Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dream Dinners, Pheasant Souvaroff and Pastry St. Honore

 A few weeks ago I wrote about rediscovering the old Time/Life series, Foods of the World (HERE).  Reading it sent memories flooding back about so many things… not the least of which were my own fond memories about Craig Claiborne, the author of Classic French Food in the series.  Ah, Craig –– you got me addicted to the NYTs food section at such an impressionable age!

In Classic French Food, there was a whole chapter in the book devoted to Claiborne’s dream about a perfect meal ­­–– if you could have anything you wanted, what would you order?  How many times have you asked yourself this question?  This chapter, entitled “A Favorite Gastronomic Game” was a preview of Craig’s best dinner ever –– sort of a rehearsal. You see, Claiborne got to actually have his dream dinner and shared it with his cooking partner at the New York Times, Pierre Franey (Claiborne wrote, and Franey did the hands-on cooking).

Like a great professor, Claiborne made you want to learn more. It was a natural progression to move from knowing more about food to being inspired to cook it for myself. Although I got off to a rocky start trying to make 500-year old dishes (this fascination isn’t new for me, I’ve been playing with old recipes from the first time I started cooking thanks to some books from the Metropolitan Museum), I soon leveled off and started making modern food more often than not.

I remembered learning about an outrageous dinner Claiborne had eaten a few years before I showed up on the scene … a $4000 dinner. By the time I heard about it, I was well on my way to becoming a food person. This meal inspired many an aspiring gourmet to dream of their own list of dishes (a "fork-list" if you will) and where to eat them.  My friends and I (many of whom were in the restaurant business) would toss the idea back and forth over many glasses of wine, deciding what our favorites would be (and who our dream date would be, of course… we were in our 20’s after all).

For his perfect dinner, Claiborne went to a small, exclusive place in Paris called Chez Denis that favored patrons like Jackie Kennedy and Orson Welles –– thing is, he won the once-in-a-lifetime meal.  His $300 bid at a PBS auction got him the prize, courtesy of American Express –– dinner for 2, whatever you wanted, anywhere in the world. The only hitch was that they had to take the American Express Card.  Claiborne made the bid and then forgot about it, so he was flabbergasted when he was announced the winner.  Although I am sure no one at AMEX anticipated such an expense  (1975’s $4000 would be more than $18,000 today), the press the dinner got paid for the prize 10 times over.

The 31 course, 4 ½ hour meal in 3 services began its first service with Beluga caviar in a Baccarat crystal dish.  Next came 3 soups: wild duck consommé with crepes, cold Germiny [sorrel] and veloute andalou [cream of tomato soup]. Then there was a parfait of sweetbreads, mousse of quail and a tiny truffled ham tart. Still in the first service were oysters with beurre blanc, lobster in a tomato cream sauce and red mullet in a Provinçale pie but there were also bits of Bresse chicken with a mushroom cream sauce,  a Chartreuse of partridge and Limosin beef with a truffle sauce.  They had a small break with sherbets (orange lemon and black currant) to "revive the palate" before the 2nd service.


The 2nd service began with the most rare of gourmet dishes, ortolans en brochette (now totally illegal), wild duck en salmis, loin of veal wrapped in pastry with whole, giant truffles, puree of artichoke hearts and pommes de terres Anna. Then some cold delicacies, wild duck,  foie gras, cold woodcock filets cooked in Chambertin and wild pheasant with fresh hazelnuts.

They finished the heroic feast with the third service that began with a cold glazed charlotte with strawberries, an Ile flottante (meringue on creme anglaise) and poires alma (pears poached in port) that was then followed by pastries, confections and fruits.

This was washed down with amazing wines.  When Denis agreed to do the dinner he wrote to Claiborne: "In accordance with your demand, I propose to organize for you a prestigious dinner. In the land of my birth, the region of Bordeaux, one speaks of a repas de vins, a meal during the course of which a number of wines of great prestige are served, generally 9 wines".  They were : Champagne Comtesse Marie de France 1966, Château Latour 1918 (Claiborne said it was the best Bordeaux he had ever known), Montrachet du Baron Cher 1969, Château Mouton Rothschild 1928, Château Lafite Rothschild 1947

Château Petrus 1961 (this wine is rated 100 and goes for upwards of $10,000 a bottle today), Romanée-Conti 1929, Chateâu D'Yquem 1928, and an 1835 Madeira. In addition, Denis offered an 1865 Calvados and a personal cognac classified as "ageless."

