As a person of good taste, you may reflexively reject the clichés associated with Valentine's Day: the cloying sweets, the marked-up roses, the dread holiday-themed tasting menus full of puns and aphrodisiacs of dubious efficacy. That you have higher standards doesn't mean that you can't enjoy a luxurious meal, thoughtfully paired with a great wine, on Feb. 14.
If you're cooking (or being cooked for) on Valentine's Day, start with this recipe from chef Chris Jones of Brix, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence-winning restaurant in Yountville, Calif. You'll make leek confit (finely chopped leeks slowly cooked in butter) and an easy vermouth cream sauce, seasoned with shallots, thyme and peppercorns, then poach the oysters in the sauce and top the whole thing with a dollop of salmon caviar.
"The gentle poaching of the oysters renders a creamy mouthfeel, which is continued by choosing to confit the leeks in butter," said Jones, adding, "The caviar provides textural contrast and a punch of salinity that rounds out the dish and balances the fats." He suggests pairing the dish with a Sauvignon Blanc whose acidity, structure and minerality provide contrast to the rich and slightly sweet dish. To that end, we've compiled a list, below, of 14 recently rated Sauvignon Blancs from both Old and New World regions, in the $9 to $27 price range. Happy Valentine's Day!
Note: This recipe serves six. To scale it down for a more intimate dinner for two, use one dozen oysters, six per person. Use half the listed amount of leeks and butter for the leek confit, half the listed amount of all ingredients for the vermouth cream, 1/4 ounce of caviar and 2 slices of brioche.
For the oysters:
• 36 medium Pacific oysters (may substitute East Coast or Gulf oysters)
Place the larger half of the oyster shell on a secure work surface and hold the top half down with a kitchen towel. Insert the tip of an oyster knife into the soft area at the hinge of the oyster and gently apply pressure in a downward motion until the knife penetrates into the oyster. Gently separate the oyster from the muscle that attaches it to the shell and place it in a bowl. Pour the oyster liquor through a fine mesh sieve over the oyster in the bowl, repeat with the rest of the oysters, refrigerate and reserve.
For the leek confit:
• 4 medium leeks, white only, rinsed well and cut into 1/4-inch dice
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• Salt and white pepper to taste
Place the diced leeks in a cool sauté pan with the butter. Slowly increase the heat until the leeks begin gently simmering with the butter. Season with the salt and pepper and slowly cook the leeks until tender. Remove the confit from the pan and reserve.
For the vermouth cream:
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 whole shallot, peeled and diced
• 1 cup dry white vermouth
• Reserved oyster liquor
• 2 thyme sprigs
• 1 bay leaf
• 3 whole white peppercorns
• 1 cup heavy cream
• Salt to taste
In sauté pan, heat the butter over medium heat until it foams and subsides. Add the shallot and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the vermouth and cook over medium-high heat until it has almost completely evaporated. Add the reserved oyster liquor, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and add the heavy cream. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes, then season with salt. Pass the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and discard the solids. Transfer the sauce to a clean pan.
• 1 ounce salmon caviar
• Herbs for garnish: parsley, chive, chervil and tarragon
• 6 slices brioche, toasted
Gently heat the vermouth cream until simmering. Add the oysters and leek confit until the oysters are just cooked. Arrange six oysters each, and equal portions of the leek and cream mixture, in warmed shallow dishes, and garnish with the caviar and herbs. Serve with toasted brioche. Serves 6.
RECOMMENDED SAUVIGNON BLANCS
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More Sauvignon Blancs can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
For WineSpectator.com members only: