Reconstructing restaurant dishes at home is a time-honored way to improve one’s chops in the kitchen. Rather than slavishly following a recipe, the reconstruction relies on gumshoe detective work, a perilous need for improvisation, and a willingness to see the whole thing go up in flames.
Sometimes it works out. One of my best reconstructions to date is this Broiled Halibut with Licorice Fern Beurre Blanc, Truffle Butter & Root Medley.
Other times a restaurant dish can be utterly baffling in its preparation. Lucky for me, the menu at Sitka & Spruce the other night included enough clues to allow for a high probability of reconstruction success. The dish in question was written as “gratin of chanterelles, parsnips, celeriac, chard & salted pork.” That’s a generous quantity of info. I added mascarpone, since it obviously had cream of some sort, a few herbs and spices, and breadcrumbs, which were also plain to see on top. My other addition, which clearly wasn’t in Sitka’s preparation, was cauliflower mushrooms, which I used together with chanterelles (look closely at the photo and you can barely make out my car’s luggage rack; this specimen was hiding mere yards from the road).
What I didn’t have was the method, but a little online sleuthing gave me a sense of how I should proceed. The end result was nearly as good as the original: a nice balance between the savoriness of the pork with the sweetness of the chanterelles and parsnips, and a textural continuum that started with creamy and finished with a pleasing, though not overwhelming, crunch.
Next time I do this dish I won’t bother to blanche the root vegetables; they’re cut small enough to soften between the initial pan-cooking and the final baking. Also, I’ll make sure the breadcrumbs are not so fine for added crunchiness. Overall, this is a definite keeper and a great use for chanterelles, which should be used generously.
1 cup celery root, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup parsnip, cut into rounds and half-rounds
1 loose cup salt pork, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 leek, white part only, diced
1 lb wild mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 tbsp butter
1 cup shredded chard
1 tbsp fresh thyme
olive oil for sauté
1. Blanche celery root and parsnip in boiling water for a few minutes, until not quite fork tender. Drain and set aside. Note: this step can be omitted if root vegetables are cut to specification.
2. Meanwhile, sauté salt pork in a lightly oiled pan over medium heat, allowing fat to render and meat to brown until edges are crispy.
3. Add diced leek and cook together until soft.
4. Add wild mushrooms and cook several minutes, until mushrooms release their water and all liquid is cooked off. Remove mixture to a bowl.
5. In same pan, melt butter over medium heat and add blanched root vegetables. Cook until lightly browned, turning a few times with a spatula.
6. Return pork-leek-mushroom mixture to pan. Add vegetable stock and allow to cook down. Next add mascarpone and stir together. Mix in shredded chard. Season with thyme and several gratings of nutmeg. Adjust for salt. Consistency should be creamy, even slightly soupy. Increase stock or mascarpone if necessary.
7. Spoon into greased ramekins, cover with breadcrumbs (preferable homemade), and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, checking to make sure top doesn’t burn.
Makes 4 small ramekins. Serve with good bread and defibrillator.