Garlic Soup

May 22, 2009


Duck fat, long a staple of the kitchens in Gascony, imparts deeply opulent flavors to any dish. Many chefs revere the use of duck fat with potatoes in so many preparations.

(Gascony is a historical and cultural region of southwest France—east and south of Bordeaux—that was formerly part of the province of Guyenne and Gascony…a keenly gastronomic domain)

3 T duck, goose or chicken fat
6 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, rinsed, green tops discarded, whites finely chopped
30 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled

7 C chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Bouquet garni: several sprigs of fresh parsley and tarragon and several bay leaves, twined
Nutmeg, grated

5 organic, free range egg yolks
4 T olive oil

Baguette slices, toasted
Chives, for garnish

Over low heat in a large stock pot, melt the fat over low heat, then add the garlic. Cook while stirring occasionally, without browning, until the garlic has become very soft, about 30 minutes or so. During the last 15 minutes of this step, add the leeks so they sweat and soften too.

Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper, bouquet garni, and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 20 minutes. Discard bouquet garni.

Blend the soup either with an hand immersion blender or by allowing the soup to cool slightly and pouring it into a blender or food processor. Blend until the soup is completely puréed.

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl while drizzling in the olive oil. Very slowly and cautiously add hot soup to the yolks a small amount at a time while still beating the eggs. When you have added a cup or so to the eggs, slowly pour the remainder of the egg mixture into the soup vigorously whisking while you do so. Heat the mixture gingerly being careful not to allow the soup come to a boil which would curdle the eggs.

Place a toasted baguette slice in the bottom of each bowl and pour the soup over top. Serve, garnished with chives.


Radishes & Butter

May 9, 2009


Fresh radishes
Unsalted butter
Sea salt

Thinly slice a baguette and generously spread each slice with unsalted butter. Spread slices on baking sheet and toast under broiler. Thinly slice several radishes horizontally using a slicer or mandolin and cover the butter with overlapping slices of radish. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top.

Pourboire: the classic French presentation is to cut a wedge out of the radish and insert some cold unsalted butter; then sprinkle with a little sea salt.

In America we eat, collectively, with a glum urge for food to fill us. We are ignorant of flavour. We are as a nation taste-blind.
M.F.K. Fisher

Often time is limited. So, when mulling over ideas for a hastily drawn home meal, my thoughts invariably turn to a simple grilled steak or mixed grill on the barbeque. Involving just thirty five minutes of primarily hands off grill preparation and about 10 minutes active cooking time, steaks are fairly tough to surpass…especially if olive oil brushed veggies and baguette slices join the fray. An instant sumptuous feast.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus, once remarked that when you masticate (preferably with your mouth closed), food eventually breaks into four basic shapes. Sweet morsels are “round and large in their atoms.” Salty fare land as “isosceles triangles” on your tongue. Bitter is typically “spherical, smooth, scalene and small,” while sour is “large in its atoms, but rough, angular and not spherical.”

When taste buds were microscopically “discovered” in the 19th century, tongue cells appeared as minute keyholes into which food might lodge, and it was deduced that there were only four different keyhole shapes—one for each basic taste.

However, a new taste, umami, was identified almost 100 years ago, by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University. He had sought to scientifically identify an official fifth taste, which was recognized for centuries in dashi and kombu. Dashi, meaning “boiled extract,” often forms the base for Japanese soups. So, although the concept of umami is ancient, the nomenclature is relatively recent.

In 1908, Dr. Ikeda succeeded in extracting glutamate (an amino acid) from kombu and discovering that it was the main active ingredient in this edible seaweed. He coined the term “umami” to describe the flavor with the closest English equivalent being “delicious” or “savory”—even “yummy” is used occasionally. Umami is a not so easily recognizable subtle taste that occurs naturally in many vegetables and dairy products as well as in meat, fish and seafood. Even foods without broth—such as mushrooms, tomatoes, proscuitto, anchovies and aged cheese—are loaded with glutamate and the essences of umami. This makes little mention of nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce) which simply exudes umami.

