In my book - that's right - in Carolyn Dizon's "book," Harold Dieterle is a Top Chef god. I was SO excited to make this recipe. I knew it would be like heaven, but with steaks and foie gras and parsnips. All, yummy, all the time! Well, perhaps you know where this is going, so let me just say this: Every one of my guests LOVED this meal. LOVED it. LOVED everything about it. Me? I wanted a little more out of this dish. I expected more. So, let me just cut to the chase, I'll explain more later - this is not a recipe for strip steaks. This is a recipe for fillet mignon. Fillet mignon would have had five people, not just four loving every aspect of this dinner.
Choosing the Steak:
Well, I already gave away my view on using strip steaks in this recipe, and I'll explain why later, but if you want to follow the recipe to the letter and use strip steaks, I highly recommend buying steaks that are bigger than just 10 to 12 ounces each. Steaks that were 10 to 12 ounces each were just too thin. You need a thicker steak for this recipe so that they don't become over done. Still, as with buying any steak, do yourself a favor and get the butcher to cut them fresh for you and have him trim truly excessive fat.
Making the Foie Gras Sauce: This process took TIME. Time time time. The truth of the matter is, and I know this from experience and from classes I've taken on the French "mother sauces," making sauce takes time because you have to wait for all the components to blend in flavor and for the sauce to reduce.
Browning the bones and beef trimmings:
The recipe calls for "beef trimmings and bones." I had no idea where I was going to find "beef trimmings and bones." I certainly wasn't going to fish around my butcher's garbage. I did ask him if he had any beef trimmings and bones that I could buy, and he really didn't have anything I could use. In a panic, I started looking at the packaged meat to see if I could find something useful there - and I did! I found three pieces of "back ribs" that I figured I could deconstruct for my beef trimmings and bones.
Once the trimmings were browned I could add the vegetables that were going to add flavor to the sauce. Here's what the trimmings and bones looked like browned:
Whiles the trimmings and bones were browning I started chopping up the shallots, carrot, celery and garlic that were going in the mix.
I added those vegetables to the trimmings and bones until they got lightly browned.
Then I added the wine.
And then I cooked it down over medium-high heat until all the wine was nearly evaporated.
I got the thyme and bay leaf ready.
I moved this evolving sauce to a bigger pan, so the reduction would happen faster, and also added the veal stock and the thyme and bay leaf. I kept the sauce at a simmer.
When the sauce had reduced down to about 1-1/2 cups, I strained all the meat, bones, vegetables, and herbs from the sauce with a colander. (Note - this is a place where the recipe kinda let me down. No where did the recipe call for the sauce to be strained, and TRUST ME, this is dish that calls for a smooth sauce.) The straining is key. If at this point in time, your guests are hungry, let them pick at the leftover bits of meat trimming and bones. At least that's what my friends and I did, and it was yummy (and believe me, by then - the sauce is a super-long process - we were all very hungry)! This is what the leftover bits looked like after all the sauce has been strained out.
Along the way, I always made sure to taste the sauce to see if it needed any additional salt or pepper. It's good to do this tasting at the end because a broth that tastes right can end up tasting extremely salty after it has reduced down. The water in the sauce evaporates off, but the salt does not.
The next step for the sauce was to cut up the foie gras, so that it can be added to the sauce. Foie Gras literally means "fatty liver." It tends to come either from goose liver or duck liver. In the Northeast, where I live, you tend to get more Hudson Valley foie gras, which is what I used. Now the recipe was a bit vague when it called for the foie gras. It did not specify if the foie gras should be raw or in a terrine. I assumed that it would make most sense, since the foie was to be incorporated into the sauce a little at a time, that the best choice would be foie gras from a simple terrine. A simple foie gras terrine is nothing more than foie gras cooked in a terrine with some salt and pepper and sometimes, some Armagnac. It is "done" when it's solid, the texture of a crème caramel, but will firm up once refrigerated.
Anyway, I cut the foie gras terrine into pieces and literally had to FIGHT off my guests from not just eating it raw or foraging for crackers to put it on. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, if our host had just plied us with more wine, I think we'd have all been a little less aggressive in trying to abscond with just a sliver of foie. LOL.
I guarded that foie with my life. In fact, the recipe called for 4 to 6 ounces of the stuff, but since it is SO expensive that I only got a little over 3 ounces of it, which turned out being enough to provide the flavor and creamy texture it was expected to provide. Here are some photos of the foie gras getting incorporated into the sauce with an immersion blender.
The Parsnip Puree:
While the sauce was simmering or reducing at different times, I worked on the Parsnip Puree. First I wanted everyone to see just was parsnips look like - they look like albino carrots. They have a mildly celeric scent, but have a delicate carrot-like flavor.
