When Dom Perignon invented the creme de la creme of spirits in the 17th century, little did he know that the drink he discovered while trying to eradicate those "irksome bubbles" from his wine would be considered so romantic that wedding guests wouldn't think of toasting generations of brides and grooms with anything less.
Since today's weddings are rife with new traditions, why not serve your guests a rehearsal dinner menu infused with Champagne? It will be good practice for your first official dinner as a couple -- which, hopefully, you will be cooking together. While it seems extravagant to heat a liquid so precious -- it has sold for as much as $25,000 a bottle -- chefs praise the celebratory results.
Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse in Santa Monica cooks with Champagne for the same reason he uses fresh truffles or searches out the best foie gras or caviar.
"A dish is only as elegant as its ingredients," he said. "Champagne adds a touch of romance, a certain finesse. Its subtle acidity is the perfect foil for butter, which is why I use it in beurre blanc and other fish sauces."
Citrin often cooks with a more moderately priced Champagne, then finishes the dish with a splash of a more expensive variety.
When deciding on which label of Champagne or sparkling wine to cook with, it's important to really like the flavor, said Finbar Kinsella, chef at Lily's in Louisville.
"It doesn't have to be as expensive as the Champagne you'll be drinking, but if you don't like it in the glass you won't like it on your plate," he said. "The myth that the taste will be diffused in the cooking process is just that."
For kosher consumers, wineries such as Baron Herzog, Hagafen, Abarbanel and Yarden make very good Champagnes.
Cooking with the world's most celebratory drink is perfect for a wedding, New York chef Jerome Vidy said.
Originally from Apt, in the south of France, Vidy remembers, "It's very French to always have a bottle of wine in the house, but if there's a bottle of Champagne chilling in the fridge, you know something special is coming up. Carrying over the flavor from your flute to your plate is a wonderful way to toast your love."
Vidy emphasizes the care aspect of cooking with Champagne since its sparkle rarely lasts more than a half hour.
"Assemble your ingredients, pop the cork and then use it immediately. In between additions, keep it in a cool place. Of course it's fun to get a head start on celebrating by drinking and toasting as you cook," he said.
Champagne Leek Soup With Caviar
From Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse Restaurant, Santa Monica.
1 cup white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
5 tablespoons butter, or more if needed, divided
2 quarts diced leeks, white part only
Salt to taste
1 cup Champagne
2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 quart vegetable stock
2 cups water
1/2 cup cream
1 cup diced leeks, white part only
1/2 cup cream
1 cup diced white potatoes
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup Champagne
2 ounces kosher caviar
On a low flame sweat onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter until translucent, about two minutes, adding more butter if the mixture gets dry. Add leeks and a pinch of salt; continue cooking two minutes longer. Add 1 cup Champagne, raise heat, and reduce the mixture by half, making sure it doesn't boil. Add Yukon potatoes, thyme, vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add 1/2 cup cream. Bring to a boil again, immediately reduce heat to a simmer; cook for 10 minutes. Blend until smooth. Strain through a chinois sieve.
For garnish, sweat leeks in butter, about three to four minutes. Add 1/2 cup cream; cook until leeks are soft, about two minutes more. Boil potatoes with thyme and bay leaf until just cooked through. Drain and add white potatoes to leek-cream mixture. Mix well.
Heat soup; add 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1/4 cup Champagne. Blend until light and frothy. Pour into a warmed soup tureen. Reheat leek mixture, adding a bit of butter, if needed.
To serve, place about 1 tablespoon of the leek mixture in the center of six soup bowls. Garnish with caviar. Carefully ladle the soup around the leeks so that the garnish is floating on top.
Makes six servings.
Spinach and Mesclun Salad With Champagne Tarragon Vinaigrette
Adapted from New York chef Jerome Vidy.
For Champagne tarragon vinegar
1 pint Champagne vinegar
1 cup Champagne
1/2 cup tarragon, thyme, and parsley sprigs
4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
1 teaspoon red, white and black peppercorns
For Champagne tarragon vinaigrette
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon Champagne tarragon vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
8 cups loosely packed greens
2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)
2 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional)
For Champagne tarragon vinegar, pour vinegar and Champagne into a sterilized jar. Add herb sprigs along with garlic and peppercorns. Store in cool place for four weeks. When vinegar is finished strain out the herbs, garlic and peppercorns.
For Champagne tarragon vinaigrette, place olive oil, vinegar, Dijon, salt and shallots in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to blend thoroughly. Stir in herbs just before dressing salad.
Toss with spinach, mache, mesclun, and, if desired, pine nuts and cranberries.
Makes six servings.
Halibut a L'armoricaine
From Uwe Nettelbeck of Merigot, France. If halibut is unavailable, use another densely fleshed fish such as sea bass. Armagnac is an earthy tasting type of brandy, made in Armagnac, France. Or substitute with a liqueur of your choice.
2 large shallots, peeled and sliced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
8 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and halved
2 cups good fish stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup Champagne
2 tablespoons Armagnac
2 pounds boneless and skinless halibut fillets, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons each parsley, chervil and tarragon, chopped
In a separate pan, sauté shallots and garlic in butter until translucent. Turn heat to low, add tomatoes; cook five minutes longer. Add fish stock, white wine, and Armagnac. Turn heat to medium, add salt and reduce by half. Lower heat, add halibut to liquid. Cook gently for about six to eight minutes, until fish is cooked through. Be careful not to overcook.
Remove fish to platter. Lower heat; add cream, half the parsley, chervil, and tarragon. Gently cook until you have a thick cream sauce. Add fish back into sauce; heat through and serve. Garnish with the remaining tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Makes four servings.
From Vincent Scotto, executive chef at Gonzo Restaurant, New York City.
This smoothing, refreshing granita is delicious served with berries or sliced fruit. You can substitute sparkling wine for the Champagne.
1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry Champagne
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup honey
In a bowl combine Champagne, lemon juice and honey. Stir until honey dissolves. Transfer to a shallow stainless steel pan that fits easily into the freezer.
Freeze for about an hour. Remove and, using a pastry scraper or metal spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the granita, mixing the frozen particles into the less frozen center.
Freeze for about two hours longer and scrape again. Let the granita freeze for three to four hours longer, until completely frozen. Chop the granita into pieces and serve immediately or return to the freezer until ready to serve.
Makes about two quarts.
From executive chef Vincent Scotto of Gonzo Restaurant, New York City.
1 pint strawberries or peaches
1/4 cup sugar
2 bottles Champagne.
Puree strawberries or peaches; place in pan with the sugar; bring to boil, cool. Add ice and Champagne.
Champagne Apricot Truffles
From Kathy Cary, chef-owner of Lilly's Restaurant, Louisville. The recipe was inspired by Camille Glenn, the dowager of Southern cookbook writers.
1 cup dried apricots, cut into sixths
1 cup Champagne, or more to cover the apricots
1 pound bitter chocolate
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup Champagne
1/4 pound shelled pistachios, toasted and finely chopped (optional)
Place apricots in a bowl. Add enough Champagne to cover. Soak apricots in Champagne overnight.
To make ganache, melt chocolate in a double boiler. In a separate saucepan warm cream to about the same temperature as the chocolate. Whip the cream into the chocolate mixture. Remove from stove. Add 1/2 cup Champagne to the ganache mixture. Cool.
With a small scoop, shape dollops of the chocolate mixture into walnut-sized balls. Press a few pieces of Champagne-soaked apricots into each of the balls. Roll completed balls in pistachios to coat the balls.
Makes about three dozen truffles.
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