"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tartar Sauce

I've followed this recipe for Tartar Sauce at least five times, and it always irritates me so much that I just don't want to write about it.

Why? I hear you cry...What, Melissa, could be so irritating about tartar sauce?

Because there are five thousand ingredients in it, and the head notes are so chirpy, telling us that each little ingredient contributes its own important burst of flavor.

Also, because it calls for chervil. What is it about chervil? I know the Brits love it--it's in practically every recipe in my Victory Garden Cookbook, but it's just not an herb you find over here--not in the nurseries to plant, not in the supermarkets in the fresh herb section, and usually not even in the dried herb section.

But my number two cooking client wanted tartar sauce with her scallops, so after inventorying my fridge for the five thousand ingredients, off I went to the supermarket with list in hand.

So (tangential comment here) here's the tricky thing about a personal cheffing job. What ingredients do you charge your client for, and what ingredients do you pay for yourself? If Catharine only needs 1.5 tablespoons of sweet relish in her tartar sauce, do I have her pay for the whole bottle? The rest of it goes into my fridge, where it will never get used because I hate sweet relish, but maybe somebody else will eat it.

Ideally I'd be cooking in her home where all this stuff would go into HER fridge, but I'm not and it doesn't. What I end up doing is sort of splitting it--I have her pay for about half the ingredients (that are "pantry" ingredients) and I pay for the other half, and they stay with me. Obviously if she wants lamb chops, she foots that bill.

So I came home with capers. I came home with fresh dill. I came home with the damn chervil, dried in a bottle.

And you know what chervil smells like? Grass. I could have raked up some lawn clippings from next door and gotten the same effect--and for free instead of 4.99.

And then, D'oh!--the dill pickles I thought I had in the back of the fridge turned out to be hot cherry peppers. Well, that certainly won't do for a dinner party of senior citizens, so my tartar sauce lacked dill pickles--though it's still the closest I've come to having the complete roster of ingredients.

This recipe is not on epicurious, and the book is in my car (did I ever tell you I travel with it? Seriously, I do. I cart it around everywhere. And with the stickies in it, my friend Elizabeth says it looks like a big yellow Bible.) so I can't list the five thousand ingredients, but let me try from memory and I'll see how close I've come later.

dill pickles
sweet relish
chopped capers
fresh dill
dried tarragon
dried chervil
chopped yolk from hard boiled egg
lemon juice
chopped onion
dijon mustard

I feel like I've left a few things out, but you get the idea. That's at least five thousand, isn't it?

(EDIT: not only did I remember all the ingredients, I added one! Lemon juice is not in the recipe, but maybe it should be. I love lemon juice.)


Jessica said...

That is really interesting! I made the TJOC tarter sauce in the beginning of my blog and I thought it was so easy--I pretty much already had everything :) But of course, TJOC doesn't call for items like chervil!

Here was my post (I think this was my first or second post and I almost lit the kitchen on fire):


Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Ha!--the romantic effects of smoke in the kitchen! Pretty funny.

Glad you had a better experience with yours--Gourmet gives you options on the herbs...fresh or dried, and I think that after a day or two in the fridge the flavors would really bloom. I'm sure I'm not giving chervil the chance it deserves. I'm still not sure what hard-boiled egg yolk adds to the whole experience, but what do I know?