The other night, I went to Will, a self-described “modern French inspired BYOB” located in a hot Philly restaurant area. The dishes were small and pricey, but the flavors were spot on. If you have the chance to go, I’d totally recommend the Rhode Island Skate, which was moist yet flaky, served with an assortment of light green sauces that all complimented the fish wonderfully.
The restaurant also has its culinary influences proudly on display. Alinea, Bouchon, and The Fat Duck cookbooks are all present, and since I just got a copy of the Bouchon cookbook last week (thank you Ebay for making my guilty pleasures so affordable), I could instantly spot Thomas Keller’s presence on Will’s menu. For one, the chocolate bouchons served for dessert. Also, the Parisian gnocchi, which Keller outlines in Bouchon.
(By the way, the chocolate bouchons are also totally worth trying. They’re like mini chocolate cakes, but denser and chewier and all-around more decadent.)
But back to the gnocchi. I actually made Parisian gnocchi, the same Parisian gnocchi that appeared on a menu at a high-end restaurant. (I’m still in shock.) And surprisingly, it was not that difficult to make.
Before you chalk it up to my amazing cooking talents, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I actually used to be a terrible cook. No lie, my family used to dread what weird dish I would concoct. There were some fantastic failures, like the time I tried to make pan-fried plantains, but instead I used bananas, and I ended up with some spicy, mushy bananas that were all but inedible. Or that time I tried to make carbonara and ended up with burned scrambled egg pasta instead. Oh god, the list goes on and on.
When I started this blog, I was enrolling in self-taught Cooking 101. And now, eight months later, I can actually pull off a reasonably edible version of Keller’s gnocchi à la parisienne. My family can enjoy my meals, instead of forcing down cringe-worthy (and probably barf-worthy) weird culinary experiments.
And cooking for myself hasn’t taken the fun out of eating good food. I may understand more of the “secrets,” but that makes me respect all these chefs so much more. I mean, just check out the Wikipedia page for molecular gastronomy. These people might actually be insane. They’re using syringes and liquid nitrogen and transglutaminase and all these other chemical compounds I can’t even pronounce. They’re turning fat into powder, using an ice cream machine in ways never before imagined.
I’m clearly just an amateur, and I’m definitely nowhere near as good as Will’s talented cook staff, but I have to admit, it still felt pretttty cool to see that they admired the same cooking masters that I admired.
(And let’s be real, it felt pretty awesome to brag that I could actually pull off a fancy restaurant-worthy recipe.)
Gnocchi à la Parisienne (adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller) – serves 4
3/4 cup water
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp + 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped tarragon
1/2 cup loosely packed shredded Comté cheese
3-4 large eggs
Set up mixer with paddle attachment. Have all ingredients ready before you begin cooking.
Combine water, butter, and 1/2 tsp salt in a medium saucepan, then bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. (I brought it to a simmer at medium-low heat.) Bring the heat to medium, add the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a stiff heatproof or wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean, with no dough sticking to it. The dough should be glossy and smooth but still moist.
Continue to stir the dough for 5 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent the dough from coloring. When steam rises from the dough and the aroma of cooked flour is noticeable, immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl.
Add the mustard, herbs, and 1 tsp salt. (I had these pre-combined in a bowl.) Mix for a few seconds to incorporate the ingredients and release some heat, then add the cheese.
With the mixer on the lowest speed, add 2 eggs, one at a time, beating until each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one. Increase the speed to medium and add another egg, mixing well. Turn off the machine and lift some dough onto a rubber spatula to see if it moves very slowly down the spatula. If it doesn’t move or falls off in a clump, add another half of a beaten egg.
Place the dough in a large pastry bag fitted with a 5/8-in plain tip and let rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a simmer. Prepare a colander.
Twist the end of the pastry bag to push the dough into the tip. As you squeeze the back of the bag with your right hand, hold a small knife in your left and hand cut off 1-in lengths of dough, allowing the gnocchi to drop into the pot. Pipe about 24 gnocchi per batch.
Keep the water temperature hot, but do not boil. Once the gnocchi float to the top, poach them for another 1-2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain in the colander. (You may need to lightly stir the pot to dislodge the gnocchi from the bottom.) Cover the gnocchi with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to a day.