Post-Opening Night Roundup

2006.May.06 Saturday · 8 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

Opening Night Menu

Casa SaltShaker - opening night dinnerBuenos Aires – Where to even begin? Last night, as many of you know, was “opening night” for our restaurante de puertas cerradas, our little in-home supper club. By all reports things went well, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. It was great fun and energizing for me. I think Henry found that “restaurant work” was a bit more difficult than he’d imagined – we’ll see how long he lasts in his role as host and waiter – I think he just needs to get used to it and comfortable, but then, it’s not a type of work for everyone! I think we got a good start on setting it up. We weren’t quite prepared for the number of different wines folks brought given that we’d offered corkage charge free BYOB (on the other hand, several of last night’s attendees are in the wine business, so this may have been unusual) – and we only have one real wineglass per person in the house. We’ll need to invest in at least a separate set of white wine glasses. The communal table idea seemed to work well – folks certainly seemed to enjoy each other’s company – though, the main table that seats eight turned out to be all folk who were connected to each other via a common friend at the table. Those at the small table of four (which in warm weather we will probably keep out in the garden) got a chance to meet new people. We had also figured on staggered arrival times, and I’m not sure which is easier for us in terms of cooking and service. There’s an advantage to putting out a dozen plates of the same thing at one time, certainly. On the other hand, it meant slightly rushed plating, and, in terms of at least the main course, the cassoulet, our oven could only handle six plates at a time, and only three near the broiler, so we had to stagger sending out the dishes three at a time – but no one seemed to mind.

For anyone who didn’t see it, and to preserve it for posterity, this was the “teaser” for last night’s dinner: It may be “Cinco de Mayo” but that seems too cliché. More important in the culinary world, is that today would have been James Beard’s 103rd birthday. Since he started out his culinary career catering small dinner parties, with a company called “Hors d’Oeuvre”, I couldn’t think of a better kick-off dinner than one to honor him. All of tonight’s recipes will be inspired by his repertoire. or, Tendrí­a que ser « cinco de mayo » pero parece demasiado cliché. Más importante en el mundo culinario es que hoy podrí­a ser el 103° cumpleaños de James Beard (un chef famoso de Norteamérica). Debido a que iniciá su carrera culinaria organizando un servicio de cenas privadas con su compañí­a propia que se llamaba “Hors d’Oeuvre”, no pude pensar mejor opción que una primera cena que sea un homenaje a el. Todas las recetas para esta noche están inspiradas en su repertorio. (We had to offer it up in both languages!) On to the food…

Casa Saltshaker - May 5 clam chowderI love a good New England clam chowder, and so, apparently, did James Beard. For this, I stuck pretty close to his original favorite recipe. Cooked up some bacon over low heat to render out as much fat as possible, and cooked it until the meat was crispy. Crumbled the meat and set it aside. Sweated the onions with smoked salt until just lightly colored in a couple of spoonfuls of the bacon fat, reserving the rest for the cassoulet. Chopped the clams up. That was all done in advance and set aside. About 45 minutes before the first guests were to arrive, I peeled and thinly sliced several large potatoes and boiled them up in water until just barely soft. Drained, then filled the pot up with whole milk (and just a touch of water because there wasn’t quite enough milk), the clams, the onions, and the bacon. Brought it just up to a simmer and then reduced the heat to as low as it would go, letting the potatoes finish cooking in the milk and all the flavors meld. Seasoned with salt and plenty of black pepper. When we served it, a dollop of sweet butter and some coarsely chopped parsley. Our guests pretty much inhaled this one, so I think it was pretty darned good.

Casa SaltShaker - May 5 potstickersWhen I was the chef at The Kitchen Club in New York we used to (and they still do) make amazing mushroom potstickers. I remember being in awe of my prep cook, Victor Chabla, who used to make literally 150 or more of these a day, and seeming to do it quickly and effortlessly. I could do it, but it took me forever and was one of the exhausting things I felt like I had to do in the kitchen. I hadn’t planned on making them this time – I was going for springrolls, but every store in chinatown was out of springroll wrappers, they only had wonton wrappers, so, chicken potstickers it was. Here, at about 15 of them, I needed to take a break and make myself a cup of coffee. I ended up making about 50 of them.

