Friday, May 3, 2013

Ina Gussies Up Apple Tarts And Surpasses Her Own Record For Butter Usage

About that butter record, I don’t have any hard numbers on Ina’s PREVIOUS butter practices, but her proclivity for this fat is well-known. I’ll let you know at the end of the post the jaw-dropping amount that slipped through her fingers in this episode.

This show was an older one about bringing “French bistro ideas back to East Hampton”. We’re lucky Ina didn’t just skip town and hop on a plane to Paris to visit her favorite bistros.

She starts with a mussel bisque. 3 pounds of mussels get soaked in water with a bit of flour and then drained. Ina says they drink the mixture and “disgorge” the sand. And she makes sure the beards are off. (I suspect her fancy fishmonger did that for her. If you’re responsible for that, grab hold of the beard tightly and always pull it off TOWARD the hinge.)

Most folks don’t bother with flour (or I’ve seen cornmeal too). Here’s an easy explanation of how to clean mussels.

Ina cooks the mussels, covered, in a mixture of 1½ cups of boiling water and 1 cup of wine for 5 minutes.

Separately, she makes a base of onions, leeks, carrots and garlic, which she cooks in butter with salt and pepper. She adds threads of saffron at this point too, which is interesting. Nine times out of ten, saffron is steeped in liquid and THAT gets added to the recipe.

Occasionally, you may see a recipe where the saffron is toasted before using. But the stuff is so unbelievably expensive that to get the most out of it, I’ve always dissolved or soaked it in liquid. Ina kind of splits the difference by cooking it to the butter before any liquid goes in. I would still definitely soak it first, maybe in the mussel broth, and then add that to the bisque.

Ina cooks those vegetables for a long time to completely soften them. She tells us how much better saffron threads are than saffron powder. (I’ve never actually seen saffron powder. I thought people just used turmeric instead for a saffron-y color without the distinctive taste. But don’t do that here!)

Next Ina chops 4 tomatoes from a big can of San Marzano tomatoes. She says she first had Mussel Bisque when she was cooking her way through Mastering the Art. I didn’t know she did that! She adds the tomatoes to the softened vegetables and cooks that for a minute. 

By the way, I searched through Mastering for a bisque recipe that used saffron and I couldn't find it. The Bisque de Homard À L'Américaine has no saffron and the Soupe aux Moules does have a touch of curry powder AND egg yolks and cream, but no saffron. 

Ina removes the mussels using a spider to keep all the sand on the bottom of the pan. She strains the cooking liquid through cheesecloth to catch any sand and adds 2 cups of it to the pot. She says she’s going to discard the rest. Wait, don’t do that! She also adds the rest of the bottle of Pinot Grigio that she used, so that’s one bottle minus one cup...which would be 2 cups. She simmers that for 5 minutes. Is that too much wine, I wonder?

Ina takes all the mussels out of their shells by removing one side of the shell and using it to scoop out the mussel. (She says don’t use any closed ones.)

Ina says whenever anyone asks them about their favorite restaurants in Paris, she and Jeffrey surprise people when they say they prefer bistros to big fancy restaurants. And she says she always orders mussel bisque if it’s on the menu.

Ina adds the mussels to the broth over low heat with 1½ cups of half and half, which “never made anything taste worse”. Funny. And then a cup of heavy cream goes in, which Ina defends by saying it IS a French recipe. She seasons it and adds chopped fresh parsley. She tastes it. It’s good, really good.

Okay, I know we’re replicating bistro food today, but I would cook the vegetables in olive oil. Or maybe half oil and half butter. Or maybe just a tablespoon of butter. And I would definitely save all of that broth and substitute it for some of the cream. Instead of a total of 2½ cups of cream and half and half, I might use just ½ cup of cream and the rest stock, clam juice and wine. It would still be good, especially if you cooked the vegetables a long time as Ina says to give them that sweet, delicious flavor. And you wouldn’t be assaulting your arteries with quite as big an onslaught of cream. Just saying…

Next Ina visits her friend, Chef Guy Reuge, in his Stony Brook restaurant, Mirabelle, where he’s going to show her how he makes his Chicken Liver Mousse. Ahhh, here is one source of all that butter. For one pound of chicken livers, he uses 2 sticks of butter. I love his super strong Frensssccchhhh accent, even though he’s had his restaurant here for 30 years.

Chef Reuge seasons the chicken livers with salt, pepper and quatre épices, which Ina pretends not to know anything about. It’s a spice mixture and he gives us his own recipe for it here.

Chef sautés the chicken liver in grapeseed oil. (I love that oil! It has a super high smoking temperature so you can fry with abandon.) Then he throws in sliced shallot, sage, sprigs of thyme and sliced garlic. Next he takes the pan off the heat and pours in some Cognac and returns it to the heat. “Uh-Oh!” Ina says as the pan bursts into high flames.  He says he takes it off the burner so he doesn’t burn his moustache. I just love French chef humor.

Chef Reuge takes the pan off the stove and strains the contents of the pan to “remove the excess blood”. He places the chicken livers in the fridge, because he wants to process them when they’re ice cold. Meanwhile, he deglazes the pan with Marsala and Port.

