Eleven Madison Park: Brook Trout with Celery Root and Apples

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This blog originally started as a way for me to document my experiences cooking through the Eleven Madison Park: The Next Chapter cookbook. I had cooked through dozens of recipes from the restaurant’s first book, and for the most part they were very rewarding. I had the same excitement for this new edition, but I realized there were only about 20 recipes that I was truly excited to cook. So, I decided to nix the idea of taking on the entire book, and, instead, decided to make this blog about cooking through various recipes from many different cookbooks. I often look for such guidance on the internet when I’m about to tackle a challenging professional recipe, so I thought I could be of use for other people trying to create these concoctions at home.

Although I decided to blog about many different books, that shiny new EMP tome was burning a hole on my dresser, and I knew I had to try something from it soon. As the warm summer air transitioned to the cool, crisp days of autumn, the brook trout with with celery root and apples was calling me. I conferred with my fish monger, Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, and they confirmed that Brook Trout was in season and, indeed, looking good. I actually had the next two days off from work, so I decided to make this dish my mission.

The problem (or benefit, depending on your perspective) with any given EMP recipe is that they are so damn time consuming, consisting of many different subrecipes. Some of the dishes, for example, have so many components that you could easily cook a 5-7 course meal in as much time as it takes you to make one EMP course. This dish was no exception.

From my experience with the first EMP book, the trick to conquering any dish while maintaining your sanity is knowing when you can safely omit certain components without affecting the final outcome. For example, this dish calls for a tiny piece of cured pork. I don’t eat pork, but you can tell it’s really just a minor accouterment here, and that I would be missing little by leaving it off. Additionally, the little sandwiches of dried celery root and celery root puree seemed unnecessary and not worth the extra time. Additionally, the celery root chips are crazy labor intensive, and with there already being several other subrecipes I was NOT omitting, I had to pick my battles. I decided that if I make this dish without those components and it blows me away, I will take the time to do it properly at a later date, while having guests over for a dinner party.

Brown Butter

Brown Butter

So, what WAS I keeping? It was no short list. The pink apple puree, apple condiment, roasted celery root, apple cider nage, and, of course, the fish, were all to be prepared.

My first stop on this adventure? The aforementioned Lobster Place. It’s really the top fish market in NYC. And, the best part? My wife works in the building, so she could stop by and say hi while I was picking up my fish. She was probably not as excited as I was, considering she hates the sights and smells of fish markets. Little did she know what I had in store for her.

In addition to getting the brook trout, I was picking up 5 pounds of fish bones for the fumet (basically, fish stock). I had ordered these ahead of time, but we (i.e. my wife) had to stand and watch as they chopped up the bloody carcasses and put them in a bag. She couldn’t wait to get out of there. 🙂

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Mise en place for the apple cider nage

When I came home and started unloading fish corpses into my huge stock pot, my Caribbean nanny, who takes care of my kids while my wife and I are at work, was probably thinking “what the hell is this dude doing?” I laughed to myself and started simmering the bones with vegetables. The good part of making fumet vs a meat stock, is that you only need to simmer the mixture for 30 minutes, as opposed to six hours. That’s obviously much more manageable.

On my way home from Chelsea Market, I stopped by the farmer’s market at Borough Hall in Brooklyn. It’s not the biggest Greenmarket in NYC— obviously the Union Square one is much more massive, with lots of random produce that’s hard to find elsewhere— but for your standard -in-season fare, Borough Hall is just fine. And, it just so happens to be right down the street from my apartment. Today, I picked up the apples for the various

Cooking Apples

Cooking the apples for the pink apple pure

accouterments to this dish.First up was the pink apple puree. This is simply unsweetened apple sauce, made with cooked apples and butter. For some reason, I could not get it to appear as pink as the photo in the book, but it still tasted good.

On to the apple condiment. I don’t have a chamber vacuum (they are thousands of dollars), but was considering using my regular vacuum sealer. However, I suddenly remembered that I have this FoodSaver attachment that allows for quick marinades. I hadn’t used it in years, but it felt like something that could be used to infuse these diced granny smith apples with the marinade. I dusted it off and put it to work.

The condiment also called for the use of pickled mustard seeds. Now, I love pickled mustard seeds, and always have a container full of them in my fridge. So, fortunately I got to skip a step in this recipe. The condiment turned out tasty, although I may have been too judicious with my use of the seeds. One helpful hint for this subrecipe is to not omit the citric acid, as this preserves the apples’ beautiful green hue.

 

Food Saver Marinade JPG

Using my random FoodSaver quick marinating device

Now, it was on curing the fish. This step calls for a lot of Maldon salt, which is expensive. Lucky I had a full box I had recently bought at Kalustyans (my favorite store in NYC). This used to be a relatively hard ingredient to find, but now you might be able to find it at any specialty grocer.

With the fish sufficiently cured, it was time to smoke. I broke out my Polyscience Smoking Gun, warned my nanny and kids, and opened the windows. It was weird working with these whole fishes with heads still intact; I felt like they were staring at me. As I learned from other EMP dishes, the smoking time Chef Humm states can be excessive. So, rather than smoking for the stated amount of time, I cut it down to about 5 minutes. I was happy with the results.

Eleven Madison Curing_Trout

Curing the fish with Maldon salt

After browning some butter (brown butter is one of my all-time favorite ingredients) for finishing, I moved on to the roasted celery root. Chef Humm’s preparation seemed far too tedious and unnecessary, so I used a basic Martha Stewart recipe for the same thing. I’ve actually found her recipes a much less complicated a way of achieving the same results in certain circumstances. For example, when making the Strawberry Foie Gras on Black Pepper Sable from the first EMP book, I couldn’t get Chef Humm’s sables to hold together. So, I found Martha’s sable recipe and simply added black pepper. Worked like a charm.

The apple cider nage was simple enough. I followed the recipe to the T, but felt it lacked acidity, so I added more apple cider vinegar than was called for, which also amped up the autumn-like feel of the sauce. Then to froth it, I used a trick I learned from O-Ya chef Tim Cushman at a Degustibus NYC class: a hand-held cappuccino milk foamer. This little device is far superior for foaming than a hand blender, especially when working with at-home quantitates.

