My friend Eric Ripert is not only one of the most talented chefs in the world, he is also the nicest manâ€”as well as extraordinarily passionate about his craft. I once asked him if he tasted his food while cooking and he answered by pulling a spoon from the pocket of his blue oxford cloth shirt. Known for his magical way with fish at Le Bernardin, his culinary interests range far wider, as evidenced by his book Avec Eric. Based on his popular PBS series, the book features dishes inspired by his travels to different culinary landscapes, ranging from Tuscany to the Hudson River Valley.
Now Eric has a fun new show, â€œOn the Table,” in which he invites guestsâ€”including Mario Batali, actor Stanley Tucci , and his good friend Anthony Bourdainâ€”into his kitchen. Together they cook the guest's signature dish, but the point is really the rollicking conversation. The show premieres this week on YouTube's new Reserve Channel, but in the meantime, you can check out a sneak peek of the first episode featuring the inimitable Bourdain.
I also highly recommend Eric's cookbooks, three of which, Avec Eric, On the Line (a behind-the-scenes look at life in Le Bernardin's fast-paced kitchen), and the Le Bernardin Cookbook (a must-have classic based on the restaurants' early menus) at Books & Books. All three have recipes perfect for summer: cold soups and seafood salads; no-cook fish tartares, carpaccios, and seviches; and great ideas for the grill (Eric himself is an inveterate home griller).
One of my favorites is the Asian Tuna Tartare from the Le Bernardin Cookbook, which I include below. By now tuna tartare is a fixture on menus everywhere, but when Le Benardin first showcased raw tuna, it was nothing short of revolutionary. This version remains my absolute favorite.
Asian Tuna Tartare
Adapted from Le Bernardin Cookbook by Eric Ripert and Maguy LeCoze
Makes 4 servings
1 teaspoon peeled and finely diced fresh ginger
¼ cup corn oil
1 pound freshest tuna
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons thinly sliced fresh coriander leaves
½ teaspoon seeded and finely diced jalapeno
¾ teaspoon wasabi powder
½ teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon finely diced scallion (from white and light green parts only)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, plus ½ lemon
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 ripe tomato, peeled seeded, and cut into 1/8 inch dice
20 best quality potato chips
Combine the ginger and corn oil in a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Strain.
Trim any blood or pieces of the nerve from the tuna. Cut into a tiny dice (no bigger than 1/8 of an inch). Put the tuna in a mixing bowl. (The recipe can be made to this point up to 5 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate the tuna.)
No more than 15 minutes before serving, add 1 tablespoon of coriander to the tuna, along with the jalapeno, wasabi, sesame seeds, scallion, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, and 4 teaspoons of the ginger oil. Mix gently. Season with salt and pepper.
Place a round mold or open-ended cookie cutter, 2¼ inches in diameter and 1½ inches high, in the center of a salad plate. Fill the mold with the tuna mixture, pressing it gently so the tuna is even and compact. Lift off the mold and repeat, making 3 more plates.
Drizzle the remaining oil on the plates around the tartare. Sprinkle the tomato over the oil and then sprinkle the remaining coriander over the tomato. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the garnishes. Stand 5 potato chips up on their edges in each tartare, arranging them in a circle. Serve immediately.
[NOTE: Eric's presentation is perfect for even the most formal of dinner parties and the tuna looks really prettyâ€”and somehow tastes betterâ€”when pressed into shape with the molds. (In a pinch you can also use a ramekin of the same sizeâ€”oil the bottom and sides with olive oil so the tuna doesn't stick, press the tuna in lightly, and unmold on the plate.) But I make this tartare so much, I often serve it a lot more casuallyâ€”it's great as a snack or hors d'oeuvre, piled on a platter or in a bowl and surrounded by chips or thin slices of toasted baguette brushed with a little olive oil. I often serve it as a more relaxed first course by topping a little salad of mesclun lettuce and whole coriander leaves with a scoop of the tartare (served with a couple of slices of the toast alongside). But I have to be honestâ€”I eat it most often straight from the bowl with a spoon, standing in the kitchen! Eaten this way, it is my favorite beach lunch.]