Not everything is improved by the addition of “family-style”—politics for instance—but dinner isn’t on that list. For your next party, instead of sweating over multiple dishes and then running around plating, serving and re-serving your guests, opt for a few large dishes instead—you know, like mom used to do. Not only does it make for a more convivial, relaxed atmosphere, it’ll save you a few trips to the kitchen. Unlike an actual family get-together, you actually want to spend time with these people, right?
Now is the perfect time for some smoky, Space Age Spirit.
Innovation is almost always preceded by doing something that sounds a bit, well, silly. Shaping the future is not for those who follow the status quo. Just ask Ardbeg, the producers of one of the world’s smokiest, most complex whiskies. Nearly three years ago, they sent a few vials (think of them as miniature casks) of their unique spirit up to space. They matured there, with bits of oak floating weightlessly in them, up in the great void of space. Now that they’ve come down, they’re running tests to see what effects zero-gravity has on the whisky maturation.
Sure, it sounds a little silly. Especially since they don’t really know what they’re looking for. But, who knows. It could change whiskey making forever. Anything is possible.
To celebrate the successful space voyage, the perpetually in-demand whiskey house has released a special edition of their perfectly complex spirit: Ardbeg Supernova, the smokiest whiskey on the planet. Maybe the galaxy, too.
It’s great timing. While there isn’t one specific season that is perfect for a whiskey like Ardbeg, there is something about its notes of leather, bitumen and hints of fruit, that is perfect for long, cold winter night of food, friends and conversation. It’s a whiskey for a fireplace and mahogany study, of mountain sides and snow.
It might also be the perfect whiskey for space travel, but only time will tell.
The Perfect Appetizer
In addition to being perhaps the ultimate comfort food cassoulet is also very, very filling. All that meat, beans and fat really packs a punch. It also takes a while so to keep guests entertained and fed without filling them up. It’s best to keep the appetizers simple and light.
My go-to is a big batch of freshly shucked oysters, served on the half shell and sitting on a bed of coarse salt, that’s been lightly sprinkled with water. A big garnish of seaweed around the edge of the plate is optional.
For the best results assemble a selection of Canada’s best from both coasts. I like the cucumber finish of Fanny Bay oysters from Vancouver Island, as well as the ultra clean Kusshi and, when I can get them, the rare and sweet oysters from Nootka Sound. From PEI you can’t go wrong with the always lush and popular Raspberry Point oysters while the buttered toast finish of New Brunswick’s finest beausoleil oysters seem designed specifically to go with a big flute of ice cold Champagne.
I like my oysters naked, but it’s good to have a few sauces on hand to spice things up a bit. One of the many nice things with oysters is they can take a whole spectrum of sauces and sides from a simple squeeze of lemon to an agar stabilized emulsion.
2 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 Thai bird’s eye chili thinly sliced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced shallots
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and Pepper
Stir together all of the ingredients and season with salt and a little pepper.
The Ardbeg Caeser
Ardbeg isn’t for everyone – at least not straight up. Some folks just don’t appreciate its smoky punch, the fools. But it’s more versatile than you may think. If a guest doesn’t care for a dram on its own, consider making him a bold, smoky Caeser. Then, silently judge him.
6 oz. Clamato juice
1½ oz Ardbeg Ten Year Old
2 dashes hot sauce
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Montreal steak spice
Freshly ground pepper
1 crisp celery stalk
Rim a highball glass with lime and Montreal steak spice. Add Ardbeg Ten Year Old and Clamato juice to ice and season with pepper, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Stir and garnish.
Lessons from a Master Chef: Damon Campbell
Here’s how to not lose your mind when your guests arrive
Every chef worth his clogs knows a little something about preparing food for large groups. Damon Campbell, executive chef of Shangri-La Toronto’s Bosk, does it all the time. Only, when he does, the food is mind-blowing—a mixture of local ingredients and global influence that has won him four gold medals as captain of Culinary Team Canada (our entrants to the Culinary Olympics, because that exists). So, when he offers advice on having people over, take note. – Chris Johns
“Start with setting up the kitchen,” he says. To make it easy for yourself, clear your kitchen counter and prep area of clutter the night before.
Next, look inside your fridge. Organize it into items that are needed and not needed, with the more essential things towards the front. Do that a couple of days before, if time allows.
Set the table the night before. When you’re busy getting the meal ready, setting the table is the last thing you want to be worrying about.
Write down the order you see yourself doing things. In the chef world it’s called a mise-en-place list and it’s fundamental to being well prepared.
Most items can be purchased three or four days in advance and most vegetables can be cut and placed in the fridge wrapped in a damp towel up to two days ahead of time.
Clean As You Go
Select the proper china. If you’re cooking family-style it’s important to have that stuff clean and in easy reach. You can do that a week ahead of time. This way you’re not looking for things in the back of cupboards when your guests are there.
When you’re hosting a lot of people and doing things family-style, it’s easier to go with more cold appetizers: shrimp salad, potato salad, asparagus and poached egg salad. A lot of that you can do in advance then just pull it out and dress.