Claiborne wrote of the meal " We reminded ourselves of one thing during the course of that evening: If you were Henry VIII, Lucullus, Gargantua and Bacchus, all rolled into one, you cannot possibly sustain, start to finish, a state of ecstasy while dining on a series of 32 dishes."

Lists like this take a lifetime of gourmet experiences to form and develop. Claiborne joyfully embraced the spirit of the game when he wrote the “A Favorite Gastronomic Game” chapter in 1968.  The result was grand practice for the 1975 dinner of a lifetime.

The rules were loose.  “You are not bound by any limitations of time or place.  You may simply make your selections and assume that everything you order will magically appear of the table.  You may even cheat a bit; if you find it hard to fix on any one choice for a particular course, you are allowed an alternate, or even several if you prefer.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime feast. The object of the game is to pick anything and everything on the roster of supreme classic dishes that you would like to eat.”

Some of the dishes that he was to have at the Paris dinner were already on his list years before and that did not surprise me in the least. 

Linden Flower

One of the best things about doing this blog has been that I have been able to slowly but surely try things I’ve always wanted to try –– everything from grouse to Proust’s lime flower tea and Madeleines (when I was a kid I thought regular tea with a squeeze of lime would do the trick, not knowing the lime flowers were Linden flowers and the flavor delicate­­ and terribly beautiful).  Many things I had read about (pheasant under glass) or heard about (ambergris) or seen on screen (the cailles en sarcophage from Babette’s Feast) and wanted to try had gone out of fashion by the time I wanted to eat them.

In an odd way, I guess I’d been slowly assembling my list for decades.  Instead of a bucket list, it’s a "fork list"(buckets are for horse-chow after all).   It’s a list that is constantly evolving as my horizons widen.  I know sometimes these dishes I try leave my readers scratching their heads, but the other great thing about a blog is that it is so liberating  –– I do what I want, for better or for worse, and have a great time doing it. My hope is that you who visit Lostpast will find the stories interesting and will find that the recipes inspire you to try things outside your comfort zones ––  inspired, as I have been, by many cultures. and great cooks throughout the centuries.  I know my "fork list" has certainly changed since I started working on the blog... have you ever compiled your list?  Has it changed much over the years?

Guy Thivard and Mrs. Point with foie gras en brioche (Time/Life photo)

Claiborne’s 1968 list began with fresh foie gras, glazed in port with truffles and aspic in brioche by Chef Guy Thivard of Le Pyramide (the restaurant created by the legendary 6’4”, 300 pound chef Ferdinand Point).  Claiborne said trying to describe foie gras en brioche was like “trying to capture a dazzling ray of light”.  This would be served with a Sauternes, freezing cold.

Next came a Galantine of Duck filled with meats, truffles and pistachios.

He said the rest was harder to choose but it would begin with the creamed Germiny (sorrel) soup.  Alternatives were a variety of consommés (if the food to follow was rich); either Celestine (with shredded crepes), Royale (with bits of custard) or Petite Marmite (with tiny diced vegetables).  These all showed up in the 1975 dinner in slightly different forms.

Coulibiac (Time/Life photo –haven’t pictures changed? 
They wouldn’t make a food porn site today!)

For fish he raved over Coulibiac (a French/Russian classic of salmon enclosed in pastry served with melted butter) that his cooking partner Pierre Franey had done with great success at Pavillon restaurant in NYC.  He also could have chosen a lobster soufflé (a cloud of soufflé over a ‘piquant’ Lobster Americaine base ––a tomato/cognac preparation).

Next he mentioned Poulet Sauté Boivin (chicken with meat glaze, artichoke bottoms and new potatoes) or Fillet of Beef Richelieu (with braised lettuce, chateau potatoes, tomatoes and mushroom caps filled with duxelle).

