Monday, September 6, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: Peas and Carrots

The NFL season (finally) starts next week, which means I will no longer have Sundays to putz around in the kitchen. I'll still try to do some crazy stuff on Saturdays, but these recipes that take two days aren't going to be happening. In honor of my last free weekend, I decided to turn to the French Laundry Cookbook and try Thomas Keller's spectacular recipe for a dish that he playfully refers to as "Peas and Carrots."
For those of you who don't have the book, the peas in "Peas and Carrots" are represented by a pea shoot salad that finishes the dish... The carrot appears in a ginger-carrot emulsion that is so delicious it almost makes you weep... Finally, the garnish to your peas and your carrots is a savory crepe stuffed with perfectly seasoned lobster. I don't have words for how amazing this dish was.
This is an epic post, which is probably about proportional to the amount of work involved, all of which is totally worth it. I was originally planning to make this all on Saturday, but I wisely decided to spread the prep over two days instead. The first day of prep starts with lobsters. The recipe calls for three 1.5 - 2 pound lobsters, but I bought four just in case because I wasn't sure of the weights. (The $5/pound lobsters I get are usually chicken-lobsters, but these actually turned out to be 1.5 pounds each...)
Thomas Keller does this thing where instead of boiling, steaming, or broiling the lobster, he "steeps" it. The meat comes out tender and perfectly cooked, and this will definitely be my new way of doing lobster from now on. You start with the lobsters in a pot. (That's Bob waving at you...)
After determining how much water will be required to cover the lobsters, you bring that quantity of water to a boil, add 1/2 C distilled white vinegar for every 8 quarts of water, then pour the boiling water over the lobsters and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. The lobsters are removed after 2 minutes (or 3 minutes for 2-pound lobsters).
The claws and the arms (?) they're attached to are put back in the water for 5 more minutes, which gives you time to prep the tails. Simply twist them off of the heads and remove them from their shells. (These shells are discarded.)
Right about now, your 5 minutes is probably up. Remove the claws from the from the water and start breaking them down, trying to keep the knuckle meat and claw meat intact.
Finally, remove the top of the head and all the guts, leaving you with clean lobster bodies that you'll be using later. There you have it:
The knuckle meat goes in with the tail meat, and the tips of the claw meat (which are a weird texture) are discarded. The recipe calls for 12 ounces of meat (which is then chopped) and it turned out 3 lobsters would have been plenty...
Tragically, this meant that I had meat from a whole lobster left over and had to go ahead and enjoy it with my Saturday night dinner.
But I digress... The last big thing I did on Saturday was the Lobster Glace. This starts with the bodies from 3 lobsters, a carrot, thyme, and a tomato.
The bodies are seared in a pan for a few minutes, then the remaining ingredients are added.
You next realize that you were supposed to cut the bodies into 2-inches pieces, so you do that, then throw them back in with just enough water to cover (about 4 cups).
After an hour and fifteen minutes of simmering, you should have about 2 cups of liquid left when you pass the mixture through a coarse strainer and then a fine strainer.
Now the real reducing... For the first reduction, I was able to leave the room and just set a timer, but this second reduction is taking that 2 cups down to about a tablespoon, which meant that I needed to keep an eye on it. After a hunk of time, the glace was finished...
As you might guess from something that went from 4 cups of liquid down to a tablespoon, that is some flavorful stuff right there. For my final prep item of the day, I assembled the lobster filling. The other mise for the filling (which I prepped while reducing) are a quarter cup of minced chives and a tablespoon of minced shallot.
These are added to the lobster meat along with some mascarpone, and the mixture is folded together...
I tossed that in the fridge overnight and headed to bed... The next day I started out on that spectacular ginger-carrot emulsion. This required 3 pounds of carrots and an ounce of ginger.
That's a lot of carrots, so I peeled them the night before while my glace was reducing.
I didn't own a juicer, so (obviously) I had to go out and get one... It's very shiny and pretty.
The carrots and ginger went through super-easily, and left me with really pretty juice. (Yay!)
Keller suggests that you can use the pulp to make carrot powder. He wants you to microwave it on low for 40 minutes, but that seemed weird so I improvised.
Meanwhile, I measured the juice and, despite starting with less than 3 pounds of carrots, I ended up with 2 1/2 cups of juice, which is exactly what I was supposed to end up with from 3 pounds. I think this is an indication that my juicer rocks.
For the carrot powder, I decided to use my food dehydrator. I've never actually dehydrated in it (I use it as a yogurt-maker), so this was a fun experiment. I spread the pulp out on the thingy that I think is for making fruit roll-ups or something, then chucked it in the dehydrator for most of the day. (This is way more than you need for carrot powder, but I figured dehydrated carrot pulp would be a good bunny snack, so I used it all...)
Just before dinner I pulled out the now-dehydrated pulp and put some of it in my spice grinder. After sifting to remove the big hunks, I ended up with some lovely carrot powder to garnish my dish.The juice goes into a pot and reduces from 2.5 cups to a half cup, taking on sort of a baby-food consistency...
