Cooking like Keller, Part One: Oysters & Pearls

Thomas Keller's Oysters and Pearls, French Laundry Cookbook

A Very Thomas Keller Thanksgiving, Course 1: Oysters and Pearls, French Laundry Cookbook

The first installment of “A Very Thomas Keller Thanksgiving”

My husband and I like to make lists.

But instead of “things to do” or “places to go,” most of our lists revolve around food that we’ve already eaten. One list is the fullest we’ve ever been. For me, hands down, the winner is after our meal at the (now defunct) Incanto in San Francisco. I was so stuffed I almost cried when the kitchen sent us a complimentary dessert and champagne at the end of the meal. It felt more like a punishment than a gift.

We also talk about the longest meals we’ve had (the Herb Farm is definitely up there – so much food!) and, of course, the best things we have eaten. This list is constantly changing but for both of us the ultimate winner is the same — the Oysters & Pearls from our dinner at the French Laundry back in 2011.

This is one of Chef Thomas Keller’s most iconic dishes. The base is a custard made with small pearl tapioca, cream and oyster trimmings. The mixture is baked in individual ramekins and then topped with a gently poached fresh oyster, a silky butter sauce, a scoopful of caviar and a dusting of chives.

It’s perfection.

Out of everything we ate that night, which was somewhere close to 14 or 15 courses, this dish is the one that we reminisce about the most.

If there was a single con to be found, it’s that it is only a few bites in size — and after just one spoonful I was sure I could eat a platter of the stuff. Keller is clearly aware it’s always best to keep your guests wanting more.

Since our meal there, my husband and I have often discussed recreating the dish at home using the French Laundry cookbook. That is what inspired our Thanksgiving feast this year, which I dubbed “A Very Thomas Keller Thanksgiving.” We pulled recipes from three of his cookbooks, Ad Hoc, The French Laundry and Bouchon, and created a four-course meal instead of the usual spread of turkey, stuffing and gravy.

Here’s the start of our journey into the fine art of cooking like Keller…

Thomas Keller's cookbooks

A dish of freshly shucked oysters, trimmed up for presentation.

A dish of freshly shucked oysters, trimmed up for presentation.

The tapioca mixture prior to being heated. Once it baked it puffs up a bit like a souffle.

The tapioca mixture prior to being heated. Once it bakes, it puffs up a bit like a souffle.

Topping the puffed tapioca with a beurre blanc - a sauce made from vermouth, shallots and butter.

Topping the puffed tapioca with a beurre blanc – a sauce made from vermouth, shallots and butter.

Fresh oysters, heated gently in the sauce, go next.

Fresh oysters, heated gently in the sauce, go next.

A big celebratory spoonful of caviar.

A big celebratory spoonful of caviar.

Thomas Keller's Oysters and Pearls, French Laundry Cookbook

Garnish with chives…

Thomas Keller's Oysters and Pearls, French Laundry Cookbook

Oysters and Pearls

What can I say about the end result? It was gorgeous and tasted just like I remembered. It is extremely rich so we probably only needed half of this but once I started eating there was no way I could stop.

If you want to wow someone, make them this. It is surprisingly easy to put together. Yes, it has a lot of steps but much can be prepped in advance. (If you don’t have the cookbook – here’s a link to the recipe).

There is no way it won’t be one of the best things they ever had.

Thomas Keller's Oysters and Pearls, French Laundry Cookbook

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25 thoughts on “Cooking like Keller, Part One: Oysters & Pearls

    • Maybe but then you’d just be eating tapioca with caviar — not very delicious. I think you might actually like this dish though. The oysters are cooked and really mild. It’s pretty amazing.

  1. Wowy! This looks uber classy. Almost too special to eat 🙂 It definitely makes me want to go out and get the cookbook.

    I love the idea of lists such as yours, rather than just lists (such as mine) of recipes to cook or foods to try. It must be fun thinking up the categories and then to look back at them and be reminded of the meals that made it to the top of each list!

