We’re Ready for You, Mr. McQueen

Hot on the heels of the coldest weekend of the Southern California winter (see Jimmy Kimmel’s segment on just how cold it got), came the warmest weekend of the Southern California winter. So we were pleased and more than ready when we got the invitation to go stay with our friends, Nadine and Andrew, at their family’s beach house in Malibu.

Immy digging in the sand, Malibu

Immy digging in the sand, Malibu

I like writing blog posts about our weekends at the Steve McQueen beach house, not so much because I’m enamored with Steve McQueen — he was undeniably cool, but so were lots of other guys. It’s because we usually eat lots of good food and imbibe good drinks.

I always offer to cook on our McQueen beach house weekends. Nadine and Andrew had invited their friends, Henrik and Geeta, and wondered would they need to pick up anything? Nope, no problem, I said, “I’ll shrink portions and add courses!” I brought a variety of seafood, vegetables, dozens of little baggies with sauces, salts, powders and reductions, and a small skirt steak of Spanish Iberico bellota pork (a cousin cut of the most expensive ham in the world). Arriving shortly before 3, we poured wine and opened beers and commenced to the beach to dig in the sand and look at starfish.

Crostini with proscuitto fat and beet relish

Crostini with proscuitto fat and beet relish

A couple hours later, as the sun descended in the west, Henrik and Geeta arrived and I went to work. Our first course was simple crostini brushed with La Quercia’s proscuitto white spread and topped with some of neighbor Glennis’ wonderful beet relish.

This was followed by the first of three seafood courses — thin slices of seared scallop crudo with shaved fennel in a lemon olive oil emulsion. Next came sashimi of “red & white” tunas (albacore and Hawaiian yellow fin) with a balsamic red wine reduction, freshly grated wasabi cream, herb flowers and a broccoli spigarello sprout salad.

I like to include unusual ingredients in the meals I prepare for my friends. Nadine and Andrew’s Chilean nanny, Gabby, usually participates in our meals with us, but was on a strict diet of chicken broth in preparation for an impending colonoscopy (“I am so hungry,” she said mournfully as I cooked). “So you won’t be able to eat the tiny fried fish skeletons I’m cooking?” I said, hoping to ease her envy.

Pompano filets with braised and fried leeks, lemon butter and bone cracker

Pompano fillets with braised and fried leeks, lemon butter and bone cracker

I had bought two small, shiny pompano fish at the Japanese market which would serve as the building blocks for the next course. I filleted the fish, a challenging task given their size, and saved the bones — the “skeleton” I had warned Gabby about. Nobu Matsuhisa likes to fry the bones of eels and other smaller fish and serve them as “bone crackers”. Indeed, I have seen this technique used mostly in the more avante garde of Japanese culinary circles, but have adopted it at appropriate instances for my own cuisine. It would be a good barometer for testing the adventurousness of Henrik and Geeta.

The pompano dish, despite the relative exoticness of the fish, seemed simple and delicious, and no one was particularly surprised or unnerved by the fried bones decorating their plates. (The question of, “Do we eat this?” did come up.)

Speaking of challenging my diners, I somehow always forget that Nadine is not a fan of salmon, and it inevitably winds up on the menu at the McQueen house. (Despite the fact that I don’t serve salmon all that often.) Thus the fifth course of hazelnut-crusted salmon with sauteed pea greens, rhubarb reduction, farro and mustard flowers.

Hazelnut-crusted salmon with sauteed pea greens, rhubarb reduction, farro and mustard flowers

Hazelnut-crusted salmon with sauteed pea greens, rhubarb reduction, farro and mustard flowers

Either Nadine is just a really, really good friend. Or I’ve managed to convert her, at least in the context of my own dinners, to the virtues of lightly cooked, exceptionally fresh salmon.

The last course was Iberico pork skirt with root vegetables (celery root puree and baby carrots), roasted wild mushrooms and “hog sauce,” a catchy new umbrella name for whatever porky reduction I happen to be serving with its like-minded meat dish.

Iberico bellota pork with root vegetables and "hog sauce"

Iberico bellota pork with root vegetables and “hog sauce”

As usual, I forgot and/or screwed up several courses. Left on the counter were the salmon skin chips meant to be served with the salmon dish, and the crispy guanciale strips (think: bacon without the smoke) meant to top the pork. I accidentally served the sauteed wild mustard greens with the salmon instead of the intended pork. But all in all, it was a good meal. From there, the evening devolved into a sepia blur of laughter, madeleine brownies and Buffalo Trace bourbon.

Sunday morning we awoke feeling better than we expected. Because this is a food blog and not TMZ, I will make only passing mention of Lindsay Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac popping by to drop off his daughter for a playdate in favor of praising Andrew for his always superb bloody marys. While his past efforts have included bacon-infused vodka, today’s were second-to-none, managing that perfect balance between spicy, citrusy and vodka punchy. The aforementioned crispy guanciale, having missed its evening call, wound up instead on bruschetta toasts with avocado and tomato, a nice save to a worthwhile ingredient.

A small framed photo on a wall somewhere in the house shows McQueen at work on the roof half a century before. I like to imagine his ghost sitting up there on that rafter, smoking a cigarette, looking down on our dinners at his Malibu home, dishes being composed then devoured, wine being poured, children climbing and descending the stairs. And being pleased.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jessamine in PDX
    Jan 22, 2013 @ 05:54:14

    Love it all — especially that you were cooking up Iberico de Bellota pork! My company recently began to buy from Fermin (one of the more well-known producers) and so we have a whole shelf dedicated to it in the warehouse. It’s one of my favorite shelves (well that and the one that houses the foie!). It is the melt-in-your-mouth pork that dreams are made of. And served with your hog sauce, I’m sure it didn’t even miss those wild mustard greens.


  2. pal-O
    Jan 25, 2013 @ 20:50:27

    I’m sure Mr. McQueen’s ghost never even thinks about a Great Escape when dinner is served . . .


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