Casa SaltShaker - May 5 potstickersThe filling for the potstickers was simple, not the mushroom one I mentioned above, as James Beard had this favorite chicken and raspberry vinegar dish he used to make. I gave it my own twist by making it asian in style. I sauteed a few chicken breasts in a touch of oil. Meanwhile, I soaked some mixed dried chinese mushrooms in hot water to soften them. Chopped up some flowering garlic chives. Then, threw those three ingredients into the food processor and ground them fairly fine along with salt and some szechuan pepper. Filling the wonton skins is a matter of lightly wetting the edges, putting about a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center, folding them over and sealing them, then crimping the edges. After that it’s best to let them sit for a little while – by the way, make sure to either use wax paper or lightly oil some parchment paper so they don’t stick – and don’t let them touch each other or they’ll stick to each other. Stuck these in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to rest (me and them).

Casa SaltShaker - May 5 potstickersCooking potstickers is a bit of an art form in itself. Cast iron pans work best – heat light oil over medium heat until very hot. Put the potstickers in bottom down. The oil will cool down fast with all those refrigerated potstickers in them (I had two pans going at once). Cook until the bottoms brown. Then comes the hard part – very carefully, pour in about a half cup or so of hot water – kind of protect yourself from the spattering of the oil with the lid of the pan. Then clamp the lid on type immediately – in order to cook the upper part of the potstickers, you need to steam them for about 4-5 minutes. Then remove them and plate, I garnished with the flowering tops from the garlic chives and offered a raspberry nuoc cham, which is the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce you get for things like springrolls. In this case, heat a cup of water, 4 tablespoons of rice vinegar, and 3 tablespoons of sugar together until the sugar dissolves (normally it’d be 4 tablespoons of sugar, but the raspberries and their syrup were going to add more sweetness, so I cut back). When the sugar’s dissolved, add in 5 tablespoons of fish sauce, a couple of chopped garlic cloves, and a couple of chopped hot chilies, and in this case, a couple of tablespoons of the sweet raspberry syrup (I could only find jarred raspberries at this time of year). Serve in small dipping bowls, with a raspberry or two in the dish as well. I had, by the way, originally tried pureeing all of the above, except the water and sugar, together, but I thought it might be just a touch too spicy for most local folk and/or the dumplings. However, I’d mentioned it to a couple of the folk and suddenly everyone wanted to try it – I’d say about half a dozen ended up using that as their dipping sauce.

Casa SaltShaker - braising the lambSince I wanted to make this a lamb cassoulet, I needed lamb. I hadn’t thought about how hard it is to get here, but everyone wanted a couple of days to order it in advance and wanted me to order large quantities. I finally found a supermarket that had a frozen lamb, and they were willing to cut me off one of the hindquarters. The only pan big enough to cook it in was a big roasting pan, which is also too big for my oven here. So, violating all standards of standard prep for frozen foods, all that thawing and such, I literally stuck the whole hindquarter into the pan, added a bottle of red wine and some water to cover it about 2/3 of the way up, a handful of bay leaves, garlic cloves, peppercorns, and salt, and put it on top of the stove with heat up to about medium. From that point on, to thaw and cook it without ending up with a food safety problem, I kept rotating it about every 10 minutes so that it thawed evenly and cooked evenly. When cooked to about medium I removed it from the heat, removed the skin and fat and diced the meat up.

Casa SaltShaker - cassouletI realized there was no way to cook everything in the oven the way I normally would a cassoulet, in, say, a large dutch oven or something. So instead, my two biggest stockpots were pressed into service. In the larger one I put the dried beans to soak overnight. I used a mix of beans rather than just the large white Great Northern beans that JB liked to use. One pound each of Great Northerns, butter beans, pinto beans, and cannellini beans. Then drained them in the morning, refilled the pot with all the liquid from cooking the lamb (which I’d stuck in the refrigerator overnight and then removed the congealed fat on top), topped off with a bit more water. In the smaller stockpot I cooked up about a dozen chopped shallots and four garlic cloves, and then a mix of the diced lamb and three different types of sausages – longaniza, cantampalo, and aleman (a sort of smoked bratwurst) – randomly picked to provide different flavors – the two cooked sausages were just sliced, the uncooked longaniza was cooked and then sliced. When the beans were just barely tender, after about 2 hours, I added the meat mixture to the big pot, added about half a cup of tomato paste, and topped it all off with a little more water. Then it was just slow cooking, over the lowest heat setting, letting the beans absorb most of the water and the flavors.

