Ben Fink
Peruvian-style spring chupe with fava beans, asparagus, young peas, carrots, lima beans, quinoa or rice & fresh cheese in ají mirasol/chicken broth topped with an egg.
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Spring/Summer Menu Preview 2005

Irene Sax - March 2005

There's more than one way to capture spring's fecundity and summer's warmth on a plate, as six outstanding chefs with wildly divergent styles disclose.

Maricel Presilla
Zafron and Cucharamama
Hoboken, New Jersey
"I grew up in Cuba, where there are no seasons; just rain or drought. But in South America, which inspired so much of the menu at Cucharamama, people are more in tune with the seasons and eating locally. When mangoes are in, they eat mangoes because that's what they have, and in the spring they have fava beans, early grains, corn, and beans. But eating for the seasons goes beyond spring, summer, and fall. It also follows the Roman Catholic calendar. That's why all over Peru there are Lenten chupes, or chowders, made with fish instead of meat."

Extra-thin panela-crust pizza painted with Peruvian-style panca sauce & topped with shrimp, mussels & purple olives. "For the pizza, make a yeast dough sweetened with a little panela, a brown loaf sugar. Put it through the pasta maker, and when the strips come out, lay them side by side to form a big rectangle. Dock the dough with a fork, brush with olive oil so it won't rise, and paint it with a deep orange tomato/panca sauce. Panca is a dried pepper used in Bolivian and Peruvian cooking. It's reconstituted in water and treated like a fresh chile. Quickly bake the dough in a wood-burning oven, and then top with shrimp and steamed mussels sautéed in olive oil, paprika, and cilantro. Add purple olives. Put the sheet of dough back in the oven briefly, and cut it into squares, either small ones for canapés or larger ones for individual pizzas."

Peruvian-style spring chupe with fava beans, asparagus, young peas, carrots, lima beans, quinoa or rice & fresh cheese in ají mirasol/chicken broth topped with an egg. "Chupe is a thick chowder-like soup made in all the Andean countries. In today's Peru, it's generally milk based, with vegetables and cheese and flavored with yellow ají mirabella pepper. You can use the dried version, ají mirasol, which is first reconstituted in water and then made into a paste. For the soup, sweat garlic and onions with the chile paste and add tomatoes, chicken broth, spring vegetables of all kinds, milk, and a fresh cheese such as feta. In South America, they always add cooked rice or, in the highlands, quinoa. Chupes are traditionally topped with poached eggs. I use Araucana eggs because I raise them, but you could use two quail eggs or, if you want a very eggy soup, a big duck egg. Sprinkle chopped cilantro or parsley over the top; and there you have it, a whole meal in a bowl."

Pork belly & mussels braised in cumin-scented Peruvian dark beer with panca sauce, seaweed, sweet potatoes, Serrano ham & purple olives. "This is based on a Portuguese dish of pork, clams, potatoes, and olives from Alentajana. Braise pork belly in a flavorful broth of leeks, garlic, peppers, and onions, and leave it in the broth until serving time. To finish, slice the meat and braise it in a pan with the mussels in a sauce made with dark beer, panca, and seaweed, an important ingredient in pre-Columbian Andean cuisine. Cut Caribbean blue potatoes into chunks, sauté them in olive oil, getting them crusty, and add them to the pan with slivers of smoky ham and brine from Peruvian olives. This goes on a plate with cilantro-scented rice."

Sweet fruit "cebiche": mango, papaya, pineapple, sweet potato & Andean corn in an anise-scented passion fruit/pisco sauce with cilantro/hot pepper sorbet & shaved coconut. "This is a deconstructed sweet version of a Peruvian cebiche. Cube a mixture of Latin tropical fruits and cover them with a tart sauce made with passion fruit, star anise, and pisco. Add typical Peruvian garnishes of corn, sweet potatoes, and ‘red onion,' which is thinly sliced coconut strips marinated in a concentrated beet reduction or in pomegranate juice. For the cilantro that's so essential in a cebiche, make a cilantro sorbet spiked with hot peppers, another crucial ingredient. Serve either in a half coconut shell or in a tall, broad Margarita glass that shows off the beautiful colors of the fruit."

