Jim Poris - September 2006
We didn't go for the obvious headline—you can figure it out. Likewise, the three chefs who took on this whopper of a flatfish eschewed the easy for the original.
While it may not have been quite as puzzling as Sudoku, the three chefs participating in this installment of Food Arts' Mystery Basket unraveled the list of ingredients over and over before finding the solutions for their dishes. Two of the chefs--Roberto Donna (Galileo, Washington, D.C.) and Bradford Thompson (Mary Elaine's, The Phoenician, Scottsdale, AZ)--continue a Mystery Basket trend of different preparations of the main ingredient on the same plate. It's nice to know our list can be so inspiring. The other chef here, Patricia Yeo (Sapa, New York City), put all her energy into one dish; that can be as challenging to execute as spreading the ingredients among many. From the start, the chefs had wealth to play with--every fiber and bone of a whole, large halibut. As always, they had to employ 75 percent of the ingredients--18 in this exercise, one more than in the past since we gave them more options for flavor by raising the allowable number of herbs and spices by one. Here's what they cooked up and what they had to say about it.
They have the whole halibut, salt and pepper, all-purpose flour, soy sauce, Champagne, garlic, leeks, eggs, olive oil, tomatoes, celery root with tops, Idaho potatoes, Brussels sprouts, ruby red grapefruit, Grana Padano, haricots verts, dried porcini, chorizo, Sherry vinegar, capers, and heavy cream.
And three of the following herbs and seasonings: fresh bay leaves, mint, marjoram, cilantro, lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, lavender, parsley, tarragon, and red pepper flakes.
"What was I thinking? My restaurant is about to undergo serious renovations, and I need to find a place to relocate while this happens. With all of this going on and piles of paperwork and blueprints stacking up on my desk--not to mention the World Cup--I told Food Arts that I'd do the Mystery Basket, no problem.
"I should start by telling you that I was born and raised in Torino, Italy, a city in the landlocked Piemonte region. The waters of the Mediterranean surrounding Italy are not home to halibut, so my first encounter with this fish didn't occur until I moved to Washington, D.C., at age 19. It was among many new foods that I would try and is one that has stuck with me. I've always liked halibut because it's not very oily and has a delicate flavor that doesn't overpower and adapts well to so many sauces. I think this is why it's so popular with my guests. Since it's not indigenous to Italy, I thought I'd take it on a tour of the country.
"First, I ordered a 15-pound halibut, gathered what I had from the ingredients list, and ordered anything that was missing. Then I started to think about Italian fish specialties. Based on the list of ingredients, I saw possibilities from just about every region. I decided to create a dish with a trio of halibut that covers Italy from north to south. As I began, one thing was for sure: I had to use the cheeks! All kinds of animal cheeks often appear on my menu and have become more popular with my customers. I no longer have to persuade them to try the cheeks; they order them without hesitation. So I began in the south with a crudo of the cheeks. I looked through the basket of ingredients for the right accompaniments to round out the dish and ended up with quite a few things that strike a nice balance of flavors. Next, I saw the makings of a great pasta dish from central Italy, combining the chorizo and halibut to make a filling for reginette. The last stop was in Lombardy, where I try a different spin on the region's traditional osso buco. Usually this dish is made with braised veal shanks, but the idea can work well with fish, especially halibut.
"Like most chefs who cook with locally grown, fresh, seasonal ingredients, I often end up with my own ‘market basket' of sorts. I have always enjoyed coming up with new ideas and experimenting with ingredients in this way. Now it's back to my kitchen to see what the local farmers have brought for me to cook with tonight."
Halibut north to south: osso buco with potato risotto alla Champagne; reginette filled with halibut and chorizo in a sauce of Grana Padano and fried capers; crudo of cheeks over herbed frittata with a salad of ruby red grapefruit, haricots verts,oven-dried tomatoes, tarragon & mint. "A three course mini meal--primi, pasta, and meat--confined to one long rectangular plate. Start with the crudo. Blanch and shock four trimmed haricots verts [one per person], pat dry, and then quarter them lengthwise. Roast four halved cherry tomatoes dabbed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves six or seven hours in a 280-degree oven until dry. Halve eight ruby red grapefruit suprêmes horizontally and then slice them thinly lengthwise. For the dressing, mix two tablespoons olive oil, one tablespoon grapefruit juice, one tablespoon Sherry vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix an egg with a pinch of salt and pepper, one teaspoon chopped parsley, and one teaspoon chopped mint. Heat olive oil in a four-inch nonstick pan set over medium heat; add the egg mixture; cook until set, taking care not to brown; flip; finish making the thin frittata; remove with slotted spatula; place on paper towels to absorb any oil; reserve.
