The casual cocktail party is back -- and it's a low-key, high-flavor affair. "People want to get together," says Blue Hill chef-owner Dan Barber, "but they don't want to wear black-tie." We asked eight of our favorite chefs what they'd serve at a cocktail party, and the results were thrilling -- with nary a caviar egg or truffle shaving in sight. Among our favorites: Union Square Cafe's Michael Romano serves his herby crab salad on an endive leaf, and Philippe Bertineau of Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro stuffs an Oakwood shiitake cap with sweet-and-sour chestnut-apple chutney. Wylie Dufresne's deep-fried Brussels-sprout leaves are more sophisticated than potato chips (but equally addictive). Jean-Georges Vongerichten flaunts his Asian infatuation with delicate tuna wasabi wontons, while lightly smoked salmon meets its vaguely sweet match in a chunky beet purée, which Blue Hill's Barber serves on brioche toast. With hors d'oeuvre like these, mellow need never again mean monotonous.
Stuffed Oakwood Shiitake With Chestnut and Apple Chutney
PAYARD PÂTISSERIE & BISTRO
Yields 24 pieces.
2 tablespoons olive oil
24 Oakwood shiitake mushrooms, trimmed (any shiitakes may be substituted)
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
2 sprigs thyme
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
4 teaspoons butter
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely diced
24 frozen chestnuts (available at Grace's Marketplace, 1237 Third Avenue, at 71st Street)
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 and a 1/2-inch piece ginger, smashed
1 stalk lemongrass, lightly smashed
4 Fuji apples, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup elderflower syrup (available at Myers of Keswick, 634 Hudson Street; 2 tablespoons honey can be substituted)
Garnish: 24 sprigs chervil
Heat the oil in a sauté pan, add the shiitakes, and sweat over low heat. Add 2 garlic cloves, 1 sprig thyme, and 1 cup of the stock; bring to a boil; and reduce the liquid until dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. (May be made a day ahead and refrigerated.)
Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a sauté pan. Add the celery, shallots, 1 sprig thyme, and 2 garlic cloves, and sweat over low heat for 3 minutes. Add chestnuts, and cook for 5 more minutes; add 2 cups stock and simmer until liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper, and remove the garlic and thyme. Add the remaining butter, and crush the chestnuts with a fork until the butter is incorporated. Set aside. (May be made a day ahead.)
Sweat the onion, ginger, and lemongrass in a saucepan till the onion is soft. Add the diced apple, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the rice vinegar and syrup, reduce until dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove the ginger and lemongrass. (May be made a day ahead.)
Spoon a little chestnut purée into each mushroom cap, and top with the apple chutney. (May be assembled a few hours ahead.)
To serve: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set the mushroom caps on a baking sheet, and heat them in the oven for 5 minutes. Garnish each with a sprig of chervil and place in a porcelain Chinese spoon.
Endive Spears Filled With Crabmeat Salad
UNION SQUARE CAFE
Yields 24 pieces.
1 large tomato
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 and a 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 and a 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cognac
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon snipped chives plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 and a 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup peeled and chopped celery
4 to 5 large Belgian endives
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over
Freshly ground black pepper
Dressing: Place a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Cut the tomato in half crosswise and gently squeeze the halves, cut sides down, into the strainer. Scoop out any juice and seeds remaining in the tomato, and strain these as well. You should have about 2 tablespoons of strained tomato water. Add the remaining dressing ingredients, and whisk well. Set aside.
Filling: Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the celery and cook over medium-high heat for 1 minute, until the celery is no longer raw but still crunchy. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and set aside in a bowl to cool. Peel off 24 large outer leaves, and trim the bases. Cut 2 of the endive cores crosswise into 1/4-inch slices and toss with the celery. Add crabmeat and dressing, season with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and fold gently with a rubber spatula. Just before serving, mound about 1 tablespoon of the crabmeat into the cut end of each endive spear. Garnish with chives.
Lamb Patties With Mint Chutney
Yields about 15 to 18 pieces.
1 cup packed mint leaves (stems removed)
1 fresh red chili, seeds removed, finely diced
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 tablespoons finely diced ginger
1 pinch coarse gray sea salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime juice
4 tablespoons chicken stock
1 and a 1/2 teaspoons butter
1 and a 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1 and a 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 and a 1/4 pounds ground lamb
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped chives
1 and a 1/2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon olive oil
8 ounces Montrachet goat cheese
Chutney: Blanch mint leaves in salted water for about 15 seconds, and immediately shock in ice water. Squeeze dry, and finely chop with a sharp knife. Heat the remaining ingredients in a saucepan for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Allow to cool, then add chopped mint leaves.
Patties: Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add shallots and garlic and sweat, add spices, and allow to cool. Transfer the garlic-shallot mixture to a large bowl, along with lamb, salt, and herbs, and mix together well. Heat the oil in a sauté pan and cook a sample of the spiced lamb to taste seasoning.
Form the goat cheese into 1/2-inch balls. Take a tablespoon of the lamb mixture and flatten into a disc, place a ball of goat cheese in the center, and wrap the lamb around the cheese until it is completely encased. Heat the oil in the sauté pan, and cook the patties for 3 to 4 minutes over medium-high heat, turning, until brown. Serve topped with a spoonful of chutney.
