Behind the Dish: Sautéed Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Madeira

Disclaimer: In James Beard’s recipe for sautéed calves’ liver with shallots and Madeira, we’re improvising on one of the main elements. Oh, don’t worry, we’re not skipping the calves’ liver — but the dish really should be called Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Sherry (try saying that five times fast), because we’re subbing sherry for the Madeira.

It’s pretty simple: finely chopped shallots (red onions can sub in a pinch) are sautéed in butter and oil, then the floured calves’ liver is added and sautéed, then seasoned with pepper, sherry and parsley.

Our liver enjoys a bed of mashed potatoes and an accompaniment of shoestring vegetables — carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, slivered fennel and green onions. If you’re a liver fan but never had it served up this way before, this is your night!

Another option: if you missed last night’s Chicken Kiev but would like to try it, it’s back on the menu tonight.

Review: Spanish Regional Wine Dinner

The Tenant’s back again…first, let me ask all of you who regularly come to these wonderful dinners: Where do you put it all? I always end up at the end of one of these Bistro 185 wine dinners feeling as if I am filled to the very top of my body with wonderful food, unable to fit in one bite or one drop more, and the rest of you are just sitting around sipping the rest of your wine, or ordering coffee…how do you do it??

If that gives you the impression that last night’s dinner was a winner, it should. It was a real feast of incredible food Spanish-style, paired with wines that fit the mood and the dishes beautifully.

I can’t say I’m a wine expert, but I enjoy tasting the different kinds offered and seeing how well they go with the courses, and it’s always an adventure.

First came the tapas. You got to see yesterday what the tapas trays looked like, and they were filled with delicious treats. From the olives, nuts and cheeses to the specially prepared items like the crabmeat-stuffed deviled eggs, the salt cod fritters (passed around separately) with garlic aioli, and the Spanish tortillas — alternating layers of tortilla and potato slices, served cold with more of the aioli — these were a great exploration of appetizers Spain-style. So were the gazpacho shooters: narrow little shot glasses of cold, spicy Spanish vegetable soup, each topped with a shrimp. The wine for this course was Ramon Bilbao Crianza 2006: a deep cherry-red wine with a fruity, smoky flavor. All the Ramon Bilbao wines are produced in the Rioja Alta wine region of Spain.

Next came a bowl of tiny sautéed clams, swimming in the chorizo broth you saw a picture of cooking up on the stove yesterday. The little clams absorbed the rich, spicy flavor of the sausage-filled broth, so delicious that after having picked the clams out of their shells with the clam fork to eat them, you needed to switch to your spoon to scoop up every flavorful drop of the chorizo sauce. The original plan was to serve this course with Ramon Bilbao Limited Edition 2006, but as it turns out the 2006 vintage isn’t ready yet, so we were supplied with the 2004 vintage instead, which made a fine accompaniment.

Next came the Chicken Marbella. How did it taste on top of Yukon Gold mashers? Absolutely delicious! Because this was Spanish food, many of the dishes were spicy and pungent, with a heat that lasted long on the tongue. But the astringency of the green olives in this dish was counteracted beautifully by the addition of prunes, which contributed a special sweetness and made for a nice change of pace. And the mashed potatoes did a wonderful job of soaking up the sauce! It was accompanied by Volteo Viura Sauv Blanc Viognier, a blended wine whose lighter, fresher, flowery-buttery flavor also provided a contrast to many of the heavier red wines on the menu. Volteo wines come from Castilla-LaMancha, the world’s largest vineyard.

By the time you’ve enjoyed appetizers and a few courses at a dinner like this, you’re ready for a light, refreshing salad course, and that’s just what the Orange and Fresh Fennel Salad provided. The organic honey and lemon vinaigrette was the perfect taste to go with the combination of greens, orange slices and slivers of fennel — a sweet, juicy, delight. The wine, too, was just right for it: Volteo Rosé Garnacha, full of fruity scents and crisp flavor.

Last, but certainly not least, of the main courses was the South African Lobster Tail, Sea Bass and Scallop in Saffron Broth with Timbale of Saffron Rice with Peas and Roasted Red Peppers. Mere words cannot describe the pure, smooth, buttery sublime flavor of this lobster tail. The sea bass, coated wonderfully with the saffron broth, tasted almost as rich, as did the scallop. I overheard another diner saying he had never in his life eaten such a well-prepared scallop. The rice was a nice addition as well; it served as a little starch to play off the richness of the seafood. The wine for this course was Cruz de Alba Crianza 2006, an unusual choice to my mind because it’s a heavier, redder wine than I’m used to thinking of as ideal for a seafood course, but it worked well. This wine is produced in one of Spain’s fastest developing wine regions, Ribera del Duero.

I must admit that by the time the dessert course came around, I didn’t have much room left for both the desserts and the Drysac Sherry served with them (although it was very good). The treats assembled for us on this plate were a rich, eggy Spanish flan, blanketed in caramel; an almond cake deep with flavor, topped with sliced almonds; a tiny chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup, with a strong mocha-coffee flavor; and a deep, dark, rich chocolate truffle that just melted in your mouth and flooded it with heavenly chocolate flavor. What a way to end our mini-visit to Spain! Hats off to Chef Ruth Levine and her staff for making this another wine dinner to remember.

If all this doesn’t persuade you that the next Bistro 185 Wine Dinner, set for December 15, is not to be missed, I don’t know what will! Watch this space for more details.

Behind the Dish: Pork Tenderloin with “Hot Fanny Sauce”

So…we all know what pork tenderloin is (ours will either be grilled or cooked in a cast-iron grill pan), but what exactly is “Hot Fanny Sauce”? Chef Todd, who once cooked at the restaurant of its inventor George Germon, describes it as “a fresh-pepper barbecue sauce,” made with onions, jalapeño peppers, chicken stock, sherry, red-wine vinegar, salt, and ground red and poblano peppers. Todd tells us he doesn’t really recall preparing this sauce back when he worked at Al Forno (he worked at the pasta station, preparing all the pasta entrees and sides, and the starch sides such as potatoes), but is enjoying the opportunity to whip it up here as part of the Julia Project.

How did “Hot Fanny Sauce” get its name? According to Julia’s cookbook from which we derived the basic recipe, Cooking with Master Chefs, there’s no big story behind it. George Germon just liked the name! (To see him whipping it up, look for the video at this link.)

There’s another project going on today that you might enjoy knowing about. Ruth just gave Marc a rather special gift…the gift of a full kitchen inside our garage at home, complete with a smoker. And since that time, Marc has been busy smoking beef brisket like you wouldn’t believe. The end result? Bistro 185 is going to have yet another notable special on tonight’s menu: Smoked Beef Brisket with Ruth’s corn pudding. Now, how are you supposed to decide what to have tonight? Good luck deciding!