Cook the Book: Ad Hoc at Home – Asparagus and Steak

by arnold on November 1, 2009

Ad Hoc at HomeI’ve never been genuinely excited about a new cookbook release, but Ad Hoc at Home marks the first time I’ve had a real personal connection to the recipes in a single cookbook. Inuyaki readers know that I’m a fan and regular diner at Thomas Keller’s casual dining restaurant, and the Ad Hoc Menu Archive is one of the most popular features of this site. My wife and I have been to Ad Hoc 30 times in the last 2½ years (it’s our favorite restaurant) and have always come away wishing we knew how to make some of our favorite dishes, desserts, and condiments at home. I’m very happy to report that Ad Hoc at Home delivers the goods.

The cookbook’s arrival coincided with my birthday, and to celebrate, I invited some friends over for dinner last weekend so that my wife and I could cook for them. From the book, we chose the grilled asparagus and marinated skirt steak and supplemented the meal with polenta topped with a mushroom ragout and SavorySweetLife’s chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

The grilled asparagus, which includes prosciutto, fried bread, poached egg, and aged balsamic vinegar, is pretty easy to put together. After removing the woody bottoms and peeling the asparagus stalks, simply season a couple bunches of asparagus with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and canola oil and then grill them for a couple minutes per side until tender.

AsparagusGratuitous Asparagus Porn

I had some issues poaching the eggs. I know this sounds silly, but they weren’t coming out as pretty as we wanted, so those eggs became snacks. Inspired by our meal at Commis in Oakland a couple nights before, I decided to have some fun and make 63-degree eggs. How is a 63-degree egg different than a regular poached egg or over-easy egg? The answer: texture.

63 Degree EggA 63-degree Egg

At 63-degrees Celsius, egg whites are just barely set and the yolks have a pudding-like consistency. To achieve this goal, eggs are cooked in a 63C waterbath for about an hour. The precision is important because at 65C, according Harold McGee, the egg whites become “tender solid” as opposed just barely set at 63C. It’s possible to maintain a consistent temperature using a pot on the stovetop, but I have an immersion circulator, which makes things a lot easier. :)

63-degree Eggs
The immersion circulator in action.

The eggs went on the plate last, so my friends got to see these beautiful eggs emerge from a freshly cracked shell. My wife gets credit for the plating of this dish, which is loosely based on the picture in the book.

Grilled Asparagus, Prosciutto, 63-degree Egg and Torn CroutonsThe fried bread croutons are awesome, too.

The marinated skirt steak isn’t a difficult preparation either. I substituted the skirt for flap steak, which is similar to skirt steak and a cut of meat I’ve used before in my Bistek Tagalog. It’s marinated for at least four hours in a mixture of olive oil, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic. The meat is seared in a thin layer of oil for about 90 seconds total, adding thyme and butter to the pan and basting the meat after flipping it halfway through. After searing, the meat is placed in a 350 oven on a roasting rack and cooked for 8-10 minutes until the internal temp of the meat is 125F. Rest the meat and slice it vertically against the grain before serving.

Marinated Skirt Steak

That meat looks perfect doesn’t it? There was just one problem. I forgot to season the meat with salt and pepper before I seared it, so it was underseasoned. There was still flavor from the marinade, but the meat was definitely lacking flavor. I was crestfallen. My wife saved the dish by making an impromptu beef/mushroom gravy, but I was so disappointed with myself.

We paired this with some Fra’Mani polenta (sold exclusively at Costco) topped with a trumpet and baby shiitake mushroom ragout. I know polenta is pretty easy to make, but as fans of Paul Bertolli’s Fra’Mani sausages, we had to give his polenta a try and it’s really good. My wife added some strong English cheddar to the polenta for some extra flavor and topped it with the mushrooms.

Fra'Mani Polenta and Mushroom "Ragout"

Aside from the underseasoned steak, which was totally my fault, this meal was a huge success and a testament to Ad Hoc at Home’s accessibility for home cooks. It’s a tribute to Keller and his love for good, homey food, as well as chef de cuisine Dave Cruz, whose influence is present in every meal in the Ad Hoc kitchen. According to Ad Hoc general manager Nick Dedier, Ad Hoc at Home is projected to surpass the 10-year-old French Laundry cookbook’s total sales in just three years. With food like this, it should surprise no one when it actually happens.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Omid Tavallai November 1, 2009 at 2:48 pm

The 63° egg is gorgeous. It’s like the perfected onsen tamago. God, I’m tempted to eBay an immersion circulator just to make ‘em.

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Arnold November 1, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Omid, If you can keep a pot of water at 63C for an hour, you don’t NEED to go out and get an immersion circulator. :)

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Connie November 2, 2009 at 8:28 am

30 times to Ad Hoc!? I’m so very envious (went to Yountville twice and we skipped Ad Hoc because we were too full from French Laundry!)

The egg dish looks spectacular, love all the flavors and textures going on. The skirt steak looks delicious too. Can’t wait for this book (or better yet to eat at the actual restaurant), which is in the mail somewhere…

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Sean November 2, 2009 at 12:12 pm

You have an immersion circulator?!?! Hardcore!

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Phil November 3, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Man, this is gorgeous. What a great plate of food you put together. Very well done, and I’m jealous of you and your immersion circulator.

We live in Orange County, so we only get a chance to eat at Ad Hoc once a year (when we’re in Sonoma/Napa on vacation). That’s 3 trips to the restaurant. You guys have been there 30 times? I’m depressed. You’re lucky to live where you live.

Great stuff. Keep ‘em coming!

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Paul November 3, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Happy belated birthday Arnie! I think it’s the first year it slipped by me. Perhaps it’s the old age catching up with me.

I’m glad to hear you were able to enjoy your birthday in style. However, next time why don’t you get someone else to cook for YOU on your birthday…lol.

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Arnold November 4, 2009 at 10:43 am

Phil, yeah…our Ad Hoc obsession sort of prevents us from trying out some of the other places in the area. :) I also know that if I was back in SoCal, there would be a few places down there that would get repeat business from us. :)

Paul, Thanks for the birthday greeting. We ARE getting old. I didn’t mind cooking, but you should check out the dinner party we went to the night after this. :) http://bit.ly/24RuPm

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Sam from The Second Lunch November 4, 2009 at 4:02 pm

I just made my first trip to Ad Hoc this weekend and was more than delighted- I’ll definitely be back as often as I can(hopefully sooner rather than later!)

I work at Omnivore books some of the time, and the new Ad Hoc book is truly one of the most wonderful books on our shelves. I’m glad to see you had such success!

Perhaps I’ll see you this weekend at the festival!

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