    • This is definitely one of the classiest things I’ve ever made at home! I have to say I was pretty damn impressed with myself. =)

      And yeah it’s always fun to look back and reminisce about some of the meals we’ve had. I have some really great stories from our time in Montreal — I think we ate our body weight in food on that trip! So much foie gras!

  2. Can I come to Thanksgiving at your house next year? Our meal at the French Laundry (I can’t recall the year) remains one of the best ever in my memory. Steve liked Per Se better. Honestly, the food was perfect at both, but there was just something about that lovely country-ish spot that touched me more than all the glitz of Columbus Circle. Bravo to you! Can’t wait to see what the next Thanksgiving courses were!

    • You’d be more than welcome, especially if you pack some country ham along with you! I haven’t been to Per Se but we did Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc and French Laundry all in the same weekend (well, all in the same 24 hours to be honest — such piggies!). French Laundry remains overall the best dining experience of my life. They really know how to make you feel spectacularly well taken care of and appreciated.

  3. That’s never been on the menu when I’ve eaten there. But there is a another similar starter I’ve had several times that blew me away — an oyster cauliflower panna cotta with osetra caviar. Like you said, best part of the meal. Hope the “Ad Hoc” dish was fried chicken! 😉

    • Oh! That sounds amazing! Also I’m super jealous imagining how many times you’ve been there. I’ve still only been to Napa once, but god, I’d love to go back. We didn’t have nearly enough time there. And I contemplated he AH fried chicken — but we’d made that one before and I wanted all new recipes. We did cook a bird though in honor of the holiday. =)

  4. Oh, and your Incanto “too stuffed to have another bite” story reminds me of a good lobster story I’ll have to share with you when I feel like typing more…

      • A few years back, we went to our favorite sushi restaurant for my birthday. I’ve had a friendship with the chef/owner for two decades, ever since I used to make the t-shirts for the restaurant back when I was in college. So we’re gorging ourselves on sushi, have reached just about the Monty Python “Meaning of Life” moment where we can’t eat another bite, when Goro says, “Sean-san, something special for your birthday” and sends out the largest lobster I’ve ever seen. He’d carved it up beautiful, had several sauces, and beamed like a proud parent as it was presented to us. My wife and I looked at one another, faces white, smiled graciously to Goro… and began gagging down as much as we could. I thought I was going to vomit, I’ve never eaten so much. Took me awhile to look fondly at lobster again.

        • Somehow I missed this comment but reading it now made me laugh so hard. There’s just that moment when you know you have to eat it, but it’s so painful! I admire you and your wife’s stamina — just got to plow through it. Have you ever seen the No Reservation where Bourdain goes to Monreal and eats at Au Pied de Cochon. He has that same look during the last half of the meal. It cracks me up every time I watch it. My husband and I once went to a restaurant I used to cook at and ordered 12 raw oysters to start with. The kitchen had just shucked another order of 24 but then the table cancelled it so they sent it to us as a gift…along with the 12 we had originally ordered. Now I can eat some oysters but jesus. I was SO done when we got to the last shell. Why is it always something you can’t take with you?

          • I know, we should be able to have food savings accounts, right? Deposit the lobster and the extra two dozen oysters, and withdraw them when you’re having a jones.

  5. How great that you found you could make this yourself and have it turn out so well! I always wondered if chefs who wrote cookbooks left out an important detail or two, just to maintain the mystique!

    • I think half the time that’s true — it’s their insurance you’ll keep coming back to eat! I’ve bought a few books though where I feel the chefs truly gave up all their secrets and this is one of them — everything we made was spot on. I was really impressed with how perfect it was!

  6. Pingback: Cooking like Keller, Part Two: Scallops with Braised Endive | Attempts in Domesticity

  7. Pingback: Cooking like Keller, Part Three: Pomegranate Glazed Quail, Caramelized Cabbage | Attempts in Domesticity

  8. Pingback: Cooking like Keller, Part IV: Apple Fritters & Calvados Ice Cream | Attempts in Domesticity

  9. Pingback: At the Immigrant's Table: Celery root soup with garlic & lentils

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