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Trying not to set off the alarm

Now, the hard part: cooking the fish, The recipe calls for using a steam oven and baking for two minutes. Now, I don’t have a steam oven, don’t plan on buying a steam oven, and don’t see how two minutes is enough to even warm the fish, let alone semi-cook it (the chef refers to this preparation “mi-cuit,” which means half-cooked in French). So, I simply set my regular oven for the same temperature called for in the recipe, and kept a close eye on it, waiting for the very first signs of any sort of opaqueness. I ended up taking it took it out after about 6 minutes.

Overall, the dish was pretty and interesting, but wasn’t exactly delicious. I probably would not make this for a dinner party. Granted, I may have oversalted the fish when curing (it felt dried out), and I didn’t use a steam oven, so who knows how it was supposed to turn out. But, I felt I got close to the intended results. Overall it was a fun project, and I’m looking forward to more dishes in this wonderful book!

Eleven Madison Finished Brook Trout Celery Root Apple Dish

The finished dish

 

Eleven Madison Park: Venison with Beets

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In the cold winter months, cooking can quickly become redundant. Fresh produce on this side of the country is practically non-existent during this time, and as much as I love my proteins, I can only eat steak, chicken, or fish so many times in a given week. So, it is a rare but welcome moment where I find something new and potentially amazing to make.

When initially perusing the Eleven Madison Park: The Next Chapter cookbook upon release over a year ago, I saw this amazing-looking venison dish, which I kept in the back of my mind for the right occasion. So when D’artagnan — one of my prefered meat purveyors — was having a sale that included boneless venison loin. I jumped at the opportunity to stash some away in my freezer. I didn’t know when I would actually make it, but I knew at some point I would.

Several weeks later, we had a couple of friends coming over for dinner, and I thought this would be a great dish to serve. That is, until I found out that one of them hates beets. Since this dish includes beet juice, beet chips, beet relish, caramelized onion-beet puree, and smoked beets, I thought maybe it wouldn’t go over so well. So, the venison stayed in my freezer for another day.

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Always have pickled mustard seeds ready to go. You never know when you might need them.

Before I knew it, my free time was consumed with planning and prepping for Thanksgiving and New Years dinners, and I forgot all about the deer meat I had stowed away. It didn’t help that every time I brought up the mere idea of the dish, my wife made it sound like venison was the most repulsive thing in the world. As resistant to the idea as she was, I knew once she tried it she would like it. That’s pretty much been par-for-the-course with her, with the exception of when she met me (and fell instantly in love).

As is often the case with an EMP recipe, you can never read the instructions carefully enough or too many times. They are highly complex instructions, and one small slip can make the difference between a great product and a disaster. While examining the tasks ahead, I became confused by one part of the process — the lengthy and complicated step of making crepes to wrap around the loin, followed by a coating of hard-to-find vegetable ash.

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Caramelizing onions for the puree. Oops, looks like I let a few of them burn.

I could not think of any plausible reason —  other than aesthetic — for these steps, so I emailed the Eleven Madison cookbook helpline (yes, that is actually a thing) for help. They confirmed my suspicion that the crepe and vegetable ash were not really necessary. They are used to enhance the grilled look of the protein as well as to provide a subtly more even cooking process. Since I decided I was going to cook the meat sous vide, anyway, it was a moot point. Yay: one less thing for me to do.

The day before I would be serving the dish, I began by making beet juice, which would be used in a few of the sub recipes. I was excited because this was maybe my third time using my juicer, which I bought several months prior and for a while was convinced was a waste of money.

I then proceeded to the carmelized onion puree, which the recipe states can be made a few days ahead of time: I’m always happy to find ways to alleviate the amount of cooking that needs to be done on game day. Caramelizing onions properly can be a pain, and I always went for the super-dark mahogany color that can literally take hours. But, after reading this Serious Eats article about the process, I am now convinced that one can achieve similar-tasting results in a fraction of the time. At least, somewhat convinced.

I would imagine that one of the biggest pains with regards to this recipe would be making the chicken ju — a sort of highly reduced and flavorful stock that forms the base of almost every Daniel Humm sauce. This process basically takes at least two days. Luckily, I had a couple cups frozen and vacuumed sealed in my freezer from when I made an EMP dish in the summertime. So, with that already knocked out, I got a good night’s sleep and was ready to proceed with the recipe in the morning.

The first component I got started on in the morning was the smoked beets. I combined the skin-on beets with duck fat, chicken ju, red wine vinegar, and a couple other ingredients and cooked them in my steam oven for a couple hours. I then smoked them using my smoking gun for about 15 minutes. The final step calls for grilling on binchotan charcoal (which is also supposed to be used later on when grilling the venison). I love binchotan (if you’re not familiar, Google it), and I’ve tried to convince myself it would be safe to use in my apartment. However, after extensive online research, I’ve determined that while doing so for a short period of time would most likely be okay, it’s not really worth the risk of exposing my family to carbon monoxide poisoning just to get a better-tasting char on a piece of meat.   

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Adding beet juice to the onions

After preparing a beet-relish that contains pickled mustard seeds — which I always have on hand —  I moved on to the beet sauce. This concoction, which includes cold-brewed coffee and pig’s blood, sounded intriguing, but I had to omit the blood. Not only am I semi-kosher, but my only association with pigs’ blood is when my father told me as a young boy that it was the dirtiest swear-word in the German dictionary. The blood is used as a thickening agent and as a way to provide a deeper color, but the sauce was already thick and a beautiful bright red hue, so I didn’t really miss anything by leaving it out.

As previously mentioned, I decided to cook the meat sous vide, as I had never worked with venison before and this was a good way to ensure it was cooked perfectly. While the meat came to temp in a water bath, I began making the beet chips. If you have any experience deep frying things, this step is a cinch.

I must admit, the plating of this dish in the book looks very intimidating, but it wasn’t too bad at all to emulate. It tasted delicious, and I completely converted my wife into a venison fan. I only wish beet juice didn’t stain your hands so easily.