"Next, the pasta. True reginette are long pasta strips with wavy edges--a skinny lasagna noodle. I call this fresh stuffed pasta reginette because when it's cooked it comes out with serrations around the edges that make it look like a queen's crown. Place one pound of all-purpose flour on a work surface; sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Make a well in the center; place five eggs and two tablespoons olive oil in the center; using a fork, start to mix flour and eggs; when it starts to thicken, continue to mix with your hands until it's smooth; wrap the dough in plastic; refrigerate one hour. Cut a pound of skinless halibut into small cubes. Thinly slice a pound of chorizo and sauté with a garlic clove in two tablespoons of olive oil until the garlic is golden; drain; finely chop the chorizo and garlic; mix with the halibut; add a half teaspoon of thyme and one tablespoon of chopped parsley; season with salt and pepper. Roll the pasta dough into a very thin sheet and cut out four rounds with a seven-inch-wide pasta cutter and four rounds with a four-inch-wide cutter; tamp each round so it lines the bottom and sides of a three-inch ring mold; fill with a tablespoon of the halibut/chorizo mixture; close the reginette with the four-inch pasta round; brush the edges with egg wash, pinching them together to seal; remove the ring mold; reserve the reginette in the refrigerator. For the sauce, heat a cup and a half of heavy cream to boiling; add salt and pepper; reduce heat; simmer three minutes; remove from heat; add three-quarters cup of Grana Padano; place in a blender; mix one minute; return to the saucepan. Soak and squeeze dry salted capers; toss in all-purpose flour; fry in olive oil; remove with a spider; place on paper towels to drain.
"Working from the skin-on tail end of the halibut, cut two one-inch-thick steaks, then halve each through the bone and shape the meat of each half around its bone so it resembles a veal osso buco. Place the halibut steaks in a container just big enough to hold them and coat with a mixture of one half teaspoon thyme and one half teaspoon parsley stirred into a quarter cup olive oil. Refrigerate. Next, grind one ounce of dried porcini into a powder. Blend one tablespoon each of thyme, parsley, and mint and a half cup olive oil into a pesto; store in the refrigerator. Cut a large peeled Idaho potato and the white of one leek into brunoise. Sweat the leek in a sauté pan with two tablespoons olive oil; add the potato; pour in a cup of Champagne; reduce over medium-low heat; finish cooking the potato risotto with a bit of water. When the potatoes are cooked, add two tablespoons of Champagne, one tablespoon of heavy cream, and one tablespoon grated Grana Padano; season with salt and pepper; set aside and keep warm. Wipe off excess marinade from the halibut; season with salt and pepper; sauté in some olive oil in a nonstick pan until golden brown; flip; finish for a few minutes in a 350-degree oven; place on paper towels to drain; reserve in a warm spot.
"Time for service. Stamp out four one-and-a-half-inch circles from the frittata; place one circle on the far right end of the rectangular dish; top with two extremely thin slices of halibut cheek; lightly dust with a pinch of salt and pepper; spoon a half teaspoon of dressing over the cheek; top with a tomato quarter, four quarters of a haricot vert, and two slices of grapefruit; spoon one teaspoon of dressing over the top; finish with a pinch of tarragon and mint chiffonade. Cook the reginette in boiling water; remove with a spider; blot dry with paper towels; place in the center of the plate; spoon Grana Padano sauce over; garnish with fried capers. Spoon some potato risotto on the left hand side of the plate; top with halibut; top the halibut with pesto; trace a line of porcini powder across the fish and risotto. Drink up a Coppo Chardonnay Piemonte Monteriolo 2004. Buon appetito!"
New York City
"I was really glad when I saw that the Mystery Basket list wasn't filled with Asian ingredients. Although I may focus mainly on Southeast Asian cuisine, my interest in food crosses all frontiers--Asian, Mediterranean, Southwestern American, for example. It's unfortunate that chefs get pigeonholed as specialists capable of replicating food from only one country or region. Every time we start a new restaurant project the first question we're asked is ‘What type of food?' I like to think that the answer is simply good food. What's important is not style but sensibility. Some ingredients aren't meant to be paired, and to use lavender in a Thai curry, for instance, would just be wide of the mark. I wish the focus were more on ingredients, techniques, and taste."
