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Light Fare Will Reign Supreme in 1987 Cuisine

December 28, 1986|ANNE WILLAN | Willan, a cooking teacher and author, is founder and president of La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. She lives in Washington. and

For New Year 1987 here are a few of my predictions: Despite the talk of a return to hearty cooking, we will continue to eat light. Fish, fresh fruits and vegetables will rule supreme, particularly novelties like black bell peppers and orange roughy (an agreeable fish from New Zealand). There will be a big return to beef now that the new low-fat breeds are making headlines. Above all, speed will be the key, with cooks looking for unusual quick ideas just like these . . .

The opening dish of wafer-thin slices of beef marinated in olive oil and lemon juice resembles Italian carpaccio with the robust seasonings of a steak tartare. Beef responds to the fashionable custom of marinating just as well as fish (indeed, salmon or tuna can be substituted in this recipe).

The only trick is in slicing the meat as thinly as possible; for this task a sharp knife is indispensable. Work with the knife slanted away from you, diagonally to the grain of the meat. Some cooks like to freeze the beef before slicing.

I found the recipe for Vinegar Baked Trout in an old cookbook and took to it at once, for vinegar is the vital seasoning in traditional British fish and chips.

Here the hot fish are sprinkled with wine vinegar after baking in a pepper and garlic oil; all three flavors work together to enhance the taste of fish. Mackerel, trout, snapper, pompano, mullet, bass or almost any small fish can be used.

With the fish comes a side dish of Braised Escarole or curly chicory--prolific winter greens that tend to be dismissed as inferior lettuce. It was an Italian chef who taught me how to mellow such peppery greens by cooking them with olive oil, anchovy and a touch of garlic.

Citrus are clearly the best of winter fruits, and our local market has a constant supply of fresh orange juice, saving even the minor chore of squeezing the fruit. With the help of my small ice cream churn, I devised this quick orange sherbet flavored with rum and honey. It could act as a prototype for all sorts of variations such as grapefruit with vodka or lime with gin. Have fun trying all three, with or without the alcohol flavorings.

DINNER IN THE NEW YEAR FOR 6

Marinated Beef With Mustard Sauce

Vinegar Baked Fish

Braised Escarole

Rum-Orange Sherbet

Suggested wine: A light Italian red such as Valpolicella or a domestic Gamay.

In keeping with my New Year's resolution to streamline my life, dessert can be prepared well ahead, with less than an hour needed to cook the remaining dishes.

Up to two weeks ahead, make the sherbet, then freeze.

Up to two days ahead, make the mustard sauce and refrigerate.

About 45 minutes before serving, transfer the sherbet to the refrigerator to soften. Prepare the escarole, then braise.

About 30 minutes before serving, slice the beef. Marinate in the refrigerator. Make mustard sauce. Prepare fish, then refrigerate. Set the table.

About five minutes before serving, take the escarole from the oven. Keep warm. Increase oven heat to 500 degrees. Heat oil, add fish, then bake.

After serving beef, add vinegar to fish, then serve. MARINATED BEEF WITH MUSTARD SAUCE

1 tablespoon sugar

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons Dijon-style coarse-grained mustard

Olive oil

Salt, pepper

1 1/2 pounds beef fillet

2 shallots, very finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons capers, drained

1 clove garlic, very finely chopped, optional

3 lemons, halved

Make sauce by beating sugar and egg yolk into mustard in small bowl. Beat in 1/2 cup oil, adding first 2 tablespoons drop by drop, much as you would if making mayonnaise. Add rest in steady stream once sauce has thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.

Not more than 1 hour before serving, trim beef of all fat and sinew. With very sharp knife, cut beef diagonally into thinnest possible slivers. Arrange slivers without overlapping on 6 plates. Brush beef generously with 1/4 cup olive oil. Sprinkle with shallots, capers and garlic. Place 1 lemon half on each plate. Cover and chill until serving time. Serve sauce separately. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Beef fillet is easiest to slice thinly for this recipe, but shell or round roast can be used instead. VINEGAR BAKED TROUT

6 (1-pound) whole trouts, cleaned, with head and tail left on

2 jalapeno chiles, quartered and seeded, or 2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt, pepper

6 tablespoons wine vinegar

Wash fish. Pat dry with paper towels. Cut 2 to 3 diagonal slashes on each side so fish will cook evenly. Fish can be refrigerated up to 8 hours.

About 20 minutes before serving, lightly crush jalapeno chiles and garlic with blade of knife. In flame-proof baking dish, gently heat chile and garlic in oil about 5 minutes until garlic browns lightly, showing it has seasoned oil.

Season fish to taste with salt and pepper. Add to hot oil. Baste well. Transfer to oven. Bake at 500 degrees, basting often, until fish flakes easily when tested with fork, about 10 to 12 minutes.

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