Because this took a very long time, I worked on the crepes while the juice was reducing. Flour and salt are combined, then 3 beaten eggs and some milk are whisked in, followed by some melted butter.
I had a couple lumps in mine, but the next step was to strain it through a fine mesh strainer, so that turned out to be no problem. After the straining, chives are stirred in.
This actually went incredibly smoothly. I was expecting to have several rejects but (thanks in part to my weird flipping-tool thingy (on the right in the picture below) that I bought for no particular reason a few months ago) it was a breeze. Every single crepe turned out perfectly.
These are stacked between paper towels, waiting to be stuffed with lobster meat once you finish crepe-making. About a quarter cup of lobster meat goes down on the less-pretty side of the crepe...
... then the edges are folded in to make a little pillow of crepe-wrapped lobster meat.
These are placed on a buttered tray and brushed with a little melted (Amish) butter. At this point you can refrigerate them for several hours and just pull them out when you're ready to finish making dinner.
The last little item of advance prep was plucking the leaves off of a big pile of pea shoots to soak in cold water, ready to be turned into a pea shoot salad (with the addition of a pinch of salt, a pinch of minced shallot, and a few drops of lemon oil) at the last minute.
OK. So, that all took a very long time, but the good news is that it can all be done in advance. The reduced carrot-ginger mixture can be made a day ahead, and you can stuff the crepes with your pre-prepped filling on the morning of your dinner party, leaving you with only 15 minutes of work when the time comes for plating. I think that's pretty cool. Time to finish off the emulsion. If you're wondering how a reduction of ginger-carrot juice can turn into something transcendent, this picture of the ingredients in the emulsion may help to explain it:
The reduction is heated, then the cream stirred in and allowed to reduce for a few minutes...
With the mixture at a low simmer, the (Amish) butter is whisked in one hunk at a time, waiting to add the next hunk until the previous hunk is almost melted. (No pictures of this, since I was whisking and making sure my sauce didn't break...) As the last hunk of (Amish) butter is almost melted, the whole mixture is tossed into a blender to thoroughly emulsify...
When I was about half-way through the butter, I tossed the lobster crepes into the oven for 12 minutes to heat through. Now it was go-time. After all that work, there are only 3-4 things that go on the plate.
You start with a pool of the absurdly delicious emulsion in the center of the plate...
Place a lobster-filled crepe in the center...
Finally, toss the pea shoots with their dressing and place atop the crepe.
And, just to remind you what's in there, here is the crepe after I split it open...
Mmmm... Lobster. (You can see the carrot powder in that last shot. I think I need to play with that, because I thought it detracted from the presentation when I just dusted it around the plate...) The crepes were perfect, the filling was perfectly seasoned (thanks in no small part to that lobster glace) with just the right amount of creaminess from the mascarpone, and the pea shoots in lemon oil added the perfect bright accent... But let's talk about that ginger-carrot emulsion... So. Effing. Good. It's one of those things that you would try in a restaurant and then spend the evening trying to figure out how in the world the chef managed to make carrots taste so spectacular. I know I am prone to hyperbole while I am still in the thrall of an amazing dish, but this one really is one of the best things I've ever eaten. When I was an impoverished grad student in California, I had to shy away from Thomas Keller's lobster dishes because there was no way $45 of $10/pound lobster was in the budget. Out here, though, I can get lobster for $5/pound, and this whole recipe (which makes 8 servings like the one pictured above) costs about $30-$40 total (depending on what's in your pantry). Knowing that I can make something that tastes this amazing for less than $5 per serving is part of why I don't go to restaurants very often... and why when I do go to restaurants I try to go to places that will rock my world. Speaking of which, me and my California friends will be dining at The French Laundry three short weeks from today. I ate there for the first time (with Stanley, Alicia, and Steph) over 4 years ago, and it's not exaggerating to say that the meal changed my life by showing me how much was possible with food. I'm excited to go back and be blown away again...


dmg said...


Having read several of your postings, I was intrigued by the French Laundry, and finally bought it. I haven't done the complete Peas and Carrots, but I did prepare the sauce and the crepes (filled with chanterelles). Amazing combination!!

I have made to this date 5-6 partial recipes from the FL, and every time, I am totally amazed at the results. I like the way he tried to teach along with the explanation of this recipes. It is great sense of accomplishment, but more important, I feel I am learning as do the recipes in ways that I rarely feel with other books.

It has become one of my beloved cooking books. Thank you for calling my attention to it.


emmo said...


That's so great to hear! =) I feel the same way about Thomas Keller's recipes, and I think it's really smart to do partial recipes from the book when the full thing would be too much. The method for cooking lobster in Peas and Carrots is the only way I ever cook lobster now. It comes out perfect every time. Brilliant. =)

A great site to see all of the recipes from the book done at home (if you haven't seen it yet) is She inspired me to start cooking from the book more, and I'm so glad she did.