ROBERT CARRIER gives succinct advice about 1981 holiday parties. "No dips," he says, and after a pause, "no dips and no chips; no cheese straws, no olives."
Better known perhaps to an English audience than an American one, Carrier, the author of five cookbooks, has some firm notions about entertaining. These ideas form the signature of what he calls the "Carrier touch". He has a proclivity for pa te's, he undercooks everything including fish, he "never uses flour" in sauces (if you don't look too closely at the Herbed Sauce for Brioche recipe below) and he loves to serve two first courses.
Most important, however, is the emphasis on the "visual approach". As Carrier himself formulates it, "I think I bring to food a visual sensuality."
He breaks off to describe rillettes of smoked eel and smoked trout -- a recipe from his new book "Cooking with Carrier". A fresh, smoked trout is ground to a paste with 5 ounces of smoked eel, 2/3 cup of heavy cream, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice. Another 10 ounces of smoked eel is sliced in julienne strips and combined with the pure'e. With two spoons, the mixture is formed into an egg shape, much like quenelles. Place that on a plate and surround it with a sunburst of lettuce hearts and julienned strips of radish, carrot and beets. Spoon a teaspoon of olive oil over the vegetables and sprinkle with fresh herbs, he says, for a "very simple" first course.
Presentation, simplicity and freshness are the tenets by which he conducts his restaurant business, says Carrier. Presentation, apparently, is his trademark. Freshness comes from spending such sums as $14,000 a year on fresh herbs.
But simplicity? Is it possible that anything simple could be served in his spacious 18th-century mansion, "Hintlesham Hall," in Suffolk (only one of his four homes -- the others in Marrakech, Paris and New York)?
"Actually," he says, "it's the least pretentious house I know."
Simplicity comes easily at home, he says, and tells of an evening when he entertained a group of 12, of whom the guest of honor was James Beard, in his living room-dining room-kitchen combination -- what he calls a "common room." He served a variation of beef burgundy.
He began by actually making beef burgundy. But he removed the meat that had been stewing and set it aside for another use. Instead, he used the resulting sauce, along with traditional beef-burgundy garnishes of tiny onions and saute'ed mushrooms, to serve with cubes of beef filet that had been marinated in oil flavored with bay leaves and pepper. The cubes, which came from the most tender beef, needed nothing but a quick searing to cook them. Then they were tossed in the previously made sauce and received the appropriate garnish. The final dish took only moments to prepare and could be done right where his guests were gathered.
"I think," he says of the dish, "that it would be very Washington."
He hates thick pastry. He hates "glazed things on toast." He hates "fancy decor," even though he likes pretty food, and he hates "when a hostess worked herself to a frazzle and resents my coming."
The thing a Washington party-giver should remember this season, says Carrier, is to make the party "as individual as it can be."
Since endless holiday cocktail parties loom on the horizon of the holiday hostess, Carrier was asked to come to the rescue with a few fresh ideas for hors d'oeuvres.
Ever the pa te' fan, he suggests serving a series of pa te's -- beef, chicken, liver and fish -- formed in small molds. Serve five pa te's with five different breads and two or three flavored butters, he adds.
Or serve several chafing dishes full of hot foods -- lobster Nantua and mushrooms in sherry sauce to name a couple -- and surround them with tiny brioches and pastry shells or other edible receptacles.
To capitalize on the pasta craze, serve large shell noodles with something delicious tucked inside -- a mussel, perhaps, or seafood lightly bound with sauce. Indonesian cuisine contributes the sate', skewered meat marinated in soy sauce, grilled and dipped in hot sauce. His final suggestion was to place Chinese porcelain soup spoons in a decorative arrangement and fill them with various savory mousses.
From his new book,"Cooking With Carrier," ($19.95, A & W Publishers), this skewered fish -- if not a sate' -- would make a delightful hors d'oeuvre, appetizer or main dish. The recipe is for a main course; use smaller skewers and less fish per serving for hor d'oeuvres or a first course.
BROCHETTES OF SOLE WITH LEMON (4 servings) 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds fillet of sole Juice of 1/2 lemon Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2/3 cup ketchup 2 tablepsoons dry white wine 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce Few drops of hot red pepper sauce 3 bacon slices 1 green pepper, cap and seeds removed Lemon wedges Finely chopped parsley
Trim each fish fillet into long strips 1-inch wide, trim edges square and cut fillets into chunks so you have 16 equal pieces. Place fish segments in a shallow bowl and add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Combine ketchup, wine, worcestershire sauce and hot red pepper sauce and pour over fish. Cut each piece of bacon into 4 pieces. Cut green pepper into 12 even-sized squares. Add bacon pieces and pepper squares to fish. Toss so that all ingredients are covered in marinade and let stand overnight, covered, in the refrigerator or at least 2 hours at room temperature, stirring occasionally. Drain, saving marinade. Roll a piece of sole and thread on skewer. Fold bacon piece in half and thread on skewer. Add green pepper square and continue to thread skewers as above, ending with the fourth fish cube. Preheat broiler to hot. Remove grid from broiler pan so that the skewers can rest on either edge of the pan and fish does not touch the bottom of the pan (if your skewers are too short for this, use a well-oiled cake rack as a support). Broil the brochettes for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, and brushing several times with ketchup mixture. Garnish with lemon wedges and chopped parsley and serve immediately.
Note: The bacon is used here to keep the fish moist and to add flavor. The fish should be finished cooking long before the bacon is. The brochettes should be removed from the oven when the fish is cooked.
EASY MARINATED MUSHROOMS (Makes about 4 cups) 4 cups small mushrooms Juice of 1/2 lemon Salt 2 tablespoons wine vinegar 1/2 cup olive oil 2 cloves of garlic, crushed Sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley (use 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme, if you don't have the fresh) 1 bay leaf 5 peppercorns 10 coriander seeds Freshly ground pepper
Trim stems and wash mushrooms thoroughly. Drain and place in a saucepan with just enough cold water to cover them; add lemon juice and a little salt. Bring to a gentle boil, lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Pour off liquid. Combine remaining ingredients in an enamel saucepan; bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 20 minutes. Pour this mixture over blanched mushrooms. Correct seasonings. Serve hot or cold.
The following sauce recipe would be an attractive dish for luncheon when served in average-sized brioche. Thin the sauce a little with extra milk, put it in a chafing dish and serve it with tiny brioche or rolls at a holiday cocktail party.
HERBED SAUCE FOR BRIOCHE (4 servings) Butter 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2/3 cup milk 3/4 cup freshly grated gruyere cheese Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Freshly grated nutmeg 1 cup button mushrooms 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, crumbled 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 4 brioche or rolls
Make a thick white sauce with 1 tablespoon butter, flour and milk. Whisk in cheese over low heat. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Trim the mushroom stems but leave them intact. Clean the mushrooms and slice very thinly. Brush a few of the most attractive mushroom slices with a little lemon juice to prevent discoloration and put them aside for garnish. Saute' remaining sliced mushrooms gently in 1 tablespoon butter for 3 to 4 minutes, sprinkling them with remaining lemon juice. Add to cheese sauce with tarragon and oregano. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove tops from brioches or rolls and scoop out centers to leave firm cases about 1/4-inch thick. Fill the brioches with mushroom sauce and arrange in an oven-proof dish. Garnish each brioche with reserved mushroom slice, replace top and brush with a little melted butter. Heat through in preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until very hot. Serve immediately.