Friday, May 21, 2010

Ad Hoc at Home Steak and Creamed Spinach -- I promise it isn't as boring as it sounds!

The Ad Hoc restaurant came into being as a temporary use of a property Thomas Keller bought  near his other restaurants in CA. On page 102 of the cookbook is a copy of the memo Chef Keller sent to members of his team. As the name implies, it was meant to be a temporary solution to the question of how to use the space. He has wanted to open a restaurant featuring burgers for 15 years, but at that time his entire team was busy with all the various projects he was into at the time and thus were unavailable to develop a whole new concept. He thought of the simplest restaurant style he could, and that was one cooking a simple family meal, like the staff meal they served at each of the current restaurants each day.
FUN, Simple, Affordable, 1 Service, No Menu, 4-5 nights a week. Maybe supper on Sunday 4 courses, Salad served family style, Protein Starch and Vegetable, old style SIMPLE
To make a long story short, the restaurant was such as success, no one wanted to close it. This style of cooking is so much more accessible than The French Laundry (to say the least). As an afficiando of cookbooks, I have to say the difference in style between the two cookbooks is striking. The first set of recipes in the book, preceded by a reflection from the chef, is the meal he cooked that was his ailing father's last meal. It shows a warm and human side that must be what T. Keller is like on his days off, or outside The French Laundry.  Thomas Keller in regular clothes as opposed to his Chef's whites, playful poses with food, chalkboard diagrams of recipes... it IS fun. But it is still refined cooking, and very tasty indeed.

This is a classic steakhouse combination, but I've never taken the time to do the "extras's" that really make this meal stand out.

For the Steak:
1.5 in thick Porterhouse or T-Bone steak
canola oil
salt and pepper

Shallot and Herb Butter (this makes enough for 3 steaks at least)
12 T unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 c minced shallots
minced Italian Parsley
Sweet Paprika
a little salt
1 T fresh squeezed lemon juice

For the Spinach
2 lb baby spinach
2 T butter
minced shallots
grated Comte or Emmentaler cheese
salt and pepper

Mornay Sauce
1.5 T unsalted butter
1/4 c diced onion
1.5 T all purpose flour
1 c whole milk
1/2 c heavy cream
1 small bay leaf
2 black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper
3 T grated Comte or Emmentaler cheese

Mornay is a a bechamel sauce into which you whisk some cheese at the last minute. It's great paired with broccoli, cauliflower, or here with spinach. My Mom used to make Shrimp Mornay for very special dinner occasions and it was fabulous, but it had far more cheese in it than this lovely sauce.

I think I will go in order of execution here, as you want to have as much done as possible before you grill the steak. You don't want to overcook a beauty like that because you are checking the browning on the cheese in the creamed spinach! I say this from experience. I was flustered not knowing whether to make the mornay first or the spinach, but I figured it all out and am laying out here, just for you, dear reader. I do this ALL for you, it's a sacrifice, I know, but you're well worth it. : )

First: take the butter and the steak out of the refrigerator as they both need to come to room temperature.

I started with the butter. I have made compound butters before and they really make a huge difference in finishing a dish. In fact, I love compund butters! They are great with meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, potatoes name it.  Let your imagination fly! Butter+Apricot Jam + Thyme for use on pork or chicken. Butter+ Blue cheese crumbles + salt and pepper for steak.  There are as many combinations as there are ingredients at hand, and don't freak out about the fat. A very little bit goes a long way toward boosting flavor.

First cook the shallots in 1 t butter over med low heat, just enough to soften them (but not to brown) about 10 min.  Set aside and let cool. Set the remaining butter in a bowl and combine the lemon juice, parsley, paprika and salt and finally the shallots.

Roll into a log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. If not using it all, freeze what's left.

On to the Mornay!
The recipe says to use a heat diffuser as temperature is of critical importance here the sauce cannot scorch on the bottom of the pan. I usually use my cast iron skillet as a diffuser but I didn't feel the need for it this time. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook a few minutes until the onion is translucent, then add the flour. Stir to incorporate and cook for a few minutes, but take care not to let the flour (roux) brown. Add the milk and cream and whisk constantly, bringing to a simmer. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, and cloves. Move the pan to one side of the diffuser or turn the heat to very low and whisk occasionally, you want the mixture to just barely simmer for 30 minutes. After this time, Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and season the with a grating of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste, then whisk in your cheese and set aside, but keep it warm.  **Sorry no pictures of this** See what flustering can do to a person?

Now the Spinach -- we are cooking in batches here!
In a large skillet melt half the butter and sautee half the shallots until soft. Add the a few handfuls of spinach and using tongs or a spatula, stir and flip it around to coat. When it is wilted add a few more handfuls until you have used about half the spinach. Season with salt to taste. Remove that half  to a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl and let the excess liquid drain. When drained, remove to a separate medium sized bowl. Repeat the process with the second half of the ingredients.

The marriage:
 Add the Mornay to the wilted spinach in the medium bowl. Stir to incorporate. Then place the mixture in a 9X9 baking dish and sprinkle with the grated cheese. This is a pre-cheese picture.

Place into a preheated 350 oven until the spinach in slightly brown around the edges and the cheese is melted. If desired turn on the broiler at the last minute to brown the cheese on top. You will want to time this with the grilling, get the grill started and the steak prepared, perhaps aiming to remove the casserole before flipping the steak. Or if you are a super-multitasker, like my Sis, do it all at once.

The steak!
Be sure the steak has come to room temperature. Coat each side lightly with canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Prepare the grill with 2 temperature cooking, one side medium high heat, the other medium. Grill over medium high heat 2-3 minutes to get a good sear, the rotate 90 degrees for a crosshatch pattern, grill 2-3 min more.  Flip the steaks and at the same time move to the medium side, repeat the searing only on the last piece, cook for 8-12 min or until a thermometer reads 128-130 (that's my range - the book says 125-128). Remove from heat add your coumpund butter to melt and swipe it around on the surface. Let the steak rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.  (Yes, I need courses in food styling LOL ) Props to WSH for grilling expertise! He makes it perfect every time.

As you can see from the first picture in the post, the raw picture, this was an excellent steak. Perfectly marbled, great texture and huge flavor. The quality of ingredients makes all the difference. Once grilled, the juicy meat and the compund butter combined to make an extraordinary taste. The savory meat and the touch of smoky sweetness from the paprika and the tang of a gorgeous Meyer lemon, it was just fantastic. Every single ingredient held its own note in this steak symphony.

The creamed spinach was the same way. You may wonder how much difference 2 cloves, 2 peppercorns and 1 small bay leaf can make. Let me tell you.. all the difference in the world. The only word I can think of to describe this sauce is Elegant. The additional flavors were definitely there but subtley so, this was not a thick gooey, pasty white or cheesy creamed spinach. It was truly a thing of beauty. If you think I am going overboard, try it yourself and see.

Have a wonderful weekend.
See you soon.

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