Category Archives: Root Vegetables

Dry-Aged Strip Steak, Carrot and Sour Onions

Steak-Carrots-Onions3On more than one occasion I’ve heard people say something along the lines of “Oh what’s the big deal with dry-aged beef…I got a couple of steaks and they are not that different that the run of the mill steak from Costco”. Well, these guys are either not really buying dry-aged steak or have some taste buds missing. A proper dry-aged steak is a thing of beauty, expensive but worth every penny for a special occasion like a Valentines Day dinner for two.

Dry aging beef is a process where large primals (like a whole side of strip loin) is left at a controlled temperature in an aging room uncovered. The meat usually hangs from hooks and is left anywhere from a couple of weeks and sometimes up to  months! During that time the meat loses a lot of moisture. This translates to water weight loss (one reason why it starts getting expensive) and concentrating of flavor and minerals in the meat. Another thing that happens is that the enzymes in the meat start breaking down the flesh making it very tender. That is why the meat has to be kept at a specific temperature (again that costs money), too warm and the meat would just rapidly spoil, too cold and the enzymes would not function. Last, but not least is that the aging process is basically a controlled “spoilage” in a way. The meat develops a lovely flavor as it matures and for really long aged beef it is sometimes describes as funky or similar to cheese! I have not had any of the latter, but I can certainly tell that the steak we had was tender and superbly flavorful with a brilliant savory taste due to the aging process.

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Hopefully my cursory summary of the dry-aging process as I understand it was helpful, but if not there are a lot of good resources out on the interwebs and many books on the subject. So what did we do with this nice steak? The meat was cooked very simply. I cooked it sous vide to medium rare and then finished it off in a very hot cast iron pan with some butter.

The onions are my attempt to try the sour onions from Magnus Nielssen’s Faviken. Magnus gently cooks thinly sliced onions in a mixture of whey and butter until the liquid evaporates and the onions are soft. The onions end up wonderfully tart and very deeply flavored with the whey (I used some from a cheese batch I was making) and butter. Unfortunately I could not manage to keep the onions intact in their original shape of thin rounds. I have no idea how the chef at Faviken manages to do that but I could not.

The other two items on the plate were marble potatoes and pureed carrots with vadouvan (an Indian spice mix heavy on coriander and citrus notes). The potatoes were just steamed and then crisped up in olive oil and herbs. The carrots were cooked sous vide with plenty of butter and a good pinch of the vadouvan spice mixture. When fully tender, I pureed them and passed them through a sieve. I prepared a sauce with reduced beef stock and red wine and finished it off with a bit of butter.

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Alinea: PERSIMMON, Aroma Strip, Carrot, Red Curry

Persimmon-Aroma Strip

Persimmons are one of my favorite fruit. I bet one does not hear that too often, but these orange fruits really are one of my favorites. To be specific I am talking about the acorn shaped Hachiya persimmon not the squat round Fuyu one. The Hachiya persimmon is very astringent and really inedible unless very soft and ripe. The flesh turns to a sort of honey flavored fruity jelly when that happens. That’s when they are perfect and sublime. I remember eating dozens of them in Lebanon during their season, usually autumn through winter.

Hachiya on the left and a Fuyu on the right

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That was my excuse to make this recipe, even though Hachiya persimmons are a bit tough to find. Another reason to make this was the various techniques in there that I’ve not tried before from the complex (making carrot curry raisins using reverse spherification) to the simple (“steaming” a cake in a bag in a heat controlled water bath).

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What we have here is a crumbly mix (pistachio brittle, dehydrated carrot foam, tapioca maltodextrin, pistachio shortbread) that covers a very interesting caramelized milk ice cream and a cake/pudding of persimmon. Around those main components we have glazed carrot, ginger sphere, carrot curry “raisin”, date puree, braised pistachios and two types of “films” (a spiced strip and a fennel-mint film).

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I first got to making the ice cream. Most ice creams in the Alinea book are not traditional in that they use less sugar than normal, little or no eggs and are designed to be used with a PacoJet machine that finely “shaves” the frozen ice cream cylinder into perfectly smooth servings. Lacking a PacoJet, I usually adapt the ice cream recipes into something more appropriate for my ice cream maker and freezer like the buckwheat ice cream that I prepared a couple of times. This time though I decided to try the recipe as proscribed to see what I come up with. I figured I had a couple of weeks before I need to serve this and if the ice cream comes out too crappy, I’ll scrap it and make another batch.

