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Cassoulet – improvisations in the key of bacon

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Cassoulet Les Halles

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Let me just say, this cassoulet was one of those dishes that made me appreciate the time and trouble really good food can take. And be completely worth it. Your method of cassoulet takes three days, and each of them requires a bit of work, especially day two. Since I was going on a skiing vacation with a group of friends, and would be snow-bound in Lake Tahoe, I’d have the time and the appetite. Perfect.

Day One

The night we arrived I put the legs in a dish to sit overnight with salt. Easy. I also soaked the beans overnight in a bowl of cold, clear mountain water. Easy. Drinking ensued. It’s not strictly in this particular recipe, but so many of your recipes do include compulsory drinking, I figured it was ok.

Naked Duck Legs

Day Two

I hadn’t been able to find the duck fat in which to confit the duck legs. I had to make do with some substitutions. Since I was make Tartiflette, aka “The Triumph of  Bacon” in the afternoon one day, I got a lot of extra bacon and skimmed off rendered bacon fat. In this, I confited the duck legs, with the garlic and herbs required. The smell was absolutely unbelievable. Especially after I sauteed the sausages.

Like jell-o, there's always room for sausage.

There’s a lot happening here in day two – all this confiting, sausaging, and also some bean-cooking with pork rinds. I couldn’t find that, so I used what essentially boils down to a giant hunk of bacon instead. It was some sort of cured pork belly I found at Whole Foods. I hate Whole Foods’ politics, but they do have good food, so I end up shopping there even though it means lining the pockets of a Right-Wing Libertarian extremist. But bacon? Yeah, well, that’s my kryptonite, and it knows no politics or national boundaries.

There are beans down there somewhere. Under all the pork.

After all this was done, the final triumph of smells occurs. Magic happens here.

This is magic. Can you smell it?

There’s thyme, and beans, and duck legs, and sausages, all swimming in fats of various sorts. It cooks slow and simmers. Your recipe doesn’t call for it, but traditionally cassoulet has crumbs on top, so I rolled with that. You mention a crust that needs breaking – I figured a little bit of bread crumbs would soak up some of that delicious fat and set up nicely. So I called an audible and threw it in there.

Cassoulet by Bourdain. Crumbs by Krieger.

Day Three

Everyone came back from skiing and was heartbroken at the amazing smell of day two, and were fairly well raring to get at the finished product. I’d been tasting and nipping here and there, too, so I was pretty excited. But it was that overnight soak with the beans that made the sorcery go down.

When it came out, my friends were hovering like vultures. Cold mountain air, steady snow, and a day of sledding and skiing, and everyone was starving for some good comfort food. And this is kind of the granddaddy of comfort foods – the meats melt right into the beans and make a soft, chewy fatty blend that is beautifully flavored with the garlic and thyme.

Literally hovering like vultures, in this case.

With much anticipation, we divvied it up – everyone got a sausage and a duck leg, with plenty of beans for all. That duck was superb – soft and silky and very tender. The sausages had soaked up a lot of the bacon fat, and were  EVEN fattier. I mean seriously – this is sausage crossed with bacon, essentially, creating a sort of super-pork.

But to me, the best part was the beans. They were so incredibly rich, so smooth, and bursting with the fatty flavor. I had a fairly small bowl just to get a taste of everything, and was basically full afterwards. I can’t imagine a more perfect apres-ski food. Though actually I didn’t go skiing, but HAD I, I would have wanted this. I mean, even more than I did. My fiancee, who hates cassoulet, liked this. Apparently her experience of it was tins of franks-and-beans in France. I’m sayin’ – this was a lot more than just that.

It was fantastic. A friend paid me a compliment and said, “Davy, you can cook.” Given that she grew up in a house full of Southern women who express love by feeding, it was high praise. And in this case, at least a little bit deserved, since I hadn’t slavishly followed the recipe. I mean, MOSTLY I did, but not completely.

When I depart from the plan, it usually involves bacon.

What could go wrong with that, Chef?

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

You’re invited to an upcoming feast!

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

This is totally just to make people hungry.

I’ll be seeing you next weekend. I’m pretty excited – my fiancee’s cousin and her chef boyfriend got tickets to see you and Chef Ripert next weekend, May 1st, in Santa Barbara. They’re bringing Pascale and I as their wedding gift to us. So hey, I’ll bring you a printout of the infamous guts-night to sign, and maybe one to keep for you, too! I know you’re excited to meet me at last, Chef. So the night before I’m going to make a dinner from your book. You’re totally invited – drop  me a line, ok?

For my other friends and readers, you’re invited too! But here’s the deal – I’m getting married in a few weeks. (Seriously. A few weeks. Ok ok, deep breaths…) and I need to save up for the wedding and honeymoon, especially since things have gone more than a bit sideways at work recently, and I’m not guaranteed to have the time off and pay I was expecting. So if you’d like to come, will you help me cover the cost of ingredients? That’s all I’m asking – and in return, you’ll get a really excellent meal. Here’s the menu:

Starter:  Moules a la marinieres (mussels in tomato broth)

Veg: Leeks vinaigratte

Mains: Filet of beef, sauce porto with roasted shallots

Side: pommes sautee au lard. (Potatoes sauteed in duck fat.)

Dessert: Charlottes de marrons. (A bit like tiramisu, it’s that beautiful bastard I enticed you in with up top.)

I figure I don’t really want to cook for more than six with this many courses, so that’s four open spots at the table. I have the luxury of not cooking for more than six, because this is a hobby, not a job, thank the gods. I figure most of that stuff isn’t terribly expensive, except for the filet, so about $20 a head will cover it. Now come on, that’s a five course meal for the price of what the sides would cost in a good restaurant! So please let me know if you’re into it, and how many. First come, first serve – it’s all going down Saturday evening, April 30th, probably around 6pm.

And Chef Bourdain, if you show up, I promise there will be plenty of good wine and a solid Venice freakshow on top of it all!

I’m hungry just thinking about it. The food that is, not the freakshow. Though that’s awesome too.

Davy

Grilled Lamb Steaks

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Sadly you can't smell the onions...or the innocence. But they're both delicious.

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Maybe my lovely fiancee is on to something, with loving to devour any animal, and the more innocent the better. I think if I could find her a lamb that was voted “most innocent”  by the other lambs in its little lamby-school, she would think that was the most delicious lamb that ever lived. The thing is, she might be right.

Spring has sprung here in L.A., and surely this is one of the most beautiful places on earth at this time of year. The air is thick with blooming flowers and cool sea breezes. At night the jasmine opens up and perfumes every breeze. Particularly in my neighborhood of Venice, where there are so many quirky little cottages and houses, all of them with gardens where flowers grow with little effort – it’s a fine time to be alive.  And just now is when so many of these delightful little critters are born, gamboling innocently about the fields until such time as they’re konked on the heads and eaten. Sorry lamby-kins, but please believe, we really loved you.

All the hard work is done by those delightful little bastards, being delicious. Me, I just followed your instructions and marinated them overnight with some garlic, thyme and olive oil. Your instructions say to put the herbs and garlic on top, (after salt and pepper all over) and cover it with olive oil. I think, Chef, in the future, I’d rub the olive oil on and then add the herbs and garlic. Further, I’d like, triple the amount of garlic and double the herbs, because they were a little sparse on the meat.

Chopping up some onions and letting them sit with olive oil and seasoning to make a sort of crude relish was pretty nice. Other than that, you scrape off the herbs and put those steaks on a ripping hot grill. I was worried that the fairly thick steaks I got wouldn’t cook all the way through on the grill – usually I pan-fry and then roast in the oven. But it was plenty hot, and as you can see those steaks took some nice grill marks and finished quite perfectly. It was a little longer than two minutes on a side, but they were pretty thick. I can eyeball this stuff, I’ve grilled plenty.

The result was a fantastic, delicate lamb steak done medium-raw. And I could taste the innocence! Every happy, springing step in the meadow, every delightful frolic, right there in the steak. Here’s an odd thing though – each time I’ve made lamb for friends, there’s been someone at the table that has never had lamb before. How the…? What the…? I mean..? How do you go through an entire life without once having had lamb? I get that the tripe, boudin noir, even mussels, are a little out of the norm for Americans. But lamb? This blows my mind.

