Contributions by Susie Heller
Photographs by Deborah Jones
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2019 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the acclaimed French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley—“the most exciting place to eat in the United States” (The New York Times). The most transformative cookbook of the century celebrates this milestone by showcasing the genius of chef/proprietor Thomas Keller himself. Keller is a wizard, a purist, a man obsessed with getting it right. And this, his first cookbook, is every bit as satisfying as a French Laundry meal itself: a series of small, impeccable, highly refined, intensely focused courses.
Most dazzling is how simple Keller's methods are: squeegeeing the moisture from the skin on fish so it sautées beautifully; poaching eggs in a deep pot of water for perfect shape; the initial steeping in the shell that makes cooking raw lobster out of the shell a cinch; using vinegar as a flavor enhancer; the repeated washing of bones for stock for the cleanest, clearest tastes.
From innovative soup techniques, to the proper way to cook green vegetables, to secrets of great fish cookery, to the creation of breathtaking desserts; from beurre monté to foie gras au torchon, to a wild and thoroughly unexpected take on coffee and doughnuts, The French Laundry Cookbook captures, through recipes, essays, profiles, and extraordinary photography, one of America's great restaurants, its great chef, and the food that makes both unique.
One hundred and fifty superlative recipes are exact recipes from the French Laundry kitchen—no shortcuts have been taken, no critical steps ignored, all have been thoroughly tested in home kitchens. If you can't get to the French Laundry, you can now re-create at home the very experience Wine Spectator described as “as close to dining perfection as it gets.”
Few people move through their work as a solitary force, and no one in the service business does. As far as I’m concerned, my whole career has been a cumulative effort.
My mom, Betty, was and remains the biggest influence, if that’s the word, in my life. Long before she put me to work, she taught me how to clean our home. Everything had to shine. That standard of perfect cleanliness was its own gift, given the work I’d choose. She was a focused, intense woman, the driving force of the family, and she taught through her own actions. I honestly don’t know who I’d be if I’d been raised by, and had grown up watching, someone other than her.
My brother, Joseph, steered me in the beginning, even before I understood that my métier would be cooking, and for this I am grateful. He kept me on track when I could have gone in any number of less-productive directions.
Roland Henin was my chef. He hired me as staff-meal cook at the Dunes Club in Rhode Island, in the summer of 1976, when I was not yet twenty-one, and taught me what I needed to know to learn the rest.
During the years between Henin and the French Laundry, there was, among many others to whom I’m also grateful, Serge Raoul. He not only hired me in New York, he went on to give me a place to stay in France during my stages, and then, most important, provided the opportunity to establish the restaurant Rakel, which proved to be a transformative time for me.
I would like to thank all my partners; without them there would be no French Laundry.
When we were opening the restaurant, Laura Cunningham knocked on my door and handed me her résumé. She quickly took charge of the front of the house and has become more than a general manager and sommelier—she’s as much a part of the heart and soul of the restaurant as I am. Her passions, standards, and character, as well as her capacity to express and teach hospitality, have been critical to the restaurant’s success. For all this, and her ability to work so closely with me, I am more grateful than I can say.
In the kitchen, no one has been more dedicated and loyal, or more critical in shaping the French Laundry from its opening day, than French Laundry pastry chef Stephen Durfee. Sous chefs Eric Ziebold, Gregory Short, and Grant Achatz, who arrived with the opening of the new kitchen, have been important forces in developing the French Laundry into what it is today. They, along with Stephen, logged many hours quantifying and demonstrating recipes for this book. Pat McCarty has been more than the French Laundry’s accountant—I see her more as the third leg of the front-of-the-house/kitchen/financial tripod that keeps a restaurant standing. I am grateful to her.
There are too many staff to thank individually. All of them make or have made the French Laundry the place that it is, and I thank every one, past staff and present.
For this book, Susie Heller is to be thanked above all. Few know that she and I have been talking about it for twelve years. (It began as a pop-up book!) And it was she who not only wrote and tested all the recipes with her able assistant, Angie Spensieri, but who marshaled the team that made this book: photographer Deborah Jones, with her assistant, Jeri Jones; writer Michael Ruhlman; and graphic designer Cliff Morgan, with his design partner David Hughes. Susie, Deborah, Michael, and Cliff became a part of the restaurant in order to transform its essence into a book. They’re an extraordinary team; take any one of them away and this would have been a different book entirely.
