As the holiday season swings into gear, cooks vanish into their kitchens for entire days. There, stocking cupboards, firing up stoves, paging madly through their texts, they remind us once more that cooking is the original alchemy. After all, what else is that ancient science but the dogged attempt to transform simple ingredients into divine substance?
To spread a little culinary sparkle, we asked six terrific Los Angeles-area chefs to help us with a holiday menu--and wound up with half a dozen solid-gold, ethnically diverse dishes, all of which are potently delicious and magically easy--and reveal a few nifty professional tricks.
Every year chef Suzanne Tracht from Jozu has Thanksgiving dinner with the same 15 friends, one of whom is Jerry Tevrow, an L.A. scallop purveyor. "Most people bring Champagne to the dinner," she says. "Jerry brings scallops." Her now-favorite appetizer recipe starts with cunning, crisp little pancakes formed out of Chinese noodles to serve as nests for finespun pea sprouts and a single flawlessly cooked scallop. Then she adds a ginger-garlic-soy-infused Chinese relish flecked with red peppers and bright green onions and cilantro.
Chef Jean Franois Meteigner first created his rich soup with its jaunty puff pastry cap for a dinner at La Cachette featuring the food of Perigord. The ingredients--chestnuts, morel mushrooms and celery root--are native to that region in the southwest of France. "It's a superb soup," he says. "When you break through the crust, what you smell is the French countryside, the richness of chestnuts and the earthiness of the mushrooms."
Although turkey is the centerpiece of this holiday meal, Joe Miller, chef-owner of Joe's and Joe Joe's, would have you spending more time with family and friends and less with the big bird. His recipe calls for only the breast. "This recipe," Miller says, "uses traditional ingredients we know and love--and adds some flair in the form of white truffles, which happen to be in season." First boned and then browned, the breast is roasted under a full half-pound of fresh-picked herbs and another quarter-pound of garlic cloves! (Don't be surprised if, midway through the cooking, neighbors start materializing in your yard with their arms outstretched, their noses in the air.) The meat is sliced thinly and arranged alongside a spicy sweet potato puree. In lieu of boring old gravy, Miller proposes a sabayon scented with white truffle oil. Add the optional grated white truffle at your own risk: The celebrated fungus' faintly metallic taste is so keen and haunting that it can trigger yearning: Hence, sentimental songs and heartfelt reminiscence may spontaneously erupt from those who eat it.
As for side dishes, chef Claud Beltran, formerly of Dickenson West, generously divulges a recipe for Brussels sprouts that even he (not to mention other Brussels sprouts unenthusiasts) will eat. The teeny, cabbage-y knobs (with their alarming resemblance to angel brains) do taste fabulous prepared his way, but the best moment may well be when, as the cook, you set a quarter-cup of Grand Marnier on fire--it's a Brussels sprouts jubilee!
Another old standby--creamed onions--is transformed in the hands of executive chef Carrie Nahabedian from the Gardens Restaurant at the Four Seasons. "High-quality smoked bacon makes all the difference," she says. "Also use good pearl onions and be careful to keep them whole." Bacon, brandy and cream are slowly reduced with the onions to pure bliss. Adds Nahabedian: "It's not a dish for the faint of heart."
The jewel in the crown is bonet, from Roberto Perotti, chef at Alto Palato, who first ate bonet in family-style restaurants in his native Piedmont. A warm, not-too-sweet custard, it's spiked with rum, espresso and chocolate. Under its powerful spell, even teenagers and children have been known to get up and cheerfully help with the dishes.
Warning: This is a rich, heady menu for the average mortal. We recommend that home cooks pick and choose among the options--appetizer or soup, pureed sweet potatoes or creamed onions, Brussels sprouts or--this one's easy--dessert.
Styled by Ann Johnstad; food stylist: Janet Miller
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Grilled Scallops on Noodle Cakes With Chinese Relish
Crusted Chestnut and Morel Soup
Compote of Pearl Onions With Smoked Bacon, Cream and Chives
"The Only Way I'll Eat Them" Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Turkey With Sweet Potato Puree and White Truffle Sabayon
For recipes, please see Page 38.
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Grilled Scallops on Noodle Cakes with Chinese Relish
from Suzanne Tracht of Jozu
3 ounces fresh Chinese egg noodles, divided into 6 portions
4 cups peanut oil
1/4 cup peanut oil, divided
5 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons garlic, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons red bell pepper, finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 bunch green onions, green part only, finely diced