Posted Aug 4, 2016
In some of the upcoming posts I will be diving into the crazy life I took on when I left Walter, so before we head down that much more serious rabbit hole, I thought I might stay up in a lighter place and talk about some of the cooking I did for Walter and his guests.
Every Tuesday (there were only a couple exceptions to this timing) Walter would have a small dinner party. Sometimes it would be eight or ten but was usually only four to six guests. They were not always exclusively Belgian guests but they were almost exclusively people based in Brussels for their work so had caught the “fries addiction”.
Some stereotypes exist for a reason. Regardless of what else I would be serving for a meal, the assumption was that there would be some fries on the table, like cutlery or table linens, and a chef who could not impress in this regard was at best a cook, and certainly not a chef. The first time I tried to do fries for one of Walters dinners there were a lot of raised eyebrows. Everything else could be fabulous but without the fries – well, what a letdown.
Jim related to me a similar problem from the cooking school he and Janice had (see the Links We Like). There would be times where an extended family would come for a private evening where the focus was a traditional holiday or occasion and the culinary focus was to be a dish that was “just like grandmas”. Invariably Grandma would be at the dinner. The chef would be provided with the recipe a few days before the event and sometimes a terrine or plater from the grandma in question to make the dish seem to be just the same.
The first few times it was a disaster. Grandmas recipe might call for a teaspoon of rum and her practice had been to put in half a cup! Beyond this it was also politically incorrect for the dish to be as good as Grandmas – that would be a blasphemy!
So what became the standard practice was for the house chef to simply say “ I would love the opportunity to interpret and do a variation on this wonderful recipe” which let grandma off the hook if it was better than hers, as everyone could rave about it but still say its not as good as hers and the chef could be sure a great meal would be produced and enjoyed.
My experience with Walters guests was much the same. I couldn’t live up to the expectations for the Belgian fries, so I did roasted (not fried) home fries, with lots of different dips and it was always a hit.
What follows is the most popular dish and variations on the meals I would do at Walters. We would usually have some canapes and champagne or prosecco as the guests would arrive, a soup or appetizer starter then roll into the entre with the vegetables, followed by a homemade ice cream with homemade biscuits or biscotti for dessert with espresso. While there were many variations and different dishes served over the few months I was there, a very popular one was the pork tenderloin so that’s what I have described here. The home fries were the only constant for every dinner party!
HERB ENCRUSTED ROAST PORK TENDERLOIN & HOME FRIES
Working at Walters was quite a treat for me. The kitchen was not always rocking like a boat, had lots of counter space, many specialty appliances and lots of refrigeration. These, of course, were all things that I had not experienced for a while, as most yachts, even large ones, don’t dedicate a lot of space to the kitchen.
Pork Tenderloin, Veal Tenderloin or Beef Tenderloin
All three of these meats work and depending on the size of your guest list, and of your budget, each of them has their merits. So if it’s a dinner for two I would do a smaller pork tenderloin, or if a group of four, then two pork loins, but if it’s a group of six or more going to the loin of beef or veal is often the better route. Some guests also have issues with pork which will also help you decide which meat to use. In general, there are cuts of beef I like better so most of the time when doing this recipe I would go with the pork even if it involves multiple tenderloins if there is a larger group.
- Trim off any excess fat, wash the loin, and dry completely with a paper towel.
- rub with olive oil, or go 4.
- coat with herbs. This can take on many forms and depends on your taste. In general, I always like to use fresh herbs for my cooking but for this kind of treatment I prefer dried herbs with two exceptions. Finely chopping a sprig or two of fresh Rosemary per pork tenderloin, and a couple sprigs of Tyme as well is a great route to go. or If like me you are functioning in a small kitchen most of the time you can use a premixed type– eg Italian (usually with oregano, rosemary, thyme, and basil, but some have garlic and other herbs) or Herbs de Provence –(which adds to the Italian mix several other components: savory, marjoram, and lavender) but ultimately you are the one in control and may choose to go heavy on one type or another. Once the herbs are on make sure you rub again with oil as you want the herbs to be soaking up that oil and sticking to the meat. As you do the dish more often you will also experiment with specific tastes – finely chopped garlic (two or three cloves per tenderloin), or going exclusively with thyme mixed with the zest of one lemon per tenderloin. When doing this one I would often grill slices of lemon and use them as a garnish on the finished dish with their grilled mushy juices adding flavour to the pork pieces.
- an alternative to rubbing with oil then adding the herbs is to put the herbs in a small bowl dry, then just add enough oil to make a paste of the oil and herb mixture and then put this on the meat. When you are familiar with it, the technique works well but usually results in a much more robust coating of herbs than the other way. Pre-Coating: I have found that when working with beef, after coating with herbs, having it sit, covered in the fridge for several hours or even overnight before bringing it out and having sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes (while your range pre-heats) before cooking is really worthwhile. But unless it is preferable for dinner scheduling this pre-coating and sitting time is not as beneficial with pork tenderloin. In some kitchen settings I would just roast directly on a roasting pan and turn it after about fifteen minutes but I prefer to cook the loins on a rack off the floor of the roasting pan and to then pour as much water as possible into the pan below the rack leaving at least one centimeter (1/2 inch) between the water and the rack. This helps keep the oven area moist as well as giving more air circulation around the roast. The outer surface of the meat will still crisp up, but the effect is to have an even moister final product than otherwise. It also makes cleaning up that roasting pan a breeze.
