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Archive for April, 2011

MORRO BAY: Steamed Sea Bass with Tomato Confit

Posted on April 24, 2011 by a


For about a decade my parents had a house on the shore at Morro Bay, a small hamlet on California’s Central Coast, approximately half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  A six hour drive from San Diego by car, in some other ways Morro Bay was considerably further away. 

NOUVELLE CUISINE: Terrine of Celeriac, Carrots and Gai Lan with Sauce Ravigotte

Posted on April 19, 2011 by a

 Nouvelle cuisine was so specifically French that it was, and still is, misunderstood in the rest of the world. You have to be dominated by Escoffier before rejecting him becomes meaningful.”

Mark Kurlansky, “Choice Cuts” (2002)

Nouvelle cuisine was nothing on the plate, but everything on the bill.

Paul Bocuse, 2011 at Culinary Institute of America Leadership Awards

On March 30 of this year, Chef Paul Bocuse was awarded the designation “Chef of the Century” at the Culinary Institute of America’s Leadership Awards.  Bocuse was awarded the honor as “the father of modern French cuisine” – which is to say “la nouvelle cuisine” for which he is generally afforded pioneer status.  While some have said that Bocuse gets too much credit for inventing  Nouvelle Cuisine – its real creator may have been Bocuse’s own mentor, Fernand Point, it was Henri Gault and Christian Millau (and Andre Gayot) who coined the term, and chefs such as Michel Guérard, Alain Senderens, Jean and Pierre Troigros, Alain Chapel and others certainly had a lot to do with it – few question that Chef Bocuse is rightly the singular face of Nouvelle Cuisine. 

ENGLAND: Lamb and Kidney Pie with Duxelles

Posted on April 17, 2011 by a
And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
William Blake, Preface to Milton: a Poem
Unofficial English National Anthem
Emerson Lake & Palmer, Jerusalem 

For a writer there are few better places to be than England. The history of the literature of our language is all around. You can feel it in the streets. You can taste it in the air. For a lawyer, journalist or historian (amateur or otherwise) there is something special about England too. Walking in the footsteps of Samuel Johnson and Rumpole, Clement Atlee and Charles Dickens is something of a thrill. Traversing the alleys and byways around the Inns of Court and Fleet Street you can taste the living past in an almost tangible way.

For the foodie, or so it has been said, England is not so much. Featuring dishes such as “Mushy Peas” and “Spotted Dick” English food has been the traditional butt of jokes; enough that an internet project was dedicated to proving that English food is not a joke:   http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/2007/03/is-english-food-joke.html. Even a generation of great English super chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Fergus Henderson, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal has not managed to change the perception of supposedly traditional English fare away from one of boiled meats, overcooked vegetables and bland fat in fat sauce. The reputation of British Cuisine remains terrible despite the highest levels of its culinary achievements rivaling the best in the world.

What this generation of celebrity English chefs has managed to do, however, is return the focus of English cuisine to the country’s natural bounty: wonderful meats and fish, locally crafted cheeses and high quality natural produce and other wonderful ingredients. In other words, they have brought attention back to where it comes from: the land.

In truth, much of England’s poor culinary reputation may have less to do with traditional English cuisine and far more to do with two World Wars and the disrupting years surrounding them. With several successive generations growing up during extended periods of war-time rationing, interrupted only by a Depression and following hot on the heels of the massive dislocations of first generation industrialization, the food of England changed substantially. By the time the war rationing and hardship had passed, the lifestyles – and the connection to the land – had seemingly passed with them. Nor were the years following the Second World War much kinder. With a nation dealing with lost Empire and the reality that by “winning” the World Wars they’d lost a perhaps-more-important economic war, England was a nation finding comfort wherever it could, quite specifically including bad food.

Prior to the disorienting 20th Century, England’s food was always based on its natural bounty – based on what any other country’s food was based upon: what was available from the nearby fields, forests and streams. Still, there is no doubt that Mushy Peas might be a hard sell on a high end menu. And Spotted Dick sounds a lot more like something to be dealt with at a medical center than served at a restaurant. And Haggis? Don’t ask. Aside from the fact that its Scottish rather than English – and it really is quite tasty — you really don’t want to know what it is.