Pheasant Souvaroff (Time/Life photo)

BUT, he would forgo them all if it were game season and he could have Faison Souvaroff (pheasant, madeira, foie gras and truffles sealed in a casserole that’s opened at table to enthrall the lucky diners with the scent of the creation).  Well, that stopped me in my tracks… that would be my dish. How can you go wrong with a sauce enriched by foie gras and truffles?? 

There was more to follow –– quail with grapes in pastry sounded lovely as did the desserts –– sorbets, ice cream bombes, crepes, Bavarian creams, savarins, and beignets.  Riz Imperatrice (creamy rice custard with a tower of glacéed fruits named for Empress Eugenie) a Bavarois Clermont (with Bavarian cream and chocolate chestnuts), Gateau St. Honoré (choux pastry dipped in caramel and filled with pastry cream on top of puff pastry with crème Chantilly named after the patron saint of bakers) and Poires Bourdaloue (pear tart with frangipane cream and chopped pistachios and macaroons on top were described with great affection.

Gateau St. Honore (Time/Life photo)

All of them sounded amazing but I made a version of Gateau St Honoré… leaving off the puff pastry since it was so rich already and making individual round éclairs because I used to love them when I was in my early years in NYC –– served at Patisserie Lanciani in the Village (I just read Madeline Lanciani now has Duane Park Patisserie in Tribeca).  The crunch of the caramel and the luxurious cream filling was a huge favorite of mine.  This was also the perfect dish since I was the lucky recipient of amazing eggs and cream from an Amish farm… the quality was insane…. The pastry cream was bright yellow and the cream was so thick it whipped in 2 seconds.  The recipe is a little Craig and a little Martha (with my trusty David Leibovitz recipe for  choux paste... easy and perfect every time)

Needless to say, my guests were terribly pleased with Craig’s suggestions and I got to cross another 2 classics off my to-do list.

Pheasant Souvaroff  (serves 2 to 4)

2 small pheasants or 1-3 ½ lb. chicken (D’Artagnan sells pheasants HERE) 
salt and pepper
3 T clarified butter
2 c stock
2 cups demi-glace (DArtagnan sells it HERE, or reduce 1 gallon UNSALTED stock till thickened )
1 T fresh marjoram and/or thyme
½ c madeira ( I used New York Malmsey from Rare Wine Company)
1 T of Barbeito Malvasia Madeira Favilla Vieira 1920 (optional)
1 c foie gras (D’Artagnan sells a package of foie gras cubes HERE that is perfect for this)
1 small truffle, sliced or 1 t truffle oil (D’Artagnan sells them HERE
Herbs for garnish

Preheat oven to 400º and rub the pheasants with salt and pepper inside and out. Brush with butter. Lay birds on their sides and roast 15 minutes.  Turn to the other side and roast 15 minutes.  Put the birds on their backs and roast 20 minutes to ½ an hour until browned but not done.  Remove and allow to cool a little. Remove and pour out the stock into a skillet.  When cooled somewhat, carve the birds into serving pieces, 4 each and reserve.   Cut out the backbones and toss the backbones into the stock with the giblets (not the liver).  Add the demiglace and herbs and heat gently for ½ an hour, taste for seasoning and strain out the solids.

Put the pieces of pheasant into a covered dish, pour the reduction over the pieces of pheasant and add the madeira, foie gras and truffle.  Place a piece of foil on top of the pot and cover.  Cook in a 350º oven for 30 minutes or till warmed through.  Remove the lid at table for the glorious whiff of the madeira and truffle. I added the tablespoon of the old madeira at the table to get the full effect.

If you want to do it old school, make a paste with flour and water to seal the dish closed, bake it and then break it open at table.


 Pastry St. Honore

10 puffs
recipe for caramel
recipe for pastry cream
Creme Chantilly

Take the puffs and dunk them in the warm caramel. Split them and fill with pastry cream (or you can put a small hole in the pastry and fill with a pastry bag and tip). Serve with Creme Chantilly if you would like.

