As we got ready to move out of our house in Santa Clara, I wanted to cook a final meal in our fancy kitchen before we left it behind. I had always been fascinated with the famous French Laundry preparation of Oysters and Pearls and very early on decided that it was going to be the anchor dish of this meal. As I kept looking for other dishes to go with it I was intrigued by enough TFL dishes that I decided to go all the way and make this a Thomas Keller themed dinner and to only cook dishes that either his recipes or are served in one of his many restaurants.
I started out with one of his signature French Laundry dishes – the salmon cornets that I first had in Per Se in 2010. The recipe is pretty straightforward and doesnt need any exotic ingredients. The main caveat that the fancy cones in the restaurant are while the batter is hot which often leads to burnt fingers. Since I didnt like my guests all that much 😉 I instead used a version of the recipe from Food & Wine magazine where Keller himself says that home cooks should avoid the cone step and use this cracker style presentation instead.
Next up was the dish that actually inspired the meal – Oysters and Pearls. For this I used his standard recipe from Epicurious and things came out pretty well. There are a lot of steps but they are all pretty straightforward. I bought the oysters from Four Star Seafood which a little pricey but a huge step in quality up from the Safeway oysters I have used before. I shucked the oysters and made the various components (tapioca, sabayon, sauce) the night before the meal. I heated them up the day off and found that the sauce broke apart on heating and could not be saved. As a result you will see that the top of the dish looks like a layer of fat instead of the light and airy sauce it should have been. The dish still tasted great and next time I will make the sauce at the time of service instead.
While this dish involves a lot of work it is still reasonably easy to make and tastes just as good at it does in the restaurants. Tasting the tapioca pearls with the saltiness of the caviar explains why this dish has been a French Laundry staple for more that two decades.
Next us in a dish from the Ad Hoc cookbook – Cream of Cauliflower soup with Beet Chips. A very simple dish to make with the beet chips being probably the hardest thing to do. The cauliflower is super straightforward to cook and blends into a wonderfully creamy puree. The beet chips took a bunch of experimentation but in the end we found that you have to use a mandolin to evenly slice them as thin as possible. Otherwise they will not fry evenly and you will be left with chips that burnt on one edge and soggy on the other. A dish that I will definitely be making again.
The Caramelized Scallops from the Ad Hoc cookbook were the simplest dish on the menu but were one of the best. I typically do not cook meats at the time of service but made an exception here due to the simplicity and the short cook time. Since I could not get U7 scallops I ended up using the smaller U11s from Four Star instead. Since they were smaller I only brined them for 6 minutes instead of the recommended 10. Because we had 7 diners I ended up having to use 2 different pans to cook the 20 scallops and did have a little trouble getting the two pans to heat up to the same level at the same time – this would have been much easier with identical pans. Four minutes on each side was just perfect. Do not salt the scallops while cooking – I felt that they got over salted that way plus the diners can always add salt on top.
The surprise of the meal was that Nithya really liked the scallops and actually asked me to make a second batch for dinner the next day. The fact that you can brine them and store them after that allows you to save on the slightly ridiculous amount of salt needed for the brining step. This has already been made at home again 🙂
Next up were the Salmon Rillettes from Bouchon. This one was a hard one call while designing the menu. Adding yet another salmon dish after the salmon cornets was not ideal but there were only a limited number of dishes that I could easily do at home for this meal. The recipe is simple enough to make and can easily be made a couple of days before the meal. It tasted good but I would not put it this late again. I would perhaps serve it as an appetizer with cocktails or use it as a spread for more of a shared buffet meal setting.
Next up was the first family style course I have ever served at one of my multi course dinners. I was not sure how filling the previous course would be so I decided to made a pretty substantial quiche and paired with with a sausage stuffing that Bouchon typically serves only for Thanksgiving.
The mushroom quiche itself was easy to make – it is the buttery pastry shell that is the hard part. I was able to mix the shell ingredients together easily enough but found it very difficult to roll it out thinly enough as it was always too hard or too soft. Looking around the internet showed that other folks had the same issues with it as well. My best source of info was Smitten Kitchen who said that it is ok to keep dropping the dough into the freezer for a couple of minutes when it gets too soft. While that did help, I still had a lot of holes and breaks in the shell. In the end I moved the tattered shell into a springform pan (not just the ring like the recipe) and used the shell scraps to fill in the many holes that were in the crust. You can see the unevenness of the crust in the image above but since I was cooking this the day before and serving wedges I was not that concerned with the outer appearance of the crust. More importantly I had no leaks from my shell during the baking process and things came out quite crispy. I removed the quiche from the pan after it cooled down and stored it in the fridge overnight. Heating up the slices for 15 min at 400 got them ready to serve for the meal.
The companion Ciabatta and Sausage Stuffing was pretty easy to make and I cooked it just in time for service. I did find that it was a little dry so the next time I might serve it with some kind of sauce or maybe add an olive oil drizzle at the end. The quiche in particula went over really well and it something I should make for a future potluck dinner. Makes for great leftovers as well.
The final course was the famous TKO (Thomas Keller Oreos) from Bouchon. I have never eaten them myself but they sounded like an excellent idea. One catch that wasn’t noted in the recipe is that the filling gets very hard in the fridge. You will want to bring the pastry bag out at least a hour before you want to make the cookies so that it is at a more usable temperature. Also I used a 2.5 inch cookie cutter (recipe asks for a 3 inch) for the biscuits and found that the cookies were just too big/rich to finish. Most of the folks at the dinner took their cookies home instead. The next time I will use both a thinner cookie and a 2 inch cutter to make for smaller serving. Very tasty though and with a 3-4 day shelf life is something I will likely be making again.
And that was it for the Thomas Keller affair. Unfortunately I did not have the time or the artistic talents to make a version of the Thomas Crown Affair poster with Kellers head photoshopped on top – I guess it will have to be an improvement for next time. 😀