Thursday Night Smackdown: I Am Not a Donkey

7jan10-10.1

Actually, I probably am. I choose to ignore it.

sauce makings

For those who aren’t getting the donkey reference, it comes from Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen, an awful, awful cooking competition on Fox where mediore chefs vie for a nominal titular position at one of Ramsay’s restaurants. I had the great misfortune of having liveblogged part of one of its seasons – a self-imposed torture, I know – and the psychic scars remain.

As you’ve probably guessed, tonight’s butter-roasted cod with spiced lentils and silky mash comes from Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, the restaurant cookbook that falls somewhere between all his “fast and easy and healthy cooking for friends or crowds or just you and also it’s fast and easy” books and the Kellerian terror of Three Star Chef.*

Also a terror: the amount of butter in a dish meant to serve four. I mean, my god, this is why you don’t want to know what they’re really doing in restaurant kitchens to make the food so good. I’m still not sure it’s not a misprint.

But all in good time. Let us savor the anticipation of horror.

*Which, in its defense, does have home-cook friendly adaptations. Or so the Amazon description says; I’ve never seen it in person because it’s always shrink-wrapped, leading me to believe that it is, in fact, a fancy-pants book. Although for my money, even Keller is not as frightening as the coffee table-only Fat Duck Cookbook, which is foodporntastic but utterly inaccessible.

you like-a the sauce?

My well-known failure to fully read instructions before diving headlong into a dish was starkly apparent tonight, as I completely failed to notice that there was a recipe-within-the-recipe hidden here when I first selected the cod and that one of the ingredients for the spiced lentils was “1 c. madiera sauce, p. 245.” I am obviously the source of the “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” cliche, because I just refuse to learn this elementary lesson.

I got to work on the sauce first, since I couldn’t really do anything without it: shallots (or, for the Brits, shallOTs), garlic, bay, thyme and peppercorns went into a saute pan, followed shortly by a combo of white wine and madiera (reduce, reduce, reduce) some honey (reduce) and a further combo of chicken and veal stocks (reduce, reduce, reduce, strain). My fantastic new lens allows me to use the kind of fast shutter speeds necessary to capture mundane photos of brown things simmering, such as that seen above.

chorizo!!

Looks like candy, doesn’t it? And so it is: a strange, delicious pork-based candy called “chorizo.” Keep your eye on this stuff, I think it’s a real up-and-coming ingredient in the pork field.

lentils

The lentil dish, at least, has some kind of health balance because the wonderful, joyful, beautiful chorizo is paired with, you know, lentils. Which are what you see when you look up “healthy,” in the encyclopedia, at least in my personal encyclopedia. (Which is my brain. I’d cite that entry for you, but I don’t know the proper citation style for “personal opinion.”)

Raise your hand if you liked lentils as a child. All of you with your hands raised? Are abnormal. Everyone knows kids hate lentils. If your kid like them? S/he is abnormal. That’s right, I am not above insulting the children of strangers.

I cooked up some more shallots, added the chorizo, the madiera sauce and some heavy cream, let that reduce yet longer, and stirred in the lentils. And I knew that the neighbors would be able to smell this dish from the hallway, and that they would be jealous. And all was well.

Until the potatoes.

Behold: the saga of the potatoes. It would have been epic were it not so sad. And if that last shot didn’t look kind of like an ass; it ruins the gravitas of the whole thing. Come to think of it, the first shot looks not unlike maggots, and the third looks more like pate au choux than potatoes. A trifecta of failure.

not wormsworkin'gummy taterslooks kind of like an ass

The thing that kills me about these potatoes is that I followed the directions to the letter. Boiled ‘em without peeling. Forced Brian to peel the piping hot spuds. Put them through a ricer. Forced Brian to push them through a fine sieve. (I farm out tasks that are tedious and/or painful, or painfully tedious.) Mixed in two entire sticks of butter. Two sticks. Into a pound and a half of potatoes.

Really, it was less mixing and more “folding melted butter into a glutinous mass that moved as a whole around the pot,” which, as it turns out, is nigh impossible to do without flinging butter every which way. I tried a whisk, I tried a masher and I tried just beating the shit out of them with a wooden spoon, but they remained a doughy mass floating in a pool of melted butter. Poor, overworked potatoes. I blame myself.

Ramsay said the mash would look “greasy” at this point, which is an understatement the way “I’m not fond of brussels sprouts” and “That Ramsay certainly uses some course language on his show” are understatements. However, he informed me that whisking in some milk and heavy cream would gloriously transform the potatoes. Which they did, taking them from a gelatinous mass floating in butter to a gelatinous mass into which butter has been incorporated but which is not any less gelatinous. You can see, in the final photo, that they look nothing like mash and are able to hold the masher perfectly perpendicularly to the pot. Chilling.

