It was great to read Andrew Carmellini’s strident defense of “the long lost art of the arroser” in the New York Times last week as we are big time proponents of this traditional French technique of rapid butter basting to finish proteins. À la minute cooking allows a little butter to go a long way; done right it has the potential to deliver saturated flavor that is as rich as it is nuanced.
Drew’s Dish of the Week ~ Bacon Wrapped Sturgeon with Smashed English Peas and Hedgehog Mushroom Tempura ~ relies on arroser and several other tricks of the trade that make the most of ingredients that are inherently umami, the basic taste profile we define as savory which, crave them as we do, can easily overwhelm the palate. On a scale of 1 -10, sturgeon has the potential to be gloriously satisfying, but without a deft approach to respect its subtle flavor and fragile texture it can easily go dry and bland. Drew’s use of thin strips of raw bacon tightly wrapped around the portioned fish and left to rest in the fridge keeps the cut flesh from drying out. It also lightly flavors the fish, adding a layer of complexity which his cooking method ~ a four sided pan sear ~ extends as the sturgeon slow cooks inside its carapace of sizzling bacon. The result is heavenly moist fish inside a golden crispy outer ‘skin.’
An arroser can use any variety of herbs that will hold up to the heat ~ Drew chose fresh rosemary and garlic for their pungency and green notes. The secret of the technique ~ like many great things in life that have nothing to do with cooking ~ is all in the wrist. You need to move the spoon into and over the pan at a constant speed; this rhythmic basting motion results in dozens of tiny bubbles that aerate the butter. You’re going for foamy butter that does not burn. The fish is then pulled off the flame and allowed to briefly rest while the flavors harmonize, and it finishes cooking.
The earthiness of the hedgehog mushrooms, dredged lightly in tempura batter and deep fried, were an inspired land-meets-sea pairing for the fish, but Drew wanted more ~ color to brighten the dish and something to provide a foil for the savory proteins. Happily, the first of the English peas arrived in kitchen the same morning as the sturgeon, so we were off to the races. The peas were lightly smashed, then sautéed in VOO with a small dice of confit garlic, tomato and carrot, emulsified with a spoonful of fragrant spring vegetable stock. Pancho then made a vibrant pea purée (with a touch of spinach to hold the color) and a broken vinaigrette of VOO and port reduction.
Pancho and I did a little spring jig over this dish ~ he while plating it, me while eating it. Drew just stood back, arms folded, big smile.
Of all the reasons I’ve come to see Ryan as a great chef, the talent he’s nurtured in this team resonates the most. Encouraging them to shine isn’t just his way of honoring his own mentors, though it certainly does that in spades. It’s also a reminder that for all the years of hard work it takes to become great at this profession, cooking like this is all about love, and respect.
The first container of treasures we found on our recent trip to Paris this past (freezing!) January have just arrived in the Studio. Thick felt firewood carriers (also perfect for kids toys); handwoven cotton and leather everyday summer bags (larger ones for market or beach); elegant wire votive holders; a delightful selection of distressed steel bird feeders and planters; handcarved and painted picture frames ~ we done good! Come in and let us talk you through our charming Spring Collection.
Also just in time for Easter are the first of Neeru Kumar's elegant scarves in black & white and light summer colors. Kumar is one of the most beloved and well known textile designers in India at the moment ~ reviving hand loomed textile traditions one village at a time. Her work is sold at the V&A in London, at the Met and Guggenheim in New York...and now at Studio Barndiva!
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski