De la cuisine: À la Minute
Wow guests with tableside service during your next dinner party
Tableside service (the preparation of a dish by a server at your table) went out of vogue for a while, but according to trendspotters, it’s becoming popular once again. Having an entire meal, from soup to dessert, prepared tableside is something that I do a couple of times a year at a small dinner party. It takes a little preparation and practice to pull it off, but it is well worth the effort. Your guests will love it.
You don’t have to have a gueridon (a movable trolley or table) for tableside dining. I use a cocktail cart on wheels, which is ideal to use for the salad preparation. I also have a portable butane burner that I put on the cart to use for the flamed items.
Let’s begin with a salad — specifically, the Caesar salad, which was historically prepared tableside. Culinary lore tells us that the salad’s creation is generally attributed to restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States. Cardini was living in San Diego but working in Tijuana where he avoided the restrictions of Prohibition. His daughter Rosa (1928–2003) recounted that her father invented the dish when a 4th of July 1924 rush depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the tableside tossing “by the chef.”
A number of Mr. Cardini’s staff have claimed to have invented the dish. Julia Child claimed to have eaten a Caesar salad at Cardini’s restaurant when she was a child in the 1920s.
Nonetheless, the earliest contemporary documentation of Caesar salad is from a 1946 Los Angeles restaurant menu, 20 years after the 1924 origin asserted by the Cardinis.
Emeril’s Caesar Salad
Rub the inside of a large wooden bowl with 2 garlic cloves then finely chop. Add 4 egg yolks, garlic, 6 anchovies and 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard to the bowl. Whisk until incorporated, then add juice of two lemons (about 6 tablespoons). Slowly drizzle 1 cup olive oil while whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper. Gently tear 2 large heads Romaine lettuce (washed, ribbed and patted dry) into bite-size portions and add to the salad bowl. Using a handheld grater, grate 3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into the bowl. Add 12 ounces salad croutons. Toss the salad completely and re-season if necessary. Serve the salad on cold salad plates. Makes about 6 servings
The origin of Steak Diane continues to be a mystery. However, I did learn that the description à la Diane in French cuisine is given to certain game dishes that are dedicated to the goddess Diana, the huntress. Game such as venison is coated with a Sauce Diane which is a highly peppered sauce with cream and truffles. I surmise that perhaps a beef lover (like me) may have substituted steak for game. The first mention of Sauce Diane (as opposed to à la Diane) comes from the culinary icon Auguste Escoffier in 1907. He added hard-cooked egg white to the à la Diane formula. But, the consensus is that the dish was probably created in America, most likely in New York City in the 1950s.
Makes 1 serving
- Freshly-ground black pepper
- 2 (3-ounce) beef tenderloin medallions, lightly pounded to 3/8-inch thick
- 2 cups olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 2 teaspoons Cognac
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 4 ounces demi-glace (available at most supermarkets)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup heavy cream
Season medallions on each side with salt and pepper. Put oil and butter in a skillet and heat until almost smoking. Lay meat in pan until browned, then turn over. Push to one side and add shallots. Stir until fragrant and translucent.
When meat is browned, but still undercooked, transfer to a warm plate and top with another warm plate.
Remove pan from burner, and carefully add Cognac, then return to burner. Tilt pan forward to allow the flame to jump into pan. Reduce heat to medium, then add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Scrape up browned bits and stir to blend.
Add demi-glace and whisk in mustard with a fork. Pour in enough cream to enrich the sauce. Allow mixture to reduce just enough to thicken it, then return meat and its juices to the pan.
When meat has been coated in and warmed with the sauce, transfer to a dinner plate to serve. Small buttered potatoes and julienned carrots (cooked) are ideal sides to serve with this dish.
① Combine 2 eggs, 1 stick (8 tablespoons) melted butter, 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, ¼ cup water, ½ teaspoon salt and 1¼ cups all-purpose flour in a blender. Blend until smooth. The batter should be thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. If it is too thick, add a little more water.
② Lightly oil a small skillet with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil. Heat skillet. When hot, thinly cover with batter. When the edge of the crêpe turns brown and small holes appear (about one minute), flip and cook for about 30 seconds longer. Turn out onto a paper towel and repeat until all the batter is used. Set aside eight crêpes. The rest can be refrigerated or frozen (in between sheets of wax paper) for later use.
③ Combine 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter and ½ cup sugar in a skillet over medium heat, stirring until sugar is caramelized and the color of amber. Add ⅓ cup fresh orange juice, a little at a time, and continue stirring until all juice has been added and mixture is smooth. Reduce heat to simmer. Add crêpes, one by one, placing each flat in the pan, and spooning the sauce over it. Fold the crêpes in half and in half again to form triangles. When all the crêpes have been sauced and folded, add 3 tablespoons brandy and ignite carefully. Spoon the flaming sauce over the crêpes until the flames are extinguished. Serve two crêpes per person with some of the sauce.
Makes 4 servings
TIP: Have all your ingredients measured out, and be sure to have the necessary equipment (like the hand grater) at the ready. This is called mise en place (everything in its place).