- Place pork tenderloin or multiple tenderloins in a preheated oven at 175c (350f) for about 50 minutes. Now oven temperatures are an interesting thing. The higher you go up, of course, the shorter a time needed. So if you are in a scramble time-wise you could preheat to 204c (400f) and just go for about 30 minutes, or to 260c (500f) and shave it down to about 20 minutes. So why, with so many options did I start with the suggestion of 175c (350f) for 50 minutes? Well because: most of us are the only person working in the kitchen; are not serving just this one component; are working with equipment that is not perfectly tuned and prefer to make the whole process more forgiving. When a piece of meat that has been cooking at 175c (350f) for something like 45 minutes to an hour is removed from the oven it continues to cook but not much, while a piece that was cooking at 260c (500f) that is removed will continue to cook while resting, making the judgment of serving time much more difficult. Many home cooks or recreational chefs don’t have exceptional equipment and a variety of products are not recommended for oven use at really high temperatures. This is particularly true of non-stick finishes that will often top out at a recommended 175c(350f). Working with a beef tenderloin is a bit different both because of the dimension of the loin as well as the proper cooked point to be achieved. A typical time for the beef will be 45 to 60 minutes at 425f.
- Time, of course, is just the starting point – the real test is the internal temperature of the tenderloin. If you have a thermometer or your range is equipped with a probe, you are trying to get the internal temperature of the pork tenderloin to about 65c (150f ) or a little lower for the beef loin to 60-62c (140-145f)
- A lot is often made about “resting” and there is no question that the meat will benefit from a ten minute resting time (particularly the beef) but the reality is that you don’t need to build this into your time. Just get it out of the oven and work away on your final prep, serving the various components etc. For most of us mere mortals that takes about ten minutes.
- Cut into slices at a thickness you like – eg 1 cm or 3/8 inch. In general, cutting it in thinner slices is more formal and wider is more casual. Then layer/stagger a serving on the plate, much like toppled dominoes.
- You can accompany the dish with gravy but the herbs and the roasting produce a nice product without it and an easy one to add is a chutney, mint jelly or hot pepper jelly on the side for the pork, and a chutney, or horseradish for beef loin.
Roast Home Fries
This is a foolproof, dead easy recipe that can be dressed up or down as needed. On most occasions, I like to work with white potatoes, not the yellow fleshy ones but all of this is personal preference. I also don’t remove the skin so part of the exercise begins at the market in choosing nice looking potatoes. I don’t go by weight – but by the size of nice looking potatoes available and that will tell me how many I need per person. A typical one that is about 8 to 10 cm (3-4inches) long is enough for each person but you will want to do some extra as the taste of these encourages gluttony.
- give them a good scrub under running water with a brush then cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each of those in thirds, again lengthways. This will yield a total of six long pieces per potato with a profile (if viewed from the end) of a triangle.
- put the pieces in a stock pot to just covered with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the burner and let sit for five minutes. Check the potato pieces with a fork – you don’t want them to go soft.
- drain and let sit out of the water to dry for a few minutes.
- place in a large bowl, add a glug (a “glug” I have found to be about a tablespoon but can be up to two tablespoons) of olive oil, whatever amount of salt and pepper you are liking and turn over lightly with a big spoon– we’re not trying to beat up the potato slices, just to get them covered with oil and seasoning. Using Canola Oil or a vegetable oil instead of olive oil will get them a bit crisper if that is how you like them. I will usually use Canola oil if its available for this reason.
- put the seasoned potato slices on whatever you have – parchment paper or Silpat on top of a baking sheet, or sometimes I will put them on a rack on top of a baking sheet. It all works.
- these will then go into the same oven you are cooking your meat in but depending on the thickness of the pieces it will often take less time than the meat so you will manage the timing of when they come out based on how they are looking.
Turn them at the midpoint or when you see one side getting a good roast patina. When they are ready, get them out, cover with foil until the other components of the meal are ready.
Variation – you can do a much more elegant looking product (and save yourself a step) by cutting the pieces thinner and not parboiling them in the boiling water first. If they are cut thin enough (eg I cm or less than 3/8 inch) you can just oil and season them and put them straight in the oven.
I really love roast vegetables but with the meat being roasted and the fries being a big roasted item I would usually just steam some brussels sprouts, or broccoli or some nice heirloom carrots or slice up some fresh tomatoes to compliment.
Dips for the Roast Homefries
So this is where I really solved the problem of Walters guests – the fries snobs. While they were allowed to like the home fries because they were sufficiently different than what they were familiar with, setting out a number of dips put it into the category of “better than expected”. Yes, I put out a conventional aioli, but also put out tomato salsa, maple syrup, an orange roulade or jelly, a mixture of Dijon and mayonnaise etc.
Walters kitchen was also an example of Djangos Kitchen Rule #2 – “work with the tools you have”. Walters kitchen had lots of counter space so I was not restricted. It also had lots of specialty tools on hand – a deep fryer, a rice maker, an ice cream maker, both a large and small blender, air fryer, panini maker, pressure cooker, so I was certainly spoiled in comparison with my usual kitchen situation. But my point is this – often a specialty appliance can be used in many ways. A rice maker is also a great tool for making tapioca or rice pudding. An ice cream maker is not just for making deserts – use it to make a nice palette-cleansing sorbet which adds some elegance between courses.
Even major appliances are often not appreciated unless, like me, you are coming from a small kitchen on a boat. That second oven or warming drawer set at about 160f is great for warming plates or keeping various cooked foods warm.
One of the biggest things I notice with kitchens on land is the abundance of refrigeration and freezer space. Use them. A nice salad can be made ahead and sit in that huge fridge. That cavernous freezer is great for buying meat on sale, freezing and having on hand. No, you can’t keep it there forever, and yes, it is better to work with fresh, but for most people buying the better cut of meat on sale and freezing it is a very good approach. You will also find that many time-consuming recipes may lend themselves to making the second batch and freezing.
So this little culinary diversion has kept us from getting back to the story of what my life with Amy and Justin was like. Stay tuned, it will be my next post.