Lightly Smoked Salmon With Beet Purée on Brioche
BLUE HILL AND DAN BARBER CATERING
Yields about 36 pieces.
1 medium beet, tops removed
1/2 small red onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped cornichons
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
12 slices (about 1 pound) lightly smoked salmon, center cut, fat removed
9 1/4-inch thick slices brioche or pan de mie
4 tablespoons crème fraîche
1/2 bunch dill
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the beet on foil along with the onion. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over both, and season with salt and pepper. Seal in foil and bake for 11/2 hours or until beet is tender.
Peel the beet, and chop roughly. Place beet and onion in a food processor, and pulse until chopped finely (not smooth). Transfer to a bowl, and stir in capers, cornichons, chives, shallot, vinegar, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and honey.
Cut the brioche into 1-by-2-inch rectangles, and place in a medium bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Set brioche on a baking sheet, and bake for 8 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
Cut each slice of salmon into three pieces, of about 2 inches by 3 inches. Lay each piece lengthwise on a cutting board. Place 1/2 teaspoon of beet purée and a dot of crème fraîche on one end of each slice of salmon. Beginning at that end, roll the salmon up. Top each roll with a sprig of dill, and place the rolls in a shallow baking dish. Cover tightly, and refrigerate. May be made up to 48 hours in advance (at least 4 hours, to color the salmon). Remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve each roll on a piece of brioche.
ARTISANAL AND PICHOLINE
Yields about 32 pieces.
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup milk plus extra for brushing
1/2 teaspoon each salt and ground white pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup grated Gruyère plus extra for garnish
Coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bring the butter, milk, 1/4 cup water, salt, and pepper to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the sifted flour and baking powder. Stir well, and return to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Place the cheese and the mixture in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle, and beat until just warm. Add the eggs slowly as the mixer runs, until dough is smooth and shiny. (Alternatively, stir to cool by hand and beat in eggs with a wooden spoon.) Transfer to a pastry bag, and pipe in 1-inch mounds using a No. 4 tip, or drop with a teaspoon, on a sheet pan lined with parchment. (At this stage, the gougères can be frozen and then stored in a plastic bag. They do not have to be thawed before baking, but 11/2 to 2 minutes should be added to the cooking time.) Brush with milk, and sprinkle with cheese and sea salt.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes; when puffs are golden brown, reduce to 375 degrees and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Serve hot or at room temperature. May be reheated.
71 CLINTON FRESH FOOD
2 pounds large Brussels sprouts
1 quart canola or grapeseed oil for deep-frying
Maldon sea salt (available at Dean & DeLuca, 560 Broadway, at Prince Street)
Cayenne or ground cumin
Trim 1/4 inch off the bottom of each sprout, and remove the dark green leaves, reserving the pale green centers for another use.
Blanch the leaves for 3 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water. (Blanch the leaves in batches, to keep the water boiling.) Remove the leaves with a slotted spoon, and place in a bowl of iced water to shock them. Drain the leaves and set them out on paper towels or dry them in a salad spinner, and then set out on paper towels. The leaves must be completely dry.
Heat the oil to 250 degrees. Throw three leaves into the hot oil to test the temperature; if they turn brown in 3 minutes, then reduce the temperature. Add the leaves in batches, covering the oil with a screen to stop spatters. Remove the leaves from the oil when they are crisp but not browned (about 3 minutes), and set out on paper towels to drain the oil. May be made 2 hours ahead and stored on paper towel in a plastic container.
Pile the crisps in a bowl and dust with salt and cayenne or cumin to taste.
JEAN GEORGES, VONG, AND JO JO
Yields 24 pieces.
24 wonton skins
1 8-ounce tuna steak, about 1 and a 1/2 inches thick
1 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons wasabi paste
1/2 lime, juiced
1/4 cup white sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 cup pickled ginger
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a 2-inch circle from each wonton skin using a cookie cutter. Place the circles on a large cookie sheet and bake for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the wontons look puffy and turn golden around the edges. Set aside to cool.
Slice the tuna into 11/2-inch cubes and cut each cube into 1/8-inch-thick squares. Mix the cream cheese with the wasabi until smooth, and season to taste with lime juice and salt. Spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture onto the wonton, place a little slice of pickled ginger on top, and finish with a square of tuna. Sprinkle the tuna with sesame seeds.
Seared Marinated Shrimp With Ginger and Celery
Yields 24 pieces.
4 ounces fresh ginger, peeled
3 stalks celery with leaves
Large bunch coriander
Large bunch mint
4 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons hot sesame oil (Asian sesame oil mixed with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne may be substituted)
24 shrimp (15-20 size), peeled and deveined
Salt and finely ground black pepper
Canola oil for sautéing
Place the ginger, celery, scallions, coriander, and mint on a large cutting board and pound with the bottom of a heavy saucepan till smashed. Place in a large bowl, and add mirin and sesame oil.
Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat a few drops of canola oil in a nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add shrimp in batches, and sear for 2 minutes per side until just opaque. Immediately add the shrimp to the marinade, and toss to coat. (There will be very little liquid in the bowl.) Allow to cool, and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours, tossing shrimp once or twice. Serve mounded on a platter.