Lavender/ruby red grapefruit glazed halibut with tempura haricots verts & parsley puree. "Juice four ruby red grapefruits; add a splash of Champagne; reduce by 75 percent, adding an ounce of lavender during the last 10 minutes. Add two tablespoons of red pepper flakes; infuse until cooled to room temperature; strain; season with salt.
"For the puree, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat; sweat one cup of thinly sliced leeks and a quarter cup of sliced garlic; remove from heat; reserve. Blanch and shock five pounds of parsley; squeeze dry; blend into a puree with the garlic/leek mixture and a pint of heavy cream; reserve. Steam two large peeled potatoes and one large peeled celery root until tender; work through a potato ricer; mix in parsley puree; pass through a tamis; season with salt and pepper; reserve.
"Make a batter from one cup of all-purpose flour, two teaspoons of salt, two tablespoons of mint chiffonade, one half cup Champagne, and one egg white whisked until frothed; let it rest 10 minutes. Dip 20 trimmed haricots verts into the batter; deep fry in olive oil until golden brown; remove with a spider; place on paper towels to drain; lightly season with salt; reserve. Season four six-ounce skinless halibut fillets with salt and pepper; heat olive oil in a pan set over high heat; reduce heat to medium; sauté halibut until golden brown [about four minutes]; remove halibut from the pan with a slotted spatula; place on a sizzle platter, uncooked side up; generously brush with grapefruit/lavender glaze; ‘brûlée' under salamander for two minutes. To serve, spoon puree into the center of each plate; top with one halibut fillet; garnish with five haricots verts. I'm thinking that something from New Zealand, like Forefathers Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004, would do the trick with this dish."
Mary Elaine's, The Phoenician
"May 17, Mary Elaine's: Just received an e-mail from Food Arts outlining the parameters for its Mystery Basket feature. Looking at the list I see a lot of ingredients that we use in the restaurant, so it shouldn't be too hard to figure out. Taste of the Nation is this weekend, so I'll look at it next week. It's due June 23, so there's plenty of time.
"May 21, America West Flight #12: Flying to Palm Beach to do a dinner. The flight is over five hours long, so I can leisurely go over the ingredients again. Where to start? The list seems to lean toward Provence, or maybe Spain. I don't see butter or bacon, and that could be a problem. So many possibilities, though. Maybe I should make some lists--cooking techniques, regions of inspiration, doughs, batters, etc. My eyes are starting to get tired. How can I narrow this to one dish? And what's with the grapefruit? Damn you, Food Arts! I need to rest.
"May 23, America West Flight #1508: On the return flight. Let's review my notes. Very confusing. How do people get work done on planes? Maybe I should start over, or maybe I'll drink the Champagne to help the thought process. I wonder if that would count as using one ingredient. Perhaps New England would be a good place to start. I could do some sort of chowder with the leek, potato, chorizo, and cream and then combine that with a French preparation using the haricots verts, tomatoes, and eggs. But then what to do with the soy?
"June 2, America West Flight #46: Back on another airplane. I think I have an idea. I can do three or four small dishes on one plate. I'm not sure if that counts, but it would definitely use more ingredients. There are all the elements of a seviche and a great possibility of a broth made from the bones, vegetables, porcini, and even the soy. This may actually work.
"June 6, Mary Elaine's kitchen: It's 111 degrees outside today. Seriously, it's 111 degrees, so why am I cooking with these winter ingredients, which I've spread on the counter to help the thought process? I'm just going to start cooking. Also, it's time to get some input from my sous chef and the cooks. Well, now there are more ideas to consider, the ideas are flowing…I actually like this process. It's forcing us to think beyond the obvious or at least rethink the obvious. This is becoming therapeutic. Hmmm, it seems that there should be something fried in the final product; the dish needs some texture.
"June 9, Mary Elaine's: I think I have a solution--four preparations using different parts of the fish. I will start with a simple seviche and then move to a consommé that will be clean and have an Asian flavor to it. And then I will draw on my New England background and do a chowder-style dish. I wonder if I can make oyster crackers from these ingredients? Finally, there can be a little crispy fried fish and chips for that texture to finish'.
