Chef Thomas Keller's cooking secrets

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Buttermilk Biscuits
Makes 12 biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
  • 11/2 cups buttermilk, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons for brushing
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons (1 to 1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
These biscuits bake up light and fluffy. It's important not to overwork the dough, which would make the biscuits tough. To that end, we pulse the butter and dry ingredients together in a food processor, then turn them out into a bowl and gradually work in the liquids by hand.

You can serve them with some good butter and raspberry jam, and perhaps a sprinkle of fleur de sel, but they're so good you might want to eat them as is, straight out of the oven. We serve these with fried chicken, but they make a good brunch accompaniment and also work as a strawberry shortcake biscuit for dessert (see page 2).

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Combine the salt, baking powder, and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add the chilled butter and pulse several times, until the pieces of butter are no bigger than small peas. Do not overprocess; the dough should not come together.

  3. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and make a well in the center of the ?our mixture. Pour in the buttermilk. Stir and lift the mixture with a sturdy spoon, gently working the ?our into the buttermilk. The dough should begin to come together but not form a solid mass, or the biscuits may be tough.

  4. Dust a work surface with ? our and turn out the dough. Pat the dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle. Using a 21/2-inch round cutter, cut out the biscuits. (If the cutter sticks to the dough, dip the cutter in ?our before cutting.) Place the biscuits on the baking sheet. The dough trimmings can be gently pushed together, patted out, and cut one more time; do not overwork the dough.

  5. Brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with buttermilk. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until a rich golden brown. As soon as you remove the biscuits from the oven, brush the tops with melted butter. Serve warm.
Cream of cauliflower soup with red beet chips
Serves 6 (makes about 2 quarts)
  • 2 heads cauliflower (4 to 5 pounds total)
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Yellow Curry Powder (page 336) or Madras curry powder
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups water
  • Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
  • 1 medium red beet
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • Torn Croutons (page 274)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
The unctuous, velvety, creamy texture of this soup is so elegant and satisfying. Curry offsets the richness and cauliflower florets, croutons, and beet chips give the soup some body and crunch.

Preparation:
  1. Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, and cut out the core. Trim of the stems and reserve them. For the garnish, trim 2 cups florets about the size of a quarter and set aside.

  2. Coarsely chop the remaining cauliflower and the stems into 1-inch pieces so that they will cook in the same amount of time. You need 8 cups of cauliflower (reserve any extra for another use).

  3. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, curry, and coarsely chopped cauliflower, season with 2 teaspoons salt, cover with a parchment lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are almost tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard the parchment lid.

  4. Pour in the milk, cream, and water, increase the heat to medium- high, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming o? the foam from time to time.

  5. Working in batches, transfer the cauliflower mixture to a Vita-Mix (leave an opening in the lid for the steam to escape). Begin pureeing the cauliflower on the lowest speed and blend, slowly increasing the speed, until smooth and velvety. Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed. Transfer to a large saucepan and keep warm. (The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

  6. Fill a small deep pot with 1 inch of peanut oil and heat over medium heat to 300°F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line the rack with paper towels.

  7. While the oil heats, peel the beet and slice of about H inch from the top. Using a Japanese mandoline or other vegetable slicer, slice the beet into rounds that are slightly thicker than paper-thin. Reserve only the full rounds.

  8. Carefully add a few beet rounds to the oil and fry, turning them with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon as the edges begin to curl and pressing gently on the chips to keep them submerged.

  9. You will see a great deal of bubbling around the beets as the moisture in them evaporates; when the bubbling stops, after 1 to 1H minutes, the beets will be crisp.

  10. Transfer the beets to the paper-towel-lined rack and season with salt.

  11. Fry the remaining chips in batches. The chips can be kept warm in a low oven.

  12. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the vinegar and the reserved cauliflower florets and blanch until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. The vinegar will help keep the cauliflower white. Drain.

  13. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a rich golden brown. Add the florets and sauté until a rich golden brown. Set aside.

  14. To serve, reheat the soup. This is a thick soup, but if it seems too thick, add water to thin it to the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  15. Pour the soup into a serving bowl or soup tureen. Top each serving with a few cauliflower florets, several torn croutons, and a stack of beet chips. (If the beet chips sit in the soup, they will become soggy and discolor it.)

