Ferran Adrià and The Family Meal

A few weeks ago, I attended a book talk and signing with Ferran Adrià in London at Vinopolis.  He was promoting his brand new cookbook, The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià, published by Phaidon Press – one of my most favorite book publishers, especially for cookbooks.  (Other favorites include Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini of Paris’s Rose Bakery; 1080 Recipes, an encyclopedia of classic Spanish recipes; and, not from Phaidon but still great, The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.)

The Family Meal is a total break from the series of elBulli cookbooks and contains recipes for the family meals that the staff at the restaurant ate (putting that in the past tense is extremely sad for me, since my friend Jessie and I have been dreaming and planning to eat at elBulli since we were about 15 years old, and now it is closed).  Ferran explained that a number of years ago he decided it was ridiculous that the staff at one of the top restaurants in the world did not eat well themselves.  So he set out to systematize the entire family meal process.  They developed a rotating menu of three course meals consisting of an appetizer, main and dessert.  And then, having done all this work, Ferran considered how to share the knowledge with others.  The obvious audience was other restaurants, but it became clear that the criteria for family meals – low cost, easy to prepare, nutritious – were much more widely applicable.

The book is divided into a few sections – each with stunning photography and beautiful layout, as one would expect from Phaidon – beginning with tips for professional kitchens and at-home cooks, including lists of kitchen essentials, then moving on to basic recipes for sauces and stocks, before getting to the crux of the matter: the meals themselves.  Each one is presented as its own menu, with a handy timeline that shows when you should begin each part of the preparation, and a list of ingredients/elements broken down by what to buy fresh, and what to do in advance.  You can also obviously mix and match the recipes on your own.

At the book talk, Ferran, who spoke via a translator, asked “Why is it that every cookbook provides recipes for four people?  By far the most common number to cook for is two, not four.”  Accordingly, each recipe in Family Meal includes quantities for 2, 6, 20 and 75 people, to accommodate both private and professional users.  In order to ensure that each recipe could be scaled down, and that each would be easily replicated no matter the location, Ferran and his team engaged in a rigorous research and refinement phase.  Every recipe was tested, and tested again, until the quantities and instructions were exactly right.  If any ingredient was deemed too local, and not easily found in supermarkets around the world, it was discarded.  And, the cost per head had to be about $2-3 (editor’s note: if you live in New York and shop at Whole Foods, this will not actually work out).

The first recipe I tried from Family Meal (and the only one so far, but stay tuned) was grilled lettuce hearts with a mint dressing.

Ingredients (for 2):

  • 2 lettuce hearts (such as Little Gem, but I used Romaine, and the recipe says you can also use endive)
  • 8 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard (my favorite is Maille)
  • 1 tbsp Sherry vinegar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 6 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for frying

For the dressing, combine the mint, mustard, vinegar and egg yolk in a tall beaker or glass and add the olive oil while beating with a hand-held blender until the mint is finely chopped, then season with salt.  If you don’t have a hand held blender (like me), you can finely chop the mint before hand and use a whisk.

Cut the lettuce hearts in half lengthwise, and quickly grill in a skillet with a little oil and salt until crispy.  Top with dressing and serve immediately.

As per usual, my dinner was something of a last minute affair, so I did not have time to make the veal with red wine and mustard and chocolate mousse that accompany the lettuce in the book.  Instead, I paired it with an easy favorite from 1080 Recipes – Spanish tortilla, which is like a potato omelette, bought some good prosciutto, whipped up a cheese plate with a few items from Saxelby’s Cheesemongers and cracked open a bottle of white: Le Petit Saint Jacques from Pays d’Oc courtesy of my neighborhood go-to September Wines.  For dessert, we drank Hudson Bay Baby Bourbon from Tuthilltown Spirits and munched on yummy peanut-sea salt chocolate from Green & Black’s.

Et voilà.

dinner is served