Meet Meat

During last summer’s London trip, we ate at two of Heston Blumenthal’s restaurants. The first, The Fat Duck, was reported here. The second, dinner at Dinner, was an evening that I preferred not to document. The restaurant bases its menu on updated recreations of historical recipes researched by Blumenthal and recorded for his Heston’s Feasts series. (The mock turtle soup at The Fat Duck was from his Victorian feast.

One of the early courses in our Dinner dinner was “meat fruit,” a recipe from the Medieval Feast in which chicken liver mousse was prepared to resemble a mandarin orange. Blumenthal’s update uses foie gras terrine as a filling, but otherwise follows the original presentation, as seen at the top of this post.

Knowing that She Who Must Be Obeyed loves foie gras, and knowing that the recipe was published in Historic Heston Blumenthal, I decided to devote a week (yes, a whole week) to recreating the dish for her birthday dinner.

The first step was a two-day affair involving a ruby port/white port/madeira and shallot reduction,

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sous vide cooked foie and chicken liver,

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and sous vide egg yolks and butter – all of which were blended together and made into a silky terrine.

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I piped the terrine into hemispherical silicone molds.

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After an overnight freeze, I lightly torched the tops of the hemispheres, just enough to melt them a bit.

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I folded the molds to fuse the halves into complete spheres, and added a skewer to each.

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I prepared a mandarin orange jelly, held just above melting temperature, and dipped each sphere multiple times to create the peel-like texture.

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The finished spheres were stored in the freezer until six hours before service.

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To serve, I placed a thawed fruit on each plate, made a slight depression in the top with my thumb, and inserted a stalk and a few leaves from some ruscus (a filler plant used in floral arrangements). I painted some thick-cut sourdough bread with herb oil and grilled it under the broiler, then plated it with the fruit.

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Did it look the same? Check. Did it taste the same? Check, again. Was She Who happy? Yup.

Nailed it.

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Tenth Annual Birthday Dinner

 

It’s hard to believe I’ve been cooking a birthday dinner for She Who Must Be Obeyed for ten years. This year I decided the menu would include some new dishes she had enjoyed over the past year, which would present some interesting technical challenges for me.

Charcuterie

I changed up the traditional charcuterie starter by limiting it to bresaola and tartines: baguette slices topped with fig butter, serrano ham, and manchego cheese. They disappeared before I could take a photo.

Velvet Shiso

Velvet Shiso

We started with a drink made from umeshu (Japanese plum wine), carbonated Riesling, and a scoop of coconut/lemon/saffron sorbet, all served over a shiso leaf. Very refreshing.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

The deconstructed eggs benedict is egg yolk, crispy Canadian bacon chips, and cubes of hollandaise sauce coated with english muffin crumbs. The cubes lost some of their structural integrity as they were being held until service, but the dish tasted as we remembered it. It was accompanied by a 2102 Karthaüserhof Schieferkristall Riesling feinherb.

Fruit

Mandarin, sourdough

Meat Fruit

At least one of our guests questioned the placement of a fruit course so early in the meal, but the title was deliberately misleading. I served “meat fruit,” a sphere of foie gras and chicken liver parfait surrounded by mandarin orange gel, with a slice of grilled sourdough for spreading. We served more of the same Riesling instead of the traditional sweet wine that accompanies foie.

Tuna

Barley, mushroom, burgundy emulsion

Tuna

Cumin-crusted seared tuna, over barley “risotto” with oyster mushroom confit and a red wine emulsion. Served with a 2009 René Leclerc Griotte Chambertin Gand Cru

Cheese

Chef’s fatigue was beginning to set in, so I spaced on taking a photo of the cheese course. There’s a photo of a similar version here.

Chocolate

Clementine, hazelnut

Chocolate

Flourless chocolate cake with clementine and bourbon, clementine sorbet, whipped cream, and hazelnut crunch. I enjoyed presenting yet another “surprise” orange. Served with a Taylor Fladgate 20 year old tawny port.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Velvet Shiso: Fifty Licks, Portland, OR

Eggs Benedict: Wiley Dufresne, wd~50, New York City

Fruit: Heston Blumenthal, Dinner, London

Tuna: Charlie Trotter, Chicago

Chocolate: April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig, New York City

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Carrying a Torch

I have devoted a lot of time and effort into arriving at a consistent perfectly cooked steak. A combination of sous vide cooking and a high-heat final sear works every time to produce a medium rare result with a good crust. But there’s always room for improvement, which I found in the form of a new tool.