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The ice cream is based on caramelized milk. A combination of milk, some half and half, dried milk, very little sugar and honey go in a Foodsaver bag and are cooked for several hours. The idea is to caramelize the natural sugars in the milk turning the mixture a tan color. I was very curious how this would come up and indeed the mixture turned a light tan color but a bit lighter than I would’ve expected. After cooling, the ice cream gets churned and frozen till service time. Now, as expected from such a low sugar and relatively low fat ice cream, the texture right out of the freezer was not great. It was frozen solid and a little bit grainy. After a few minutes on the counter though the texture improved a lot. The flavor was very interesting. It is not an ice cream I would ever serve by itself. It is not sweet, very milky and has a flavor that reminded me of evaporated milk.

Persimmon Puree Persimmon Cake

Making The persimmon cake is pretty simple. Just puree the persimmon flesh with flour, pistachio flour, sugar, eggs, butter, spices and citrus zest. The mixture then goes in a Foodsaver bag and is cooked for a few hours in hot water. The cake is then cooled and re-warmed before serving. The taste is delicious, sweet and rich with spice and butter.The texture is a lovely mix of pudding and cake. I will certainly be borrowing this technique possibly with other flavors to make tender cakes or puddings.

Carrots

There are several pistachio preparations in this dish. The braised pistachios are the simplest. Just cook some pistachios with water, sugar and pistachio oil. Reserve them in some of the cooled cooking liquid.

Braised Pistachios

Pistachio Shortbread1

The pistachio shortbread is part of the “crumble” mixture and uses pulverized pistachios, butter, vanilla and eggs. It is then cooled in the fridge to make it manageable (it has lots of butter) and then rolled into a block and baked. The shortbread is delicious on its own and leftovers made for great coffee accompaniments for a week or two. It had a lovely pistachio flavor and a tender texture.

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Pistachio Brittle

Another pistachio crumble component is the brittle. Again this makes for an addictive and tasty stand-alone recipe. To make it, I brought sugar to the caramel brown stage and tossed in toasted pistachios and baking soda. The soda reacts with the acidic environment causing the caramel to bubble vigorously creating lots of bubbles. The mixture – like pistachio lava- gets dumped on a Silpat to set and harden.

Carrot Mousse Crumble Mixture

Those orange specs in the crumble mixture are pieces of carrot foam – dehydrated carrot foam. Carrot juice is mixed with sugar and Methocel F50 and cooled. The mixture is then whipped to form a fluffy mixture very similar to a light mousse but has the pure flavor of carrots. Very tasty stuff. The mousse is spread on an acetate sheet and dehydrated for much longer than the recipe specifies until I got a cracker-crispy sheet of carrot mousse.

Crumble

To bring the crumble mixture together I mixed pistachio oil with N-Zorbit Tapioca Maltodextrin (I’ve mentioned this product that makes powders out of oils a few times before like here and here). Then I added coarsely crumbled portions of the pistachio shortbread, pistachio brittle and the crispy carrot mousse. I reserved that in an airtight container until ready to serve.

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Speaking of reserving these various components for service I’ve always thought the book should do a better job informing us of the shelf-life or fridge stability of these various components. This is especially critical for someone like me who is making recipes like these over a period of weeks! I did find out that most of these items do last at least a few days if properly stored. The crumble mixture in an airtight container was still perfectly fine a week or more after I originally served the dessert.

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A hydrocolloid that I have never worked with before and yet another reason I wanted to check out this recipe is Pure-Cote B790. The space-age name aside this is basically a modified corn starch that is used in small quantities to help in making really cool paper thin film. Think of those Listerine strips that melt on the tongue. Yeap, using Pure-Cote one could make these films flavored with anything. In this recipe it is used to make a spice aroma strip as well as a green tinted “glass” flavored with an herb called anise hyssop.

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The process for both glass and spice strip is similar. Steep the flavor in a sugar water syrup and mix in the hydrocolloid. Allow that to dry out on acetate sheets overnight and peel off. In the case of the green glass a dehydration step follows making those films into amazingly brittle and fragile “glass”. The spice aroma strip is flavored with cloves, mace, nutmeg and allspice. The green glass is supposed to be flavored with anise hyssop but that is nowhere to be found. It is supposed to taste like a mixture of mint and anise, so what I did was use half mint and half fennel fronds. I think that worked great, had a lovely green tint and a nice burst of flavor. There has to be a typo in both of these components’ instructions in the book though. After mixing the Pure-Cote into the liquid base we are simply instructed to pour it in a thin layer on sheets. This does not work because the Pure-Cote is not hydrated or gelled! and what you end up with is a mixture that separates into starch and liquid like the mixture towards the front of this picture.

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After doing some research and looking through my Modernist Cuisine books I confirmed my suspicion that indeed the Pure-Cote mixture needs to be heated up in order to gelatinize the starch. That worked much better (see the mixture towards the back in the above picture). Another reasoning for the book’s instructions might be that at Alinea they use a VitaMix blender and they whip the mixture for a long time at a very high speed which indeed heats it up and hydrates the starch. I do not have one of those yet so I will be gently warming my Pure-Cote mixtures to hydrate them.