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Battersby: Spaghetti with Chile and Sea Urchin

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Sea Urchin. AKA Uni. The gonads of this spiny echinoderm have been a delicacy in Japan and parts of the Mediterranean for years. In the past decade, however, uni has become such a trendy culinary product that it’s now difficult and expensive to track down a good source. I prefer Santa Barbara uni, which tends to be sweeter and creamier than those from Japan or Maine, and my go-to for many years was Catalina Offshore Products in San Diego. They truly are one of the best in the business. Unfortunately, due to soaring popularity, they are perpetually sold out of their famous “gold” quality uni.

My wife and I first fell for sea urchin around 2008, and our favorite place to eat it was at the now-shuttered sushi restaurant Soto. Over the years, I’ve attempted several uni recipes at home, and even though they are often delicious, my wife lovingly dismisses them as “a waste of good uni.” To her, any preparation that doesn’t feature the uni front-and-center is a bad one. However, I think this pasta dish from Battersby has changed her mind.

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Seasoned bread crumbs

Battersby, a highly regarded restaurant, is in Brooklyn, yet somehow my wife and I have never been. I have made several dishes from their cookbook, though, and one of my favorites is their sea urchin pasta. Because high-quality uni is now so expensive and hard to find, I don’t make this dish often. However, I recently acquired two new cookbooks (Estella and A Very Serious Cookbook) that have multiple recipes featuring sea urchin (can you say “trendy”?). This meant I could buy one tray of uni from the Lobster Place and stretch the cost out over several dishes. How could I resist? It was time for a bona fide uni fest, featuring four sea urchin dishes, including the Battersby pasta.  

I’m the first to sing the praises of freshly made pasta, but some dishes, like this one, require dried. And while I prefer to make all components of any given recipe myself, there’s no way I can make dried pasta as good as the pros in Southern Italy. Therefore, I ordered “spaghetti faella” a wonderful, thick and textural noodle imported by Gustiamo — a fantastic importer of unique and delicious Italian products.    

Battersby_Uni_Pasta_Calabrian Chili

Slicing Calabrian Chile

Uni isn’t the only trendy ingredient called for in this dish, as there is also Calabrian chile involved. I first heard of these flavorful, spicy cured peppers at a Degustibus class featuring acclaimed Lilia chef Missi Robbins. In the couple years since, they’ve popped up on menus all around town. Despite their popularity, they’re still somewhat tricky to find, and I usually pick mine up from Buon Italia or Eataly. With all the ingredients in hand, it was on to execution.

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Making the Sauce: Garlic and Calabrian Chile

Really, the hard part of this recipe is procuring all of the necessary ingredients. Then it’s really just a matter of making seasoned bread crumbs, sauteing garlic and chiles, boiling some spaghetti, and throwing it all together with uni. Simple right? Once plated, I topped each portion with more uni and sprinkled some pimenton espelette on top. I was particularly excited to use the espelette because I brought it back from a recent trip to basque country, and I want to go through it become it loses its pungency. It added another level of spice to compliment the more robust chile.

Battersby_Uni_Pasta_plated_3This is really a fantastic dish. People tend to either love or hate uni, but even those who don’t like it have enjoyed this pasta. It really doesn’t require all that much effort, and lends a sense of decadence to any meal.  

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Eleven Madison Park: Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Caraway

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Beets: you either love them or hate them. The once-forgotten root vegetable went through a renaissance at the start of this decade, eventually showing up everywhere from trendy hotspots to fine dining institutions. But, by now they are kind of played out. I mean, how many times can you eat a beet and goat cheese salad? Nevertheless, a lot of people still love them, and when I found out that a couple who were coming over for dinner fell into that camp, I decided to dust off an oldie-but-goodie from the first Eleven Madison Park Cookbook.  

While the flavors in this dish are pretty straightforward: beets, caraway, and goat cheese, its execution is anything but. This project takes a while to complete, and since it was part of a larger six-course meal, I began preparations a couple days beforehand with the caraway crumble. This is essentially a buttery, flaky caraway cookie that gets ground into a fine powder. 

Eleven_Madison_Park_Beet_Salad_Toasted_Caraway_Seeds

Toasting caraway seeds for various components.

Another component featuring caraway is a tuile (pronounced tweel). Chef Humm loves using these ultra-thin crispy crackers throughout his repertoire, and this one was a bit tricky for me. You have to use stencils or ring molds to shape the batter into perfect circles, while spreading it thinly and evenly enough so that the results are nice and crispy. It’s not an easy task. I ended up with tuiles that were far thicker than intended, and a bit tough.

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The caraway tuiles got a little sloppy.

The night before our guests arrived, I baked the beets. A trick here is to look for loose beets, as opposed to bunches, so that you can pick ones that are approximately the same size. Otherwise they won’t cook evenly. Now, the recipe says the beets are done when they are pierced easily with a knife. But, why potentially ruin the beets’ integrity by cutting them with a knife? A bit of advice: invest in a cake tester. They are well worth the $2.

The next day, I took the beets out of the fridge and peeled them. Another bit of advice: wear gloves. My hands were red for nearly two days.

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Beets.

The day of the dinner, I went to work on the goat cheese mousse. This was pretty simple to prepare: you just mix together sheep’s milk yogurt, chevre, skim milk, cream, and lime juice, and then pour it into a siphon, AKA whip cream dispenser. When I first started making these types of foams, I frequently had trouble getting them to dispense properly. I eventually figured out that the key is to give the container a few good shakes and always hold it at an 180 degree angle.

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No, this doesn’t stain at all. Why?

It’s not unusual for cooks to buy gadgets and devices they will almost never use. In fact, it’s probably pretty common. However, I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I actually use every piece of kitchen equipment I own on somewhat of a regular basis. This is true for every piece of kitchen equipment except one. My juicer.