Before I tell you about my new toy, er, tool, I’d like to ask:


I had funded the Kickstarter campaign for the Searzall, a device that promised to convert a common blowtorch into the perfect tool for searing food.

searzallhead

It loks like an antique microphone, but it’s designed to attach to the end of the torch, like so:

searzall1

As you can see, the thing gets nearly white-hot when it’s been running for a few minutes. It’s not just a flame, it’s also a miniature infrared broiler. I decided to try it out to sear a few steaks cooked sous vide to 135 °F — a perfect medium rare.

I put the cooked steaks on an expendable metal sheet pan, which I rested on top of my stove grates, minimizing the possibility of setting something other than the steak on fire.

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I fired up the torch. That isn’t photo blowout you’re seeing, it the actual output from the Searzall.

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Time to sear:

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In under five minutes the steaks acquired a dark crust.

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And they were still medium rare inside.

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Steak is the simplest application. I foresee using my Searzall to crisp the skin on fish filets, caramelize cut citrus fruit, and, of course make crème brûlée. The possibilities are endless:

searzall8

I only wish it was larger. I had a metric ton of snow outside that needed melting.

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Birthday Dinner at wd~50

When chef Wylie Dufresne opened his restaurant wd~50 in 2003 he unwittingly sowed the seeds of his eventual demise. Choosing Clinton Street in Manhattan’s lower east side was a clever move, in that the rent was cheap due to the sketchy neighborhood, but the restaurant was so good that the area improved due to the influx of tourists. That stretch of Clinton Street is now so valuable that the restaurant will be demolished, to be replaced with an apartment building. Irony.

When I heard that they would be switching to ticketed reservations for November, their final month, and that the last week’s seatings would be a “classics” or “chef’s favorites” menu, I was determined to get a table for my birthday dinner. As luck and some furious clicking would have it, I managed to land a table at 7:30 on the night of my birthday.

Ready to Dine

Our first indication that the menu would stray from the ordinary was the bread service, a box of paper-thin sesame crisps. These were so good that She Who Must Be Obeyed asked for a second batch to take home. I’m hoping to reverse engineer them.

Sesame Crsipbread

Pu-Pu Platter: Shrimp Macaron, Corned Duck, Honey-Caviar, Sweetbread-King Oyster Udon

Champagne “Grand Cellier” Vilmart & Cie NV / Champagne, France

Pu-Pu Platter

Four amuses presented on one plate: a shrimp macaron with wasabi filling, corned duck breast on a rye crisp with mustard and horseradish, caviar with honey and a Guinness foam, and fried sweetbread with julienned king oyster “noodles.” The duck was clearly the best bite on the plate.

Everything Bagel, Smoked Salmon Threads, Crispy Cream Cheese

Everything Bagel

A round of bagel-infused ice cream with poppy and sesame seeds, shredded dried smoked salmon, a piece of dehydrated cream cheese, and pickled red pearl onions. Taken in one bite, it tasted exactly like a bagel with lox, cream cheese, and onions.

Foie Gras, Beet-Kalamansi, Candied Olive, Pea Soil

Dewazakura “Omachi” Ginjo / Yamagata Prefecture, Japan

Foie Gras

When I cut into that perfect round of foie gras, I discovered that it was filed with beet-citrus gelée, a clever play on the usual sweet compote accompaniment. The sake pairing was inspired, much more subtle than the usual blast from a sweeter white wine.

Eggs Benedict

Torrontes “Don David” Michel Torino / Salta, Argentina

Eggs Benedict

This is the dish I’m still thinking about two weeks later. Sous vide egg yolk cylinders garnished with chives and Canadian bacon chips, and cubes of fried hollandaise in an english muffin crust. When you bit into a cube, it was crunchy on the outside, but still hot and liquid on the inside, the result of some very clever manipulation with hydrocolloids.

Grilled Octopus, Avocado, Juniper, Lychee-Campari

Ilias IGP “Kallisto” Mercouri Estate 2013 / Peleponnese, Greece

Octopus

The octopus was cooked sous vide until tender, then finished on the grill – smoky without being chewy. It was garnished with a juniper crisp, avocado mousse, and shaved lychee that has been compression-infused with Campari.

Miso Soup, Sesame Noodles

Chardonnay, Mt. Eden 1997 / Santa Cruz Mountains, California

We were presented with a bowl of smoked miso soup with mushrooms and a small squeeze bottle:

Miso Soup

As instructed, we squeezed the contents of the bottle into the soup, which resulted in sesame noodles;

Sesame Noodles

I knew the trick behind this dish: The sesame paste was mixed with methylcellulose, which gels at high temperatures. Adding it to the hot soup made it solidify. If the soup had cooled to room temperature, the noodles would have dissolved, but it tasted too good to let that amount of time pass.

