The Silver Palate, p. 223-24.

I know only two homecooks of my generation who learned how to cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MAFC) back in the 70s. Julia belonged to the women of my mother’s and aunt’s generations. I think I have known all my life practically how to recognize Child’s volumes on the shelf. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, however, that I first started making recipes in MAFC, but I never went very deep until the last ten years. The Joy of Cooking was another cookbook that I remember always being in any household I lived in. Looking now at my shelves, I see my mother’s copy of volume one of MAFC right next to my old copy of the Silver Palate Cookbook.

The first cookbook that made an impression on me was not The Silver Palate, but Craig Claiborne’s collections of recipes. Claiborne deserves several posts of his own. Lukins and Rosso took my interest in cooking to higher level. They took practically everyone to another level. Who has not made their Chicken Marbella? That recipe is the culinary equivalent of the Beatles’ White Album. However well you thought you cooked or thought you liked the Beatles’ music, Chicken Marbella and the White Album impressed a standard of euphoria in our minds against which we unconsciously measured all that we made or heard afterwards.

So, when I heard last week that Lukins had passed away, I felt a slight of anxiety that I really must be getting old if one of the authors of the still joyful and therefore Peter-Pan-ish collections of recipes had passed away.  I decided to pull out my old copy and, it being hot, settled on a seafood salad.

Which, of course, I revised according to what I had in the fridge:

The salad

1 pound medium-size raw shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 pound fresh bay scallops, rinsed thoroughly

1/2 pound lobster meat (about 1 1/2 cups meat, the equivalent of a 3 1/4-to-4-pound lobster), or a similar amount of frozen lobster meat, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

1 cup uncooked tiny peas, fresh or frozen

2 scallions (green onions), trimmed, cleaned and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing (recipe follows)

2 cups coarsely shredded raw spinach leaves, thoroughly cleaned and dried

Shadowcook: I was not about to buy lobster meat, so I chose two kinds of seafood: a pound of shrimp and a pound of squid. Since the squid came cleaned, I simply sliced the sheathes into rings. Instead of spinach, I used lettuce as the bed for the seafood.

1. Bring 4 quarts salted water to a boil in a pot. Drop in the shrimp, wait 1 minute, and drop in the scallops. Just before the water returns to a full boil, pour the contents of the pot through a strainer set in the sink. Cool seafood to room temperature.

Shadowcook: Stick to the time called for. You can taste a world of difference between sufficiently cooked, tender shrimp and overcooked shrimp. Shrimp retains more of its flavor when just slightly undercooked and loses it when cooked too long.

2. Drain the lobster (if frozen) and sort through it carefully to remove any bits of shell. Reserve several large pieces of lobster meat (particularly claw meat) for garnish and cut the rest into chunks.

3. Reserve 3 or 4 shrimp and scallops for garnish and combine the rest with the lobster meat in a mixing bowl.

4. Add peas and scallions, season lightly with salt and pepper to taste, and pour in the tarragon-mustard dressing. Toss salad gently and add more dressing if you like.

Shadowcook: In my humble opinion, one cup of the dressing is a hell of a lot. The trick to dressing salad properly — which I admit sometimes I’m too impatient to follow every time — is toss the lettuce leaves well at each stage as you gradually add more and more dressing. Add a quarter cup of dressing to the salad and toss well to coat it thoroughly. Only then decide how much more to add. Don’t overdress the salad! Dress it gradually!

5. Arrange spinach in a border around a shallow serving bowl. Spoon the seafood salad into the center of the bowl and arrange the reserved seafood garnish on top.

6. Serve immediately, offering additional dressing on the side if you like.

6 portions as a first course, 4 portions as a main course.

Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

1/3 cup prepared tarragon mustard, or Dijon-style mustard

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

1 teaspoon crumbled dried tarragon

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup best-quality olive oil

1 cup corn or other light vegetable oil

Shadowcook: I used fresh tarragon leaves, which I am sure works better than dried ones. Grey Poupon mustard works well if you don’t have the tarragon mustard. And instead of corn oil, I used canola oil for the first time ever. I’m still making up my mind if I like it.

1. In a blender, or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine whole egg, egg yolks, mustard, vinegar and tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper and process for 1 minute.

2. Measure out the oil and with the motor still running, dribble the oil into the processor or blender in a slow, steady stream. Shut off the motor, scrape down sides, taste, and correct seasoning.

3. Transfer to a storage container, cover, and refrigerate.

About 3 cups.

Shadowcook: Definitely chose a blender over the food processor. The  dressing swirling around in the blender jar  thickened so much that it seemed to stall. I had to stop the blender and stir the dressing around to make it move again.

2 thoughts on “Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso: Seafood Salad with Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing

  1. Thanks for your post. I, too, discovered the Silver Palate when I was in my 30’s and it took my cooking to another level. It’s funny that you mentioned the Chicken Marbella recipe. I haven’t fixed it for years so will have to dust off my cookbook and reprise that recipe in memory of Sheila’s contribution to the cooking world!

    1. I’m planning on making it again too, but I’m waiting for our weather to cool down. I have a feeling tens of thousands of chickens will be subjected to the Marbella treatment this fall across the country. It’s a fitting tribute to Sheila.

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