Monday, June 15, 2009

A Charlie Palmer Odyssey

Company’s coming, so I knew I had better think of something wonderful to serve. And not any old company, but a recent culinary school grad (and her foodie hubby) who could cook the socks off me in any kitchen. Oh, and did I mention that she just finished at internship at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg (Sonoma County). Yeah, it was gonna be a tough one.

Perusing my wall of cookbooks, my eye fell to Great American Food by…Charlie Palmer, a gift from a friend that has intimidated me and remained closed since I first received it. Really, quite a shame, since it is a wonderful tome with beautiful food photography. I was determined to find a recipe to use. I’d been hungry for fish, and came up on a recipe I felt I could master, and then called up to Butcher Son to order several pounds of fresh tuna for the occasion. Kinda handy being able to order whatever I want and get it fresh the next day. (NOTE: You, too, can do this at your local butcher or fishmonger. Most are happy to special order what you need, usually with 24-48 hours notice.)

The recipe was for Seared Tuna Steak with Ginger Sesame Glaze, which sat on a Crisped Soba Noodle Cake, and was served with sautéed garlic spinach (no recipe required). I was able to do most of the prep ahead of time, and 15 minutes before serving, we all jumped into the kitchen to cook. That’s right, 4 bodies, 4 burners, 4 components (tuna, noodle cakes, spinach, and sauce) going at once. It was a tight fit, but 3 of the 4 of us are quite thin, making it all possible.

I noticed that while prepping the ingredients that the recipe for the ginger-sesame glaze had no sesame seeds, only sesame oil. This would have been fine, except that the accompanying photograph showed significant quantities of sesame seeds. A little “oopsie” by the author and editors, one I have made on more than one occasion. I was able to remedy the situation by adding the seeds in at the end, although possibly a bit too liberally. Live and learn.

I also was made to wonder about following recipes that have a photo with them. I can be so terribly disappointed when my dish doesn’t look quite right, or taste near as mouthwatering as the photo would imply. Such was the case here. While everything cooked quite quickly, the sauce never got as dark or as thick as I would have anticipated, and the flavor was not as intense as I felt it should be. Tuna, being a hearty and thick piece of fish, needs something bold in my opinion, and this didn’t quite live up to my expectations. (Although the recommended Petite Sirah we had with it was marvelous.)

I did love the Crisped Soba Noodle Cake, however. Fried and crispy on the outside, soft and tasty on the inside, it was a lovely foil for the tuna steak, which perched atop it perfectly. I cooked the noodles earlier in the day, added all the ingredients, and put them into individual round molds. When it was time to cook, I popped them out, dusted them with flour and they fried right up. It is also recommended that you can fry them in advance and then reheat in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. My guess is they wouldn’t be quite as crisp, which is part of what makes them so good.

So, while everything looked good, and most of it tasted good, it was a tad bit disappointing (especially given the cost of the tuna). But, of course, dessert saved the day. Said culinary grad baked a pear tart that was heavenly. She must have spent five hours thinly slicing the pears and arranging them just so. It was almost too perfect to eat. Well, it probably was too perfect to eat, but that wasn’t gonna stop me!

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