There was a time when I was a bells and whistles kind of guy. Whatever was center of the plate was no good unless it was dressed up like Prince in the early 1980‘s. I could spend hours in the kitchen making reductions, creating foams and looking to the hottest new chefs for trends and replicating them. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact it is sort of how you go about learning, or creating, and getting yourself to a point where you have your own style. You copy, replicate and look to piers until at some point you become an amalgamation of these experiences and then you all the sudden have, somehow miraculously, your own style.
The thing is, is this doesn’t stop just because you start to create things that are your own. You still look to others to find new ideas and search out techniques that you can put into your arsenal for use at some point in time. If you stop you stagnate. That doesn’t mean you have to cook something different every night, I used to do this because there were so many things to try and not enough time to try them all but then I realized for my kids there was no sense of familiarity, they couldn’t name a favorite which bothered me. Not only that but I was spending to much time in the kitchen and not enough time with them. Sure I wanted them in the kitchen helping but they don’t want to be in the kitchen all the time and, honestly, neither do I.
I am not sure when it happened, or exactly who the inspiration was, I think I can point to Jacques Pepin for sure, but at some point I realized if you had great product at hand it became about technique and not so much sauces, stocks and so many ingredients. I think also being on the farm and tasting veggies straight out of the garden, or roasting a chicken that was butchered two days before and allowed to air chill and how adding lots of things to these great food stuffs was almost a crime.
Then just the other day I was reading a conversation between Anthony Bourdain and Wylie Dufresne in the Lucky Peach about sushi rice. The argument was that the mere fact you found the best rice wasn’t enough but you also had to know how to properly handle the rice in the kitchen in order to bring out all its best qualities, and they weren’t talking about adding lots of ingredients to do so.
Now somehow, and I am not sure how, Fergus Henderson has come late to my party of chefs that I strongly admire. When I admire a chef I will cook every recipe of theirs I can find just so I can get a full picture of what they do and I will beg borrow and steal every morsel of technique I can stuff into my pockets. Besides when a chef says in one of his books this is a recipe that will never come off the menu at the restaurant it is probably a good idea to take note of said recipe and in this case it is Henderson’s Roast Marrow Bones with Parsley Salad.
I have done a couple of things in this recipe that I really like. First I took a trip to my local meat processor to process what was left of my flock and while I was there I bought some local beef. I was a afraid after this business burned down last year I wouldn’t be able to get local meat anymore but they got it rebuilt, thankfully, and I bought a couple of flank steaks and a few small roasts. So I have great product.
I am not a big fan of marinating meat, because as Thomas Keller would say, the acids in the marinade cook the meat. That said there are times to break the rules and in this case because of how the marinade is made and because it is a reasonably short marinade time I can feel comfortable with it.
The marinade is emulsified in a blender so it becomes and is used more like softened butter. What I like about it is instead of burning while cooking on the grill it melts away while leaving a nice residue of taste but does not overpower the beef to the point of not being able to taste its beefiness but is there nonetheless. I also like the fact that once smeared on it stays on and there is no flipping, or suck the air out of a Ziploc to keep it coated while in the marinade.
Now Henderson says for his Parsley salad chop the parsley just enough to discipline it but for this you want to spank it, you need its full attention, you want it to be fine enough that Marco Pierre White could snort it because you are going to make more of a jam, or butter out of it than you are a salad. What I like about the St. John’s twist is adding the bay leaves gives the marinade and quenelle an intensity that is as refreshing as a good Gin and Tonic. —thirschfeld