I recently spent a few days at a conference in Seattle, and when I could, I escaped to enjoy the incredible food the city has to offer. Whenever I ran into someone and our conversation turned to eating, I was inevitably asked, Have you had oysters? I did. And they were great. And of the varieties I had, each had its own unique character, from sweet to buttery to briny to pleasantly metallic. Oysters, the terroir of the sea, as Jessica Simpson might say. Their different sizes and unique shells also contributed to the aesthetics of the experience, as did the place I was tasting this bounty of oysters, a no pretense shop with tanks in the center of the room and faucets pouring water constantly over the pools of oysters and mussels and scallops and geoducks. Oh, the geoduck chowder I had there was delicious. I devoured it at one of the few high top tables in the place that only had counter space along two walls for additional seating. Like I said, no pretense. When I was in Seattle, I could never remember the place’s name, but I would recommend to hungry people that they walk up the hill from the convention center and that when they hit a triangle of streets to look for a place with a heron on its sign. “The place with a heron on its sign” is Taylor Shellfish Farms. This experience might make me more adventurous with oysters from the gulf here in Texas. I have been enjoying them this past year, but almost exclusively fried. Still, oysters were not the immediate inspiration on my cooking from this Seattle trip. That title goes to a wonderful meal I had at La Bête.
Once again, I owe Eater and the Eater App a big thanks for being clutch when I find myself visiting a city and in a sudden and immediate need of a good place to eat. That’s how a friend and I discovered La Bête. The space is intimate yet energetic, and it’s a great place to eat at the bar and not feel exiled from the overall experience of the place. The wines are smartly curated, and the well provisioned menu appears stocked with flavor. I had a great meal that started with roasted cauliflower, followed by celery root soup with vegetable fritters, and ending with braised venison served over spaetzle. That entrée was not messing around; it was unambiguously tasty. And it made me think that I’ve been missing out by making so much pasta and never spaetzle. When I got home, I decided to remedy that.
My initial plan was to braise pork shoulder steaks and serve them sliced over a plate of spaetzle. This idea came from a desire to continue experimenting with that cut of pork, which I recently did for a meal of glazed pork shoulder steaks and celery root and blood orange salad.
Unfortunately, my local market didn’t have boneless pork shoulders the day I went; they did, however, have some lamb tenderloins. I decided to make spice-crusted lamb tenderloin with homemade herb spaetzle and radishes. The spice mixture consists of juniper berries, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, kosher salt, and fresh rosemary. The spaetzle has Italian parsley in it, and it was quickly tossed with the radishes sautéed in butter and chopped fresh sage. There are fresh peas and watercress as well. A quick pan sauce was made with sherry vinegar, dry vermouth, whole-grain Dijon mustard, and butter.
Spice Rub for Lamb Tenderloin:
1/2 tsp juniper berries
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp, densely packed, fresh rosemary leaves
2 tsp kosher salt
Herb Spaetzle (4 Dinner Servings):
1 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp grated fresh Parmesan
cracked black pepper
2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 lb lamb tenderloin, so about six tenderloins for four people
1 dozen radishes, trimmed, cleaned, and quartered vertically
1/2 cup shelled peas
2 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
1/2 cup watercress leaves, trimmed and washed
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 oz dry vermouth
1 tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
3 tbsp unsalted butter
In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, salt, and Parmesan for the spaetzle. Add a few turns from a pepper grinder. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the two eggs to the center. With a wooden spoon, begin mixing in the eggs and slowly add the milk as you do this. Continue stirring until the doughy batter is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for an hour. Set up a large pot of boiling, salted water to cook the spaetzle. When ready, mix in the parsley to the batter. Using a spaetzle maker, ricer, or a colander with large holes and a spatula (I used the colander insert for my stock pot), press the batter through in batches, so as not to crowd the dumplings, into the boiling water. Cook the spaetzle for about 3-4 minutes, or until the dumplings begin to float. Drain and use immediately, or set aside in the fridge until ready to use.
For the tenderloins, make sure they are properly trimmed and cleaned. Preheat an oven to 400 °F. Place all of the rub ingredients, except the salt, into a grinder or food processor and combined thoroughly. Mix in the salt and rub over the tenderloins. Let rest on the counter for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, have a large cast iron skillet heating over high heat. You want the pan hot enough that when you add one or two tablespoons of grape seed oil to it that it will smoke a little. This will get you a good sear on the outside. Cook the tenderloins in the pan for about 30 seconds to a minute for each side, and then place the skillet into the preheated oven and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Remove the tenderloins and let them rest on a carving board. Return the skillet to the stovetop, and over high heat, deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar and the dry vermouth, scraping up the bottom with a wooden spoon. Reduce by half and then add the mustard and butter. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
While the tenderloins are resting, heat 1 tbsp of butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the radishes for about 5-6 minutes, until just browning. Add the sage, the additional tbsp of butter, and the spaetzle to the pan and stir constantly so as not to burn the spaetzle. Add the peas for the last minute of cooking. The spaetzle will be heated in only a couple minutes. Serve the spaetzle with the tenderloin, spooning over the sauce, and the watercress.