Verrines: A Glass Act

Berry Verrine i i
Kevin D. Weeks for NPR
Berry Verrine
Kevin D. Weeks for NPR

A few years ago, I ran across a blog post about verrines by someone who had recently returned from France. I'd never heard of verrines. I learned more, and now I have become an advocate for this layered dish that is as much about how it looks as how it tastes.

Verrines are made by layering ingredients — either sweet or savory — in a small, transparent glass. The word verrine translates as "protective glass." When choosing the ingredients, the cook thinks about taste and presentation, color and texture, mood and theme.

A verrine can be an appetizer, an amuse-bouche, a salad, a side dish, a dessert (the most common application) and, I suppose, even a complete meal, with the right combination of ingredients and the right sort of glass.

Verrines are clearly linked to the parfait, a soda-fountain treat popularized in the middle of the last century, as well as other layered dishes, such as the Cobb salad and the English trifle. Verrines, however, are individualized, with a single serving in each glass and yet as carefully arranged as the famous seven-layer salad of Super Bowl Sunday fame.

About The Author

After working as editor of various computer magazines, Kevin D. Weeks is now a personal chef in Knoxville, Tenn. Weeks also teaches cooking classes, is the guide to Cooking for Two at About.com, and blogs at Seriously Good.

You might combine — from the bottom up — something green (peas) with something brown (mushroom duxelles) with something golden (sauteed onions) with something white (pureed potatoes). This arrangement also layers — from the bottom up — textures such as slightly mushy peas, grainy duxelles, crunchy onions and silky-smooth potatoes. Each layer provides its own flavors, and all of the flavors, tasted in turn and in combination, bring their own brilliance to the assemblage.

Verrines are tremendously popular in France, where they're sold in bakeries and served in bistros and high-end restaurants. Some upscale American restaurants have begun offering them, but they have yet to catch on. It may be because they appear to be a lot of work, which they can be. They're certainly not something to make on a Wednesday night after working all day.

They can, however, kick a birthday or anniversary dinner up a notch. They look stunning for a party, are not really that difficult to make, and are well-suited to advance preparation — always an advantage for entertaining.

Don't worry too much about what glass you use other than to choose one that is the right size for the dish (smaller tends to be better) and one that is clear. Even a plain juice glass can be magnificent when the colors and texture offer appealing contrasts.

Although verrines can involve complex preparations in fancy restaurants, they needn't in your home. I've developed a collection of ideas that I can prepare in advance using mostly off-shelf ingredients and then store in the refrigerator overnight.

Imagine ending your Halloween party by offering your guests a glass layered with pumpkin puree (pie filling works), whipped cream, crumbled cinnamon graham crackers, a bit more cream, and a few kernels of candy corn for garnish. It's a pumpkin pie in a glass — an elegant presentation that is also a fun way to finish a meal. And this is the real point of a verrine — having fun with your food.


Making Verrines

Colors: Choose either contrasting colors or complementary colors as you prefer. Whichever you do, make sure the colors are distinct. Bright-red fresh strawberries and pink strawberry mousse have complementary but different colors. Pink cocktail shrimp paired with chopped avocado offer contrast.

Textures: Choose contrasting textures. Crisp cookies contrast nicely with a smooth mousse, while somewhat chewy shrimp are a good foil to silky avocado.

Flavors: The flavors have to work together. Sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb are a classic pairing. Season the shrimp and avocado both with a bit of lime and pepper, and they're perfect mates. The layers shouldn't be eaten singly; in fact, they should all work together, but in practical terms, people tend to eat one layer with a taste of the next, working their way down.

Verrine i i

A verrine of orange marmalade, Greek yogurt and lemon curd layers complementary flavors and colors. Kevin D. Weeks for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Kevin D. Weeks for NPR
Verrine

A verrine of orange marmalade, Greek yogurt and lemon curd layers complementary flavors and colors.

Kevin D. Weeks for NPR

Preparation: Use purchased ingredients to cut down on your workload. Include some special ingredient of your own, such as your signature guacamole recipe or barbecued shrimp. Store-bought cookies can be a great addition to a dessert verrine, while pre-cooked shrimp work well in a savory dish.

Deconstruction: Use a new approach with old standards. Layer vanilla wafers, vanilla pudding, sliced banana and drizzles of caramel sauce on each layer in a glass to deconstruct something as homey as banana pudding.

Presentation: In choosing glasses and ingredients, think about how you will apply the layers. You don't want ingredients catching on the lip of the glass and then spilling down the sides — except when, for artistry's sake, you want something spilling down the sides. I also find that both demitasse spoons and iced-tea spoons are great tools for positioning ingredients.

