In my Market to Table cookbook, I named the first dish in the book after my beloved—Aguacate Diane, chilled avocado soup. It’s a tribute for dealing with months of taste testing and proofreading. Now that we are both in our seventh decades, she is still a dish.
Diane, or Diana, was goddess of the hunt in Greek mythology, and if the ancient statues attributed to her image are anything to go by, she was a dish too.
The first time the huntress’ name is connected to flambéed food is a venison steak Diane in 1914, but it is unclear if that version is connected to the later Steak Diane so popular as a fiery tableside event in posh restos in London and New York in the 1940s.
Many take the credit for its invention, but the earliest I can find is a claim that it was invented at the original Quaglino’s in London in 1937 and named after Lady Diana Cooper, who had a widespread reputation as the most beautiful young woman in England—another dish. The restaurant closed in 1977, and was revived in 1993 in the same location. I don’t believe steak Diane is still on the menu.
I don’t recall ever having eaten steak Diane and have certainly never cooked it. It looks simple enough. First, the steak is pounded thin, like a schnitzel or paillard, seasoned and quickly sautéed in butter. Removed from the pan, a sauce is made from the juices with brandy, sherry, thinly sliced mushrooms, chives, thick cream, Dijon mustard and a dash of Worcester sauce. The sauce is flambéed and poured over the steak.
When Emeril Lagasse was planning the reopening of the Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas, he introduced his own version, using filet mignon, but not pounded flat. There too the steak Diane is no longer on the menu. Both versions sound delicious, but hardly worth the trouble for the home cook.
Raclette was another dish popular back in the day, where a half wheel of the eponymous cheese was toasted on a special apparatus and the resulting gooey goodness scraped off onto a plate of boiled, sliced potatoes. It is usually served with ham or bündnerfleisch, a Swiss dried beef speciality, and small cornichon and white onion pickles. At home, a table-top grill with six or eight small cast iron pans, known as coupelles, was used to melt slices of raclette cheese.
The whole fun experience is just like a communal fondue, with diners melting their own cheese, helping themselves to the accompaniments and drinking copious amounts of wine. If you can’t find the authentic raclette cheese, others like Emmental, Gruyère or Comté will suffice.
Diane tells me she once had a raclette set for dinner parties at home and used to enjoy having it served as a long-gone resto on Yonge Street, north of St Clair Avenue. She told the restaurateur about a different method of preparing the dish she’d had in Europe, which he introduced to his establishment. He was so pleased with the result that he called it Raclette Diane. Once again, it sounds delicious, but hardly worth the trouble unless you’ve kept a set of coupelles from the 60s.
Lacking the tools and the inclination, but keen to try the comfort of a dish of melted cheese and potatoes, I decide to add cheese to rösti, a classic Swiss potato pancake. Since it resembles a latke, I serve it with a topping of smoked salmon, sour cream and chives. As you can imagine, it is simply delicious and in her honour I name it Rösti Diane.
- 1 lb / 450 g peeled potatoes
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 3 TSP EVOO
- 10 oz / 300 g raclette cheese, grated (option Emmental, Gruyère or Comté)
- 5 ½ oz / 150 g smoked salmon
- 4 TBSP sour cream
- Chopped chives (option spring onions)
Preparation and cooking
- Peel the potatoes and grate them, using the largest holes of a grater. Put the grated potatoes in a large bowl, add the salt and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and rest for at least 5 mins. The salt will start to pull the moisture out of the potatoes. Drain and then further squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Add pepper and toss again.
- Heat the oil in an 8 in cast iron frying pan. (Make sure the handle will tolerate the broiler.) Add about ¼ of the shredded potatoes to the hot oil. Spread them out so they start to become golden. Then add the rest, a bit at a time, so that the pan is covered with a sizzling pancake. It will take about 10 to 15 mins for the bottom to become completely golden and the top to start to become translucent. Tuck in any stray bits so they don’t burn.
- Pre-heat the broiler (or grill). Grate the cheese. Chop the chives and set aside.
- Either flip the pancake over, or if that seems too tricky, put a dinner plate over the pan. Invert the pan so the pancake is upside down on the plate. Using a second dinner plate, cover the pancake, flip it again and return it, uncooked side down into the hot pan. Add more oil if necessary and fry for a further 5 mins. Lift up the edge to check it is the same colour as the top.
- Take the pan off the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese generously all over the top. Place under the broiler until the cheese starts to melt and turn brown. As soon as the cheese is done, remove to a platter.
- Cut the pancake into four even quarters, top with a few slices of smoked salmon, a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of chives and serve at once on hot plates.
AGUACATE DIANE (chilled avocado soup)
- 3 ripe Haas avocados
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 3 TBSP lemon juice
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 TBSP ground cumin
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- Sea salt to taste
Preparation and cooking
- Peel the avocados and add to the blender in chunks. TIP: The easiest way to peel and stone avocados is to run a very sharp knife around the perimeter down to the stone, then repeat the process on the other quarter, but only score the peel. Break the avocado in half and the stone will be left in one side. Chunk your knife into the stone, give it a slight twist and the stone will pop out easily. Then pull back the peel from each quarter.
- Chop the cilantro finely and add, along with the chicken or vegetable stock, lemon juice and cumin. Blend until smooth. Add the cayenne pepper and salt to taste and adjust as necessary.
- Pour into a jug and chill for at least 2 hrs. Serve in chilled bowls and garnish with fresh mint or cilantro.
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This is Nigel’s 312th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, well priced at $9.99 or £9.99 and available on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo and Scribd.
Categories: Simply food