The Ultimate First Course


           Last December I was in a cookbook-buying frenzy. A lot of fellow food bloggers would post their must-have cookbooks on their blog and I would eagerly check them out. More often than not, most books on their list ended up in my shopping basket. One of these cookbooks was Michel Richard’s Happy in the Kitchen. It arrived in the mail with other books and after giving it a cursory once over have lain forgotten as others distracted me, particularly the ones dealing with chocolate and pastry.

        When the James Beard nominees were announced earlier last month, Michel Richard was nominated for the “Outstanding Chef” award and his book for “Best Cookbook in the Professional Point of View” category.

      This peaked my interest. I got Happy in the Kitchen out and started to browse through it more intently. A recipe caught my eye. Foie Gras Brulee — what in the world? At first I thought, “Eewww!” Throwing foie gras in with cream and eggs did not sound appealing! Besides, what an abomination to put foie gras through a blender! I shut the book, eyes looking upward and puckered my lips to one corner in deep thought. My inner voice chided loudly, “What happened to thinking outside the box?” With a sigh, I opened the pages of the book to the “weird” dish, and studied it with a more open mind.

     Michel Richard is known for his unusual recipes and inventive ways so he must have had a darn good reason for mixing duck liver and custard. Okay, foie gras and cream are very rich. You need something sweet and tart to cut through the richness. I guess that is what the sugar crust, the drizzle of balsamic vinegar and the fruit cut-ups are for. Hmmn… this might just work!

      Excitement started to course through my veins. Let’s see. The beginning of spring is quite difficult for picking out fruit. There really isn’t any fruit in season so to speak of. I still see quite a few oranges and I noticed some great looking blackberries(although more a summer fruit really) in the market lately so I guess I will go with those.

     I also thought about the 30-yr old balsamic vinegar that I have gotten from Oliveto waiting to make its debut; what a fantastic and fitting dish this would be to drizzle it on. And after unearthing some Persian pistachios from the freezer, a purposeful gleam entered my eyes.


Foie Gras Brulee

       From Michel Richard’s Happy in the Kitchen

¾ cup heavy cream

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 ounces foie gras (Grade B) cut into 1-inch dice

2 large eggs

Pinch of ground coriander

Granulated sugar

An assortment of fruits in season such as orange segments

Hazelnut or walnut oil

Balsamic vinegar

Chopped pistachio nuts

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 250 °F.

Place the cream in a small pot and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the foie gras and heat over medium–high heat until the cream is hot to the touch. Transfer to a blender.

Add the eggs to the blender, season with the coriander and 1 teaspoon of sugar, and puree. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. If there are bits of foie gras left in the strainer, return to the blender with some of the strained mixture and reblend, then strain again.

Place four 1-inch-deep by 5 inch wide round or square quiche or brulee dishes in a baking pan. Divide the foie gras mixture among the dishes. Fill a pitcher with very hot tap water and place next to the oven. Place the pan on the oven rack and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. Cook for 1 hour, or until the custard is set when a dish is jiggled.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the water bath, then refrigerate for a few hours, until cold, or for up to 1 day.

About 30 minutes before serving, remove the brulee from the refrigerator.

Sprinkle the top of a brulee generously with sugar to cover. Then quickly turn the mold over and tap the bottom to remove excess sugar, leaving just a thin layer. Use a blowtorch to brulee, moving the torch slowly above the surface and adjusting the flame as necessary to melt and caramelize the sugar without burning it. Repeat with the remaining brulees. Let the brulees sit for a few minutes to allow the crust to harden.

Meanwhile cut the fruits as necessary.

When the sugar has hardened, brush the tops of the brulees with a light coating of nut oil and then balsamic vinegar. Arrange the fruits and pistachios over the top. Brush them lightly with nut oil and sprinkle with fleur de sel and pepper.


Cooking Notes:

     Contrary to my first impression of this book being complicated, this recipe was very easy. It is important to pay attention to the temperature of the cream because you do not want your precious foie gras to dissolve into a pool of fat. I salted the cream while I heated it in the pot. After I put everything in the blender and added the eggs, I tasted for salt again (I know, yuck, but I learned earlier on that it was important to taste as you cook.) Satisfied with the seasoning, I distributed the custard mixture evenly among the ramekins and put it into the oven in a water bath. Notice how the custard was baked at a low temperature – I figured this was the temperature at which it can cook without melting the foie gras into the custard. I also put a cookie sheet on top of the ramekins to ensure gentle cooking.

    When the foie gras custard was done, there was a thin film of fat on top but it was quite negligible so do not worry if this happens. I chilled them for at least 3 hours although overnight was definitely preferable.

     The hubby did the honors of the bruleeing.  We waited till the crust hardened before painting a thin layer of olive oil (I did not have nut oil.) We drizzled the syrupy 30-yr old balsamic, finished off with cut oranges and blackberries and sprinkled some pistachio pieces on top.

     So how did it taste after all is said and done?

     As I cracked the crusty shell with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation, what I felt quickly turned into a perceptible desire for more as the silky and soft custard tempted my taste buds with a flavor that was so luscious and yes…sensual. What was this magic alchemy of cream, egg and foie gras?  It definitely tasted of foie gras that was so cleverly refined with cream and so seamlessly complemented with citrus, bruleed sugar and of course, balsamic vineger. The taste was deceptively light too. In fact, even after agreeing to share just one, the “hungry” hubby decided he wanted one of his own (personally I think he had fun with the blow torch and wanted to experience that again.)

      I have found the ultimate first course. Even if your guests do not like foie gras, they can potentially eat and love this. As you can all tell, I am at a loss for words to describe this elegant prelude to the main meal. The one problem is, if your main entrée can top its predecessor. Unfortunately, how to do that is not covered in this post ;).

    As for Michel Richard’s book, it delivers on its promise. You will indeed be “Happy in the Kitchen” as you cook from this beautiful book!