He puts the cooled livers into a food processor with the deglazing liquid (isn’t that a bit hot and won’t it defeat the purpose of chilled livers?) and a half pound of completely and beautifully softened butter. That looks like Plugrá to me. He processes it until it’s smooth and puts it through an upside down tamis. Ina is very impressed with his equipment and his method. Me too.

It comes out smooth as silk, Ina says. Chef puts it a plastic wrap-lined terrine and then refrigerates it again. He serves a slice with cornichons and 4 microscopically thin toasts. (I would need about two dozen more to be happy.) They taste it together. They love it and Ina can’t wait to make it for Jeffrey.

Back at the ranch barn, Ina’s getting her table ready and, OMG, I thought she had taken a trip to Holland in high season. She’s standing amongst the most beautiful tulips of many different colors. AND she’s in her back yard!

Ina fills each vase (there are three) with only one variety of flower. They go on the table that’s been set with “raw Belgian linen napkins” used as placemats - “very modern” Ina says; white plates; and vintage flea market bowls on top. She’s also using new and vintage cutlery, which she mixes up on the table. I can’t tell whether each place setting is different (which I do when I run out of one kind of silverware) or if Ina is using different knifes, spoons and forks of different patterns at each place. I prefer the former, but I guess it’s kind of cool to do it the other way too. She finishes it up with plain white rectangularly folded napkins. No swans for her.

Her chairs look similar to the ones in the Jardin du Luxembourg, except theirs are green and Ina’s are white(ish).

Next Ina tells us about flavored butters. She gives us tons of recipes. The Roquefort butter looks particularly good. Truthfully, this is where all that butter comes in. But still it’s A LOT. Stay tuned to see how much.

Last, Ina shows us how to make a quick apple tart. I love that she tarts it up with an apricot glaze. This is a simple trick for giving any earthy fruit-topped dessert a sophisticated glow. There are several reasons for glazing. Number one is eye appeal.

Another reason for glazing is taste. It adds another layer of flavor. I like to add fresh lemon juice to my glazes too. Incidentally, you use apricot jam for apples and any yellow fruits and red currant jelly for berries. If you have mixed fruits, use apricot.

The third reason to glaze is to keep the fruit from drying out and looking brown. It keeps the tart looking fresher longer. 

Ina cuts apples (use small ones to fit better) and places about 6 slices on each rectangle of puff pastry. She uses thawed frozen pastry and doesn’t roll it out at all. She just cuts it in quarters.  

She sprinkles over sugar and dots the tops with butter. Ina grabs her sugar from a lovely clear glass vase. How pretty! But I like to have a tight cover on mine. She bakes them at 400°F. for 40 minutes. They look lovely.

Next Ina does her version of a glaze. Her glazing is completely and totally different from mine. And this isn’t the first time I’ve disagreed with her about this. She makes a glaze of ¾ cup of apricot jelly with 3 tablespoons of Calvados. She doesn’t strain it, which is okay, because she’s using jelly, which I can never find. She brings the glaze to a boil and immediately brushes it over the tarts, which are still warm from the oven.

I always use a HOT glaze over a COOLED tart. That way it doesn’t pool together in certain places, so I can’t explain her thinking here. She loves the finished product of her tarts and how quick they were to make. Ina wants to know how to say, “How easy is that?” in French. She should have asked her French chef friend.

Okay, here’s the butter count. Drum roll…this week Ina used a total of…NINE sticks of butter or two and one quarter pounds. That’s got to be a record. (I think my math is right…for all I know it could have been ninety sticks, but I don’t think so.)

Butter in This Episode
Apricot Butter  1 stick
Herb Butter 2 sticks
Lemon Butter 1 stick
Roquefort Butter  ½ stick

I know I suggested lightening up the Mussel Bisque recipe earlier, but I still like Julia’s quote, “If you're afraid of butter, use cream.”


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

NINE? How come no one ever calls her out the way they call out Paula Deen? I guess the same can be said for Emeril Lagasse to.

So is this show still on FN? Sort of refreshing. I can't remember the last time I turned on FN and actually saw a cooking show.

Anonymous said...

Ha -- "quatre épices, which Ina pretends not to know anything about" ... a throwback to Claudine Pepin? At least Claudine could claim youth when she asked the wide-eyed questions!

Sue said...

In Ina's defense, I was perhaps overdramatizing the large haul of butter she was using. After all, she WAS showing us how to make flavored butters, BUT it was still A LOT.

Why doesn't Ina get called out? I guess every Ina-lover just knows to cut the butter (and salt) in half before you even begin a recipe of hers. Also maybe because she's not quite as gleeful as she ladling in the fat as Paula is, there's not quite as much to criticize.(???) Dunno, though.

Saturday morning is about the only time I watch the Food Network. I've given up on its nighttime schedule.

Ina is nothing if not cagey as she strives to give her viewers all the information she thinks we need. And how much nicer was it do it this way than to say, "Of course, I already know all about it, but tell our viewers how to make quatre épices."?

I should definitely have mentioned that Ina was wide-eyed as she queried the French chef.