Hubert Des Marais
The Restaurant, Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach
Palm Beach, Florida
"In South Florida, spring is orange blossom time. When you go down the road, the smell is unbelievable. Even in this hot climate, spring is a new beginning. The fishing is great, and we get pompano, wahoo, mahimahi, and snapper. I have a garden, and now, before it gets too hot, we grow strawberries and tomatoes. We see the first of the tropical fruits, like passion fruit, papaya, and mangoes; this is when we make green mango salads. Everyone thinks citrus when they think of Florida, but they're actually winter fruits."

Chilled garden pea broth scented with lemon verbena cream, cube of guava wood–smoked salmon topped with American paddlefish caviar & pea tendril garnish. "Sweat fresh peas, shallots, and garlic in butter. Add a little chicken stock and white wine, and season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Puree and strain. Rub a piece of salmon with sea salt and smoke it over guava wood just long enough to bring it up to 135 degrees and give it a smoky smell. At service time, put a one-inch cube of salmon topped with paddlefish caviar and small pea tendrils in a warm soup bowl. The waiter spoons the pea broth around it and then takes a gooseneck and drizzles on crème fraîche that's been infused with lemon verbena. The soup can be served hot or cold. It's very refreshing in hot weather."

Cornmeal-dusted Banana River soft shell crab & fried green tomato layered with jumbo lump crab. "This is really crab two ways. Lightly dust the soft shells with a mix of cornmeal, semolina, and a seafood seasoning like Old Bay. Use the same coating on thick slices of green tomatoes; pan-fry the tomatoes and the crab. For assembly, toss large pieces of jumbo lump crab, diced tomatoes, and chives in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Put a slice of fried tomato on a plate, then a layer of lump crabmeat, then another tomato and more crabmeat, making a little cake. Halve the soft shell and stand it up alongside the cake; between the two halves, arrange baby greens like wild arugula, amaranth, mâche, and oak leaf. Dress the plate with a tomato coulis that's been cooked down with garlic, shallots, thyme, and olive oil, then strained through a chinois and emulsified to concentrate the flavor."

Barbecued Muscovy duck breast wrapped in hoya santa leaf with grilled vanilla bean–skewered foie gras, shaved asparagus/morel/orange blossom salad & caramelized ginger/ramp vinaigrette. "Skewer a four-ounce piece of foie gras on a vanilla bean; season with allspice, cinnamon, and cloves; place in a vacuum pack bag; let sit overnight to infuse. Trim excess fat from the duck breast and score in a checkerboard pattern. Season with salt, pepper, ginger, and orange zest; wrap in hoya santa leaves wilted on the grill. If you can't get hoya santa, you can use grape leaves. Put the breast on a wood-fired grill, fat side down, and cook slowly. The meat almost fries in its own fat. When crisped on one side, flip and finish to medium-rare. Remove the foie gras from the vacuum-pack bag and mark both sides on a hot grill. Serve with a salad of shaved asparagus, morels, and orange blossoms tossed with a ginger/ramp vinaigrette. With it, serve a mofongo, a rustic Puerto Rican dish made of mashed tubers, in this case boniato. Instead of using the usual pork cracklings, flavor the mofongo with crisped duck skin in addition to garlic, cilantro, and lime juice. For the mojo, or sauce, reduce acidic roselle or sorrel juice with garlic, olive oil, and duck stock. Plating begins with a mofongo cake, the salad, slices of rare duck breast, and then the skewered foie gras, all drizzled with the mojo."

