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The Culinary Sorcerer

Michael Sichel, executive chef of legendary Galatoire’s Restaurant and the newly opened, enchanting Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak spellbinds the MB staff with his charm and expertise on location at Culinard, the Culinary School at Virginia College.

Peek into the kitchen at the world-famous Galatoire’s Restuarant, and you’ll find staffers prepping fresh artichokes all day long. Others dehead and peel straight-from-the-Gulf shrimp, at least 100 pounds of them. And then there’s the making of the special base sauce, hollandaise. It’s whisked up twice, once in the morning and again at night: five gallons worth of the delicate, finicky blend. “Galatoire’s still believes in the cooking process,” emphasizes Chef Michael Sichel, who harks back to the classic tradition of Chef Georges Auguste Escoffier. “Escoffier was all about technique. With technique, you can do anything.”

Like any reputable chef nowadays, fresh local ingredients serve as Sichel’s muse. “My most creative time is when I am surrounded by my library of information. I might sit down and write a menu based on my memory, but when I walk into the supermarket, go into the fish market, all the sudden my imagination explodes.”

The winning combination of top-notch skill and fluid creativity dovetailed perfectly with Galatoire’s. The fine-dining dynasty entrusted Sichel, above right, with the task of directing their newest endeavor right next door, Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak. He developed a menu for the steakhouse centered on a revival of Southern, old-school French gastronomic dishes based on Galatoire’s traditions. “I had to create a restaurant that was going to be timeless like Galatoire’s. The family does not believe in something that’s going to be short-lived. They invest for a lifetime.”

Now picture this celebrated, charismatic chef in the kitchen with an average (some might even say below-average) everyday cook, MB editorial director Judy Culbreth, above left. Chef Sichel’s magic carries the day. 

Oysters en Brochette

This has been a staple at Galatoire’s since the fine dining establishment’s inception more than 100 years ago. The seafood app is composed of two delectable ingredients – oysters and bacon – deep-fried. The MB staff can attest it’s as good as it sounds. “This is the most important part: When you put the flour on the brochette, you want to almost squeeze it into it,” Sichel says. “That’s the glue.”

1 gallon vegetable oil
12 thick slices smoked bacon, cut in half (24 pieces)
36 large oysters, shucked
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
Meuniére Butter (see below)
6 lemon wedges, for garnish

1. Heat oil to 350 degrees in a large sauté pan. In a separate, medium sauté pan, cook bacon over medium heat for 3 - 4 minutes to render some of the fat from the meat. The bacon should be lightly browned, but still pliable. Drain on paper towels.
2. To assemble brochettes, skewer 1 piece of bacon, then 2 oysters, doubling the skewer through the muscle of the oyster. Repeat twice and add 1 more slice of bacon for a total of 4 pieces of bacon and 6 oysters on each skewer. Repeat the process for all 6 skewers. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and milk to make an egg wash. Place flour in a shallow baking pan. Dip the skewers into the wash. Allow excess liquid to drip off. Put brochettes into flour and coat heavily, pressing flour into meat. Shake off the excess flour and place brochettes into oil.
4. Fry for 4 - 5 minutes, until they are golden and float to the top. Do not overcook the oysters. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Place the brochettes at the centers of 6 appetizer plates. Hold one end of the brochette to the plate. Grasp the other end with a paper towel and slide the skewer out. Nap the Meuniére Butter over the top of the oysters. Garnish with a wedge of lemon. Serves 6.

Meuniére Butter

“This is the grand dame,” Sichel says of the meuniére butter. “That’s the flavor right there.” The sauce is also known as “beurre noir” (black butter) or “beurre noisette” (nut-brown butter). It is delicious served up over most any seafood dish.

1 pound salted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, whisking constantly for 8 - 10 minutes, until the sediment in the butter turns dark brown, almost (but not quite) to the point of burning, and the liquid is a deep golden color.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to whisk slowly, adding the lemon juice and the vinegar to the browned butter. The sauce will froth up until the acids have evaporated. When the frothing subsides, the sauce is complete. Makes 2 cups.

