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Vail Valley: A dashing dinner party

Wren Wertin
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyThe more time spent prepping a meal, the more time a host has to spend with dinner guests.
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VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – It’s so simple: meat, potatoes, vegetables, but having people over in the Vail Valley – and wanting to both spend time with your guests and get everything to the table at the same time – can elevate the stress level. That’s why when throwing a dinner party, it’s important to think in terms of what can be done ahead of time. Roasted beef tenderloin (carved tableside, ooh la la), creamy potatoes au gratin and green beans in a buttery herb sauce make for an easy go. As long as you don’t skip any of the very few steps.

“Any time you do anything minimalistic you’re out on a limb,” says Mike Regrut, executive chef of Rocks Modern Grill in the Beaver Creek Lodge. “So everything counts.”

“When you’re shopping for green beans, it’s OK to go to the frozen aisle if the fresh beans are mushy or stringy,” Regrut says. “Don’t be embarrassed. Just find the petit green beans and you’ll be fine.”

Regrut uses a two-step process. Up to three hours before dinner he blanches the green beans so they’re fully cooked. Then right before serving, he warms them in a buttery slurry.

“I love how the dark green of the parsley looks against the beans,” Regrut says.

1 pound petit green beans, washed and trimmed

Ice water

1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/4 cup butter

Salt and pepper

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add enough salt to make it taste like seawater. Add green beans. Let water come back to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Cook green beans for five minutes, until bright green.

2. While beans are cooking, prepare ice water bath. This is called “shocking” the vegetables, and stops them cooking.

3. Drain cooked beans and throw them in the ice water until they’re cool through, a couple of minutes. Drain them and put them in a dish, out of the way.

4. When you’re ready to reheat them, bring 1/2 cup water to simmer in a heavy-bottomed pot. Energetically whisk in butter so it’s almost emulsified. Add salt, pepper and parsley, then the beans. Cook until the beans are warm and the parsley is slightly wilted.

5. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, put the beans on a serving dish. Spoon some of the buttery sauce over the beans.

“The secret ingredient is the starch in the potatoes,” Regrut says. “It thickens the cream. And you can’t substitute anything for cream. It is what it is – just don’t eat it every day.”

Regrut likes to use a cake tester to tell when his potatoes are soft enough. Basically an extra-long metal toothpick with a handle, they’re inexpensive and helpful.

4 50-count potatoes (russet)

2 cups cream

1 1/2 to 2 cups parmesan cheese, shredded

Pinch of ground nutmeg

1 clove garlic, halved

2 tablespoons butter

salt and pepper

1. Peel the potatoes. (You can do this up to one day ahead. Place in water so they don’t turn brown.)

2. Preheat oven to 325.

3. Slice the potatoes on a Japanese or French mandoline so that they’re almost opaque, about 1/8-inch thick. Catch the slices in a dish.

4. Pour in the cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and loosely mix with your hands. Leave to sit for 10 minutes or so, enabling the starch of the potatoes to mix into the cream. Potatoes soak up a lot of salt, so you want it to be on the savory side.

5. Run the garlic halves, cut side down, around a covered 2-quart casserole dish. Follow the garlic with the butter, making sure to get it everywhere. Don’t worry if there are chunks of butter clinging in spots. It’s all to the good.

6. Create your first layer of potatoes, overlapping the slices with each other. Top with a third of the cheese, then pour in some of the cream. Continue the process, using up the rest of the cheese and cream. Spreading out your hand, push down on the layers. There should be enough cream so that it oozes up the sides, but not so much that it completely submerges the top layer of cheese.

7. Cover the dish and place the whole thing in another pan big enough to hold it. Place the dishes in the oven and pour a few cups of water into the larger dish. This creates a steam effect in the oven. Waiting until everything is in the oven before adding the water bath ensures that you don’t slosh it everywhere and causing a mess.

8. Bake for 2 hours. If you’re ready to serve it at that moment, take off the cover and allow the cheese to brown. If dinner is still a ways off, just take the gratin out of the oven and let it sit in a tepid to warm part of your kitchen for up to three hours. Reheat for 15 minutes when you’re ready to serve.

“Let’s talk beef in the Vail Valley,” says Regrut. “Go see Chris and Polly at Cut, and they’ll trim your tenderloin for you. The next best thing is to go to Costco, and butcher it yourself.” For more on trimming your own tenderloin, see vaildaily.com. (Editor’s note: Most likely it will be butcher John Hebert behind the counter at Cut. He trims the prettiest steaks this side of the Texas border.)

“You have to cook with a thermometer,” Regrut says. “Maybe you’ve got a smaller piece of meat, or your oven cooks hotter than mine. If you overcook it, you can’t come back. But you can always cook it more.”

Meat always cooks a little more after you take it out of the oven – sometimes as much as 10 or 15 degrees.

2 1/2 – 3 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed

Olive oil

Freshly ground pepper

Herbs if desired

Kosher salt

1. The day before, or several hours, season the tenderloin with freshly ground pepper. Regrut likes to season “from on high,” so every part of the meat has evenly distributed flavors. Rub the meat with olive oil, then place on a ceramic or glass dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Don’t salt at this point, because the salt will draw the moisture out of the meat.

2. An hour before roasting, bring the meat to room temperature.

3. Preheat oven to “extremely hot,” 500 F if your oven gets that hot. 450 F works, too. Starting with such a hot oven allows the tenderloin to develop a savory crust, without having to sear it on the stove first.

4. Season the meat with kosher salt. Place it on a roasting rack on a sheet pan – you can use a cookie rack if need be.

5. Pop it in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. Pop it back in, checking every few minutes.

6. When it’s reached the temperature you’d like, take the tenderloin out of the oven and allow it to sit for roughly 15 minutes so the juices get absorbed back into the meat.

7. Place on a cutting board, and slice the meat. Slice perpendicular to the grain of the meat, using an extremely sharp knife. Using your knife as a spatula, place the sliced medallions on a serving plate. Garnish with a bit of coarse finishing salt if you like, as well as chopped Italian parsley. Served with the cheesy, creamy potatoes, the beef needs no sauce.


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