White chocolate cone filled with rhubarb/fromage blanc espuma, summer fruit compote & strawberry/rum Daiquiri sorbet. "Temper white chocolate, and, using a brush, paint a very thin layer inside a cone mold. When cooled and firm, unmold and fill the cone with a mousse made with fromage blanc sweetened pureed rhubarb. This should be barely set, so that when the customer cracks into the cone, the mousse comes spilling out. Seal the end of the cone with a disk of white chocolate, put it on the plate, and surround it with a compote of tropical fruits and berries, apple mint leaves, and candied kumquats. Alongside the cone, serve a tiny Daiquiri made by running a strawberry/rum Daiquiri through the ice cream machine. Dip the edges of a shot glass in sugar, and fill the glass with the Daiquiri mix. Top with dried strawberries. Serve the dessert under a big glass cone, which the waiter will remove upon tableside presentation."

Daniel Humm
Campton Place
San Francisco
"I'm from Switzerland, where you know when the seasons change because the weather changes. When it snows, you know there're no green peas or tomatoes. Here in California it's like beautiful spring weather all the time, but we try to stay seasonal anyway. In winter, I work with root vegetables. Then, in spring, I'll use morels and ramps and fines herbes. Summer in San Francisco itself isn't hot, but if you go 15 minutes over the bridge it can be really hot, so we cook light refreshing things like lobster bisque with peaches and gazpacho with goat cheese. Because the weather is so nice, we hold on to summer through October. In Switzerland, I'd already be into the fall menu."

Crispy potato basket "Château Chalon" with sweetbreads, leeks & black truffles. "Make a potato basket by lining a one-inch-high and one-inch-wide ring mold with a thin strip of Yukon gold potato and frying it in duck fat until golden brown. Take it out of the fat and remove the mold. Slice one-inch strips of potato, weave them into a mesh, and fry in the fat: it will be the bottom of the basket. Season sweetbread chunks, dust with flour, and sear in duck fat until crisped, adding butter, garlic, parsley, and matchsticks of black truffle to the pan as they cook. Make a sauce by sweating shallots in butter, adding Château Chalon, a vin jaune from the French Jura, and reducing that by half. Add chicken stock and reduce to a glaze; then loosen it up with a little cream and crème fraîche. To plate, lay down diamonds of leek greens glazed in butter. The crispy potato circle goes in the center and the potato ring on it to make a basket. Pipe a little potato puree into it, and top with sweetbread chunks garnished with truffles. Just before serving, foam the sauce with a hand blender."

Stuffed rouget with tagliolini provençal. "Open the fish through the top and bone it so the two fillets are attached at the head and tail while the inside is completely clean and boneless. Brush the inside with olive oil and season with sea salt; then place it on a tray and shape it to make it look as though it's swimming, using aluminum foil to help prop it up. Cook at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes. Put the fish on a warm plate and fill the opening with tricolor tagliolini (tomato, spinach, and saffron pasta) cooked and then warmed in olive oil with olives, fava beans, and diced artichokes. Around the fish, drizzle basil pistou and tomato water whipped with a little crème fraîche."

Herb-crusted lamb with tomato confit & eggplant caviar. "Coat a saddle of lamb with flour, egg wash, thyme, and parsley. Brown it and finish it in the oven. When ready, slice three pieces of meat and lay them on the plate with dollops of eggplant caviar in between the slices. The caviar is made by braising eggplant, onion, extra-virgin olive oil, tomato confit, niçoise olives, and thyme, then pureeing. Where the slices of lamb meet, lay a zucchini blossom stuffed with oven-braised ratatouille, a glazed baby carrot, and a bundle of herbs. Before it goes out, sprinkle the plate with fleur de sel and crushed black pepper."

Hibiscus cream soda. "Infuse a simple syrup overnight with dried hibiscus flowers. The next day strain out the flowers through cheesecloth, making sure to squeeze out all of the essence, and add some of the infused syrup to fresh orange juice. Put it in a shot glass with some club soda and a tiny scoop of ice cream. Set it on a plate and serve as a refreshing pre-dessert."