It was during the wine pairing for this course that I sat up and took notice. We were being served a rare chardonnay out of a magnum bottle, and when I asked to have a closer look at the label, our server informed us that they were emptying out “all of the good stuff” from the cellar.

Turbot, Black Licorice Pil-Pil, Fried Green Tomato, Fennel

Xynomavro “Old Vines” Alpha Estate / Peleponnese, Greece

Turbot, Licorice

This was not the first pairing of fish and licorice (this was) we had tried, so it was less of a surprise but no less delicious.

Squab Breast, Sweet Potato, Yellow Beet

Cabernet Sauvignon, Figgins 2010 / Walla Walla, Washington

Squab

Squab breast with squab confit, yellow beets costed with sweet potato ash, and blood orange sauce. I wanted more of this. Who am I kidding? I wanted more of everything.

Cornbread Ice Cream

Cornbread Ice Cream

Cornbread ice cream over a cornbread crumble. This dish was invented by Christina Tosi before she moved on to run Momofuku Milk bar.

Soft Meringue, Passionfruit, Banana, Star Anise

Sparkling Apple Cider “La Transparente” Ciderie du Vulcain NV / Fribourg, Switzerland

Soft Meringue

An obvious parallel to the foie gras course, the meringue was filled with passionfruit puree, garnished with crispy meringue and banana sauce, and dusted with star anise and pink peppercorn.

Cherry Covered Chocolate, Molasses, Lime

St. John Commanderia NV / Cyprus, Greece

Cheery Covered Chocolate

These cylinders of chocolate mousse were covered with cherry gel, an inversion of the standard chocolate cordial.

Birthday “Candle”

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She Who had informed the kitchen that it was my birthday, so they presented me with a (mostly) edible candle: a vanilla ice cream base supported a candle that was covered with a white chocolate tuille shade.

Mignardises

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From right to left: Creamsicle chews, Rice Krispie ice cream bon bons, Raspberry-chocolate truffles, cinnamon mini-churros.

Once the meal was over, we were invited to take a quick tour of the kitchen:

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What differentiated this kitchen from others I’ve toured wasn’t the  high-end Bonnet stove or the row of immersion circulators – it was the “wall of powders,” the collection of hydrocolloids and other texture-modifying agents, the use of which made Dufresne a pioneer.

When we were introduced to the chef, I mentioned that we had met a few years previously at his Harvard lecture. He said “I had a great time there, but they haven’t invited me back. Could you put in a good word for me?” I’ll get right on that.

It’s no stretch for me to rank this dinner as one of the top five best meals I have ever eaten. The presentations were clever and designed to surprise, but they were always secondary to flavor and texture. There wasn’t a single off note the entire evening.

As we left, we noticed this in the window:

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I can’t wait to see what Wiley does next. Until then, here’s a summation of what he has done so far:

Iconic Chefs Remember wd~50’s Most Influential Dishes

A Decade of Influence: The wd~50 Family Tree

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Pasta My Prime

I‘m something of a Kickstarter junkie. I’ve backed projects as diverse as interacive fiction games, immersion circulators, titanium collar stays, graphic novels, music, and more. When I saw the campaign for Pasta Flyer, I practically screamed SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY! How could I not contribute? I would get a chance to work with chef Mark Ladner of New York’s Del Posto restaurant (part of the Batali/Bastianich empire), work on a food truck, and determine once and for all if it was possible for gluten-free pasta to not be an abomination. And, of course, I would get to work in a restaurant-like setting, even if only for a few hours.

My education began on Tuesday in the kitchen of Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square, where prep started at 8 AM. We were sharing the space with A&H’s morning crew.

Prep Kitchen

After a quick introduction, chef Ladner put me to work. For the next two hours I blanched basil and parsley for pesto, chopped roasted onions, poached eggs, ran tomatoes through a food mill, resuspended cheese in an Alfredo sauce, and cooked off a whole lot of diced pork belly.

Pork Belly

By 10:30 it was time to head to the truck, which was parked in front of Harvard’s Science Center. (What’s the difference between MIT and Harvard? MIT has a Humanities Department, Harvard has a Science Center.)

Unlike the bog-standard refitted step van, the Pasta Flyer “truck” is a restored 1970 Airstream Nomad outfitted with a Garland cooking suite.