Casa SaltShaker - cassouletFinished off by seasoning with salt and a bit of pepper. From there I dished the cassoulet up into the cassoulet dishes. This was where I realized we were going to have a bit of a service problem in getting them all out in a timely fashion. Topped each with about a tablespoon of breadcrumbs and a drizzle of that remaining bacon fat from the clam chowder (mixed with a bit of olive oil as there wasn’t quite enough left). Then about 5 minutes before serving time, sticking them three at a time under the broiler to brown the top. Now, I liked the way it turned out – not the best cassoulet I’ve ever had, but pretty darned good. About half the guests finished it, the other half only each ate about half or so – I don’t know if it was just too much food, or if they weren’t as fond of it as I was. Also, a couple of people asked for a return of the spicy raspberry chili sauce and added it to the cassoulet – I can’t imagine that the flavors were quite what I had in mind, but they seemed to enjoy it.

Casa SaltShaker - butternut mousse pie and young ginger sorbetDessert turned out to be a hit as well, though I wasn’t entirely sure about it as I was making it. The pie was easy enough – I wanted a crustless pie, more or less a mousse. If I’d have had small ramekins I probably would have made them individually, but this worked. Peeled, seeded, and diced a large butternut squash, then boiled it until tender. Pureed in the food processor with 2 cups of heavy cream, 2/3 cup of brown sugar, ½ cup of Armagnac, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of cloves, ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Let it cool for a little while and then added in six eggs – probably should have used seven as it came out just a touch less solid than I would have liked and made it a little hard to plate. Cooked in two cake pans (or pie pans or pie crusts, or individual ramekins, your choice) at 375°F for 45 minutes, then cooled on racks. Beard liked his pumpkin pie, that this was based on, made with lots of ginger – I decided to separate them. First, I bought some galangal, a root related to ginger, and chopped it finely and then candied it in water and sugar and used it as a garnish on the plate, and to keep the sorbet from sliding around. Second, I bought some young ginger, as I didn’t want the sorbet to have a strong bite. Simply, boiled 4 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar until the sugar was dissolved. Then, off the heat, stirred in the zest and juice from 4 lemons, and about half a pound of chopped young ginger. Stuck the pan in the refrigerator until cool, then strained it and made the sorbet in my ice cream maker. The combination was great together and I think the sorbet was the hit of the evening, much to my surprise!

The night finished off with lingering conversation, cups of Tanzanian Peaberry coffee, and finishing off most of the wines. I couldn’t quite figure out how to approach the subject of payment as most folks were deeply involved in conversation, but then suddenly one person decided to leave and suddenly a dozen folk were tossing pesos down on the tables and saying goodnight. Cleanup from a twelve person dinner party is a pain!


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

ksternberg May 7, 2006 at 19:06

Wow, Dan! This sounds so exciting. From your remarks, opening night came off very well. I love good clam chowder, too. Add that to the menu when I visit (along with those pot stickers).

dan May 7, 2006 at 23:43

You’re going to have to take a month off just to taste all this food. Oh wait, how did I get roped into doing all the cooking for your vacation? You’re taking me out to dinner!

ksternberg May 8, 2006 at 00:33

I will be happy to go restaurant hopping in BA.

Bother Jeff May 9, 2006 at 02:58

Firstly, my username was supposed to be “Brother Jeff”, but I made a typo and ended up being a “Bother” instead – alas, probably equally fitting.

Now – just a quick note of congrats on your opening night. It all sounds so fantastic and seeing as the liklihood of me making it from Singapore all the way to BA anytime soon is about as likely as there being a presidential candidate I want to vote for in the next US election, I really appreciate the detailed post-dinner write-up — if the write-up for the chocolate menu coming up i as detailed, I may have to try reproducing it on my side of the Pacific.

(send free plane ticket, will make a reservation!)

dan May 9, 2006 at 13:12

So why aren’t you trying to reproduce these recipes on your side of the Pacific?

Carolyn R. May 10, 2006 at 18:20

Wow. Just so you know – I am LURKING – and you are indeed inspiring. I’ll never cook your food (probably, but never say never) but it is inspiring to hear how it’s done. Well done. On the other hand, those chicken/mushroom potsticker thingie’s might go over well at Haus Rau. You never know.

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