Friday, April 28, 2006

"Merci beaucoup!"

Okay, one last word on Philippe de Vienne for the time being.

A couple of months ago we had the pleasure of attending one of the De Viennes' fantastic workshops/seminars on spices. Philippe de Vienne has an absolutely dynamic personality, he loves talking about food, and he's an excellent teacher. If you get a chance to take one of his workshops or classes (you can sign up for them at Olives et Épices or La Dépense) you really should, but you have to be on the ball because they get booked up very quickly. Anyway, one of the many charming things about De Vienne (and you can see this in his appearances on À la Di Stasio, too) is that his enthusiasm is so great for his topic--honest, quality cuisine with bold flavors--that he has a tendency to rattle off one recipe idea after another recipe idea after another, all of them tempting. In the language of the street, he just freestyles them. His passion for food is so great, and he's so full of ideas that it's as if they just come spilling out. When he's riffing like this, from time to time he'll talk about more involved recipes that require real patience and attention, but for the most part he leans towards recipes that are relatively simple, that feature the pronounced flavors he loves, and that pay off big on the satisfaction scale. The ones that fall under this latter category--the real showstoppers--De Vienne frequently brings to a close with a crisp, resounding "Merci beaucoup!"--a "Merci beaucoup!" that simultaneously means "that's all there is to it," "satisfaction guaranteed," and "you can invite me over for this anytime." Over the course of the three hours that we were at his studio for that workshop De Vienne fired off recipes for everything from Mexican shrimp with Pasilla de Oaxaca to Paté Chinois à la Ethné to Bengali grilled fish. The one that probably got us the most immediately excited, though, was De Vienne's shorthand recipe for Chicken Berbère: garlic, Berbère spices, butter, lemon juice, salt, mix together and rub into the skin of a roasting chicken, place the chicken in a roasting pan on a bed of onions, bake it in the oven for an hour... Merci beaucoup!

De Vienne mentioned that the same basic formula could also be used to make other dishes, including some pretty mean shrimp, so a couple of weeks later I tried it. I shelled a pound of shrimp, deveined them and butterflied them. I put 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil in a mixing bowl. I added three cloves of minced garlic. I added the juice from 1/2 a lemon, 1 generous tablespoon of Berbère spice mix, and salt and pepper to taste. I then marinated my shrimp in the mixture for 1/2 hour. Then I heated my grill and when the shrimp had finished marinating I grilled them over a medium-hot fire.

Berbère shrimp on the grill

They were medium-sized shrimp so the grilling time was real quick. No more than 2 minutes on one side, 1 minute on the other. Don't overcook them, but blackening them just a bit really adds to the flavor.

Berbère shrimp with rapini and basmati rice

When I served my "shrimp Berbère" everyone went crazy. The cats, my parents, Michelle, everyone. In short, we're talking beaucoup "Merci beaucoup." The only complaint was that I hadn't bought 3 pounds of shrimp instead of the measly 1 pound I did buy. Oh, well, next time.


P.S. Since some of you have asked...

The " endless banquet" top 6 favorite Philippe de Vienne spice mixes (in no particular order):

1. 8-pepper blend
2. Berbère spice mix
3. Panch Phoran
4. Ras el Hanout
5. Garam Masala
6. Dukkha spice blend

Other "musts" from the Philippe de Vienne épices de cru collection (again, in no particular order)

1. Tellicherry Extra Bold black pepper
2. Pasilla de Oaxaca
3. Lucknow fennel
4. Cubeb pepper
5. true cinnamon
6. Grenada nutmeg


Anonymous said...

Hi Anthony,

We made a Brazilian meal the other night that included baked black beans with onions, peppers, and cilantro. On a lark, I decide to add the berbère spice mix to the pot-- wow! It added a real depth to the flavor. Try it sometime.



aj kinik said...

Hi Karina,
I'm glad you've already been inspired by that Berbère blend. Let me know when you get around to making the shrimp. And don't forget to try making lentils with it, too. You won't regret it.