Letting go is not something that happens in a single moment. It is rather, a process. Even when the loss is sudden—as in the accidental, irretrievable release of a helium balloon into the vast sky—the process of letting go still goes through its paces: the shock, the startled watching as the balloon rises and rises, the reaching to catch it back even as it is clear that it must go, the cry of anguish, the tears and sorrow, the longing to go back— just a few steps backward—to a point in which one might, if one is more careful, and attentive, hold on. So, just a month after my son moved 3000 miles away to California, I am trying out the letting go, am still in the process, and it’s not going that well. I miss the
boy man. And the dog. And the girlfriend too.
Don’t they look so happy with the Grand Tetons behind them and their whole lives ahead of them? That, and a cute little rented house with a fenced yard in Napa Valley waiting, and jobs at The French Laundry too. I’m actually kvelling over them, a Yiddish word that rolls extraordinarily happy and bursting with pride into one expression. The kvelling helps with the letting go…it gives me all the good and great reasons why I should be happy about the move…but, like I said, it’s a process. It’s times like these that my mother, in her German, no-nonsense way would ask rhetorically, “Vat you gonna do?” and answer herself with a resounding “Nothing!” In other words, let go, because this one is out of your hands and you might as well get busy focusing on something you can control instead. Like cooking.
So, I pulled out The French Laundry Cookbook (well, maybe it had already been sitting out on my desk since the day they left, as part of a quasi-shrine I erected to the cooking gods and Thomas Keller that I hoped would insure Max and Theresa’s success and safety) and I thumbed through the gorgeous pictures and beautifully designed typography to look for something easy and quick to cook that would distract me. TFL recipes are not quick and easy. They are two-to-three-day undertakings with multiple components, (some ingredients, are in themselves entire recipes), that are meant to be tackled by a team. My son Max was a part of such a team at Per Se for two-and-a-half years. I thought about his first days there, as an intern, working for free for the possibility of earning a job. As a commis, or prep cook, he’d arrive at 6:30 am and work 12-15 hours a day to make more than a few of the components for the elegant and complex dishes that went out as part of a 15-course tasting menu that changed everyday. I remembered the first time we ate in the hushed and beautiful dining room overlooking Columbus Circle and Central park, and the first bite of the meal—the dainty, crispy cone filled with creme fraiche and topped with an impossibly velveteen scoop of salmon tartare—arrived. That bite set the tone for transcendent meal I will never forget. Max told me he made over two hundred of those cones each morning, as a part of his long list of things he was responsible for making each day.
What I’m sharing with you here is a truly easy and quick, home-kitchen friendly version of this signature amuse-bouche that Thomas Keller himself offered up in Food & Wine Magazine a while back. In this version, instead of racing against time and burning off our fingerprints to shape blazing hot tuilles into cones, he lets us let them lie there and become relaxed little crisps. The flavor is all there, without the pain.
And Keller substitutes smoked salmon here, which is wise, considering most of us are not likely to come across the pristine quality of fish that comes through the French Laundry or Per Se kitchens and might not want to mess with raw at home (or the painstaking technique used to get that raw fish to feel like fresh-water velvet on your tongue).
Finely dice the shallot and chives, add a bit of lemon zest and white pepper and then top it all with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream and you have about 30 elegant and elevated mouthfuls to serve your guests.
Or, in my case, to share with my husband on a mid-week night, while we sip a glass of crisp rosé and kvell over (and miss) our son.
- cook time: Total cook and prep time: 45 min
- yield: Makes approx. 3 dozen crisps
For the tuille/crisp:
4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 chilled large egg white
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
For the salmon:
4 ounces sliced smoked salmon, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons very finely chopped shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons very finely chopped chives, plus a few snipped, for garnish
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream)
Preheat the oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the egg white and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the butter until smooth and creamy.
poon teaspoons of the batter 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets and spread to 2-inch rounds. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and bake in the upper and middle third of the oven for about 15 minutes, shifting the pans from top to bottom and front to back, until the tuiles are golden and fragrant. Let cool.
In a medium bowl, combine the salmon with the shallot, chopped chives, lemon zest and a pinch of white pepper. Spoon the salmon onto the tuiles and top with a dollop of crème fraîche and a couple of snipped chives. Serve right away.
MAKE AHEAD The tuiles can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Adapted from Thomas Keller, French Laundry Cookbook, as seen in Food & Wine Magazine