Gravy freezes really well, so if your dinner calls for it, make a base gravy ahead of time (just don’t forget to defrost it in the morning). Vinaigrettes can also be made a day or two ahead of time.
If you’re doing a lot of baking, be sure to pull all of your butter and eggs out in advance so they’re at room temperature when you’re ready for them.
Be sure to always give yourself extra time. If you want to serve dinner at 6, aim to have everything ready for 5:30. Things always come up last minute and you’ll be glad you gave yourself a bit of cushion.
Chef Marc’s Cassoulet
By Chef Marc-André Choquette, Executive Chef, Tableau Bar Bistro
Preparation Time: 4-5 hours
Cooking Time: 3 hours
6 cups of white kidney beans (soaked overnight in a large bowl; allow room for volume increase)
1 large or 2 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1 garlic clove, whole, head peeled
6-8 springs fresh thyme
2 carrots, peeled, halved, and roughly chopped
1 whole ham hock
1 lb pork belly, skin removed, cut into large cubes
10.5 oz. pancetta, cut into small cubes
4 legs duck confit
4 pork sausages
1 – 28 oz canned tomatoes (diced or whole)
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
100-200 oz. white chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1-2½ tablespoons duck fat
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Salt: to taste
Part I: Cooking the Meat
In a large cast iron Dutch oven-style casserole dish (I enjoy working with Le Creuset cookware, as it is sturdy, reliable, and great looking), melt the duck fat over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and brown on all sides until nicely caramelized, remove from the dish, and set aside. Keeping the fat, add the pork belly to the casserole and brown on all sides, remove, and set aside as well. Now add the pork sausage and brown slowly on all sides, remove, and, again, set aside. Once cooled, cut the sausage into three or four chunks. Do not discard rendered fat; keep warm on the stove in casserole dish.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Reduce the heat to medium low and add the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic to the rendered fat. Sweat and gently caramelize the vegetables, about five minutes. (This will allow the natural sugar from the vegetables to enhance the flavour of the dish.) Once the veggies are nicely browned, add the white wine and reduce the broth by half. Pour in the canned tomatoes and once simmering, add the pork belly, ham hock, thyme, and bay leaves. Stir in enough chicken stock to cover all ingredients. Return cassoulet to a simmer, cover, and transfer to a pre-warmed oven. Bake for about 2.5 hours.
Once the meat is very tender, remove the casserole from oven, cool slightly, and scoop the meat from the broth, setting the pieces aside (you have now a rich broth full of flavours that you will be use to cook the beans). Cover the meat and keep the casserole full of broth. Once cool enough to handle, shred the ham hock, discard the skin, and set aside to join the pork belly, the pancetta, and pork sausages. Be sure to remove the thyme sprigs from both meat and broth.
Part II: Cooking the Beans
After soaking overnight, drain the beans and rinse under cold water. Add the beans into the cassoulet broth and add more chicken stock to cover if needed. Cover partially and simmer until the beans are tender but still hold their shape, approximately 45 minutes (but keep an eye on them). Once ready, remove from the heat and allow the liquid and beans to cool. Once cool, strain the beans (and vegetables), setting aside the liquid and the bean/vegetable mixture in separate bowls.
Part III: Assembling the Cassoulet
Gently season the cooked beans and vegetables with salt & pepper to taste. Spoon half of the beans and veggies into the cast iron casserole to form an even layer. Arrange all the meat except the duck confit in the casserole, and then top with the remaining bean/vegetable mixture. Pour the broth from the beans over the cassoulet, filling the casserole half-full.
Part IV: Baking the Cassoulet
Transfer the cassoulet to a pre-warmed oven, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, uncovered, for about 45 minutes.
Toss the chopped parsley, breadcrumbs, and olive oil with salt and pepper.
After 45 minutes, remove the cassoulet from oven and spread the parsley and breadcrumb mixture over the meat and beans. Return to the oven and continue baking for another 45 minutes, until the crumbs start to brown and the beans are sizzling around the edges of the dish. (If needed, brown the breadcrumbs by broiling them during the last few minutes. Keep an eye on the cassoulet if you do decide to broil the breadcrumbs, as this step will make the breadcrumbs go dark quite quickly.)
During the cassoulet’s final 45-minute baking cycle, crisp the duck leg confit on the stove, skin side down, in an oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Make sure the skillet is hot (and coated in duck fat) so the legs don’t stick. Once nicely browned on the skin side, flip duck onto the meat side and transfer the skillet into the same oven as the cassoulet for about ten minutes.
Part V: Serving the Cassoulet
Remove the cassoulet and the duck confit from the oven and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the legs at the joints (separating the drumsticks and thighs) and arrange them on top of the cassoulet. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.
A perfect pre-dinner drink, The Boulevardier helps warm the soul, encourage lively conversation, and prep the palate for the dinner to come.
1 ½ oz Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
1 oz Campari
1 oz Sweet Vermouth (Cinzano)
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into coupe/cocktail glass.
Orange peel, squeezed gently to express its oils the over drink.
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