Thursday, February 5, 2009


I was studying the Valentine's dinner menu for Le Saint Raphael (a place we know and like) and several of the terms on it gave me pause because I wasn't exactly sure what they were. I had the vague idea, for example, that a "coulis" is a sauce made of fruit that's been chopped and cooked down to reduce the volume and make the fruit thicken.

It turns out that "coulis" is the French word for "strained" and thus a fruit (strawberries, raspberries) is cooked down with sugar and lemon juice and then strained (raspberry/strawberry pits) and kept in a squeeze bottle for last-minute additions to desserts. It's the drizzle you see on your plate near the chocolate cake, for example. It lasts three days, refrigerated. One can also make a vegetable-based coulis by roasting or charring vegetables and reducing them with a little water. Arguably, catsup is a coulis!

You can easily make "creme fraise" right in your own kitchen. Add a bit of lemon juice to a pint of heavy cream and beat it a little, just enough to mix the two. Trader Joe's now sells creme fraise in the cheese section.

"Mousseline" -- any sauce to which whipped cream or beaten egg whites is added. Saint Raphael is sending out a Vodka-Lime version with its halibut.

A "mousse" is similar but sturdier (think chocolate mousse.) A mousse is simply egg yolks and sugar beaten together with beaten egg whites folded in with various flavorings such as strawberries or chocolate (white or dark.)

An "emulsion" is two liquids that don't want to mix -- oil and vinegar is a prime example.

Here's an example of using a few ingredients for a spectacular presentation: steam asparagus until just tender; let it cool. Wrap each spear with a thin slice of smoked salmon, sauce with a tequila-lime creme fraise and garnish with grains of caviar. (Saint Raphael menu.)

Even simpler -- prepare the asparagus as above, wrap each spear in a slice of pancetta and broil till the pancetta is done; give it a splash of red wine vinegar with chopped capers and serve.

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