13 January 2008

Dinner Club

We’ve been in a dinner club for quite a few years now. My wife and I began this one with a group of friends about seven or eight years ago. All of us in it had kids around the same time and we all needed to get out once in awhile and eat a good meal. We fixed on a framework that has served us well all these years. The host creates the menu and prepares the main course. Recipes for the other courses are sent to the other participants, who make their dish and bring it with them. This way, the host can create a whole menu that, if it were to be prepared by the hosts alone, would be more time than we typically have with little kids at our feet. This way each of us makes one dish and the whole meal works together. For an hour or two in the kitchen (if you’re not the host) you end up with a good, balanced meal.

We hosted last night and our friends from the Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) came down on a cold night and we ate a good meal together and talked and drank a lot of wine. My favorite of the night was a 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles.

I served stew, slow cooked for ten hours over two days, thick slabs of an arm roast simmered in a bottle of zinfandel. I had a hunk of pork belly and I added that, too, first cooking the stew in my daubiere for about five hours and then letting it chill overnight in the garage. The next day, after peeling off the thick layer of congealed fat that rested on top of it, I transferred it into a saucier, and at the barest of flickering simmers, cooked it another four or five hours, occasionally lifting the lid and pushing the meat below the surface of the slowly evaporating wine. By three or four it was done, and I put it into the garage to chill one more time. I made polenta the night before and spread it onto a jelly roll pan, making a single layer about 1/2” thick. I fried squares of polenta in goose fat, creating a ton of splattering grease in the kitchen. But, everyone had just finished heaping bowls of mussels so they were happy to talk while I kept cooking. Finally, I put straw-cut carrots on the top; they were braised in goose gelatin, a by-product of confit-making. (After confit is made I pour the cooking fat into a clear bowl and let it separate. The rendered fat rises to the top and the meaty juices, which can’t be added to the aging confit because it would spoil the meat, are left.) So I cooked the carrots in butter and these goose leftovers, and added a bit of good Vietnamese cinnamon at the end. I liked the color of the dish: yellow polenta on the bottom, red meat in the middle, and orange carrots on top.

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