This year, the friends of the late James Beard have been celebrating not just his memory, but the essence of what he represented--the very best of fine American cuisine.
Throughout the country, events have been held to raise money for the James Beard Foundation, which is buying the brownstone house in New York's Greenwich Village in which Beard lived for nearly half his life. Here the foundation will house a gastronomic library, develop programs of information and research and act as host to culinary activities.
Composing a menu Beard would have enjoyed was easy. The meal had to be centered on beef, for Beard was famous for his love of prime red meat. At dinner it can be a problem to combine cooking the perfect rare roast with greeting guests, so with a bit of experimenting, I developed an escape route.
A whole fillet of beef is roasted ahead of time, sandwiched with bacon, mushrooms and tomato mixture and wrapped in foil. The leftover stuffing is used to fill some tomatoes. Reheating takes less than 30 minutes, and the meat emerges still juicy and rare. A classic Madeira sauce comes with it, and in the same traditional spirit, I like to add a baked potato as an accompaniment.
Seafood a Favorite
The first course for a Beard dinner was equally evident, for Beard came from Portland, Ore., and loved any kind of seafood. English Potted Shrimp was just his kind of dish: baby shrimp sauteed with spices, then packed in pots and sealed with butter.
Dessert was a chocolate mold coated so thoroughly with whipped cream that it resembles a snowball. The chocolate mixture is wickedly rich, baking to a cross between fudge and devil's-food cake. A little goes a long way, but in my experience seconds are always demanded.
Like all gastronomes, Beard was as interested in what he drank as what he ate. His favorite tipple was what I call "cheap fizz"--the white sparkling wine made by the Champagne method. Good examples are agreeably light and dry, costing less than half the real thing.
JAMES BEARD-INSPIRED DINNER FOR 8 Potted Shrimp Beef Fillet Cherniavsky Chocolate Snowball Suggested wine: Dry sparkling white made by the Champagne method This menu has a perfect schedule for the busy host or hostess because all the dishes must be made ahead.
3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash red pepper
1 pound cooked peeled baby shrimp
1 lemon, cut in wedges
Toasted whole-wheat bread
Heat 3 tablespoons butter in large skillet or wok. Add nutmeg, allspice and peppers. Cook very gently, stirring, 1 minute.
Increase heat to very high. Add shrimp and stir-fry until very hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and additional spices, if desired. Pack shrimp tightly in individual ramekins or crock. Chill at least 1 hour.
Melt remaining 1/3 cup butter for sealing. Skim off white foam. Spoon butter over cold shrimp so it sets at once. Be sure to cover shrimp completely with butter, discarding any milky whey at bottom of melted butter. Potted shrimp can be kept up to 3 days in refrigerator. Serve chilled with lemon wedges and toasted whole-wheat bread. Makes 8 servings.
Note: If night is cold, shrimp can be stir-fried at last minute and served piping hot. Cooked medium shrimp may be substituted for small ones. Shrimp should be very coarsely chopped.
BEEF FILLET CHERNIAVSKY
3 to 4 pounds beef fillet, trimmed and tied
1 tablespoon oil
3 cups veal stock
4 ounces sliced bacon
1 pound mushrooms, finely chopped
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
8 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons arrowroot
1/2 cup Madeira
1 bunch watercress
Season beef to taste with salt and pepper. Heat oil in skillet until very hot. Brown meat well on all sides. Bake at 450 degrees 11 minutes. Remove to plate. Let cool.
Discard fat from pan. Add half of stock. Boil, stirring to dissolve pan juices. Strain juices back into remaining stock.
To make stuffing, chop shallots and bacon to fine paste in food processor. Cook in skillet, stirring, until paste begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, chopped tomatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until all moisture has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Let cool completely.
When fillet is cool, discard strings. Slice into 3/4-inch slices, cutting almost through meat so underside is still attached. Spread 1 tablespoon stuffing on each slice. Press fillet back into original shape. Reserve remaining stuffing. Wrap fillet in 2 layers of foil. Refrigerate.
Discard cores from whole tomatoes. Cut off tops to form lid. Slice base so tomatoes sit level. Set tomatoes in greased baking dish. Top each with 1 tablespoon reserved stuffing and tomato lid.