Pate A Choux (Cream Puffs)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter + 1 c water
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
4 large eggs
1 t salt
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Heat the oven to 400º.
Combine the butter and water in a small saucepan, and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, and immediately add the flour and salt. Beat continuously with a wooden spoon until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment if you have one, add the eggs, one at a time. If you don't have one, a good strong hand mixer will do.
Place  mixture in a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. Pipe 2-inch balls, spaced 1 1/2 inches apart, on the prepared baking sheet.Cook for 25 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and gently puncture each puff along the cut line to release steam.

For The Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream)

2 cups milk or milk and cream mixed
1 t vanilla
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ c grand marnier
pinch salt
Combine the milk and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Set pan over
medium heat, and scald the milk mixture. Remove the pan from heat,
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, and continue whisking egg mixture until smooth.
Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk this new mixture until it is smooth.
Return new mixture to pan, and place over medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly; cook 2 minutes more.
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until ready to use.
1 c granulated sugar
¼ c water
pinch of cream of tartar
Prepare an ice-water bath, and line a baking pan with a silpat or foil.
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan with cream of tartar. Set over high heat, and bring to a boil. Swirl the pan occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking until the syrup is golden-amber. Remove pan from heat, and plunge bottom of pan in the ice bath to stop cooking (it can go from caramel to burnt sugar in seconds). Then put the pan in a bowl of hot water and use it for your puffs.

Also, if you want to make swirls with the caramel, double the recipe. Then drizzle caramel on the silpat and remove when it begins to harden, shape it as you will.
Crème Chantilly
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup confectioners' sugar
½  teaspoon vanilla extract

Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla and set aside

.                      Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday

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pam said...

My forklist has changed, but it totally lacks your sophistication.

Anonymous said...

31 course tasting? Wow. That's definitely more courses than any tasting that I've ever had :) The phesants look specacular, love those giant truffle slices, and what a scrumptious little dessert!

darius said...

What a wonderful post! I learned to cook (and appreciate food)from Craig Claiborne.

Barbara said...

I'll mention the Duane Park Patisserie to my daughter as she lives on Duane. (Everytime I tell her something like this, she's been there....she's a foodie.)
And she just responded to my Skype: "yes indeed- went to the old place in the 80's and have a scone almost every morning from duane Park Patisserie"

Pheasant (well, wild pheasant anyway) tends to be dry and somewhat bitter, but I don't see any signs of that looks marvelous. I imagine the reduction and madeira would balance that. Looks lovely, Deana. You did a spectacular job.

Now the St. Honore looks divine. So often people cheat and use whipped cream (ugh) instead of pastry cream. I often make the puffs and pastry cream with a caramel sauce, but never have put it all together in cake form. Beautiful!

Fun post. When I think about my "forklist" I can only dream. For some reason, as you age, you just can't eat those multi-course dinners. (Recently, at a dinner with old friends in Michigan, only three of us could drink because of medications the others were taking. So discouraging.) Perhaps it's best to do it one or two dishes at a time as you've done here today.
Be fun to do a mini-meme sometime about favorite dinners. Been done to death to ask who'd you'd like to eat it with, though. :)

Anonymous said...
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La Table De Nana said...

You are a real FOODIE.

Not an imitation..I am.:)

My dear old aunt..she would be 98. passed away a few yrs ago..and she always ordered a St H.if we went to her apart.for lunch..:)

All your dishes look divine.

I had "faisan " once..and I cannot remember where it has been so long..

I still treasure my NYT cookbook..I have only made 2 things though!

Sarah said...

A fork list! What a great idea. I had never thought of that. I have found a place to get fresh pheasant and can hardly wait for the harvest season. I love it and it makes the best consomme. The only time I have had a tasting menu of that extent was at a celebration in India. It was one of the nicest dining experiences of my life. Fresh food from all over the country.

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Deana- Faison Souvaroff would have been my top pick too.

Then as I read along your post I saw you actually made it! You are my hero. Totally fabulous. Love your china too, the green rim just sets off the dish perfectly. A masterpiece.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I can't imagine that $4,000 meal and all of those courses. What a feast! Your post reminds me a little of your Babette's Feast post with your lovely pheasant. You truly make the most amazing dishes and Craig would be proud indeed. That desert - oh my!

