In 1988, Daniel Boulud was a member of F&W’s first-ever class of Best New Chefs. Today, he’s one of the cooking world’s true giants. He shares his top New York spots, his favorite cookbooks and how to make scrambled eggs the DB way.
What’s your most requested recipe at Restaurant Daniel, the one dish you’re most known for?
We change the menu at Restaurant Daniel all the time but for 20-some years, I’ve done this paupiette of sea bass wrapped and sautéed in a crisp layer of potatoes, set on a bed of leeks with a red wine sauce. For our 15th anniversary in 2008, when we redid the decor, my chef came to me and said, “Daniel, you are redoing your restaurant, we have a new beginning—we have to get rid of the paupiette. We are sick and tired of cooking it.” It felt like they were ripping my heart out! But I knew he was right, so I agreed. I still loved the combination, so I proposed we keep one dish on the menu with those same four ingredients—sea bass, potatoes, leeks and red wine—with a new interpretation every year. The fish isn’t wrapped in potato anymore, but we might do a pommes lyonnaise, and bake them in sheets with a fondue of onions and a custard of leeks with fried leeks on top. Later, after F&W Best New Chef 2007 Gavin Kaysen had taken over Café Boulud, he asked me for permission to put the original paupiette on his menu. So now it has a second life at Café Boulud, and a new, eternal life at Restaurant Daniel.
What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
Les Recettes Originales de Robert Laffont. It’s a series of about 12 to 15 cookbooks created by the publisher Robert Laffont, by all of the French chefs who redefined French cuisine in the 1970s: Frédy Girardet, Roger Verger, Michel Guérard, almost everyone did one. The books are all the same format, and very well made; some were translated into English, like Girardet and Guérard. But I grew up in France and was a young chef in the ’70s, and those were the first books I collected. Once I became a chef at Le Cirque and had some money, I bought more expensive first editions and antiques. But those books bring me back to my heroes: Jacques Maximin, Georges Blanc, they keep me grounded in French cuisine. I’ve been carrying them around with me for 40 years now.
What’s one technique everyone should know?
How to make scrambled eggs the DB way. Again, this is all about slow: A slow stir over a double boiler. You don’t want the water to touch the bowl, you just want the steam. I prefer a glass or ceramic bowl to a stainless steel double boiler.
First I’ll buy a truffle, and put it in a big jar with about half a dozen uncracked eggs. I’ll leave the jar in the refrigerator for about four or five days, so that the eggs absorb the aroma through their shells. Then I’ll temper the eggs, taking them out of the fridge to let them come to room temperature. Meanwhile, I’ll cut a few tablespoons of butter into very small (1/8 inch) cubes, and keep those cold in the refrigerator. Then I’ll whisk the eggs with a little salt and pepper, and pour them into the prepared double boiler. I stir them slowly, taking my time. Once they’ve started to curdle and turn creamy, I’ll stir in the cold butter pieces to slow down the cooking. Once the eggs and butter are blended and take on a porridge-like texture, I’ll finish them with a little chives, snipped very fine.
Then I’ll take a 1-inch thick piece of white bread, remove the crusts and cut the bread into three 1-inch thick batons. I’ll butter the bread, not the pan, and then toast them on all four sides in a pan, until they color all four sides, and are perfectly crispy on the outside, warm and tender in the middle, and then serve that with my scrambled eggs. Without the truffle—and you don’t need one—it’s a very affordable luxury.
What are your top don’t-miss places in New York?
Won Best New Chef at: Le Cirque, New York City