"June 12, Mary Elaine's: After testing, the dishes need a little work, but we're on the right track. I'm going to call Food Arts to see if this is within their rules to make four dishes.
"June 17, Mary Elaine's: Great! Food Arts said it's OK to make more than one dish. I'm pleased with the end result: the dishes all work, and I even used every ingredient except the cheese. The oyster crackers are even better than expected. Now, if I could just find a plate to fit everything on."
Halibut from four seas: seviche, Asian consommé, "New England chowder" & fish and chips. "Butcher a 10-pound halibut into two skinless fillets with white skin reserved; trim the bellies from fillets, cutting them into half-inch-by-two-inch strips for fish and chips; reserve trimming and tail pieces to clarify the broth. Cut three very thin slices from the top, or thickest part, of the fillet for the seviche and a three-ounce square from the mid-loin for the ‘chowder.'
"Prep seviche by blending three tomatoes and a half clove of garlic; strain through cheesecloth to make tomato water. Mix tomato water, ruby red grapefruit juice, a few drops of Sherry vinegar, and two tablespoons of olive oil. Briefly simmer the skin and scrape the inside clean of residual meat; run through a dehydrator until almost crisped; deep fry in olive oil until puffed; remove with a spider; drain on paper towels; season with salt.
"Next, the consommé. Make a fumet from halibut bones, cold water to cover, one ounce of dried porcini, two leeks, and one bunch of parsley stems. Strain; reduce the broth to about one quart; season with soy sauce and a pinch of salt; clarify with egg whites and their shells, leek scraps, tomato scraps, parsley, and halibut scraps; strain through cheesecloth; reserve, keeping it warm.
"The ‘chowder' and fish and chips should be timed for service. Simmer peeled and diced celery root in seasoned heavy cream until tender; remove from heat; reserve, keeping warm. Cook a peeled and diced Idaho potato in salted water until al dente. Mince chorizo and sauté until slightly crisp; remove from the pan, leaving the fat; add medium diced leeks; sweat over low heat; add to the potatoes; reserve, keeping warm. Vacuum seal one cup of heavy cream, one peeled and sliced Idaho potato, and 10 parsley stems in a plastic bag; cook one hour in a 150-degree water bath; strain the heavy cream from the bag into a bowl; when cool, whip until soft peaks form; add some parsley puree--blanched parsley leaves, patted dry and blended with some ice cubes until smooth; then whip until stiff. To make the oyster crackers, mix one cup of all-purpose flour, four tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon powdered dried porcini, four tablespoons of water, and a pinch of salt into a dough; roll into a ball; let rest one hour; roll out one-quarter inch thick; cut into desired shape; place on a baking pan; bake at 350 degrees for five minutes or so. Season halibut fillets with salt, pepper, and olive oil; envelop tightly in plastic wrap; bake 10 minutes in a 250-degree oven.
"Make a tartar sauce from egg yolks, olive oil, capers, chopped parsley, and Sherry vinegar. Mix cold Champagne, all-purpose flour, salt, and whipped egg whites to make a batter. Dip the halibut belly strips into the batter; deep fry in olive oil until golden brown; remove with spider; place on paper towels to drain; season. For the chips, slice Idaho potatoes very thinly on a mandoline; deep fry in olive oil; remove with a spider; place on paper towels to drain; season with salt and powdered chorizo made from finely diced dry chorizo allowed to dehydrate under a heat lamp for a few hours and then pulverized in a spice grinder.
"Now for service. First the seviche. Season the halibut with salt; spoon some of the sauce over it; marinate five minutes. Using a long rectangular plate, arrange the halibut on the left with some of the marinade and fresh tarragon leaves; dot the sauce with a few drops of olive oil; top with a halibut skin ‘pork rind.' To serve the ‘chowder,' place celery root and some of the cream it was cooked in on the center of the plate; top with potatoes, chorizo, and leeks; top with an unwrapped halibut fillet; top with a quenelle of parsley cream; place oyster crackers and a some garlic confit alongside. Last, spoon a dollop of tartar sauce on an insert; top with two pieces of fried halibut; garnish with potato chips. Pour the warm consommé into a cup; garnish with a sautéed julienne of rehydrated porcini, trimmed haricots verts halved lengthwise, Brussels sprouts leaves, and egg white omelet cooled and cut into chiffonade; serve on the side. An Austrian Grüner Veltliner would pair well because of its fresh garden flavors, citrus notes, and dry finish.