Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sacrificial Lamb

Sometimes it takes a while to pull a plan together. Ruby had been pestering me for months for one of my "home-cooked meals." I wasn't exactly playing coy, yet I wasn't rushing it either. Not that cooking meals for my friends isn't a priority; it was more that timing was going to be crucial for what she was asking me to do. I can't recall whether the pestering began before or after I went to London. Her shattering her jaw in a tragic bike accident set back our engagement a month or so as well. 

You see, some of my friends really, really, really like food; others would eat dog shit if it were deep fried and conveniently accessible. Ruby falls into the first category. She has been to France, learned to make cheese there, and lent me Nourishing Traditions. I knew that cooking a meal for her was going to be a production, a multi-course feast of Bacchanalian proportion. Good times. There was a leg of lamb involved in the pestering. She was sitting on it, and I knew that it would be a while before I was able to devote the right amount of time and attention to such a piece of meat. 

The leg came from a Christian family farm out by New Braunfels: the Lamb's lamb. I really didn't want to fuck this up so the pressure was on. When I was finally able to devote the time to the leg and its bearers, I was excited to get to host a meal at my house. It had been since before my trip to Hampton that I had folks at my table. She delivered the little leg to me, and I let it slack. The day of our feast, I salted the lamb limb and let it sit for about eight hours. I spent the day thinking about how to do the courses, and what would be seasonally appropriate. 

I decided on five courses. Salad, fish, lamb, fromage, and chocolate. This being springtime and all, I wanted the meal to be light - yet filling. I needed to use up some ganache that was laying low in my freezer like a member of the witness relocation program, so I thought that a mousse would be a nice way to utilize these decadent leftovers. With the garden being sparse, I got my produce from the co-op, as well as the mahi for the fish course and some other odd and ends. Citrus was still in season, and I wanted to work that into all of this as well. 

There were to be four of us in all: Ruby, her boyfriend, Kyle D, Blackberry Shortcake, and myself. Kyle and Ruby brought some wine, and I was stoked to see the familiar yellow label of Vueve Clicquot make an appearance, as well as the Becker Vineyards Prairie Rotie. There was also some Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and something else that I can't quite recall. I was excited to meet Kyle D and realized later that I had heard several stories about him from our mutual friend Clifford. Austin is a small town in that regard, big enough to be another face in the crowd, small enough to suffer the perils of ubiquity. 

Our salad was rather simple. Arugula, dried cranberries, pecans and shaved Parmigianno Regianno with a white wine vinaigrette. The acidity of the dressing was crisp and refreshing, pairing well with the dryness of the Vueve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. With a salad, I feel that simplicity is key. This is not to say that there can't be a multitude of ingredients or flavors, but rather a statement about the end result. Even when there are several levels of orchestration and harmonies going on, I'd rather the end result be more Sketches of Spain and less Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

Where's ya shava mate?

Continuing on with our small plate affair, we moved on to the mahi and sauvignon blanc. Mahi really is a wonderful fish, with one foot in the supple fish world and another in the dense, steaky red meat world. I wanted this course to be really simplistic in its flavors, evoking a real sense of the season. The mahi was rubbed with a little salt and pepper and paprika before being seared in clarified butter. Braised hearts of romaine complimented the little cuts of fish both in texture and flavor. The romaine hearts were braised in chicken stock, white wine with anchovies, garlic, shallot and thyme. To tie in the citrus, I made a grapefruit and jalapeƱo foam. Foams intrigue me. For such light, airy sauces, they can really pack a ton of flavor. This was a great example of this feat; subtle heat and intense grapefruit flavors complemented yet did not overpower the flavor of the fish.

Rabid mahi.

The lamb came out near perfect, medium-rare and full of flavor. I used some on-hand red wine to make a reduction with the pan jus which went really nicely with our heavenly meat. Some pan roasted fingerlings and snap peas tossed with garlic and chervil shared the stage with our unblemished lamb. The Professor had popped in and made short work of the leftover veg. Sometimes it is good to have vegetarians around. I am a big fan of lamb, and this was a rather fine specimen of its species. It was clear that this little guy hadn't had a hard life, which makes for a tastier mouthful. 

Still working on that new camera.

After the lamb, it was time for the fromage. Thanks to Shaddley, I'll probably never call a cheese course a "cheese course" ever again. We had three nice cheeses: Chaumes, Pure Luck's Sainte Maure (possibly one of the finest domestic goat cheeses), and some Stilton. To round out the plate there were some raw cashews, slice d'anjou pears and my homemade apple chutney. Yum. J'aime le fromage!

Who cut the cheese?

Well, it wasn't all flowers and unicorns. It was clear to me that despite our long evening of feasting, the mousse didn't have enough time to set up properly. Maybe I didn't beat the egg whites long enough? Either way it was delicious, albeit a bit fallen. To take decadent to the next level, I made banana scallops with a bacon caramel sauce. This is one way to use failed bacon toffee - melt it down with heavy cream. The combination was divine, and something I will do in the future for sure. Playful and delicious. 

Fallen mousse looks sad.

After our five course food extravaganza, we rested. Despite all of this food, everyone seemed to be comfortably full, which is nice on a warm night. I'm glad that we waited for this meal. I would have hated to rush the lamb. If I had, the meal would have been kept silent. Meals like this are very special, a time for new and old friends to rejoice in the simplicity of life; the little things. Bonds are formed over glasses of bubbly, and a good sauce can both capture and encapsulate the essence of a season. Life is beautiful and so are you.


Kevin said...

you're sounding more like bourdain everyday, amigo. and while i can only imagine the innocent lamby goodness, that mahi photo takes the proverbial cake.

a job well done, sir.

TexasDeb said...

Your lamb photo has an element of softcore food porn, shall we say? Sort of airbrushed, fuzzy focus. Not shocking in detail but promising, always promising, more than you can actually see.

Or so I'm told, caff caff.

What a lovely meal. Sometimes the waiting for it makes things more special. (hold on - we are still talking about food, yeah?)

amenity said...

Johnny...How do you manage to get people to invite you to dinner?? I mean, I've really been looking forward to feeding you something scrumptious, but I have to admit I kind of balk at the prospect of doing up three — let alone five — courses half as elaborate as those you whip up on a weeknight.

Flapjacks said...

i eat food. don't be afraid, i'll eat yours too. even if it is ham on rye. i'm not posh or anything.

Heather's Moving Castle said...

You put my cooking to shame!!! Sounds so yummy!!!!!! Thanks for an interesting read. ;o)

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