THE BUBBLES SEEM to go on forever, and often, so does the party. Therefore, just in case there are any bottles of champagne, or any guests, left over from New Year's Eve, should start 1982 prepared -- with a New Year's brunch.
Brunch, of course, can cover any time period from midnight to mid-afternoon. But whatever the time, it would be a shame to cut short the celebration theme prematurely. So center it around champagne (which you have carefully recorked with a champagne stopper the night before).
The last thing you would want to serve for a New Year's brunch would be eggs benedict. Too rich. Too complicated. Too easy to flub if you try to make it with a headache. Any meal within 24 hours of New Year's Eve should be straightforward, light, refreshing, soft (even the crunch of toast, after all, can be grating). Not too much stirring; or at least use a wooden spoon, which is noiseless. Handle your pots with plenty of potholders -- to cushion the sound as well as your hands. And if the occasion requires the opening of a new bottle of champagne, do it properly this time, with no loud popping of corks.
First, the wine should be cool but not cold. It ought to be just right after being kept in the warmest part of the refrigerator for a couple of hours or in a bucket of ice for half an hour. Then handle the bottle as if it had a hangover: gently. Remove the wire muzzle, hold the cork firmly with one hand while the other hand holds the bottle at a 45-degree angle away from you and your guests. And twist the bottle, not the cork, as you gently and gradually pull the bottle down. The cork should thus be quietly eased out of the bottle. To fill the glasses, pour a little champagne in each, wait for the foam to subside, then fill about two-thirds full, turning the bottle slightly at the end to catch drips. You will, of course, have poured the champagne into well-rinsed and well-dried tall (not wide) flute or tulip-shaped glasses.
Like the size designations of toothpaste tubes and cereal boxes, the dryness designations of champagnes are misleading. "Dry" doesn't really mean dry, but is slightly sweet; the sweetest is called "semi-dry." "Extra-dry" really means that it has a touch of sweetness. For truly dry champagne you must ask for "brut."
We consulted the people who should know -- champagne producers -- for recipes to serve with champagne or that use champagne. And most of them we discarded. The reason is obvious to anyone who has to buy his champagne for cooking rather than having a winery full of it on hand to use. Since one of the crucial reasons for champagne's high price is the bubbles, it makes little sense to use it in a recipe that destroys those bubbles. It is a lovely and delicate wine to use in cooking, but its bubbles disappear upon heating or standing; thus one might as well make a wine sauce with non-bubbly white wine at a much lower cost. So we save our champagne for those recipes that benefit from the sparkle, particularly those where champagne is added at the last minute. Our favorite is champagne poured over a cold, peeled fresh peach the instant before serving. Lacking fresh peaches, we have substituted in our New Year's Eve coda fresh strawberries (which are beginning to reappear in the markets at affordable prices) and let the champagne serve double duty, as marinade and sherbet. Our version comes from chef Philippe Jeanty, of California's Domaine Chandon. He has suggested mixing two champagnes for the sherbet (actually, in this case, a granite', since it is frozen in a shallow pan to be shaved when served, rather than stirred to smoothness in an ice cream maker). We think one kind of champagne is sufficient.
The rest of the brunch recipes were chosen not to use up champagne in the cooking, but to serve with champagne. Smoked, marinated or cured fish hors d'oeuvres suit well the lightness and austerity of the wine. And they can be prepared well ahead of New Year's Eve, then served on a moment's notice. The haddock, marinated in milk to tone down its fishiness (or, if finnan haddie, its saltiness), comes from Ge'rard Vie', whose restaurant Les Trois Marches at Versailles is much talked about these days. We tried the recipe with raw haddock and smoked finnan haddie; if you use raw haddock, the milk soak is not absolutely necessary, and you will probably want to season it with salt or lemon. Vie' also contributed the prunes poached in tea and stuffed with a sherbet made of the poaching liquid. This is as refreshing a way to serve prunes as one could imagine, and something that can also be readied ahead of time.
The main course of this brunch is scrambled eggs, which are as much as some people can face on New Year's Day, their texture being so soothing. If you and your guests are up to it, Remi' Krug, of the House of Krug champagne company, has suggested Alain Dutournier's scrambled eggs. Dutournier's Au Trou Gascon restaurant in Paris is also on many a tongue in food circles. Dutournier's scrambled eggs are sharpened by black olives and anchovies, infused by the aromas of sweet red peppers and garlic, and would wake up any still-sleeping tastebuds. While they are quick to make, their ingredients can be prepared ahead of time, up to the point of beating and adding the eggs, if necessary.
