CALIFORNIA CUISINE IN FRANCE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Mary Jo Thoresen, sous pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., knows what it's like to travel light: an extra pair of jeans and shoes, a sweater, the essential toiletries.

Befitting a pastry chef, her main luggage recently contained dough, prepared several days before departure, frozen and then packed especially for her trip from San Francisco to Bordeaux, France.

When she reached the maximum allowed weight on her airline ticket, the 36 pounds of pate sucre and 15 pounds each of pistachios and almonds were simply divided among fellow travelers -- chef Peggy Smith and her assistant Michael Sullivan and other staff from Chez Panisse, so no extra baggage fees had to be paid.

The food-ladden travelers were part of a team that recently cooked California style to showcase California wines at VINEXPO, the wine industry's largest international trade show, which this year drew a record number of 2,100 exhibitors from 33 countries and nearly 50,000 visitors.

"We really do have a unique cuisine that combines the freshest produce of our abundant soil with an amazing variety of ethnic tastes from the many groups that make up California," said Axel Fabre, the French-born Californian who managed the California Grill. The restaurant, housed in a tent just outside the main exhibition hall, served 200 each day and turned away 100 more, according to Ms. Fabre.

Depending on your perspective, California is either at the beginning or at the end of the Pacific rim, which was the restaurant's theme for this year's VINEXPO event. Shiso (from the Japanese aromatic mint leaf family), ginger, nori and coriander found their way into a variety of first-course fish dishes like shiso fish salad with frisee and radicchio or pan-fried scallops with lemon grass butter. Other Oriental seasonings flavored main courses: star anise for roasted duck breast or sesame seeds for garlic lamb with grilled eggplant. "However, any Thai, Japanese or Chinese would find our dishes extremely tame on the seasoning end," said Ms. Smith. After all, she affirmed, the main requirement for all dishes was to let the wines shine.

California, of course, has led the country toward a cooking style that favors the intense, direct flavors of fresh, natural ingredients without butter and cream sauces -- a "lite" cuisine, meaning low in fat and calories. It is a style California vintners have adopted as a wine country cuisine. A number of wineries, such as Robert Mondavi, Beringer and Cakebread Cellars, each year invite well-known chefs to design meals around the Asian, Southwest and Mediterranean traditions to showcase California wines as a healthful approach to eating.

One item Ms. Thoresen did not carry in her suitcase was the 95 pounds of fresh salmon flown in from California on the night before it was served for the last day's menu. In that menu, reproduced here, the salmon may either be poached or pan-fried (no extra oil needed since the fish already has enough). It was served with a light mustard sauce over pieces of fresh cucumber that provided both a contrast in texture and a reinforcement of the delicate salmon. And a slightly chilled sauvignon blanc with its "grassy" vegetal quality will further heighten light flavors, guaranteed to cool as well as any breeze off the Pacific rim.

Menu

Poached salmon

with sweet mustard sauce

Wine: Simi Winery, Sonoma

County, Sauvignon Blanc 1989

Sesame garlic lamb

with grilled eggplant

Wine: Cakebread Cellars,

Rutherford Reserve, Napa Valley,

Cabernet Sauvignon 1985

Gingered peach crisp

Coffee

Poached salmon with sweet mustard sauce

Serves four.

4 4-ounce salmon fillets (fresh and boneless)

1 tablespoon Chinese mustard

3/4 cup mayonnaise (homemade works best, with just a little bit of sesame oil added to the base)

1/2 teaspoon honey

2 lemons juiced

1 pound fresh spinach

1 1/2 quart court bouillon

The court bouillon serves as the poaching liquid for the salmon. It is easy and fast to make, and it adds a softness to the salmon. Simply put 1 1/4 quart water, 1 cup white wine, 3 slices of fresh lemon, a few sprigs of parsley and a bit of tarragon in your poaching pan. Bring this mixture to a simmer and let it simmer for 5 minutes. At this point the court bouillon is ready for poaching.

Once the spinach is washed and the court bouillon is ready, you should prepare the sweet mustard sauce. This will allow the flavors time to come together before you serve it.

The mustard sauce is a mixture of the Chinese mustard, mayonnaise, honey and the juice from one lemon. Right before the sauce is served, you thin it with a little of the cooled poaching liquid. The poaching liquid will not only allow the sauce to coat the fish more evenly but provides a little depth to the sauce itself.

To poach the fish, bring the court bouillon up to a simmer. Carefully place the salmon pieces into the liquid so they do not overlap each other. Cook the salmon at a simmer for anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. (What you are looking for is the fish to be just cooked through. Be careful not to overcook the salmon or let the poaching liquid begin to boil.)

While the salmon is cooking, you should dress the spinach salad. Place the spinach in a bowl and add the juice of one lemon, 2 tablespoons of the sauce, salt and pepper. Mix the dressing thoroughly with the spinach, being careful not to break the leaves. Take the dressed spinach and place it on the plate, leaving an area in the center of the plate for the salmon.

The sauce at this point should be carefully thinned with a little of the poaching liquid. To do this, the liquid is slowly whisked into the sauce base. Add only enough liquid to make the reach the consistency of a butter sauce. Then spoon the sauce spooned over the salmon, and drizzle a little of the sauce over the spinach as well.

