My Aim is True (Medium Raw) by Anthony Bourdain

The essay My Aim is True has to be one of my all-time favorites by the late, great Anthony Bourdain, who I affectionately have always referred to as my future ex-husband. I loved him in life and I love him in death. This essay, part of his collection of essays in the book Medium Raw, tells the story of Justo Thomas, the fish butcher at renowned French seafood restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City, owned by Maguy Le Coze and run by chef extraordinaire (and best friend of Bourdain) Eric Ripert. Bourdain is given permission to shadow Justo Thomas so he can describe the indescribable amazing work of this man.

I was fortunate enough to have had a divine lunch at Le Bernardin in early September as I was there on a week’s vacation. Among the other wonderful adventures I had was our meal at this Michelin-starred restaurant, which I would characterize as literally the best meal I have ever had. You can see the entire span of dishes we devoured by checking out my blog post on NYC here: New York City September 2022.

Justo Thomas is something of a rarity within the restaurant world. He operates on his own schedule, has his own workspace and set of work tools, and is regarded both by kitchen staff and waitstaff as a bit of a god on earth. Justo, you see, has mastered the art of deboning and cleaning between 500 and 800 pounds of fresh food every day. EVERY DAY. Well, except for Sundays. And we’re not talking taking the bone out of a piece of trout you caught down at the local lake. No, this man takes on fish ranging from salmon to monkfish to cod to halibut to mahi-mahi to bass to the fish that I was inspired to order after reading Bourdain’s description of how Thomas debones it – the skatefish.

When Bourdain treats Justo Thomas to lunch at the very restaurant in which Justo labors each day to debone and clean those hundreds of pounds of fish, it made my heart smile. They both dress up and are waited upon in elegant fashion, as I can attest to from my own recent visit there. (Still salivating when I think about our meal….) Anyway, they start off with what sounded to me like something both simple yet delicious, yet fancy enough to be worthy of Le Bernardin.

A short time later, I took Justo Thomas to lunch as his own restaurant…He’s nervous but contained – and very happy to be here….From the very beginning, Justo is treated like any other customer and with the same deference – led to our table, his chair pulled out, asked if he’d care to order from the menu or if he’d prefer the kitchen to cook fo rus. When the wine arrives, the sommelier addresses her remarks to him. A little bowl of salmon rillettes is brought to the table with some rounds of toast. Champagne is served.

The salmon rillettes at Le Bernardin. Drool-worthy!

Our own meal started off with those classic Le Bernardin salmon rillettes, which were so delicious that I ended up scraping the last of it out of the bowl and eating with the serving spoon it came with. Yes, I’m classy like that. Y’all are lucky I didn’t actually lick the bowl clean. But had you been with us, you’d have encouraged it because the Le Bernardin salmon rillettes are SO FUCKING DELICIOUS! As Bourdain and Thomas did, we proceeded to eat our way through some of the most divinely prepared raw and cooked shellfish and fish I have ever eaten, and like them, we also proceeded to put away a fair amount of alcohol. I feel that a meal like that is a celebration of all good things in life – lovely place, good friends, delicious wines and champagne, and mouthwateringly luscious food. In homage to that meal and to this book and essay, I decided to try and recreate those salmon rillettes, though my own disclaimer is that I don’t have access to the quality of salmon that Le Bernardin does, I didn’t make the mayonnaise from scratch, and I put in likely more smoked salmon than the restaurant, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. My method of salmon rillettes is below.

2 cups of dry white wine
1 small shallot
1 pound of fresh, skinned salmon, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 ounces smoked salmon
2 tablespoons of chopped chives
6 tablespoons of good-quality mayonnaise
3-4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted bread for serving

Finely mince the shallots and combine them with the white wine in a large pan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes, ensuring that the shallots are tender.

Add in the salmon chunks and poach them until they are just opaque, around 2 and a half minutes.

Drain the wine from the shallots and salmon pieces, and let them cool thoroughly in the refrigerator.

Chop the smoked salmon and the chives and combine in a bowl.

Remove the cooled salmon from the fridge, and add them and the shallots to the smoked salmon and chives.

Mix together, breaking down the cubed salmon somewhat.

Add in the mayonnaise and the lemon juice and taste. You don’t want to make it overly mayonnaisy (yes, that’s a word) nor do you want it overly tart. This is very much a matter of individual taste but again, don’t overdo the mayo or the lemon.

Add salt and pepper to taste, stir again and chill until you’re ready to eat. Serve cold with toasted baguette slices and a glass of bubbly and toast to the genius of Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Maguy Le Coze, and most importantly, Justo Thomas. Salud!

17 thoughts on “My Aim is True (Medium Raw) by Anthony Bourdain

  1. “…deboning and cleaning between 500 and 800 pounds of fresh food every day.” Wow. I don’t think I could do that in a million years, but I’m glad someone could. And the recipe sounds amazing. I’m saving this post so I can try it. 🙂 Thanks!


  2. Working my way through a “No Reservations” binge right now! Remembering some of it from when they originally aired. What a wonderful post! 🥰 You are a classy lady even if you licked that spoon up and down 😆.


    1. That is probably one of my favorite books of all time, and one that I would want with me on a desert island. Thank you for saying I’m classy, even though you know damn well I would have totally licked that bowl out if nobody had been looking. 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a lovely post! Ha! I would have probably licked the bowl–oops. I miss Anthony Bourdain. I sometimes catch reruns of his show–I’ll have to buy one of his books too. Cheers!


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