When I first set out to recreate Babette’s Feast, I was excited. That quickly dissipated when I refreshed myself on the menu. The first thing I saw when I loaded the recipes was “portage à la tortue:” turtle soup. Not mock turtle soup, but legitimate turtle soup, which calls for, and I quote, “1 live green turtle (about 5 kilos).” Besides the fact that a 5-kilogram turtle weighs about as much as a Thanksgiving turkey, I simply didn’t have the heart to take the 6 train down to Chinatown, buy a turtle, and proceed to disembowel it in my 15”x15” kitchen sink. Equally relevant is the fact that I didn’t have the funds.
As a college senior working towards a generally useless liberal arts degree, who spends three full days a week working for free, my checking account does not allow for such extravagances as green turtle soup, blini and caviar, quail in pastry, or Alsatian kugelhopf. This, coincidentally, is the exact breakdown of Babette’s menu. If I was going to cobble together an affordable iteration of the famous feast, some changes needed to be made. Below are four modified recipes that, when combined, can be used to recreate your own poor-man’s Babette’s Feast for only $10 a person. Prices are listed alongside specific ingredients, but items like eggs, butter, salt, pepper, and olive oil were considered staples of any refrigerator or pantry, and thus not included in the final tally.
Turtle meat, I imagine, is equal parts rubbery and salty. My mind immediately jumped to mussels as an affordable (and possibly more palatable) alternative. But the flavors present green turtle soup, being chicken broth-based, would clash pretty unpleasantly with the brine of fresh mussels. So, in place of green turtle soup, I recommend that you serve this simplified hybrid of Marseillaise bouillabaisse and billi-bi, a popular cream of mussels soup from the Breton coast.
1 pound fresh (FRESH) mussels ($3.98 at Citarella)
1.5 cups chopped white onion ($.79 at Trader Joe’s)
1.5 cups chopped bell pepper ($1.26 at Trader Joe’s)
Flat leaf parsley or cilantro to taste ($1.69 at Trader Joe’s)
2 oz. creamy tomato soup ($2.49 at Trader Joe’s)
Salt, pepper, olive oil, and white wine to taste
Dish total: $10.21
1) Combine chopped onions, peppers, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large stockpot and sauté on medium heat until onions and peppers are semi-tender.
2) Discard any mussels whose shells have opened. Bring a pot of salt water to a boil and add remaining, closed mussels. Boil mussels until shells open, about 6-8 minutes on medium heat.
3) Strain mussels and cool.
4) Once peppers and onions are semi-tender, add white wine and tomato soup. Bring to a light boil.
5) Once mussels have cooled, remove the meats from half of the shells. Place shelled meats and unshelled meats in the boiling soup and add parsley. Lower heat and simmer for another 5 minutes.
6) Serve piping hot!
SALMON-STUFFED FAUX-BLINIBlini (singular “blin”), as it turns out, are finicky little buckwheat pancakes from Russia that are not only extremely difficult to make (who knows where to get buckwheat?), but also incredibly difficult to find pre-made! So, instead of trekking out to a nameless Russian deli in Brighton Beach for blini and beluga caviar, the inclusion of which would have put this meal at about $50 per person, I improvised a fun, alternative appetizer utilizing ingredients available in any local grocery store.
1 bag miniature, whole-wheat pita pockets ($2.19 at Food Emporium)
1 package smoked salmon ($5.40 at Trader Joe’s)
1 small “log” goat cheese or chèvre ($3.99 at Trader Joe’s)
Dill to taste ($1.69 at Trader Joe’s)
Dish total: $13.27
1) Slice pita pockets in half. Because they are so small, scissors will do the job quite well (just sterilize them first).
2) Stuff the bottom of each halved pocket with goat cheese.
3) Fill the remaining space in each pocket with a small amount of smoked salmon.
4) Garnish each with dill.
5) Serve chilled or at room temperature.
CHICKEN IN PASTRY WITH CHÈVRE
Quail, like blini, are not only difficult to find in Manhattan, but rather pricey when you do. And as with turtle soup, there’s something disheartening about the idea of eating these endearingly plump little ground birds. Chickens, on the other hand, are pretty much the worst. They’re an obnoxious combination of unpredictable movements and very small brains. I have absolutely no qualms about eating chicken, and—bonus—it’s the cheapest poultry available. In place of Babette’s decadent quail in pastry, here is a recipe for rib-sticking chicken in pastry with chèvre.
4 large, skinless, boneless chicken breasts ($7.30 at Trader Joe’s)
1 small “log” goat cheese or chèvre (previously purchased)
8 mid-to-large sized pastry sheets (free*)
2 eggs, cracked and whisked in a small bowl
Salt, pepper, and olive oil to taste
Dish total: $7.30
*When I purchased dessert at André’s Hungarian Bakery on 2nd Avenue and 85th Street, I made sure to go towards the end of the day to score deals on any excess baking goods. The woman behind the counter was kind enough to offer me the day’s leftover pastry scraps, with a purchase of course.
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2) Season chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and olive oil.
3) In a well-oiled pan, brown chicken (5 minutes each on high heat).
4) Spread your pastry sheets out on a floured surface and cut into four sections, four sheets thick.
5) Spread each section with remaining goat cheese from faux-blini.
6) Wrap each chicken breast in a section of cheese and pastry, folding the edges like a present and pressing the dough together to seal it off.
7) Brush each wrapped chicken breast with egg wash.
8) Place each wrapped chicken breast on a buttered baking sheet and cook for 25-30 minutes.
Babette’s dessert was a kugelhopf, which I originally thought was the German word for kugel, the Jewish egg noodle casserole. Kugelhopf is actually a dense and rich bunt cake embedded with golden raisins and blanched almonds, and being no exception to the theme of Babette’s Feast, is an incredibly hard dish to make. In keeping with the continental and Germanic flavors presented thus far, I opted for a safe favorite: strudel. André’s is famous for theirs, and you can purchase thick, flaky squares of cherry or apple for $7 each. And if you go at the end of the day, and explain to the lovely café manager that you’re a writer trying to recreate Babette’s Feast for only $10 per person, she might slip you a second for free. The squares are so large that if you cut them in half, you’ve got four, single-serving-size desserts perfect for topping off a belt-busting, but affordable, European feast.
Dish total: $7.00