If you want to serve the salmon cold, be sure to cover it carefully before placing it in the refrigerator. Salmon is very delicate, and will easily pick up any lingering flavors.

Sesame garlic lamb

Serves four.

This is a fun way to add a new twist to a lamb main course. The method used for the sauce can easily be adapted to other main course meats. The sauce can be made in advance and reheated right before serving.

4 double lamb chops

MARINADE:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1 sprig of thyme

2 sprigs of parsley

2 yellow onions, thinly sliced

1/2 head of garlic

SAUCE:

5 pounds of lamb bones

2 carrots, chopped

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 sprigs parsley

1 sprig fresh thyme

2 tablespoons butter, unsalted and softened

1/2 head of garlic

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

To make the marinade: This simple marinade for the lamb really adds flavor to the whole dish. The lamb should sit in the marinade at room temperature for a hour before cooking.

Add the olive oil, the lemon, 1 sprig thyme, 2 sprigs of parsley, 2 yellow onions and 1/2 head of thinly sliced garlic together. (It should be a fairly chunky mixture.) Add the lamb chops to this marinade, making sure that all area surfaces are covered. It also helps if the lamb is rotated occasionally.

To make the lamb sauce: Roast the lamb bones in a hot oven until they are nicely browned. Remove them from the roasting pan and place them in pot to be used to make stock. Deglaze fat in the roasting pan with a little water. Pour the resulting liquid into the stockpot and fill the rest of the pot with cool water. (There should be at least enough room for 3 quarts of water.) Add the carrot, the onion, 2 sprigs of parsley and the thyme to the stockpot. Bring the stock up to a slow simmer and cook for 2 hours. If the liquid level seems to fall too low, water can be added while the stock is cooking. Once the stock has cooked and has a clear lamb flavor, it should be strained, removing all the liquid to a smaller pot. Reduce the liquid until it's a little less than half its original volume. Let the sauce sit, off heat, until you are ready to finish it.

While the stock is reducing, peel half a head of garlic. Place the peeled cloves in a small pan with a little water and olive oil to cover, cover and bake in the oven until soft and tender. (This cooked garlic is one of the elements, along with the butter, that thickens the sauce before serving.) The garlic should be checked periodically to make sure there is enough moisture in the pan to keep it from burning.

When it is time to finish the sauce, bring the reduced stock to a boil and whisk in the the butter. Reduce the heat and slowly whisk in the baked garlic. Taste the sauce while you're adding the garlic so it doesn't get too garlicky for your taste. If the sauce has the desired garlic flavor but seems a bit thin, whisk in a little more butter to thicken. Once the sauce has the desired thickness, stir in the toasted sesame seeds. It should now be ready for serving.

This sauce goes very well with lamb chops, which are grilled over a medium-high heat. Make sure to wipe the marinade from the lamb to keep the lamb from flaming during the grilling.

To finish: Cook chops to the desired temperature and serve with FTC the sauce spooned over them. Serve with grilled eggplant and sauteed green beans.

Grilled eggplant

Serves four.

Grilling eggplant is a delicious way to serve this vegetable. When the eggplant is grilled, it brings out a nutty flavor that is sometimes unnoticeable.

2 large globe eggplants, sliced 1/4 inch thick lengthwise

olive oil

salt

pepper

Brush the surface area of the sliced eggplant with olive oil on both sides. Salt and pepper both sides of the eggplant as well.

Cook the eggplant over a medium hot fire on the grill, taking care to get some nice grill marks on each side of the eggplant. The texture of the eggplant should be firm on the outside but soft throughout. It cooks swiftly, so it can be prepared right before serving.

Peach crisp

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

The next recipe is adapted from "Chez Panisse Desserts," by Lindsey Shreve.

1 recipe crisp topping with walnuts or without nuts (recipe below)

4 pounds firm ripe peaches

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon sugar, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped candied ginger

2 cups heavy cream

Make the crisp topping. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Halve, peel and pit the peaches and cut them into slices about 1/2 inch thick. You should have about 8 cups. Toss them with the flour and the sugar. (You will need the sugar only if the peaches are tart. Remember, the topping is sweet.) Spread the peaches in a 2-quart gratin dish or pie plate and sprinkle evenly with topping. You may not need the full amount; use your own judgment. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the topping is evenly brown and the peach juices bubble thickly around the edges. If the topping is brown before the peaches are cooked through, lay a piece of foil loosely over the top while the crisp finished baking.

F: Serve warm with a pitcher of heavy cream to pour over.

Crisp topping

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1/2 cup walnuts

7/8 cup flour

1/3 cup brown sugar

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup salted butter, slightly softened

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Toast the walnuts in a 350-degree oven for 4 to 6 minutes. Cook and chop coarsely in a food processor or by hand into chunks about 3/4 inch wide. (If the pieces are larger they will burn while the crisp bakes.) Put flour, sugars and cinnamon in a bowl. Work the slightly softened butter in with your hands by rubbing pieces of it lightly and quickly between your fingers, or cut in with a pastry blender. When the mixture is beginning to hold together and look crumbly, work in the cooled walnuts and sesame seeds.

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