We’ve touched on my love of caper movies before but this time we are going full heist. In honor of the recent release of Ocean’s 8, I thought I’d step back to one of my all-time favorites the 2001 remake of Ocean’s 11. The cast was and still is a laundry list of some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the plot is reasonably solid, the antagonist is believably deplorable, the characters are…well, characters. All in all, it’s a great flick.
The original Ocean’s 11 starred Sinatra and the rat pack and wasn’t really all that great of a movie and is pretty miss-able (and I’m a fan of everything involved in that film). The remake that we’re talking about does a much better job of telling a coherent story of Danny Ocean (Clooney) coming back for the good old “one last job before he retires,” and bonus: the mark is the guy who his wife left him for (Andy Garcia’s perfectly smug Terry Benedict). Even better, if just so happens that Benedict just got finished screwing one of Danny’s old buddies out of their stake in a casino.
So, Ocean recruits some old friends and new acquaintances to help him rob three of Benedict’s casinos all at once. Okay…maybe the plot isn’t as solid as I initially implied…whatever! That’s the basics, and the entire movie does a nice job juxtaposing the glitter and glam of Las Vegas against the nitty-gritty work going into the heist. One of my favorite examples of this is a great scene with Don Cheedle, check it out. He’s the team’s explosives expert, and he’d rather watch the demolition on TV than in person; he doesn’t need the pomp and circumstance.
Sometimes though, that pomp and circumstance is nice and that’s where this week’s dinner comes in. If you’re gonna watch a movie with fancy Vegas in it, you should eat a “fancy Vegas” meal. So, I put together some seasonal ingredients, sorted out a nice three course menu for you, and did it all with just eleven team members (other than salt and pepper, of course). Vegas has restaurants from dozens of famous chefs, and damn near every one of those chefs will tell you that the key to a good dish is to use fresh, in season ingredients, and to make sure that the dish highlights those ingredients.
I’ve been known to joke that the secret to great cooking is to get really, really good ingredients and then just not mess them up by doing too much to them. So, in this case, we pretty much did just that; got some seasonal veggies and fish, took it easy on the big overpowering flavors, and let the ingredients shine through. I’ve organized the menu to be three courses starting with an appetizer, then a fruit salad, and ending with the fish entree. This works great if you’re cooking for two and have time to plate six separate dishes (and ya know, wash them later), but you could totally plate everything in their own sections of a single larger plate. I’m providing recipes, not telling you how to live your life…jeez!
However, if I were telling you how to live your life I would definitely tell you to call up someone you wanted to impress and invite them over for dinner, then go find some good quality salmon (get it…cuz, OCEANS!!…sorry, I’ll show myself out) and the other 10 ingredients, put on the movie while you prep, and then some Sinatra for dinner and…anyway, enjoy!
Ocean’s 11 Tasting Menu featuring 11 ingredients
Salmon Crudo (2 portions)
- 3oz Salmon trimmings
- ½ lime
- 5 leaves fresh mint
- 2oz extra virgin olive oil
- Trim the thinner parts off of your salmon fillets (see entree below) so that they will cook evenly later on, cover and chill.
- Chop the trimmings into ¼’-½” cubes and place in a small bowl.
- Cut the ½ lime into wedges and juice half into the bowl with the salmon, set the other 2 aside for serving.
- Slice the mint into a “chiffonade,” essentially the thinnest little ribbons you can slice. Add then to the bowl.
- Add half the oil and combine. You’ll add the rest when serving.
- Cover the mixture and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and up to 4 hours. More than that and you’re making ceviche rather than crudo.
- Immediately before you serve; make a small pile of arugula on each dish, top each with half the crudo, and a drizzle of oil and serve with the remaining lime wedges.
Watermelon Panzanella Salad (2 portions)
- ¼ baguette, cut into small cubes
- ¾ lb, watermelon, cut into small cubes
- 8-10 grape tomatoes, quartered
- 5-10 mint leaves, chiffonade (see step 4, above)
- 2oz feta, cubed or crumbled
- 2oz Champagne vinegar (you could substitute cider or red wine, but if you do, go with 1.5oz vinegar and 0.5oz water to mellow the flavor)
- 1oz extra virgin olive oil
- Cut the bread and watermelon into cubes, add the watermelon to a bowl and leave the bread out, uncovered until service. You want the bread to dry out a bit so that it will absorb the dressing later.
- Cut up and add the tomatoes and mint to the bowl, then add a small pinch of salt and stir gently to combine.
- Let this sit for about 10 minutes before you add the feta, half the vinegar, and all of the oil.
- Stir gently again, then cover and chill, again for at least 30 minutes. This stores well for a day or so, as long as you don’t add the bread and let it get soggy.
- Immediately before service, toss most of the bread into the bowl and mix gently before plating, then add the last of the bread over the top, sprinkle with the remaining vinegar, and top with a fresh mint leaf.
Pan Seared Salmon with watermelon gastrique (2 portions)
- 1lb wild salmon, trimmed to even rectangles
- 2lb watermelon, or about 2 cups watermelon juice (unsweetened)
- 1TBS champagne vinegar (again, you could switch, but the dilution isn’t really necessary here)
- 2oz extra virgin olive oil
- 8-10 grape tomatoes
- 4oz cucumber, sliced very thin
- Trim you salmon as discussed above, and cut into 2 fairly equal pieces, then reserve until service.
- Cut the watermelon into chunks and process in a blender until completely smooth.
- Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a sauce pan to begin the reduction. Do this gently, as forcing the mixture through will force pulp in and give you a cloudy juice. I made this mistake and had to strain the juice 3 times to get it clarified, save yourself the frustration.
- Bring the watermelon juice to a boil, and then reduce to medium heat and simmer until it has reduced to a thick, syrupy consistency. Depending on the heat of your stove and the size of your pan, this may take 20-45 minutes. It is important to stir it occasionally to prevent scorching and keep an eye on it when it gets close.
- You want to end up with about 2oz of watermelon syrup, to which we will add the vinegar. This completes the watermelon gastrique, which can be strained and set aside while we cook the tomatoes and fish.
- Add the oil to a non-stick pan, and heat until it just becomes fragrant, then add the tomatoes, season gently with salt and pepper and cover for 2-3 minutes. The tomatoes will blister and burst, and I don’t want you to get splattered with hot oil.
- Pour the tomatoes and oil into a heat-safe container. The tomatoes will continue to cook just a bit while that cools.
- Add about half of the tomato oil back to the pan and then add the seasoned salmon skin side down and cook until skin is very crispy, then flip and cook just until a crust forms on the flesh side.
- While the salmon cooks, spread half the cucumbers onto each plate, making a ring a little bigger than the salmon, then add the tomatoes outside that ring.
- When the salmon finishes, place it on top of the cucumbers then drizzle with the gastrique and remaining tomato oil
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