Normand Laprise
Restaurant Toqué
"Quebec winters are very cold and snowy, and we wait anxiously for spring to arrive. At Toqué, I try to make a cuisine de terroir, but it's not possible to have fresh local produce in the restaurant all winter, even though people are growing things for me in greenhouses. So we are very excited in April, when purveyors bring us the first mushrooms and edible greens from the woods, when the fish guy has snow crabs, lobster, and scallops, and when we get strawberries and asparagus, first the white ones and then the green. In winter, I have to rely on clever organization, but spring is the start of the season of abundance."

Warm Quebec green asparagus with pan-seared fairy ring mushrooms, sauce gribiche & trout lily leaves. "Blanch the asparagus and sauté them in a pan with olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper. Prepare a classic sauce gribiche, which is like a mayonnaise but made with hard-boiled eggs. It's usually flavored with tarragon, parsley, and capers, but instead of capers I use day lily buds that I pickled the previous summer. I make about a hundred pounds every year and use them throughout the winter. At service time, put a big spoon of the sauce on the plate and lay the warm asparagus over it. On the edge, make a line of small mushrooms cooked lightly in olive oil and butter just to the point where they are still crunchy. Wilt the trout lilies in the same pan you used for the asparagus, and lay them alongside the mushrooms. Trout lilies grow wild in the woods here; if you can't get them, you can use tiny spinach or bok choy leaves. This is a very simple dish that tells the customers that spring is here at last."

Mackerel a la plancha with first of season white asparagus braised with maple syrup, marinated king oyster mushrooms, roasted cipollini & lovage puree. "Peel white asparagus and blanch them in a court bouillon made with lemon and maple syrup. Cool them down, saving the broth. Marinate mackerel fillets for 10 minutes in soy sauce, lemon juice, and olive oil. Thickly slice the mushrooms and marinate them in balsamic vinegar. Roast tiny cipollini in a hot oven; then peel them and cut them in half. Blanch the lovage, dry it well, puree it in a blender with olive oil, water, salt, and pepper, and then press it through a chinois. At service, pat the mackerel fillets dry, lay them on a stainless-steel plancha or hot stovetop at 400 degrees, and cook them for less than a minute; they should be medium-rare. Lay the mushroom slices and cut surfaces of the cipollini on a grill or plancha, too. Sauté the asparagus in butter and oil; deglaze the pan with a little of the court bouillon, to which you have added more maple syrup. Let them caramelize. Lay a long strip of lovage puree on the plate. On one side, put two slices of mushrooms, the cipollini, and the asparagus, and top with a mackerel fillet. Draw a line around the plate with a little of the caramelized asparagus cooking jus."

Cumin glazed squab with puree of sous la neige skirret, fiddleheads, pan-seared morels & wilted young dandelion leaves. "Skirret is a root vegetable, like a small carrot or salsify. Here in Quebec, farmers let it stay all winter under the snow, protected by piles of hay. Because it's in the soil all winter, it's very sweet and tasty when we get it in mid-March. Peel the skirret or baby carrot and put it into a plastic vacuum bag with some milk. Cook this in a pan of water until tender. Blend with some of the milk to make a soft puree, then push through a tamis. Take the legs off the squab, reserving them to use in an amuse. Sauté the breasts just to color them; then finish them in the oven, painting them every two or three minutes with a lacquer made of honey and soy sauce infused with fresh cumin. Place them under a salamander to give them more color, and then remove the bones. Meanwhile, blanch the fiddleheads and sauté with morels in butter and olive oil. To serve, arrange three morels on a plate: on the right side, lay the fiddleheads; on the other, a long line of skirret puree. Place the squab breast over the fiddleheads. Wilt young dandelion leaves in a sauté pan and place them on the breasts."

