Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve done a proper CorkPopper post, especially a CorkPopper Dinner post, and I’m not going to even try to pretend I have a legitimate excuse. I’ve just gotten out of the habit of writing every day – something I plan to remedy. Promise.
In any event, I did manage to prepare a CorkPopper Dinner over the weekend for my best childhood friend’s brother, DM (who also happens to be one half of the team working on totally rebranding this here website – stay tuned!), and his fantastic girlfriend (who also happens to be an amazing baker/pastry chef), KC.
Though my regular readers know that I ordinarily start with a wine and design a recipe around its flavor profile, I must admit that for the first course of this dinner I started with the protein. Before you scream, “Blasphemy!”, however, please allow me to explain. DM’s family owns a “fish camp” up on the Northern California coast in an area well-known for its red abalone diving. Now, I grew up eating fresh abalone that Pop would gather during our summers on the boat, but, due in part to overfishing and in part to a foot disease that wiped out a significant portion Southern California’s abalone population, there has been a moratorium on diving for abalone in Southern California for well over a decade. When DM and KC found out how much I love abalone, they offered to bring me some – an offer I obviously couldn’t pass up, as it has literally been years since I had any.
Growing up, my favorite preparation for abalone were what Pop called “ab rolls” – thin abalone steaks pounded with a tenderizer, soaked in milk, dipped in egg, dredged in breadcrumbs, rolled around Monterey Jack cheese and an Ortega chile and roasted on the grill….. yum. I was curious to try something a little different for this CorkPopper Dinner, however, which brings me to the recipe for Pan-Fried Abalone with Lemon-Caper Sauce. I elected to pair this dish with the 2010 Tablas Creek Rose because the dry but fruity and bright wine is an excellent foil for both the slight sweetness of the abalone meat and the briny capers.
Pan-Fried Abalone with Lemon Caper Sauce
- 4 abalone steaks, each approximately ½ thick
- 1 pint whole milk
- 1 egg
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 lemon wedges
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- ¼ cup dry white (or rose!) wine
- Juice of ½ lemon
Lightly pound the abalone steaks until tender but not so much they fall apart. Soak the pounded steaks in the milk. Crack the egg in a small bowl and beat lightly. Place the panko in another small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Dip each steak in the egg and dredge it in the panko, then allow to rest on a plate for about 10 minutes.
Preheat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the abalone steaks and cook about 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Squeeze the lemon wedges over the steaks before removing them to a paper towel-covered plate while you prepare the sauce.
Quickly wipe the same pan with a clean, dry paper towel and add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Once melted, add the capers and sauté about 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and lemon juice and continue to cook until reduced slightly.
Place a steak on each of four plates and spoon some sauce over each. Serve immediately.
Though the weather in Southern California has been all over the map in the last couple of weeks, I’m definitely finding myself in an Autumn kind of mood, craving hot apple cider, braised meats, and red wines. As such, I elected to focus on a completely different wine from a completely different winery for the night’s main course. The 2008 Hammersky Estate Zinfandel is everything the Tablas Creek Rose is not – dark and earthy and a wine that just screams for a cool Autumn evening and a big meaty meal. My solution? Wild Mushroom-Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Red Wine Mushroom Reduction – a big hit even though I learned that neither DM nor KC are fans of mushrooms!
Wild Mushroom-Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Red Wine Mushroom Reduction
Serves 4 (with plenty for leftovers!)
Ingredients for the Lamb
- 1 bunch fresh spinach (you can also substitute chard, if desired), roughly chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 5-6 large shallots, finely minced (about 1 cup)
- 1 pound mixed wild mushrooms (e.g., portabella, shiitake, crimini, morel, chanterelle), stemmed and finely minced
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (or ½ cup purchased breadcrumbs)
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely minced
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 5- to 6-pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied and trimmed of extra fat (ask your butcher)
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Preparation for the Lamb
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the spinach (or chard) and sauté until soft. Remove the greens from the skillet and set aside.
Add the butter and about 3-4 more tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent but not browned, about 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir, and cover. Allow to cook until mushrooms are soft, stirring regularly, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the heat, stir in the greens, and allow to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, rosemary, and thyme. Stir in the cooled mushroom mixture, and season to taste with salt and pepper before stirring in the beaten egg.
Lay 4 6- to 8-inch lengths of kitchen twine out on a cutting board. They should be parallel to each other and about 2 inches apart (depending on how wide your lamb leg is). Lay out the butterflied leg of lamb on top of the twine with the ends of the twine showing along the edges that will be rolled. Season the surface of the lamb generously with salt and pepper, then spread the mushroom mixture all over the top of the lamb. Take one side of the lamb and begin rolling it like a roll of wrapping paper toward the other end. Secure the roll using the twine, tying it tight enough to make the roll as compact as possible without squeezing out all the yumminess inside.
Season the outside of the rolled up lamb with more salt and pepper and then rub with the Dijon mustard.
Roast on a rack in a large roasting pan for approximately 1 hour, until cooked to 135 degrees for medium rare. Be sure to turn the lamb over about halfway through the cooking process and allow to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing into 1-inch slices. Serve over your favorite mashed starch (I did mashed garnet yams) and drizzle with a generous amount of sauce (recipe below).
Ingredients for Sauce
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 large celery stalk, roughly chopped
- 1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 1 cup mushroom trimmings (peels and stems)
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bottle dry red wine (I used an inexpensive Zinfandel to compliment the wine I planned to pour with dinner)
- 2 cups low sodium beef stock (plus more to taste)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preparation for the Sauce
In a medium sauce pot, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the carrot, celery and onion (this trio is known as a mirepoix) and sweat over medium heat until slightly softened but not browned. Add the mushroom trimmings and continue to stir until the mushrooms have also softened, about 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and thyme and stir another 2 minutes or so before adding the wine. Bring to a boil to cook off the alcohol then add 2 cups of the beef stock. Bring to a boil again and then turn the heat down and simmer until reduced by about half, or until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. If your sauce becomes too thick or too salty, you can always thin it out with a little more beef stock.
Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to squeeze out as much flavor as possible. Rinse the sauce pot and return the sauce to it. Season with salt and pepper to taste and finish just before serving by whisking in the remaining tablespoon butter (this is what gives French sauces their lovely glistening look).
Cheers and enjoy!!