I bought my juicer, not because I want to be healthy and make smoothies, but because once in a while (not very often), a recipe calls for an obscure juice you can’t buy freshly made, such as granny smith. So, when I saw that this recipe calls for fresh beet juice, I was quite excited to put the juicer to work. I reduced my beet juice by half, and then steeped in some black peppercorns and caraway. The recipe calls for fresh raspberries to be muddled in along with some red wine vinegar, but I had this amazing raspberry vinegar left over from the Eleven Madison duck ju, so I used that instead. The vinaigrette was superb.

With all of this done, the only thing left to do was plate. I omitted the dill blossoms because they are nearly impossible to find, and I’m not crazy about the way they taste, anyway. Even without them, the dish looked beautiful, and a couple people asked for seconds. I probably will not wait so long to make this dish again.  

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Stir: Prune Gnocchi

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Once upon a time — back when my wife and I were just boyfriend and girlfriend — we would take little weekend trips to nearby cities like Philadelphia, Washington D.C, and others. Actually, we may have been engaged at that point. Or, perhaps, we were newly married? Doesn’t really matter — the point is: WE DIDN’T HAVE KIDS. Back then we  could basically do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted.

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Gorgeous with biscotti or in this prune gnocchi recipe 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my daughters more than anything, but before they came along, we had a nice little tradition going: 2 or 3 times a year we would escape the hellhole (I use that term endearingly) that is New York City for Boston to eat at one of our all time favorite restaurants: No. 9 Park (which we mistakenly called “Park No 9.” for years). Located in a stately townhome overlooking Boston Common, it’s a great place for an amazing meal. The contemporary French/Italian food is superb and the service rivals that of any Michelin establishment.

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Pushing the foie through a tamis

Although my wife and I already appreciated nice dinners, this visit was, perhaps, our first real foray into fine dining. The tasting menu format, ballet-like movement of the staff, and overall polished nature of the experience was fresh and exciting to our 2010 selves. But, the thing we remembered most was the house specialty — prune stuffed gnocchi.

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Foie butter ready to be emulsified into the beurre blanc 

This dish has been on Barbara Lynch’s menu for over a decade, and there’s no way she could ever take it off. The pasta is essentially a potato dumpling stuffed with pureed prunes that have been cooked down in vin santo, a dessert wine traditionally made in Tuscany. The gnocchis are bathed in a sort of foie gras-beurre blanc and topped with seared foie gras and marcona almonds.  

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A potato ricer is essential for gnocchi 

Having this dish just twice a year was not enough for me, so I thought it would be fun to make at home. Luckily, I found a recipe online from a 2002 NY Times article. The gnocchi came out good, but not quite great. Then a year or so later, Barbara Lynch released her Stir cookbook, which had a slightly different recipe for her dish. By this time, my skills in the kitchen had improved, and I was able to use this new recipe to produce results that were no different than you’d get at her restaurant.

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Getting ready to pipe 

The NY Times calls this recipe “ a no-holds-barred spectacle, an elegant and excessive bank-breaker.” I wouldn’t go that far. Sure, it’s a project to take on, but there are far more time-consuming recipes out there. And if you use D’artagnan foie cubes, rather than buying whole foie gras, you can cut down on the costs. The trick is finding the right van santo. It’s not a wine that’s easily found, and it can be expensive. The one I’ve used for the past couple years is by Fattoria Santa Vittoria. It’s about $35 for a half bottle, which will be enough if you’re making this for 6 or fewer people (though the recipe calls for more than this).

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I forgot to grate nutmeg into the dough, so I sprinkled some in every gnocchi.

The steps are pretty clear and concise:

  1. Make the pasta filling: cook down prunes in vin santo
  2. Make the gnocchi dough: be careful not to boil too hard or too long, or you will end up with gummy gnocchi.
  3. Make the foie-butter: press foie through a tamis (don’t skip this step) and combine with soft butter. Roll in parchment paper.
  4. Fill the gnocchi, form into shape, and freeze.
  5. Make the pasta sauce. Be careful not to heat this too much, or it will break apart.   
  6. Plate the gnocchi and garnish with chervil. This herb is hard to find, but I was lucky to pick up a micro variety from Two Guys at Woodbridge, a great vendor at the Union Square farmers market.
  7. Top dish with seared foie, chopped prunes, and marcona almonds. I skipped the foie because one of our guest didn’t like it, and without the garnish I could sneak foie into the sauce without her knowing :). I used marcona almonds from Murray’s Cheese, which seem to be tastier than any other ones I’ve found.
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Ready for the freezer 

This dish, as always, tasted great — just like at the restaurant. So when my wife and I are tied down at home with our favorite little people, we can have our own little slice of No. 9 Park at home. If only our apartment overlooked Boston Common.  

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Taste and Technique: French Onion Soup

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Many accomplished chefs will say that fall and winter is their favorite time of the year to cook. They’ll tell you it’s too easy to prepare a delicious meal in summer, with gorgeous produce everywhere you look. Using more humble ingredients, and turning them into something tasty using fermentation, pickling, and long briases — now, THAT’S cooking.

Give me a break.   

Okay, maybe it’s a little exciting when the weather starts to cool down, and apples, pears, and beets start showing up at the farmer’s market. But, the cold gets old, and by the time January rolls around, I am desperate for a change. In New York, that might not happen until early June.

June.

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Just getting started.

But right now, it’s October and it still looks cute to wear sweaters and feels quaint to walk in the late afternoon darkness. And you know what I crave this time of year? Something comfortable. And, what’s more comfortable than French onion soup?

The best French onion soup I’ve ever had is from Taste and Technique, a cookbook by Naomi Pomeroy. There are some nice recipes in here, but to me this is the clear winner. Making onion soup is not rocket science, but Naomi takes it to a new level by caramelizing the onions very, very slowly over the course of nearly 3 hours with the help of some aged balsamic vinegar and dry sherry. And, I have yet to meet someone who does not say share my sentiment that this is the best French onion soup they’ve ever had.

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Getting there. 

