Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc and Parsnip Puree

Food Blog November 2014-0893It will come as no surprise to you that I am late with this post. I mean, here it is Monday and it’s up and all that, but a quick check of the calendar belies my appearance of timeliness. See, it’s December. It’s December and this is a sauce recipe I owe you from last month. By my twisted, grasping-for-an-apology way of thinking, though, I ate it in November… so that totally counts, right?

Food Blog November 2014-0872This time around, we’re back to butter. There are a lot of butter based sauces, friends. A lot. This one, a beurre blanc, is a sauce made by reducing white wine with aromatics and sometimes a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, then whisking in an unbelievable amount of butter until the sauce turns into this rich, fluffy, thick, pale yellow ambrosia that belongs draped over every kind of substance imaginable.

Food Blog November 2014-0875Food Blog November 2014-0879Most of these sauces have dubious origin stories. Who wouldn’t want to be responsible for a well-loved buttery emulsion as appropriate to green beans as to seared fish? Cooking lore holds, however, that beurre blanc was created by accident – an unintentional simplification of béarnaise sauce that caught on and became beloved. Julia Child writes about it with the affection you might expect for a sauce that is, in her words, essentially “warm flavored butter.”

Food Blog November 2014-0880Food Blog November 2014-0881This is not Julia Child’s recipe. For ease, and for clarity, I went with Alton Brown’s. Mine is a slight adaptation – I halved the recipe, and I didn’t have the traditional shallot so I simply omitted it. Alton’s sauce uses lemon juice instead of white wine vinegar, which suggests it was meant to go with fish or seafood, and this decided my pairings for me. Lemon and butter sauce? Pass the scallops.

Food Blog November 2014-0870The silkiness of this sauce is perfect with shellfish. I can imagine dipping lush hunks of lobster into it. I can imagine a drizzle over soft-shell crab. I would be more than satisfied with a pool underneath a piece of halibut or cod. But scallops won the day for me. These perfect little cylinders, meaty and mild and almost sweet, develop a perfect crust when you pat them dry, season them aggressively, and sear them golden-brown on top and bottom. When you douse them with sauce, or float them in a puddle of it, the buttery smoothness somehow elevates them even more.

Food Blog November 2014-0882Because I was eating alone, I decided to play with plating a bit more than usual. As I see it, there are many ways to serve this dinner. I tried two options. First, and a bit more everyday, is a lovely heap of parsnip puree, a few scallops nestled atop it, and a small pile of steamed slender green beans alongside. A healthy drizzle of sauce, and you are ready to serve.

Food Blog November 2014-0883Food Blog November 2014-0884To amp up the presentation though, I grabbed a long rectangular dish. A few small bundles of green beans at intervals along the plate, small mounds of puree between them, and a tender scallop balanced on each spoonful of puree. Sauce can be applied to the top of each scallop, or poured around the edges of the plate just before serving.

Food Blog November 2014-0893

Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc and Parsnip Puree
Serves 2

For the parsnip puree:

3-4 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chives, finely minced
For the beurre blanc:
4 ounces dry white wine
½ tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon heavy cream
6 tablespoons cold, cubed butter
salt to taste
For the scallops:
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to sprinkle
12 large sea scallops, at room temperature

 

