Friday Cookbook Review: “Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine”

“Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine – The Inn at Little Washington”, Patrick O’Connell, Bulfinch Press, 2004

Every time I feel like throwing in the kitchen towel, I reach for this cookbook.  Like most Americans, Patrick O’Connell learned how to cook from cookbooks, a truly self-taught talent.  He combined that talent with an imagination so fertile, so creative that he has elevated American cuisine to that of haute cuisine, and in doing so, established his restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, as one of the best in the world.  read the complete review here

His knack, and the reason this cookbook is so successful, is for taking a recipe that might appear to be beyond one’s skill level, and breaking it down to several, easy steps, resulting in an every day dish, slightly turned on its ear to be made exceptional. This seafood recipe is a perfect example. Set aside enough time enjoy each flavorful step.

A Crab Cake “Sandwich” with Fried Green Tomatoes and Tomato Vinaigrette
Serves 6

For the cakes:

1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, well picked over
1 egg
7T Dijon mustard
5T mayonnaise
3T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2t Old Bay seasoning
1/2t cayenne pepper
1/2t celery salt
6T peeled, finely chopped roasted red peppers
2T celery leaves, chopped
1C cracker crumbs, preferably Ritz Kosher
salt to taste
1/2C all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter

In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg, mustard, mayo, lemon juice, Old Bay, cayenne pepper and celery salt. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the red pepper and celery leaves. Gently fold in the crab and cracker crumbs, being careful not to break up the crab. Season with salt. Chill for at least 30 minutes to allow the crumbs to absorb some of the moisture.

Divide crab mixture into six portions. Roll each one into a ball, dust with flour and press lightly into a cake. The crab cakes may be prepared ahead of time, kept covered in refrigerator for several hours until ready to cook.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Fry the crab cakes for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown; remove from skillet and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a low-temperature oven while you prepare the fried green tomatoes.

For the tomatoes:

1C all-purpose flour
1T kosher salt
1/4t freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs
2T water
2C Panko breadcrumbs
1T Cajun seasoning
3 large green tomatoes, cored and cut into 12, 1/4″ thick slices
1/2C olive oil
6 rosemary sprigs

In medium bowl, combine flour, 1/2T of the salt and the pepper. In a second bowl, beat the eggs with 2T of water. In a third bowl, combine the Panjo breadcrumbs, Cajun seasoning and the rest of the salt.

Dredge each tomato slice in the seasoned flour until evenly coated, then into the egg mixture (allowing the excess egg to drip off), and, finally, into the seasoned breadcrumbs. Place the breaded tomato slices on a large plate or baking sheet. The breaded tomato slices may be prepared ahead of time and kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4C of the olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Lower the heat to medium, carefully slip 6 of the tomato slices into the hot oil and fry from 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown; remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a low-temperature oven. Repeat with remaining olive oil and tomato slices.

To serve, sandwich each crab cake between two slices of fried green tomato. Slice each sandwich in half with a serrated knife and spear each half with a rosemary sprig. Place the sandwich on each of 6 serving plates and splash Tomato Vinaigrette (recipe below) around each sandwich. Garnish with a spoonful of Sweet Corn Relish (recipe below) and good quality waffle potato chips.

Tomato Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 Cup

1 ripe tomato, cored
2T white wine vinegar
1T tomato paste
1 egg yolk
2t kosher salt
1t sugar
1/4C extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the tomato, vinegar, tomato paste, egg yolk and sugar until smooth. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. The vinaigrette may be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Sweet Corn Relish
Serves 6

5 ears fresh sweet corn
1/4C diced red bell pepper
1/4C diced green bell pepper
1T seeded and minced fresh jalapeno pepper
1/4C diced red onion
2T chopped fresh cilantro
2T chopped fresh tarragon
1/4C Tarragon Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Shuck corn, brushing off all silk. Strip the kernels from ears with sharp knife. You should have about 5 cups. Fill a 4 quart saucepan half full of water, bring to boil. Add the corn, boil for 2 minutes or until the kernels are barely tender. Strain corn, place in large mixing bowl.

Add red, green and jalapeno peppers, red onion, cilantro, tarragon and Tarragon Vinaigrette. Mix with a rubber spatula to combine thoroughly. Season with sugar, salt and pepper.  The relish may be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The flavor actually improves if the relish is made several hours ahead of time.

Tarragon Vinaigrette
Makes 2 cups

1t dry mustard
2T minced fresh tarragon or 1 1/2t dried tarragon
1/2t minced garlic
1/2t chopped shallot
1t salt
1T fresh lemon juice
2t raspberry vinegar
1/3C red wine vinegar of good quality
1C extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a large stainless steel bowl. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator and shake well or whisk thoroughly before serving.

photo courtesy nationalgeographic.com

Kent McDonald is a Certified Personal Chef, living and working in Phoenix, AZ. (c) All Rights Reserved, 2009

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