One thing though – I think the onion relish would have been better if it had been grilled alongside the lamb, and then served a little caramelized – but I’d want to use some oil other than olive. With a grill that hot, the olive oil could taste kind of weird if burnt – canola would do, though. Maybe the point is that the relish is warm but raw – but it was kind of rough around the edges to me. My lovely fiancee, on the other hand, was crazy about it, and took it from the plates of our other guests who didn’t eat theirs.

I have to confess Chef, I came into this not much caring for onions. They don’t really agree with my stomach, so unless they’re well cooked I tend to avoid them. But I’m a believer now – onions do magical things when you use them right, and see why they’re at the heart of a lot of your dishes. The savory smell while they’re cooking, the mix of sweet channelization and acidic crunch…what a vegetable!

This was a dead easy dish that was really delicious. Definitely a hit – especially with my innocence-consuming soon-to-be-wife. And speaking of soon-to-be-wife – I’m planning on roasting a whole pig at the wedding in May. (You’re totally invited, Chef – May 14th in Two Harbors in Catalina – be there!) I wish I had your help on that one, I’ve never roasted a whole pig before, and since I’m feeding 99 people (100 if you come, Chef…) if I fuck it up, it’s going to be an epic disaster. An island, with no other supply of food in easy reach – if the pig is fucked, the wedding is fucked, basically.

But hey – take a pig, add some flame, how can it not end up delicious somehow, Chef? I know you feel me.

Yours;

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Sexy Cat Shrimp

April 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Ok, one last “Not Chef Bourdain’s Food” post before I dive back into catching up on all the good stuff I’ve been making. Also last one without pictures. People like pictures. Anyway, last night I used some of the overall lessons from your cookbook to invent my own dish. I came up with it in my head while walking around the market looking at ingredients, which I’d say is the first sign that I’ve internalized some key lessons. Those lessons? Use cream and butter. Lots of it.

Sexy Cat Shrimp (Named for our dinner guest, the original Sexy Cat.) Serves 4

1 lb shrimp, shelled, de-veined uncooked.

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup butter

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 cup white wine

1 tbpsp salt

juice of 1/2 lemon.

12 oz of lobster pate

4 portabella mushrooms, stemmed and cleaned

2 tbpsp garlic oil, + 1/2 tbpsp

1 tbpsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350F.

In big pot, heat the garlic oil on medium high heat and add the onion. When the onion is translucent but not caramelized, add the white wine, bring to a simmer and let reduce by half.

Meanwhile, brush the mushrooms with the left over garlic oil. Put a dollop of lobster pate evenly among the mushrooms, then drizzle with the balsamic and season to taste. Put them on a baking sheet, and set aside.

When the wine is reduced, put in the butter, bouqet garni and cream, and bring to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer, and put the shrimp in the cream sauce at the same time as you put the ‘shrooms in the oven.

When the shrimp are nice and succulent but still tender, strain the shrimp and onions out, reserving the cream sauce. Put the cream sauce back in the pot, put the bouqet garni back in, add lemon juice, and let it reduce over medium heat until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

When the mushrooms are nice and tender, cooked through (about ten minutes) plate them, and distribute the shrimp and onions evenly amongst them. Pour on the cream sauce, and serve – with the spare sauce in a gravy boat.

 

It’s kind of hard to miss with that much butter and cream, but the results were pretty good, if I say so myself. It’s really just a reworking of core techniques from your book, but hey – what is cuisine if we don’t synthesize something new out of the good stuff that other people teach us?

Thanks for the inspiration, Chef!

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

A-Frame in Culver City

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I know it’s been a little while since I rapped at ya – I’ve been on a little break to square away my wedding and maybe lost a little weight. But I have to tell you, if you’re ever in L.A. – you should really check out Roy Choi’s “A-Frame”. This food can literally exorcise demons. I do mean that literally – not “my brain literally exploded” but like, in the literal sense of the word “literal”.

Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized
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