A Not So Lazy Summer at Apple Street Farm

As the weather cools and the green wilts, we reflect on the summer past.

To be a chef is to appreciate product – not only those with a high price tag, but also those we use everyday; the onions, carrots and lettuces of the world.  We are lucky here at L’Espalier to work with a Chef who takes his produce seriously, so much so, he grows it himself.  Chef Frank has been working the fields at Apple Street Farm for several years now with the help of a small farm crew and the occasional cook-turned-weeder.  From their labor we, who toil in the flame rather than the dirt, reap the benefits of a tomato ripened in the morning sun and served before that same sun sets.

Nathan, one of many chefs from L’Espalier to offer his labor at ASF, transfers seedlings in the greenhouse.  A very tedious job indeed.  All of the plants, not directly seeded into the ground start here.  They are raised to the required size and transferred to their permanent home in the fields.  At least once a week, but never enough, we visit the farm to plant, weed, harvest, forage, and slaughter.

From seed to seedling, to plant, and ultimately vegetable.  The amazing truth of the green world…from one seed infinity can grow.

Over the course of the growing season we are able to purchase up to 80% of our produce from ASF, during peak production.  This translates to 500-1000 pounds of fresh vegetables a week, with deliveries coming sometimes up to 5 days a week.  Of course, shear volume is not enough to satisfy the discerning chef; variety and quality is what we are truly looking for.  On any given delivery we would sort through up to 50 different varietals; everything from eggplant to onion, tomato to potato, tatsoi to sheep sorrel, strawberries to nasturtium and everything in between.  This produce drives our creativity and ultimately our daily menu.

Above our “Walk through Apple Street Farm”, a cool salad comprised of 100% ASF vegetables, lettuces, flowers, and herbs; below, “This week’s harvest with Ibérico and brown butter”.  Both with strong Bras overtones.  Both a real joy to prepare during the height of the season.  Both an expression of the best ASF has to offer.

Beyond fruits and vegetables, ASF grows many varieties of edible and decorative flowers.  Nasturtium, Bachelors Button, Calendula, Borage and many more graced the plates and tables of L’Espalier this summer.  One of my favorites, sunflowers, for their shear beauty, cut flowers, seeds, and the edible flower head once past its bloom.

And of course there is honey from the hive, a task only Chef dares to undertake…

Apple Street Farm also supplies us with dozens of multicolored eggs, heritage chickens, and Berkshire pigs for everything from charcuterie to whole roasted for our farm dinners.  As I think back to those happy summer days I wish I could have done more with the vegetables I received.  As I plan for next summer’s bounty; I hope that my creativity can match that of mother natures.  A task I am sure to lose…

Wintergreen…

There’s something very magical about using wild products that you’ve harvested yourself.  Searching… searching…I found it! … No, wrong… Finally, on the verge of giving up, there it is! Once you find some, you see the multitudes.

 

 

The idea to pair salmon and wintergreen came some time ago, with inspiration from one of L’Espalier’s esteemed alums, Arti. We were discussing how foraged foods have become such an influential part of fine dining around the world, thanks to restaurants such as Mugaritz, Bras, Manresa, and of course, Noma.  Arti recommended wintergreen as a possible New England product of value.  I had never seen or known anything about it within the foraging context (however, I had chewed it many times). Sure enough a day or two later Arti brought in a few leaves from a wooded area near her house.  It was wonderful, very minty with grassy notes and a flavor all its own.  As time went by I thought of wintergreen and salmon, and then beets.  It was not until a month or so ago that we could see the dish come to fruition, when the amazing wild Alaskan salmon started to arrive from Browne Trading of Maine.

 

 

The overall dish is a play on a smoked salmon plate.  The wild salmon is lightly cured with salt, sugar, juniper, and black pepper.  The fish is allowed to stand for about an hour before being cold smoked with fruitwood.  This method allows for a distinctly familiar flavor of smoke and salmon, while still serving the fish at our preferred temperature of medium rare.

