Friday, January 21, 2011

Seafood and Root Vegetables

Root Vegetables. They're just not that cool, but that's pretty much what is in our cooler right now, it being the middle of winter. And when a couple from Warrenton engaged us to do a tasting menu for them last week, that is all we had in house to work with. They also requested no meat for their menu, but they love all manner of seafood, so we used that as our starting point for their custom menu.

While planning their menu, I had this slightly whack idea: why not pair a different seafood with a different winter root vegetable for each course, except for dessert? So we randomly paired each of six seafoods with six winter root vegetables used this as the basis for our menu. Doing the menu this way proved to be a great intellectual challenge: pairing seafood with root vegetables is rarely ever done. Here are the results of our brainstorming.

Scallops and Parsnips. We took our cue for this dish from brandade de morue from the south of France. The modern interpretation of brandade is a silky paste of salt cod, potatoes, olive oil, and garlic. We decided to try it with salted scallops and parsnips instead. And topped with a seared scallop, it worked extremely well. We're very pleased with this dish.

Crab and Sweet Potatoes. This is a complexly flavored sweet potato bisque seasoned with kaffir lime, green curry paste, Thai basil, and coconut milk. I no longer remember the genesis of this soup, but I think we have done similar sauces in the past. The bisque is topped with crabmeat marinated in a kaffir lime vinaigrette. We liked this so much that it went directly on to our nightly menu as an appetizer.

Oysters and Celery Root. We've done a lot of celery root purées this winter already and were looking for different ways to showcase this delicious vegetable, especially for a way to highlight it in its raw form. Immediately springing to mind was a celery root rémoulade that I had at Tujague's in New Orleans about 20 years ago. From here, it was an easy leap to an oyster Po Boy topped with celery rémoulade. The celery root fries were a last minute addition and the answer to the question to my cooks, "Does celery root make good fries?" Indeed, it does not. It makes outstanding fries. Live and learn.

Lobster and Leeks. This is what happens when we take our shrimp and grits from the lunch menu and amp it up with lobster, leeks, and truffles. The grits are Anson Mills as usual, but amended with a lot of creamed leeks. Truly decadent grits. The lobster is just along for the ride when compared to these grits.

Mussels and Red Onions. I confess that I went really overboard here. I am the one chef that you can generally count on not to mess with the form of an ingredient and here I go making mussels into a musselwurst. I have done every form of fried, stuffed, baked, and steamed mussel imaginable over the years and for some reason, I decided to just go crazy. So we have a mussel and caramelized red onion sausage on a bun with caramelized red onion mustard, caramelized red onions, and pickled red onions. It was a damned good seafood sausage if I say so myself, but my bun, to be polite, sucked.

Fish and Daikon. And finally, we deal with daikon. There's a ton of daikon at the farmers market now and I've been using a lot of it. Daikon led me to free associate with sablefish because sablefish is very highly prized in Japan. The natural application for daikon is raw and done in an Asian theme, so I wanted to stay away from that. I kept saying to the cooks, "Let's do something classic and French." We tried a bunch of things from grilled daikon, OK, to red wine-braised daikon, horrible, when Chris said, "Daikon Pommes Anna!" So we have seared sablefish on a daikon "pommes Anna" with wild mushrooms and a beurre rouge. The daikon pommes Anna was very tricky to pull off; daikon does not have the starch that potatoes do, so getting the cake to hold together was a problem. Once the technical issue was resolved, the result is a beautiful and classically European take on ingredients that are typically treated in an Asian style. Mission accomplished!

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