Kitchen

The propaner-stove and flattop were dedicated to keeping pots of water as close to a boil as possible. Ladner’s original plan was to par-cook the pasta in water, then finish individual portions in a microwave, a technique he had tested extensively. Unfortunately, using the microwave in addition to all of the other appliances on the truck tripped the circuit breakers, a result with which I was all to familiar. Plan B was par-cooking the pasta, portioning it out, and then giving it a quick dunk in boiling water to finish when ordered.

The menu presented on the Pasta Flyer site was deemed overly ambitious for the truck’s maiden voyage (Harvard was the first stop on a month-long cross-country tour), so the ordering matrix was reduced to three pasta shapes (screws (fusilli), tubes (rigatoni), and elbows (elbows));  three sauces (tomato, Alfredo, and pesto); and three toppings (meatballs, crispy bacon (the pork belly), and truffled poached egg. That’s a lot of possible combinations, all of which were tracked from the cash register, which generated the expedite ticket for each order.

There was also a table of garnishes: roasted onions, sautéed chard, peperonata, chick peas, ricotta, crispy capers, grated parmesan, sriracha, Frank’s hot sauce, and olive oil:

Garnishes

Five people filled that tight space: the cashier, the pasta dunker, the expediter, the assembly chef, and me, who tried to keep out of the way while still making myself useful. Orders would come in, the expediter would read off the paste type for the dunker to finish, cups of pasta were set in bowls for assembly, and the chef would build the order. His station consisted of three large rice cookers which kept the sauces warm, and three slow cookers that held each of the toppings. Pasta would get tossed with sauce in a mixing bowl, then toppings would be added before being served up. Here’s a bowl of screws with tomato sauce and meatballs:

Screws, tomato sauce, meatballs

Simple sauce, flavorful beef meatballs, and pasta cooked just al dente – proof that gluten-free product can hold its own as long as it’s not overcooked.

During my three-hour shift I wiped countertops, cracked eggs, restocked garnishes, portioned pasta, and expedited orders once the lunch rush had passed. We did 150 covers in three hours – almost an order a minute.

I took a break in order to see chef Ladner’s lecture to the students in the Physics of Soft Matter class, where he demonstrated his gluten-free pasta method.

Pasta Demo

And, of course, pictures or it didn’t happen, so here’s the Instagram post from Erin, the social media manager:

Instagram

The other fellow is Greg, another Kickstarter pledge. And, yes, chef Ladner is very tall.

What did I learn? That serving food to a lot of people in not a lot of time is hard work. I didn’t embarrass myself in prep or service, so I consider the experience a minor victory, but it convinced me (again) that restaurant cooking is a young(er) person’s game.

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Lunch at The Fat Duck

Our August trip to attend Loncon 3 was a thinly veiled excuse to get together with overseas friends, visit three countries, and, of course, eat. Thanks to the efforts of gourmand extraordinaire Scott Edelman, one of our eating destinations would be The Fat Duck. To say that I was excited about the meal would be an understatement. By the time the appointed day arrived I was quivering with anticipation. We took the train out of London to Maidenhead, and then a short cab ride to the village of Bray, home of chef Heston Blumenthal’s culinary empire. Was it quaint? You be the judge:

Churchyard

From the doorway of the restaurant you could look across the street at the unmarked building that houses Blumenthal’s research laboratory, and around the corner at the Hind’s Head, his pub:

The Hind's Head

 

Once inside, our meal began with an amuse of crispy beet foam with horseradish cream, a single bite that dissolved instantly in the mouth.

Amuse

Nitro Poached Apertifs

Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Tequila and Grapefruit

Our server brought out a cart with foam chargers and a dewar of liquid nitrogen. After selecting one of the three apertifs, she piped foam into a spoon and dunked it into the nitrogen.

Apertifs

The result was a fragile frozen puff of foam that had to be consumed in a single bite.

Apertif

The predictable (and unphotographable) result was puffs of fog escaping from everyone’s mouth and nose.

Red Cabbage Gazpacho

Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

Gazpacho

Blumenthal was one of the early pioneers of savory ice creams. This dish was a sophisticated take on peasant borscht, much less sweet than I expected.

Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream

Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

Quail Jelly, Crayfish Cream

This was a study in layering. The spherical dish had a rich, jelled quail consommé at the bottom, with a layer of crayfish cream over the top, garnished with chicken liver mousse. The other plate was truffle-topped toast.

