As spring blossoms poke through the chill and daylight begins to linger further into the evening, a certain festive anxiousness always seems to take hold. Our minds and mouths start racing prematurely toward the spring harvest, and we want to celebrate the warm weather, sitting outdoors at every opportunity with friends and family. And a Sunday brunch is like a foodie’s consecration of the spring season.
Brunch being a community affair, everyone brings some dish to the table and the meal usually becomes a wild smattering of tastes. Plates pile with salmon, toast, eggs, cheese, coffee cake, potatoes, cured meats, fruit, and as the sweets and salts fall into one another, the ungoverned flavors run wild and ravishing. I surely can’t be the only one who has noticed the gastronomic transcendence of ham in a puddle of maple syrup run off from the waffle.
Ris has certainly noticed. Just try her Croque Mademoiselle.
Her new brunch menu is filled with comforting, community-inspired dishes and the playful mix of flavors they bring out. And much of their depth is likely due to the way the dishes were created. Ris turned to her line cooks Ali and Leah to help design the Sunday brunch menu plates.
Circling the restaurant bar on a Saturday morning, they were huddled around two different versions of one dish. They had each made coddled eggs with tomato. Ris presided like a matriarch over the discussion and critique as they all tasted the two dishes and distinguished the strongest points of each. In the end, the recipe became a fusion of the two, combining their best elements.
“Sometimes I wake up knowing exactly what I want a dish to taste like, what I want to go in it,” says Ris, as if she were talking about colors in a painting. “Other times, I’m not as sure, and so I field opinions. I love to edit and refine dishes too, and so this process is a good way to teach them to develop a dish that is worthy of serving—the weaving of flavors, colors and textures, like a tapestry. And it’s also great for them to get their voices on the menu.”
The Croque Mademoiselle, Ris’ quirky cousin of the Croque Madame, was designed by Ali. To the traditional open-faced sandwich of grilled brioche with ham, a fried egg and Mornay sauce, she added a beer batter-fried onion ring. When Ris tasted it, she loved it, “but the yeastiness of the onion begged for a touch of sweetness…so I drizzled a bit maple syrup on top.” That little nip of sweetness is a flavor punch that unites the ingredients, adding that Sunday brunch punch of “anything goes.”
The meat Ris uses for the beef hash is the leftover braised short rib from the night before. The traditional, savory flavors are modest and full, with that certain rounded quality that only leftovers can bring. Using braising liquid as the gravy doesn’t hurt either.
Leah designed the breakfast pizza, piled high with Portuguese linguiça sausage and tomato fondu and topped with an egg. The pizza, loud, powerful and hearty, is a perfect pair to a Bloody Mary. Meanwhile, you can’t have brunch without pastries. Pastry Chef Chris’ blueberry cheese puffs have an ethereal quality and perfect texture, playing with subtle twangs of sour that bring out the baked blueberries and underscore the rich sweetness. They work well as a starter or desert.
This family-style collaboration is echoed in home kitchens across the country. If you don’t like something at your dinner table, you let the cook (mother) know to adjust it next time. Granted, the culinary discussion in Ris’ kitchen versus most family kitchens is like the difference between reading Fitzgerald and Beetle Bailey.
As I was getting ready to leave, satisfied to the point of incapacity, Rory, the pastry sous-chef, ran up to me with a tray of crispy, granular, golden donuts and told me to take one. He had just made them. It was the donut of the decade—a thick, rich, sweet O somewhere between a funnel cake and a coffee cake, with a crunchy crust and a thin, sweet glaze. I thanked him, and he went to Ris for approval. As I was walking out the door, I heard him shouting, “They’re going on the menu!”
Sure enough, they were on the menu the next day.
RIS Short Rib Hash by Alison Hartnett
Serves 4 – 6
We use leftover braised beef short ribs from Saturday’s “Date Night” special for our Sunday Brunch hash and we use the braising liquid, reduced with port for the sauce. Hash is for leftovers, so feel free to substitute roast chicken, beef, pork, fish or vegetables and their sauces for this recipe.
2 large Idaho potatoes (about 2 lb.)
Canola or peanut oil
1 large onion, diced
½ -1 lb. braised short rib, diced
1 cup sauce or gravy
Salt and pepper
Chopped fresh herbs
Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
Bake the potatoes, skin on, until cooked through, 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Refrigerate whole until chilled. Peel and dice into ½ inch squares. In a skillet or frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. canola or peanut oil and pan fry the diced potatoes in single layer batches until crispy, a technique called “rissole.” Let each layer of potatoes get crispy on one side before turning. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and any other spices of your choosing. Remove the cooked potatoes to paper towels to dry. Add a bit more oil to the pan and sauté the onions until caramelized, 3-5 minutes. Fold the diced beef in with the onions. Add the cooked potatoes, balancing the ratio of meat to potatoes to your taste. Add ¼ cup of the sauce or gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add fresh herbs to taste.
Meanwhile, poach 4 eggs in a saucepot of simmering water with a dash of vinegar added to it. Crack each egg individually into a cup and gently pour into the simmering water. Room temperature large eggs take about 2½ minutes to soft poach where the yolks are runny and the whites are cooked through. Eggs directly out of the refrigerator will take a bit longer. Fresh market eggs are best.
To plate, arrange a portion of the hash on to each of 4 plates, mold in a ring if desired. Make a slight well in the center, pour a bit of the heated sauce over the hash and place an egg on top. Season the egg with a bit of salt and pepper, sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with a bit of good extra virgin olive oil. Having hot biscuits on hand will make you a star.
RIS Blueberry Cheese Puffs by Chris Kujala
For the Dough:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
8 oz. unsalted butter (cold)
5 oz. sour cream
For the Filling:
8 oz. cream cheese
1 large egg
4 cups granulated sufar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
The dough: Dice the cold butter. Mix together the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then mix the butter until it is incorporated and the flour has a texture like cornmeal. Mix in the sour cream until fully incorporated and smooth. Shape into a ball. Wrap with plastic and chill until firm, about 4 hours.
When ready to cook, process all the filling ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Remove the dough from the fridge, and let sit for about ten minutes. On a floured surface, roll the pastry into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut the pastry into 3-inch squares.
Place the squares into a 12-cup muffin pan. Press down on each cup to cover the sides and bottom. Spoon about 1 Tbsp. of filling into the shell and top with blueberries (just a few on each). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.