The James Beard Project: Week 4

Here are the menus for Week 4 of the James Beard Project. (Of course, we will be closed Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving — Gobble Gobble!):

Monday, Nov. 23 — Basil Lasagna (Beard on Pasta, p. 157)

Tuesday, Nov. 24 — Halibut with Crab (James Beard’s Fish Cookery, p. 107)

Wednesday, Nov. 25 — Sole with Shrimp Sauce (James Beard’s Fish Cookery, p. 192)

Friday, Nov. 27 — Chicken Sauté with Figs and Cognac (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 166)

Saturday, Nov. 28 — Steak Au Poivre (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 159)

Behind the Dish: Coq au Riesling

Today’s James Beard Project dish is inspired by the cuisine of the Alsace region of France, in the east along the Rhine River at the German border. The cooking of this area has, of course, been heavily influenced by German cuisine, and that influence shows here. Coq au Riesling is a variation on the traditional French coq au vin dish that, instead of using the usual red Burgundy wine, uses a sweet Alsatian white Riesling instead.

The chicken is browned in butter to which oil and flour are added. Salt pork then goes in to flavor the dish further. Its fat is rendered, and sliced mushrooms, shallots, onions and carrots are added. The chicken is flambéed with cognac and seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic before the Riesling is added and the dish is simmered. Following the simmering, the sauce is thickened with a beurre manié — a dough of equal parts soft butter and flour.

James Beard’s recipe calls for the completed Coq au Riesling to be served over pasta noodles, which figure largely in Alsatian cuisine. However, we’re substituting a traditional German form of noodle, the small dumplings known (and again, well known to many ethnic Clevelanders) as spätzle. We think they do an excellent job of soaking up the rich, delicious sauce. Of course, there’s one way for you to find out, and we highly recommend that you stop by tonight to conduct your own taste test…perhaps with a nice glass of Riesling alongside.

Tonight: Lobster Thermidor!

Those of you who read the book or saw the movie Julie & Julia will probably remember Julie Powell’s story about having to bring herself to, um, dispatch live lobsters in order to make Julia Child’s Lobster Thermidor. Well, we’re here with good news: You can spare yourself the role of lobster executioner and still enjoy the unique pleasure that is Lobster Thermidor, because we’re preparing it tonight!

The basics: Dry white wine, onion, carrot, celery, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and tarragon simmer to a boil. Then the lobsters go for their final swim. While they’re cooking until they turn red, we’ll stew mushrooms with butter, lemon juice and salt. The cooked lobsters come out of the kettle, the mushroom juices (sans mushrooms) go in with the lobster juices, and the resulting liquid is boiled down and strained before being simmered again. Butter and flour are cooked together slowly in a separate saucepan (but not browned), then removed from heat and the lobster-mushroom liquid beaten into that. The mixture is boiled and cream (regular and whipping) is drizzled in. A little lobster dissection then takes place so that some of the tastier innards can be strained and blended into dry mustard, egg yolks and cayenne pepper. The lobster-mushroom mixture then gets beaten into that mixture, and the combined sauce is boiled and then thinned out a bit (but has become quite thick by this point). The lobster meat is shelled, cubed and sautéed in a butter-and-cognac reduction. The mushrooms, lobsters and part of the sauce are then combined and used to re-stuff the lobster shells, the whole thing is covered with the remaining sauce, we sprinkle on grated cheese and butter, and bake.

The result: a dish fit for a Child. And you can enjoy it tonight, without any of the work. We hope you’ll do just that.