As with any soup, the first step is the make a quality stock — nothing but homemade will do. This recipe calls for beef stock, which is a base I don’t often use. Veal, chicken, and to some extent fish and duck, are the stocks that I make on a regular basis, so I didn’t want to devote the time — nor space — to make a proper batch here. So, instead, a found some oxtails and shanks at the local grocery store, and just simmered them with a few cups of water and some aromatics for a couple hours. It was quick, easy, and tasted good.  

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Finally.

The only other real ingredients, other than the onions, of course, are the baguette and cheese. For the cheese, I picked up a nice cave-aged gruyere from a local market, and for the baguette I went with a loaf from Le Pain Quotidien. I love a good baguette, and LPQ is my best convenient option. I am so often found walking home from there with a fresh loaf in hand, that my kids have come to call baguette “daddy’s bread.”

As per the recipe, I toasted a piece of buttered baguette and dragged a smashed garlic clove across it. I dropped the bread in the soup-filled ramekin, and covered it with a massive amount of gruyere. As usual, the soup came out beautifully delicious.

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Voila!

Eleven Madison Park: Morel Custard with Trout Roe

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While ramps may be spring’s bellwether, asparagus its most versatile bounty, and strawberries its hedonistic delight, morel mushrooms are the season’s precious jewels. I’m not really a mushroomy-kind of guy, but when these beautiful and deliciously earthy guys come around each year, I use them for as long as I can before my wife eventually says, “Morels, again?”

When I first got the Eleven Madison Park the Next Chapter cookbook upon release, I immediately began to read it cover-to-cover. Since the book, logically, begins with the spring season, this morel custard recipe was one of the first ones I saw. I couldn’t wait to make it, but since it was still early autumn, I had to wait out an entire New York winter first. Those MF’ers last forever.

When the snow finally melted and the Canada Goose was stored away,  I ordered Morels from Fresh Direct and got to work on this fascinating dish. One interesting thing to note is that several of its subrecipies call for the use of dry sherry wine (Fino). Fino sherry shares many characteristics with a type of oxidized Spanish wine called Vin Jaune. This wine, which is hard to find and very expensive, pairs naturally with Morels — you might even say they go together like PB&J. So, that begs the question: why does EMP opt for fino sherry rather than Vin Jaune in this recipe? While the obvious answer is that the former is much less expensive, EMP is never one spare an expense— just look at the copious amounts of caviar, truffles, and other expensive ingredients they use. If I ever run into Daniel Humm on the street, maybe I’ll suggest he change the recipe 😉

Eleven_Madison_Park_Cookbook_Morel_Custard_Salmon_Roe.JPGThe first thing I needed to do was pick up the fish eggs that’s used to garnish the dish. While the recipe calls for trout roe, I actually prefer salmon roe. I paid a visit to Lobster Place, the city’s best fish market, to pick up a tin. While there, I successfully avoided temptation to buy any of the other beautiful products on display and fought through the tourist traffic to make my way home. Every time I come to Chelsea Market, I am bewildered. It’s basically a small mall with a few good specialty grocers and food vendors, but, yet, tourists flock from all over the world. I have nothing against tourists, per se, but when they’re at Chelsea market, they seem to walk even slower than usual, stopping to take photos in front of things that aren’t remotely landmarks or interesting in any way. Maybe I’m a jaded New Yorker, but as soon I set foot in the place, I want to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Eleven_Madison_Park_Cookbook_Morel_Custard_MorelsOnce home, I began to make the mushroom stock, which involved grinding down a variety of mushrooms in a food processor and then steeping them in water. That very fragrant stock was then used to make the morel ragout, another fairly straightforward process, which consisted of cooking down some morels with sherry and shallots.

Then it was on to the custard base, which would eventually be part of the morel custard. These steps required constant attention, but were not necessarily complicated. Many recipes in this book — such as this one — call for a combi oven (steam oven). So, when our toaster oven broke down shortly after the the book’s release, I used it as an opportunity to buy one with steam. The feature isn’t completely necessary here, though, as I’m sure this dish could just as effectively be made in a regular oven using a water bath.

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Konbu (sea kelp) to be used in the herb broth.

The herb broth was the one component that required ingredients I didn’t already have. White soy is something I’ve seen in a couple recipes, but I usually just substitute regular soy. There is a slight variation in taste between regular and white soy, but the usual purpose of the later is to impart the taste of soy sauce without its color. Kudzu starch was another perplexing ingredient. I eventually found the starch, which apparently has better thickening qualities than cornstarch without leaving behind any trace of flavour, at Kalustyans.

Eleven_Madison_Park_Cookbook_Morel_Custard_PanOnce the ramekins were out of the oven, I let them set for a bit before garnishing. I didn’t use the basil blooms, mustard flowers, or peppercress that the book calls for. Those items are not readily available, especially this early in the spring. But, since the dish came out great, when I make this again next year, I will go all out and make the plate look at beautiful and fussy as possible.

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Gramercy Tavern: Arctic Char with Cucumber Broth

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Gramercy Tavern is a New York institution. I love its well-executed food, it’s high level of service, and it’s cozy atmosphere just as much as anyone. However, when I first bought their cookbook a few years back, I was disappointed because there wasn’t very much I actually wanted to cook from it. Objectively, the book was great; it was just a matter of personal preference. However, I recently revisited the book on a summer weekend afternoon, and found that my tastes had apparently changed. Suddenly, there was a wealth of dishes here that I couldn’t wait to make myself. Since it was warm, sunny, and because I love raw fish and cucumbers, the arctic char in cucumber broth was where I decided to start.

This dish, as polished as it looks in the cookbook, is not particularly difficult to make. The hard part, in fact, is finding the very best ingredients so that the dish can really sing. To make things easy, the only ingredient here that wasn’t a cinch to find was the shiro dashi, a soup base made from white soy sauce and dashi. Luckily, in New York we have no shortage of Japanese grocery stores, so I headed over to what is, perhaps, its best one — Sunrise Market in the East Village. I went to grad school around the corner at NYU, so being here definitely brought back memories. And, since the Union Square farmers market is just a few blocks north, I headed there afterwards to the pick up the produce I needed for the dish.