  16. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper. Serve the remaining florets, croutons, and chips in separate bowls on the side.
Broccolini salad with burrata cheese
Serves 6
  • 2 pounds broccolini
  • 3 large cremini mushrooms, about 2 inches in diameter
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 cup black Cerignola olives, or other cured olives
  • About 1/2 cup Sherry Vinaigrette
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • One 8-ounce burrata cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Fleur de sel
Burrata is a pouch of fresh mozzarella with a creamy center that's very rich and buttery. It's from Apulia, the heel of Italy's boot, and can be found in Italian markets and cheese shops (see also page 187). Here it's served with broccolini, cremini mushrooms, red onion, and Cerignola olives.

Cerignolas are great-tasting, big meaty olives from Puglia, Italy. They are only lightly cured, so you get good olive flavor as well as a little sweetness.

Preparation:
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (see page 147). Prepare an ice bath. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet and line the rack with paper towels.

  2. With a paring knife, cut off the thick ends of the broccolini stalks and peel the remaining stalks. Blanch the broccolini in batches in the boiling water until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath to stop the cooking, and drain on the paper towels.

  3. Cut off the stems of the mushrooms

  4. Cut the caps into paper-thin slices using a Japanese mandoline or other vegetable slicer or by hand, and transfer to a small bowl.

  5. Cut the onion in half through the equator. Slice one half of the onion into paper-thin rings on the mandoline. Select about 20 of the nicest rings, and reserve the remaining onion for another use.

  6. Cut the flesh of the olives away from the pit (see photo, page 146).

  7. Lay the pieces cut-side-down and cut lengthwise into thin slices.

  8. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Line up the broccolini stalks side by side on the parchment paper (this will allow you to dress and season the broccolini evenly), drizzle with about G cup of the vinaigrette, and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  9. Toss the mushroom slices with about 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper (do not overdress the mushrooms).

  10. Cut away the top nub of the burrata and put it in a shallow serving bowl that just holds it. Holding a pair of scissors vertically, snip an X into the top of the burrata, reaching the soft center. Open the top slightly and drizzle olive oil over and around the cheese.

  11. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and pepper, and place on a serving platter. Arrange the broccolini, mushrooms, olives, and onions on the platter.
Buttermilk fried chicken
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens (see Note on Chicken Size)
  • Chicken Brine cold
For Dredging and Frying
  • Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Coating
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
  • Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish
If there's a better fried chicken, I haven't tasted it. First, and critically, the chicken is brined for 12 hours in a herb-lemon brine, which seasons the meat and helps it stay juicy.

The flour is seasoned with garlic and onion powders, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper. The chicken is dredged in the seasoned flour, dipped in buttermilk, and then dredged again in the flour. The crust becomes almost feathered and is very crisp.

Fried chicken is a great American tradition that's fallen out of favor. A taste of this, and you will want it back in your weekly routine.

Preparation:

  1. Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings (see pages 18-19). Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add in the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

  2. Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air-dry. Let rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

  3. If you have two large pots (about 6 inches deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark and white meat at the same time; if not, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot. Fill the pot with at least 2 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320°F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.

  4. Meanwhile, combine all the coating ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.

  5. Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into the second bowl of coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.

  6. Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

  7. Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. (Putting the pieces skin-side-up will allow excess fat to drain, whereas leaving them skin-side-down could trap some of the fat.) Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks. When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat-side-up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine sea salt.

  8. Turn up the heat and heat the oil to 340°F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat.

  9. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken.
Note on Chicken Size: You may need to go to a farmers' market to get these small chickens. Grocery store chickens often run 3 to 4 pounds. They can, of course, be used in this recipe but if chickens in the 2 1/2- to 3-pound range are available to you, they're worth seeking out.

They're a little easier to cook properly at the temperatures we recommend here and, most important, pieces this size result in the optimal meat-to-crust proportion, which is such an important part of the pleasure of fried chicken.

Note: We let the chicken rest for 7 to 10 minutes after it comes out of the fryer so that it has a chance to cool down. If the chicken has rested for longer than 10 minutes, put the tray of chicken in a 400°F oven for a minute or two to ensure that the crust is crisp and the chicken is hot.