  • Place the milk, garlic cloves, and parsnip chunks into a medium pot over medium heat. The moment the milk begins to bubble, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the parsnips are tender, 10-12 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the butter until melted.
  • Blend until very smooth using an immersion blender, a regular blender, or a food processor. Just before serving, fold in the chives.
  • While the milk for the parsnips is heating up, make the beurre blanc.
  • In a small pot, heat the wine and lemon juice to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the liquid to a bare tablespoon.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the half tablespoon of cream, which will help stabilize the mixture.
  • As soon as the liquid begins to bubble again, turn the heat down as low as it will go and begin adding the butter, one cube at a time, whisking until completely integrated into the liquid before adding the next cube.
  • Continue adding the butter, whisking constantly, until it is all integrated. Turn off the heat and continue whisking until the sauce is fully emulsified and has become a fluffy, pale yellow puddle slightly thicker than melted ice cream.
  • Stow the finished sauce in a thermos to stay warm while you cook the scallops.
  • Unwrap your scallops and pat them dry with a paper towel. If they are wet, they will not sear well. Sprinkle both sides of each scallop with salt and pepper.
  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. When it is shimmering in the pan, carefully add the scallops in a single layer, taking care not to let them touch one another. This seems fussy, but it is essential for getting a good sear.
  • Once you have placed each scallop, don’t touch them for 2 full minutes. Then, carefully lift one and check the bottom – it should have a deep bronzed crust. If this is the case, flip over each scallop and cook another 2 minutes. If it isn’t deeply bronzed yet, let it cook another 30 seconds before checking again.
  • When the scallops are cooked, they should feel slightly springy but resistant, like a firm mattress. Ideally, they should be the palest, palest pink in the center as in my photo above – they will continue to cook while you plate the rest of the meal.
  • To serve, arrange as desired with scallops atop or beside the parsnip puree, and the beurre blanc sauce drizzle over the top or puddled on the side. Accompany the dish with steamed green beans or pencil asparagus, if desired.

Apple-ginger-bread with nutmeg “hard” sauce for #Twelve Loaves October

Food Blog October 2014-0722As soon as I saw that the October assignment for Twelve Loaves was apples, I thought of cinnamon. But then my contrary side took over. Apples and cinnamon is such a natural pairing, it’s practically expected. Why not give someone else a chance? Why not ginger? The searing spiciness of ginger against the cool sweetness of apples sounded like a worthy combination, and I was off and running with not just an answer to the Twelve Loaves assignment, but for my long postponed sauce project as well.

Food Blog October 2014-0735My mom has, on and off since I was little, made a holiday dessert of gingerbread and a warm, well-spiced, rum-spiked sauce. The gingerbread is a homely 9×9 layer, cut into unremarkable uniform squares. The sauce, almost still bubbling, gets spooned over the top, and a swirl of whipped cream inevitably slides right off the square of cake onto the plate beside it, already losing its fluff from the heat of the sauce. I love it.

Food Blog October 2014-0702But like so many desserts, Mom’s gingerbread with nutmeg sauce belongs to the winter. We only ever have it around Christmas and New Year’s. There’s something about its flavors that requires chill in the air. Contrary once again, I decided to see what could be done about that.

Food Blog October 2014-0705Food Blog October 2014-0706We call it a bread, but gingerbread is truly a dark, moist cake. It’s redolent with spices and sticky-sweet from large doses of molasses. Its crumbs cling wetly together and, though not particularly dense, it feels rich and heavy.

Food Blog October 2014-0700I poked around and shifted things a bit, landing on a slight adaptation of Laurie Colwin’s gingerbread recipe in her lovely little book Home Cooking. First of all, if I was going to pass this off as a bread, it needed to be in a loaf pan. This is suitable for dessert, of course, but it should also be acceptable as an afternoon snack. For freshness (and to meet the terms of the challenge, of course), I added the diced chunks of two apples. Two eggs and some buttermilk lighten things up. And finally, because I can’t leave well enough alone, to the already tremendous tablespoon of ground ginger I was prepared to include, I insisted on a palmful of finely chopped crystallized ginger as well.

Food Blog October 2014-0712Food Blog October 2014-0714Food Blog October 2014-0715Now, this bread on its own is a marvelous thing. The apples and the ginger are good playmates, and the spiciness of the bread elicits a harvest feel. With a cup of tea or a mug of apple cider, this bread is perfect.

