My husband Edward and I usually have guests for New Year’s Eve, so we toss a house party. Last year we served smoked fish, deli and a little bit of everything, from caviar to an assortment of cheese.
A few weeks ago, Edward decided he would like to have shrimp cocktail, see a movie and return home for filet mignon and all the trimmings. He calls it surf and turf, even though the shrimp and steak are not served on the same plate. Around 11:45 p.m., he will uncork the bubbly and fill our flutes, and we will watch the ball drop from Times Square and toast the new year.
Surf and turf, that most American combination, has disappeared from many restaurant menus. Quite often, surf and turf meant filet mignon and lobster tail served on the same plate. The lobster tails were usually from South Africa, frozen and overcooked to a stringy, chewy consistency. They lacked flavor, so I guess that’s why most people drowned the meat in drawn butter.
The French, who have very definite ideas on the progression of a meal, would proclaim "Sacre bleu!" at the sight of steak sharing space with shrimp or lobster. They present fish as a separate course, often at the beginning of the meal.
Although we can buy precooked shrimp, they are relatively expensive. Cooking them at home saves money. You must be careful not to overcook them. All you have to do is place the shrimp in a pot, cover with cold water and place it over high heat. As soon as the water starts to bubble and the shrimp turn a deep salmon-pink, they are done. Drain in a colander and run cold water over them. Cool to room temperature and place them in a container with a tight-fitting lid.
Steaks and roasts are two of my favorite winter entr�es. Nothing is more festive than serving a juicy steak or crown roast of lamb, or pork or leg of lamb for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.
Filet mignon, rib-eye steaks and New York strip are the most popular cuts. Filet mignon is most tender, cut from the tenderloin. The steaks are round, thick and juicy. Most fine steak houses offer an 8-ounce filet and one that’s about 12 ounces. Eating nearly a pound of beef is pretty difficult for most people, but men go for it. Rib-eyes, sometimes called cowboy steaks or Delmonico, are oval in shape and well-marbled with fat. It’s what gives this cut its juicy taste and sublime texture. The New York strip is called a strip because it is rectangular in shape. I find this cut a bit bland and grainy because it is not marbled like a rib steak, but it’s a matter of taste.
Filet mignon is expensive, especially if it’s prime-quality. Since making friends with a reputable butcher is essential for all good home cooks, you can tell him how thick you want him to cut the steaks. Women prefer "petit" filet, while men go for a more hefty portion.
I always ask for bearnaise sauce when ordering filet in a restaurant. It is the classic French sauce for beef. Bearnaise is not difficult to make at home. I once tried a bearnaise mix, but found it tasted like a chalky paste.
Since we will serve shrimp cocktail and filet on New Year’s Eve, the dinner should continue in a classic manner. Roasted potatoes and fresh asparagus go well with beef. Asparagus take on a fine flavor when dipped in bearnaise sauce.
Salad will follow the entr�e. I think a mix of watercress with endive and fennel will be light and refreshing. I like the peppery flavor of watercress but it does take time to clean it. It’s the one salad green you can’t buy in a bag.
A selection of cheese will be placed on the table along with a bottle of port. Something sweet is in order before coffee and tea is served. The anjou pears, both green and red, have been beautiful this season. They are shipped rock-hard and must ripen at home before they are ready to enjoy. Buy them about four or five days before New Year’s. Poached pears with "homemade" limoncello with lemon sorbet will end a delicious dinner. If you don’t have time to poach the pears, just slice them and serve with the sorbet.
Here are recipes for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day dinner.
6 (8- to 12-ounce) filets mignons
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Melt the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the steaks and cook about three to five minutes on each side for rare beef. If you prefer filet medium-rare, cook a few minutes more on each side. Filet mignon loses all its juiciness if it is cooked medium or well-done. Sprinkle with kosher salt and grind some black pepper on each steak, flip it over, sprinkle a little more kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper.
Note: If you have more than six for dinner, the solution is a filet roast. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place the roast in a shallow roasting pan and sprinkle on kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes. Check for doneness. Depending on your oven — and all ovens are different — you may have to pop the roast back in the oven for five to 10 more minutes. Allow roast to sit about five minutes before carving into individual steaks. An electric knife works wonders here.
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
4 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Pinch kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
Place the shallots, tarragon, vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until reduced by two-thirds. Cool slightly. Add the egg yolks and water to the shallot mixture and whisk constantly over very low heat. As soon as the egg yolks have thickened, add the butter, a little at a time, whisking constantly.
When the sauce is rich and thickened, it is done. Remove from heat but keep it in the warm pot until ready to serve. Don’t worry if the sauce cools down a bit. Cool bearnaise is delicious.
3 pints all-natural lemon sorbet
Allow the sorbet to soften at room temperature so it is easy to scoop. Place two scoops of lemon sorbet in a shallow dish. Pour the vodka around the sorbet and serve with poached pears.
Note: Obviously this is not a true Italian limoncello, an after-dinner drink that is gaining in popularity in America. A friend made this dessert for us and it was delicious. It tastes even better as the sorbet melts. I use an oval-shaped gelatin scoop. Two of these scoops equal a serving.