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Your Most Elegant First Course

As the title suggests I'm looking for a first course that reliably and consistently wows guests with taste, presentation and creativity. No restrictions...diet or otherwise. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

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  1. As a dessert my MIL once made a gorgeous berry souffle in small ramikins. I would be impressed to see a savory souffle as a first course.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lhb78

      If you like the idea of a dessert as an appetizer-at the Vista Grill in Puerto Vallarta I recently had a Fois Gras Creme Brulee. Since I jumped at the Fois Gras and missed the Creme Brulee on the menu (it was very dark) it was a bit of a shock.

      I also remember a pasta appetizer in Westwood that was a single ravioli with an runny yolk egg inside.

    2. In Tom Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef" there is a recipe for a "Caramelized Tomato Tart" that never fails to impress. It's built like a flan with a caramel in the bottom of a ramekin, then a clove of garlic, roasted tomato and some caramelized onions, topped with puff pastry and baked, then turned out for service. The caramel turns into a sauce, the pastry adds great texture and the garlic, onions and tomato work wonderfully well together. The whole thing seems like it should be too sweet, but with good salt and pepper (and I always like to add cayenne) it's well balanced.

      A brilliant thing about the dish is that though it does take some time to prep (caramelizing the onions, roasting the tomato, knocking out the caramel, etc) you can do it ahead of time, assemble the tart sans pastry and hold it at room temperature for several hours then add the pastry and bake it right before you serve.

      4 Replies
      1. re: ccbweb

        I've made that - I love that book - and that dish is amazing, as is the similar one using mushrooms.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I'd forgotten about the mushroom dish like it....I always make a version of the roasted mushrooms and scallops. I, too, love that book.

          1. re: ccbweb

            That sounds amazing. I've been meaning to get that book for awhile. It's now on my must-have list.

            1. re: jamesm

              And - while the dish is labor intensive, a lot can be done ahead of time. Just noticed that it is available in paperback, as well, which I didn't realize.

      2. J. Child's lobster souffle. A GREAT starter.

        1. agree with the savory souffle (fennel is delish...or carrot). so beautiful and really not labor intensive.

          cauliflower panna cotta (from French Laundry cookbook)

          1. A lovely shrimp in puff pastry with cream curry sauce.
            Soups, or bisques from vegetarian to fish.
            Scallops done different ways
            A stuffed portebello mushroom stuffed with sweet sausage in a marinara sauce
            Carpaccio with lemon/mustard oil

            For a few.

            7 Replies
            1. re: chef chicklet

              Oh - that reminds me of a glorious dish that Rubee posted about - Lobster à l'Américaine. I'll try and find the link - it looked out of this world.


              Photos - and the recipe further down.

              1. re: MMRuth

                Thanks guys, great ideas. They've got me thinking.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  You know I don't know why but I always lean towards seafood. I myself really go for good ice cold oysters, or quickly run under a flame. Love - love oysters!

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    Thanks for reminding me about that one MMRuth. I especially like that the sauce can be made ahead and frozen.

                    I'll have to try that tomato tart in Colicchio's book - it's about time I try some of the recipes in that.

                    Also, here's another favorite of mine (I've used both Maine and lump crabmeat - all good):

                    Maine Crab Tart with Avocado, Tomato and Cucumber

                    1. re: Rubee

                      I'll have to go back and look at Colicchio's book again - I cooked up a storm from it for awhile ... the boulangerie potatoes are fabulous.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        The gravlax is also a standout recipe/technique from that book.

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          I'll have to try it - I've been making the Cafe des Artistes recipe from The New Basics for years now - thanks for the suggestion.

                2. I think the most elegant starter I ever made was eggs scrambled with a bit of onion and creme fraiche, put back into ther shells and topped with caviar, and served in egg cups with lightly buttered toast points. Because it can be served either hot or cold, it can even be done ahead of time, adding the caviar just before serving.

                  1. In the French Laundry cookbook -- the butter poached lobster with leeks, pommes maxim and red beet essence. A marvelous dish. There are a lot of steps involved but the results are fantastic. If you want to decrease the amount of work, I've done it with scallops and shrimp as well.

