French laundry on a budget
To celebrate a good friend J’s birthday, Howard and I along with a group of friends got together to attempt a French Laundry themed dinner. The reason why we chose French Laundy is that J will be going to America next month, however due to time constraints she’s unable to visit Thomas Keller’s famed restaurant. Unfortunately we’re no where near Thomas Keller and his group of chefs caliber, however, we did have alot of fun trying to re-create some of his popular dishes.
I’ve had the French Laundry cook book for a while, but I found myself staring at the book more than cooking from it. A lot of the recipes are quite difficult and require preperation a day or two ahead, or relying on one or more other recipes in the book. But in saying that, a lot of recipes are quite easy and you can tell from the flavours that Thomas Keller is truly an outstanding Chef. We selected a handful of recipes from the book for this dinner and they turned out pretty well.
To start of our epic meal, J and A were kind enough to re-produce one of my favourite starters. I previously made the salmon cornette at our French themed dinner, at first taste I fell in love with the simplicity of the dish and how well all the flavours went together. This time was no different, once again, the cornette was a winner. A rich buttery cornette, combined with fresh salmon and tangy creme fraiche, one word, YUM.
S and L were given the task of making the next starter, Gruyere cheese Gougeres. Initially, I had absolutely no idea what a Gourgees is, let alone even tasted one. To find out a little more about the Gougeres, I refered to the trusty Wikipedia, which described these little gems as cheese puffs, made of choux pastry and cheese. Once again, I couldn’t help but think about masterchef, who could ever forget Adriano Zumbo’s profiteroles trasnformed into a croquembouche. The Gougeres was beautifully fluffy and flavoured well when paired with Gruyere cheese, this will be added to my growing list of favourite starters. Unfortunately amidst all the eating, we forgot to take a photo of the Gougeres.
The final starter for the night was Howard’s truffle infused custard, which he made a couple of months back at one of our EST cook up. Once again, this was a crowd pleaser. The crunchy salty prosciutto worked well with the creamy truffle infused custard.
Next on the menu was supposed to be a creamy maine lobster broth. Once again, my friend Wikipedia informed me that Maine lobster is a product of North America, readily available throughout both Canada and America. As we were quite tight on our budget along with uncertainty as to whether Maine Lobster was exported to Australia, we substituted it for Spanner Crabs which was in season. Prior to serving, the broth was strained through a muslin, then using a milk shake maker, frothed up. Overall it tasted okay, according to J, it was a little too “crabby”. I guess if I had stuck to the original recipe and used lobster, it wouldn’t have been too seafoody.
By now, I’m starting to fill up, however it is only early days yet. Next up was our version of Spaghetti with white clam sauce. A couple of the diners were not huge fans of clams, thus, we used the flesh from the spanner crab. I quite enjoyed this simple dish, despite the heavyness of the spaghetti, the sauce was very light. This is a dish that I would definitely make again, maybe next time, I’ll use clams.
The main is next on our menu. A medallion of crispy skin braised pork belly with lightly pan fried polenta. This is another diversion from the original recipe, which called for Veal. By now, I can see that we’re not very good at sticking to the original plan of honouring French Laundry’s recipes. I guess I’m to blame for choosing the pork belly over veal, I had a huge craving for crispy skin pork, there I said it, I’m a sucker for fatty crunchy skin. As a result of braising for 3 hours, the pieces of pork belly surrounded by it’s glorious fats just melts in the mouth. Added bonus, I satisfied my crackling craving.
You would think that after all this we’d call it a night. To accomodate all the sweet tooths, me mainly, we got ready for the dessert with a palette cleanser. I pre-prepaired the strawberry and champagne terrine the previous night to allow it time to set. This did the trick in clearing out the palette, readying for the next onslaught.
For dessert I prepared a Lemon Sabayon Pine nut tart with honeyed mascarpone cream. I’m one of those weirdos that don’t like citrus in my desserts. However, this may be the one dish that converts me. This tart was absolutely delicious. The light and tangy sabayon paired with an unusual crumbly and buttery pine nut crust was a match made in flavour pairing heaven. The perfect accompaniment to help neutralise the tang was the honeyed mascarpone cream. How can something so simple be soo yummy? I served the tart with the cream, but added a couple of extra things, roasted almond praline and caramel. These little additions brought this dish to a whole new level, everything just went so well together. I had the left over the following day, oh my god, it tasted even better. I definitely recommend that everyone give it a go. I don’t feel right publishing the recipe on the website, however it is readily available with the help of Google if you look hard enough.
To finalise our meal, K and I prepared some peanut butter and chocolate truffles. These were great with our Japanese green tea albeit a little large. The recipe suggested that you make 50 truffles from the listed ingredients, however K and I managed to make 20, so you can imagine the truffles were quite large, as big as golf balls to be exact.
Overall it was a great night had by all. It’s great to catch up with old friends once in a while, however when there’s food involved, it’s always better. Despite all the time and effort put in to preparing this meal, I think it was worth it. I learnt a great deal just by preparing dishes that I’ve never tried before and mastered skills that I previously acquired. Thanks to Zumbo and Keller, I can now proudly say that I can make a Sabayon.
Finally, a shout out to the birthday girl, Happy Birthday J! thanks for paving the way =D.