Food writer and recipe tester Linda Avery reviews cookbooks.
Preparing to write the review of this book, I looked over my notes and the recurrence of words like family, warmth, tradition and friends was obvious. Those words probably are within the definition of Hubert Keller. On page one he says he didn't start out intending to write a memoir, but as so many recipes reminded him of a story, it naturally took that direction.
The sincerity in his life stories was plain to me but if there were a doubting Thomas, the photographs would erase any question. A photographic timeline begins in 1954 with three-month old Hubert in a buggy along with parents and grandparents. In total contrast to that, in 1979 when, at the request of Roger Vergé, he and his beloved wife Chantal moved to Brazil, a dark, full-bearded hippy sort of Keller appears. (Some time between '54 and '79, he developed that twinkle in his eye--my money is on 1973 when he met Chantal).
The photos continue - family, mentors, his chefs, friends - lots of friends, the opening of Fleur de Lys, and a much better groomed Keller shows up in 1993 when he was called to the White House. The pictures are the punctuation marks in the numerous stories.
The chapters follow the timeline as well: Family Treasures presents the Alsatian traditional recipes of his family (his father owned a pâtisserie) and friends; Mentorship by Three Star Chefs speaks to his learning at L'Auberge de L'Ill (under the Haeberlin brothers) in Alsace. Recipes in Adaptation demonstrate his recogniztion of the need to use local products to woo the (Brazilian) locals i.e. kale instead of spinach, swapping out sole for namorado, a Brazilian fish, etc. Remember, that was 1979, long before everyone jumped on the idea of sourcing locally.
Modern French Cooking houses recipes he developed in the US for Fleur de Lys, then the chapter Pioneer, the period where dishes like Crab and Avocado Salad with Watermelon Gazpacho and Burrata with Sweet Pea Ice Cream, Pickled Cherry Tomatoes, and Spicy Paprika Oil were created (also The HK Burger).
And so appropriately the book's last two chapters are Love & Partnership (recipes he and Chantal make together or for each other) and finally, Holiday Traditions.
This book could easily have been split into a memoir and a cookbook. Content abounds. The recipes aren't impossible and he anticipates questions with sidebar explanations. Go to Amazon and use the "Look Inside" feature to look at some recipes. Don't miss White Gazpacho but do have a napkin ready to dab your mouth.
Anyone will verify that I don't gush, but I've sure been telling a lot of people about this book. This swordfish recipe is light and tasty. Chef Keller tells in a sidebar how to make this sauce the "original" way i.e., begin with braising carrots. If you would like that recipe, let me know in the comments.
Jacques Maximin first introduced me to vegetable-based sauces such as this one when we worked together at Le Chantecler on the Côte d'Azur. I've streamlined his recipe a little. This is a very clean, simple dish with the sparkle of pepper on the fish and a pretty, delicious yet healthy, low-fat sauce made from reduced carrot juice infused with cardamom. You could use the same sauce with sautéed chicken breasts, a veal medallion, or grilled sea scallops.
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
4 skinless swordfish steaks (about 5 ounces each and 3/4 to 1 inch thick)
About 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 cup fresh carrot juice
1 1/2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cracked green cardamom pods (about 6)
Freshly ground white pepper
Sugar, for sweetening the sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 pound fresh pea shoots or baby spinach
1. Preheat the oven to 250°F and oil a baking dish or sheet pan that will fit the fish in a single layer. Brush the swordfish with olive oil and let sit in the prepared pan at room temperature for a few minutes. Season the swordfish on both sides with salt and sprinkle the top with the black pepper. Cover with parchment paper and then seal tightly with aluminum foil.
2. Bake until the fish is just cooked through and the flesh begins to flake, about 45 minutes. Swordfish is a delicious and expensive fish, so you want to be careful with your timing. Check your fillets first at about 30 minutes, because ovens always vary and you do not want to overcook your fish. Also, swordfish dries out quickly once cooked , so have your sauce ready, the pea shoots sautéed, and your plates warm so you can serve immediately.
3. Meanwhile, place the carrot juice in a small nonreactive saucepan. Add the vinegar, cardamom, a pinch each of salt and freshly ground white pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer very gently, uncovered, for 10 minutes. The juice may separate while it simmers, but it will come back together when you thicken it into a sauce.
4. Cover the pan and let the cardamom infuse the carrot juice for another 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean small saucepan and return to a gentle simmer.
5. Put the cornstarch in a small lidded jar with twice as much water and shake well. Add the cornstarch mixture little by little while whisking and watching for signs of thickening. Shake before each addition. The finished sauce should have the consistency of heavy cream. Taste for seasoning and sweetness and add more salt, white pepper, and sugar as needed. Keep the sauce warm. If the sauce gets too thick, thin it with the cooking juices from the pan.
6. Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook just until the garlic is soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the pea shoots to the skillet with the garlic. Toss and cook just until the shoots have wilted and turned bright green, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Divide the pea shoots among 4 warm dinner plates and arrange the fish on top. Spoon the cardamom-carrot sauce around and serve immediately.