Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dinner with Thomas Keller: Marinated Skirt Steak and Asparagus with Tomato Bacon Stew

L. to R. Eric and Adam 
One night last week, Andrew, our friend Kathy and I all went to see Eric Rippert, the Chef Extraordinaire at New York’s Le Bernardin. Chef Rippert was appearing at the YMHA as part of the “Conversations with Chevaliers” series.  The participants in these talks all have one thing in common: They have all received the prestigious French ‘Legion d’Honneur’ or Order of Arts and Letters from the government of France.  It’s no surprise that Chef Rippert would be so honored. For the 20 years that he has been there,  “Le Bernardin” has been consistently listed at the top of any roster of New York’s best restaurants.  It’s also listed as the #18th best restaurant in the entire world according to San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best List.   I’ll save a lot of what Chef Rippert had to say to the moderator, The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, for a separate post.  Today I’ll tell you what he recommended when asked “What Cookbooks should a home cook own”.         

To paraphrase, Rippert said you only need 3.  He’d start with any great book that actually teaches you how to cook, the techniques for producing great meals at home.  The books that made this list were Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook” (Alfred A. Knopf 1989) is still in print although you may have to buy it in paperback.  Almost in the same breath, he mentioned the great Jacques Pepin whose “Essential Pepin” (Harcourt Mifflin Harcourt) came out in 2011.  Both books are filled with techniques and skills.  Finally, the author of “Avec Eric” (John Wiley & Son 2010), offered up Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” (Artisan Books 2009) as being the third essential cookbook.  (Cookbook fanciers, like yours truly, were encouraged to hear that Chef Rippert himself has ‘about a 1000 cookbooks’ which sounds about right to me.)
The Great Man himself, Thomas Keller
         Now I have all three of the recommended cookbooks. I have gone to Julia and Jacques for help more times than I could possibly remember.  Thomas Keller, on the other hand, is well-represented in our kitchen but all three volumes we have--“Bouchon”, “The French Laundry” and “Ad Hoc at Home”-- all seemed to fall into the category of ‘too intimidating’ and have remained as ‘coffee-table books’ that just happen to be kept in the kitchen.
         After Chef Rippert’s talk, as I was planning a small dinner party, “Ad Hoc at Home” was the first place I looked.  And much to my delight, it turns out that, in this book at least, Chef Keller is determined to teach you how to cook and not just leave you hanging with a list of 25 ingredients and 25 steps to get dinner on the table.  It’s good to remember that of the 9 Restaurants “Ad Hoc” in Yountville, California is his “more casual eatery”. Casual compared to Yountville’s other Keller property the world famous “French Laundry”.  Poring over this beautiful book, I settled on a menu that would incorporate my guests’ fondness for beef and the stellar Asparagus that’s started to come in from California instead of South America.  Hopefully, by the time you read this or shortly thereafter, we’ll be deep in our local asparagus, which will only make this even more appropriate. 
         (I also served Potatoes Anna, which were absolutely delicious but swimming in butter so I won’t take you through that preparation until I’ve mastered the recipe.)
The Un-prepossessing Ad Hoc
Thomas Keller is a supremely wonderful teacher, I was surprised to find out.  He takes you by the hand and lets you know exactly what to expect.  Don’t plan on doing much the afternoon you take on this menu.   There’s down time, but nothing is rushed.  The marinade is heat to a simmer then cooled to room temperature before being into service.  The tomato-bacon sauce takes 30 minutes just to render the bacon fat.   Then there’s the hour and 20 minutes that the tomatoes stew.  This is no rush weeknight meal.  But it succeeds in taking a very reasonably priced cut of steak and elevating it in flavor and texture.  It also something as common as Spring asparagus and makes it very special.  And Asparagus has never looked prettier on the table and plate.  So allow yourself the luxury of an afternoon and serve this to company. They’ll love you for it.  Here are the recipes:

Thomas Keller’s Recipe for Marinated Skirt Steak:
Ingredients for Marinade:
6 thyme sprigs
2 eight-inch rosemary sprigs
4 small bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
5 garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Remaining Ingredients:
Six 8 ounce trimmed outer skirt steaks
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
Combine the thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, and oil in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and let the marinade cool to room temperature.

Trim steaks of any excess fat and discard. Cut the steaks crosswise into 2 to 3 equal pieces, depending on the size of the steaks. Put the steaks in a baking dish, add the marinade, and cover with plastic wrap pressing down on it to completely cover the meat.  Marinate for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours, in the refrigerator.

Remove the meat from the marinade and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking. Discard the marinade. Dry the meat with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper.
 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; set a roasting rack in a roasting pan.
 Heat some canola oil in a large frying pan over high heat. (Have a splatter screen ready.) When the oil shimmers, add half the meat and quickly brown the first side. Turn the meat and, working quickly, add 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 thyme sprigs, and 1 garlic clove, and brown the meat on the second side, basting constantly; the entire cooking process should only take about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer the meat to the roasting rack and spoon the butter, garlic, and thyme over the top. Wipe the pan, and repeat with the remaining steaks.

Transfer the roasting rack and pan (or cooling rack and half sheet pan) to the oven and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the center of the meat registers 125 degrees. Remove from oven and let the meat rest on the rack in a warm place for about 10 minutes for medium-rare. Serve, garnishing steaks with the garlic and thyme.

Thomas Keller’s Recipe for Asparagus with Tomato Bacon Sauce
Serves 4

3 oz. thick cut bacon, cut into 1 x 1/4 lardons
2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped leeks, white part only
2 Tbsp. onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt + pepper
One 14-oz can San Marzano whole tomatoes
Canola oil

2 1/2 lbs. Asparagas, trimmed
1/4 cup  plus 2 tbsp. chicken stock
Olive oil

Prep all your ingredients
Pour 2 tablespoons water into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Add the bacon and reduce heat and let bacon render for 30 minutes.  Transfer bacon to paper towels using a slotted spoon.  Save bacon fat.
Keep 2 tablespoons in pan, reserve the rest of the bacon fat, and add the leeks, onions, garlic and stir to coat.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the veggies are soft. Add the tomatoes with their juices and simmer for 45 minutes.
Transfer half the mixture to a mini chopper and process until puree. add back into pan. cook for 15 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in the bacon and reduce the heat to low.
Heat a large frying pan, one that can hold half the asparagus in a single layer over medium low heat. Pour a film of the reserved bacon fat or some canola oil into the pan and lay the asparagus over the fat.  Add 3 tablespoons of stock and some salt. Cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Repeat with the other half of the asparagus.
lay a layer of sauce on a your platter.  Layer your asparagus over the sauce and top with remaining sauce.  Sprinkle with some good olive oil. Serve at once.


  1. You are right about the Asparagus in California - it's beautiful and plentiful. I only have one of the three Rippert suggested, Jacque's. I loved how you mentioned the "too intimidating" section of your Cookbook library. I myself, have the "Are you kidding me?" section which has about 3 of gifted Martha Stewart books. Plenty of others, but she keeps showing up.. :D Thanks Monte, for the blog AND the photo of Eric..

    1. Dear Ana, Many thanks for your comment. I love Jacques and use Julia constantly. But I was amazed to see how many truly useful techniques Thomas Keller includes in "Ad Hoc". The other thing is he is wildly popular and I love to include his recipes on the blog because they bring in a lot of new readers. Finally, Eric would have you melting the first moment he opens his mouth. I loved how he classified himself: " I am French. I am American. And most of all I am a New Yorker". Substitute "Canadian" for "French" and we have that much in common. Have a great weekend! Monte