A Lent-Approved Valentine’s Day Menu
There will be leftovers of the soup and dessert, which can be served again at another meal.
Valentine’s Day this year is the day after Mardi Gras, which is Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), declared by the Catholic church as a day of fasting and abstinence. So much for my favorite Valentine’s Day meal — Chateaubriand pour deux — a center cut of beef fillet cooked to medium-rare and drizzled with luscious béarnaise sauce.
I scanned my brain for some ideas for a meatless but special menu. Bingo. I recalled the scene in Sheila Bosworth’s 1996 novel “Almost Innocent” where two of the main characters, Rand and Airey, perform a yearly ritual. On Ash Wednesday, they would attend noon mass together at St. Louis Cathedral, have their foreheads crossed with ashes, then go to Antoine’s for a “white lunch” which consisted of “vichyssoise, accompanied by vodka martinis, followed by filet de truite au vin blanc, pommes de terre soufflés, a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé, and for dessert, Baked Alaska.”
Somehow this rite made a great impression on me when I read the book back in the ‘80s, and since then whenever I’m in a dither about what to serve for dinner on a Friday evening during the Lenten season, this menu gives me inspiration. If I’m not in the mood for vichyssoise, oyster and artichoke soup is substituted. Rather than Baked Alaska, I often choose crème brulee. When I can’t get my hands on a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé, I settle for a Pinot Grigio.
That said, this is my chosen menu this year for my husband and me on sweethearts’ day.
Broiled Trout with Lemon Butter
This is as simple as it gets and I believe there is nothing better than perfectly broiled fish. You can use trout or any firm white fish such as red snapper, grouper, red fish, and yes, even a nice fillet of flounder. To clarify the butter, melt it over very low heat until the liquid becomes clear and the solids sink to the bottom of the pan. Carefully skim off the clear liquid and leave any solids in the bottom of the pan.
6 trout (or any firm white fish) fillets, each about 8 ounces
Salt and cayenne, to taste
1 stick butter, melted and clarified
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons Lea & Perrins marinade for chicken
1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Preheat the broiler.
Season the fish with salt and cayenne. Place in a shallow baking dish. Combine the butter, lemon juice, and Lea & Perrins. Pour over the fish. Broil for about 5 to 6 minutes, then turn the fish over with a spatula. Scatter the onion slices evenly over the fish and broil for 3 to 5 minutes longer. Watch carefully so as not to overcook. The fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork. Serve with pan juices.
Makes 6 servings
" for the soup: You should have about ½ cup oyster liquor, but if you don’t, add enough water to the liquor to make ½ cup. Garnish each bowl of soup with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. "
Oyster and Artichoke Soup
1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add ¾ cup chopped onions, ½ cup chopped green onions and ¾ cup chopped celery and cook, stirring, until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 6 tablespoons butter and allow to melt while stirring.
2. Add 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour and whisk to blend. Slowly add 3 cups warm chicken broth, whisking to blend. The mixture will thicken. Add 2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning mix, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves and ¼ teaspoon paprika. (I usually make this in advance to set aside until ready to serve.)
3. Reheat the mixture to allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes. Then add 1 pint shucked Louisiana oysters with their liquor (if possible, you want to have about ½ cup liquor), 1 (14-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley.
Cook until the oysters curl, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve hot.
Makes 6 servings
Crème Brulée (Burnt Cream)
The recipe for the crème brulée (burnt cream) is from my mother. Rather than baking it in individual ramekins, she preferred using a baking dish. While the brulée is under the broiler, watch carefully so that it doesn’t burn.
1. Reheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine 8 egg yolks and ½ cup sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat for 3 to 4 minutes with an electric mixer or until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Heat 1 quart heavy cream in a saucepan until small bubbles begin to form around the edges. Do not boil. Slowly pour cream into egg mixture, beating constantly. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.
2. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a baking dish. Place baking dish in a shallow pan. Add boiling water into the second pan until the water comes halfway up the sides of the custard dish. Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Refrigerate for two hours.
3. Allow custard to come to room temperature. Set the oven broiler to its highest setting. Evenly sprinkle the top of the custard with ½ cup sugar. Place in the broiler three inches from top for about 4 minutes or until the sugar forms a crust. Let cool and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings