Sunday, January 8, 2012

Existentialist Cooking in the 'burbs

Hello, East coasters, and if there are any readers on the West coast who are reading this blog, hello to you too. This story on making tuna, inspired by a recipe from Le Bernardin, a memory of reading Camus, and my husband's decision to clean out his office, ran on Patch this morning. As always, if you have comments or recipes to share, please leave them on the Patch site. Thank you, as always, for reading!

The postcard that inspired Sunday Night Supper.

Sunday Night Supper: By Camus and Le Bernardin

Just because a recipe from a fancy restaurant calls for grilling outside in summer doesn't mean you can't use a broiler in January.
By Laura Zinn Fromm | 5:00 am

At the beginning of New Year’s weekend, we flew home from California. We’d had a lovely vacation, meandering up the West Coast, starting in Los Angeles, then winding our way north until we finally pulled up to my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Berkeley. My kids spent a lot of time dipping their toes into the beautiful, cold Pacific while my husband and I shivered and stared at gorgeous sunsets.

The drive up the California coastline was long, and we had a few bouts of car sickness, but none of us got sick. Yet, the minute we got home, my younger son and I almost immediately resumed the sinus infections we'd been fighting for months.

Something in our house was aggravating our sinuses, and I was pretty sure my husband’s office was the culprit.

This office had once been a pleasant place to work. It wasn’t big; someone less charitable might call it a walk-in closet with a decent-size window and nice carpeting. But we tried to make it work. Shortly after we moved in, we hired a carpenter to make built-in book shelves, drawers and a desk. This guy set up shop in the garage and over the course of a few weekends, finished the work. He charged us next to nothing and did a great job. It turned out he charged so little because he had recently been in prison, which is where he learned his carpentry skills. But that's another story.

A painter stained the shelves and cabinets, we put up new wallpaper and my husband settled in. But even on his best day, my husband doesn’t file. Papers piled up; bank statements sat on prospectuses; the room became stuffy; the floor and counters disappeared. My husband relocated to the desk in our bedroom; the office became a storage room filled with dust. When we got back from California, I argued that all that dust was making us sick. I had no idea if that was true, but it seemed like it could be. My husband finally agreed to clean it out and filled five garbage bags with stuff.

In the middle of the purge, he came downstairs, waving a card. “Hey, look what I found!” he said. “Can you make this?” It was a card from Le Bernardin. Inside, it said, “Wishing You a Hot Summer!” and next to that was a recipe for Slate-Grilled Tuna Steak with Soy Ginger Vinaigrette and Romaine. The card had a cheerful, life-is-good vibe. On the front was a picture of a handsome, middle-aged man, his gray hair closely cropped. He wears a pair of dark sunglasses and an expensive-looking watch. The sun shines down upon him and his expression is gleeful as he lifts up the grill and peers inside. The look on his face says, “I’ve never even heard of a government bailout!" Nothing about the card says recession, unemployment or sub-prime loans. I flipped the card over to see when it had been printed; it had to be way before the stock market crash in 2008. A quick call to Le Bernardin confirmed that in fact the card was quite old. "This is actually from 2002 and pictured is Chef Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin," said Cathy Sheary, who works in the chef's office. "It is taken from his cookbook – A Return to Cooking."

Let's not even discuss the fact that my husband had mail sitting in his office for almost a decade. Back to his original question: Could I make this recipe? (And could I look as cool and tan as Eric Ripert while doing it?) Into my head popped a quote from Camus’s The Stranger, which roughly translated goes, In the midst of winter, I found within me an invincible summer. Or some such.

We did have all the ingredients, except for the tuna and tomatoes. Tuna was easy enough to get, but we were many months away from ripe tomatoes. The recipe also suggested you lay a piece of slate over your grill and cook on it. Maybe that worked for the sous chefs at Le Bernardin, but I wasn't about to attempt that in 12-degree weather. Still, a part of me thought what the hell – if I could remember Camus, I could do this. I would use canned tomatoes and broil instead of grill. (I know there are hardy souls out there who grill on their patios in winter. Go with God.)

We bought two pounds of tuna for $18.99/pound at Kings. It’s not fun to pay that much for fish, but itis fun to start thinking about summer when it's freezing out. I used a can of tomatoes from the pantry; they ended up being fantastic with the marinade. The recipe called for two fresh tomatoes; I used four canned. The dish made enough for two meals and on the second night, my older son went searching for the tomatoes, but we'd polished them off. Next time, I will double the marinade and use the whole can.

This recipe was fantastic, which is what you might expect from Le Bernardin. My older son described it as, "Hawaiian-y and summery but it’s winter so a good contrast." My younger son, who is not a fan of fish, said, "It's good – for fish." My husband, who threatened to eat a slice of pizza on the way home from work but backed off once I screeched that I'd marinated fish for an hour, waxed rhapsodic once he dug into the tuna. “This is really yummy and delicious," he said. "Great job! You should be a chef.” (Oh, go on.) I think my husband was amazed that something he had fished out of a pile (forgive the pun) had turned into a meal. And all in the midst of winter...well, you know the rest. Happy January.

Tuna Steak with Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette and Romaine, Adapted from Le Bernardin

4 6-ounce yellowfin tuna steaks
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence (this is a combination of rosemary, fennel seeds, oregano, marjoram, thyme and savory; combine two tablespoons of each and save the extra for another recipe)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, cored and cut in half (I used four canned)
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice

Small pinch cayenne pepper

2 heads romaine leaves, left whole, washed and dried

Season tuna steaks on both sides with salt, peppers and herbes de Provence. Generously rub extra virgin olive oil on the tuna, coating both sides. Season tomato halves with salt, pepper, herbes de Provence and sliced garlic; drizzle with oil Allow tuna and tomatoes to marinate one hour.

Make soy-ginger vinaigrette by whisking together ginger, shallot, oyster sauce and sherry wine vinegar. Whisk in canola oil, soy sauce, lime juice and cayenne pepper. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside.

Turn broiler on and let it heat up. Cover cookie sheet or broiler pan with tinfoil. Pour some marinade on the tin foil and place tuna and tomatoes on top of the marinade. Broil for five minutes on one side. Then turn over and cover tuna steaks with more marinade. Broil for five minutes or more until done. Top with remaining marinade. Serve with romaine lettuce.*

*If you want to use slate and grill the tuna the way Le Bernardin suggests, follow these instructions:

Start a large charcoal fire in the grill. When coals are very hot, place slate on the grill and heat slate until it is very hot, about 30 minutes. Pour some marinade all over the slate and lay tuna on top of the oil. Place tomatoes on the slate, cut-side down. Grill tuna on the slate until it is browned on the bottom, then turn it over to grill on the other side – remove the tuna from the slate when it is browned on both sides but is still rare in the middle. When tomatoes are lightly charred, turn them over to finish cooking on the other side (they should be soft but still hold their form.) To serve, dress romaine leaves with some of the soy-ginger vinaigrette arrange on plates. Place one tomato and one tuna steak on each plate; drizzle more soy-ginger vinaigrette around each dish.


  1. nice story, but was the office the cause of the sinus infections? I will definitely use this recipe...and my outdoor grill here in glen ridge.

  2. It's not clear if the office was the cause of the sinus infections. It could have been the two dead mice we found under the oven, or the icky green fluid that was leaking out of the broken refrigerator in the basement. However, I do think dust can contribute to sinus infections! Thanks for reading and have fun grilling this outside in Glen Ridge!