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Shiro Dashi

While the recipe doesn’t specify the types of cucumbers that should be used, its accompanying photo clearly shows at least two varieties, including the hard-to-find Sandita, or, as gringos call them, Mexican Sour Gherkins. These cute little guys look like tiny watermelons but are actually mini cucumbers that have a tangy pop to them. While at the market, I also picked up nasturtium flowers to garnish the dish. These petals are not only pretty, but also have a nice, spicy kick.

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Sanditas/Mexican Sour Gherkins next to a good old fashioned cucumber

20 minutes later, I was back in Brooklyn, getting off the 4 train at Borough Hall. Since, I was just a few short blocks from Fish Tales, a fish market in Cobble Hill with very high quality fish, I stopped by to pick up some arctic char. Struggling to carry all of my bags in the mid-day heat, I made my way home praying that I left my AC on. 

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Radishes and turnips from the Union Square farmers market

As soon as I stepped inside, I put down my numerous bags, cooled down by the AC — I left it on — and got to work. I began with the marinade. As I said, with a dish like this quality ingredients are essential, and that’s particularly true with the oil and vinegar. I’ve written about by favorite vinegar brand and the amazing Oliviers & Co. olive oil in the past, but here I would like to call special attention to the Croatian variety I chose. Croatia is a little off-the-radar when it comes to olive oil, but when I sampled this in store, I knew it would perfect for dishes that require a light, delicate, and nuanced touch.

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Marinating the cucumbers

The marinade was simple to make, but since shiro dashi has a strong taste of katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), which some western palates can find off putting, I used slightly less than what was called for. I also used a bit more balsamic, as I really enjoy a nice punch of acidity with my food— especially raw fish.

What resulted was a beautiful plate of food that was equally delicious. My one regret is that I didn’t serve it with a spoon. The leftover broth on the bottom of the bowl was amazing, but I was the only one with enough chutzpah to lift up my bowl and scarf it down like cereal milk. I guess you can do that when it’s your house. 

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Not too bad

 

Eleven Madison Park: Aged Beef with Eggplant

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I was recently planning a small dinner party for which I planned to make the venison and beet dish from the Eleven Madison Park the Next Chapter Cookbook. I was excited about the recipe and had already began prepping it, even though the dinner was over a week away. However, just moments after my venison loin from D’artagnan arrived, I found out that one of my guests hates beets. This particular dish not only has beets, you see, it has beets in many variations. There’s a beet purée, beet chips, smoked beets, and a sauce made with beet juice. So, yeah, I had to find something else to make.

Autumn had just started, so even though the temperature was dropping, I browsed the summer chapter of the EMP cookbook to find something that I could still make. That’s when I came across the aged beef dish. When I first bought this book, a year ago,  this recipe didn’t really appeal to me. It seemed overly time consuming — even by EMP standards — and not necessarily worth the effort. However, this time around I was drawn in by the sauce, a complicated and decadent one that seemed like it would be fun to make — and eat. And, since eggplant season runs pretty much until November, I decided to give it a go.  

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Getting the mise en place set for the beef sauce

Before I got started, I headed to Kalustyans to pick up several relatively obscure ingredients that the dish, mainly the sauce, calls for. This includes mushroom soy sauce, black garlic, dried porcini, amaranth, and Bliss fish sauce. While shopping, I decided not to get the fish sauce, as I already had Red Boat fish sauce at home. Bliss sauce is essentially Red Boat sauce that’s been aged in bourbon barrels, which doesn’t sound particularly appealing. I mean, Bliss maple syrup (see my foie gras with maple syrup post) is excellent, but maple syrup and bourbon is an obvious combination. Bourbon and fermented fish? Not so clear. Compounding my hesitation was that the combination of charred eggplant and fish sauce did not sound tasty to me. True, I love baba ganoush, which is essentially charred eggplant and tahina, but fish sauce ain’t tahina. Nevertheless, as the cashier was ringing up my items, I thought “I better do this right,” and ran to the back of the store to grab the bottle.  

On my way to the train, I realized it was Monday, so the Union Square farmers market, which was just a few blocks away, was in full swing. It was a good time to pick up Japanese eggplants for the pickling solution, a step that needed to be completed at least two days before the dinner party. So, I picked up some eggplant, along with the required thai and regular basil, and headed home.

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Japanese eggplants

The next day, I stopped by the butcher to procure the protein. I knew 140-day dry aged beef was probably out of the question, but if there was anyone who would have something close, it would be the fabulous Dellapietras, one of best butchers in the city. Their offerings are pricey, but you can’t beat the quality of their inhouse-aged beef. When I asked what’s the longest-aged beef they had, a butcher brought me to the aging room and enthusiastically showed me a whole rib eye that was approximately 100 days old. It smelled and looked beautiful. He cut a couple chops for me, vacuum-packed them, and I was on my way.

On Thursday I began the eggplant puree, a component that could be made several days in advance. While the recipe calls for the small Italian eggplants to be charred in a cast-iron pan, I opted for the broiler. I’ve charred many eggplants this way for various middle-eastern dishes, and they always come out great. After the eggplants were done, I reluctantly blended in the fish sauce. I took a taste expecting the worse, but was blown away. It was good. Really good.

Next up was the arduous process of the beef fat-amaranth crumble. This labor intensive component didn’t seem like it would be worth the effort to make, but I wasn’t going to skip it. The first step was to make the dried amaranth, which meant boiling the grains, dehydrating them for several hours, then deep frying them at 400 degrees for 3 seconds. The second step was to make the shallot crumble. Now, I’ve made fried shallots before, and usually you just heat the oil super high and fry, but this particular recipe calls for starting in room temperature oil and gradually frying them over the course of 30 minutes. This seemed unnecessary, but in the end was worth it. The results were more nuanced and less bitter than your traditional fried shallot. I combined the fried amaranth and shallot crumble and put them away until Saturday, when I would be adding the third and final layer of the crumble: fried beef fat.

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Frying the shallots: my lens got steamy!

