For our special Memorial Day Chef on a Shoestring challenge, we invited Cornelius Gallagher, the executive chef at New York City's Oceana restaurant, to cook an entertaining menu for six for $60 or less.
Gallagher describes his culinary style as "neo-classic," because he likes to deconstruct classic recipes and rewrite them with a modern interpretation. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Gallagher has worked with some of the best in the restaurant business: Gray Kunz, David Bouley, Laurent Gras and Daniel Bouloud. He will be featured in the July issue of "Food and Wine" magazine as one of the "Best New Chefs."
For this Memorial Day weekend, instead of traditional hamburgers and hot dogs, Gallagher has created an easy, elegant meal perfect for celebrating the beginning of summer.
Gallagher 's menu: an appetizer of salad of frisee with bacon, blue cheese, and sherry vinegar; an entrée of roasted shrimp with spinach, garlic, and port wine butter; and for dessert, chilled rhubarb soup.
Frisee (free-ZAY): A member of the chicory family, it has curly, slender leaves that range in color from yellow-white to yellow-green. This feathery vegetable has a mildly bitter flavor. You want to buy frisee that has crisp leaves and no signs of wilting.
Rhubarb: (ROO-bahrb): A plant with thick, celery-like stalks that can grow up to 2 feet long, rhubarb is a member of the buckwheat family. The stalks are the only edible part of the plant. The leaves should not be eaten - they are toxic. The flavor of rhubarb is intensely tart, which is why it is often combined with sweet fruit or considerable amounts of sugar. You can find two main types: hothouse or field-grown. You can tell which ones are hothouse grown by the color. Hothouse rhubarb stalks tend to be pink to pale red with yellow-green leaves. The field-grown plants have cherry red stalks with green leaves. You generally find field-grown rhubarb from late winter to early summer (peak time is April to June). When buying rhubarb, make sure the leaves are blemish-free and look fresh. And the stalks should be crisp with a bright color.
Port Wine: Port wine is a sweet fortified wine whose name derives from the fact that such wines are shipped out of the Portuguese city of Oporto. There are four basic categories of port: Tawny, Vintage, Ruby and White. Gallagher says because we are cooking the port wine and not drinking it, you don't need to buy an expensive bottle. You can use a nice ruby port. Ruby ports are generally the least expensive, and are made from lower-quality wine. They are wood-aged for two years and bottled while still youthful, fruity and bright in color.
Salad of Frisee with Bacon, Blue Cheese and Sherry Vinegar
1/2 pound bacon
4 heads frisee lettuce (tender yellow leaves only)
3 tablespoons chives, chopped fine
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
Using a sharp knife, slice the bacon across the width into ¼-inch pieces. Set a frying pan over medium heat. When it's hot, add the bacon. Fry until the fat is rendered and the meat is lightly crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and reserve bacon and fat in the pan.
While the bacon is frying, wash the lettuce with cold water and transfer it to a colander to drain. Pat dry with paper towels. Chop the lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Put the lettuce into a large wooden bowl, along with the chives, blue cheese and sherry vinegar. Toss and add the warm bacon, drizzling some of the fat in, as well. Toss to coat, season with salt and pepper and toss again. Serve immediately.
Roasted Shrimp with Spinach, Garlic & Port Wine Butter
2 cups port wine
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter, cut into pieces
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds medium-sized shrimp, peeled and de-veined
3 tablespoons thyme leaves, picked off the stems
3 tablespoons shallots, peeled and chopped
2 pound flat leaf spinach, cleaned
1 clove garlic, peeled
Add the port wine to a saucepot and place over medium high heat. When the port begins bubbling, reduce the heat to medium and let the port simmer until it is reduced by half. Lower the heat and whisk in the butter in pieces, fully incorporating each addition before adding more. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
While the port is reducing, add the olive oil to a sauté pan and place over medium high heat. When hot, add the shrimp and sauté until translucent and firm, turning once, cooking for about two minutes total. Add the thyme and shallots to the pan, and baste the shrimp with the seasoned pan juices. Baste and cook shrimp for another minute. Transfer shrimp to a platter.
Pierce the clove of garlic with the tines of a fork. Add the spinach to the sauté pan used for the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and stir continuously with the fork holding the garlic until the spinach is wilted and tender. Remove from heat, and reserve in warm pan.
Mound equal portions of the spinach on six warm dinner plates. Top each mound of spinach with equal portions of shrimp. Drizzle sauce around the spinach and serve immediately.
Rhubarb Soup with Berries and Vanilla Ice Cream
*Chef's Note: This recipe requires a juicer; if you don't own one, and don't wish to spend $15 to purchase one, you may substitute 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for the rhubarb juice.
8 rhubarb stalks
4 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 orange, grated for zest
2 cinnamon sticks
1 pint vanilla ice cream
6 strawberries, cut very thin crosswise
1/2 cup blueberries, sliced
2 tablespoons mint leaves, torn
Wash seven rhubarb stalks, peel away any tough exterior, trim the ends and cut the stalks into chunks. Combine the rhubarb pieces, water, sugar, orange zest and cinnamon in a saucepot, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until the rhubarb is falling apart, 8 to 12 minutes. (There is a very small window where the rhubarb goes from tender to mush; keep testing the fruit by piercing it with a sharp knife, and as soon as it penetrates, remove it from the heat.) Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the contents to a shatter-proof container. Refrigerate the soup until cold. When chilled, discard the cinnamon.
Put the remaining rhubarb stalk into a juicer and process to release its juice. Strain and add the juice to the chilled soup. Serve the soup in six chilled dessert bowls, with a scoop of ice cream, a few berries and some mint.
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