Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Best Dishes of 2012

Gourmet's year-end edition (it has been resuscitated as an on-line only shadow of its former self) contains responses by 53 staff members and consultants to the question: What was the best thing you ate in 2012? The responses were interesting, running the gamut from Frank Pepe's pizza to Fondue au Vieux Comté from Auberge La Petite Echelle in Rochejean, France.

I am often asked questions like that, and frankly can't remember all the restaurant meals I have eaten, even the great ones. But I do keep records of what I cook, and can list the most successful dishes I made in 2012. People also often ask what kind of food I like to cook (and eat), and I think the list demonstrates that I have pretty eclectic cooking tastes. Of course, I enjoy many other cuisines, particularly Asian, but rarely make them myself, and they are never among my greatest successes. The list also understates how often I cook Italian dishes (very).

In any event, here's the list of my best dishes of 2012:
  • Bobby Jay's corn soup, a recipe I developed myself: summer corn is my favorite food
  • Heirloom tomato salad with torn mozzarella and basil, from a recipe by Jamie Oliver: summer heirloom tomatoes are my second favorite
  • Salvatore ricotta, a wonderful creamy ricotta made in Brooklyn, from Eataly, with fleur de sel, coarsley ground pepper and Sicilian olive oil on homemade toast: not really cooked, just a wonderful bite from impeccable ingredients
  • Chicken and andouille Jambalaya, from a recipe by Ethan Stiffel
  • Caribbean roast and smoked pork chops, based on a recipe by barbeque genius Big Bob Gibson
  • Slowly oil poached garlic shrimp, tapas style, based on a recipe from Tyler Florence
  • Seared veal breast stuffed with garlic, mustard and spinach, from a recipe by Gordon Hamersley
  • Matcha macarons with white chocolate ganache, commissioned by my wife for her Japanese art gallery, for which I combined about 5 different recipes over several tries: Japanese/French fusion in a single bite
  • Mustard crusted tenderloin of pork with apple mostarda, from a recipe by Michael Chiarello
  • Golden melon gazpacho, based on a recipe from the wonderful spa Rancho Puerta: healthy but spicy and satisfying
  • Creme caramel, from a recipe from The French Slow Cooker: a perfect application for the slow cooker, wonderfully smooth and silky
  • Cherries in almond syrup with toasted almonds over homemade Greek style yogurt, from a recipe in Bon Appétit: another celebration of summer's bounty
  • Winter fruit compote with kumquats, prunes, figs and cognac, from a recipe by Laura Calder: amazingly easy but satisfyingly redolent of winter flavors
I never know where my mood (or reading or TV watching) will take me, so I am sure next year's list will be very different.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Happy New Year 2013!

Maybe I'm getting jaded, but it seems to me that this year's year-end windows at the great food stores are less exciting than usual. Still . . .

Cadeau Ô Merveille at Dalloyau

Bûches de Noël at Dalloyau

Caviar at Kaspia
Chocolates at Jadis et Gourmande
Bûche de Noël at unknown bakery
Some pretty appealing presentations for the holidays.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Dinner in Paris

I usually make a special dinner for friends on Christmas dinner in Paris. This year we were only three, so I decided to make it relatively simple but elegant, starting with foie gras that I had made earlier (with Chinese 5-spice powder and white port), moving to poule au pot (see preceding post for the story of this course), then a perfectly aged vacherin du Haut-Doubs (Mont d'Or), and relying on our guest for dessert, a delightful orange tart.

Poule au pot with accompaniments
Vacherin du Haut-Doubs (Mont d'Or)
Yoshimi's orange tart
You can only do this dinner in France, where it's easy to find great raw duck liver for foie gras (while expensive, it costs only half the price that it does in New York) and the truly spectacular vacherin. It's hard to believe anything can taste that good, with pungent, woody notes and a creamy unctuous texture that requires that you eat it with a spoon.

How lucky to be able to be in Paris at this time of year!