When I woke on Saturday morning, I couldn’t wait to make the the beef sauce — so that’s where I started.  The basic building block of this sauce is a deep, highly reduced chicken ju. I already had some of this ready to go, as I made it the previous weekend in advance of the venison dish I had planned to make. Usually, when I make this ju I omit the chicken feet, but I had coincidentally seen them in a grocery store, so I thought ‘why not’? The thing that freaked me out, though, was how human-like chicken feet look, complete with what seemed to be well-manicured nails. I put the package in my fridge upside down and told my wife, “there is something on the bottom shelf of the fridge that is upside down. Don’t look at it because you might scream and/or vomit.”

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Going into the beef sauce

I combined the ju with regular chicken stock, ribeye bones I had browned, and about 10 other ingredients and simmered it all for 45 minutes. In just a few short moments, my entire apartment smelled amazing.    

While the sauce did its thing, I began the fried beef fat component of the beef-amaranth crumble. When the butcher was carving my chops from the ribeye, I had asked him to reserve the fat, which seemed like an unusual request, but he was happy to oblige. I had about a half pound, which was barely enough. I followed the instructions to render the fat and crisp the solids, but I guess I wasn’t really paying close attention, because I let them burn. They tasted awful, and my only hope was that I would have enough fat trim left over when portioning the steaks to try this all over again.  

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Approximately 100-day aged ribeye

Cutting the ribeye steak into separate caps and eyes was daunting. This was rare and expensive beef, and I couldn’t afford to mess it up. To exacerbate my nervousness, there was — surprisingly — almost no information online about doing this. Nevertheless, I followed my gut and ended up with what I believe were nicely trimmed portions.

With the steak portions all set, I realized that I had enough fat left over to give the fried beef fat another go. This time I chopped the fat more finely (I neglected to realize the first time that the fat was supposed to be ground), and whisked more frequently as I kept a close eye on the color. As soon as the fat solids hit golden brown, I separated them from the rendered liquid, and placed them on a paper towel to cool off and dry. Once cool, I took a little taste. I couldn’t help but say “Lord, have mercy,” as it was one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted.

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Crispy bits of aged beef fat

At this point, the only outstanding item was the pickled eggplant slices. The recipe actually calls for using a deli slicer, which I don’t have, but I found that a Benriner mandolin worked perfectly well. Now all that was left was the actual beef.

While at Eleven Madison they sear the steak and finish it in an oven, I decided to cook this sous vide. This was for two reasons. First, there was so much that could go wrong with this complex recipe that I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Perhaps more importantly, though, was that these were really thick cuts of beef, and cooking them the specified way would engulf my Brooklyn apartment in smoke. So, I seasoned the portions, vacuumed them, and put them in a water bath at exactly 134 degrees Fahrenheit about 3 hours before I planned to sear them and serve.

The next couple hours were a blur, drinking good wine with great friends and eating a few good courses of food. Then it was showtime. After cooking the eggplant planks in beef fat and searing the steak portions, I carefully plated the dishes as close to the book as possible. And, to add a sense of pomp and obnoxiousness, I used a Mauviel copper saucepan I had bought in Paris to sauce the dish tableside.

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Everyone loved the dish, and one guest even said it was “on par with the best steak I’ve had at any top steakhouse.” Those words got me feeling pretty good, until much later, when I was cleaning up and realized the full bowl of pickling glaze (a concoction I made by blending leftover pickling solution with xanthan gum) on the counter. I completely forgot to brush the eggplant with it, which made me realize the dish totally could have used a pop of acid to cut through all the fat. In retrospect, the pickled eggplant didn’t have enough acidity to accomplish that on its own. Oh, well, now I have a reason to make this dish again; I’ll just have to wait a year.  

 

Eleven Madison Park: Strawberry Poached with Elderflower and Vanilla

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Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm isn’t particularly known for his work with strawberries. But, he should be. Every time I make an Elven Madison dish that involves spring’s favorite fruit, it turns out amazing. I recently wrote about the strawberry gazpacho dish from the first Eleven Madison cookbook, and now I want to talk about the Strawberry Elderflower desert in their second cookbook.

I’ll cut to the chase: it’s delicious.

Like many Eleven Madison dishes, this concoction contains several subrecipes that are challenging in their own right, and results in a dish that can take many hours to recreate. Fortunately, some of these subrecipes can be done a day or two ahead of time, but it’s still a lot of work.

A couple days before I planned on serving this desert, I picked up most of the ingredients, and got started on a couple of the subcomponents. First up was the elderflower cream. This is basically a simple pastry cream with the addition of Saint Germain. I happened to have some of the liquor left over from when I made Jean Georges’ signature parsnip soup (blog post to follow), so that was one less ingredient that I had to buy.

Eleven_Madison_Park_Strawberry_Elderflower_Strawberry_CrateI also didn’t have to pick up any strawberries, because my family and I had recently gone strawberry picking in New Jersey. We ended up with a ton of farm-fresh berries to use, which was nice because this dish requires a lot of them.

This dessert also requires a large amount of elderflower syrup. I love when recipes call out the specific brands of ingredients they use, as such specificity can really make or break a dish. Few cookbooks actually do this, with the second Eleven Madison book being a rare exception. So, when such instructions are given, I take them seriously and do my best to seek out the right ingredients. Between living in NYC and the miracles of the internet, I don’t think there was ever a time I could not find a particular brand of a specific ingredient. Until now. I am familiar with Nikolaihof brand, as I very much enjoy their gruner veltliner wine. However, their elderflower syrup is made in extremely small batches and released just once a year. I simply could not find it. Instead, I found another brand, D’Arbo, which had great reviews on Amazon. It did not let me down.

Eleven_Madison_Park_Strawberry_Elderflower_SyrupOne of my first steps was to create a strawberry liquid by vacuum sealing strawberries with sugar and putting the mixture in a steam oven for an hour.  Many recipes in the Eleven Madison book call for either a steam oven or a convection oven, neither of which I ever had. So, when our toaster oven broke down last December, I took it as an opportunity to buy a fancy Cuisinart combi-oven. This thing is fantastic, and it’s reassuring to know I’m making these subcomponents true to the recipe’s specifications. One thing to note is that it’s not necessary to strain the cooked strawberries for two hours, as the recipes says. All the juice you need should have been released during the steaming.