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To emphasize the warm autumnal flavors and add punches of sweet and sour we have two sauces based on dried fruit. The first is a date puree made from softened dates and ruby Port. It is very sweet as expected and used very sparingly as a dollop to top with the braised pistachios. The other sauce is made from golden raisins and verjus, the mildly tart juice of the sour unripened grapes that works great as a gentle substitute to vinegar in dressings and sauces. Verjus has a fancy French name and is mostly associated with western cuisine but actually -in addition to pomegranate molasses (Dibs Ruman)- it is a traditional sour ingredient in Lebanese cuisine. Many families would make Houssrom, as it is known there, during the summer months when the vines are full of unripened grapes that needed to be culled.

Sauces

Spherification is something I’ve played with before here and a technique that produces an aesthetically pleasing product as well as a flavor burst. This recipe has two such preparations. The first is the straight-forward ginger sphere. This is a ginger infused sugar syrup that is blended with Calcium Lactate and frozen in small cubes. It is then dropped into an Alginate water bath to form perfect liquid orbs of sugary ginger encased with a thin  film of itself. I reserved these guys in more of the ginger-sugar liquid in the fridge and they lasted perfectly for several days.

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The second sphere is where the Alinea team take this preparation past the “cool trick” stage and transform it into something unique. Since the spheres are orbs of liquid (think grape) why not make raisins out of them? That’s what they do. So, I got carrot juice and blended in some sugar, a small amount of red Thai curry and Xanthan into it. Then I mixed the Calcium Lactate and froze the mixture in hemisphere ice cubes. After dropping those just like the ginger ones into an Alginate bath they went into a small pan covered with a layer of white sugar. More sugar went on top and the spheres were allowed to cure for an hour. During that time the sugar draws a lot of the moisture out of them and firms them up a bit. Lastly, the cured orbs were dehydrated in a very low oven until shriveled and wrinkly, just like raisins. They were delicious with a spice flavor and sweetness that worked great in this fall dish. Their interior was moist and jam-like.

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Components-Raisins

A few more items garnish the plate. One is cubes of Fuyu persimmon that are supposed to be marinated in a type of fortified wine called Pineau des Charentes. I had none and did not really want to seek it out. I decided to pick a liqueur that I think would work in the dish. The crumble mixture is supposed to include a small proportion of honey granIules – another item I did not have. So, I decided to include the honey flavor in the marinated fruit. I vaccum marinated the cubed Fuyu in a Foodsaver canister with homemade honey liqueur instead of the Pineau des Charentes. That turned out well and the fruit gave a burst of sweet honey flavor to the plated dish. Another item was glazed baby carrots. These were thin small sweet carrots, peeled and cooked sous vide with a pinch of sugar. The carrots are warmed right before serving.

ComponentsThe dessert was a perfect fall-winter plate of sweetness with perfect textures and amazing flavors. I loved how the ice cream, very subtle and muted on it’s own, worked perfectly as a cool milky canvas for the strong flavors and textures in the composed dish. It really amazes me how the Alinea team pulls off multitudes of dishes like this during service night after night. Hopefully one day I’ll get to snag a table there and try it out for myself.

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Red Wine Pappardelle with Oxtails and Carrots

Pappardelle-Oxtail5

It’s been a while since I posted about a homemade pasta on these pages. Not because I have not made any but the majority is stuff I’ve posted about before or similar to what I’ve posted about before. Well, here comes something I made recently and was so sublime that I had to post about.

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The blue print is really a traditional dish of fresh pasta and braised meat. The emphasis is on bold flavors with a recipe courtesy of the book Collards and Carbonara from Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. It’s a perfect title for a book where the authors put their American south spin on Italian flavors. This is a hearty dish with lots of red wine. It is everywhere. The pasta is actually made from eggs with a good helping of red wine – almost half egg and half red wine. The end result is not so much red as brownish. What I really loved about the pasta is the thickness. Instead of rolling them relatively thin as usual, the authors instruct us to roll them to the 4 setting on the pasta machine. This results in noodles that are relatively thick. I honestly had my doubts here but I figured I’ll give them a go and see what happens.

Pappardelle

I should not have worried. The cooked noodles were the perfect foil to the rich hearty oxtail stew.  They had a lovely texture to them that is equally soft, substantial and chewy. I started the oxtails basically a week before by making a beef demi glace. I prepared a big batch of beef stock in my pressure cooker and allowed it to sit in the fridge until the fat solidified. I removed that and reduced the stock with more aromatics (shallots, thyme, black pepper) and red wine until I got about a pint of the most amazing beef reduction.