Lemon bars with meringue
Makes 8 large bars

Crust

  • 10 1/2 tablespoons (51/4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste (see Sources, page 346) or pure vanilla extract
  • 13/4 cups all-purpose flour
Filling
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 6 large eggs
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 11/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 9 tablespoons (41/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks, at room temperature
Meringue Lemon bars and their cousins, lemon tart and lemon meringue pie, are among my favorite desserts. After assembling the bars, we freeze them. This makes them easy to slice and serve, and it also gives the lemon curd a great texture-somewhat firm but amazingly creamy-and the bars deliver a pleasing chill on the palate.

You can make these several days ahead and keep them frozen. We usually finish the bars with piped meringue, but you can omit that and just serve them with some sweetened whipped cream or a dusting of powdered sugar. If you are making the meringue, you'll need a propane torch to brown the top-a broiler just doesn't give you the kind of control you need.

Miniature kitchen torches are available at specialty stores, but regular all-purpose propane torches are inexpensive and available at any hardware store-you'll find lots of uses for one in the kitchen besides browning meringue, such as melting the sugar for crème brûlée or developing a great browned crust on a roast (see page 56).

Preparation:

  1. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer mix on low speed to combine. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the vanilla. Then add the flour about G cup at a time, mixing until just incorporated. The dough should not form a mass, but it should hold together if you squeeze it with your hands.

  2. Transfer the dough to a large piece of parchment paper and pat it into a rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or for up to 2 days; let stand at room temperature to soften slightly before rolling.

  3. Cover the dough with another piece of parchment paper and roll it out to a 12-by-16-inch rectangle. If at any point the dough is too soft to work with, slide it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate briefy. Set out a quarter sheet pan (see Note). Remove the top piece of parchment and invert the dough into the pan.

  4. Fit into the pan, pressing it evenly over the bottom and up the sides; lift the edges to ease the dough into the corners, and let the excess dough hang over the sides of the pan. (The overhanging dough will help anchor the crust and keep it from shrinking as it bakes.) If you see any cracks in the dough, use small pieces from the overhang to patch them. Prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork, and refrigerate for 5 minutes.

  5. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  6. Bake the crust until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking for even browning. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.

  7. Combine the lemon juice, eggs, yolks, and sugar in the top of a double boiler or in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and holds a shape when the whisk is lifted. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter bit by bit.

  8. Strain the curd through a basket strainer into the crust.

  9. Shake the pan gently to distribute the filling evenly.

  10. Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of the pan, spray it with nonstick spray, and lay it over the lemon filling. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and freeze for at least several hours, until frozen solid.

  11. Using a paring knife, scrape off the pastry overhang. Run a palette knife or narrow spatula between the pastry and the sides of the pan to loosen the bars. With a wide spatula, lift the sheet of lemon bars and place on a cutting surface. Slice off the crusts on all four sides. Cut the sheet of bars lengthwise in half and then cut crosswise into quarters to make a total of 8 squares. Use the palette knife to transfer the lemon bars to a large rectangular serving platter, reassembling them into a rectangle.

  12. The lemon bars can be returned to the freezer for up to 2 days on the serving platter or refrigerated for up to 1 day.

  13. Just before serving, beginning in an upper corner of the rectangle of bars, pipe a vertical coil of meringue, working in a circular motion, down the length of the bars. Turn the platter around and pipe a second coil of meringue touching the first. Continue until the lemon bars are covered in meringue.

  14. Using a blowtorch, carefully brown the meringue, adjusting the flame and/or moving the torch closer or farther away from the meringue to ensure even browning. Serve immediately.
All Recipes & book references from Thomas Keller's "ad Hoc at home; Family-Style Recipes"

>> Buy this book on Amazon: Ad Hoc at Home

Book Signing:
Williams-Sonoma
Stanford shopping center
Palo Alto on Sunday Dec 6th 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

About Thomas Keller:

Thomas Keller, one of the most recognized American chefs working today, is as renowned for his well-honed culinary skills as he is for his ability to establish a restaurant that's both relaxed yet exciting. Good food coupled with a memorable social and sensual experience has always been Keller's focus. "Our food is serious," says Keller, "but we also want people to have a good time with it." If the reputations of his restaurants are any indication, he has succeeded.

A native of California, Keller began his culinary career at a young age, working in the Palm Beach restaurant managed by his mother. After serving apprenticeships in Rhode Island, Florida, and the Catskills, Keller relocated to France in 1983, where he worked in several Michelin-starred houses including Guy Savoy and Taillevent.

