Brunch at the Beard – House that Is
BRUNCH AT THE BEARD HOUSE
By Florence Sicoli
New York: Nothing says “special brunch” like champagne.
As I sipped a glass or two of Domaine Chandon Brut Classic NV in a Manhattan garden room, I was happily swept into the conversational cocktails swirling around 70 guests — all perfect strangers and foodies. It was a recent Brunch With Friends event at James Beard House, which carries the same name as the U.S. cook book author and champion of American cuisine.
And even before we all tucked into the four-course menu, including the heavenly hash of lobster and sweet potato topped with poached egg and caviar, I wondered why more people don’t have brunch parties at home.
We’ve all been there, done that brunch buffet thing at restaurants, with disappointing taste results and hefty tabs, says Mitchell Davis, the host of Brunch With Friends and resident chef at Beard House, run by the James Beard Foundation, the premier U.S. culinary foundation.
“It is so easy and inexpensive to make brunch dishes better than almost anything you are ever served in a restaurant, that it’s almost never worth the price or the shlep to go out,” says Davis, author of the cookbook Kitchen Sense (Clarkson Potter, $50).
A food studies professor at nearby New York University,Davis is in the first-floor kitchen, stirring pots and helping cooking students arrange hors d’oeuvre on platters.
“If you have a few jars of jam, some eggs, a piece of good cheese and some ripe fruit, you practically have brunch already made,” he says.
In the realm of home entertaining, the timing of brunches — usually lasting two to four hours from about 11 a.m. to about 4 p.m. — is less stressful and more casual than a dinner party, says Toronto cooking author and educator Bonnie Stern, who was guest chef at the brunch.
This also means “people are much more awake in the middle of the day than at night, so it is a great time for entertaining,” Stern says. “You also don’t have to worry about guests staying late if you like to go to bed at a reasonable hour,” says Stern, the author of Heart Smart: The Best of Heart Smart Cooking (Random House Canada, $34.95).
This may explain why many brunch parties generally celebrate seniors’ birthdays, according to chef Ken LeFebour of Chef & Wife Catering in Dundas, near Toronto, Ontario.
As well as granny birthday brunches, LeFebour says he also caters home wedding rehearsal brunches, adding, “If you’re in real time restraints, brunch probably is the most efficient time to entertain because you have the rest of the day free.”
Brunch came to glory in major U.S.restaurants around the 1930s, and the word was coined in 1895 by Briton Guy Beringer in an article titled Brunch: A Plea.
Beringer wrote that by eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch “is cheerful, sociable and … talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
But brunch is mainly about the food, says Davis.
He and Stern, friends both in and out of the kitchen, offered us a multicourse brunch generously punctuated with champagne and wines. We happily munched in the second-floor dining rooms where, on the chartreuse walls, hung two paintings of Beard himself.
The superstar of the menu, to my taste, was the Lobster-Sweet Potato Hash with Poached Egg and Caviar.
OK, brunch at Beard House is not like an everyday home-cooked meal. Still, how difficult could it be to cook up some of that heavenly hash for your next brunch? Not very, if you check out Davis’s recipe below.
You’ll find whole lobsters or uncooked tails at specialty shops and grocery stores. Davis says domestic salmon, sturgeon or lumpfish caviar is more affordable than high-end Russian or Iranian versions that were subject to UN bans.
“Of course, you can also leave out the caviar. I sometimes set the lobster claw meat aside for a nice garnish. There are no rules at brunch,” he says.
If you try his recipe, you might end up agreeing with Beard’s simple utterance, “I doubt if there are many dishes that can be as great as hash.”
Brunches are a perfect time to pop the cork on some bubbly. Says Davis: “I love a champagne cocktail made with one tablespoon of pomegranate molasses, or two tablespoons of pomegranate juice and four ounces of champagne.”
Now, all you need is to remind your guests to pick up fresh bagels on their way to brunch at your place.
Florence Sicoli is a Hamilton-Ontario-based travel writer.
Story originally appeared in The Hamilton Spectator
LOBSTER-SWEET POTATO HASH WITH POACHED EGGS AND CAVIAR
Makes 4 servings
With a poached egg on top, this hash is a one-dish meal that will fortify you for the whole day. You can substitute cooked meat such as beef, chicken or turkey for the lobster.
-2 tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter
-1 oz (30 g) bacon, pancetta OR prosciutto, finely chopped, about 2 tbsp (30 mL)
-1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
-1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped (optional)
-1/2 lb (225 g) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch (1.3-cm) cubes
-1/2 lb (225 g) regular potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch (1.3-cm) cubes
-Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
-1 1/2 tbsp (7 mL) all-purpose flour
-1/2 cup (250 mL) milk OR light cream
-1 tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
-3 to 4 cups (750 mL to 1 L) cooked lobster, cut into 1/2-inch (1.3-cm) dice
-4 eggs, poached soft
-2 oz (60 g) caviar
Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a simmer. In a heavy-bottomed nonstick or cast-iron frying pan, heat the butter and bacon until the fat on the bacon or prosciutto has rendered, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and bell pepper, if using, and cook for a few minutes more, until soft.
Add the potatoes and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or so, until the potatoes begin to colour and soften. Season with 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) salt and some pepper. Add the flour and stir for a minute or two to cook. Pour in the milk. The mixture will start to thicken. Continue cooking the hash, stirring it frequently and spreading it out to cover the bottom of the pan, until the potatoes are almost soft and the hash has browned, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the lobster and the parsley and cook just a minute or two until heated through. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Let the hash sit over the heat for a few minutes to set. Meanwhile, reheat the poached eggs in the simmering water for 1 minute. Run a spatula underneath the hash to loosen it and invert onto a serving plate. Lift the eggs out of the simmering water with a slotted spoon and pat dry with paper towel or a clean dish towel. Arrange the eggs on top of the hash.Garnish with caviar and serve.
Recipe adapted from Kitchen Sense by Mitchell Davis