Charles Aznavour, Ne Me Quitte Pas
Seems as if friend-making years occur when we are the busiest: during college, on our first jobs, when we’re young couples, or as playdate Moms. The Sweetie and I are lucky to have friends we met forty-five years ago during our first job/young couple years.
Over those forty-five years, we have all made a concerted effort to stay in touch. In 1989 we hosted our first winter dinner that included single girls Marilyn and Beth, recently married Nancy, Tom, and daughter Sierra, old friends Becky and Jerry, and our dear Tommy. Beth married MacGregor, Marilyn wed Fritz, Becky and Jerry moved to Hood Canal, Sierra grew up, and Tommy died, so when we get the band together, we are eight.
Ten years before our first dinner, I went to work for Rick O’Reilly and his French dream, La Petite Maison. As decade starters seem to be markers for momentous occasions, last Sunday’s summer dinner was about remembering Rick.
Burrowing through boxes in the garage, I recently found a notecard with Rick’s hand-written recipe for Tarte Aux Champignons and went from there.
“Tarte Aux Champignons
- One Baked 9” pie shell
- 4 cups sliced mushrooms
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup butter
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup Port
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1/2# Swiss cheese
- 1/2# Gruyere
Sauté mushrooms and shallots in butter, salt and pepper. (Do not wash mushrooms in water!)
Place mushrooms in pie shell, leaving all liquid and butter in fry pan. Add 1⁄2 c. port to pan and boil until reduced to 1-2 T.
Add 1 pt. heavy cream and boil until mixture thickens.
Sprinkle 1/2 c. grated Swiss cheese and 1/2 cup Gruyere over mushrooms and pour cream mixture over all.
Bake in a 400° oven for 30 minutes.”
Next up: Caesar Salad.
While Rick welcomed input from the staff, he had the last word when it came to the menu. In Mexico he ate Caesar Salad prepared table-side by male waiters dressed in black and was determined to reproduce that dining experience. Scott and Chris, our two long-time waiters, were adamantly opposed; “Sheer lunacy”, if I remember correctly. Tableside Caesars would “slow service to a crawl, be messy, inconsistent, pretentious, and embarrassing.” Even though Rick was a novice in the restaurant world and Scott and Chris were experienced servers, Rick won that round and Caesar salads were prepared table-side.
Within a week of opening, I was in the kitchen making Caesar Salad dressing by the quart, using a blender and the waiters were in the dining room wearing black vests, shirts, and pants.
3 egg yolks
1⁄2 tsp. anchovy paste
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 tsp. Tabasco
1 Tbs. chopped garlic
2 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. capers
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1⁄2 c. olive oil
1⁄2 c. salad oil
Place egg yolks, anchovy paste, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, garlic, mustard, capers, and lemon juice in a blender—add salt & pepper and blend until smooth.
Add oils in slowly until emulsified.
Main course: Salmon with sorrel sauce.
Rick spent at least ten summers in France, initially eating for pleasure, taking cooking classes from some of the greats, and eventually teaching. His favorites chefs were the Troisgros brothers; his favorite dish—salmon with sorrel sauce. Sorrel is difficult to find but so easy to grow. My friend Glenda found seeds for me, I planted them in pots, and still have enough sorrel to supply Rick’s old restaurant. I mowed it twice, but still had three times what I needed to make the sauce. So if you need some sorrel, I’m your guy.
Salmon with sorrel sauce (Recipe from muscle memory only)—4 servings
Sauté 2 minced shallots in 2 T. butter. Add salt
Add 1 cup clam juice
Bring to boil, simmer 5 minutes or until syrupy
Add 1 c. wine and 3T. vermouth, reduce
Add 1 1/2 cup cream, cook 5 minutes or until thickened. (Consider it thickened if you can see the bottom of the pan when you pull a spatula through it, or/and when the mixture coats a spoon. If the sauce should break, splash a bit of water in the pan, shake it around and the sauce should come back together.)
Pass through a fine mesh sieve into a clean pan—yield 1-2 cups (4-6 servings)
Add 1 1/2c. shredded sorrel, and cook for 25 seconds. Remove from heat.
Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Season thin salmon filets on the skin side.
Heat non-stick pan, add small amount butter, slide fillets into pan unseasoned side down. Don’t crowd.
Cook no more than 1 1/2 minutes. Turn over, cook 30 seconds more.
Serve immediately on heated plates.
After months of long hours for the staff and years of preparation for Rick, La Petite finally opened. After opening night service was over we all sat in the empty dining room drinking champagne. Rick looked at me and said, “Marla, we have to do this again tomorrow?” He did, and we did.
Patty and Jim’s sweet dog Gracie died last week after giving them years of walks, protection, and companionship. She was a good dog, a fine friend, and will be missed.