First I chopped the parsnips.
Then I melted some butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and added the chopped up chopped shallots and garlic.
Next I added the parsnips and sautéed everything together.
Once the parsnips were translucent, I added the cream, chicken stock and thyme leaves,
I simmered them until the parsnips were very soft.
Then I transferred the parsnips (first removing the thyme leaves) to a sturdy blender.
And slowly, I began to puree the mixture, stopping from time to time to scrap down the sides.
Once pureed, I tasted the parsnips and adjusted salt and pepper. Then I transferred the parsnips to an oven proof serving dish, and put the parsnips covered in a warm oven to keep warm.
Cooking the Steaks:
The recipe calls for the steaks to first be pan fried and then put in the oven to finish the cooking. I happened to have two oven-safe grill pans, so I thought it would be more visually pleasing to see the grill marks on the steaks. So I followed the recipe using the grill pans.
I browned the steaks on both sides and then placed them in the oven to finish cooking.
While the steaks were cooking, I melted some butter and added some smashed garlic to infuse that flavor into the melted butter.
When the steaks were done, I put them on a serving platter so they could rest, and at this time, I also drizzles the steaks with the melted garlic butter.
Assembling The Dish:
I felt this dish needed something green and elegant, so I served the steak with haricots verts (which are the thin French green beans). I made them by boiling them until just barely tender and dressing them with some butter, salt and pepper. To plate the dish, all I had to do was put the green beans on the plate, add a generous amount of foie gras sauce, on top of which I placed a strip steak. And finally, I placed a dollop of warm parsnip puree on the side.
My Suggestions To Make This Dish Even Better:
The Meat: As I wrote early on, I WANTED to love this dish. I expected to. And indeed, everybody else did. But here's where I felt it really fell short. (1) The cut of meat, and (2) the cooking method for the meant.
(1) This dish had a rich, unbelievably flavorful unctuous sauce. It was the star of the show. It was the kind of sauce that you'd want to eat with a good loaf of bread - just those two things alone. It should not have been put head-to-head with a strip steak, a flavorful cut of beef. Instead, if that rich and elegant sauce had been paired with filet mignon, a cut that while not so flavorful is buttery and naturally tender. The wonderful mouth-feel of the fillet would have been a perfect match for the creamy and decadent mouth feel of the sauce.
(2) But just as important a "mistake" that I feel was this choice of cut of meat, was the cooking method. The recipe called for every thin strip steaks. In fact, I even bought steaks a little bigger and thicker than what the recipe called for, but there was no need to both sear the steaks on the cooktop AND place the steaks in the oven. All this did was dry out the meat. This method might actually have been a good idea for cooking fillet mignon, because they tend to be cut very thick. But for thin steaks like strip steaks, just a few minutes on each side of the pan on the cooktop was all that was needed.
The Expense: This was an EXPENSIVE dish to make. The steaks are expensive, and I even got mine "on special."The foie gras is CRAZY expensive. In fact, the just over 3 ounces of foie gras that I purchased cost $31.20. And the veal stock is VERY expensive. Veal stock has a greater gelatinous quality to them due to the bone of the young calf. The flavor is also more delicate, for the same reason. But quality veal stock is expensive. I got mine at Eli's which always has superb ingredients, including items like stock, which they make themselves and do not add salt to - all the flavor is from the stock itself. But 4 cups of veal stock purchased from Eli's cost $17.90. And then there's the cup of red wine that must go in the sauce. Fortunately I had some leftover good red wine I could use. If I hadn't that would have been another expense. Just the foie gras and veal stock alone brings the price of just the sauce to almost $50. I think using low sodium canned beef stock would have been fine and would have saved a lot of money.
The Time: The sauce took a LOT of time. This could easily have been made a day or two in advance and would have been just fine. Who knows? The flavors might have even been better. It's very hard as a home chef to do EVERYTHING "a la minute."
Final Word On this Dish:
Don't get me wrong. This was a great dish. Harold is king in the kitchen. This was definitely a meal worthy of great friends and even important guests. Hey wait - great friends are always important guests!
And in my opinion, the unsung hero for this recipe was the parsnip puree. I LOVED the parsnip puree and this will not be part of my seasonal repertoire. Yup - those parsnips are being served this year at Christmas. They were heavenly, and I thought the slight crispness (they were just past al dente, but not soggy at all) of the haricots verts worked really well with the puree.
More about the Sauce
I just wanted to point out one last thing about the sauce. Before I added the foie gras, I tasted that strained sauce. It was fabulous - hearty, had layers and layers of depth. I would consider making this dish again (and using the strip steaks) by taking this sauce, and this would have been a nice "quasi" Bordelaise sauce that perhaps even Escoffier would have been proud of.