The presentation also included a centerpiece:

Oak Moss

The moss-filed box was topped with moss-scented “breath strips,” which we were instructed to eat before trying the jelly or toast. Once we tucked in, there was another surprise: The server poured a pot of water over the moss, which created a cloud of moss-scented fog.

Moss Fog

Snail Porridge

Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

Snail Porridge

Exactly what it says on the tin: oatmeal porridge prepared with a parsley-infused snail stock, topped with escargot, Iberico ham, and fennel. Complex, earthy, and not enough of it.

Roast Foie Gras

Gooseberry, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit

Roast Foie Gras

A beautiful preparation of foie gras with the requisite sweet accompaniment (in this instance, gooseberry jam) and two non-traditinal components: oil-poached seaweed and crab crackers for an extra hit of salt and umami.

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (c. 1892)

Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch, and Toast Sandwich

Blumenthal’s interest in historic recipes led him to the creation of Heston’s Feasts, in which he recreated entire dinner menus from different historical periods. His Victorian feast was a menu inspired by the food described in Alice in Wonderland, with this dish making the transition to the permanent menu. We were presented with what appeared to be gold pocket watches at the ends of tea bag strings, which we had to dunk into the teapot at the top of this serving piece:

Pocket Watch

The hot water dissolved the watch, revealing it to be a disk of demi-glace covered in gold leaf. When fully dissolved, we poured the stock into the bottom half, creating mock turtle soup.

Mock Turtle Soup

The soup was accompanied by this tray of tea sandwiches:

Tea Sandwiches

There was a surprise in the sandwiches as well, a middle slice of toasted bread for an unexpected crunchy texture to the traditional cucumber filling.

“Sound of the Sea”

This course began with a non-food item:

Sea Sounds

The shell contained an iPod Nano playing ocean sounds. Once we all had the buds in our ears, the rest of the course arrived, presented on top of a tray of sand.

Seafood

Raw octopus, tuna, sea beans, and salmon roe were garnished with seaweed foam. The illusion of eating on a beach was complete.

Salmon Poached in Licorice Gel

Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, and Golden Trout Roe

Poached Salmon

This one took a bit of sentence parsing to figure out. What at first appeared to be salmon poached in something dark – presumably licorice – turned out to be salmon that had been wrapped in a licorice-infused heat-stable gel and poached. The gel kept the salmon moist while adding just a hint of anise flavor to the dish. The pink garnish was individual pink grapefruit pips.

We had chosen to skip the three possible wine pairings, opting instead for a glass of white to go with the first half of the meal, to be followed by a red. Our white was a mersault:

Mersault

The red that followed was a Portuguese douro:

Douro

Lamb with Cucumber (c. 1805)

Green Pepper and Caviar Oil

Another historic recipe, lamb loin with grilled cucumber.

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There was a second plate with lamb marrow, crispy skin, and lamb consommé topped with spherified peas.

Marrow and Consommé

Hot & Iced Tea

A lovely stunt that marked the transition from savory to sweet, this was a glass of tea that was hot on one side and cold on the other. Because the glass was double-walled, you couldn’t detect the temperature differences by touch. It’s is prepared by pouring hot and cold teas made with different densities of gellan gum into either side of a divider in the glass. When the divider is removed, the teas remain separated for about a minute before they diffuse int each other.

Hot and Cold Tea

Macerated Strawberries

Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile and Coriander Jelly, and Ice Cream Cornet

Strawberries

A perfect sumer dessert made with baby strawberries. The “tablecloth” is a printed rectangle of white chocolate. We were also handed two cornets of nitro-frozen ice cream.

Ice Cream

Botrytis Cinerea

Botrytis

This may be the best dessert I have ever eaten. The plate is mean to represent a bunch of grapes infected with botrytis cinerea, or “noble rot” fungus, which is responsible for concentrating sweetness in grapes used to create the great Sauternes and Tokaji dessert wines. Each “grape” was a different preparation: sorbet, mousse, jelly, chocolate, and a gold spun sugar sphere filled with citrus cream. The “stem” was cinnamon pastry, the “leaves” were molded sugar, and the “fungus” was Roquefort powder. It was a complex, but successful balance of sweet and savory flavors.

Whisk(e)y Wine Gums

Whisky Gums

This map of Scotland – and, strangely, Tennessee – held five bottle-shaped gums, each tasting of its regional whisky. They used a rotary evaporator to distill off the alcohol and concentrate the flavor components, since alcohol would have prevented gel formation. A very clever concept.

“Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop”

Sweet Shop

Our final course was a sweet shop bag with three treats and a scented menu. The bonbon was aerated chocolate surrounding mandarin orange jelly, the caramel was apple pie in an edible wrapper, and the playing card was a white chocolate-wrapped strawberry pop tart. The wax seal on the tart envelope was also edible.

That was the conclusion of our four-hour lunch.

I had read The Big Fat Duck Cookbook when it was published, so I was already familiar with about half the menu (Gazpacho, Porridge, Sea, Tea), but that didn’t prevent me from being completely surprised by the intensity and complexity of flavors in each dish. Much like my dinner at Alinea, the menu was designed to appeal to the mind as well as the mouth, and it succeeded beyond my expectations. As one of our table noted a few days ago, “I keep having weird fever-dreams about the grape dish. It was quite something.”

I have to agree. It’s been a month since I ate there, and day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of one of those dishes.

And it wouldn’t be my last meal at  Blumenthal restaurant, but that’s a story for the next post.

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Can’t Talk, Eating

At the end of this post, I concluded:

I hope this doesn’t escalate into a food war. Who am I kidding? I hope this does escalate into a food war.

I was right, it did escalate into a food war. That dinner became the inaugural entry for Can’t Talk, Eating, our dining club. Four couples convene at four venues four times a year, with each dinner hosted by one couple. It was our turn again this past weekend, and She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had our work cut out for us. We decided to take advantage of the produce that was available at summer’s end at our local farmer’s market, and pair each course with German rieslings we had tasted this past spring at Journeyman. Here’s what we came up with (all photos by Cecilia Tan):

Velvet Shiso

Velvet Shiso

We started with a cocktail made with carbonated riesling, umeshu, shiso leaf, and coconut/lemon/saffron sorbet, accompanied by a passionfruit marshmallow.

Tomato Salad

Tomato Salad

Red, yellow, and green heirloom tomatoes, confited cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, mozzarella ice cream, provencal granola, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.

2012 Karthäuserhof Ruwer Trocken

Corn, Lobster

Corn, Lobster

Sweet corn risotto with butter poached lobster.

2012 Peter Lauer “Untersternberg”

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Confit of oyster, elm, chestnut, and bear’s head mushrooms, with a seared king oyster mushroom plank garnished with morel reduction and dried chive blossoms.

This course was a last-miute addition, inspired by my visit the previous weekend to the New Hampshire Mushroom Company growing facility. All of these mushroom were cultivated on-site.

2012 Karthäuserhof “Schieferkristal” Feinherb

Beef Heart

Beef Heart

Brined beef heart cooked sous vide for 24 hours, served with red wine poached cherries, toasted pecans, baby hakurei turnips, mâche salad, and balsmic reduction.

2012 Karthäuserhof Grosses Gewachs

Cheese

Cheese

Lincolnshire Poacher, Von Trapp, and Harbison cheeses, with honeyed walnuts, cranberry chutney, and pickled peppers.

2012 Peter Lauer “Stirn”

Peach

Peach

Peach galette, blackberries, and peach/brown sugar/bourbon ice cream.

2012 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Spätlese

This dinner was a deviation for us, in that there were only three days of advance prep, and we waited until that morning to buy the final ingredients from the market. She Who and I have settled into a comfortable rhythm in the kitchen, which made the whole endeavor much more relaxed.

There was stil a mountain of dishes to deal with. If only I could convince He Who Will Not Be Ignored to help out…

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Salep Happy

Mess around with enough ice cream recipes and you discover the differences in texture created by certain ingredients. My go-to recipe uses egg yolks to make a denser, more custard-like ice cream than Philadelphia-style, which is made without. Adding various hydrocolloids (carageenan, guar or xanthan gums) inhibits ice crystal formation but changes the texture.

I thought I had all of the variations worked out, but then a friend asked “Have you ever tried salep dondourma?” I had not, but a quick search revealed that it is a favorite frozen dessert sold from street carts all over Turkey, as seen in this clip:

Watch the clip carefully and you’ll note that the contents of the cone don’t melt and appear to be very sticky, which allows the vendor to play around for quite a while before relinquishing the cone to his extraordinarily patient customer. That sticky texture comes from the addition of salep flour, a powder ground from the roots of an orchid that grows in Anatolia. Due to overharvesting, the Turkish government has restricted exports of salep, which made it unavailable to me by the time I heard about it.