Bobby Jay

Search for a Great Poule au Pot

My wife J and I love poule au pot (chicken in the pot), especially in winter, and recently I have been seeking out a good and simple recipe for a French, as opposed to Jewish, version.

First I tried a slow-cooker version, served with a garlic aioli. The method was pretty good, but the vegetable profile was boring: it needed parsnips or fennel to perk up the muddy onion-turnip-leek-carrot melange. The aioli helped a lot.

With that experience fresh in mind, I received the January-February 2013 issue of Cook's Illustrated, and found a recipe for "French Style Chicken with Stuffing," essentially poule au pot with sausage stuffing. Their insights: use chicken quarters rather than a whole chicken, and stack them in a prescribed way that speeds up cooking and permits the breast and dark meat to be done (but not overdone) at the same time, and brown the chicken first to create a fond that will enhance the flavor of the broth. Thus, vegetables and potatoes are placed in the bottom of the pot, with broth to almost cover, followed by the leg quarter and the stuffing (sausage, bread and herbs processed and made into rolls in parchment) and, finally, the breasts.

Poule au Pot made from Cook's Illustrated recipe
The method worked and we had a good, but not great, result. My fault, I think: I started with a whole chicken and used the wings, back and neck to make a rich unsalted stock without vegetables or aromatics. This resulted in a broth that was rich but missing the complexity that I was hoping for. If I use this method again, I will make a more complex stock and add something to impart umami flavor, probably tomato paste.

Finally, it dawned on me that I should seek the wisdom of my idol, Jacques Pépin, who has been making poule au pot for more than 60 years.  Indeed, I found a recipe in his Essential Pépin, and this proved to be what I was looking for: great broth, interesting vegetables and flavorful chicken. Jacques gently boils the chicken, then removes the flesh and boils the chicken bones some more, and finally adds the vegetables only for the last 20 minutes, resulting in a supercharged rich broth.  The final dish is served with passed fleur de sel, toasted baquette slices with comté or similar cheese, cornichons (gherkins) and hot mustard. (Those knowledgeable in French food will recognize this as a pot au feu made with chicken instead of beef.) I made it in Paris, where excellent chicken and vegetables abound, and J and our guest loved it, as did I. Here are pictures with all the accoutrements.

Jacques Pépin's Poule au Pot
I have not written off the slow cooker and Cook's versions, but it's hard to see how I can beat the Pépin version of this French classic.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Paris - Le Bouchon et l'Assiette - Still Excellent

My wife J and I returned to le Bouchon et l'Assiette last night, after a year's absence. Apart from the fact that the price of the 3-course menu has increased from 33 to 39 euros, this little gem of a restaurant remains worth the effort it takes to get to, which is not insubstantial.

The young chef, who hails from the Southwest but has worked for some of the best chefs in Paris (among which, the Bristol's Eric Frechon), simply has an impeccable palate. All the imaginative dishes that we sampled were perfectly seasoned with unusual flavors. I started with lentil soup, light and a bit creamy, smoky and bursting with flavor, with toasted pine nuts and lardons of smoked dusk breast adding crunch and texture. Easily the best lentil soup I have ever had. Next was a quasi de veau (the top of the leg) with an interesting melange of diced crosnes and avocado on the side. J started with a plate of unctuous Iberico ham and continued with amazingly succulent suprêmes de pintade (breast of guinea hen).

Quasi de veau at le Bouchon et l'Assiette
We shared a good, but unexciting, chocolate gateau Basque for dessert; I felt that the chocolate overwhelmed the almond flavor that characterizes this type of cake. An inexpensive Pernand-Vergelesses was a perfect accompaniment to our meal.

You really should try this place.

Le Bouchon et l'Assiette, 121 rue Cardinet, 75017 Paris, Métro Malesherbes or Villiers.

A postscript: we returned to this restaurant with friends on December 26 and, among other things, had a wonderful Fontainebleau (fromage frais, whipped cream and sugar mixed and then pressed like ricotta) with pistachio nuts and caramel sauce.

Bobby Jay