Susan Lescher brought the book before the right people and found the best possible publisher and editor for this project, Ann Bramson. I’m also indebted to the team in New York—Deborah Weiss Geline, Judith Sutton, Dania Davey, Nancy Murray, and Tricia Boczkowski.
The French chef Fernand Point died the year I was born; in many ways his cookbook Ma Gastronomie—a book that conveyed his sense of humor and the totality of a life focused on dining—informed me early on about how a chef might live his passion.
I’d like to thank my entire family for their support and also for their understanding, because the life of a chef inevitably leads to areas of neglect in one’s life. I am grateful to them.
Finally, I’d like to thank my colleagues. It’s from you that I draw inspiration, and it’s your cumulative talent that keeps me striving. Without the daily evidence of your skill and drive and passion, I would be a lesser chef.
The law of diminishing returns
Most chefs try to satisfy a customer’s hunger in a short time with one or two dishes. They begin with something great. The initial bite is fabulous. The second bite is great. But by the third bite—with many more to come—the flavors begin to deaden, and the diner loses interest. It’s like getting into a hot bath or jumping into a cold pool. At first, the temperature is shocking, but after a few minutes, you get so used to it that you don’t even notice it. Your mouth reacts the same way to flavors and sensations.
Many chefs try to counter the deadening effect by putting a lot of different flavors on the plate to keep interest alive. But then the diner can’t focus on anything because it’s confusing.
What I want is that initial shock, that jolt, that surprise to be the only thing you experience. So I serve five to ten small courses, each meant to satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity. I want you to say, “God, I wish I had just one more bite of that.” And then the next plate comes and the same thing happens, but it’s a different experience, a whole new flavor and feel.
The way to keep the experience fresh is not by adding more flavors, but rather by focusing more on specific flavors, either by making them more intense than the foods from which they come, or by varying the preparation technique. When I decide to make liver and onions, for instance, I might roast a whole foie gras and serve it with four different onion preparations—confit, roasted, glazed red, and glazed white. Or I might serve a calf’s liver with just two of those preparations. The point is to isolate and enhance flavors, not confuse them. One lamb course might include five different lamb preparations, another might be simply a lamb chop with lamb sweetbreads.
When I combine flavors, I do so in traditional ways. Sometimes that lamb is served with eggplant and mint—a combination verging on cliché. But I roast the eggplant with butter until it is a virtual fondue, and I infuse the mint into a deep emerald oil.
My favorite dishes for inspiration are traditional ones like quiche lorraine, daube of beef, short ribs, sole Véronique. What is sole Véronique? Sole with grapes. At the restaurant, I serve a sole dish with a little more structure to it. I make a stuffing of sultana raisins (dried grapes) and brioche croutons, fold the sole around it to make a kind of package, and serve it with a classic glaçage. It still has the integrity of sole Véronique, but with a modern interpretation.
To achieve the effects I want, I serve courses that are small relative to portions you’ll find at most restaurants. But small is not the point. The point is this: For every course, there is a perfect quantity. Some courses must be small because of what they are: A quail egg is small. One bite is enough; two eggs would be redundant. The scallops we get are about three ounces—nearly as big as a filet mignon. In a meal of five to ten courses, you don’t need more than one scallop.
With foie gras, though, I serve just slightly too much of it, because I want people to know what foie gras is all about. I go overboard with truffles and caviar too, so that people who have perhaps only eaten truffles in stingy quantities can taste them and say, “Oh, now I understand.”
White Truffle Oil—Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout
1 large russet potato
2 teaspoons Clarified Butter, melted
About 20 chive tips (1½ inches long)
8 large eggs (with the paper egg carton)
⅔ cup milk
⅔ cup heavy cream
1½ tablespoons white truffle oil
freshly ground white pepper
⅓ cup Veal Stock
1½ teaspoons finely minced black truffle (from a whole truffle, pieces, or peelings)
Few drops of white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon white truffle oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
FOR THE CHIVE CHIPS: Have all the ingredients ready when you begin and work quickly to prevent the potato slices from oxidizing (turning brown). One potato will make about 20 chips. You will need only 8 for this recipe; the extras make a great snack.
