Feast and Fluid: A Night at Stir Boston
Last Thursday I collected on a very generous birthday present: Dave and I went to Stir Boston. If you haven’t already heard about Stir, I can tell you without hesitation that it is the most luxurious cooking class I have ever taken. You won’t do any chopping at this class, no whisking, peeling, sautéing – heck, you won’t even stand. You’ll sidle up to the kitchen island with 9 other people, drink a glass of champagne poured by the Sommelier, and watch your animated and knowledgeable chef prepare a fantastic meal, which she’ll serve to you, course by course.
The Stir Boston space is very small, with barely room for 10 around the table. However, rather than feeling cramped, it is cozy, with one wall in the room devoted entirely to cookbooks. During the evening you’ll enjoy great wine (extremely thoughtful pairings- oenophiles rejoice) and verbally mingle with your fellow diners as well as the chef. Our French Country Comfort Food class went from 7-9:45pm and included 6 small courses, 4 glasses of wine, and a pleasurable crowd of people. The amiable group was important, a class experience at Stir could be marred – if not ruined – by one or two overbearing personalities. We were lucky to have a few Stir regulars at our class who already knew the chef (Stephanie) and the drill (“Now we vote on our favorite course! I’ll write down everyone’s choices!”). These experienced guests drew out the newbies, asking us questions about ourselves and our interest in French food. By the second glass of wine everyone felt comfortable asking Stephanie questions about what she was cooking, why she was using certain ingredients, and how we could incorporate her techniques into our own meals at home.
Depending on the crowd, an evening at Stir could feel more like a social event than an educational experience, so if you’re looking for a very serious, hands on class, this is not for you. However, even from the comfort of my stool and with an arm around my date, I picked up a few tips (noted below). Check out the rest of this post for some pictures, the run down of our food for the evening, and the recipe from my favorite course, a monkfish stew.
Tips from Chef Stephanie:
-Stephanie used Grapeseed oil for all of her sautéing, citing its high smoke point and mild flavor. Who knew?
-She also finished many of her dishes with White Balsamic Vinegar. White Balsamic is less sweet than regular Balsamic, and doesn’t have the syrupy texture. It added a subtle brightness without salt – I went out and bought some the next day.
-When making a sauce, Stephanie ran her finger down a ladle and said, “We’re looking for the ‘nappe,’” which she explained is the stage of a sauce when the liquid will coat a spoon.
-When a liquid is boiling with fast bubbles, it means there is a lot of water in it. When the bubbles slow, it means the sauce is reducing and thickening.
-If you put mushrooms in meatballs, you will keep them moist.
Armchair Travel: French Country Comfort Food
First: A trio of Madelines – chive, chorizo, and comte (Pairing: NV Roderer Champagne Brut*)
Second: Quiche Lorraine: greens, bacon, and Comte
Third: Lotte a L’armoricaine -stew with monkfish, saffron, and Cognac (Pairing: 2009 Mas Christine Cotes du Roussillon Blanc – buttery, smooth, amazing)
Fourth: Tartiflette – potato, ham and reblochon (Pairing: 2009 Thinvin Brouilly Beaujolais – very smooth, cut the rich umami of the cheese)
Fifth: Coq au Vin Crepinette – red wine mushrooms, meatballs and pearl onions
Sixth: Apple Tarte Tatin – orange, lavender and creme fraiche (Pairing: 2008 Chateau Bel Air Sainte Croix du Mont)
Lotte A L’Armoricaine
1 ½ pounds monkfish, or other firm fish, cut into large pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 cup seeded & diced tomato
½ teaspoon saffron
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons cognac
4 tablespoons dry white wine
1 cup clam juice
¼ cup heavy cream
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large pan with deep sides, drizzle the bottom with grapeseed oil, and place over medium-high heat. Add the fish, and cook for about 3 minutes, until the fish has begun to brown and slightly cook. Adding more oil if necessary, add the shallot and garlic, cooking for 1-2 minutes, until tender and translucent, but not brown. Add the tomato paste and diced tomato, and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the saffron, thyme, and parsley, and stir to combine.
Pour in the wine and cognac, making sure to stir and scrape up any brown bits that have started to stick to the bottom. Cook until the wine and cognac have reduced and there is barely any liquid left in the pan. Add the clam juice and cream, cover, and reduce the heat. Allow to simmer for about 8 minutes.