Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A meal for wine

Though it's not completely easy at this point, I am periodically working with JP as the chef to his wine tasting courses, or the co-host for his Japanese guests, etc., And, I rise to the occasion. I'm never paid enough. But is anyone when it comes to food prep? It's a wonderful world to be a part of, but it is not one where the hourly wage is particularly high. Thus, I do it for the experience, and to learn myself.

This time the givens were: 8 guests, wines of many a varietal discovered during the tastings, a very hot summer's day, and a specific request for both fish en papillote and meat in sauce. So, I went to work:

I do apologize that there aren't photos here -- I was focused on the other tasks at hand and completely neglected to visually document the event and its components.

First course: a cold summer fruit gaspacho:

1 large melon and 1 small (orange flesh, but honey dew would have been lovely too)
1 large cucumber
the juice of 2 lemons
two tablespoons of fresh lemon thyme, though mint might have been interesting
salt and sugar to taste
3 small apricots diced
1 yellow bell pepper roasted, peeled and diced

I mixed the first three ingredients in the blender -- it made two blender-fulls, about 2 1/2 quarts. I poured these into a large bowl and added salt and sugar to taste. I then went to the garden to get the lemon thyme, snipped it and sprinkled it in. I put this blend aside in jars in the freezer for the next day.

The next morning I took the jars from the freezer to defrost. When I could, I poured them into the soup tureen, stirred them a bit, then added the diced yellow bell pepper and apricot before serving.

For the soup -- completely lacking in fat and having the acidity brought by the lemon juice and the fresh apricot -- we decided that amongst the possibilities for accompaniment the lusher viognier (though this was a relatively tart viognier, not heavy on the honey and apricot direction at all) and roussanne blend from the Languedoc were far more agreable than the tart sauvignon blanc or chablis.

Next up was the salmon en papillote on a bed of yellow squash. I sprinkled anise seed below and above the salmon, a pinch of salt, a tiny squirt of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil before wrapping up my packets and baking gently till done. The softened squash really added a lovely additional texture to the dish, and the delicate anise was just the right note. We found that this softer dish was enlivened by a non-oaked chardonnay, and not bad at all with the tart sauvignon, though I also appreciated the floral rosé from the Costières.

The pork roast I fixed with sun-ripened cocktail tomatoes, onions and roasted garlic. I added sprigs of rosemary from my garden, a drizzle of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of honey and salt. Super simple. I browned the roast, then removed it from the pot. Added the onions and more olive oil and cooked till soft, then I put in the tomatoes cut simply in half, and the garlic cloves whole. I simmered till reduced and put the roast back in. I put the sprigs of rosemary on top, let cook 20 minutes or so covered and then removed from the heat. This was all done the day before the meal.

The next day I took my pot out of the fridge and brought it over to the winery. I put it on the stove top and simmered it gently for another half hour, drizzling the honey over top. I then turned it off and awaited the moment to serve. It simply improved in its tart/sweet juices.

We paired both a rich Tavel rosé -- deeper in color and higher in alchohol than the pressé directe that you find often on the market these days, and a spicy, fruity syrah with this dish. With the tart/sweet notes and the white meat, it is truly a very flexible dish for pairing.

The last dish was a straightforward mousse au chocolat noir. And I mean noir! I don't like my chocolate mousse too sweet, it is 'écoeurant' to my palate. I had a barely sweetened fresh raspberry purée to accompany it, but put it on the side so that the wine pairing could occur with just the chocolate notes.

For our dessert we appreciated the rich and syrupy aged Jardin Secret from Domaine Cabanis (syrah dominant) from 2001, a younger and more on the fruit syrah from a neighbor that had been aged and concentrated in new oak, and a white rum. A smokey/toasted whiskey is also quite marvelous with chocolate.

And thus the meal concluded. Yes, there was a cheese course between the pork and the mousse, and it showed a perfect pairing between a creamy cheese of the Loire and the farmy Pinot from Burgundy. The latter which had not shown up well during class here revealed sweet and lush notes when paired with the subtle fats of the cheese. Hmmm

Next course? in November 2010. Then menu will then reflect the fall. We shall see what inspires.

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