I tried to save them with more cream (it saves a lot of things), a wooden spoon, and a holy hell of mixing. Eventually, they started to look more like something you might want to eat, although they required near-constant mixing to remain in that state. I think we may have discovered a fourth state of matter with these potatoes; neither a liquid nor a solid, they defied the imagination.

cod with spiced lentils and silky mash

But whatever; eventually 9PM rolls around and you really just want to eat some damn dinner. So you scoop some mash onto the plate, add the lentils and top it with a piece of cod cooked by pan-searing and constant basting with butter – I would have taken pictures but I was, you know, in the act of cooking the fish. Also covered in butter, and not wanting to touch the camera. Just imagine the basting, and the perfectly cooked moist fish that results.

I gotta say: textural difficulties with the mash aside, this was a fucking good meal. It was the essence of Smackdown. You’d never normally do it, it takes forever and has a thousand ingredients and it comes out tasting damn near what you’d expect to get in a really good restaurant. The fish was cooked so well it was INSANE. Lentils and chorizo are a natural pairing, and chorizo and cod also make fine partners. The mash tasted good – as it fucking well should have, given all the butter it forced me to ingest – and was actually kind of a nice contrast to the (overused word alert) toothsome Puy lentils, which hold their shape and texture remarkably well.

All in all, I’d have to say that Maze is a good way to get a Gordon Ramsay fix without having to endure the yelling and the throwing of objects and the calling people donkeys, although that last one is kind of funny.

14 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: I Am Not a Donkey

  1. I love chorizo, I had some chorizo tacos for lunch at Taqueria Downtown as a matter of fact, perfection in a tortilla.
    I would love to try lentils and chorizo, I bet it tastes divine!

  2. Lentils and chorizo are classic; I like simmering Puy lentils in vegetable stock as I crumble & pan-cook Mexican chorizo with bay, onion, celery & carrot with thyme & black pepper, then dump in the lentils and douse with a red wine vinegar-mustard-oil vinaigrette. I think it’s from Epicurious, but I am recipe follow fail, so I don’t remember.

  3. mmm…i’ve been eating chorizo since I was a babe. just make sure you dont confuse the classical spanish variety dried-cured chorizo found in most caribbean cooking, with the uncured variety found in Mexican and central american cooking.

    VERY different taste, texture and preparation

    dont buy the high dollar spanish style chorizo…you can get inexpensive good stuff at any puerto rican/cuban centric grocery

  4. Cream saves everything, doesn’t it?

    I liked lentils as a kid. I’d happily eat lentil soup. It was peas I wouldn’t eat. Actually, I still won’t eat peas.

    I know I’m abnormal. It hardly has anythign to do with lentils. I just want to know why I never got chorizo in my lentils as a kid.

  5. Ok, I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I figured it was time to let you know how much I enjoy your writing. Thank you for having the courage to post comments that we all make or think while rampaging through the kitchen in an attempt to bring our gourmand ideas to light. You’re brilliant, and please keep it up! Geez, I’m still laughing about the butter intake comments…reminds me of the first time I attempted a Keller recipe. Both the technique and the fat quotient nearly killed me!

    Cheers,

    C.

  6. Gordon Ramsay is a donkey. But I love his shows. I love his cursing, and dammit, as much as I hate the word “rustic”, I love the way he says it.

  7. Hey! long time!!! (it’s me, not you ;) )
    but DAMN! it looks awesome and holy hell that butter/potatoes mmmmmmmm. I would of really hated to read all that and see you worked so long and it didn’t work out. heh.

  8. olga, ooh, taqueria. i have to have a choriza quesadilla every time, or it’s not really a trip to the taqueria.

    meagan, yum. also delicious: lentils and andouille.

    cynic, true dat.

    vera, very different, but i loves ‘em both.

    rachel, you THINK it has nothing to do with the lentils. you don’t KNOW.

    craig, shucks, thanks. glad you like it here!

    miserichik, i’ve tried to get into his shows to fill the top chef void, but i just can’t do it.

    christey, hey you! i know, i hate it when that happens – thank god it (mostly) didn’t this time!

    anna, yes, cooking fish does take guts. i only wonder why i haven’t yet been recognized by the government.

  9. I was confused for a while, because I own the cookbook Maze, and in Europe Jason Atherton is credited as the writer. Gordon Ramsay isn’t mentioned, although it is stated that he is the owner of the restaurant. Very peculiar. But it was explained here: http://www.articlesbase.com/pets-articles/new-gordon-ramsay-cookbook-sort-of-maze-1333835.html

    Anyway, I guess I must be the freak here cause I loved lentils as a kid. Still do. Then again, I did hate Brussel sprouts and sauerkraut, so maybe there’s hope for me yet!

  10. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Smackdown: Seasonality Is My Middle Name

  11. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Wordless Weekend: Simple Lentils with Chorizo

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