The salmon is accompanied by beets; one simply roasted, and the other juiced and then turned into a hot fluid gel.  Still more beets are juiced and reduced with red wine, red wine vinegar, and a little sugar to form a beet syrup.  This syrup is mixed with a wintergreen oil to form the dressing for the dish.  To prepare the oil we first clean the wintergreen, washing it well and removing any stems.  We then chiffonade the green leaves and combine them with grape seed oil in a 2:1 ratio.  This mixture is sealed and circulated at 60 C for 1hr.  The oil is then chilled and allowed to steep for two days, before being dripped through cheesecloth.  The plate is garnished with pickled Vidalia onions, pumpernickel and caraway toast, salmon roe, and dill sprouts from Apple Street Farm.  It is traditional with a unique flavor.

 

 

For me, the real joy of the dish is found not so much in the finished piece, as in the first step to achieving it – finding the Wintergreen.  I’ve been collecting it in two spots: in the woods behind Tom and Judy’s house in Hopkinton, New Hampshire and in Essex, Massachusetts around Apple Street Farm. I was definitely pushed towards foraging by my interest in food and haute cuisine trends, however I think it was my childhood in the woods of New Hampshire that keeps me going back for more.  We are growing our knowledge of wild products, a project that requires a new skill set and the time to search for them.  Beginning a dish outside of the kitchen allows for a more inclusive creative process; one that marries not only traditional methods and modern trends, but also the natural world that surrounds us.  A process that entices the imagination to see nature as a creative force and edible adventure.

 

 

Please harvest nature’s bounty responsibly, in order to preserve these pleasures for the future.

 

 

 

Casco Bay Lobster and White Asparagus Terrine -101

One of the greatest things about spring is asparagus and of that noble vegetable, white stands alone.  For our spring degustation we celebrate the white asparagus with texture and a classic flavor marriage.  Here lobster, asparagus, vanilla, lemon and April almond come together to signal that the days of butternut squash are firmly behind us.  Here at the restaurant, Chef Frank has been cooking white asparagus with vanilla, milk, and lemon for many years.  So we took that initial procedure and expanded it into this…

The dish has several components: bitter almond milk fluid gel, N2O charged white asparagus puree, raw white asparagus, brown butter emulsion (50% milk/50% brown butter and 1% lecithin), lightly blanched April almonds, butter poached Maine lobster and Apple Street Farm radish sprouts.  At center stage, the most technical component, is the terrine of lobster and white asparagus.  Here is how we do it…

White Asparagus should be, well white.  However, the very best white asparagus, those grown in the French/German style outdoors (versus a greenhouse) may have a small amount of purple towards the tip.  Usually this open air asparagus comes mid-way through the season.  Check for freshness by looking at the bottoms, they should be free of any deep cracks and not discolored.

A great local place to find such seasonal product is Russo’s in Watertown, their section is phenomenal for a walk-in grocer, not to mention in season they stock numerous New England farm products.

From here we get to peeling; start by removing the bottom 2-3 inches of the asparagus, the “woodiest” part (reserve this for puree).  Then peel one inch from the tip to the trimmed bottom. Do not miss any areas, the exterior can be bitter and tough, completely noticeable in the finished product. We like to bundle them before cooking to prevent breakage as they can be brittle.

Now prepare a poaching liquid of milk, salt, vanilla, lemon peel, and a dash of sugar.  Place the asparagus in this cold liquid and slowly bring to a very gentle simmer.

 

 

It is crucial not to overcook the asparagus as texture and flavor will be lost.  Also do not be too severe with the heat as your milk will separate.  To prevent the asparagus from forming a “second skin” if you will, it is always proper to cover the exposed surface with a cartouche (a simple circle of parchment paper).  Once the asparagus is 90% cooked it should be removed from the heat so it can cool in the milk.  This allows the flavors to build while the asparagus marinates in the milk, allow at least one day in the refrigerator for maximum effect.

Once the asparagus is complete we prepare the terrine molds.  Many wraps can be used when constructing terrines; eggplant, zucchini, cured meats, even thinly sliced smoked salmon all can serve as the outer layer.

Here we are using one of the most classic wrappers, blanched leek.  We prefer to use the pale green/yellow portion of the leek; not only does this add a pleasant savory flavor, it is also more tender and aesthetic than the greenest portion of the leek.  Simply choose your layers, blanch in heavily salted water, shock in ice water, and layer along the plastic wrapped terrine mold.

Next, prepare the milk liquid which will bind the terrine; we use a combination of .5% agar agar and 4% gelatin (in sheet form).  Remove the marinating asparagus and weigh the necessary amount of milk.  Bring 1/3rd of the milk to a simmer (bring the rest to room temperature) and whisk in the agar, stirring continuously for 4 minutes.  This will hydrate/activate the agar; combine this with the rest of the milk and the gelatin, reserve in a warm place.

