I cooked for my birthday dinner at home last night. Many folks would opt to eat out, but I actually enjoy the cooking and a home setting is so much more conducive to eating exactly what you like and in the amounts you desire. And with just four of us sitting down to the dining table, it was totally relaxed and casual. Dinner started off with a near perfect bowl of onion soup, using Thomas Keller’s recipe, earlier post here. This batch was even better than the one I did last year, and would rate a 9.8/10.0 in my opinion. It took 6-7 hours of prepping and cooking the day before, then just a few minutes under the broiler just before dinner. It was just the right consistency, the flavor had serious depth, not too salty but rather, it was naturally on the sweet side without the addition of any sugar. We make it only once a year, but that is what keeps it utterly special.
The experiment for the evening was some salmon wrapped in potatoes and sauteed in butter. It was close to a disaster. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? And this puts the nail in the coffin of Daniel Boulud’s first cookbook for me. It is a beautiful cookbook, with several wonderful sounding recipes. And even though I consider myself a reasonable cook at this stage, I just can’t seem to get any of his recipes fro this fancy book right. And I love Boulud’s food in his restaurants. I found massive potatoes that should have been perfect for this dish, and I used a mandoline to cut them into paper thin slices. I wrapped the salmon with the potato slices and them brushed in butter as instructed. But when I tried to fry them, they refused to brown as pictured in the book and the potatoes were darned soggy, not crisp. I think our local potatoes must have a higher moisture content than American russets. Or the butter could be too watery as well. At any rate, the dish didn’t look as appetizing at it should have. And the addition of canned white asparagus in browned butter wasn’t helping… A definite 4.0 out of 10.0. Will not attempt this again unless I figure out how to crisp the potatoes. Besides, I now recall why I don’t really like salmon fillets all that much, it’s rather boring on the palate.
I had bad vibes about the salmon about 1.5 hours before dinner, when I wrapped the fillets and put them in the fridge to chill as instructed. So I decided at the last minute to cook some kurobuta pig’s jowls, and this resulted in the absolute surprise of the evening. I browned several pig’s jowls in a pan, removed the jowl’s and some of the fat, leaving some 1-1.5 tablespoons of fat in the pan, then added chopped shallots, some whole garlic cloves and deglazed the pan with some good riesling (white wine), added chopped semi-dried figs and large sultanas and some chicken broth and let this cook for a few minutes. I added the pig’s jowls back in and let them braise for about an hour on low heat. After tasting the simmering dish, it seemed too sweet so I added a touch of balsamic vinegar and more salt and let it reduce some more. I had absolutely no recipe for this. And the result? FANTASTIC! Cut away at the large piece of protective fat on the jowl and you had the most succulent meat ever. The sweet and slightly piquant sauce with hints of fig, fat and onion was exactly what I was hoping for. Served with some brussel sprouts and bits of bacon, this dish was FAR BETTER than the fish course.
Portions for the dishes so far were relatively modest, as we had to leave room for some cheese and these fantastic “champagne grapes” I found at S&R yesterday. These aren’t grapes used to make champagne, rather a “brand name” given to the tiny little bursts of joy, actually the “Corinth” variety of grapes. And they look so good on a platter…
The Kid, wasn’t thrilled with the fish course and ate half of the cheese instead! And happily, I noticed she was as smitten with the miniature grapes as I have always been and she finished all of those as well!
And for dessert? A small chocolate marketmanila cake from Marta’s, of course, courtesy of Mrs. MM and The Kid. Just my kind of birthday dinner at home!