Michael White Admires Le Bernardin’s Escolar With Red-Wine Béarnaise

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Escolar at le Bernardin. Photo: Melissa Hom

Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, Peasant chef-owner Frank De Carlo discussed spinosini pasta with langoustines with Marea’s Mike White. Your move, White.

Who: Michael White, Chef-partner of Marea, New York
What: Escolar
Where: Le Bernardin, New York
When: Spring 2009

“One of the great seafood dishes now in the city is by my cohort Eric Ripert; I’m a big fan of his and he’s a big fan of mine. That is the escolar: white tuna poached in extra-virgin olive oil, served with potato chips, sea beans, and a red-wine béarnaise sauce. I was there right before Marea opened with my sommelier, my general manager, and Chris Cannon for an inaugural lunch. It’s on the “barely touched” part of his menu, so it’s just slightly warmed. I like simplicity. Someone a long time ago told me it’s the Coco Chanel theory: Look at yourself in the mirror before you get out of the house and take one thing off; I look the same way at our plates. When you look at the escolar, it’s a white fatty tuna, poached in extra-virgin olive oil; sea beans that add salt; potato chips that are crispy; and a red-wine sauce that almost adds a meatlike effect. The hallmark of Italian cooking is restraint, and Eric has that same kind of thought process.”

Le Bernardin chef-partner Eric Ripert responds:

“It’s a collective work, but the idea was to do a dish that would go with red wine. We poach the escolar in olive oil, slow, at a low temperature, so it’s very tender and very juicy, and served medium rare-rare; then bring some texture with small potato chips that we cook in clarified butter; and add sea beans. The sauce is inspired by béarnaise, but technically it’s a red-wine emulsion with all the ingredients from béarnaise: shallots, black pepper, tarragon. In appearance, it’s a very simple dish. The escolar is shining with that combination of flavors because it’s a very rich fish, and then the acidity in the red wine gives you the illusion of lightness. The sea beans add some texture because they’re crunchy and they have natural saltiness, a brininess, and a subtle seaweed flavor.

We didn’t know it would pair well. We tried many things. Finally we ended up with that one and said: ‘Ah, that one works!’ I think what makes it work is the contrast between every ingredient, and the proportions are essential: If you put too much of one ingredient, you throw out the balance. It’s very popular. The regulars order it often and I suspect the captains push for it because they like it. The sommelier recommends what I don’t recommend, I’m sure, because me, I drink only red Bordeaux most of the time. But I think a Pinot Noir would go really well with it. A Pinot with character from Oregon, or even California.”