|by Jesse Kornbluth of HeadButler
A bargain hotel website can get you a room at Claridge’s next week for $700, though I’m pretty sure it’s not nearly as nice as the room I had when Vanity Fair flew a troupe of us to London on the Concorde for a two-hour promotional lunch. On that long ago visit I understood what Spencer Tracy meant when he said, “Not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don't want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge's.”
Corporate boondoggles are out of fashion now. Unless a profligate producer is desperate to mount my play on the London boards, Claridge’s great scrambled eggs at breakfast and its tower of tea sandwiches in the afternoon are a thing of my past. Or were — last year Claridge’s published its first cookbook.
|Claridge’s opened in 1853. From the start, it was viewed as “an annex to Buckingham Palace,” and travelers who require 5-star comfort have followed Queen Victoria’s lead; unlike other venerable institutions, Claridge’s has little need for “marketing” or “branding.” Still, the cookbook is perhaps overdue. “It’s only taken 164 years, so we’re a bit slow with that,” says Chef Martyn Nail, which is just what you’d expect from a man who’s had the same employer for 30 years. He knows: Claridge’s is all about muffled drums, silent workers, a purposeful avoidance of visible change.
Specificity is a religion at Claridge’s. A pair of Swedes who live on the Isle of Wight churn the hotel’s butter. Three brothers on the Faroe Islands farm the salmon; “exceptionally strong currents to swim against,” we learn, “provide the most real conditions with the highest welfare standards.” The hams come from a small butcher in Dorrington, “near Shrewsbury, in Shropshire.” There is a “bespoke gin.”
The chef wrote the book with Meredith Erickson, a food writer who pestered him for the secret recipe to the hotel’s famed chicken pie. She got it; in return, she gave him outrageously rich prose. Like: “At one time a gentleman’s education would not be complete until he had mastered the art of carving.”
“Claridge’s: The Cookbook” is two books in one. The first, of course, is a beautiful illustrated coffee table book for the toffs on your gift list. The second is actually useful. Vlad the Reviver’s health drinks are easy to make in your juicer. The recipe for flavored butter may render store-bought butter obsolete in your kitchen. The cheeseburger — yes, cheeseburger — leaves Shake Shack in the shade. And then there are the Claridge’s classics: scrambled eggs, tea sandwiches, and chicken pie.
Let’s start with the recipe for scrambled eggs. Which are not, it turns out, scrambled. Or remotely difficult.
You will need 3 or 4 eggs, depending on how big the eggs are and how hungry you are.
Thoroughly whisk the eggs in a heatproof mixing bowl that can sit comfortably over a saucepan of water.
Next, bring said pan of water to a simmer. Place the bowl of eggs over the pan, add a good knob of butter and start mixing consistently with a wooden spoon or a spatula.
After 2½ minutes, the eggs will start to set around the edges of the bowl. Stir constantly at this stage so the eggs stay smooth, turn off the heat and keep stirring until the texture of the eggs becomes mousse-like.
Around the 3½-minute mark, remove the bowl from the pan — remember that eggs will continue cooking even off the heat. When in doubt, always undercook! This method gives eggs that perfect glossy texture.
Let’s skip the chapter on “elevensies” and hurtle on to your afternoon break. At the hotel, you’d sink into a comfortable chair after a challenging bout of luxury shopping; at home, you can be as efficient as a robot in an Amazon warehouse.
There are just a few rules, but they are unbreakable:
1. The sandwich should be two-thirds bread and one-third filling.
2. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut them.
3. Use a palette knife or spreader knife for spreading softened butters and jams.
4. To keep the sandwich neat and even, slice the loaf of bread into long rectangular slices, rather than vertically.
5. Never let the bread dry out. Keep the slices covered at all times.
As for fillings:
For cucumber sandwiches, add a little chopped dill and finely grated horseradish to the cream cheese.
For egg salad, soft-boil the eggs, chop them by hand, add mayonnaise (homemade, if possible), and finish with “a good twist of pepper and pinch of mustard cress.”
And, finally, the most popular dish on Claridge’s menu: chicken pie. Yes, you could make your own pastry, and in the book, they tell you how, but really, if you cheat and buy piecrusts at the grocery for $3, who will know?
4 and ½ ounces pearl onions
1 lb 5 oz chicken breasts, cut into 2” cubes and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 TBS vegetable oil
4 and ½ oz pancetta or good smoked bacon
500 ml chicken stock
3 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
3 and ½ oz baby button mushrooms
100 ml dry sherry
200ml double cream
2 tsp chopped tarragon
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tsp vegetable oil
14 oz. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 garlic clove, peeled and left whole
3 and 1/2 oz shallots, finely chopped
3 and 1/2 oz button mushrooms, sliced
10 oz dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 rosemary sprig
3 thyme sprigs
23 oz. chicken stock
18 oz heavy cream
1 oz unsalted butter
1 oz plain flour
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE SAUCE
Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat, add the chicken thighs and lightly cook on all sides for 4 minutes, until lightly browned.
Add the shallots, garlic and mushrooms, and cook until the shallots are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the white wine, bay leaf, rosemary and thyme, and reduce the liquid by half, still over medium heart, about 6-8 minutes.
Add the stock, cook for 15 minutes.
Pass through a strainer into a saucepan, add the cream, bring briefly to a boil. Then simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 25 minutes.
FOR THE FILLING
In a large frying pan, sear the diced chicken in the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until it colors slightly. Then transfer to the cream sauce, reserving the frying pan for the bacon and mushrooms. Bring the sauce to the boil, then simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the chicken is cooking in the sauce, sauté the bacon lardoons in the frying pan until crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a bowl and set aside. Now, in the same pan, sauté the mushrooms until golden brown, adding a splash more vegetable oil if needed. Set aside in another bowl.
Using a slotted spoon, portion the chicken pieces equally into 2 ovenproof baking pans. Divide the pearl onions, mushrooms, bacon and parsley, and add them to the baking pans. Add 1/2 the sauce to each pan. Refrigerate for 2 hours, until completely cool.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Lay a strip of pie pastry over the top of the baking pans. Allow for an overhang all the way around. Press down gently to form a seal around the edges.
Place the pies on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, until deep golden brown. Leave to cool for a few minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes and green beans.
Making that pie at home? If you have a staff, sure. But if an afternoon in the kitchen is out of the question, I have a suggestion: Sell that Bonnard you inherited. Fly to London. Check in to Claridge’s. Have room service bring you a bracing cup of the chicken soup, an elixir that takes three days to make. And after shopping and tea and a soothing bath and a nap, make your way to the dining room, order a bottle of 2001 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, and tuck in to the most expensive chicken pie of your life.