Since my wife loves movies, I thought it might be fun to do the central dish from Disney’s Ratatouille this weekend for dinner. I’d made this dish for myself a few times before I’d met my wife and discovered that another blog author had also made the attempt based on the recipe from the French Laundry cookbook (see http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com/2008/03/roasted-guinea-fowl-en-crpinette-de.html ).
One of the issues I had in the past with this recipe was how to scale it down for a smaller set of diners. Fortunately, I came across a New York Times article discussing Disney’s film and the recipe for the dish (the article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/13/dining/13rata.html and the recipe here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/13/dining/131rrex.html). The nice thing about the online version is that it actually tightened the specification of the amount of ingredients used for the recipe. To whit:
1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds 1 Japanese eggplant, (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic 2 teaspoons olive oil 1/8 teaspoon thyme leaves Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
as opposed to the online original recipes in Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Bouchon cookbooks that specified the vegetable quantities AFTER the vegetables have been cut up –
* For the online French Laundry version – http://books.google.com/books?id=mk7t2MNQBbUC&lpg=PA178&ots=QmR-xmaDxo&dq=%22French%20Laundry%20Cookbook%22%20%20byaldi&pg=PA178#v=onepage&q&f=false
* For the online Bouchon version (called “Provencal Vegetables – Byaldi”) – http://books.google.com/books?id=-VxldfaFXDAC&lpg=PA245&ots=swSBpiOtrp&dq=Bouchon%20byaldi&pg=PA245#v=onepage&q&f=false
So the recipe I basically followed was the one listed in Bouchon (which is virtually identical with the one in the French Laundry), applying the NY Times vegetable quantities for the zucchini, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. As was mentioned in the recipe, the confit byaldi ‘…goes well with most meats and seafood’. So I thought a good pairing would be pan-fried crispy skin branzino fillets.
The first several times I did this recipes I ended up with a lot of extra mandolined vegetables. I had to make sure I used them up during the subsequent week before they went bad. So my wife wanted to know how this dish was made and volunteered helping to prepare some of the vegetables. the vegetables; in particular she volunteered to clean and mandoline the zucchini, squash, and japanese eggplant.
The second issue I had with recipe was the same issue that author of http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com encountered trying to prepare the roma tomatoes – trying to mandoline the peeled roma’s resulted in mushed or disintegrated tomato slices. I finally decided this is where sushi/sashimi knife skills would come into play and pulled out my super sharp Kikuichi sashimi knife to address the issue (see http://kikuichi.net/yanagistyle.aspx ). I decided to use an usuzukuri cutting technique – one stroke, one clean paper thin slice of roma tomato.
I’m sort of curious about what brand of mandoline Chef Keller’s kitchens uses.
The last issue I have with this recipe (and it maybe a purely subjective one) is that I found that the amount of the garlic/oil/thyme/salt/pepper mix wasn’t strong enough for my taste in the dish. I was finally satisified when I settled on using 4 times that amount (4 teaspoons of garlic, 8
teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon of minced thyme, 2 pinches of 4:1 salt/pepper mix).
When I seasoned the onion/bell pepper sauteed, I added 3 pinches of 4:1 salt/pepper mix.
I then portioned the onion/bell pepper mixture onto the bottom of two revol overproof dishes and then began arranging overlapping alternating slices of vegetables over the onion/bell pepper mix, working from around the outside of the ovenproof dish towards the center. Before sealing the ovenproof dishes, I seasoned the vegetables with 3 pinches of 4:1 salt/pepper mix and the garlic/thyme/oil/salt/pepper mix
I then sealed the dishes with aluminum foil and popped them into a 275 degrees preheated oven.
As I had mentioned earlier, I decided to pair the confit byaldi with the branzino. By comparison, that was the easier part of the meal preparation. I got the branzino fillets home from Whole Foods and wiped the fish dry with paper towels to make sure the skin was as dry as possible. Chef Keller talks about crisping the fish skin issue here:
I then seasoned both sides of the fillets with 4:1 salt/pepper mix. About 10 minutes before the confit byaldi was done, I fired up my skillet (got it good and hot), added some grapeseed oil to it and then placed the fish, skin side down (making sure the fillet stayed FLAT). Reducing the heat to about 60% max power, I let the fillets sit for about 4 minutes. I then flipped the fish over to cook for another minute and then plated the fillets atop the vegetables.
…and of course the meal was served with some good crusty french bread!