Food Blog October 2014-0732But sometimes you want more than perfect. Enter Nutmeg Sauce: a silky, buttery, creamy spill dotted with grains of freshly grated nutmeg and discolored in the most wonderful way by a generous dose of dark rum. When I first nabbed this recipe from my mom, I thought this was another classic. Due to its inclusion of alcohol, I’d always thought it was a “hard sauce.” This name, however, comes not from the inebriating potential of the concoction, but the texture: a hard sauce is, well, hard. It’s a solid, buttery spread intended to be served in a cold, spoonable dollop. Nutmeg sauce, on the other hand, is served hot (it’s good cold as well, though it does get a bit clumpy). It is thickened to a pourable velvet with cornstarch, and it is the ideal addition to an already-perfect slice of gingerbread.

Food Blog October 2014-0734Food Blog October 2014-0740Here, though I was determined to serve them together, I must admit: the bread was good. The sauce was good. Together, they were friendly but not in love (still, I wouldn’t say no to yet another generously garnished slice). But I think I know how they could become so. Despite my most contrary, resistant feelings, I think replacing the nutmeg in the sauce with cinnamon, for the sake of the apples, would be the perfect pairing. Sometimes you just shouldn’t fight the classics.

Food Blog October 2014-0736

Apple-ginger-bread
Adapted from Laurie Colwin
Makes one 9×5 inch loaf
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
scant ½ cup molasses
½ cup buttermilk
2 sweet (rather than tart) apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and diced
2 tablespoons finely minced crystallized or candied ginger

 

  • Preheat the oven to 325F and lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and the ground spices.
  • In a large bowl (I used the bowl of my stand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until a light, fluffy mixture forms. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to combine after each. Add the vanilla and the molasses and mix well, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure complete integration.
  • Add about ⅓ of the flour mixture and beat to combine, then add half the buttermilk. Repeat with another ⅓ of the flour mixture, then the other half of the buttermilk, and finally the last ⅓ of the flour mixture, mixing until the batter is homogenous each time.
  • Finally, add the apples and the minced crystallized ginger and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape and pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and bake at 325 until a toothpick or cake tester inserted through the center emerges with only one or two damp crumbs; 70-80 minutes.
  • For the sake of structural integrity, let cool in the loaf pan for at least 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Serve with or without nutmeg sauce.

 

Nutmeg “hard” sauce
Makes about 1 cup
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or try it with cinnamon to marry with the apples, and tell me all about it)
¼ cup butter
2 tablespoons dark rum (or 2 teaspoons vanilla)
1 cup whole milk

 

  • Pour the sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg into a small pan. Set the pan over medium heat, and with a whisk, stir in the milk and the butter.
  • Cook over medium, whisking slowly but consistently, until a sluggish boil is reached. Continue whisking for another 3-4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly to a texture like barely melted ice cream.
  • Remove from heat and add rum (or vanilla); serve hot.

Apricot Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Food Blog September 2014-0579I wasn’t expecting that a barbecue sauce would be one of the dozen pourable concoctions I developed this year. Call me a snob but, barbecue sauce? It just seems so… pedestrian. Break out a bottle, squeeze it over some drumsticks, and reach for the wet-naps.

Food Blog September 2014-0570But that’s exactly what happened. Faced with a summer that just won’t end (upper 80s/low 90s predicted for the first weekend of October. October, people!), we couldn’t bear to waddle back to the butter-laden list of French classics. Brimming from the success of last month’s gastrique, I found myself continuing to think about fruit-based sauces – at once sweet and tart and deep in flavor from long simmering – and realized that barbecue sauce is, at its core, something like a gussied-up gastrique. There’s almost always a molasses or brown sugar component, and there’s usually vinegar of some kind, even if that is hidden within one of the most ubiquitous barbecue sauce ingredients of all: ketchup.

