Monday, September 17, 2007
Salad of haricots verts, tomato tartare, and chive oil
Time intensive, small, composed of many parts, I thought I'd make my first French Laundry cookbook experience representative, and chose this lovely dish.
The major thing I noticed was that it demands a different approach to cooking. It's not just necessary to read ahead but vital to have a series of bookmarks to make it easy to flip between the ancillary recipes that make up the final product. The many small tasks required a slow, meditative approach.
In the introduction, Keller acknowledges this in a simple way, "Say, for instance, you intend to make a barigoule, a stew of artichoke hearts braised with carrots and onions, fresh herbs, oil, and wine. You may look at your artichokes and think 'Look at all these artichokes I've got to cut and clean.' But turning them--pulling off the leaves, trimming their stems, scooping our the chokes, pulling your knife around its edge--that is cooking. It is one of my favorite things to do."
I just finished reading the Alice Waters and Chez Panisse book, and this quote reminds me of the number of times the author notes that, in the kitchen, the chefs take on much of the slow, repetitive prep work that elsewhere is relegated to helpers. Even when the completion is not near, even before the fire, the assembly, the final tastes and touches, it is cooking.
The French Laundry recipes are distinct in other ways as well. The portions of each of the separate elements are small, so small that I was worried whether or not I'd have enough to make the seven I needed to fill each spot at the table on Saturday night, when Phil and Kathy joined us along with Matt and his parents. But I did have enough for seven perfectly proportioned small appetizers, which reflected the credo, also laid out in another of the cookbook's talky bits, "What I want is that initial shock, that jolt, that surprise to be the only thing you experience...I want you to say, 'God, I wish I had just one more bite of that.' And then the next plate comes and the same thing happens, but it's a different experience, a whole new flavor and feel."
The elements of this dish were: a chive oil, which was really fun to make, and involved pouring hot water over chives to eliminate the "chlorophyll taste" (which I recall from the time I tried to eat a handful of freshly chopped wheat grass) , blending for an extended period, and eventually, straining through a cheese cloth. There was also the rich tomato tartare, composed of oven-dried tomato flesh, chives, shallot, and balsamic. And the lightly cooked haricots verts with a heavy cream and red-wine vinegar dressing, which unfortunately I made too fluffy, but which no one complained about. And a twist of frisee on top.
Additionally, the text of the recipes assumes a relatively high competence and understanding, which I like, but after years of reading very clear, deliberate instructions, is intimidating.