But prepared of its traditional sources – England’s wonderful livestock and vegetable bounty – a dish such as traditional Steak and Kidney Pie can be a special treat. On our trip we had it twice. First we ate it at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in London (Samuel Johnson’s old haunt), in a cellar dining area that nearly wrote itself. On our last night in England we ate it again at the Red Lion Pub in Avebury Henge – a town inside three stone circles only miles from its more famous cousin, Stonehenge.

Of course one thing that seemed strange to me in England was that as much glorious beef as one could find on the menus there were always far more sheep in the countryside than cows. So, I ask, why steak rather than lamb?

And that was the genesis of the following dish:

Lamb and Kidney Pie with Duxelles


For the Duxelles:

  • 1 pound of button mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup fino (or dry) sherry

For the Filling:

  • 2 lamb kidneys
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 bulb fennel, finely chopped
  • ½ leg of lamb, boned and diced into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 (17.25 ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 4 tablespoons, good quality unsalted butter
  • Branston Pickles for garnish

1.   Make the Duxelles. Place the mushrooms in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “S” blade and process to a gravelly texture. Do not go beyond that texture as it will ruin the final product. While many recipes call for more exotic (and expensive) varieties of mushroom the added cost adds nothing to the quality of the duxelles. Sweat the shallots in the olive oil in a sauté pan over low heat. Turn the heat to medium, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the give up their water. Add the sherry to the pan and continue cooking until the liquid evaporates.

2.   Prep the Kidneys. Cut the kidneys in half, lengthwise, removing the tubes and skins. Rinse well under cold running water. Pat the kidneys dry and cut them into ½ inch dice.

3.   Prepare the Stew. Sweat the onions, carrots and fennel in a sauté pan until the onions are translucent. Season with salt and pepper as you work. Remove the vegetables from the pan. Toss the kidney and lamb meat in the flour and shake off the excess. Sear the meat in the hot oil until well browned. Add stock and wine; bring to a boil stirring constantly until the mixture starts to thicken, about 5 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low, and simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours, until meat is tender. Separate the solids from the liquids in the stew. Remove solids from the heat, and cool to room temperature.

4.   Assemble the Pies. Put a layer of the Duxelles in the bottom of a cold pie dish, large ramekin or other heat proof dish (a large Spanish cazuela would work). Top the layer with a much thicker layer of the stew. Top that layer with a thin coating of the Duxelles. Line the edge of the pie dish with a strip of pastry and brush with beaten egg before putting on the lid. Press the lid firmly with a finger all the way round before trimming the lid (leave a half centimeter overhang to allow for shrinkage). Make two to three holes in the top to allow air to escape, add any pastry decorations and brush all the pastry with beaten egg, olive oil or a bit of both. Bake in the centre of the oven at 375° F for 20 minutes and then increase the heat to 400° F for 10 minutes to brown the top.

5.   Make the Sauce. Sweat the shallots in a sauce pan, add the stewing liquid and reduce to about a third of a cup. Swirl in the butter to thicken, one tablespoon at a time over low heat.

6.   Assemble the Plates. Place the pie dish on a plate along with several spoonfuls of the sauce and a quenelles of the Branston Pickles.

PASSOVER: “Gefilte Fish” of Grouper with Fava Bean Purée and Pickled Green Onions

Posted on April 15, 2011 by a

“Gefilte Fish.” It is a joke that very nearly tells itself, and a bad one at that. Goyim may not know what a Gefilte Fish is but they have a pretty good idea that it is more of an abomination than a Shiksa in a gay Tel Aviv bathhouse. For Jews it is two words that strike fear – and no small amount of loathing – into the heart of the cook charged with preparing the Seder meal.

SAN DIEGO: Mu Shu Duck

Posted on April 5, 2011 by a

If it was Sunday night it was the New Moon Chinese Restaurant.  I would order the Mu Shu, my sister would order the Hot & Sour Soup and my parents did what passed for experimentation at “Chinese” restaurants in San Diego in the 70s:  ordering something different every time.  The evening would generally conclude with a “Help!  Help! I’m a prisoner in a Chinese Fortune Cookie factory” joke and we would be back for more in a week.

The New Moon is long gone as are most of the Chinese restaurants of that day and age:  Kip’s, Land of China and many others.  One of the few I remember from the time that can still be found is the Gen Lai Sen Seafood Restaurant on the East Village side of downtown San Diego.


While Gen Lai Sen was a little different from many of its contemporaries, most of the Chinese Restaurants of the day were more Chinese-American in nature than they were purveyors of genuine Chinese fare.  It was much the same as classic “Italian-American” food that bears only a passing resemblance to the cuisine of Tuscany, Piedmont or Sicily. 

