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Emeril Cooks With Wine in Mind

Five easy recipes show wine at its best

Harvey Steiman
Posted: August 31, 2004

Lagasse's favorite cooking partners are his wife, Alden, and his son, Emeril John IV, known as E.J.
Seared Halibut With Sweet Corn, Tomato and Cucumber Relish
Shrimp Ragout With Rice
Seared Salmon With Vegetable Lentils
Pasta Bolognese With Sausage
Dry-Aged Sirloin Steaks
Alternate Wine Suggestions
See also:
Wine Spectator Menus
More than 150 wine-friendly recipes, including recommended wine matches

When Emeril Lagasse thinks about dinner, the chef and the wine lover get equal time.

I asked Lagasse to choose five of his favorite wines and cook dishes for them. He did not recruit a squadron of chefs to help assemble some of the many-layered creations that characterize the cuisine at Emeril's. Instead he went it alone in his home kitchen, as if he were cooking dinner for his family and a few invited guests. As a result, the dishes-not a menu, but an assortment of entrées-have a simplicity and ease of preparation that will reward your efforts even if you're not a professional chef.

Likewise, instead of plundering the extensive collection of great older wines at the restaurant for this project, he elected to pull bottles from his home cellar. The lineup builds from light, lively whites to a rich, full-figured Cabernet Sauvignon. That progression lends itself to a menu that ranges from delicate halibut with fresh vegetable relish to a hefty steak with a splash of Lagasse's own homemade Worcestershire sauce.

Lagasse chose all California wines for a reason. "It's not that I don't love Portugal," he adds, alluding to his family's ancestral home. "It's not that I don't love Burgundy. I've had great tastings with Madame [Lalou] Bize-Leroy and a lot of the great producers there. For a couple of years, it seems we drank nothing but Burgundy at home. But I want to support my country's wines above all others."

The menu begins with Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2002 (87, $22), the target for the halibut dish. The wine plays the zinginess of its citrus and herbal flavors against a roundess of texture and a hint of spiciness from oak. Lagasse thinks of Sauvignon Blanc as a luncheon wine, or something to drink before easing into the richer textures of a Chardonnay.

"Some people think it's just a seafood wine," he says. "I think it's great with vegetables. I am relying on the leanness of the halibut and the clean flavors of the relish components to be a good match with the Duckhorn."

The wine works just as he hopes. The Sauvignon Blanc's ripe melon flavors and tangy citrus balance fit snugly with the light sweetness of the corn and tomato on the fish. Revealing a glimpse of his wine-matching savvy, Lagasse adds, "If I were to add some vanilla bean to the relish, which would taste good, it would point me to a Chardonnay or something richer to make a better balance."

Chardonnay, in fact, is Lagasse's next choice. The bottle, Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Carneros Director's Reserve 2002 (NR, $22), a gift from the movie director and vintner, is an exceptional wine. It achieves the verve and balance that more California winemakers are coaxing from this white Burgundian grape, as opposed to the fat richness that characterizes so many California Chardonnays. This one is silky and elegant, coating the palate with creamy pear and peach flavors, finishing with a touch of pineapple and lime.

To match it, Lagasse goes for a simple variation of shrimp cooked scampi-style in olive oil with garlic. He gives it a subtle New Orleans touch with a sprinkling of green onions, served over a homey rice pilaf. "Ten months out of the year we get great shrimp here," he notes. "Guys are selling fresh shrimp out of Styrofoam coolers on the street, and it's the best stuff. Shrimp has the richness to stand up to this Chardonnay."

Like many a veteran food-and-wine matcher, Lagasse hedges his bet by splashing some of the Coppola Chardonnay into the pan with the shrimp, creating a ready-made bridge between the dish and the wine. He squeezes a few drops of lemon in as well, noting that he is careful not to add too much because it can overpower the wine. It doesn't, but the handful of chopped garlic does put a crimp in the wine's flavor profile, making it seem simpler than it is by itself. Next time, he agrees, less garlic.

Next up is Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2001 (91, $39), with its deft balance and smooth texture supporting rich, refined flavors of ripe cherry, raspberry and just the right touch of toasty oak.