Food Blog September 2014-0575I’ve never been a huge fan of ketchup, so I decided to steer clear of it here and build my own collection of flavors. I’d been considering the merits of combining the flavors of apricot and bourbon, and what better place to do that than in a sticky, bubbly sauce, well-spiced, just aching to be brushed gently over some lucky poultry? Deeply caramelized onions, a squeeze of dijon mustard, a whisper of cayenne, and some cider vinegar joined the party, and then, because the richness and depth of concentrated tomato is such an expected note in this sort of sauce, I gave in and added some tomato paste for verisimilitude.

Food Blog September 2014-0573The important thing about this sauce is the time you give it. The onions must be cooked down and toffee colored. The simmer must last at least twenty minutes – I did mine for thirty before I was satisfied. The thick, slightly lumpy result can be used as is, or you can give it a quick whir with an immersion blender or standard blender to make a glossy, velvety smooth glaze you’d eat just as happily on a piece of toast as on a grilled chicken breast or pork chop (at least, if you’re me). I briefly considered using fresh apricots here rather than preserves, but since the prep time already promised to be the better part of an hour, I decided to take just one shortcut. Besides, the sweetness quotient in fresh apricots is unpredictable, and dealing with their thin, impatient skins did not sound like a welcome addition to my weekend plans. The guaranteed sticky thickness of a pectin-laced jar of preserves was the kind of guarantee I wanted.

Food Blog September 2014-0576It should not come as a surprise that apricot and bourbon, balanced against a meaty tomato backdrop and laced with just enough spice, are a beautiful match. The chicken thighs we lacquered this onto never stood a chance. Neither would pork, or salmon, and I’d even venture that with a splash of soy sauce, this could make an interesting adaptation of teriyaki to sauce a bowl of perfectly steamed rice and veg. What’s more, even though it’s still summer here, the blend of fruity sweetness and dark caramel from the bourbon make this sauce a lovely offering for fall as well, if you are lucky enough where you are to be watching the seasons shift.

Food Blog September 2014-0582

Apricot Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
Makes 1 cup (will generously sauce 6-8 chicken thighs)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion (about ½ a large onion – I like the purple ones)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup apricot preserves
½ cup bourbon + 1 tablespoon, divided
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
6-8 boneless chicken thighs or desired protein

 

  • In a 10-12 inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the finely diced onions with a pinch of salt. Slap on the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are nicely caramelized. Lidding the skillet will help the onions brown faster while allowing for less burning.
  • When the onions are caramelized to your liking (deeper brown = deeper flavor), add the tomato paste, mustard, and cider vinegar and stir through. Then add the apricot preserves, the water, the salt and the black and cayenne peppers.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat and add the ½ cup of bourbon (reserve the remaining 1 tablespoon for later). We are doing this off the heat to prevent an accidental flame-up; alcohol can and will catch on fire!
  • Stir all ingredients together, bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes (but 30 is better).
  • When sauce is thick and shiny, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Puree if desired for a smooth consistency, then stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of bourbon.
  • To use, season your chicken thighs to your liking (maybe just salt and pepper, maybe a fancy spice rub). Preheat your grill to high heat and oil the grates.
  • Add the chicken thighs to the grill, spreading them out for faster, more even cooking, and brush the exposed side with the sauce. Close the grill lid and cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.
  • After 5 minutes, flip the chicken over, brush with more of the sauce, and close the lid to cook for another 5 minutes.
  • With a clean brush, slick the chicken one more time with the sauce and cook for a final 1 minute, just to get the surface really sticky and glazed and good. Serve hot, with whatever you deem best for a barbecue. For us, that meant potato salad and corn on the cob.

Project Sauce: Peppercorn Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Plum Gastrique

Today’s entry rounds out my eighth month of this sauce project. I’ve learned a number of things thus far, but the one that remains the most challenging is this: sauce is a component, not a complete product. That means you must not only execute the sauce itself, but you also have to decide what to drizzle, spoon, scoop, pour, or dab it over!

