‘As soon as those two, three cubes of butter went it, Louis shook it up real good, gentle yet vigorous all at once.’
FOR cooking enthusiasts who are constantly trying out some new dish, or some new technique or maneuver, a dinner party always offers an opportunity to show off that new accomplishment. You would have run a couple of experiments first, hone them to some semblance of perfection before presenting the fruit of your labor on dinner night.
But when you haven’t an army of children to eat your culinary experiments, as I do, I sometimes subject my guests to the whims of my test kitchen efforts. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, given my perfectionist streak. It teaches me not to be too hard on myself. After all, the friends whom I invite wouldn’t be, so why should I?
Besides, that Carly Fiorina ethic of “Perfect Enough” can be good for the soul, my kind especially. I’m famous for putting major endeavors on a moving deadline, always walking to some silly drumbeat of “Oh, not yet, not yet till it’s perfect,” only to find myself never executing that grand moment, never biting the fruit of accomplishment, just because I haven’t quite eliminated that little sting of imperfection.
And so this recent Wednesday, with friends familiar to my food, my home, my finicky ways, I go at that elusive sauce once again, sauce beurre rouge—essentially a reduction of red wine and red wine vinegar emulsified with butter. It was a success, it didn’t split as it had five out of the seven times I’ve made it—no, I had none of those weepy trails of oil that sit like a nasty oil slick in a pool of red. The reason could well be a simple one of delegation.
I handed the pot to Louis—my French friend from Lyon—who seems to have a magic touch around the table and the kitchen. He went to culinary school in Switzerland—the École Hôtelière de Thonon—and these days, he spends his time as a wine professional, organizing wine events, and sharing with wine enthusiasts the intricate art of training the nose and palate for wine appreciation.
No, no whisk, for this sauce, I tell him, as his eyes roved around my kitchen looking for one. It’s not like beurre blanc, I said. Just shake the pot, and so he did—shake it like how Eric Ripert does, until the sauce is “like a mirror,” he’d say, the Michelin-starred maestro whose red snapper dish I was trying to emulate on this night.
As soon as those two, three cubes of butter went it, Louis shook it up real good, gentle yet vigorous all at once. Then it was on to Sauce Pan Number Two. That’s Novice Me, who now has an extra pot to wash, when I could possibly have made all four portions with just one pot. But I decided to play safe, and do it restaurant style.
Louis was the man at the stove, the grand saucier. All I did was to tell him, “Shake it!” He was also the expert offering all the answers to my ex-banker friend, H., who pattered on with a string of questions on table setting, every single one that I myself longed to ask.
Can we use a wine glass for water? was one of her questions. He’d rather not just because water is just water, less luxe than wine, so it doesn’t quite deserve a wine glass. Then she enquired about the correct placement of the white wine glass vis-a-vis the red wine glass. Here, Louis lines up the wine glasses at a stylish 45-degree angle to the left—the Riedel Chardonnay closest to his plate, followed by the Cabernet, then the stemless Chardonnay (for the water). The idea is that his glasses would form a perfect line with those of the guest diagonally opposite him in a setting like the one at my home, on a rectangular table.
H. was also curious why Louis stood up, walked round to her side of the table to pour wine. Couldn’t he well have poured it from across the table, she suggested?
“It’s just in his DNA,” I offered, though Louis’s take on this was really simple. If he were to reach across the table, he would have blocked the conversation flow between me and G., my journalist friend, who sat diagonally across. I suppose, to put an oriental spin to it, it would be that reaching over and across the table blocks out conversation fengshui.
Not only that! It encourages a feeling that is intime, a touch of intimacy and closeness when you get up to pour wine for your fellow guests around the table, particularly meaningful if the table were three times longer than mine, and you had to walk a mile to a guest at the other end. Soon enough, G. himself would put the hospitality tip to action. He too, gets up, as dinner winds down, to pour us water, coming first to H., then me, then Louis.
Our night ends with G. giving a toast to my take on Ripert’s red snapper. Mine’s not a red snapper, but one belonging to the same snapper family—a next-best recommendation from Sam, my fishmonger—a Red Emperor, an Ang Sai, in Hokkien, which should technically be called Red Lion, if we go by the exact translation.
“Godspeed You, Red Emperor!” he says. “That should be the name of your dish.”
It’s a little twist on a band called Godspeed You, Black Emperor, but I guess I don’t need to remember it. All I need to commit to my mind are Louis’s lessons at the table, the adroit tricks at playing bus boy (two plates on his arm, sometimes more!), and those Hokkien names Sam always rattles away over his parade of fish that sit, snug and cold, on a bed of ice as he points towards this-a-one, that-a-one, and that-other-one.
. . .
2. “Godspeed You, Red Emperor” ~ Five-spice-crusted Red Emperor, potato mash, sauce beurre rouge
Dessert: Soufflé au chocolat
White: Dominique Laurent | Gevrey-Chambertin, Côte-d’Or, Bourgogne | Chardonnay, 2011
Red: Alain Graillot | Crozes-Hermitage, Les Chênes Verts, Pont de L’Isère, Rhone Valley | Syrah, 2014
Red: Jean Foillard | Morgon, Beaujolais | “Cuvée Corcelette” | Gamay, 2014
For the Beurre Rouge: François Chidaine | Touraine, Loire Valley | Côt, Cabernet, Pineau D’Aunis, 2015 + Maille Red Wine Vinegar + President Butter
Après Dinner Beverage: Rooibos Vanilla
On the Jukebox: David Benoit, Rick Braun, Fourplay
On the Night of: December 6, 2017