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Monday, August 13, 2007

It's My Party and I'll Fry If I want To...

Chris Young

One of my pet peeves is when people invite parties of more than 10 people out for their birthday. It's uncomfortable for the waitstaff, overwhelming for fellow diners, bad turnover for the bottom line, and someone always ends up getting stiffed. Next time, rent a private dining room, or go all out like my friend Chris Young, hired his own chef, and took over the Middlesex Lounge the other night to host 30 of his closest friends to a delightful eight-course dinner. I know because I cooked it myself.

I must commend the intrepid eaters who endured my marathon tasting menu, which progressed in the following order:

Blue Fin Poke with Pickled Mung Beans & Ginger

Corn Fritters with Chili Aioli

Oleana Deviled Eggs

Grilled Chorizo on Brioche with Orange and Chocolate

Fresh Champagne Grapes, Lime, Cilantro and a Champagne Float

Heirloom Tomato Salad, Fennel, Great Hill Blue Cheese & Pancetta

Sake & Soy Short Ribs with Pineapple, Cucumber, Mint, & Sprouts Salad

Lobster Paella

Artfully decorated cupcakes, made by Stephanie

This endeavor was planned on a whim only 48 hours in advance.

Day 1

Early on Saturday we headed out to Russo's in Watertown to stock up on fresh produce for our eight-course tasting menu. We also purchased beautiful summer hydrangea and fragrant Casablanca lilies to be arranged simply in clear glasses.

I picked up some sweet Champagne grapes that reminded me of oversized caviar and undersized bubble tea pearls for a surprise course.

Next we headed to Whole Foods to pick up some boneless beef short ribs, and other ingredients from our excel spreadsheet.

Don't be fooled by the previously frozen sashimi tuna at Whole Foods. You must have fresh sashimi grade blue fin tuna for poke, or you might as well order takeout. I picked up eight pounds of the good stuff at the New Deal Market on Cambridge Street. Thanks to owner Carl, for keeping his shop open just for me. By the way, he's gonna think I'm cuckoo because it's midnight and I just left him a message to see if he has any Branzini, which I just had at Dante for Restaurant Week.

Day 2

In the morning I call Market Basket to reserve an order of 25 lobsters, shrimp, and mussels for Chris to pick up at their deli counter. I felt nervous sending him out there for his first time because the place is nutty on Sundays, but he came through beautifully. Conventional wisdom dictates that one should avoid seafood on Sundays. After all, Catholic tradition is to eat fish on Fridays. Fortunately, the seafood tasted fresh and was reasonably priced and convenient.

The first thing I do before I start cooking is set up my mise en place. In between prepping Chris and I configure the dining room and decorate with our fresh flowers.

I finish off the ribs, which have been marinated overnight and cooking slowly for hours on end.
I choose plates as I visual what the dishes will look like. Heaven help me; I ruthlessly executed more than two dozen lobsters from Market Basket.

With the help of Alex, Christine, and Chris's sister, Shelley Young, I put out the initial courses
while I prepared the paella a la minute. They were amazing.

I promised Shelley that I would post the recipe for the ribs so she could make it for her boyfriend, in spite of the fact that she's a vegetarian. Now that's very sweet. I hope he makes her vegetarian dishes from time to time.

Sake-Soy Braised Short Ribs, adapted from Food & Wine recipe

5 pounds ribs, in this case boneless
1/3 cup sake
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup soy sauce
7 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
fresh ground pepper
4 cups beef stock
2 scallions, sliced on the bias
5 dried star anise

To Make The Marinade

1. Rub the ribs all over with granulated sugar and sake and let sit, covered for 15 minutes.

2. In a bowl, combine soy sauce, garlic, scallions, brown sugar and sesame oil. Add water and stir until sugar dissolves. Stir in vegetable oil and pepper. Marinate over night. Make sure to bring the ribs to room temperature before cooking.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and drain the ribs, reserving the marinade.

4. Brown the ribs in a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, about 4 minutes on each side.

5. Place browned ribs in a roasting pan.

My "loose" mirepoix

Traditionally mirepoix is a mixture of diced carrots (25%), onions (50%), and celery (25%), comprising the base for many French based stocks, soups, and stews. My loose version is based on what is around my kitchen. In this case, I added fennel because it goes well with star anise; and baby leeks, which arrived from my farm share. Leeks are a supposedly a diuretic which is highlighted in the book, French Women Don't Get Fat.

2 carrots
1 leek
1 large onion
1 cup fennel
2 celery ribs

Chop all of the ingredients and brown on medium-high in a pan with a few 2 tablespoons of butter or vegetable oil.

Cover ribs with the mirepoix mixture.

In a pot, bring beef stock, anise, and 1 cup of reserved marinade to a boil. Add liquid to the ribs in the roasting pans, cover with aluminum in the oven until the meat is soft and falling apart, about 4 hours. Be sure to turn the ribs halfway through. Cool down and refrigerate. When the ribs are cold, skim the fat off the top of the ribs, using a spoon. Before serving, reheat for 30 minutes in the oven at 350 and trim off excess fat before serving.

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