Last week I hosted a private class for a chef of a private ship, who cooks three meals daily for up to fifteen people. It was amazing to hear what she juggles, from shopping in tiny, exotic ports of call for fresh produce, to preparing three separate meals for a family of four, to feeding a young and active crew along with herself and her captain husband.
I showed her how to better wield her knife, scrape her work surface clean on a regular basis, use bowls to catch trimmings, and generally develop efficient habits. A willing learner, by the end of four days her skills were polished, her mind opened to a different way of doing things.
And none of that even touched the ingredients we worked with (nor the fun we had!). Accustomed to sidling up to commercial fishing boats to get the freshest of the day, she’d until last week eschewed skate and mackerel; no longer, for she learned exactly how to prepare them. I assuaged her doubts about cooking “too fresh” fish – it has to relax some before being cooked – and we made our way through hosts of root vegetables and lettuces, autumn fruits and baked goods as she filled out her culinary memory and experience.
She left with a firm conviction that a yearly “tune-up” at On Rue Tatin will be part of her regular schedule. For my part, I cannot wait until she returns.
ON RUE TATIN WITH SUSAN HERRMANN LOOMIS
EGG FLOWERS WITH KURI SQUASH
FLEUR D’OEUF SUR LIT DE POTIMARRON
For the Squash:
1 small potimarron, seeds and pith removed
1 star anise
1-inch fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
For the vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Pinch fine sea salt
Pinch piment d’Espelette or hot paprika
½ cup cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the dates:
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
8 dates, pitted, minced
8 almonds, minced
Pinch piment d’Espelette or hot paprika
Pinch fleur de sel
For the eggs:
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon pine nut or extra virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
1. Place the potimarron in a large, heavy saucepan and cover it with 2-inches (5cm) water. Add the star anise, the ginger, the orange zest, the bay leaf and the salt. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat so the water is boiling gently, partially cover and cook until the potimarron is tender through, about 30 minutes. Check occasionally and add additional water if necessary. When the potimarron is tender, remove all the spices, and puree the potimarron in a food processor. Strain the potimarron if necessary, to make a very smooth puree. Season with cumin salt and pepper. Return to the pan and keep the puree warm.
2. While the potimarron is cooking, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, the salt, and the piment d’Espelette. Slowly whisk in the extra virgin olive oil until the mixture is well-combined. Mince the cilantro leaves, and whisk into the vinaigrette. Season to taste.
3. Place the olive oil, dates, almonds, olive oil, piment d’Espelette, and the fleur de sel to taste in a small mixer and puree to make a paste. Form the paste into 8 small cone shapes, and reserve.
4. Line a small bowl with a double thickness of plastic wrap, leaving plenty of plastic wrap to hang over the edges of the bowl. Oil the plastic wrap with a pastry brush dipped in the olive oil. Break 1 egg into the oiled plastic lining the bowl. Add one-fourth of the pine nut or extra-virgin
olive oil, and a bit of salt. Bring the edges of the film up and around the egg and twist it so it tightly encloses the egg. Tie it tightly with kitchen string.
5. To cook the eggs, fill a medium-sized pan three-fourths full of water and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the eggs in their plastic wrap, making sure the wrap hangs over the side of the pan, and cook them until they solidify, but the yolk remains soft inside, about 4-1/2 minutes. Remove the eggs from the pan and set them on a tea towel. Wait 2 to 3 minutes, then cut the plastic film right under the kitchen string.
6. Reheat the potimarron, and season it to taste. If it is dry, stir in enough boiling water to make it the consistency you want, then adjust the seasonings.
7. To serve, evenly divide the potimarron among four warmed plates, flattening it slightly in the center of the plate. Season it with salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. Place an egg in the center. Drizzle the egg with an equal amount of the vinaigrette, drizzling some of the vinaigrette over the potimarron as well. Set two date “cones” on the plate, as a garnish, and serve.