Friday, March 26, 2010
My dream is to one day dine at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. Until that day comes, I'll happily try my hand at Thomas Keller's recipes and content myself with imagining what it will be like when I do go. That said, I've had the French Laundry cookbook for awhile now and I've only made two recipes. Many of them are pretty involved and I just don't get myself organized enough to get through them. But last Saturday, my parents came over for dinner.
I was making a pretty simple meal: grilled ribeyes and homemade pasta with prosciutto, grilled asparagus, smoked mozzarella and fresh basil. I wanted a first course that was a little more interesting. So I climbed onto my stool and got the French Laundry down from its place of honor in my kitchen. I quickly settled on Dungeness Crab Salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette and Frisee Lettuce. It was beautiful, light, and only a couple ingredients would give me a challenge.
I ended up making some modifications. Keller says to buy cucumber juice at a health food store (I couldn't find it) or to make it at home in a juicer (I don't have one). So I made my own using my method noted below. I also used jicama in place of daikon and mache in place of frisee. To see what other modificaitons I made, you're just going to have to get a copy of the French Laundry!
It proved to be a hit with Jeff and my parents and it's a first course I'll make again. It's not too complicated and it really does plate beautifully. Give it a shot. We had the leftover crab the next day without any cucumber jelly and it's still delish. So if the jelly scares you, make the rest of the dish without it.
Crab salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette and Mache
adapted from The French Laundry by Thomas Keller
For the cucumber jelly:
1 1/2 peeled cucumbers, cut into chunks, plus 1/2 small cucumber peeled
1/2 tsp. plain gelatin
1 Tbsp. warm water
24 dill sprigs, plus more to garnish salad
For the crab salad:
1/3 cup heavy cream
3-4 tsp. whole grain Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and white pepper
1 lb. lump crab meat
1 c. baby greens (I used Mache rosettes)
2-3 radicchio leaves torn into small pieces
3 Tbsp. grated jicama
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tsp. lemon juice
Kosher salt and white pepper
Place the chunks of cucumber in a blender and puree. (Add a little water if needed to get it started.). Line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Pour the cucumber puree into the strainer and let sit. You need 1 cup of cucumber juice (I got plenty from 1 1/2 medium cucumbers). Set the juice aside.
Mix the gelatin with the warm water and stir to dissolve. When the gelatine has dissolved, whisk it into 1 cup of cucumber juice. Pour a thin layer of the juice onto each of 4 serving plates. Discard any excess (I used square plates and used just about all of the juice).
Arrange 6 dill sprigs around each plate and some of the cucumber diamonds. Leave the center open as this is where the crab will go. Put the plates in the refrigerator to set for at least one hour. (My refrigerator shelves were a bit uneven, so I used folded index cards to make sure the juice didn't collect on one side of the plate!)
Before serving, whip the cream in a medium bowl until it forms a ribbon when the whisk is lifted. Whisk in the mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Place the crab in a separate bowl and fold in just enough of the cream mixture to bind the salad. (Don't just dump the crab into the cream because you may have too much whipped cream.)
Toss the greens, radicchio and jicama with a little olive oil and the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill a 2 to 2 1/2 inch ring mold or cookie cutter with the crab mixture (pack it in so the shape holds) and carefully place over the center of the plate. Lift the mold off and then top the crab with a bit of the greens and a few extra dill sprigs.
Note: don't take the plates out fo the fridge too soon or the gelatin will soften. If that happens, stick them back in the fridge for a few minutes to harden.
Makes about 4 servings.