Jessica @ Bacon and Souffle said...

That is what I would call a "feast" and you truly are talented. Great post, great writing, and always so much fun to read and learn!

Marjie said...

My grandfather taught me to read (he was an invalid), and had me reading NYT at age 5, but I never read Craig, and I've never read the NYT since then. Happily, I've found some of his cookbooks, so I love him, too. I've not had pheasant since my father stopped hunting. And I like your puff pastry recipe! It's the best I've seen yet.

Marjie said...

Or, maybe it's just that your instructions are clearer than most.

Ken Albala said...

What a delightful telling of this story. I can't remember it ever having been done with such panache. Really makes you wish you had been there. Ken

Ken Albala said...

The funniest and ironic part is that I'm sitting here with my new Amex card arrived a second ago, newborn, about to burn a hole in my pocket!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Absolutely divine from beginning to end. And what I would do to be a lucky guest at one of your dinner parties Deana! :D

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good evening dearest,

$4000 DINNER!!!!!! WOW!!!! But as I scrolled down to see many lovely things and to learn more about the genius behind such affairs, I could see that this art is one of life's finer pleasures that like poetry, much come from a passion and total abandon to the authenticity of the moment. ET LES ORTELANS!!!!!!! I remember this dish being mentioned in one of my favorite French movies, "LE CHÂTEAU DE MA MÈRE." It was a rare and delicious dish that I just wonder what ever did it taste like!

My dear, you are always so welcomed to my blog to shed your kindness. Your words are so true and I thank you for your encouragement and I honor your comments. After 54 years, I think I am finally feeling comfortable in my own skin and now it is time to be brave. It sure is nice to have blogging friends who can express themselves so we can go on to try what we would otherwise NOT DARE to do. Bravo to you and now, I am HUNGRY! Off to make some DIRTY RICE!!!!!!! Anita

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Hi Deana:

Lovely dishes - especially the pheasant! Love hearing the story of the meal again as well.

If Clairborne were still alive, I wonder if he would construct the same menu?

As for me, I'm not the sort to have ideals like that (no dream wedding, no dream kitchen etc.). For me it makes the here and now a happier place.

anon said...

this is just a little note to let you know that i really enjoy reading your blog, and have a little award waiting for you.

if you're time-pressed and hate the idea of having to follow these 'rules', or if you're stridently anti-award, please don't feel obligated to respond.

i'm just letting you know that your
blog is among those i like best!

Lazaro Cooks said...

31 course tasting menu. A fantastic bottle of Petrus. One perfectly cooked pheasant. The skin looks exquisite. Job well done.

Lord Cowell said...

What an amazing post. I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog. I would love to try many of those dishes (except the ortolans - they even used to remove the birds eyes when they caught them, before the force feeding and drowning etc).

We have some Linden Limes on our estate. I shall have to try making some tea with their flowers.

Thank you again for your blog, which I shall follow with interest.

Tasty Trix said...

Yes indeed - that is one reason I love to read your blog so much. You make what you like and follow your own heart and mind. Wouldn't the world be more interesting if everyone did that!! This post reminds me HOW MUCH I don't know about food, and how many dishes and preparations there are from the past, from different cultures, from the present ... to try, to eat, to make and to learn about. And that, to me, is one of the things that makes life so interesting. Fascinating and inspiring post - as always.

Claudia said...

I always save you blog for when I have some time - to truly dwell and think and savor. Craig Claiborne was such an influence - on my younger life and in my mother's cooking. She slowly transformed from mostly Italian into quite a credible cook (still better than me!). I have been reading dishes from Renaissance Italy via Lynne Rossetto Kasper and have yet to dive in - but I know the time is coming. I have noted the lovelies you posted here - the hens welcome and the dessert is a graceful smile. I am coming to NYC in a few weeks - armed with places I must try and shall be scouting you blog for even more hints. This posting - a five star meal.

Jay said...

Tonight’s “Victoria” on PBS depicts a visit to France by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. While entertained at a state dinner (gorgeous table) by King Louis-Philippe, who serves them ortolans, and shows Victoria how to eat them masked by a napkin, “to hide your pleasure from God!”