Titanic dinner is an epic experience
A few weeks ago we attended a wine-pairing dinner with an unusual theme. Instead of a focus on specific cuisine, culinary style or wines from a particular vineyard, the menu was a re-imagination of the final first-class dinner served aboard the RMS Titanic in April 1912. To help diners understand the chef's process, the original menu was printed on the reverse of the modern menu.
One major difference from the model was a significant reduction in the number of courses and options for each course. For starters, diners aboard the Titanic could choose from a range of hors d'oeuvres, including oysters, two soups and salmon in mousseline sauce. The latter is an airy combination of hollandaise whisked with whipped cream.
Our first course was listed as zucchini farci – miniature zucchini hollowed out and filled with a mixture of pearled barley and minced spring vegetables. This was served with a classic Tom Collins, which was a relatively new cocktail at the time, invented in 1876. The refreshing drink was made from gin, lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water, garnished with lemon.
The second course was one of the Titanic's first-course dishes, consommé Olga. To make this, seasoned stock is simmered with a mixture of carrots, leek, celery, tomato, ground veal and egg whites. As the liquid begins to boil, the added ingredients coalesce together, forming a "raft" on the surface of the stock.
To serve, raw scallops are sliced into impossibly thin discs and arranged in a circle on the bottom of the shallow soup bowls. The raft is pushed to the bottom of the soup pot, and ladles of clear stock are strained through cheesecloth over the scallops. The heat of the broth is enough to lightly cook the scallops, and the entire dish is garnished with celeriac (also known as celery root).
To honor one of the Titanic's entrees, our next course took quite a turn. Instead of roast squab with cress, our third course was B'stilla Royale – a highly seasoned Moroccan pigeon pie flavored with cinnamon, saffron, almonds and ras el hanout. This last spice is a complex mixture whose name loosely translates to "top of the shop," meaning the very best spice the merchant has on offer.
The basic ingredients of ras el hanout include coriander, cloves, cumin, chili, nutmeg, paprika, cardamom, ginger and turmeric. Like many specialty spice blends, different versions offered for sale or made at home can include more than 30 different spices. The essence of the flavoring added to the b'stilla was almost sweet with an underlying heat, all wrapped up in a buttery pastry.
Course four of our meal included several items on the Titanic's original menu: roast lamb, new potatoes and cress, with one change: a mint gremolata instead of jellied mint sauce. As you can see in the photo, rare lamb chops were propped up on a bed of steamed new potatoes and watercress. The bits of green and white on the front chop are gremolata.
Traditional gremolata includes just three ingredients: parsley, garlic and lemon. The chef modeling the Titanic menu likely added mint to echo the original and give the lamb its most common companion. You can also substitute shallots for the garlic, another citrus for the lemon or a different herb for the parsley, e.g., cilantro, shallot, lime as a zesty garnish for your fajitas.
The final course served on the Titanic included several sweet options: eclairs, ice cream, poached peaches and something called Waldorf pudding (the actual recipe for which remains unknown). The finale of our meal was an elegant pavlova: baked meringue topped with peach mousse and drizzled with Chartreuse liqueur.
I've included recipes for the lamb chops and gremolata, as well as a simple barley-stuffed zucchini. If you're interested in trying the b'stilla, you can find recipes online, including those that substitute chicken for the pigeon. Be sure to mix up a classic Tom Collins, a perfect drink for a boat ride on a hot summer day.
Roasted Lamb Chops
8 loin lamb chops
salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking dish with parchment paper. Place the chops in the pan in a single layer. Season with salt and pepper; turn chops over and season the other side. Bake until meat thermometer registers 140 F, about 15 minutes. To serve, garnish with gremolata.
1 bunch parsley
2 garlic cloves
Rinse and dry the parsley; pick over to remove stems. Chop the leaves and place 1/2 C in a small bowl; reserve the rest for another use. Remove the papery skin from the garlic cloves and grate over the parsley with a microplane. Rinse the lemon, and using the same microplane, grate the lemon zest into the bowl. Toss with a fork to combine. Serve as garnish for lamb, beef or chicken.
2 small zucchini
salt & pepper, to taste
1 t olive oil
1/2 C uncooked barley
1 T butter
1/4 lb baby bella mushrooms
salt & pepper, to taste
1 T snipped chives
grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking pan with aluminum foil. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise, and scoop out the flesh, leaving enough to keep the shells intact. Arrange the zucchini on the prepared pan in a single layer, open side up. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until beginning to soften, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the barley according to the package instructions. Chop the remaining zucchini flesh, mushrooms and shallots. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté chopped zucchini, mushrooms and shallot over medium. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Transfer zucchini-shallot-mushroom mixture to a bowl; stir in cooked barley; season to taste with salt & pepper. Fill zucchini boats with barley mixture. Top with chives and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.