There were a number of circumstances which let this blog slip away. It no longer matters what they were; it just matters that we’re bringing it back.
Appropriately, the subject of that reboot is our most recent Dinner Gang, which was number 49. The theme was cherries.
As the hosting duties were ours, it fell to us to choose the theme. We knew going in that we wanted a simple ingredient, one which would test all our abilities to come up with something compelling. I originally suggested the potato. Since fresh cherries are in season at the moment, we went for something a little more flavor and a lot more room to build around. As normally happens, our friends rose to the challenge.
Course 1: Duck “Slaw” Bruschetta
The bruschetta was first layered with a rosemary cream cheese, then topped with the slaw made of shredded duck, onion, celery, and a little habanero. Jim and Neal explained that they wanted the duck itself to have the heat, as opposed to what would be the sort of normal choice of putting the heat into the sauce. The dish was awash in delicious contrasts, from the smoothness of the cream cheese to the crunch of the slaw, with the cherry sauce providing a silky bridge. The Blanc de Noirs pairing set it off perfectly, picking up cherry notes which a normal Champagne wouldn’t have.
Course 2: Duck Confit Crepe with Cherry Gastrique
Kathryn and David, to the disappointment of exactly no one, also went for duck to go with the cherry. David said that he knew precisely what the dish was going to be as soon as they heard the theme (which we gave everyone about 3 weeks lead time on). The icing on this particular cake were the Port-reconstituted Bing cherries, adding a beautiful darkness to the whole dish. The contrasts of the rich duck, the airy crepe, and the expressive cherries melded together into flavor symphony. The ripeness of the 2014 La Crema Pinot Noir struck the perfect chord with the rest of the dish. To be honest, I’ve previously been ambivalent about La Crema wines. After drinking this one, I realized that I’d only had their Sonoma Coast version. There was nothing to be ambivalent about here; the powerful fruit and racy mouthfeel of the Russian River Valley cuvee made it not only a great pairing, but wine I’d be happy to drink on its own.
Course 3: Stone Ground Mustard-Crusted Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin or Oven-Roasted Sockeye with Cherry-Bourbon Reduction, Cherry Kalamata Fennel Ciabatta Stuffing, Braised Fennel.
Because we had an abundance of cherries, we had a few weeks earlier macerated some of them in bourbon. At the time, we didn’t know what we wanted to do. We obviously figured it out.
For the meat-eaters, we marinated pork tenderloin in some of the bourbon from the cherry jar. I covered the tenderloins in stone ground mustard and vacuum-sealed them for their two-hour trip in the sous vide bath at 136F. When they came out, I gave them a quick sear all around before slicing into medallions. Searing didn’t change the internal temperature too much, but concerned about over-cooking them, I didn’t get the sear as crispy as I otherwise might have. In the future, I’ll probably cook the pork to an internal of 130 and sear it a little longer.
We marinated the salmon in the cherry bourbon for about an hour. I didn’t add any acid (a little freshly-squeezed lime juice) until right before putting them into a 425F oven for about eight minutes. I could have eaten it at six. The sockeye was almost buttery without any help from us save in the reduction.
The reduction we used for both proteins was made from equal parts of the bourbon-soaked cherries and reconstituted dried cherries, finished with a tablespoon or so of butter just to bring some richness to it.
The stuffing, which we did a test drive of the week before, will become a dish we go back to again. Ripeness from the cherries, darkness and a touch of saltiness from the olives, and the licorice aromatics of the fennel combined into an explosive side dish. The caramelized notes of the braised fennel brought it all together.
We knew going in that we’d pair two different wines with the two different meats. What would work for the pork–with its much higher fat content–wasn’t going to work for the salmon. We nearly immediately settled on the Martinelli Moonshine Ranch Pinot. Without the bourbon flavors, I would have suggested an Oregon Pinot, but the bourbon brought a kind of darkness to go with the cherry flavors, which suggested a high-octane Russian River Valley offering instead.
My initial instinct was to go with Barolo to pair with the pork. During a discussion about the meal with Ric, proprietor of Ric’s Wine Market here in Lakeland, he agreed that Barolo was probably the right way to go, but I might also want to think about something from Rioja. During one of our test runs, I pulled a 2010 Bodegas Numanthia Toro Numanthia. This enormous wine was exactly what the pork needed, a surprising ripeness in the fruit complimenting the cherry elements while the towering tannins perfectly complemented the rich pork, and it’s the pairing I’d choose again. To be fair, the wine on its own is spectacular; it took this dish into the stratosphere.
Course 4: Homemade Pistachio Cherry Bourbon Ice Cream and Dark Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti
We made both the ice cream and the biscotti the night before. The bourbon-soaked cherries went into the ice cream mixture toward the end of the cycle in the ice cream maker. The alcohol content made the freezing a little trickier, but the ice cream still turned out nicely rich. The double contrast of the nutty, crispy biscotti and the heady dark chocolate made it a fitting wrap to the meal. We were mixed on finishing with either a little of the Du Monte or drinking up the last of the wine.
I actually left about half a glass of the Numanthia in the decanter until the next day. Normally, if I’m saving some wine, I’ll vacuum-seal it and put it in the fridge. This particular wine was so titantic I wanted to see what it was like 24 hours later, still open to the air. I drank it with the few bits of leftover pork, and it was still singing. I can’t imagine too many other wines with that kind of staying power.
Once again, the folks we’ve cooked with at least once a month for now more than four years showed that they know what they’re doing. We wrapped Dinner Gang 49 and eagerly await the decision on what we’ll be doing next month, when we hit the half century mark.