Fortunately, I remembered an alternate recipe in The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking, which substitutes konjac flour for salep. Both are glucomanans, long-chain carbohydrate polymers of glucose and mannose sugar molecules. Konjac is commonly available, and is used in Japanese cooking as the base for konnyaku gelatin. It’s common enough that I found it on Amazon, so it was finally time to whip up a batch of dondourma.

I started with my usual 2:1 cream:milk base and added the konjac flour, a mere 8 grams in a quart and a half of base. I let it hydrate for half an hour, by which time the mix had acquired the appearance and texture of library paste.

Hydrated Konjac

I heated the mixture to 125 °F and added 410 grams of sugar, at which point the texture changed to that of wallpaper paste.

Sugar Added

I brought the mix to a boil and stirred constantly for 15 minutes, then transferred it to a stand mixer, where I beat it for 30 minutes until it cooled.

Beating

Although I could have transferred the cooled mix to an ice cream freezer, I opted to use liquid nitrogen to freeze as rapidly as I could before moving on to the final step.

Frozen

To develop the final desired stretchy texture, I switched to a dough hook and alternated 2 minutes of beating with 15 minutes in the freezer to prevent melting.

Hooked

Notice how the final product resembles regular dough. The texture was also doughy, which meant I had to wrestle it off the hook and into a container for freezing. After four hours I scooped some into a bowl to taste, and nearly sprained my wrist in the process. Scooping frozen konjac dondourma is like scooping barely-warmed asphalt – the stuff is thick. Look at the video again: There’s a reason why vendors use long serving paddles, they have to lever the dondourma out of the containers.

This experiment was all about the method, not the flavor, so the taste was unremarkable, resembling a standard sweet cream base. The texture, on the other had, was unlike any other frozen dairy product I had tried. It was very chewy, in fact, chewing was the only way to eat it since it melted so slowly. It also didn’t seem as cold as regular ice ream, which I attribute to ice crystals being completely bound up in the starch matrix.

I’m not sure how often I’d make this as a regular dessert, but I’m thinking about ways to take advantage of its stability at room temperature to make a combined hot-and-cold dessert course.

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Ninth Annual Birthday Dinner

dbd9menu

The date for the 9th annual birthday dinner for She Who Must Be Obeyed had been chosen months ago. Two weeks before that date, it was decided that the web site for Secret Internet Project (post to follow, I promise) would go live on May 1. My menu planning up to that point had been no more definitive than “scallops, carrots, maybe beef?,” so, with my brain screaming “May Day! May Day!” the entire time, I finalized a menu I’d be able to bring together in between answering tech support emails and identifying bugs for the programing team.

My goal every year is to not repeat any dishes from previous menus, but we’ll take is as given that we began with my traditional charcuterie board (representative photo here). It was accompanied by a lambrusco:

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Prosciutto, Melon

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Also known as elBulli #1136, this was prosciutto consommé with suspended cantaloupe juice spheres. I got to use a new toy – a superbag – to clarify the ham stock and melon juice, as well as an old toy to make the spheres.

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Scallop

Egg, salt, pepper

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Sea scallop crudo with shaved cured egg yolk, viking smoked salt, urfa biber pepper, olive oil, and chive. Served with a 2012 Peter Lauer Reisling “senior,” a crisp, mineral-y white that She Who and I had sampled at a tasting dinner.

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Carrots

Coffee, yuzu, pesto

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Coffee-roated carrots with yuzu crème fraîche, carrot ribbons, and pesto made from the carrot greens. The coffee roasting technique is from Daniel Patterson of Coi restaurant, but the plating and garnishes are lifted from Journeyman.

Beef

Potato, mushroom, onion, garlic, marrow, bordelaise

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Sous vide-then-seared beef tenderloin, potato mille feuille, grilled king oyster mushroom, spring garlic, pearl onions, bone marrow sauce, and bordelaise syrup. Served with a 2010 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

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Cheese

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From left to right: Hudson valley Kunik, candied walnuts, Humboldt Fog, membrillo, Jasper Hill Landaff. Served with homemade black pepper brioche.

Marmalade, Bourbon

Meyer lemon, single malt

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Although I’ve baked this cake before, She Who took pity on me and made it while I mumbled incoherently about authorization tokens and GitHub repositories. Bourbon-soaked Meyer lemon marmalade cake with bourbon butercream icing, single malt vanilla ice cream, and a Côte de Pêche cocktail. (Homemade marmalade, Elijah Craig bourbon, cocktail recipe wheedled out of the bartender at Má Pêche.)

The meal went off without a hitch: no absurdly long waits between courses, and no forgotten plating elements. As my more athletic friends say, “Plan the dive, dive the plan.” 

