Menu Alsace: Sandre en Choucroute a l’Ancienne, Beurre Blanc

Last Friday was a good Friday. It was the day after all the stupidity and drama, most of us still disturbed but it was surprisingly calm. For some anyway.

It was about time I was paired with the non-English and non-French speaking girl from the Far East. The obvious language barrier may not have been such an issue if she just read the recipe, or at least clarified any doubts when the Chef sat us down for two hours going over each recipe for the regional menu in detail the day before. I wish I could open her mind and take a sneaky peek to understand what goes on in Ms Impenetrable’s mind. Is she perhaps embarrassed to ask questions so that she doesn’t come across as slow? Maybe. Or that she’s embarrassed about the lack of language comprehension? Maybe. It must frustrate and tire her, as it does the rest of us when we’re lost in translation.

Not too patient by nature, I decide to consciously slow down my speech and use simple words while simultaneously being wary of not coming across as condescending. This was a severe challenge. How do I explain to her that since there are two big fish to filet, and a big cabbage to slice thinly we should go halve-sies on both tasks to get an equal experience of the dish, and not come across as bossy? Perhaps I should give her the option of one person taking care of the fish and the other taking care of the choucroute?

Impenetrable: “Yes, yes, me choucroute!”
Me: “Don’t you think we should each do a bit of both? The fish and the cabbage?”, pursing my lips like a fish, rolling my palms into a leafy ball while frantically moving my arms back and forth between her and myself.
Impenetrable: “Oooh yes yes, me choucroute! Wow.”
Me: “No, no. You one fish and half the cabbage, me one fish and half the cabbage?”
Impenetrable: “Wow. Me choucroute!”
Me: Losing composure, “Umm yeah, (enter expletive) you too.”
Impenetrable: “Wow. Choucroute.”

I am tempted to believe that she likes to pull the “I don’t understand your French or English” card to get away with what she wants. The only way my patience had any chance of not failing me was by tucking myself away in the garde manger with the fish and leaving her to her own devices. Besides, I need the practise.

It was nice, cool and calm in there. I was humming along to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing while attacking the sander (pike-perch) and every now and again when the garde manger’s doors would swing open I’d hear some humourous titbits.

Chef: “What are you doooing with ze carrotes! You no can do ze beeg beeg pieces! Juste brunoise!”

Now humming White Town’s Your Woman, and the door swings open to…

Chef: “Zees is not oignon ciseler! Ooh la la!”

Nirvana’s Come As You Are…

Chef: “Rondeau! Ce n’est pas un rondeau. Beeg, flat, ROND pan. We need rondeau!”

After about four tries she got the rondeau right. My patience was somewhat intact, but the Chef’s was wearing thin. I should’ve stepped in at some point since the damn choucroute should have also been partially my responsibility, but I was having some fishy issues myself.

Me: “Chef, how do I pull out these intestines? They’re strong as bulls.”
Chef: “You pull out ze gills.”
Me: “But they’re so prickly. They sting! How do I pull them out? Not my bare hands surely.”
Chef: “Bah oui…what you theenk? Weeth your hands, of course!”

And with my hands and all my strength I did. It stung. It stank. But I pulled them out. I could see the pricks on my smelly thumb, fingers and palms. To deal with the stench I had the grand idea of rubbing lemon juice over my palms. Unpleasant.

Tarte Flambée

Alsacienne pizza. Not-too-thin, not-too-thick, crispy crust, with onions and bacon lardons. Morish. Delicious.

Escalopes de Foie Gras de Canard Grillee, Sautee Pommes et Raisins, Kougelhopf

I’m so far from appreciating animal livers. I don’t feel like it’s going to happen anytime soon. Apparently it’s like marmite: love it or hate it. Is it even worth me trying to acquire the taste in that case?

The sauteed apples and grapes were delicious, as was the kougelhopf which is a type of briochey/cakey type thing with dried fruits. I got greedy and went for seconds.

Sandre en Choucroute a l’Ancienne, Beurre Blanc

Choucroute wasn’t sour enough for my taste. Chef explained that usually the cabbage is marinated for weeks which gives it the sour taste. The beurre blanc gave it a bit of a dimension to the flat flavour.

The fish was cooked very well (if I may say so myself) but I left the seasoning to Impenetrable and it was inadequate. Watching everyone reach for the salt was gutting after all that work. I finally understood the importance of generous seasoning. Let’s hope Impenetrable did too.

Jarret de Porc Braise Farci de Joue de Cochon Fricassee de Lentilles

Calf and cheek of pig over a bed of lentils. By now I was really full, and was keen on saving belly space for my favourite course, dessert. Besides, pigs don’t particularly excite me unless they’re ground up into unidentifiable meat and stuffed into sausages or formed into hot dogs. This was very visibly chunky bits of calf and face and a massive portion too (making my miniscule tasting bite look even more insignificant).

Assiette de Chocolat

Top left and clockwise: Sorbet Fromage Blanc, Sauce Chocolat, Fondant au Chocolat, Truffle bubbles in batter, Sorbet Chocolat

Phwoaaaaarrrr! I don’t care if the guys in charge had their jewels busted by the Chef over this dish. Chef would not have given them six separate recipes to do if he did not think them capable of undertaking them all. He may have his concerns about their future as pastry chefs but hey, we’re here as cuisiniers anyway!
And for a couple of cuisiniers, this chocolate fair ground on a plate was pretty darn good.

Sandre en Choucroute a l’Ancienne, Beurre Blanc

Sander filets
6 tbsp Clarified butter (ghee)

Choucroute
1/2 white cabbage, finely sliced
2 carrots, brunoise
2 onions, ciseler
2 cloves
20 juniper seeds
1 bouquet garni
150g duck/goose fat
200g pork rind
500g bacon
1/2L white wine vinegar
2L white veal stock

Beurre Blanc
3 Shallots
350g butter
1.5 cups dry white wine
Dash of white vinegar
Salt, pepper

1. Score the skin of the sander filets. Reserve in fridge.
2. Blanche the cabbage in salt and vinegar water. Taste seasoning. Drain and reserve.
3. In a big, round oven-proof pan, heat the duck fat and cook the onions and carrots over a low heat. Reserve.
4. Sautee the cabbage without colouring. Reserve.
5. Put half the bacon and all the rind into the pan. Add the cabbage, a sack of juniper seeds, cloves and black pepper, and cover with white stock.
6. Bring to a boil and add in the remaining bacon.
7. Cook covered in an oven heated to 180C for 1 hour.
8. Make the beurre blanc: Let the shallots sweat and reduce slowly in a saucepan with the dash of vinegar and a dash of white wine. Add in the small cubes of butter and whisk till it reaches a creamy consistency. Don’t overboil as the butter could split. The addition of cold butter to shallots in vinegar and white wine is known as Monter au Beurre.
9. Check the cabbage at 45 minutes. If done, retrieve the spice sack, pork rind and bouquet garni. Add in the onions and carrot brunoise and check seasoning.
10. Season the sander filets well with salt and pepper. In a non-stick pan, heat some ghee and pan-fry skin-side down for a couple of minutes till well-coloured. Spoon over some hot ghee over on the other side but do not flip the filet flesh-side down. FInish cooking in the oven for 3-4 minutes at 180C.
11. Make a bed of choucroute on a plate, spoon over some beurre blanc and place the sander filet over the bed.

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