I was having my déjeuner quickly one day before the meal service was to start in the main dining room. As was my habit, and since as a friend of the chef I was considered to be on a slightly different level than the fulltime cooks in the kitchen, whenever I worked at Le Château d’Amondans I ate my meals with the chef and his family in their private dining room. As usual, the chef, Frédéric Médigue came running in as if he was late and carrying his usual armful of lunchtime mail.
The small, yellow La Poste truck arrived every day, except Sunday, just before noon; as you would expect, there was a bundle of daily mail directed to the restaurant and hotel. There was always plenty of bills and advertisements. Occasionally, there was a personal letter; a couple of times a month, a cooking magazine would arrive. Since the mail was never for me, I had no interest in it except for the cooking magazines.
One day, as I was waiting for my repas to be served, and Frédéric and Pascale, his wife, both talked away on separate wireless phones, I kept myself occupied by thumbing through one of the cooking magazines. It was a magazine designed for professionals; there was a ton of advertisements for equipment and supplies with the occasional article thrown in. One short feature caught my eye. It was a biographical sketch of a chef not familiar to me. There was a paragraph or two about him and his restaurant. There were also two pictures of him with this rather fancy preparation. In one he was pretending to assemble the dish and in the other he was holding up the plate and posing with a wall-to-wall smile. I looked at the dish and recognized it immediately: émietté d’esquinade à l’huile de curry.
I held on to the magazine, my finger marking the page, like a cat that just caught his first mouse. I waited eagerly for Frédéric to finish his call and immediately placed the magazine, open to “that” page, in front of him. “He stole your recipe!” I cried out. Frédéric calmly looked down at the offending page and laughingly said, “No. We both stole the recipe from Mr. Outhier.”
(Louis Outhier is a retired chef from the south of France. He, along with Paul Bocuse, Jean Troisgros, and other chefs of that ilk, were students of Fernand Point. Starting in 1954, Outhier was the proprietor and executive chef at Restaurant L’Oasis. The restaurant was located in a renovated villa in the village of La Napoule near Cannes. It received its third Michelin star in 1969. André Gayot, in his article Of Stars and Tripes: The True Story of Nouvelle Cuisine, writes, “Outhier, who had worked at L’Oriental in Bangkok, was the one who introduced the Asian accent with spices and herbs [to nouvelle cuisine]. He knew how to use them: in minute quantities with subtle touches only.” In 1988, Outhier stepped away from the stove and worked for a while as a consulting chef. Mr. Outhier remains one of Frédéric’s mentors and when the Château was a school as well as a restaurant, he would spend a couple of weeks each year working with the students.)
I first encountered émietté d’esquinade à l’huile de curry on my first visit to Le Château d’Amondans in June, 1999. On that visit I was a combination student and tourist. Chef Médigue demonstrated the preparation of the dish during one of our classes, and we ate it as our entrée for the lunch that followed. I returned the next May for a five-week long stage, and this entrée was still on the menu. On that visit I spent mornings, afternoons, and evenings, six days each week, working in the Château’s kitchen, providing me numerous occasions to pick the meat from totes full of still-hot, cooked crabs for the dish. Although I picked a lot of crab, I never had the opportunity to work on the rest of the dish’s preparation. Because of the poor quality of mandolin they were using, the other cooks all seemed to struggle with the preparation of the fresh potato chips that were part of the dish. When I returned to Le Château d’Amondans to work the following year, the dish was no longer on the menu.
I should probably make one correction to the previous paragraph. We never actually prepared émietté d’esquinade à l’huile de curry at Le Château d’Amondans. We were actually preparing émietté de tourteau à l’huile de curry. Esquinade is a smallish variety, 500 to 900 grams, of crab found in the Mediterranean Sea along the south of France. What was available in Amondans, far away from the Mediterranean, was the more generic tourteau. This word along with crabe is what you commonly find on menus throughout France. The tourteaux we were cleaning weighed in at greater than a kilo. For my preparation in this article, I used one of the Dungeness crabs common to my part of the world.
Most of the preparation of émietté de crabe à l’huile de curry is completed long before serving time. And although the dish is fairly complicated, it is not particularly difficult to complete if you set aside sufficient time for the mise en place and have all the necessary equipment at your disposal. As described read below, it is possible to break the mise en place into seven distinct steps. The first one, l’huile de curry, needs to start the night before you plan to serve the dish. The remaining steps can be completed a few hours before serving, although the crab could be cooked and cleaned a day ahead if that fits your schedule better. The quantities in the following recipe are sufficient for 4 servings.
l’huile de curry
extra-virgin olive oil
hot curry powder
Place the olive oil in a small container and stir in the curry powder and the turmeric powder. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside overnight. Stir occasionally to increase the intensity of the infusion, but not within an hour of assembling with the vinegar.
Place the vinegar in a wide bowl, one much larger than the quantity of vinegar. Place the bowl in the microwave and reduce the vinegar by about half, about 2-1/2 minutes on the highest setting. Set the vinegar aside to cool.
Some time before serving the final dish, carefully pour the oil from its container into the vinegar. When pouring, be careful not to disturb the curry and turmeric powder that have settled to the bottom. Stir the oil and vinegar combination vigorously to break up the vinegar into small globules. Set aside until the final assembly of the dish.
onion, cut into chunks
juice and zest from 1
Place everything except the crab into a large stock pot. Add sufficient water so the crab will be covered, but not too much so the pot doesn’t overflow when the crab is added. Bring this to a full, rolling boil.