                    1. This may sound too simple for you. But I often think simple is extremely elegant: what could be more elegant, say, than a beautiful bowl of soup, drizzled with olive oil and the perfect grilled bread? That said, below is our family's Shrimp Remolaude, which is very different than the traditional remolaude. While the traditional version of Remoulade is a mayonnaise-based sauce very much akin tarter sauce, in my neck of the woods growing up there was also a version that was more of a spicy vinaigrette. It is perfect for shrimp, which marinate overnight to create a gorgeous, elegant salad. (You can also serve this with toothpicks at a party, but for your purpose, the salad is obviously the best way to go. Depending on how you plate it - description below - it is stunning to see.)

                      CANDY’S SHRIMP REMOLAUDE -

                      2 lbs peeled, cooked shrimp (I like to leave the tails on)
                      11/2 cup olive oil
                      1 cup red wine vinegar
                      4 T chili sauce
                      1/2 cup Creole mustard (I life to use a mustard that is NOT smooth; one with peppercorns, for instance)
                      1 cup chopped celery
                      1 cup chopped green onions
                      2 bay leaves
                      red pepper

                      mix all the ingredients, except the shrimp, together to create marinade. Taste it once mixed, it should have a nice kick to it. You can always add more spice. Add the shrimp and marinate shrimp over night in refrigerator.

                      For a gorgeous, wonderful salad :

                      (Be sure to remove the shrimp from the fridge about 90 minutes before serving so the oil, which may have congealed, comes back to liquid. It is best slightly below room temp anyway)

                      Arrange mixed greens on a plate. For this salad, I like butter lettuce and red leaf lettuce. Place 5-7 Shrimp attractively over the lettuce. Then garnish the salad with sliced avocados and cherry tomatoes.

                      Drizzle each plate with the marinade, which works as a viniagrette for the salad. Be sure to include the chopped celery and green onion when you drizzle the marinade over.

                      For a truly elegant touch, add lump crab meat to the salad. You can arrange the shrimp around the outside and place a mound of lump crab meat in the center.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Tom P

                        These all sound really, really good. Thanks.

                      2. My favorite is a seafood sausage made with shrimp and scallops sliced in small rounds and served with a mild tomato, cream, wine sauce.

                        1. Coquille St. Jacques served in big scallop shells

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: pemma

                            I love this suggestion, so classic so good.

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              Here's Emeril's version

                              Julia has a recipe for it too.

                              You can prepare it ahead, and pop it in the oven at the appropriate time.

                          2. ccbweb mentioned gravlax...

                            One of my ongoing experiments are variations on the gravlax theme-
                            I started with a thin potato pancake (more like a silverdollar galette) with Scottish smoked salmon, creme fraiche, minced red onion, and sieved eggs.

                            Next time I added leeks to the gallete, then dropped the red onion and went to chives and Osetra caviar

                            For a client, i went to Yukon gold potatoes, made a wasabi creme fraiche, used sashimi grade tuna, and some wakame seaweed salad, garnished with black and white sesame seeds.

                            Conversely, I have been working on some charcuterie techniques and have made a startlingly tasty rilettes from pork belly, rubbed with thyme, crushed juniper, a touch of clove, then slow roasted for about 5 hours- I smashed it in my stand mixer and let it rest in a crock for a couple of days- very old school and delicious, but not really a show stopper.

                            1. My old reliable, but still impressive, is panko crusted goat cheese that has been fried golden brown and served on a bed of mixed greens with an aged balsamic vinegrette. It is, as Jamie Oliver would say, dead simple. But it always gets rave reviews and it is not expensive if you get the long log of goat cheese from Costco.

                              1. Has to be my pheasant consomme. It was a show stopper. So flavourful

                                1. There's a lovely starter from a Turkish cookbook I've got which is simple, but impresses every time with its aesthetic and culinary beauty. Basically, you place a perfectly poached egg atop a small amount of plain, thick greek yogurt -- then drizzle the whole thing with paprika-infused sage brown butter. It's delicate yet flavorful, and quite pretty too! If you want the more fleshed-out recipe, I can go look it up.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: litchick

                                    ooh. I'd like that. (I'm allergic to seafood so all of this is making me quite jealous!)

                                    1. re: litchick

                                      Oh, litchik - me too! That sounds wonderful. I'd love to have the recipe when you get the chance.

                                    2. Rillets, made with pheasant or salmon.