Shrimp Mousse Verrine

This appetizer verrine was inspired by Creole barbecued shrimp, which aren't actually barbecued but are sauteed in butter. The avocado makes a great foil to the spicy shrimp (just as guacamole does to tacos and chili), but you can't make these much in advance if using avocado. Steamed, roughly chopped asparagus works in place of avocado if you want to make the verrines a day ahead and cover them tightly with plastic wrap. Add the creme fraiche and caviar just before serving. Glasses vary in size, so the quantities of some ingredients in the layers may also need to vary to create the best effect.

Shrimp Mousse Verrine
Kevin D. Weeks for NPR

Makes 6 verrines

1 cup cooked shrimp, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (reserved from shrimp mousse recipe below)

1 large avocado, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cups shrimp mousse (recipe follows)

6 to 8 tablespoons creme fraiche

6 teaspoons caviar (optional garnish; a few capers would also work)

Shrimp Mousse

3 cups (41/50 count) shrimp, peeled and heads removed

1 1/2 teaspoons Cajun spice mixture*

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Dash of Tabasco sauce

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup heavy cream

*Available in supermarket spice section

Toss shrimp with Cajun spice in a bowl and marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add butter and swirl to melt. Add shrimp and lemon juice and saute until just cooked, about 2 1/2 minutes on the first side and 1 1/2 minutes on the other, or until pink.

Allow shrimp to cool to room temperature.

Put aside 1 cup shrimp for the verrine. Place the other 2 cups in the bowl of a food processor with onion and process until it's a paste. Add mayonnaise, Tabasco sauce and tomato paste and process until well mixed. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Whip cream to stiff peaks and then fold in shrimp mixture. Refrigerate again until ready to use.

For The Verrine

Layer 1: Chopped shrimp reserved from shrimp mousse recipe.

Layer 2: Coat thin slices of avocado with lemon juice; place a layer on top of shrimp.

Layer 3: Add about 1/2-inch of shrimp mousse.

Layer 4: A second layer of avocado.

Layer 5: A spoonful of creme fraiche garnished with caviar.

Greek Caprese Verrine

Purportedly from the island of Capri (hence Caprese), the Italian salad is deservedly famous. However, I often make a Greek variation of it using feta instead of mozzarella, and lemon juice instead of vinegar. This verrine is a deconstruction of my Greek Caprese salad. Try this at a summer brunch or as the lead-in to a summer barbecue feast.

Greek Caprese Verrine
Kevin D. Weeks for NPR

Makes 4 verrines

2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded

3 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 3 limes

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil

1 cup peeled cucumbers, chopped

1 cup coarsely crumbled feta cheese

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Lime wedges, for garnish

In a small bowl gently combine drained chopped tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 of lime juice and basil.

In another small bowl, combine chopped cucumbers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 of lime juice.

In a third small bowl, combine the feta with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 of lime juice.

Allow all three bowls to marinate for 15 minutes, then drain.

Layer 1: Distribute half of chopped tomatoes among glasses.

Layer 2: Top tomatoes with cucumbers.

Layer 3: Layer feta on top of cucumbers.

Layer 4: Top each verrine with remaining tomatoes.

Garnish each glass with a lime wedge.

Berry Verrine

This dessert verrine was inspired by the English trifle. The strawberry mousse is made with mascarpone cheese and flavored with amaretto. The cookies add crunch, some chocolate and a hint of mint. The blueberries ... are blue. This makes a stunning red, white and blue dessert for the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day or any time you're feeling patriotic.

Berry Verrine i i
Kevin D. Weeks for NPR
Berry Verrine
Kevin D. Weeks for NPR

Makes 6 verrines

Strawberry Mousse

1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced

3 to 4 tablespoons sugar (depending on how sweet the berries are)

3 tablespoons amaretto

1 cup mascarpone, at room temperature

1 cup whipping cream

Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano cookies, coarsely crumbled

1 cup fresh blueberries

Process 3/4 pound of strawberries with sugar and amaretto in a food processor until pureed. Add mascarpone and whipping cream, and pulse until well mixed.

For The Verrine

Layer 1: Distribute strawberry mousse among glasses.

Layer 2: Add crumbled Milano cookies

Layer 3: Spread a few blueberries — enough to show clearly through the glass — over the cookies.

Layer 4: Top blueberries with remaining strawberries.

Layer 5: Whip remaining cream and add to top. Garnish with additional berries if desired.

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