Holding the crab from the back, in other words on the edge away from the claws, quickly insert it into the boiling liquid. Boil the crab for a total of 6 minutes. When cooked, using tongs, remove the crab from the pot and place it on a baking sheet to drain and cool. If you are in a hurry, the crab can be refrigerated.
Once cool enough to handle, crack the crab and remove the meat. Start by tearing off the legs. Set these aside for now. Holding the body, head down, pull the abdomen away from the carapace, the outer shell. Rinse the body under cold water to remove the watery viscera. Shake off the excess water. Pull off and discard the feather gills.
Using your hands, break apart the structure of the body exposing the crab meat. Remove all the meat you can see, but be careful to keep the meat free of the small shell-like material that makes up the structure of the body. Continue breaking the body apart until you can access and remove all of the crab meat. Sometimes a small skewer or toothpick can help pry the meat loose.
Separate each of the legs at each joint. Crack the soft sections with your thumbs and pull out the meat. Attempt to keep the pieces as large as possible. Use pliers, a nut cracker, or a small mallet to crack the harder, thicker sections. Once again, sometimes a small skewer or toothpick can help pry the meat loose.
Place all the crab meat in a clean container and refrigerate it until the final assembly of the dish.
Note: although fresh crab is best in this dish, canned crab can be substituted. Be sure to choose a brand where the meat is flavorful and not shredded too fine.
white, new potato
Square off the potato on the two opposite sides of the narrowest dimension. Cut a 3- by 6-centimeter
block from this piece. Using a mandolin, or similar slicer, shave the block into 1-millimeter
thick slices. Be sure to slice the right edge of the block so the finished slices are 3 by 6 centimeters
-3/16 by 2-3/8 inches]. In the end, you’ll need about eight chips per serving and each slice will make two chips. But make lots of extra slices because some will not cook properly and others will become tasting samples.
Arrange the slices neatly on your cutting board in even stacks of three slices each. Cut each stack diagonally, being careful to always cut through the diagonal corners to produce a series of right triangles.
Separate the cut, triangular pieces and arrange them in a single layer on absorbent paper. Carefully place a second piece of paper over the potato triangles and press gently to absorb excess water on the surface of the slices.
Carefully remove the top layer of paper. Brush each of the triangles with a little olive oil. Lift the paper with the triangles by one edge and lay it potato-side down on a baking sheet lined with a silicone pan liner. Peel back the paper leaving the potato triangles in place on the pan liner. Next brush each triangle’s exposed side lightly with olive oil. Follow this with a light sprinkling of fine salt and paprika.
Bake the potato triangles for 10 minutes. During this time, the triangles will reposition themselves on the baking sheet; this will not cause any problems. When the cooking time is completed, transfer the potato “chips” to a cooling rack and let them cool completely. They should be crisp and lightly browned when properly cooked and cooled.
Set the chips aside, leaving them on the rack, until the final assembly of the dish.
white wine vinegar
Place the egg white, mustard, and vinegar in a beaker. Foam a few seconds with a high-speed stick blender fitted with a foaming tip. Add 120 milliliters
of the sunflower seed oil and blend until emulsified. Add the remaining sunflower seed oil plus the olive oil and emulsify. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and whisk by hand until smooth. Season with salt.
Set the mayonnaise aside in your refrigerator until the final assembly of the dish.
Note: if you wish, you can make the mayonnaise using an egg yolk instead of the white in the traditional manner with a whisk. With either method, more mayonnaise than is needed by the recipe will be produced.
la purée d’avocat
avocado, peeled, pitted
1 small clove
garlic, peeled, germ removed, finely grated
extra virgin olive oil
Puree the avocado by forcing it through a fine sieve.
Transfer the puree to a clean bowl using a rubber spatula, fold in the lemon juice, garlic, oil, and Tabasco sauce. Season with salt.
Set the puree aside until the final assembly of the dish.
leek, well-cleaned, roots trimmed
Peel off 3 or 4 layers from the stalk of the leek. Trim out the largest possible rectangular white section from each layer. Only the white part will be used in this dish.
Very tightly roll, perpendicular to their natural bend, one or more of the rectangular pieces. Using a very sharp knife, slice off very thin strips from the roll.
Chill the strips in ice water so they will curl. Just before using, drain well on absorbent paper.
20 to 25
chives, see note
Cut the chives into 7-centimeter
long pieces. Set aside until the final assembly of the dish.
Note: choose chives that are bright green but dry inside.
assemblage et service
The original recipe, as I learned it, used a 6 centimeter
diameter ring for assembling the dish. I prefer a slightly larger portion and thus I use a 7 centimeter
diameter ring. If using the smaller ring, fold 120 grams
of the crab meat into 60 grams
of the mayonnaise with a rubber spatula. If using the larger ring, combine 160 grams
of crab with 80 grams
Place the ring in the center of an individual serving plate. With the assumption that you are using a 3-1/2 centimeter
high ring, fill the ring half to two-thirds full with the avocado puree. Level the surface with the back of a small spoon. Carefully fill the remainder of the ring with the crab mixture and level the top. Don’t push down on the surface of the crab when you level it. This will cause the avocado mixture to squeeze up into the crab mixture. Carefully remove the ring by lifting straight up.
Place 6 or 8 potato chips, depending on which ring you use, like spokes in the avocado puree. Be sure that they are evenly spaced. Arrange 5 or 6 well-drained leek curls on top of the crab and 5 or 6 chive pieces on top of the leeks.
Plate the remaining servings in the same manner.
Vigorously stir the sauce, and, using a small spoon, drizzle some sauce around each arrangement. Serve immediately before the sauce spreads.
©2008 Peter Hertzmann, Inc. All rights reserved.