 

 

To complete the terrine we plunge the white asparagus and cooked lobster meat (always freshly cooked) into the milk mixture.  This allows for the gelling agents to completely coat the ingredients and thus seal them on all sides.  From here on in it is simple assembly.  Neatly lay the asparagus into the terrine lined with leek, allowing for some transfer of milk, to fill the spaces in between.  Trim the lobster tail (or pieces) to fill the middle.  Finally lay the leek over the top, trimming with shears to allow for some overlap, use a small brush to coat between the leek leaves, this will ensure a good seal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, wrap the whole terrine with the existing plastic wrap, gently weight, and refrigerate for a minimum of 6-8 hours.  Carefully slide the terrine out of the mold and unwrap.  Using a very thin, sharp knife, slice to approximately 1 ½ inches (or to your desire).  Below is a terrine I made with Peter, it was not our first attempt.  Terrines take practice…as they are often more finesse and experience than recipe.  Happy building…

 

 

Cooking with Cheese: Cheese Tuesday visits Vermont

One of the fun parts of Cheese Tuesday is coming up with three cheese driven dishes each month. This is how Matthew Delisle and I came up with last week’s menu.

The theme was Vermont Artisan Cheese, I had three cheeses I wanted to feature with the savory courses (and 9 more for the grand cheese tasting) and it is the height of Spring. We started with the cheese, and threw out suggestions and ideas, until they coalesced into these dishes.

Spring baby beets with ginger poached rhubarb, Coupole, and verjus

Coupole, an aged goat’s milk cheese from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, has been my go-to cheese of late. It is a small dome shaped cheese with a wrinkly geotrichum rind and is packaged in a nifty little wooden box that allows it to age beautifully in a home refrigerator. It is perfect as a snacking cheese (I like it with a bit of honey) but is also a great team player as a component of a salad. Matt had some tender baby candy striped beets in house, and rhubarb is ubiquitous at this time of year. The tanginess of goat cheese is a perfect foil to the sweet earthiness of beets, and the smooth, light but dense texture of a moderately aged Coupole would be a great foil to the smooth, toothy texture of the beets. Uncooked rhubarb would be way too sour and would throw everything off balance, so Matt poached it in ginger syrup to sweeten it up and add a gentle warmth to the dish.

At plating time, Matt made a circle of the red, pink, and yellow roasted beets, interspersed with a dice of raw beet for crunch, and half-moons of the poached rhubarb. A nice wedge of Coupole was nestled in the center, and everything was drizzled with a tangy blend of verjus and the rhubarb poaching liquid. A sprinkle of baby basil from Apple Street completed the salad.

 

 

 

Smoked chicken, Lyonnaise potatoes, sautéed ramps, and a Raclette “veil”

Raclette is the classic Alpine melting cheese of France and Switzerland. It has a smooth, semi-firm texture, a gorgeous rosy rind, and a flavor that is a rich mix of earth and sweet milkiness. It is typically melted at the edge of a fire and scraped onto boiled potatoes. Spring Brook Farm in central Vermont creates an exceptional raclette from Jersey cow milk that has all the qualities of its European brethren, and an appealing upper register bite. As I reminisced about the wonderful Lyonnaise potatoes of my “youth” – my first job was in the 70′s at Ferdinand’s, a Harvard Square bastion of classic French – Matt suggested that ramps, those oh-so-everywhere but oh-so-good spring wild onions would be perfect with those slow roasted Lyonaisse potatoes. Smoked chicken would add a nice dimension to the earthiness of the raclette. With potatoes, chicken, sautéed and puréed ramps composed on the plate, Matt topped it all with a long, thin slice of raclette, put it all under a hot broiler for a few seconds until it created a melted veil, and finished it with a splash of cider and chicken roasting jus.

Maine beef sirloin with a Bayley Hazen crust, spring favas and fiddleheads

Andy and Mateo Kehler at Jasper Hill Farm create a medley of amazing cheeses, including Bayley Hazen, one of America’s finest blues. Rich, robust, and creamy, with a dark intensity, it can stand up to and even enhance the full flavors of a hearty steak. My association with beef and blue cheese goes back to the aforementioned Ferdinand’s, where Chef Drey would cut a pocket into Filet Mignon, fill it with Roquefort, grill, and top with bordelaise. I hoped it would be possible to capture some of the flavor elements of that heavy 70′s dish, but with all the light and exuberance of Springtime in Vermont.