Olives and champagne may not be a legendary couple, but they are what Remi' Krug himself commonly paired when he last toured the United States,Olive paste on toast, along with cubes of parmesan cheese. He munched them along with his inevitable champagne in city after city. But then champagne is said, at least by champagne makers, to go with just about everything except peanut butter.
So if your cure for New Year's Eve revelry is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, keep your champagne for another party.
PHILIPPE JEANTY'S SAUMON FRAIS 1 fillet of fresh salmon, any size Lemon juice to taste Olive oil to taste Salt, pepper, chives to taste
Cut the salmon into slices as long and thin as possible, holding the knife nearly parallel to the cutting surface. Marinate in lemon juice and a little olive oil, salt, pepper and chives. Serve cold, with toast or thinly sliced pumpernickel.
GERARD VIE'S RAW HADDOCK WITH CHIVES Fillets of raw haddock or smoked finnan haddie (smoked salmon can be substituted) Milk to cover Pepper, chives, olive oil to taste Toast, butter, lemon for serving
Cover haddock with milk and refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain milk and discard. Cut haddock into long, thin slices, holding the knife nearly parallel to the cutting surface. Arrange on plates and sprinkle with pepper, chives and a touch of olive oil. Serve cold, with toast, butter and lemon.
ALAIN DUTOURNIER'S SCRAMBLED EGGS (4 servings) 30 black olives 2 red bell peppers 3 1/2 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 10 anchovy fillets 1 dozen eggs, beaten 1/2 bunch chives, finely minced Freshly ground pepper to taste 4 slices of toast rubbed with 1 clove garlic for serving
Pit and mash the olives. Grill the peppers by holding on a fork over high heat, turning, until the skin blisters; or let the skins blister under a broiler. Peel the peppers, seed and dice them.
Put into a large skillet the butter, olive oil, minced garlic and anchovies. Heat, stirring, and add half the diced red peppers. When well combined, pour in the beaten eggs and cook until they begin to congeal but remain soft and creamy. Remove from heat and fold in the olives, remaining peppers and butter and minced chives. Add pepper to taste and serve on garlic toast.
PHILIPPE JEANTY'S STRAWBERRIES IN CHAMPAGNE (4 servings) 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled Champagne to cover berries, about 1/2 bottle (preferably brut) 1 teaspoon cognac or brandy Sugar to taste (optional) Creme fraiche or granite' au champagne for serving, optional (see recipe below)
Cover strawberries with champagne and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour. Remove bowl from refrigerator and sprinkle with cognac or brandy.
The berries can be served several ways; the simplest is to spoon berries into dishes and pour liquid over them. If desired, sweeten liquid slightly with sugar. Or strain the liquid into a glass and serve it alongside the berries (not sweetened).
The berries can also be served with a sauce made by draining the liquid and stirring into it an equal amount of cre me frai che, sweetening if necessary.
The most elaborate and refreshing way to serve the strawberries is to drain the liquid several hours before serving and make a granite' au champagne with it (see recipe below). Garnish individual servings of the granite' with the berries.
GRANITE AU CHAMPAGNE (4 servings) 1/2 bottle champagne (preferably brut) 1/4 cup sugar or less; adjust to taste 1 teaspoon kirsch
Mix all ingredients quickly, just enough to blend and dissolve the sugar; too much mixing will cause most of the lightness to escape with the wine's bubbles. Freeze in a shallow pan for 2 hours or more until firm.
To serve, scrape the surface of the ice to form a ball of shavings. May be served garnished with strawberries or as a between-course palate refresher.
GERARD VIE'S PRUNES WITH TEA SHERBET (4 servings) 20 prunes Strong tea to cover Sugar to taste 2 tablespoons rum, or to taste (optional) 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, or to taste (optional)
Poach prunes in strong tea to cover, sweetened to taste, for about 5 minutes, until prunes are softened. Let cool in the liquid. Drain the liquid, add rum and lemon zest if desired, and freeze in an ice cream maker or partially freeze in trays, then beat and refreeze. Remove pits from prunes and fill the prunes with the tea sherbet. Serve immediately.