  

Lobster Thermidor

This is one of the standouts at Sichel’s new Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak. “No one does it, and it’s simply beautiful: fresh lobsters that are refolded in to their shells. It’s yum-yum goodness.”

2 (1 1/2-pound) live lobsters
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 pound mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons medium-dry sherry
1 cup heavy cream, scalded
2 large egg yolks

1. Plunge lobsters headfirst into an 8-quart pot of boiling salted water (when salting water for cooking, use 1 tablespoon salt for every 4 quarts water).
2. Loosely cover pot. Cook lobsters over moderately high heat for 9 minutes from time they enter water. Transfer lobsters with tongs to sink to cool.
3. Once lobsters are cool enough to handle, twist off claws and crack them, then remove meat.
4. Halve lobsters lengthwise with kitchen shears, beginning from tail end, then remove tail meat, reserving shells. Cut all lobster meat into 1/4-inch pieces. Discard any remaining lobster innards, then rinse and dry shells.
5. Heat butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until foam subsides. Then cook mushrooms, stirring, until liquid is evaporated and they begin to brown, for about 5 minutes. Add lobster meat, paprika, salt and pepper and reduce heat to low. Cook, shaking pan gently for 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon sherry and 1/2 cup hot cream. Simmer 5 minutes.
6. Whisk together yolks and remaining tablespoon sherry in a small bowl. Slowly pour remaining 1/2 cup hot cream into yolks, whisking constantly, and transfer to a small heavy saucepan. Cook custard over very low heat, whisking constantly, until it is slightly thickened and registers 160 on an instant-read thermometer. Add custard to lobster mixture, stirring gently.
7. Preheat broiler. Arrange lobster shells, cut sides up, in a shallow baking pan and spoon lobster with some of sauce into shells. Broil lobsters 6 inches from heat until golden brown, 4 - 5 minutes. Serve remaining sauce on the side. Serves 4. 

Clarified Butter

Everything’s better with butter. Another tip from the cookbook: “This will keep sealed and refrigerated for up to two weeks.”

1 pound salted butter

1. In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and let the butter stand briefly.
2. Skim the milk solids off the top and discard. Strain the butter to remove the remaining sediment. Reserve in a warm place until ready to use, or refrigerate for later use. Makes 2 cups.

Shrimp Remoulade

Shrimp Rémoulade is in every New Orleans girl’s arsenal of favored dishes for relaxed entertaining. Serve this simple dish on elegant china and it’s fit for a king- Mardi Gras or otherwise. This is our most popular dish and most frequently requested recipe. Bonus for the home cook: The sauce is definitely best made a day in advance and refrigerated, then all that’s left to do is toss in the shrimp and plate and serve. It’s a snap to make, yet it’s always impressive.

3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped scallions (white and green parts)
1/2 cup chopped curly parsley
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup tomato purée
1/2 cup Creole mustard or any coarse, grainy brown mustard
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, or to taste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Spanish hot paprika
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup salad oil
4 dozen jumbo (15 count) shrimp, peeled, boiled, and chilled
1 small head of iceberg lettuce, washed, dried and cut into thin ribbons

1. Mince the celery, scallions, parsley, and onions in a food processor. Add the ketchup, tomato puree, Creole mustard, horseradish, red wine vinegar, paprika, and Worcestershire. Begin processing again and add the oil in a slow drizzle to emulsify. Stop when the dressing is smooth. Chill for 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
2. Correct the seasoning with additional horseradish, if desired after the ingredients have had the opportunity to marry.
3. In a large mixing bowl, add the sauce to the shrimp and toss gently to coat. Divide the lettuce among 6 chilled salad plates. Divide the shrimp evenly atop the lettuce and serve. Serves 6.