Preheat the oven to 275°F.
Peel the potato and use a paring knife to trim it into a Band-Aid shape (straight sides, rounded ends) approximately 4 inches long and 1 inch wide.
Brush two Silpats (see Sources) with the clarified butter and sprinkle each lightly with kosher salt. Place one Silpat on a baking sheet. Using a mandoline, cut the potato lengthwise into paper-thin slices. As you work, stack the potatoes in the order you cut them so that you will be able to match them up as closely as possible.
Lay the potato slices on the Silpat in pairs, keeping each one’s match at its side. Place a chive in the center of one of the potato slices and cover each slice with its match. Use your fingers to press and smooth each chip, removing any air pockets between the two potato slices.
Place the second prepared Silpat over the potatoes, buttered side down, and top it with a baking sheet to weight the potatoes and keep them flat. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, reversing the pan halfway through the cooking process. Remove the chips when they are golden brown. The chive chips can be baked up to 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container.
TO PREPARE THE EGGSHELLS: Use an egg cutter (see Sources) to cut off the wider end of each egg. Or, if you don’t have an egg cutter, rest an egg on its side on a towel. Holding the egg steady, use a serrated knife to saw halfway through the wider end. Lift the egg upright, remove and discard the lid, pour the egg into a bowl, and save the shell. Repeat with the remaining eggs, reserving 2 separately for the custard.
Rinse the inside of the eggshells under warm water and use your finger to loosen the inner membrane around the opening of the egg. Working all the way around the shell, carefully pull the membrane downward, remove it, and discard.
Break off any loose bits of shell from around the opening and make sure that the opening is large enough for a spoon to fit through it. Drain the eggshells upside down in the egg carton.
FOR THE CUSTARDS: Preheat the oven to 275°F.
Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan. As soon as it reaches a boil, remove the pan from the heat. Turn on a blender and pour in the milk and cream. Then add the truffle oil, the reserved 2 eggs, and salt and white pepper to taste. (Turning on your machine before adding a hot liquid will keep the liquid from splashing out of the machine; should the blender be turned off at any point, be sure to place the lid on the machine before turning it back on.)
Strain the mixture through a chinois into a small pitcher. Let the custard sit for a few minutes and then skim off any foam that has risen to the top. Turn the eggshells upright in the carton and fill each egg three quarters full with the custard.
TO COOK THE EGGS: Use a stainless steel or glass baking pan that is large enough to hold the egg carton and at least 4 inches deep. If you are using a stainless steel pan, fold a piece of newspaper to fit in the bottom; the newspaper will help to distribute the heat evenly. If you are using a glass pan, this is not necessary. Place the carton in the pan and fill the pan with enough hot water to reach two thirds of the way up the eggs, to form a bain-marie, or water bath. The water should be inside the egg carton as well as outside.
Cover the pan with a lid or baking sheet, place it in the middle of the oven, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the custard is set. (Allowing the custard to cook slowly prevents air pockets.) The finished eggs can be kept in the water in a warm place for up to 2 hours.
FOR THE TRUFFLE RAGOUT: Combine the veal stock, truffles, and a drop or so of vinegar in a small saucepan. You shouldn’t taste the vinegar, but rather use it as you would use salt to enhance the other flavors. Simmer the ragout for 3 to 4 minutes, until it reduces to a sauce consistency and coats the back of a spoon. You will have 3 to 4 tablespoons of sauce.
TO COMPLETE: Swirl the butter and truffle oil into the truffle ragout and season to taste. Place each egg in an egg cup. Spoon about a teaspoon of ragout over the top of each custard. Gently stand a chive chip in each custard.
pictured here makes 8 servings
“BACON AND EGGS”
Soft Poached Quail Eggs with Applewood–Smoked Bacon
10 quail eggs (and their carton)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 to 2 slices thinly sliced bacon, frozen and cut crosswise into ⅛-inch strips
3 tablespoons Beurre Monté
1 teaspoon water
2 teaspoons Brunoise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Serving a dish—whether a shrimp or a small spoonful of crème brûlée—already “plated” on the silverware creates an elegant impression even before you’ve tasted the food. I used to scramble a quail egg and serve it on a soup spoon; here I’ve replaced it with a poached egg. It’s a great little bite. One night a customer told everyone this was so good he could eat ten of them. So we made ten of them and sent them out to him on a plate.