Food Blog August 2014-0442Sometimes this is quite simple. Hollandaise, for example, is such a classic that eggs benedict spring immediately to mind. A few weeks ago, my meunière sauce had a similar effect, demanding as it does a particular fish to moisten and flavor. And in fact, once I figured out what the next entry in my little project would be, I had no trouble dreaming up how I would serve it. It would be a gastrique – a French sauce that melts sugar and vinegar together into a thick, sweet-sour glaze. Mine, since it’s the height of summer and every week I can’t help but fill a bag with stone fruit at our local Farmers’ Market, would be dressed up a touch with the addition of plums. As soon as I knew this, I knew I wanted to serve it over moist lovely slices of pork tenderloin. Easy. Done.

Food Blog August 2014-0440Except.

Let’s straighten out an unfortunate item of business here, friends. N. doesn’t like pork. Oh he loves bacon. Sausage, especially breakfast sausage, is a treat. He’ll eat various smoked and cured pig-based items: prosciutto and pancetta are consumed with gusto and exotics like guanciale or chorizo are just fine. He’ll even tolerate ham, though it wouldn’t be his first choice. But pork itself, not treated with smoke or salt or brine, elicits a sneer. He would never order pork tenderloin in a restaurant. Ribs are more trouble than they’re worth. Even pulled pork had better be swimming in a pretty flavorful sauce to keep him interested. I have to get my pork chop fix when I visit my parents without him. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s breaded and fried, grilled up, or seared and roasted. He’ll have the chicken, thanks.

Food Blog August 2014-0426This, as you can imagine, was a considerable wrench aimed at my little plan. But the idea of silky, tangy, liquid plum dribbling over a thick slice of tenderloin sounded too good. I decided he would just have to deal. So I rolled the tenderloin in a blend of crushed peppercorns, coarse salt, and thyme leaves. I seared it, I roasted it, I let it rest. I cut it in thick, moist slices and served him a few with a coating of ruby sauce.

Food Blog August 2014-0428He went back for seconds. Later, I caught him in the refrigerator tasting just one more slice. He considered piling the leftovers onto some sourdough for a lunch sandwich the next day. Um, pork.

Food Blog August 2014-0432I can only figure one of two answers here. One, it could be that the heat from the crushed peppercorns was so powerful that it disguised the porcine flavor he’s so tepid about. Two, and this is the option I choose to believe: the pairing was so perfect, and the gastrique so sublimely flavored, that he couldn’t help himself but to fall hard for the combination.

Food Blog August 2014-0434Whichever it was, and however you feel about pork, this sauce is definitely worth trying. No butter this time; this sauce contains no dairy, no eggs, and no flour. It’s completely different from every other sauce I’ve approached thus far, with one exception: it must be simmered to thicken. Here, though, rather than emulsifying butter or letting flour granules soak up liquid or gently cooking egg yolks to coax out their protein strands, we’re contending with melting sugar and evaporating water content. In my version, the sugar and vinegar required to make this a gastrique are joined by gloriously ripe red plums, cooked down into a jammy pulp (helped out with the determined application of a potato masher), strained, and then returned to the pan just to help a few bits of diced raw plum heat through, for some texture. And all of this happens while the pork is cooking, so everything is ready to go at roughly the same time.

Food Blog August 2014-0437Food Blog August 2014-0438If you’re not a pork tenderloin fan, I think this would also work really well with salmon, or with various varieties of poultry. It would also provide the perfect wilt as the dressing in a warm salad of dark leafy greens; I’d opt for spinach. And save the skins and pulp after you’ve strained out the glorious velvet sauce. Warm or cool, perhaps with an additional sprinkle of sugar, they make a fantastic tart spread for toast.

Food Blog August 2014-0441

Peppercorn crusted pork tenderloin with plum gastrique
Gastrique recipe adapted from The Tomato Tart
Serves 4
 
For the pork:
1 lb. boneless pork tenderloin
1-2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, crushed (we used 2 tablespoons, which was aggressively peppery. If you are concerned about spice, try 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, for searing
 
For the gastrique:
4 ripe plums, divided (the riper they are, the faster they will cook down)
½ cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt

 

  • Preheat the oven to 350F. While it warms, combine crushed peppercorns, thyme, and salt on a large plate or a sheet tray, and roll the pork through it, coating it on all sides.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium-high in a large skillet. When it is rippling but not quite smoking, add the pork and sear it until golden-brown on all sides. This should take 2-3 minutes per side. As each side sears, leave it alone. You won’t get a lovely golden crust if you shake the pan and move the pork around too much.
  • When the outside of the pork is a uniform golden-brown (though of course quite raw on the inside still), relocate it to a rack on a roasting pan (I just placed a rack over the sheet tray I’d used earlier) and roast in your 350F oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the interior tests 150F. Then remove it from the oven, wrap tightly with aluminum foil and leave it for 10 minutes. During this time the temperature will rise to 160F, which is perfect.
  • Slice and serve with warm plum gastrique. A few slices, nicely sauced, over a bed of goat cheese polenta is quite nice.

 

  • While the pork is roasting, make the plum gastrique. Pit and quarter three of the plums. Pit the fourth plum, cut it into a small dice, and set aside.
  • Add the three quartered plums, the vinegar, and the sugar to a saucepan and cook over medium heat until simmering.
  • Turn the heat down, maintaining the simmer, and cook for 5 minutes. Then, using a potato masher (or, if they are really ripe, just the back of a spoon), mash up the plums, skins and all, into a pulpy mess.
  • Cook, stirring often, until the mixture gets syrupy – about 15 minutes.
  • Pour and/or smash the mixture through a strainer to separate the pulp and skins. You can do this into a bowl, or right back into the saucepan. Either way, once the mixture is strained, pour the sauce portion back into the pan, add the diced plumps and a pinch of salt, and cook over low heat for 5 minutes just to heat everything through.
  • Serve warm.

Project Sauce: Sole Meunière

We are now, with one exception that you’ll see in a week or two, deep into the butter portion of this sauce project. It makes sense. Most of the big deal “mother” sauces are French, and the French do have a soft spot for butter. And that makes sense too. I mean, all you have to do is melt a few tablespoons of butter and you’ve already got a sauce. Think of the way it softens with the maple syrup on your pancakes, becoming something so much richer and more complex than either would have been by themselves! So let’s talk about some buttery details for a minute, and then I’ll take you to our sauce this week: meunière, a classic butter and lemon sauce specifically intended to be served with a sautéed filet of sole.

Food Blog August 2014-0418As I continue to learn about sauces, I’m seeing emulsion after emulsion. A fat bound to a liquid, often with some thickening agent that gives body to the sauce and helps the normally separate ingredients get along. Think vinaigrette: the fat is the olive oil, the liquid is the vinegar. Dropped into a glass together, they form distinct layers. But beat them vigorously, often with a dollop of mustard to help them blend, and they become a thick, rich dressing. Kitchen magic.

Food Blog August 2014-0402What I’m finding quite interesting about butter is that whole butter, the sort we buy in paper-wrapped sticks, is in fact an emulsion in itself. The butterfat, which is what solidifies when milk is churned, is the fat portion. But there is also some water in butter, and there are milk proteins too, which stabilize the emulsion. So in that one stick you have a liquid component and a fat component, hanging together in stasis.

Food Blog August 2014-0409When you brown butter, that darling of savory and sweet concoctions alike, several things happen. First, as the butter melts and bubbles furiously, you are seeing the water content boil off. If you stop at this point, skimming off any solids on the surface and reserving just the molten gold of the butterfat, you have clarified butter. But if instead you keep cooking it, the milk proteins that once acted as emulsifiers start to toast, and become deeply bronzed, and you have brown butter. You can even see those proteins roasting and browning in the photo above.