"Now it's gonna start getting interesting," he says, peeling plastic wrap from a plate of vivid coral-colored salmon fillets. "This is wild salmon. Look at that, it's like a jewel. Salmon has just the right weight for Pinot Noir, better than meat, in my opinion. We're going to cook the salmon very simply, leaving it medium-rare, and put it over a lentil stew with a lot of vegetables in it. It's a dish we have at least once a week."

The lentils also sport the meaty, smoky flavors of bacon, used to add extra depth to the dish. "I usually don't add bacon at home, but I wanted a little more fat component with this wine," he notes. "I wanted to challenge some of that fruit a little bit. This should be a no-brainer with Pinot Noir. If I made this with fava beans instead of lentils, or if I brought in another component, like artichokes, that would turn it in a different direction. We're going for the downtown, straight-down-the-alley Pinot Noir idea."

He spoons a small mound of lentils onto each plate, tops it with a piece of salmon, then leans a single strand of green onion against the fillet. No sauce. "I'm trying to go dead-on like the wines are, no coulis, no fancy sauces, nothing too complicated. I don't want to take anything away from them."

The match is a home run. The flavors and textures on the plate all enhance the essential elements of the wine, making it taste just a little more of black fruit such as currants and plums, even polishing up the texture, upgrading it from velvet to silk.

Chappellet Sangiovese Napa Valley 2000 (NR, $13) is the last vintage the winery made of this varietal before pulling out the vines and replanting with Cabernet Sauvignon. Lagasse says the wine reminds him of a Tuscan red, and indeed it has the tang of cherries and rose petals, finishing with a peppery note and a grip of edgy tannins, just like a good Chianti. Fresh fettuccine with a homey mélange of tomatoes and sausage tames the tannins and lets the natural flavors of the wine come through unimpaired.

"This is another dish we eat once a week, because we all like pasta," he says. "Sometimes we do it with penne, sometimes with spaghetti or linguine. This is a really simple, on-the-stove Bolognese sauce. I usually make it with ground turkey meat. The sausage adds a little extra flavor."

The final wine is a California classic, Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001 (92, $70). "You gotta splurge somewhere," shrugs the chef, "so I'm going all out on the food to go with it. I got aged sirloin [about a 1-pound steak almost an inch and a half thick]. I could have taken it from Delmonico's, but I got it from the butcher. He said it was dry-aged for 30 to 35 days. Meat that good, all you need is to season it with salt and pepper and put it on a hot grill to char all around. And I wanted you to taste my homemade Worcestershire with it."

To go with the steak, Lagasse had earlier prepared home versions of a couple of steak house classics, creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes, which he reheats by baking them in gratin dishes. Onto each plate he spoons a small helping of the potatoes, then cuts two half-inch-thick slices off the 1-pound steak to overlap on top. A ladleful of creamed spinach goes on the side and a teaspoon of the homemade Worcestershire moistens the meat.

It makes a rich course, but this dish is meant for a special occasion. The wine delivers the depth, power and refinement the dish demands. The classic Cabernet flavors of currants and berries have rich texture and herbal overtones, a paradigm of a California Cabernet, and this might just be the perfect dish for it-hearty, yet with enough variation of flavor and texture elements to make the wine show a slightly different facet with each bite.

Seared Halibut With Sweet Corn, Tomato and Cucumber Relish

1 large ear fresh yellow corn, peeled and silk removed
1 large Creole or other vine-ripened tomato, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/3 cup finely sliced green onions, green tops only
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 halibut fillets, 3 to 4 ounces each
1/2 teaspoon prepared Emeril's Original Essence, or creole seasoning (recipe follows)
4 sprigs fresh cilantro, garnish

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the corn and simmer until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the ear and place in a medium bowl.

To the corn, add the tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, 2 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Toss to combine and set aside.

Season each halibut fillet on one side with 1/8 teaspoon of the Essence and on the second side with 1/8 teaspoon of the remaining salt and a pinch of the remaining pepper.

In a large skillet or sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the fillets, seasoned side down, and sear until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Turn and sear on the second side, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

To serve, place 1 halibut fillet in the center of each of 4 large plates and spoon 1/4 of the relish partially on and to the side of the fish. Drizzle each portion with 1/2 teaspoon of the remaining olive oil and garnish with 1 sprig of cilantro. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Creole Seasoning:
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all the ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Makes 2/3 cup.