The best method for poaching eggs is in a deep pot of water. As the weight of the yolk pulls the egg through the water, the white encircles the yolk and sets. The deeper the water, the farther the egg travels before it stops, and the more the poached egg will resemble its original shape. You will want to cook a few extra eggs, as there might be some breakage.
In a deep pot, bring at least 6 inches of water to a simmer. Hold each egg on its side on a towel and use a serrated knife to cut halfway through the larger end of the egg. (It is important to cut the large end of the egg, as the yolk may not fit through the smaller end.) Lift the egg and remove the top. Stand the eggs in their carton until you are ready to poach them.
Once the water is simmering gently, add the vinegar. Pour the eggs from the shells into the water, adjusting the temperature as necessary to keep the water moving. Simmer for about 2 minutes, or until the whites are just set but the yolks are still runny. (If the whites are not fully set, they will break apart when touched.) Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon or skimmer to a bowl of ice water. After they have cooled, lift one egg at a time from the ice water and use a pair of scissors to trim their “tails” and excess whites. Return them to the ice water and refrigerate until ready to serve, or for up to 2 days.
Place the bacon in a nonstick skillet over medium heat and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until browned and crisp. Drain the bacon on paper towels.
TO COMPLETE: Remove the cold eggs from the water and place them in a saucepan with the beurre monté and water. Warm the eggs over low heat, then add the brunoise, along with salt and pepper to taste. The eggs can be held in a warm spot for several minutes, but be careful not to overcook them.
Place 1 egg on each of six spoons arranged on a platter. Top each egg with sauce and garnish the tops with the bacon. Pass the spoons to your guests while the eggs are hot.
pictured here makes 6 servings
NOTE: Applewood-smoked bacon or any fruitwood-smoked bacon is sweeter than bacon smoked with a hardwood such as hickory. Freeze the bacon to make it easy to slice. Poach the eggs ahead of time and then reheat them with beurre monté. The brunoise, a tiny dice of vegetables, adds bright color and additional flavor (see the photograph).
Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Beluga Caviar
3 oysters, scrubbed with a brush
8 ounces cauliflower, cut into large florets and stems trimmed
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
About 1½ cups water
1 cup heavy cream
1⅓ gelatin sheets (see Sources)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 ounces beluga caviar
I was hoping to make a cold lobster-cauliflower soup—cauliflower purée on the bottom with a clear “mirror” of lobster consommé on top, finished with caviar—but the cream in the cauliflower purée clouded the consommé. The dish’s failure resulted in two terrific canapés: cauliflower panna cotta and gelled lobster consommé.
We prepare the cauliflower as a panna cotta (traditionally an Italian dessert of cooked cream), then coat it with gelled oyster juice, which adds a shine to the cream and creates a bright backdrop for the beluga caviar. The mellow creaminess of the cauliflower is enhanced by and contrasts the saltiness of the caviar.
TO SHUCK THE OYSTERS: Hold an oyster in a towel, to protect your hand, with the rounded side down. Lean the wider end of the oyster against the table for support. Push an oyster knife under the hinge at the narrow end of the shell. Don’t jam the knife in, or you risk damaging the oyster. You will hear a “pop”; twist the knife to loosen the shell. Keeping the knife directly under the top shell, run the blade along the right side to cut through the muscle. This will release the top shell, which can then be removed. Slide the knife under the meat to detach the second muscle holding the oyster in place. Reserve the oyster and all its juices in a small bowl. Repeat with the remaining oysters.
Transfer the oysters to another small bowl. Strain the juices through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl, pour ¼ cup of water over the oysters, and refrigerate them for several hours, or overnight.
TO PREPARE THE PANNA COTTA: Cut the florets of cauliflower vertically through the stems into ½-inch slices. Spread the cauliflower evenly in a medium saucepan and add the butter and 1½ cups of water, or enough to come just to the top of the cauliflower (it should not be completely submerged). Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the liquid is almost gone and the cauliflower is tender. Add the cream and simmer for another 10 minutes to reduce the cream and completely cook the cauliflower.
