Wow, what a weekend and what a day last Friday was. We prepared food for two catering events, one, a 150 person wedding and the other an upscale boxed lunch for 200 people. On Friday I had quite a day and a ton of fun. I did a large amount of prepping while trying to keep the front of the restaurant running smoothly. Nancy, Joannie and Megan were up to there eyeballs in food from the moment the day started. Megan cut and grilled so much chicken that the joke was that I was going to go print her out a “Chicken Mastery” certificate.
One of the dishes we were making was an Asian salad with skewered grilled chicken satay and peanut sauce. I consider myself super lucky that I wasn’t asked to skewer the chicken. We all got a good laugh because Joannie, who is vegetarian, ended up the job. She must have spent 3+ hours producing over 1,000 skewers.
I needed to julienne, into 1/8″ pieces, about 20 pounds each of bell peppers, carrots and cabbage. The bell peppers were great because I was able to really practice my knife skills, about 1 hour of them. The carrots were a bit easier because I was able to use the mandoline (watch out!) and with my mesh glove I cruised through them. The cabbage was the easiest as I only needed to core, then run them through the food processor with the shredder blade insert.
Nancy’s birthday was Saturday so our staff volunteered a few months back to handle the wedding catering Friday night. All we had to do was set up the event, make sure everything was ready to go and then we could head off. I had originally planned to make dinner for Nancy after we left the event, but after 12 hours of standing up I decided I was a wimp and I only wanted to relax. Thanks to my staff though, who after working all day, spent another 6 hours taking care of the wedding. We did pick up dinner on the way home and just chilled out.
About 11:00pm, after Nancy was out cold, I realized we would be heading to work early again Saturday morning and I really wanted to make breakfast for Nancy. The problem was I wanted to stay up late and I didn’t want to get up early. I decided I would make the strata that had been on my list for the last few weeks.
I spent some time a few weeks ago looking through many of my cookbooks and had a pretty good idea what I was going for. I do have a few tips I leaned that I wanted to share. When you use high-moisture ingredients like sausage or raw vegetables you must saute them first to remove the moisture. If you don’t the strata will be wet and soggy. Second, to produce the perfect texture you should weigh down the strata while it sits in the fridge overnight. This will allow all of the egg/cream mixture to really soak into the bread. You don’t have to use anything fancy, I just used a gallon of milk.
The outcome was excellent and I will be making it again. I think I might try to make a pepperoni pizza strata next time. The recipe was inspired by “The Best New Recipe” from Cook’s Illustrated.
Strata with Spicy Italian Sausage & Gruyere Cheese
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 7-8 slices French bread
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 4 medium minced shallots
- 8 ounces pre-cooked spicy Italian sausage, cut into slices
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 ounces Gruyere cheese
- 6 large eggs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, or half-and-half
- 1 1/4 cups half-and-half
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Start by drying out the bread. Pre-heat the oven to 225 degrees. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 40 minutes, turning once after 20 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then moderately butter one side of each piece.
Okay. On to the the sausage and shallots. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until translucent. Add the sliced sausage and saute until browned, about 4 minutes. (The sausage is already cooked so you are only browning them to concentrate the flavor and reduce the moisture.) Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Add the wine to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until you have reduced by half. This will go quickly, just 2 or 3 minutes.
Take an 8×8 baking dish and coat the inside with butter. Arrange half of the bread slices in a single layer on the bottom of the pan, buttered side up. You can break the pieces to make them fit. Sprinkle half of the sausage/shallot mixture evenly over the bread then cover with 1/3 of the cheese.
Arrange the other half of the bread over the cheese, then the remainder of the sausage/shallot mixture and another 1/3 of the cheese.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl until combined. Whisk in the reduced wine, parsley, half-and-half, heavy cream if using, 1 teaspoon salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread and cover, flush with the surface, with plastic wrap. Weigh down with something heavy. Refrigerate for at least a few hours up to overnight. Place remaining cheese in a bag and save.
Remove from refrigerator and let sit on the counter for 20 minutes to warm up a bit. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees and place oven rack in middle position. Uncover the strata and sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, for approximely 40 to 50 minutes until the edges and center are puffed and when you shake the baking dish the strata doesn’t jiggle. If you have a convection oven then cook at 270 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove from oven, cut into 4 or 6 pieces and devour.