Listen up, aspiring chefs: if you want to be the best in the game, then aspire to be like Chef Andre Soltner. As chef/owner of Lutèce for 34 years, he didn’t just serve some of the world’s finest French cuisine and receive every food award out there, he missed four days of work. Yes, you read correctly, only FOUR DAYS missed in 34 YEARS. And while missing just four days of work, he not only ran the kitchen but he was the warm, gracious face of the restaurant that regularly hosted luminaries like the Kennedys, Richard Nixon, Katharine Hepburn, John Lennon and Roy Lichtenstein. When Lutèce closed in 2004, Chef Soltner didn’t fade into a sleepy retirement. He continued his journey as a teacher, dropping golden nuggets of food wisdom for future generations at The French Culinary Institute, now called The International Culinary Center. He also has beautiful penmanship (see below).
Here, he teaches Gabrielle Hamilton how to make a classic French dish Quenelles de Brochet or Pike Dumplings.
QUENELLES DE BROCHET (PIKE DUMPLINGS)
Serves 8 (16 quenelles)
Ingredients The Panade
1- ½ Cups milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/8 stick)
4 ounces all purpose flour, sifted
1 egg yolk
1 pound skinless fillet of pike
10 ounces unsalted butter (2-1/2 sticks) softened
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper, fresh ground
1 pinch grated nutmeg
4 egg whites
¾ cup heavy cream, cold
3 cups Sauce Homard a la Crème or Sauce Bechamel II
½ cup grated Swiss cheese
Directions The Panade
1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring to the boil the milk and butter. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add all the flour at once, and mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended.
2. Put the saucepan over high heat, and cook-stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent burning-until the mixture is dry, about 3 minutes. When ready, the mixture is a thick paste, and the bottom of the panade, where it is in contact with the saucepan is white.
3. Add the egg and the egg yolk, and, stirring constantly, cook for 1 more minute. Remove the panade from the heat, and let it cool to room temperature.
4. When the panade has cooked, out the pike into chunks, put the chunks in a food processor, and process for about 30 seconds. Add the panade, the 10 ounces of softened butter, the salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and process until the mixture is smooth-about 1-1/2 minutes. Do not over process.
5. Add the 6 whole eggs, two at a time, and process each time until the mixture is smooth-about 1 minute each time. Then add all the egg whites and process again until smooth-about 1 minute or a little more. (Do not over process, or the mixture will become warm.)
6. Add the cream, and process for 1 more minute. The mixture should be very smooth after this step.
7. Put the mixture in a bowl, and chill it by lowering the bowl into ice water. (Chilling in ice water is best, but the mixture may also be covered with paper and refrigerated for at least 1 hour.)
8. In a large pot, bring salted water almost to the boil. With a spoon, mold the quenelles into egg shaped dumplings, and lower them into the water. Let them cook for about 10 minutes in water that is barely moving, not quite simmering.
9. With a slotted spoon, remove the quenelles form the water and drain them on a cloth napkin. NOTE: At this point, the quenelles may be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.
10. Prepare either the Sauce Homard a la Crème or the Sauce Bechamel.
11. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
12. Butter well an earthenware plate. Arrange the quenelles side by side on the plate. Pour the Sauce Homard a la Crème or Sauce Bechamel II, over the quenelles. Sprinkle the quenelles with the grated Swiss cheese, and put them in the preheated oven for 15 minutes—the quenelles will double in size. Serve immediately, while the quenelles are puffed and light.
Note: when using a Sauce Bechamel in Step 12, either version is good, but at Lutece Sauce Bechamel II is preferred.
Sauce Homard a la Crème
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (5/8 stick)
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, trimmed, peeled, washed, and chopped fine
1 small leek (the white park only), chopped fine
1 bay leaf
2 springs thyme
2 springs tarragon
1 tablespoon Cognac
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups heavy cream
The shells of 2 lobsters
pepper fresh ground
1. Crush the lobster shells. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the shells, and brown them over high heat.
2. Add the shallots, carrot, leek, bay lead, thyme, and tarragon, and sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes. Do not brown.
3. Add the Cognac, and set it aflame. When the flame subsides, add the wine, and book over medium heater for 10 minutes. Add the cream, salt, and pepper, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes more. Strain through a fine sieve. Add salt and pepper if necessary.