Monday, February 13, 2012

El Bulli Family-Style Potato Salad/Thai Beef Curry

In honor of scoring (against all reasonable odds, I might add) season tickets to Next Restaurant's 2012 menus, including a much-heralded homage to the now-shuttered El Bulli, I decided to return to the El Bulli family meal cookbook I received from Santa for some new recipes (ed. note - actually, I made this meal well before the season ticket thing happened, but it makes for better copy to link the two). The dishes I ultimately chose looked pretty simple, which is in keeping with the cookbook's theme; that is, simple meals from a restaurant that served customers decidedly un-simple creations. I began with the Thai beef curry. Chef Adria uses blade steak in his curry dish - this is also better known in America as a flatiron steak, a cut that's not terribly tender, but can be very tasty when braised for a long time. My local ethnic grocery had a top chuck beef cut in the meat case, which I determined to be pretty much the same thing. The meat was already sliced thin (about 1/4"), so I didn't need to do much to it aside from halving the bigger pieces. Here's the full recipe (I opted to cook for 6 servings this time):

1. Cut 2 lb. blade steak into slices about 1/4" thick (approximately 3 slices per person). Season with salt and pepper.
2. Mince 2 thin slices of unpeeled ginger. Heat 5 Tbsp. of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add ginger and fry gently for 2 minutes or until fragrant.
3. Stir in 1 tsp. of yellow Thai curry paste and 1/2 bunch of cilantro leaves. Add 6 1/4 c. of water and approximately 1 c. of coconut milk.
4. Place beef in Dutch oven, cover, and cook in a 325F oven for 3 hours.
5. Add 1/4 c. of coconut milk and remaining 1/2 bunch of cilantro leaves. Salt to taste and serve.

The aroma of the beef cooking in the oven was wonderful, enveloping the whole house. When the time came to sit down and eat, however, the curry was, well, a little bland, much like the salmon lentil stew I made earlier from this same cookbook. I had to double-check to make sure I hadn't misread the amount of curry paste (yep, only 1 tsp.). After a bit of brainstorming, I thought that I might be able to repurpose the curry as a sort-of Asian noodle soup and serve it atop some instant ramen noodles (hey, it works for David Chang - see Lucky Peach magazine, Vol. 1). I tried this a couple of days later and had pretty much the same reaction, as did Mrs. Hackknife, who was a little underwhelmed. I was finally able to make the leftovers more palatable by throwing a gob more curry paste in there (about a tablespoon), plus some Crystal hot sauce. Ultimately, though, I'm afraid this one won't be making a repeat appearance at the Commissary.

The potato salad, on the other hand, certainly didn't suffer from lack of flavor. I have to admit I was a little shocked at first by Chef Adria's inclusion of sliced hot dogs (maybe the hot dogs they have in Catalonia are really, really good compared to ours), conjuring up images of a recipe one might find on an Oscar Mayer label from 1975 instead of in the kitchen of a groundbreaking restaurant. In any case, it garnered better reviews from the family and was a versatile side dish for a few days, especially when doing a tapas-style lunch. Here's the recipe (again, for 6):

1. Boil a large pan of water seasoned with salt and add 2.5 lb. of large new potatoes (I used Yukon Gold). Cook until tender (about 20 minutes - mine took closer to 30). Drain potatoes and individually wrap in foil.
2. Finely chop 1.5 Tbsp. of chives. Also finely chop white parts of 2 small green onions. Slice 6 medium pickled gherkins into 1/2" slices. Do the same with 4 hot dogs.
3. Using a whisk, mix together 1.5 c. mayonnaise, 2/3 c. whipping cream (35% fat), and 1/2 c. Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Unwrap and peel potatoes. Cut potatoes into 1" cubes and place in a large bowl. Add onion, gherkins, hot dogs, and 1.5 Tbsp pickled capers. Spoon sauce on top and stir, being careful not to break up potatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and chives and serve.

I expect to make this potato salad again (maybe without the hot dogs, though) when grilling season comes around this summer....

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