For some restaurants, New Year's Eve is time to post the "closed" sign. For many chefs, however, it still isn't a night to loosen those apron strings.
Washington chef Nora Pouillon will be visiting a friend in Hawaii. Her friend doesn't cook, so Ms. Pouillon will serve the 30-some invited revelers. She'll keep things casual by getting "everyone into the small kitchen" to help cook the Millennium Menu: roasted rib steak, two roast ducks, Potato Gratin with Black Truffles, and a simple salad. "It'll be one big party," says Pouillon, known for cooking almost exclusively with organic ingredients at her District of Columbia restaurants, Nora and Asia.
Also touting an informal approach to New Year's Eve is Barbara Kafka, author of "Party Food" and "Soup." She'll be celebrating with her family at Norman's in Miami, owned by her friend and award-winning chef Norman Van Aken. In the past, she has served a simple Shrimp Gumbo (see recipe, below) with great success. "New Year's can almost be a curse," she says. "It's impossible to live up to everyone's fancy expectations."
Ms. Kafka swore off oysters at her parties long ago. "Too many guests stabbed themselves trying to pry them open," she says. But that has never stopped George Germon, owner with his wife, Johanne Killeen, of Al Forno restaurant in Providence, R.I. "You can't beat oysters for a festive starter," says Mr. Germon, who got the inspiration from his favorite restaurant in Provence - Warmed Oysters Bathed in Cream and Shallots (see recipe, below).
New England chef Jasper White, on the other hand, likes to pull out all the stops for New Year's Eve. "It's all about elegance," he says. His top choice for the occasion is the "Millionaire's Salad: Warm Greens with Lobster, Foie Gras & Papaya," featured in his "Lobster at Home" cookbook. For those who want a simpler but still elegant dish, he says you can't go wrong with Lobster Bisque.
Mark Bittman is one cook who is less enthused about his last meal of '99 than his first of 2000. Mr. Bittman, who most recently wrote "How to Cook Everything" can hardly wait until Jan. 1, when he, his wife, and another couple will savor the sunrise and a breakfast of homemade croissants and Filet of Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Mustard - all at the beach. "We'll drive about 1-1/2 hours from our Connecticut home to get there after going to bed at 1," he says, adding: "How often can you greet a millennium in such style?"
Warmed Oysters Bathed in Cream and Shallots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely minced shallots
3/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt
18 oysters, shucked, on the half shell
18 sprigs of chervil (preferably) or parsley
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small saut pan over moderate heat. Add the shallots and saut, while stirring, until transparent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cream and salt; bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer 3 minutes. Keep warm over very low heat.
Lay oysters, in their half shells, on a large cookie sheet, preferably one with sides. (A large piece of crumpled aluminum foil will help keep oysters in place.) Heat oysters in the oven until warm, about 3 minutes.
Just before serving, whisk remaining butter into cream sauce. Spoon sauce over oysters; garnish with chervil or parsley. Serves 6.
Here is a gumbo that is relatively tame as to spice. For those who want a jolt, simply double the pepper quantities. It may be made a day or two ahead except for the addition of the shrimp.
2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, shells reserved
6 cups chicken broth
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large yellow onion, sliced
3 ribs celery, trimmed, leaves reserved, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup coarsely chopped reserved celery leaves
10 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons fil powder
1/2 pound fresh okra, caps trimmed, leaving pods intact
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
4 cups cooked white rice
In a medium saucepan, bring the shrimp shells and stock to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve; discard shells.
To make the roux, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until roux is a medium chocolate color; this will take about 20 to 30 minutes.
Stir the onion, celery, celery leaves, garlic, thyme, and cayenne pepper into the roux. Cook, stirring, over medium heat for 8 minutes. Stir in the fil powder and okra. Slowly whisk in the shrimp stock. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently to ensure a smooth gumbo.
Lower heat and simmer for 6 minutes. (At this point the gumbo can be cooled and refrigerated for a day or two.)
If the gumbo has been refrigerated, return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 6 minutes. Stir in the shrimp. Return to a boil. Lower heat; simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in salt, lemon juice, pepper, and pepper sauce. Serve over rice.
Makes 8 first-course servings or 5 main-course servings.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society