He followed with successful runs at La Reserve and Restaurant Raphael in New York. In 1986, he opened his first restaurant, Rakel, also in New York, which resulted in extensive critical acclaim and a loyal clientele.

Five years later, Keller moved westward to California to work as executive chef at Checkers Hotel in Los Angeles. In 1994, he opened The French Laundry in Yountville, which quickly became a destination restaurant known for its innovative, compelling cuisine. His bistro, Bouchon, opened in Yountville in 1998, with Bouchon Bakery following five years later.

In February 2004, Keller brought his distinct style to New York City with Per Se. The restaurant features Keller's French-influenced contemporary American cuisine presented in a classically elegant space, designed by premier restaurant/hotel designer Adam Tihany.

The Michelin Guide New York City has given Per Se its most prestigious recognition, a three star rating, for the past four consecutive years. In addition, the Michelin Guide San Francisco awarded The French Laundry a three-star rating and a one-star rating for Bouchon since 2007--making Thomas Keller the only American-born chef to hold multiple three star ratings since the guide's inception in 1900.

A man of exceptionally high personal standards, Keller values genuine collaboration. He has successfully assembled an expert staff that shares his philosophy and vision, thus enabling him to concentrate on his many varied interests. He is the author of the award-winning "The French Laundry" and "Bouchon" cookbooks. A third cookbook "Under Pressure" on sous vide cooking was released in 2008. His newest book "At Home" featuring the cuisine of his restaurant Ad Hoc, will be available in the fall of 2009.

Keller has collaborated with Raynaud and the design firm Level on a collection of simple, sophisticated white porcelain dinnerware called "Hommage" (in honor of the great French chef and restaurateur, Fernand Point); and has launched Modicum, a Napa Valley Cabernet, blended to best accompany the cuisine at The French Laundry and Per Se.

Keller has also worked closely with the computer animation studio Pixar, consulting on the film Ratatouille, which won the 2007 "Best Animated Feature Film" category at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

In 2001, Keller was named "America's Best Chef" by Time magazine. In 2003, Johnson & Wales University conferred upon him the honorary Degree of Doctor of Culinary Arts for his contributions to the industry.

Keller has collected many accolades within the last decade, including consecutive "Best Chef" awards from the James Beard Foundation, the first chef ever to achieve this honor. In 2007, he received the foundation's "Outstanding Restaurateur" award, as well as recognition from the Culinary Institute of America as "Chef of the Year."

Most recently, The Monterey Bay Aquarium acknowledged him with the 2009 Cooking for Solutions Conservancy Leadership Award for his advocacy for sustainable seafood.

Chef Keller now has eight restaurants in the United States. In addition to The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon, branches of Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery opened in Las Vegas in 2004.

In early 2006, Bouchon Bakery opened in the Time Warner Center in New York City. Ad Hoc, a casual dining establishment inspired by the comfort food Keller enjoyed growing up, opened later that year in Yountville, California. Keller will open an outpost of Bouchon in Beverly Hills that is expected open in the fall of 2009.

About Dave Cruz:

As chef de cuisine of Ad Hoc, Dave Cruz leads the Ad Hoc kitchen where the daily-changing menu allows him to regularly exercise his creative culinary talents. First hired as chef de partie of Bouchon Yountville in 2004 Cruz's talent and energy soon propelled him to the sous chef position and then to executive sous chef.

When Ad Hoc opened as a temporary restaurant in September 2006, Cruz was instrumental in the restaurant's success. Strong guest support led to the decision to Chef Thomas Keller to keep As Hoc as a permanent restaurant and Cruz remained in the kitchen in his current role of chef de cuisine.

While studying for a degree in engineering, Cruz both worked in and managed restaurants to pay for living expenses. He eventually realized that the reward of contributing to a guests' dining experience was more appealing than any other career opportunity.

He consequently enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America to pursue a career in the hospitality industry. He honed in on his skill set at several acclaimed dining establishments across the country such as Champagne and Harbor's Edge in San Diego, and at restaurants Mas, March and Nobu in New York City.

Ad Hoc received a 3-star rating from the San Francisco Chronicle and has consistently been included in the publication's annual list of "Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants" since opening in 2006.

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