Shrimp Ragout With Rice

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onions
1 bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup converted rice
1 1/4 cups water
6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
20 large (16/20-count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
4 teaspoons thinly sliced green onions, green tops only, garnish

In a medium saucepan, heat the 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and a pinch of the pepper and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until glassy, about 1 minute. Add the water and 2 teaspoons of the butter and bring to a boil. Stir, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer undisturbed until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Uncover, fluff the rice with a fork and discard the bay leaf before serving.

Season the shrimp on all sides with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining black pepper.

In a large skillet or sauté pan, heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine, parsley, lemon juice and garlic and bring to a simmer. Cook until the mixture reduces slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 6 tablespoons butter, 2 teaspoons at a time, adding each piece before the previous one has been completely incorporated. Continue until all the butter is incorporated. Remove the pan from the heat.

To serve, spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of the rice into the center of each of 4 large plates and decoratively arrange 5 shrimp over each portion of rice. Spoon the pan juices over the shrimp. Garnish with the green onions and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Seared Salmon With Vegetable Lentils

4 center cut salmon fillets, 3 to 4 ounces each, skin removed
1 teaspoon Emeril's Original Essence or creole seasoning (recipe on page 61)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Vegetable lentils (recipe follows)
10-year-old balsamic vinegar, for garnish

Season each fillet on both sides with 1/4 teaspoon of the seasoning. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the salmon, skin side down, and sear for 3 to 4 minutes on the first side and 2 to 3 minutes on the second side for medium-rare. Remove from the heat to a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.

To serve, spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of the lentils into the center of each of 4 large plates, and top each portion with a fillet. Drizzle a few drops of balsamic vinegar over each salmon fillet and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Vegetable Lentils:
3 strips bacon, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, cut into small dice
1 stalk celery, cut into small dice
2 small carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces brown lentils
28 ounces chicken stock or canned, low-sodium chicken broth

In a medium saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until browned and the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Add the oil and when hot, add the onions, celery, carrots, bay leaf, salt and pepper and slowly cook the vegetables, stirring, until soft but not browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the lentils and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, but still firm and retain a bite, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf and adjust the seasoning to taste. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Pasta Bolognese With Sausage

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
3/4 cup diced carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound ground beef or ground veal
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cans, 14 1/2 ounces each, crushed tomatoes and their juice
1 can, 14 1/2 ounces, tomato sauce
1 cup beef or chicken stock or broth
2 teaspoons sugar
2 links, 4 ounces each, hot Italian sausage, cut in half crosswise
2 links, 4 ounces each, sweet Italian sausage, cut in half crosswise
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 pound fresh fettuccine
4 teaspoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme and oregano and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the meat and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the tomato sauce, beef broth and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium- low and simmer, stirring occasionally to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan, for 45 minutes. Add the sausages and continue to cook until the sauce is thickened and flavorful, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the heat, add the parsley and stir well. Discard the bay leaves and adjust the seasoning to taste. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and return the water to a low boil. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking, until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. (If using dried pasta, cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.) Drain in a colander.

Place the pasta in a large pasta or serving bowl and toss with enough sauce to lightly coat the pasta, about 1 cup. Divide the pasta among 4 shallow pasta bowls. Ladle an additional 2 tablespoons of sauce over each serving and top with 2 pieces of sausage. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of grated Parmigiano cheese over each serving and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Note: Refrigerate or freeze any leftover sauce for use another time.

Dry-Aged Sirloin Steaks

2 dry-aged sirloin steaks, 16 ounces each
Freshly ground black pepper
8 teaspoons homemade Worcestershire sauce (recipe follows)
1 recipe creamed spinach (recipe follows)
1 recipe scalloped potatoes (recipe follows)

Preheat a grill to high heat.

Season the sirloins on both sides with salt and pepper and grill until medium-rare and slightly charred around the edges, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Remove from the grill and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes. Slice each steak 1/2-inch thick against the grain.