Chandler strawberry salad with curry, rhubarb jelly, frozen yogurt infused with young sprouts of American mountain ash &am; fried pound cake. "Thirty-five to 40 varieties of strawberries grow in Quebec. Some are better early and some later, all the way until October. In spring and fall, I use Chandler berries. Make a simple syrup; infuse with curry spices and a bit of lemon. Let it cool, cut the strawberries in half, and mix them with the syrup. Cook pink rhubarb in water with sugar, strain it, and add a little gelatin to the water--enough to make a soft but not quite set jelly. Take fresh yogurt, heat it lightly, and infuse with sugar and the blossoms of a mountain ash or apple tree, making it very sweet and perfumed. Finish in an ice cream maker and freeze. Remove the crusts from classic pound cake, cut into large dice, and roll the chunks in sugar. Cook them briefly in a hot pan to caramelize the sugar, using a neutral-tasting oil like grapeseed. Arrange the strawberry salad and rhubarb jelly on the plate with the frozen yogurt over it, and surround with the diced cake. The plate will have three elements at different temperatures: cold, room temperature, and hot."

Tom Hurley
Portland, Oregon
"At the end of the long, dark Portland winter, when we've all been inside too long, I break out five Weber grills, line them up outside the kitchen door, and start to cook hamburgers and steaks. I also make mesquite-smoked chicken on the grill, something I started when I worked as a fireman. Everyone said when I got my own restaurant I should put it on the menu. I did, and now I can't take it off. The other big spring event is berries; we get huckleberries, boysenberries, marionberries, and blueberries. They're so many and so delicious that we freeze them for later use."

Vol-au-vent au fromage blanc with local grape tomatoes, tomato gelée & verjus. "Make a diamond-shaped vol-au-vent. Take a paring knife and cut an indentation one-quarter inch deep in the top; fill the hollow with a mixture of two cheeses, a French triple crème and fromage blanc. Over that spoon a mixture of red, yellow, and orange Sweet 100s and teardrop tomatoes dressed with an emulsion of canola oil and shallots that have been bloomed in Champagne vinegar. Garnish the plate with delicate micro greens, a confetti of various tomato gelées cut into tiny shapes, and drops of pumpkin seed oil."

Breton lobster flan with seared diver scallops, butter lettuce/leek emulsion & fennel coulis. "Start to prepare the flan as though you were making a lobster bisque, caramelizing a mirepoix and the lobster shells, then adding brandy, Pernod or Ricard, and water. When partly cooked down, strain and add milk and cream. Temper whole eggs, bring to a simmer, and then strain the mixture again into ramekins. Bake them in a bain-marie. At pickup, warm the flan and invert it into a bowl. Top with a few seared scallops and surround with a long-cooked, pureed sauce of leeks, butter lettuce, and scallion greens. Have on hand a fennel coulis made by braising fennel in vegetable stock, pureeing it, and adding cream. Pipe this in a decorative white pattern over the green leek sauce. We have over 40 different savory flans on the menu, but the lobster is one of my favorites."

Kurobuta pork cheeks sous-vide with garlic confit puree, carrot batons & beet/veal reduction. "Season the pork cheeks and caramelize them in foie gras or duck fat. When cool, seal them in a vacuum-pack bag with some reduced bison stock, place in a hotel pan filled with 140-degree water, and set over an induction burner to simmer. When almost done, pull out the bags and shock them in an ice bath. On pickup, take the meat out of the bag and put it into a hot pan with a rich braising liquid made of pork belly, maple syrup, and fresh herbs. Cook over high heat to caramelize. Serve with one of André Soltner's dishes, a garlic puree finished with a little cream. Make a tower, a condominium, of garlic puree, then julienned organic carrots, then the pork, and spoon around it a veal reduction tinted red with beets."

"Wine & Cheese": Oregon blue "cheesecake," Burgundy syrup, toasted walnuts & triple crème powder. "This is a combination dessert course and cheese course. Make tiny blue cheese cheesecakes no more than one inch wide and one and a half inches high. We use the local Rouge Creamery blue cheese. Make the filling as for any cheesecake except without the sugar. For the crust, cook walnuts in sugar syrup, drain, and cool. Then grind them and make a pastry disk by mixing the ground nuts with a little Wondra flour, packing it into a mold, and baking it just a little bit. The cheesecake sits on its walnut crust in the center of the plate and is surrounded by ripe cheeses. Add slices of quince poached in an Oregon Pinot Noir, with the poaching liquid becoming the sauce for the cheesecake. Sprinkle the plate with a French triple crème cheese that's been dried overnight in an oven heated by its pilot light. You have cheese that's raw, cooked, and ground on the same plate."

