as earthy as anything edible could be. Not inappropriate since it’s nearest cousin is, in fact, garden fertilizer. But it is seasoned, and with a bit of salt and cumin, and the crunchy caramelization from a nice hot pan, I’d go so far as to call it downright pleasant. Have you ever had scrapple, chef? It’s similar stuff from my home region of Pennsylvania, but infinitely superior in every way. Oh yeah, it’s everything on the pig between the tail and the squeal, mixed with a little gelatin and corn meal, to give it that nice mushy, gelatinous gray appeal. But brown it up with a little butter and salt, and it’s delicious!
In fact, some of the best eating on earth. You know what I’m starting to think, Chef? That the secret is the butter, heat, and salt. That, and nostalgia.
Dear Chef Bourdain;
Salade d’onglet was a brilliant recipe; but it totally sounds like salad danglers. I think that’s a euphemism for something sweaty Greek men do in steam-baths. First, it gave me a good excuse to eat steak. If you’ve ever spent time around women – and rumor has it you have – you know that they tend to prefer organically raised cracked Bulgarian spelt salads made out of lettuce that was harvested on the night when its sun-sign was bio-rhythmic with other leafy greens and sprouts-of-other-things-you-don’t-want-to-eat-when-fully-grown. So combining that with a nicely marinated steak is kind of genius. I mean, it’s healthy, right?
I actually waited too long to make this, I blanked on the fact that the steak has to marinate for at least three hours, but preferably over night. So I really only had half an hour to marinate it. Even so, it came out very flavorful. One winning takeaway from this dish – a fantastic marinate that packs a ton of flavor. The ginger, the soy sauce and the vinegar all combine to something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. I will keep this in my back pocket for all my meat-marinating needs. And chef – I have needs. Meat needs. Thank you for helping me with my meat needs.
Other than that, I know how to make a steak and toss a salad, it’s pretty straightforward. When I go to the market and ask for “onglet” I get a wall-eyed look. (From a man wearing chainmail and carrying a scimitar, so you know, I’m inclined to keep it not-too-surprising with these guys.) But flank steak is very popular around these parts, and I had no problem scoring a pallet-sized side of it at Costco. I used half for this recipe, and the other half is vaccuum-packed and waiting for me now in the freezer, like something wonderful that lurks in a deep, frozen slumber. Like Walt Disney’s head!
Walt Disney’s head, on the other hand, wouldn’t be nearly as good with some greens and a nice red wine vinaigrette. And that’s the other takeaway from this recipe – a really nice, simple dressing that packs a lot of flavor into a small volume. Like Kristin Chenoweth. If she were salad dressing, this would be her – sassy, bold and highly concentrated. You can tell her I said that, Chef. You know, if it ever comes up.
So thanks for another hit, Chef – this one was easy, was really excellent, and has lots of great ways to be re-purposed for other dishes.
Plus, it’s a great excuse to eat
MEAT! totally healthy green leafy vegetables!
Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends, right? Here’s a recipe that involves cream, butter, and champagne – it’s more or less fucking impossible to go wrong. You could just slop that in a bucket and hand it someone with a spoon, and with a hearty “Bon appetit!” they’d tuck right in.
You do recommend that this tastes best with good champagne, but it’s just not in the budget. I compromised and went with something better than your basic $10 bottle, but still not so much as to break the bank. Is that sad, though? Is that just middle-class aspirations to a kind of luxury that doesn’t fit in not just my budget, but my whole cultural world? Sometimes I feel like a poseur social climber like something from “Vanity Fair” with all this fancy food. But then I actually eat it, and feel better. I mean a little. I still feel a little bit like I’m crying inside. While eating. But then other times I just feel like I’m learning a skill, and even every night isn’t going to be coquile saint-jacques, at least I’ve learned to make a decent pan sauce, and how properly treat the entree.
And this one really is all about the scallops. The sauce is delicious, but you can sop it up with some bread and enjoy it. To really make it something special, the scallops have to be right. I shopped around for some good ones, and got my meez ready. Assistant Chef Bourdain was on hand to help, too.
I did get proper sea scallops, and not bay scallops. We’re lucky to have easy access to pretty good fish markets around here, so they weren’t hard to find. I’m probably going to have to substitute these for the skate wings in “skate wing grenoblaise” though, because skates are on the list of fish that are in danger from over-fishing. I checked around and sea scallops are about the closest thing. I’ll try not to feel like I’ve totally failed, but fuck man, I found every kind of gut, stomach, gizzard and anus imaginable for the tripes Les Halles. I think I earned a mulligan.
The sauce is pretty easy, though “fish fumet” is easier talked about than actually acquired. I didn’t have time to have another Stock Day just for fish stock, so I had to make do with what I could find. Since our dinner guest was a vegetarian (but the kind that eats fish) I had to use vegetable stock. Next time I go fishing, or end up with some heads and bones and whatnot, I’ll make proper fish stock. This is a straightforward sauce, though this one was strained. But anyway, I softened the shallots with some butter, then added veggie stock (that should have been fish stock…) and brought it to a boil. After reducing it by half, I added the cream and brought that up to a boil. It simmered for a while and I strained it and set it aside.
As per your instructions, at this point I broke into the champagne. I’ve noticed a lot of your recipes involve starting the drinking early. I’m not an able enough drinker that this is a great idea, but I’m not churl enough to suggest that it’s a bad idea, ok? Not only have my knife skills improved – but my *drunken* knife skills have improved, too!
Into a hot pan go the scallops, after they’ve been patted dry and seasoned.
After that, it’s all down hill. Set the scallops aside, finish the pan sauce. Voila. I let the scallops sit a little too long though, I’m afraid. By the time I’d sauteed some asparagus and got them onto the table, they were sort of lukewarm. Still really delicious. But what do I know? I was god-damn hammered at this point – as drunk as a French Admiral and feelin’ about as fancy! So fancy I dressed the plate up so it looked all swellsville, too. Though my attempt to drizzle a little sauce over the scallops turned into something more like a cream-sauce splodge. I guess they teach you that stuff in chef school, but me? I am just an ape, imitating more sophisticated apes. With cream sauce.
Is anything more frightening than a drunken ape with cream sauce, chef?
Dear chef Bourdain;
Simmer some lime zest in sugarwater, throw it on top of blueberries mixed with lime juice and sugar. A little mint, and the result: a light, sweet and tangy dessert.
Thanks for another easy, yummy one!