  

Crabmeat Sardou

This seafood take on Eggs Sardou is ideal for brunch. This version of the traditional French Creole recipe substitutes crabmeat for poached eggs. Presentation can be a little tricky. “It’s one of those dishes, it’s got to get out of the kitchen fast.” Sichel says.

12 artichokes
juice of 1 lemon
Hollandaise Sauce (see below)
Creamed Spinach (see below)
1/2 cup Clarified Butter (see above)
2 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat, cleaned

1. In a large pot, submerge the artichokes in water, add the lemon juice, and boil for approximately 30 minutes, or until the stems are tender. Allow the artichokes to cool and peel exterior leaves from the hearts. Using a spoon or your thumb, remove and discard the chokes, leaving only the bottoms. Cut the excess stems off the bottoms so they sit flat.
2. While waiting for the artichokes to cook and cool, prepare Hollandaise Sauce and Creamed Spinach. Set aside.
3. Add Clarified Butter to a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the crabmeat and stir, taking care not to break the lumps. Sauté for 3 minutes, or until the crabmeat is heated through. Remove from the heat.
4. Spoon creamed spinach onto 6 dinner plates. Place 2 artichoke bottoms into each bed of spinach. Remove crabmeat from the pan with a slotted spoon to drain excess butter. Divide the crabmeat into equal portions and place it into the cavities of the artichoke bottoms. Top the crabmeat with hollandaise. Serve immediately. Serves 6. 

Hollandaise Sauce

This sauce is another Galatoire’s staple. “If you can make a hollandaise from a fork, then you understand a hollandaise,” Sichel says. “The hardest part is adding the butter; add it slowly. It’ll be unstable if you don’t.”

6 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 cups warm
Clarified Butter (see above)

1. In a double boiler over medium heat, combine the egg yolks with the cold butter, salt, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and red wine vinegar. Whisk the ingredients continuously until the mixture has increased in volume and achieved a consistency that coats the whisk.
2. Use a ladle to drizzle the clarified butter into the sauce while whisking slowly. If the sauce appears too thick, add a few drops of cold water to achieve the proper consistency. Makes 3 cups.

Creamed Spinach

This side dish is always a crowd pleaser.

2 pounds fresh spinach
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup Béchamel Sauce (see below)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

1. Bring 1 quart of water to boil in a large saucepan. Cut stems from spinach. Wash leaves in cold water. Add to boiling water. Reduce heat to medium-high. Cover and simmer 3 - 4 minutes. Drain in a mesh strainer, pressing out liquid with a spoon. Finely chop spinach. Set aside 3 cups.
2. Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 3 minutes, until tender. Add reserved spinach. Stir in béchamel and cream. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring, until ingredients are incorporated and spinach is heated through. Season with salt and white pepper. Makes 4 cups.

Béchamel Sauce

2 cups whole milk
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1. In a medium saucepan, heat milk until simmering. In a medium sauté pan, melt butter. Slowly incorporate flour into butter, whisking constantly over low heat to make a blond roux.
2. Slowly incorporate 1 cup of heated milk into roux. Whisk constantly. Cook on low for 10 minutes. Slowly incorporate remaining milk. Whisk until smooth. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Sautéed Puppy Drum with Crabmeat Yvonne

The petite fish, indigenous to our Gulf waters, is a delightful accompaniment to Crabmeat Yvonne, a dish named for early owner Justin Galatoire’s daughter. According to the restaurant’s treasured cookbook, she was a fixture at the eatery from the late 1930s until 2000.

Crabmeat Yvonne (see below)
6 puppy drum fillets (8 - 10 ounces each), or other flaky white fish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups Clarified Butter (see above)
lemon wedges, for garnish (optional)

1. Prepare the Crabmeat Yvonne and set aside. Season the fish with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Cover the bottom of a large sauté pan with clarified butter and set over medium-high heat. Shake any excess flour from the fish and sauté for 4 - 5 minutes per side, until a golden brown crust is formed.
2. If the crabmeat mixture has cooled, briefly reheat it over a high heat. Place each fillet on a warmed plate. Distribute crabmeat mixture atop each fillet. Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired. Serve immediately. Serves 6. 

