Thomas-Fucking-Keller Smackdown

Peter and Christey rock my world, and I worship at the altar of their photography. You will never take pictures as nice as theirs.  AND: Thomas Keller. Once you finish this and complete your self-flagellation for your obviously inferior photography, why not read the past several guest posts from some other kick-ass bloggers, if you haven’t already? Which you should have. (If you’re wondering why all the guests: go here.)

This is Peter from FotoCuisine. Christey and I are guest-smacking-down while Michelle is sorting out the lovely vintages residing in the wine cellar deep within her brain. I felt tackling Keller would be appropriate.

One of Christey’s favorite dishes is Coquilles St. Jacques, and while perusing our cookbook collection, I found Keller had a recipe in his Bouchon cookbook. Now, Michelle has lyrically described Bouchon as that scaled-down pansy Bouchon bistro shit, but I prefer to think of Bouchon as Keller’s yin, as opposed to his French Laundry yang (jokes about the characteristics of Keller’s yang may be left in the comments section). Not that I think Keller puts doilies under his food processors at Bouchon, but the food there tends to be more classic and even rustic, as opposed to the toques with propellers on the top they hand out to the kitchen staff at the Laundry.

I tackled the recipe with the Smackdown Code of Honor (TM):
– A recipe from a cookbook we own
– Only minimal changes

So, right out of the gate, I had two logistic problems with the recipe. First, the first ingredient on the very first line is: “Chanterelles, morels, or other seasonal mushrooms”. I’m not going to buy $30 of morels, and I can’t find chanterelles in this tiny little beach town, so I substituted criminis. Also, Keller uses fish fumet (fish stock), which is described in a separate recipe using an astonishing amount of ingredients, and I wanted to have this Smackdown complete on the actual night I was cooking it. I do make my own stock (I haven’t yet tackled fumet), so I thought it would be appropriate to substitute my own shrimp stock, chicken stock, and wine for the fumet.

After a gratuitous shot of our daughter and son checking out my mise, we’re off to smacking.


The bottom layer of coquille is a mushroom duxelles. Shallots are minced (and if I had a dollar for every shallot I’ve minced…) and the criminis are chopped “finely”. As a nod to Michelle’s awesome knife skills (seriously — have you seen her julienning?) I decided to forgo the food processor and chop finely by hand. Two piles of shallots and mushrooms later, I chopped the appropriate amounts of Italian parsley and tarragon.

Now comes the linchpin of French cuisine — sauteing in butter. The shallots are softened, which I firmly believe is only done to fill the kitchen with a wonderful aroma, probably to cover up the smell of ripening cheese in French pantries. The mushrooms go in next and are cooked until they release their water, then further cooked until the water evaporates almost completely. Salt, pepper, yadda. The herbs are added and the mushrooms are taken off the heat.

The sauce comes next, along with my flagrant bastardization of the fish fumet. The stocks and wine(*) are lightly and gently boiled down by a third, about 15 minutes, while I cook a roux in the background (more butter, sizzled with flour)

(*) I used a Pinot Grigio — and my spell-check is helpfully suggesting I meant “pinto gringo” instead of Pinot Grigio. This is why computers will never take over the world — no sense of culture. On the other hand, humans have canceled Sarah Connor yet renewed Chopped for another season, so maybe we’re all doomed.

The roux is added to the stock/wine to make a velouté, and this is simmered for 20 minutes to reduce, thicken, and try to get some of the dusty flour taste out of my refined bastard fumet. Heavy cream is added and 10 more minutes of simmering takes place, because if there’s one thing a quick and easy recipe needs, it’s 45 minutes of sauce making. When the simmering has grokked to its fullness, then salt, pepper, yadda.

The sauce is poured into a bowl with a couple sprigs of tarragon, then left to cool, infusing the sauce with that wonderful tarragonny anise.

It’s time to assemble. I sliced some scallops(*) in half horizontally. In little ramekins, I added the duxelles, some of the cream sauce (with the tarragon removed), the scallops, and more cream sauce.