Transfer the cauliflower and cream to a food processor and blend until completely smooth. Strain through a chinois. There should be about 1½ cups of purée. Taste for salt and add to taste.
Soak 1 gelatin sheet in cold water to cover for 2 to 3 minutes to soften. It should feel very soft, with no hard sections. Squeeze the excess liquid from the gelatin and stir it into the warm cauliflower mixture until dissolved.
Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the panna cotta into the bottom of each of twelve small serving bowls or small cups and refrigerate for at least an hour to set. This can be done several hours ahead.
Remove the oysters from the liquid (discard them) and strain the juice. You will need ¼ cup of oyster juice; refrigerate the juice.
Place the remaining ⅓ gelatin sheet and 2 teaspoons water in a small metal bowl set over a pan of hot water and stir constantly to dissolve the gelatin. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the oyster juice. Stir again to be sure that the gelatin and juice are completely combined. Add about 3 grinds of the peppermill.
Place the oyster jelly in the refrigerator and stir occasionally until it has thickened to the consistency of salad oil and the bits of pepper are suspended in the liquid. Coat the tops of the chilled panna cotta with 1 teaspoon of the jelly each, rotating the bowls to ensure an even coating. Return to the refrigerator until set or for up to 1 day.
To serve, garnish the top of each panna cotta with a quenelle, or small oval scoop, of caviar.
pictured here makes 12 servings
“OYSTERS AND PEARLS”
Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Malpeque Oysters and Osetra Caviar
⅓ cup small pearl tapioca
1¾ cups milk
16 meaty oysters, such as Malpeque, scrubbed with a brush
1¼ cups heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup crème fraîche
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup reserved oyster juice (from above)
3 tablespoons dry vermouth
Remaining reserved oyster juice (from above)
1½ tablespoons minced shallots
1½ tablespoons white wine vinegar
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 to 2 ounces osetra caviar
Timing is important in the completion of this dish. The cooking should be a continuous process, so have the cream whipped, the water for the sabayon hot, and the remaining ingredients ready.
FOR THE TAPIOCA: Soak the tapioca in 1 cup of the milk for 1 hour. (Setting it in a warm place will speed up the rehydration of the pearls.)
TO SHUCK THE OYSTERS: Follow the method for shucking described. Trim away the muscle and the outer ruffled edge of each oyster and place the trimmings in a saucepan. Reserve the whole trimmed oysters and strain the oyster juice into a separate bowl. You should have about ½ cup of juice.
TO COOK THE TAPIOCA: In a bowl, whip ½ cup of the cream just until it holds its shape; reserve in the refrigerator.
Drain the softened tapioca in a strainer and discard the milk. Rinse the tapioca under cold running water, then place it in a small heavy pot.
Pour the remaining ¾ cup milk and ¾ cup cream over the oyster trimmings. Bring to a simmer, then strain the infused liquid onto the tapioca. Discard the trimmings.
Cook the tapioca over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it has thickened and the spoon leaves a trail when it is pulled through, 7 to 8 minutes. Continue to cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the tapioca has no resistance in the center and is translucent. The mixture will be sticky and if you lift some on the spoon and let it fall, some should still cling to the spoon. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside in a warm place.
FOR THE SABAYON: Place the egg yolks and the ¼ cup oyster juice in a metal bowl set over a pan of hot water. Whisk vigorously over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes to incorporate as much air as possible. The finished sabayon will have thickened and lightened, the foam will have subsided, and the sabayon will hold a ribbon when it falls from the whisk. If the mixture begins to break, remove it from the heat and whisk quickly off the heat for a moment to recombine, then return to the heat.
Stir the hot sabayon into the tapioca, along with a generous amount of black pepper. Mix in the crème fraîche and the whipped cream. The tapioca will be a creamy pale yellow with the tapioca pearls suspended in the mixture. Season lightly with salt, remembering that the oysters and the caviar garnish will both be salty. Immediately spoon ¼ cup tapioca into each of eight 4- by 5-inch gratin dishes (with a 3- to 4-ounce capacity). Tap the gratin dishes on the counter so that the tapioca forms an even layer. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, or for up to a day.
TO COMPLETE: Preheat the oven to 350°F.
FOR THE SAUCE:
- On Sale
- Nov 1, 1999
- Page Count
- 336 pages