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Strawberries vacuum sealed and ready to be steamed

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Strawberries poached in strawberry juice and elderflower syrup

Similarly, I do not think the full amount of elderflower syrup (almost an entire bottle) the recipe calls for to make the poached strawberries is necessary. I mixed a much smaller amount with some the strawberry juice, brought it to a boil, and poached the fresh berries.  

In theory, the vanilla ice cream can be done days before, but I skipped this step completely and just went with a high-end store-bought one. After all, it’s just vanilla, and the ice cream is a mere afterthought compared to the dish’s two main stars: strawberries and elderflower. If you go this route, do try to get the best ice cream you possibly can. I went with Van Leeuwen, which is made in small batches right here in Brooklyn.

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Angel food cake

The day I actually planned to serve this dish, I woke up early to bake the angel food cake. In reality, cake isn’t that hard to make, but when you tell someone you baked one from scratch, it sounds impressive. Now, my wife has been known, to my dismay, to sleep-in on the weekends, while I handle the kids and begin to cook that evening’s diner. And on this lovely spring Saturday, she slept particularly late, so when she woke up I tried to make her feel guilty by saying “you know I did while you were sleeping? I baked a cake.”

She didn’t really care.

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Roasted strawberry puree

Next up on the agenda was the roasted strawberry puree, which was pretty simple to make. However, one thing that the recipe failed to provide clarity on was whether or not to include the large amount of strawberry juice that leaks out into the actual puree, or if it should be omitted. I decided to dump it all in, even though I knew deep down the best course of action would be to include a little of the juice, slowly adding more until it I had just the right consistency. I neglected to heed my own advice, however, and what resulted was a puree that was too thin and would not hold in a piping bag.

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Adding a gelatin sheet to the foam base

Foams often give me a hard time. I’ve gotten better at making them, but I can never be sure if I am going to end up with a usable product. This one was simple to make, but when I first tried to dispense it, it came out super thin and not foamy at all. I put it back in the fridge for a couple hours, hoping that it was an issue with the gelatin needing to reset after breaking the mixture apart to pour it in the siphon (as per the recipe). I was right. To my delight I ended up with a perfect foam.

Ultimately, this was a very pretty, extremely delicious dessert that I plan to make over and over again. It definitely requires a lot of patience, but is not particularly difficult to pull off.   

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Eleven Madison Park: Strawberry Gazpacuho

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One of the very best aspects of spring is getting to eat local, fresh strawberries. Asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, and ramps may arrive earlier and, therefore, generate a lot of excitement as a harbinger of nicer weather, but there’s no produce this time of the year that simply tastes as delicious as those little red berries. There is a huge discrepancy between the taste and texture of out-of-season strawberries and ones that are fresh from the farm. So much so, that I virtually refuse to eat strawberries when they are not straight from the farm or farmer’s market.

Eleven_Madison_Park_Strawberry_Gazpaucho_Harrys_BerriesUnfortunately, strawberries arrive much later in the New York-area than they do out west, a fact that was exacerbated by the never-ending winter we had this year. While waiting for the local goods to sprout, however, Harry’s Berries of Oxnard, California provided some relief. For those that don’t know, Harry’s Berries produces some of the world’s greatest strawberries and ships them to high-end restaurants and a few select retailers. These gems are adored by chefs and served — by name — at restaurants as hallow as the French Laundry and Le Bernardin. And because they come from California, they start arriving in April instead of late May.

Once the strawberries start rolling in, I begin dreaming about what to make. One of my favorites is the strawberry gazpacho from the first Eleven Madison Park Cookbook. Not only is it one of the more delicious dishes listed, it is by far the easiest recipes from of either of the restaurant’s two books.

Because the dish is so simple, its execution really depends on the quality of the ingredients. It should be obvious that the freshest strawberries should be used, but I would also like to emphasize the importance of quality olive oil and vinegar.

I’ve discussed my obsession with olive oil before, so I won’t go into that here. I will say that the light, fruity Croatian variety I picked up at O & Co. worked perfectly with this dish. It’s also worth noting that I’m just as fanatical about my vinegar. The difference a high quality vinegar can make in a dish is enormous. I am particularly fond of products by the Californian company, “O”.

Ingredients in hand, the first step is to make the croutons. These are actually going to be blended into the gazpacho to give it body, so it’s important to use high-quality whole grain bread. I picked mine up at the local farmer’s market, cut it into cubes, and toasted them with garlic, thyme, and olive oil until they were well-browned and almost crunchy.

Eleven_Madison_Strawberry_Gazpaucho_Brea_CrumbsOnce the croutons are out of the way, the dish is incredibly straightforward to complete. You simply halve the strawberries and diced the vegetables, add some croutons and the olive oil/vinegar, then just let it marinate on your counter for six hours to let all the flavors come together and do their thing.

While this is all happening, the strawberry confit can be made by tossing sliced strawberries with powdered sugar and olive oil, then putting them in low oven for a couple hours.

Eleven_Madison_Strawberry_Gazpaucho_MarinatingAfter the strawberry concoction has marinated for a few hours, it’s time to blend it all together. It’s important to do this well-ahead of serving time, so that the gazpacho can properly chill. After blending, it’s integral to strain through a choinois. Don’t skimp on this. If you don’t already have a chinois, get one. It is a great piece of equipment you must own if you are serious about cooking. It will make your sauces, soups, and other components silky smooth. And, no, a regular colander will not do.

Eleven_Madison_Park_Strawberry_Gazpaucho_VitamixOnce I had the final product ready, it was time to season it with Tabasco. When making this dish, I feel that 5-6 drops of the hot sauce is plenty. Any more than that and you risk overshadowing the subtle complexity of the dish with overt heat.

I don’t eat pork, so I skipped the guanciale that the recipe cals for. But it seems unnecessary, anyway. This is delicious and beautiful without it. The combination of strawberries with the more savory components is unexpected and welcomed, and is sure to delight your guests.
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