Meunière sauce capitalizes on brown butter. And with the water content of the butter boiled off, it needs a liquid to play with again, so we add the tart brightness of lemon juice. And then, for an herbal note, a scattering of parsley. That’s it. It’s so simple it feels almost like cheating. And yet it’s a classic, likely because how could a splash of butter and lemon be anything but delicious?

Food Blog August 2014-0410Unlike most other sauces, aside perhaps from hollandaise, meunière is pretty dish specific. It doesn’t really stand alone; it’s a sauce but also indicates preparation: sole meunière, or sometimes trout meunière. And though I obeyed and ladled mine over two delicate white filets, I could just as easily see this sauce, essentially a hot vinaigrette, serving as a bright gravy for mashed potatoes or roasted chicken. I would ladle it over a great tray of steamed green beans, or even stir some pasta into it and add shaved parmesan to the top (sidenote: as a kid who didn’t like marinara sauce on pasta, I would have welcomed this alternative with wide-open taste buds).

Food Blog August 2014-0405But as I said, I went traditional here. Not as traditional as sautéing or deboning the fish tableside, as some classic preparations demand, but I resisted my usual urge to add twists or additional ingredients. I wanted to see what this was about.

Okay, so I added some lemon zest to the salt and pepper I used to season the fish before dredging it in flour. But really, such a tiny alteration hardly counts, right? And when you serve the filet tenderly over some rice pilaf and drag your green beans through the last remnants of the sauce, well, words fail (no, seriously. I’ve sat here for fifteen minutes trying to think of how to tell you it was good!). Bring on the butter. She is clearly justified as the diva of the sauce world.

Food Blog August 2014-0412

 

Sole Meunière
Adapted from Ina Garten and Anne Burrell
Serves 2
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 filets of sole, 3-4 ounces each
Salt and pepper for sprinkling
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons minced parsley

 

  • Preheat your oven to warm (200F or so) and place a sheet tray with a rack balanced over it inside. This will allow you to keep the fish warm and crisp while the sauce finishes.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • While the butter melts, unwrap your fish and season both sides with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and lemon zest.
  • Dredge the filets lightly in flour and then lay them flat straight into the pan, being sure they are not touching. If they sit around in their floury state, they will not get crisp.
  • Sauté for 2 minutes over medium-high, until the fish begins to look opaque. It will be about ⅔ cooked at this point. Flip each filet carefully, again, being sure they are not touching, and cook another 1-2 minutes until the bottom is golden and comes away easily from the pan. Remove each filet to the rack in the preheated oven.
  • Wipe out the pan and heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, again over medium-high heat. When it is melted and bubbling furiously, add the lemon juice and stir to combine.
  • As the butter starts to brown, which should only take about a minute, season the sauce with salt, add the parsley, and remove from heat.
  • Transfer the fish to a plate or serving platter and spoon or carefully pour the sauce over the fish to serve.

Creme Anglaise

Food blog June 2014-3984Everyone starts off in the kitchen somewhere, whether it’s spreading peanut butter thickly onto a piece of barely toasted bread, or stirring spaghetti tentatively with a long-handled wooden spoon and watching it relax into the water, or even scrambling eggs because the planned entrée for that night looks “weird.” In my case, I started with dessert. Cookies and cakes were the first things I “helped” make, which probably explains why I’ve developed such a sweet tooth over the years. Mom would let me stir batter, pour pre-measured cups of sugar, taste a beater. She was there while I jammed my thumbs into an egg trying to crack it, while I spilled powdery fluffs of flour onto the counter and sometimes the floor. She was there, though not watching, when I had my first lesson in ingredient deception: my first taste of cinnamon. A few brown grains on the counter, a small, damp index fingertip, and the sourest face dipping away from the countertop. Vanilla extract was the same way. Each time, I’m sure Mom turned and saw, and probably tried not to laugh, as I learned that in dessert as in so many things, a dose of sugar makes things better.