To serve, spoon the potatoes into the center of each of 4 large plates and arrange the sliced meat on top. Spoon the creamed spinach next to the potatoes and drizzle 2 teaspoons of the Worcestershire sauce over each serving. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Emeril's Worcestershire Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups coarsely chopped onions
4 jalapeños, with stems and seeds, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
4 cans, 2 ounces each, anchovy fillets (or an 8-ounce can), drained of oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
2 tablespoons salt
2 whole, medium lemons, skin and pith removed
4 cups dark corn syrup
2 cups Steen's 100% Pure Cane Syrup
2 quarts distilled white vinegar
4 cups water
3/4 pound fresh horseradish, peeled and grated
3 pint-size canning jars

Combine the oil, onions and jalapeños in a large stockpot over high heat. Cook, stirring, until slightly soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper, anchovy fillets, cloves, salt, lemons, corn syrup, cane syrup, vinegar, water and horseradish and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture barely coats a wooden spoon, about 6 hours. Strain into a clean container.

Sterilize 3 pint-size jars and their metal lids according to the manufacturer's instructions. Spoon the hot mixture into the jars, filling to within 1/2-inch of the rim. With a clean, damp towel, wipe the rims and fit with a hot lid. Tightly screw on the metal ring.

Using tongs, place the jars on a rack in a large, deep canning kettle or stockpot of rapidly boiling water; water should cover the jars by 1 inch. Boil and process for 15 minutes.

Again using tongs, remove the jars, place on a towel and let cool completely before storing. Test the seals and tighten the rings as needed. Store in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks before using. After opening, jars can be kept in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. Makes 3 pints.

Note: Lagasse feels that the particular flavor of Steen's syrup is important to the recipe. Should you be unable to find it, dark molasses is an acceptable substitute.

Creamed Spinach:
2 pounds fresh spinach, tough stems removed and washed
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spinach and cook for 2 minutes. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer, pressing with a spoon to release as much water as possible. Finely chop. Set aside. Bring the cream to a low boil in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat.

Melt the butter in medium-heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 1 minute. Add the flour and cook, and then reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly with a heavy wooden spoon, until a light blond roux forms, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly, and cook until thick and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the salt, white pepper and nutmeg and simmer until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the hot cream, whisking constantly, and cook for 1 minute. Fold in the Swiss and Parmesan cheeses and mix until smooth. Add the spinach, mix well and cook until completely warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve hot. Serves 4.

Scalloped Potatoes:
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
3 cups heavy cream
2 3/4 pounds Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces Swiss cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Lightly grease a 1 1/2-quart baking dish with the butter and set aside. Place the cream in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the salt and the pepper and stir well. Add the potatoes, adding more cream if necessary to completely cover the potatoes. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are barely fork tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat.

With a large spoon, transfer 1/3 of the potatoes with some of the cream to the prepared dish, forming an even layer on the bottom. Top with 1/3 of the cheese. Continue layering the potatoes and cheese, ending with cheese on top. Place on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 4.

Alternate Wine Suggestions:

For this menu, Emeril Lagasse chose California wines from his home cellar, then created straightforward dishes with relatively few elements and clear, pure flavors to showcase them.

Lagasse takes an intuitive approach to matching wine and food, beginning with general principles, then adjusting the match as he cooks. This results in dishes that can match with a wider range of wines. By all means begin with Emeril's own wine suggestions, but don't hesitate to try an alternate. It's likely to work just as well, especially if you use a splash of the wine in the dish itself.

Seared Halibut With Sweet Corn, Tomato and Cucumber Relish
First choice: Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2002 (87, $22)
Alternate choices: Chateau Souverain Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley 2002 (88, $14), Robert Pepi Sauvignon Blanc California 2002 (87, $13)

Shrimp Ragout With Rice
First choice: Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Carneros Director's Reserve 2002 (NR, $22)
Alternate choices: Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley Select Cuvee 2002 (92, $35), Patz & Hall Chardonnay Napa Valley 2002 (92, $33)

Seared Salmon With Vegetable Lentils
First choice: Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2001 (91, $39)
Alternate choices: Martinelli Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Martinelli Vineyard Reserve 2001 (93, $40), David Bruce Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2001 (88, $40)

Pasta Bolognese With Sausage
First choice: Chappellet Sangiovese Napa Valley 2000 (NR, $13)
Alternate choice: Seghesio Sangiovese Alexander Valley 2000 (87, $21), Showket Sangiovese Oakville 2001 (87, $30)

Dry-Aged Sirloin Steaks
First choice: Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001 (92, $70)
Alternate choice: SPride Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001 (93, $56), Frog's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001 (90, $35)

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