(*) I may not be able to find French mushrooms in this town, but one thing we have going for us is an awesome supply of seafood.

Keller says everything can be refrigerated at this point for hours, then removed before baking. We’re soldiering on, though. I minced some fresh thyme, added it to a handful of panko, and sprinkled the mixture over the top of the ramekins.

From here, it’s 5-10 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven, until the sauce bubbles, with maybe a bit of cheating by flashing on the broiler at the last minute to brown the top a bit (I cheated and broiled. Keller told me to. Or, really, Michael Ruhlman told me that Keller told me to, since Ruhlman actually wrote the cookbook).

You can serve in the ramekins, or scoop it out and arrange it beautifully on another dish so you can see the layers:

You’d think two ramekins a person would be a good warmup, but we were stuffed. It’s a rich meal. Bill Gates kind of rich. And yet, quite unlike Bill Gates, it’s also very refined and mellow, with a delicate anise aroma (I am not going to speculate on Bill’s aroma, mainly because I’ve pushed this metaphor far beyond where TerraServer could find it).

This was a kick-ass meal.

0 thoughts on “Thomas-Fucking-Keller Smackdown

  1. yum and thanks. you (and the rest of the guest poster people) are rock stars who should in fact receive nobel peace prizes for keeping Michelle’s rabid fans sedated with food while she gets her brain-chem groove on!

  2. amazing pics. ((note to self: visit a malfunctioning nuclear reactor ont he hopes of growing an extra set of arms i can take pics of myself chopping herbs. or, failing that, buy a tripod and RTFM to figure how to set the timer on the camera.)) and the food looks even better. i proclaim you Top Scallop!

  3. I’d just like to point out that she called Bouchon the “scaled-down bistro shit” in reference to my humble effort last time I got roped into this thankless task. (In my defense, she’s completely crazy.)

    You have given me lens envy.

  4. I’m not sure what to say. Cheesy scallops drenched in cream and sauteed mushrooms + shallots? Bastardization-ing of fumets?! The internet owes you a great big thank you, looks amazing! Props on the photos as well.

  5. kitchengeeking — There has been an eclectic set of guest hosts!

    lisa — It’s a good one. I prefer it to the Laundry one, but it’s still very Keller.

    Terri — Thanks!

    Burkie — It helps to have a wife who is a professional photographer. If it was just me doing this, it would be nothing but crooked cellphone pics.

    Peter — I guess the guest-posting mindset likes Bouchon!

    Mallory — Yeah, I love seeing what each step actually looks like. I don’t care as much about the 1 1/2 cups/3 bushels/1 microgram stuff, I like to see the technique.

    Phil — Not to mention crispy browned herb-panko.

    kristin — Yeah, I could have just filled the ramekins with the sauce and handed out spoons.

    Vera — It wasn’t too hard, a lot of waiting for the sauce to simmer! Thanks!

  6. Peter, Christey, you amaze me yet again. Wonderful guest post and a perfect meal for Michelle’s page.

    Plus, it was fun hearing you cuss. Heh.

  7. Wow! This is just the kind of recipe that I’m intimidated to make, not only because of the number of steps, but because I just don’t have homemade stock to hand – my fridge is way too small! I salute you!

  8. Melissa — Thanks! Usually the cussing takes while I’m cooking, then everything becomes more (ahem) refined when I write it up.

    Su-Lin — I had that problem too, but luckily I got a chest freezer from my mother-in-law. Stock will freeze virtually forever, so I make a bunch one Saturday and freeze it for months.

    Judy — I bought it for the gnocci Parisienne recipe, and haven’t regretted it!

  9. I have never laughed so hard at something on the internet, by myself, in my life. Seriously, there were tears in my eyes….particularly after this line… “I used a Pinot Grigio — and my spell-check is helpfully suggesting I meant “pinto gringo” instead of Pinot Grigio. This is why computers will never take over the world — no sense of culture”

    Thank you for making my day.

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