Saturday, March 3, 2007

Parmigiano-Reggiano Custards with Romaine Lettuce, Anchovy Dressing, and Parmesan Crisps


That's my one-word review of this cheese course. It was, um... meh.

Don't get me wrong -- they were good; they just weren't great. I don't think I'd make them again.

The Parmigiano-Reggiano Custards with Romaine Lettuce, Anchovy Dressing, and Parmesan Crisps is the cheese course the French Laundry serves as its "Caesar Salad." I get where Keller was going with this dish. All the traditional caesar salad elements are there; all the flavors are there; I think I actually just prefer a regular ole caesar salad to this.

Let's dig in.

The first thing I did was make the anchovy dressing. Here's the mise en place:

I pureed the shallots, garlic, vinegar,mustard, lemon juice and anchovies in the blender. Then, I transfered this mixture to my mixer and with the paddle attachment mixed in the egg yolk. Next, I slowly drizzled in the two oils:

When it was finished, it was a lighter color and smelled heavenly:

I don't always put anchovies in my caesar dressing because sometimes I just want to make it spur of the moment and not have to debone the filets or soak them in milk for a half-hour. But after tasting this dressing, I'll take the time and make the effort. It really is worth it. And, this recipe makes way more than needed for this particular dish, so I'm quite pleased that I'll be able to eat caesar salads all weekend to use up some more of the dressing.

Next up were the parm-reg custards. These were the weakest part of the dish. Granted, some of the flaws in the final product may be attributed to user error, but I also will confess that I had a slight texture issue with these. I love puddings and custards and these were the right texture for a custard, but it was an odd texture along with everything it was served with. It was the kind of texture that would make my friend Marisa's shoulder blades twitch. Know what I mean? Anyway, here's the mise en place:

I put the milk, cream and cheese chunks into a saucepan and brought them up to a simmer. I then turned off the heat, covered the pan and let it sit for 45 minutes to let the flavors infuse.

I'm a BIG FAN of parmigiano-reggiano, so it was all I could do to stay out of the kitchen and not stick my face in the pan and smell it every twenty seconds.

At the end of the 45-minute infusing period, I whisked the eggs and the egg yolk in a bowl, and reheated the parm-reg cream mixture for a minute or two. I slowly poured the cream mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl with the eggs, whisking the whole time. I needed a third arm for this step, but I made it work without any spillage. Bravo, me. I seasoned this new mixture with a little bit of salt and white pepper. Next, I ladled about two tablespoons into each of the mini baking molds:

Note how they're fluted and scallopy. Don't use these if you're going to try this recipe at home. The custards are a pain in the ass to get out of the molds once they've hardened. I wish I had gone out and gotten different molds, but I already had these, so I used them. The custards weren't pretty since I had to dig them out and try and reform them for the plating of this dish. Stupid fluted baking molds.

I put the finished custards in a water bath in that roasting pan and put them in a 250 oven for 45 minutes. The book said to bake them for 30 minutes, but they were still really runny, so I ended up leaving them in there (checking on them every few minutes) for 45 minutes. Once they were done, I removed them from the water bath and put them in the fridge to cool.

Next up -- Parmesan crisps. I love these things. I should've made extras just to much on the rest of the weekend. That was dumb; oh well, next time. Here's how you make them: fresh-grated parmesan cheese in small circles on the Silpat on a baking sheet, then placed in a 325 oven for 6-8 minutes:

The last thing I did right before assembling the dish was to do a chiffonade of romaine hearts, toss them with a tiny bit of the caesar dressing, some white pepper, and some fresh-grated parmesan cheese.

Time for assembly:

1) spoonful of caesar dressing
2) baguette crouton
3) parm-reg custard
4) parmesan crisp
5) romaine
6) two large dots of balsamic glaze on the side

In closing, they didn't suck. They just weren't something that makes you say "wow" or "oh my god" or close your eyes and close out all other senses so that you can just focus on the smell and the taste. Like I said in the beginning of this post: Meh.

Up Next: Shrimp with Avocado Salsa.

Brands Used:
All-Clad cookware
Antica Italia olive oil
All produce, bread and dairy products from Whole Foods
Bellino anchovies

Music to Cook By: Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters (because I am seeing them in concert on Sunday night!)


Anonymous said...

Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese..... those crisps are so amazing. It's the only thing I've ever made out of the French Laundry cookbook and sometimes I think I could subsist on those alone for the rest of my life.

Anonymous said...

What a great blog. Found it today via Rhulman via Bourdain. Will now dust off my F L cookbook. thanks.

Unknown said...

If you need to soak your anchovies in milk or debone them, I've never heard of it. Just mash'em up really well in the salad bowl with a clove of garlic, then proceed making the rest of the dressing.

Jaye Joseph said...

You inspired me! I made my first thing out of the FL cookbook this weekend. I'm going to start doing it every weekend now. I made the Butter-Poached Lobster with Leeks, Pommes Maxim and Beet Essence and it came out pretty well for my first attempt.

Thanks for your blog, I absolutely love it.

pdxblogmommy said...

As you've so clearly stated, my shoulder blades ARE all a twitter at your DESCRIPTION of the custards.

I'd dig the taste, but not the...I can't even say the word anymore without getting all skeeved...

Move along...move along...

Anonymous said...

Scissor Sisters?

Color me jealous.

viewer zero said...

If you fill a bowl with hot water and sink the custards in the water up to to just below the top for about 30-60 seconds they will be much easier to unmold.

Carol Blymire said...

Matt: I did that, along with running a small paring knife around the inside edge and they still didn't want to come out of the molds. When I made them again later in the week, I used a regular ramekin and they worked perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Collins English Dictionary announced this week that the word "meh" has been chosen over hundreds of other submissions to become the general public's entry in the dictionary's 30th anniversary edition. Your blog was the first time that I came across this word so naturally I thought of you when I read this :)

Linkmarkr said...

Boy...I'm really late to the party, but I had to comment. I've made LOTS of FL recipes and I have to agree with you on this one. I was so excited about it and the texture of the custard you say...meh! It was mealy or something. I've actually looked for it on the menu each time I've been at FL because I want to try it when Thomas makes it, but it's never been on the menu....Fun blog!