In the last issue I spoke about having an employer who is the consummate entertainer when onboard. It takes planning and tricks to keep abreast of the unexpected party or get together this owner always throws your way, including time sheets to help with your timing and putting food up so you’ll always be ready.
This month, let’s discover one food item that can be adapted to fit any palate, and one that will not be tossed aside in favor of those boring crudite plates. The key questions you must answer when keeping one item in your freezer for the unexpected party are:
1. Will it work well as a base for finger foods or other types of cocktail food?
2. Can it be frozen with ease? It should last for up to three months and thaw easily at a moment’s notice.
3. Can it adapt to other foods you might want to serve or to any theme for a party?
4. Can it work for special diets? You never know who’s coming, so it has to be ready for heart healthy, gluten free and diabetes, at least.
So, what one item fits that bill? Shortcrust pastry.
Sweet and savory, gluten free or modified for some other special diets, shortcrust pastry has many different uses, and all of them delicious.
Another obvious surprise food item that many chefs put up for unexpected parties is protein, but be careful putting up protein as it will show signs of freezer burn if not wrapped properly or kept too long. And even though protein is a party staple, it has limitations. Not everyone eats it, for one.
But even vegetarians will eat a shortcrust pastry made with vegan butter and a protein substitute instead of egg, such as tofu or flax seed ground up and boiled with water to form a paste.
For diabetics, substitute the sugar for xylitol, and consider a heart healthy butter substitute. You can also use coconut butter instead of regular butter.
The great thing about shortcrust pastry is that it can adapt to anything. It can be savory as a base for quiches, or used to enrobe a protein. Roll it out very thin, wrap it around an asparagus stick wrapped in prosciutto and bake it. Press toasted sesame seeds onto it or fresh herbs.
Use it to create a mini Chateaubriand. Roll it thin, use a cookie cutter and bake it. Put smoked salmon on top. (If it appears to be rising uneven while baking, place a baking sheet on top of it to flatten it.)
For sweet applications, sprinkle it with brown sugar, chopped nuts, cinnamon and butter. Cut it using a fluted cutter and bake. Top with grilled fruit. Make tiny tarts and fill with lemon curd or roasted fruit.
French Shortcrust Pastry
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
(I have added fresh herbs and even tomato paste, anchovy paste or sun-dried tomatoes when making this for savory applications)
In a food processor, pulse the flour with the salt.
Slowly add the chilled butter until incorporated.
Add a teaspoon of chilled water until it forms a dough. Take out of processor and form into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for 45 minutes. Freeze for later use.
French Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (pate sucree)
3 1/2 oz butter softened, unsalted
2 1/2 oz sugar (caster is preferred)
3 egg yolks
7 oz all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting board
Cream butter and sugar together until well combined. Beat in egg yolks one at a time
until fully incorporated.
Mix in the flour until the mixture forms a dough.
Using a floured board, knead it briefly. Wrap it plastic and chill for 30 minutes. Freeze for later use.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.