Robert Gadsby
Noe Omni
"Spring is the start of the heat and humidity in Houston, and I try to create a lighter, more refreshing menu. I don't want customers to feel lethargic after a meal. During the hot season I'll use crisper textures and nothing greasy or oily. If there is oil, it tends to be flavored with chives, cilantro, or chiles. But you can't go too light. I grew up in London and cooked in Los Angeles, and when I got to Houston I found that they like meat and potatoes and lots of game here. Texans are hunters; they want big servings and forward flavors, nothing bland."

Scallop "ravioli" with kumquats & sevruga. "Blanch the scallops, halve horizontally, and then slice each half partway through, making a pocket. For the stuffing, poach kumquats in simple syrup, let them cool, seed them, and chop them fine. Each scallop pocket gets a little of the minced kumquats and then a bit of sevruga and is closed up to form the ‘ravioli.' For an appetizer portion, put five of these half scallops on a plate with a sauce made from extra-virgin olive oil, white soy sauce, and yuzu juice. Add a small salad of micro greens, fennel, amaranth, and parsley, and, if you can get them, garnish the ravioli with tiny Japanese rose petals the size of your smallest fingernail."

Truffled fluke with stuffed potato cake & grilled shiitake mushroom broth. "Place the fluke fillets skinned side down on a work surface and cover with big slices of black truffle. Season and sear, truffle side down, in a hot pan so that the truffle will stick to the fish. Flip, cover, and cook to medium. For the potato cake, pass boiled Idahos through a tamis. Make a dough from the potatoes, an egg, and cornstarch. Divide it into four pieces shaped like hockey pucks and make an indentation in each. Fill with smoked salmon or chopped shrimp, then close up the holes and steam the cakes for 15 minutes. Paint the shiitake with soy sauce and extra-virgin olive oil; grill them gill side down; flip and grill until browned. Place them in a bowl cap side down; cover with plastic wrap. Chop the shiitake, fold into their rendered juice, and drizzle with truffle oil. To plate, put a potato cake in a warmed shallow bowl and top with freshly grated ginger. The fish goes over this with the chopped mushrooms and juices over and around it. Garnish with a little mushroom salad of micro chives tossed with enoki and persimmon mushrooms."

Braised boneless short ribs with celery/quince whipped potatoes & garnet sweet potato/lemongrass/red curry sauce. "Bone short ribs, halve them horizontally, season, roll them up, tie them, and braise for two hours in a brown stock. Meanwhile, boil potatoes, pass them through a tamis, and mix them with olive oil, salt, white pepper, and a small brunoise of celery and either quince or apple. Wrap garnet sweet potatoes in foil, roast for 25 to 30 minutes in a hot oven to bring out the sugars, then mash and add chopped pecans and a sauce made with Thai red curry paste and lemongrass. When the meat is done, slice it into pinwheels and make a small pyramid on the plate with two on the bottom and one on top. The red curry sauce goes over the meat, and the potatoes go on either side."

Foie gras yesterday, today & tomorrow (white chocolate/foie gras panna cotta with apple gelée). "Cure foie gras with salt, white pepper, sugar, and brandy for a day. Make a panna cotta mixture with milk, cream, gelatin, and white chocolate. When cool but not set, prepare the ramekins. Cut the foie gras into small dice and put some in the bottom of the ramekin. Pour in the panna cotta mixture, then more of the foie gras and more of the white chocolate panna cotta. Then make apple jelly with apple juice and gelatin strips. Float it over the top of the ramekin, and let it all set. When you unmold the ramekin onto the dessert plate, you will see the foie gras chips floating in the panna cotta on a base of apple jelly. It's definitely unique."