Last summer I was lucky enough experience a meal at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. Each course was as spectacular as I’d anticipated and watching the staff carefully handpick the days’ produce from the restaurant’s garden was a special treat. If you have a few minutes, take a look at Anthony Bourdain’s experience there in this video (know that the first 5 minutes of this vid is of Anthony eating oysters in SF. If you’re in a hurry, scrub/fast-forward to 5:56 to jump to his time at The French Laundry.).
It’s hard to recall which dish was my fave but most memorable was certainly the salmon tartare cornets with sweet, red onion creme fraiche. Think miniature ice cream cones filled with smooth salmon tartare and cream. Every inch of the buttery crisp cones were impeccably browned and their petite size made the ratio of fish, cream and cracker in each bite pure heaven.
As much as I enjoy a simply prepared, delicious meal I also love a good challenge in the kitchen. That said, I decided to take on Keller’s cornet recipe myself, mixing it up slightly by replacing the salmon with tuna. This is a decision that I regret. While the tuna was tasty it certainly wasn’t the same. I should have known better than to piddle with perfection.
Before I could get started I had to first purchase a couple of essential and somewhat foreign tools. The first was a Silpat baking mat which is a bendable, non-stick baking surface. The second was a 4.5″ cornet mold to be used in forming and finishing the cornets themselves. This wasn’t easy to find but I was able to track one down online at JB Prince.
Once the hardware was in, I made my way to the Ferry Building markets for the best in sushi grade tuna and creme fraiche. Cowgirl Creamery makes their own on the premises and it’s well worth the extra couple of bucks.
I should say that this endeavor demands a little practice and a lot of patience. Wrapping the hot buttered cornets around the metal molds wasn’t easy nor was it painless. I’m guessing that Keller’s crew have sizzled all feeling from their fingertips because it was quite difficult. If anyone knows where to find thin, heatproof gloves, please let me know!
While I did make mine with tuna, the recipe below reflects the original salmon tartare version, honoring the intention of the dish.
SALMON TARTARE CORNETS WITH SWEET RED ONION CREME FRAICHE
1/4 c. plus 3 cbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
8 tbsp unsalted butter (softened but still cool to the touch)
2 large egg whites (cold)
2 tbsp black sesame seeds
Salmon Tartare Ingredients:
4 oz. salmon filet (sushi grade – skin and any pin bones removed) minced very finely
3/4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp lemon oil
1 1/2 tsp finely minced chives
1 1/2 tsp finely minced shallots
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
Small pinch of freshly ground white pepper
Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche Ingredients:
1 tbsp finely minced red onion
1/2 creme fraiche
1/4 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
25 chive tips (about 1 inch long)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
For the cornets:
The process that I used was a combination of the more manual method found in the cookbook and what I saw Thomas Keller do in this video. I mixed all ingredients together in a food processor as demonstrated in the video. The cornets came out great.
In a food processor, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the egg whites to the mixture. Whisk the softened butter until it is smooth and then add to the egg and flour mixture by thirds. Mix the batter until it is entirely smooth and there are no lumps.
To make perfect rounds for your cornets, make a 4 inch hollow mold out of a piece of plastic or clean cardboard. For this, I used the top of a round tupperware container, that happened to be 4 inches in diameter as my stencil. I traced the circle onto a piece of clean cardboard and then cut out the circle.
Place silpat mat on the counter (it’s easier to work on the Silpat before it is put onto the sheet pan). Place the stencil in one corner of the sheet and holding the stencil flat against the mat, scoop some of the batter onto a spatula and spread it in an even layer over the stencil. Then run the spatula over the stencil to remove any excess batter. After baking the first batch you will be able to judge the proper thickness. Know that there shouldn’t be any holes in the batter.
Lift the stencil and repeat the process to make as many rounds as you have molds for (I only had one mold so I could really only do one at a time. lesson learned.).
Place Silpat mat onto a baking sheet and bake for 4-6 minutes or until the batter is set and starting to ripple from the heat. Open the oven door and place the sheet on the oven door (this makes it easy to work with and keeps the cornets warm as you work.). Flip the cornet over on the sheet with the sesame seed side down. Place a 4.5″ cornet mold at the bottom of the round. Roll the cornet around the mold, forming a cone. Leave the cornet wrapped around the mold as you finish cooking. When all of your cornets are rolled, place them back into the oven for another 3-4 minutes.
For the salmon tartare:
With a sharp knife, finely mince the salmon fillet (do not use a food processor, as it would damage the texture of the fish) and place it in a small bowl. Stir in the remaining ingredients and taste for seasoning. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the tartare for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours.
For the sweet red onion creme fraiche:
Place the red onions in a small strainer and rinse them under cold water for several seconds. Dry them on paper towels. In a small bowl, whisk the creme fraiche for about 30 seconds or until soft peaks form (note, for me, the creme fraiche fell when I started whisking. Next time I will skip this step). Fold in the chopped red onions and season to aste with salt and white pepper. Transfer the onion creme to a container, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve for up to 6 hours.
Fill just the top 1/2 inch of each cornet with onion cream, leaving the bottom of the cone empty (this is easily done using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch plain tip or with the tip of a small knife.). spoon about 1 1/2 tsp of the tartare over the onion cream and mold it into a dome, resembling a scoop of ice cream. Lay a chive tip against one side of the tartare to garnish.
The moral of this story is that there is a reason that masters such as Thomas Keller receive the accolades and handsome compensations that they do. These feats simply aren’t designed for mere mortals.
So until next time. I’m going to order a pizza.