Umami results from the presence of glutamate plus five ribonucleotides including inosinate and guanylate. Glutamate is naturally present in some degree in most foods; inosinate and guanylate are present in many foods, and another nucleotide, adenylate, is abundant in fish and shellfish.

Soy sauce, a fermented sauce made from soy beans, roasted grains, water and salt is inherently rich in umami. Originating in China, soy sauce was introduced in Japan by Buddhist monks in the 7th century, where it is known as shoyu.

From childhood, I was weaned on grilled steaks bathed in soy sauce, but they were also sprinkled with seasoned salts and peppers. In the ensuing eons, I began to experiment with a variety of pre grill steak dressings, whether they be moist or dry (see Dry Rub A Dub, infra.), landing on nothing more than a bare soy sauce bath (no other seasonings) as the one truly preferred coating. At first, this may sound uninspired, but to the contrary it draws out the luscious simplicity of the meat with a rich umami touch.


2 1 3/4″ thick Kansas City Strip or Ribeye steaks, bone in or boneless
Premium quality soy sauce (preferably shoyu)

Have your friendly local butcher freshly cut some nicely marbled steaks. Place steaks in a single layer in a glass dish. Pour soy sauce over sparingly, turn steaks to massage and coat all over, taking care not to drown the meat. Allow to rest about 1 hour before cooking, turning a couple of times. The meat should be nearing room temperature before grilling.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about 2-3 inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread. Count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it, about 2-3 seconds for medium high.

Grill steaks to desired doneness, about 4-5 minutes per side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the steaks, the size of the ‘cue and the heat of the grill. For the touch test, gently put the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. Press the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm with your opposing index finger. Voilà, medium rare.

As always, let meat rest before serving so that the juices migrate throughout.

Serve with olive oil slathered grilled vegetables (such as mushrooms, peppers, Japanese eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus) and olive oil brushed grilled baguette slices and a silky red.

This is a culinary ode to St. Barts—that emerald, beach fringed French isle in the Caribbean with its luxurious villas, sophisticated bistros, stunning vistas, harrowing runway, and oil coated nude bodies. Here, you bide the time reclined, barefooted, scantily clad, discussing dinner during a lunch overlooking the azure sea framed by a cobalt sky with the always present puffy white clouds…with multilingual banter and the clink of wine glasses… did I forget to mention bathed in ocean breezes with your toes in the sand?

Anthony Bourdain is right on when he says food just tastes better in naked feet.

In a diplomatic master stroke with undoubtedly some collusin involved, France purchased St. Barthélemy from Sweden in 1878. Some Swedish influences remain, including the name of the its quaint capital port, Gustavia, and the blonde haired, blue eyed populus. But now, the island is part of the overseas département of Guadeloupe, and the French savoir faire exudes.

The goat cheese salad is pervasive at the local restaurants, with good cause. But, perhaps to satisfy that darker and wilder urge for offal, I admit to daily ordering the boudin noir and fabulous frites (blood sausage and fries).

Bon appetit chef Sonja Lee (formerly of St. Barts, now in Oslo)


2 C fresh baguette breadcrumbs
2 T fresh thyme, minced or 2 teaspoons, dried
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 sliced rounds of soft good quality fresh goat cheese
2 eggs, beaten

2+ T plus champagne vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 cup walnut oil
3 T walnut oil
8 C mixed baby greens or mesculun
2 heads Belgian endive, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
2 large ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices

1/2 C chopped walnuts

Create two separate open dishes, one with breadcrumbs and the other with beaten eggs. Season goat cheese with salt, pepper and thyme. Dip cheese into beaten egg, then into breadcrumbs, coating completely.

Whisk vinegar and mustard in small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine mixed greens, Belgian endive and pears in large bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add walnuts and sauté until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate using slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium. Working in batches, add coated cheese rounds to skillet and cook until crisp and brown on outside and soft on inside, about 2 minutes per side.

Toss salad with enough dressing to coat. Divide among 4 plates. Arrange 2 cheese rounds in center of each salad. Sprinkle with walnuts.