Food blog June 2014-3981It seemed only fitting, then, when I embarked on the dessert selection of my sauce project, that Mom should be there. Together, in my bright, narrow kitchen, we talked and laughed and spilled and fumbled our way through crème anglaise.

Food blog June 2014-3959Crème anglaise is essentially an all-purpose dessert sauce, and provides a base for so many lovely simple sweets. Egg yolks, cream, sugar, and some vanilla for flavor, cooked gently but whisked fervently, and you have a beautiful, rich sauce that lovingly coats the back of a spoon. Cooled, run through an ice cream machine, and shoved impatiently into a freezer, you’d have vanilla ice cream. A few more yolks and a long, slow bake in the oven, and you’d have crème brulee. Some cornstarch to thicken during the cooking process? Pastry cream. But left liquid and chilled, it makes a beautiful summer treat poured in decadent quantities over a bowl of glistening berries. And if you want to build the whole thing atop a slice of cake, well who am I to stop you? Since Mom and I are both grown-ups now, we added a whisper of bourbon to our creation, for a floral warmth and slightly more complex flavor.

Food blog June 2014-3969I think the hardest thing about crème anglaise is waiting for it to cool so you can eat it. But the second hardest thing, which is not much of a challenge at all, is separating the eggs. This isn’t as dicey a prospect as separating the whites for a meringue or angel food cake, because a bit of white slopped in with the yolks does no damage at all. It’s just that we are after the glossy, dense fat of the yolk here, and so the light liquidy quality of the whites is better saved for something else.

Food blog June 2014-3964Food blog June 2014-3965Food blog June 2014-3966I prefer to separate my eggs by plopping the yolk back and forth between the halves of shell, letting the white drip down directly into the open mouth of a zip-top freezer bag. Once most of the white has detangled itself, I add the yolk to my work bowl and move on. You can also crack the egg directly into your hand and let the white ooze down through your fingers, while the yolk stays plump and golden in your palm, but the shell method works better for me. When all the whites are contained in the baggie, I write the number and the date on the outside and freeze it for later use.

Food blog June 2014-3973Food blog June 2014-3970Eggs managed, it’s a simple prospect of whisking in some sugar with the yolks, heating milk and cream together, adding the warm dairy to the thick, sweetened yolks, and cooking the whole thing to a thickness like, well, melted ice cream, since that’s basically what it is. Incorporate flavorings, strain the mixture to ensure a nicely textured final product, and chill until ready to use.

Food blog June 2014-3980With berry season upon us, I see no better motivation to make this sauce. Maybe for your mom. She’ll probably love it.

Food blog June 2014-3986

Food blog June 2014-3987Crème Anglaise
Barely adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio
Makes about 1 ½ cups sauce
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup milk
3 egg yolks (save the whites for another treat)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)

 

  • First, prepare an ice bath by filling a large mixing bowl with water and ice cubes. Set another bowl inside, so it rests in the bath but is in no danger of getting water inside.
  • In a small pot, warm the milk and cream together to a bare simmer.
  • While the dairy warms, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a medium bowl until quite thick. You want the sugar to be well incorporated to make the integration with the liquid easier.
  • When the milk and cream are just simmering, slowly – and I mean slowly! – pour them into the yolk and sugar mixture, whisking the whole time. If you pour slowly and whisk assiduously, you will end up with a smooth, thick mixture. If you don’t, you will end up with scrambled egg yolks.
  • Pour your smooth sauce back into the pot and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 2-5 minutes, until the sauce is thick that when you dip in the back of a spoon and draw a line through the coat of sauce with your finger, the line remains clean.
  • Add the vanilla and bourbon, stir, and remove from heat.
  • Pour the sauce from the pot through a strainer and into the bowl you’ve rested in the ice bath. Whisk or stir as it cools to room temperature, then liberate from the ice bath and refrigerate until cold. Serve however you wish. I recommend a mixture of fresh berries, with or without a slice of moist cake, but a plain old spoon and no interruptions would be just fine too.