A gourmet weekend on San Juan…

Last weekend, a long-time group of friends came up to the island and we spent all of Saturday cooking. I’ve been cooking with this group at least since 1997, but this was one of the first times we’ve all made dinner together in the same kitchen — normally each person or couple makes something and we come together at someone’s house for dinner. But since the logistics of everyone coming north gave us a whole day together, we were able to do something a bit special.

Before everyone arrived last Saturday, I’d put together a tentative menu, including five dishes that were either straight from, or derivations of, dishes from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook. I’d pre-made and reduced duck stock to a demi-glace, made chive, shallot, and basil oil purees which could be strained and used for service, and reduced balsamic vinegar and PX sherry into a thick glaze. So after everyone got to the island and we went to the Farmer’s Market for last-minute items, we were ready to cook.

For appetizers, we began with a traditional pissaladiere, the Provencal onion tart, served with my fresh tapenade, crostini, and Oregon Country prime beef tenderloin pounded out into carpaccio with shaved parmesan and drizzles of bright emerald green basil oil. This was served with a non-vintage Paul Bara Rose champagne for toasts, and then the new vintage of Tempier Bandol Rose 2006, which is a superb wine. James Peterson’s pissaladiere recipe is a bit odd, and I’d recommend not following him on the pizza dough crust but going for traditional pastry instead.

The first course was grilled red snapper filets, served on a bed of sauteed rainbow chard greens tossed with garlic and shredded sorrel (the latter was from a mention in Olney’s Tempier cookbook), and topped with one of three relishes: piquillo peppers and nicoise olives, straight piquillo peppers with smoked paprika and sherry vinegar, and chopped shallots and lemons marinated in sherry vinegar. All went well with the grilled fish. I served this dish with the 2005 William Fevre AOC Chablis, decanted for 4 hours and nicely open.

Between courses, a quick palate cleanser of vine-ripe tomato sorbet with chive oil drizzle, in little espresso saucers.

The main course was Keller’s duck roulades: thin breasts of duck, skin and fat removed but otherwise raw, rolled up in blanched chard leaves and rolled in plastic wrap for poaching. A disk of the poached breast, still wrapped in the chard, is placed on top of a smooth sweet white corn puree with white corn kernels, and drizzled with the duck reduction, and topped with root vegetable and morel mushroom “brunoise” tossed in the reduction. The dish was frankly amazing. I’m definitely doing this one again. Other than the duck reduction and a bit of obsessive straining on my part of the various items, it wasn’t much work. I served this with the Tempier Bandol Miguoa 1994, decanted for 3 hours and very sweet and open. A terrific bottle of wine.

Before the salads and cheeses, I served a single chilled shot of tomato “consomme” with a smoked paprika and sun-dried tomato salt rim. The consomme is made by allowing chopped tomatoes and a chipotle pepper to drain through cheesecloth for 24 hours, catching only the free-drip liquid. It’s the essence of tomato flavor, and very tasty chilled.

Thomas Keller’s deconstructed Caesar salad was next — Parmesan custards on a crouton and balsamic caesar dressing, topped with a parmesan crisp and a twist of chiffonaded romaine lettuce tossed in dressing. A terrific dish. I served this and finished the main wines with the Verset Cornas from 1985: fully mature but immensely complex and deep. I love this wine, and thank goodness I have a bit more in the cellar. Wow.

The final “cheese” course was the deconstructed carrot/raisin salad: shredded carrots, seasoned in a reduced carrot juice and spice mixture, on a bed of golden raisin puree, with slices of Roncal cheese on top, and carrot powder on the rim of the plate. The carrot powder is made by microwaving shredded carrot for 45 minutes until dessicated and then grinding. This was particularly cool since almost everyone over a certain age has had carrot raisin salad, and this is that childhood experience taken to a new level.

For dessert, fresh island strawberries with the balsamic drizzle, and a trial run on my friends’ wedding cake. This was served with the Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon 1996 Rochefort “Les Rayelles” which I thought was a bit tired, but still had good fruit and OK acidity. Nothing like it was a bit younger, I’m hoping it’s a phase.

Pics of some of the food on my Flickr site…