Monday, May 23, 2011

There's a Bistro Ethic In These Here Parts

Saturday’s Bistro Salon found six new folks on the doorstep of the F.o.t.D. headquarters (one of whom admitted that he had no idea what he was coming to, and only realized it wasn't a restaurant as he entered the space!), ready to cook and eat and drink some wine. I'd spent the morning at the Green City Farmer's Market checking the ever increasing amount of goods (though it seems like this is really the first week the weather is beginning to cooperate), then down at Peoria Packing looking for the right steaks, of which I found none, so over to Paulina Market I went, which is really where I should have gone in the first place. Don't get me wrong, good things can be had at Peoria Packing, but man oh man is it packed on Saturday, and the meat is cut in such volume that the level of love and care just isn't there like it is at Paulina. At Paulina, I was able to score the Flat Iron steaks I'd been coveting, of top-notch quality, perfect for the Steak Frites we'd be making.

Loot in hand, preparations complete, we started cooking, and here's what we ate:
  • A couple of usual suspects: homemade epi bread and pork rillettes, with a savory apricot jam (I fell in to an inordinate amount of apricots recently, and being out of season and not the strongest in flavor, I cooked them down with some shallots, vinegar and chives, which really brought out their apricoty-ness and served as a tart foil to the rich rillettes);

  • Moules marinières: mussels from Prince Edward Island steamed open with shallots, butter, white wine, tarragon and parsley--so simple and delicious, the only way these can go wrong is if bad mussels are bought;
  • Steak frites and maitre d' butter: the aforementioned Flat Iron steaks, a cut from the chuck/shoulder of the cow, is the perfect cut for steak frites. Beefy and huge in flavor, nice and chewy without being too chewy, this relatively inexpensive cut used to be a throw away cut. Big mistake that. This dish calls for a working-class steak, and something like ribeye or--gulp--the filet mignon would be way too fancy. The steak was pan seared, some on cast iron, some on and stainless steel; flipped and joined in the pan by copious amounts of butter and shallots, cooked to medium rare while the shallots carmelized. This all went on top of the frites: russet potatoes cut in roughly 1/4" x 1/4" strips, set in cold running water until the water runs clean to rinse off excess starch, drained, blanched in 320 degree canola oil for five minutes or so to cook them through, then re-fried in 375 degree oil to crisp them up, tossed in kosher and truffle salts. A big pile on the plate, then that steak right on top. Topped that with the maitre d' butter (a compound butter made with tarragon, parsley, lemon zest and microplaned garlic, all mixed up and rolled into a tube in parchment paper, chilled and sliced), and the shallots right on top. Yes, fried potatoes, then steak, then butter, then carmelized shallots. of my favorite all time dishes;
  • A big bistro salad, made with the whole leaves of the beautiful green and red leaf lettuce I'd scored that morning. Stacked up to obnoxious heights with a vinaigrette heavy on whole grain mustard and shallots, doused with the fresh tarragon, parsley and chives. I encouraged the crew to eat that after the steak frites, using it to simultaneously sop up all the great butter and juices from the steak on the plate, and to clean and lighten things up a bit at the end of the meal, French-style;

  • Lemon sabayon tart with a pine nut crust, cream and rhubarb compote. My farmer friend had some great rhubarb, so we just cooked it down a bit with some lemon juice and sugar. Nothing else. On top of the tart it went, which had a crust of pine nuts, sugar, flour, butter and egg; the sabayon was simply eggs, sugar and lemon juice whisked over a double boiler. Somehow light and decadent at once. And we devoured that thing.
The wine flowed as did conversation; it was a lively night to cap off an absolutely gorgeous day. The Bistro Salon is definitely coming back soon, without question. I'd like to thank the bistros--not only of France but here in North America as well--where I've drawn inspiration for this and so many other meals, and for the superb book Bouchon by the untouchable Thomas Keller for some really solid inspiration. And of course, my six great Saloneers. Until next time, bon appetit!