Matt’s solution was to create a ragout of fava’s (which Tuscan’s eat each spring with a melt of pecorino), fiddleheads, wild spring onions, Vidalias, and bacon. The Bayley Hazen was crumbled, tossed with a few bread crumbs and a chop of fresh herbs, and pressed onto the Maine sirloin. After a quick grill, this was set aside the ragout, and topped with a frizzle of crisp fried onion.

This was followed by a tasting of 9 of my favorite Vermont cheeses – more on that later.

Cheers,
Louis

Crab Salad Roulade with Carrot Gelee

My sous chef asked me to taste some carrot juice he had just made and asked me, “What do you think about pairing this with crab salad?”  I have to admit, I didn’t really know what to say.  The bright, intensely orange colored liquid was fresh and sweet, the essence of carrot.  I liked it.  I like crab salad.  But, I couldn’t really picture what kind of dish he had in mind.

I had no idea the dish would look like this:

As it turns out, the crab salad roulade with carrot gelee is one of my favorite new dishes off the spring menu.  Not only because it is extremely visually appealing with the white and red-rimmed overlapping discs of radish against the shiny, almost shockingly orange pool of carrot juice, but also because of how the flavors and textures work together as well.  It is a pleasure to make and plate this dish from start to finish everyday.

The Ingredients

Crab Salad Roulade

  • lemon zest
  • orange zest
  • fresh lemon juice
  • red onion brunoise
  • jalapeno pepper
  • minced fine herbs (parsley, chervil)
  • 3-4 Tb aioli
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lb fresh Johah crab meat
  • shaved radish
  • 2 sheets of gelatin
  • 1/4 cup of cream

Initially, I was a little intimidated by how difficult the dish seemed to be, but looks can be deceiving.  As long as you have all the ingredients prepared in advance and ready to go, the crab roulades are actually incredibly simple to make once you’ve mastered the technique.

The Process

Bloom 2 sheets of gelatin in ice water.  Pour the cream into a small pot and set aside.

Drain and press dry 1 lb of fresh Jonah crab meat and gently pick through the meat to make sure there are no shell remnants.  In a large mixing bowl, gently fold in all of the above ingredients (citrus zest, onion, jalapeno, herbs, aioli, salt).  Taste the mixture. The crab salad needs to taste bright and citrusy.  Add more fresh lemon juice and salt if necessary.

Once the crab salad is ready, warm up the cream until it is hot enough to melt the 2 sheets of gelatin.  Do not let the cream boil, since gelatin will become deactivated if it gets too hot.  Fold the gelatin-cream mixture into the crab salad.  Refrigerate to allow the crab salad to set.  Adding gelatin to the crab salad allows you to pipe the mixture into a nice, tight cylinder that will hold its shape without bleeding any of the juices.

In the meantime, prepare the radishes for wrapping the roulade.  Wash radishes thoroughly, trim off both ends and shave into thin coins using a mandolin.  The slices will be about 1.5 millimeters thick…they should not be paper-thin.  Blanch very briefly in salted boiling water (2 seconds) and drain immediately onto a tray lined with paper towels.  Press dry with paper towels.  The radish coins should be pliable but with the red rims bright and intact.  If the radishes are cooked for too long, they red color will bleed into the white part of the radish and the color will fade very quickly.

At this point, the gelatin in the crab mixture should be set.  Transfer the crab mixture into a piping bag and trim the tip til it is a half inch wide.  Spread out a piece of plastic wrap onto your work surface.  Lay out 2 overlapping rows of the radish coins.  Pipe the crab salad mixture.  Lift up the edge of the plastic wrap closest to your body and carefully roll.  Tie off the ends securely to ensure a tight cylinder.

Plating

Slice off both knotted ends of the roulade.  Find the seam of the plastic wrap. Carefully unroll.  Place in the center of the carrot gelee set in the plate.  Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche, caviar, shaved carrot, micro herbs, edible flowers, and (not pictured) a half of a deep-fried, tempura soft shell crab claw on either end of the roulade.  Served table-side with a drizzle of simple lemon and olive oil vinaigrette.