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Membership Has Its Privileges

One of my regrets about not attending every one of the Harvard lectures that accompanied the Physics of Soft Matter course was that I never got to hear chef Ferran Adrià. Last night I was able to remedy that gap in my culinary education when I attended “Deconstructing the Chef: Ferran Adrià and the Experience of Food” at the Museum of Science. The lecture was for museum members, who would also get a sneak preview of the “Innovation in the Art of Food: Chef Ferran Adrià” exhibit, part of the museum’s ongoing mission to enhance food education.

Via his interpreter, Adrià, who understands English but prefers to speak his native Catalonian, described what he has been up to since he closed his legendary elBulli restaurant in 2011 and converted it into elBullifoundation. The foundation has three initiatives: elBulli 1846, a complete cataloging of all of the dishes created at the restaurant (1846 in total, documented in 14,000 pages);  Bullipedia, an attempt to do for food and cooking what Wikipedia has done for general knowledge; and elBulli DNA, a creative think tank for culinary experimentation (and a collaboration with MIT).

We learned that the 14,000 pages of recipe information translated to more than 14 hours of video, but we would only have to sit through a six-minute retrospective. As dishes flashed across the screen, I noticed that I had cooked five of them: spherified peas, mango caviar, parmesan foam, instant cake, and the vegetable panaché.

When the lecture ended, we were invited to try some Adrià-inspired dishes at a reception that also featured demos of some of  the now everyday techniques the chef had invented. The museum director and his assistant successfully spherified pea soup:

Spherified Pea Soup

Of the three dishes offered, the most interesting was this “salad” of melon spheres, panna cotta, lime foam, the spherified peas, and salmon roe:

"Salad"

With the food sampled, and judgement passed by both She Who Must Be Obeyed and He Who Will Not Be Ignored, we made our way through the exhibit. I learned that Adrià and his team used modeling clay to work out the plating of most of the dishes. This one looks good even with the clay:

Plating Test

What surprised me was seeing the prominent placement in the exhibit of the vegetable panaché, both the plating model and a photo of the final dish, which is an arrangement of basil gel, corn mousse, beet foam, tomato sorbet, cauliflower mousse, peach ice, almonds, avocado, and almond sorbet.

Vegetable Panaché

Compare that perfectly plated dish to my first and only attempt:

Panaché Attempt

While we were admiring the photo, Adrià wandered over. I asked his interpreter to “Tell Feran I have cooked this dish.”

Adrià looked at me and asked in English “You made this?”

“Yes, chef. But the timing of the plating is very difficult.”

“You cooked the most important dish in the history of elBulli!”

“It helps to have a biochemistry degree from MIT.”

“You’re from MIT!” He laughed and grabbed my hand.  I was carrying a brochure advertising the soon to be published elBulli 2005-2011, a complete record of every recipe created in those years. He was gracious enough to sign it for me.

Autograph

So yes, next month I’m buying the set of books. And I’m framing the autograph.

Did I mention I shook hands with Ferran Adrià?

ETA, 2/16/14: Here’s an article about the UK version of the exhibit.

Why is the vegetable dish so important? Here’s the description in my cookbook:

The textured vegetable panaché (la menestra de verduras en texturas), which we created in 1994, was a milestone dish for elBulli, not only because of what is on the plate, but also because it came at a pivotal moment in the the development of our cuisine, and opened up a rich seam of creative potential. The interplay of prepared textures and the use of deconstruction as a creative technique make the dish an expression of some of the best-known characteristics of elBulli’s food. Deconstruction is the process by which a dish is inspired by an identifiable external source, but in which every element of that source os modified in the final dish. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, it was probably the first use of deconstruction as a creative method.

The dish was created as an homage to Michel Bras’s iconic dish gargouillou des jeunes légumes, in which thirty different seasonal vegetables are are cooked and seasoned separately and presented together in a perfect expression of their inherent qualities. We wanted to create a vegetable dish at the same level, and at the same time we were developing different textures using liquid bases, such as foams, jellies, savory ice creams, and sorbets, all of which went on to play an important role in future dishes. The textured vegetable panaché was the result, and it opened up a new world of possibilities. Each component is an expression of a vegetable through texture: an almond sorbet, a cauliflower mousse, a tomato puree, beetroot foam, raw avocado, basil jelly, and sweet corn mousse. I still consider it to be one of elBulli’s most symbolic dishes.

ETA, 4/15/14: The complete talk is now online:

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