The Ambassador Salad: Détente In The Kitchen And At The Table
Contributor Lisa Fielding is a private chef and boutique caterer based in Manhattan who weekends in Litchfield County whenever possible. Many of her Manhattan clients are also Litchfield County weekenders, so work brings her to Northwest Connecticut as well. A Los Angeles transplant, Fielding was a former Hollywood film executive who segued into screenwriting several years ago, which enabled her to pursue her passion for food and entertaining. Lisa’s culinary skill set draws from a broad spectrum of dishes and ingredients.
Most businesses, mine included, get very excited at the prospect of having high-profile clients. The caché that comes with cheffing for rich and famous artists, actors, intellectuals, business people and even some politicians can be measured in the uptick in new business and the cluck of approval new clients grant when they review my credentials. It’s a bit nerve wracking, I’ll admit. I only get one chance to prepare a five-star meal for any client, but let’s just say there is a bit more at stake when you’re asked to cook for so and so.
I was handed this mission last week when I was asked to chef for the Ambassador to The Holy See as well as the ambassador to Sweden and a few other diplomats. I suggested a menu that is historically bullet proof and showed up at their gorgeous Sutton Place apartment with my best game face on, bags filled with the finest ingredients New York City has to offer.
A lovely gentleman, clad in sophisticated black butler’s attire, was my server for the night so once we dispatched with social niceties, I went to work and time evaporated faster than cool water on a steaming sidewalk. The heat was on and I felt an enormous amount of pressure as the doorbell rang and guest after guest arrived. Sterling trays balanced with amber flutes of champagne greeted them in the living room. The hostess had set the dining room table to perfection. Stunning china. Elegant sterling. Crisp, embroidered linens. Heirloom salt and pepper cellars that date back to the 18th century — this chef’s version of paradise. A bouquet of spring flowers took center stage and I wanted every course to enhance the aesthetic.
My ubiquitous gougères were served alongside the champagne and then guests were seated. I served a gorgeous salad of frisee, baby greens, heirloom cherry tomatoes and tarragon vinaigrette topped with crab cakes and a dollop of spicy remoulade. Additional courses ensued, fine wines were poured until dessert china plates returned to the kitchen with nary a crumb left. Dinner was a huge success. I took a bow, breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “I just fed the man who eats with the Pope, Il Papa.”
My takeaway from this fantastic evening was the salad which I’ve dubbed, “The Ambassador Salad.” Serve this as an entrée for a fancy luncheon or as a starter to a long, lazy dinner. Either way, now you can dine like a diplomat.
The Ambassador Salad
Yields 8 servings
Makes about 24
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup small diced red onion
1/2 cup small diced celery (3 stalks)
1/2 cup small diced red bell pepper (1 small pepper)
1/2 cup small diced yellow bell pepper (1 small pepper)
3 tbls. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tbls. minced fresh dill
1 tbls. minced tarragon
2 tbls. capers, chopped
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 tsps. crab boil seasoning (recommended — Old Bay)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 lb. lump crabmeat, drained and picked to remove shells
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup canola oil for frying
1. Place the 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil, onion, celery, red and yellow bell peppers, fresh herbs, capers, Worcestershire sauce, crab boil seasoning, cayenne and salt in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and cook until the vegetables are soft, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, break the lump crabmeat into small pieces and toss with the bread crumbs, mayonnaise, mustard, and eggs. Add the cooked mixture and mix well. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. Shape into crab cakes about 2 inches in diameter.
4. Heat the canola oil for frying over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the crab cakes and fry for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until browned. Drain on paper towels; keep them warm in a 250 degree oven.
Makes 2/3 cup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tbls. coarse-grain mustard
2 tbls. drained prepared horseradish
2 tbls. thinly sliced scallions
2 tbls. chopped gerkins
2 tbls. chopped capers
1 tbl. minced fresh dill
1 tbl. minced tarragon
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. lemon zest
1. Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate at least four hours before serving.
2 tbls. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup tarragon vinegar
1 cup fruity olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
1. Whisk mustard and vinegar together. Slowly add olive oil in a thin stream while continuously whisking until emulsified. Add salt, pepper and tarragon. Stir. Refrigerate until assembly.
2. Give a good shake or whisk before dressing the salad.
Salad and Assembly
3 heads frisee, washed and dried
8 ounces of mixed greens
1 lb. of heirloom cherry tomatoes (choose varied colors and sizes), washed and halved
1. Toss greens and cherry tomatoes with dressing.
2. Plate. Top with three crab cakes. Add a dollop of remoulade.