As a wedding present to some friends, Elise and I constructed a seven course meal this past Saturday. The courses were:
1. Cheese (aged Gouda, cheddar, Parmigiano, a super-cowy local feta) and Castelvetrano olives.
2. Peter's Point oysters
3. Purple oak leaf and arugula salad with toasted almonds and avocado.
4. Mushroom puree.
5. Wax beans in butter, sherry and sage.
6. The Best Thing I've Ever Made.
7. Caribbean Red Papaya and Greek (white) yogurt.
Only the next day did we realize how little cooking we actually did, having focused on minimal presentation of high quality, mostly local ingredients. This goes along with my culinary theory of get good stuff, don't f*ck it up. For instance, for an amuse we served three still-wrapped ground cherries. They were as complexly flavorful and engaging as anything made by a human.
The mushroom soup was a clash of wilderness and civilization. I made a stock from last year's tougher bits of Chicken of the Woods, which we then pureed with the most banal of fungi, the white button mushroom, partly to prove that even a pathetic mushroom is still an incredible thing. The marriage of the wild and civil 'shrooms was a happy one, as is our friends'.
The papaya and yogurt came from a discovery we made last week in NYC. Hungry and stuck in a not very fun or affordable part of town in terms of eating, we stopped at a corner store and bought Greek yogurt and a half of a ripe papaya. We dumped the entire container of yogurt into the cavity of the papaya and slobbered over it on a city bench.
The thick, dry yogurt made for a fascinating texture contrast with the juicy, squishy papaya. The only change we made in serving it to friends was a little drizzle of honey. Another thing I like about serving this for dessert is that it it doesn't contain sugar and isn't cake.
And now for #6, The Best Thing I've Ever Made. In the Crockpot I braised two grass fed beef shanks in an improvised Sichuan liquid of soy sauce, honey, star anise, one clove, some smashed ginger, three kinds of "pepper" (whole black , dried red, toasted Sichuan peppercorns) a splash of rice cooking wine and one of cider. This simmered for about six hours, and you can imagine how it made the apartment smell.
The soft, sweet-salty, aromatic meat was pulled from the bone and served atop a single, perfectly brown, crusty, pudgy latke cooked by Elise. On top of the meat were matchsticks of tart green apple tossed with chopped, fresh red chiles, lemon juice, salt, and finely minced cilantro stems.
I'd been wanting to make it ever since having something similar at Market. The main difference, besides the latke, was that the heat in Jean-Georges' apple slaw was invisible. I'm not entirely sure how it got there (rubbing? injection?), which drew me in all the more. But, like a savage, I used actual bits of peppers in mine.
I have not yet mentioned the one thing unanimously declared the night's best. After the entree I let everyone have a spoonful of the beef's cooking liquid, a sublime nectar composed of the ingredients I've already discussed plus the now rendered marrow from the shanks. I could describe it, but I'd rather use my short time on this earth to think about it one more time.
It was a good meal and, we presume, a good gift. At least as good as a nice serving platter.