There were a lot of reasons for this.  First and foremost amongst those reasons may have been immigration patterns.  The first wave of Chinese immigration into this country occurred in the nineteenth century.  Waves of Chinese immigrants were essential to this country at the time, building railroads, digging mines and engaging in other types of hard physical labor.  These workers were fed by other Cantonese immigrants who set up “chow chows” and other simple restaurants. 

But in 1882 this Chinese immigration came to a grinding halt with the Chinese Exclusion Act.  And with the immigration the flow of knowledge, culinary skill and demand slowed.  By the middle of the twentieth century “Chinese” food in the United States revolved around a series of staple Chinese-American dishes that, at times, bore only a passing resemblance to genuine Chinese food:  Wonton, Egg Drop and Hot & Sour Soups, Fried Rice, Egg Foo Young, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Chow Mein, Chop Suey and the like.

But things were about to change.  In the space of seven years two momentous events occurred:  the Immigration Act of 1965, which reopened America’s doors to Chinese, and President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.  In the years since then America has come to understand that Chinese cuisine is at least distinct, different and as regionalized as the cuisines of any European country.  From the grand Dim Sum parlors and Mandarin palaces to the fiery flavors of Hunan and Szechuan, America has developed an understanding and hankering for genuine Chinese food.

Lost somewhere in this process of discovery and in the fog of time is the Chinese-American food so prevalent in the middle part of the 20th Century.  Most of its purveyors are gone, and those who still ply that trade are graying at the temples and fraying at the edges.   When, at last, they do disappear something of value will be lost.  Perhaps it was not genuine Chinese food but it was something in and of itself. 


And for me, at the New Moon Chinese Restaurant on those Sunday nights it was, indeed, the Mu Shu.  Sometimes I would order the pork with which the dish is usually associated.  But sometimes, depending on what my parents ordered, it might be chicken or even beef.  On this Sunday night we would make it with duck.  While duck breasts sound more luxurious we find the legs more deeply flavored.  In lieu of the genuine Chinese-style pancake wrappers we chose to adapt crepes to the purpose.




For the Wrappers:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½  cups milk
  • Large pinch of salt
  • About 2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil for cooking

For the Filling:

  •  3 duck legs
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 ½ cups of shredded cabbage (green or napa)
  • 1 cup julienned carrot
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 6 button mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ cup dried black fungus, rehydrated
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons Xao Shing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Hoisin sauce

1.     Marinate and cook the Duck Legs.  Marinate the duck legs in the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger for two hours (or overnight).  Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Remove the duck legs from the marinade and pat dry.  Roast the duck legs until it reaches your desired level of doneness (about 1 ½ hours for medium rare to two hours for well done).  When it is cool enough to do so, shred the duck leg meat.  

2.       Make the Crepe Wrappers.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, mix together the flour, milk, eggs, and salt and blend for at least 1 minute.   Using a kitchen brush, apply a light coating of oil to the bottom of a griddle or sauté pan (preferably NOT a nonstick pan) over medium heat.  Wait 2-3 minutes for the pan to become hot, with evenly-distributed heat.  Pour the batter onto the griddle or pan, using approximately 1/8 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly (the batter should be quite thin).  Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side.  Do not be too concerned if the first one sticks to the pan – a nearly necessary ritual sacrifice to the crepe gods.

3.       Make the Filling.  Heat the wok over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil, swirling along the sides. When the oil is hot, add beaten eggs and scramble until they are quite firm. Remove the eggs from the wok. Clean out the wok.  Add two tablespoons of oil to the wok and, when hot, add the cabbage, carrots and scallions and cook for two minutes (until the cabbage just starts to wilt).  Remove the vegetables.  Add another tablespoon of oil to the wok and, when hot, add the mushrooms and dry fungus for two minutes.  Add the Xao Shing wine, soy sauce and sesame oil to the wok and bring to temperature.  Combine the cornstarch and water and temper with a bit of the wine mixture.   Add the slurry and all the filling ingredients.

4.       Assemble the Dish.  Spread about a teaspoon of Hoisin Sauce on each crepe wrapper and spoon about two tablespoons of the filling in the center of the wrapper.  Roll the Mu Shu as desired.  I prefer jellyroll style, but it’s a matter of personal preference.