Crabmeat Yvonne

This garnish goes well served alongside meat, poultry or fish, but it also holds its own as a dish by itself. To shake things up, the restaurant’s cookbook suggests substituting the crabmeat for 2 pounds of crawfish to make Crawfish Yvonne.

6 fresh artichokes
juice of 1 lemon
Meuniére Butter (see above)
1 pound domestic button mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch of scallions (white and green parts), chopped
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, cleaned

1. In a large pot, submerge the artichokes in water, add the lemon juice, and boil for about 30 minutes until stems are tender.
2. Allow the artichokes to cool and peel all the exterior leaves from artichoke hearts. Using a spoon or your thumb, remove and discard the chokes, leaving only the bottoms. Cut the bottoms into slices. Set aside.
3. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the Meuniére Butter. Add the mushroom, artichokes and scallions and sauté. Gently fold in the crabmeat and continue to sauté until the crabmeat is heated through. Remove from the heat. Serves 6. 

Trout Meuniére Amandine

3 cups sliced almonds
2 large eggs
1 pint whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 specked trout fillets (7 to 8 ounces each), cleaned and boned
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 gallon vegetable oil
1 recipe meuniére butter (see above)
3 medium lemons, cut into wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the almonds in a pan and toast them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, opening the oven to stir them every 5 minutes while they cook. When they become a light golden brown, remove from the oven and set aside.
2. Make a wash by whisking the eggs and the milk. Season with salt and pepper. Season the trout fillets with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Submerge the floured trout in the egg wash. Gently remove the fillets from the egg wash and allow the excess to drip
off. Put the fillets back into the flour, then gently shake off the excess flour.
3. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil to 350 degrees. Test the readiness of the oil by sprinkling a pinch of flour over it. The flour will brown instantly when the oil has reached the correct temperature. Add the trout and fry for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the fish when the crust is golden brown.
4. Top each fried trout fillet with almonds and warmed meuniére butter. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve at once. Serves 6. 

ABOVE Chef Sichel makes the preparation of light and airy traditional French crepes seem simple enough for his apprentice sous chef. The master is so experienced in the technique that he can flip the pastries with a wooden skewer instead of a spatula.
 

  

ABOVE “I don’t know if I can make a mess. I’m not a messy chef,” says Sichel, seconds before starting a powdered sugar food fight with his apprentice chef.
 

Crêpes Suzette

This pastry recipe comes from the Galatoire’s Cookbook. A crepe prep tip: to make sure his batter is lump-free, Sichel uses a chinois, a fine, mesh strainer.

4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon melted salted butter, cooled
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
vegetable oil spray
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup of Grand Marnier liqueur
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
vanilla ice cream
powdered sugar

1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, melted butter, flour and salt until smooth. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to allow the air bubbles to escape. (Sichel pours batter through a strainer to remove any lumps.)
2. Lightly spray a crepe pan or small nonstick sauté pan with vegetable oil spray. Place pan over medium heat. Stir the crepe batter. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the hot pan and immediately tilt and rotate the pan to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until edges begin to brown and the batter is set. Loosen the edges of the crepe with a spatula, then flip it in the pan. Almost immediately, slide the crepe out of the pan onto parchment paper. Repeat the process for at least 12 crepes.
3. Melt the 1/2 pound of butter in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the orange juice, Grand Marnier and vanilla. Whisk until incorporated. Raise the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes, until sauce becomes syrupy and coats the back of the spoon.
4. Fold each of the crepes in half and in half again to form a quarter circle. Center crepes in small dessert plates. Drizzle them with the sauce. If desired, serve each with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and powdered sugar. Serves 6. 

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