Oxtail-Carrots

The stew is pretty straightforward. Brown the meat and cook it for a long time with some garlic, mirepoix, a whole bottle of red wine, the demi glace and water. When the meat is fall off the bone tender it is removed and picked from the bone. The cooking liquid is reduced and strained. The meat and cooking liquid are stored separately. Again, this is an important detail that I think makes the recipe much better during the finishing steps. Meanwhile I prepared a mix of small purple and orange carrots by cooking them sous vide bagged with butter at 85 C. They were cooked till tender but remained firm and retained a nice color.

Pappardelle-Oxtail

To bring it all together while the water came to a boil for the pasta, I sautéed the halved carrots in oil until slightly charred. To that I added the oxtail meat and browned slightly, then a whole lot  of chopped herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme) and more red wine and allowed that to reduce. In went the reserved braising liquid and the whole thing reduced slightly to get a nice consistency. I tossed in the freshly cooked pasta and some splashes of the boiling water and served. It was a really comforting, rich and beautiful bowl of pasta. The handfuls of fresh herbs in there brought a fresh and bright note to the bold flavors. That whole was perfect for the cold weather we had been getting and the leftovers were just as good.

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French Laundry: Braised Pork Cheek with Yellow Corn Polenta Cakes, Glazed Vegetables and Sweet Garlic

Pork Cheek-Polenta-Glazed Vegetables3
A week before our much awaited dinner at The French Laundry (I’ll post something about that at some point…hopefully soon) I wanted to make the family a meal from one of my favorite cookbooks. I thought of it as an appetizer of sorts. Of course my meal was not a 10 course 4-hour extravaganza but only a couple of courses, a main dish and a dessert. When both come out so perfectly delicious though, it really is a treat. In the book there are several recipes for “cheap” cuts of meat, not just pricey and exotic cuts. Chef Keller uses cuts like beef cheeks, tripe, pig head and transforms them into refined three-star plates of beautiful food. This is such a recipe. I’ll post about the dessert in a subsequent post.

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In the book, the recipe is made with veal breast. That’s, more or less, the equivalent of a pork belly on a calf. It’s tough, sinewy and flavorful. It’s also very tough to find at almost any store. I was not about to mail order it so I decided to improvise and see what I have in my deep freezer. I had two excellent pork cheeks in there and I figured these would make a very nice substitute for the veal breast. The recipe, from Keller’s pre sous vide days, braises the meat traditionally (sear, cook in stock with aromatics gently). I opted to first sear the meat really well and then bagged it  with carrots, celery, leeks, herbs, stock and white wine and cooked it sous vide at 82.2 C for about 8 hours. When the meat is cooked I removed it from the bag, discarded all the herbs and vegetables and strained the liquid to make a sauce from it later on. The meat went in the fridge to rest and set.

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To complete the meat portion, I cut the cheeks into 2 inch rounds using a biscuit/cookie cutter. The cheeks are not as nice and even as a veal breast would be. See this post for an idea how the cooked cheeks look in one of the pictures. So some pieces were more even than others. Right before serving, I rubbed the meat with Dijon mustard and then rolled the flat sides in panko bread crumbs. Then I pan fried them well in grape seed oil and got them ready for plating. The meat from pork cheeks is really something special. It has a very deep almost slightly gamy flavor and unique texture. Braising the meat then pan frying it till crispy and luscious on the inside. Cutting the meat into rounds creates a good bit of extra chunks and uneven pieces that I used for the next few days in fried rice and tacos for the best ever crispy carnitas.

The rounds of pork sit on crispy corn cakes, aka polenta cakes. These are fairly classic made with polenta cooked in water and enriched with mascarpone cheese and butter. I then mixed in some chopped chives and poured the porridge in a silicone square cake pan to set. The cakes are finished similarly to these hominy cakes by rolling in flour and pan frying in some butter until browned and crisped.

Polenta

The vegetables in the book (carrots, turnips, celery root, beets) according to the recipe are supposed to be cut into different shapes. The beets into tiny pea-size marbles (parisienne), the carrots into small ovals (turned), the trunips into small fluted shapes and the celery root into small batons. So, I have no parisienne cutter and no vegetable fluter. I also opted not to use the the celery root since I did not have a kitchen brigade doing my bidding. Instead I cut the beets into small coin shapes and the turnips into small cubes. Then I turned the carrots. It really takes some time and skill to turn hard vegetables into acceptable small football shapes. It really makes one appreciate all the work that goes into creating and executing one of those dishes at a place like the French Laundry. It took me about an hour to make maybe 20 carrot ovals and they were by no means perfect.

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Chef Keller in the recipe blanches the vegetables separately to cook them. Instead I bagged the carrots and turnips together and separate from the beets (to avoid discoloration since beets really stain)  and then cooked the two packages sous vide at 85C until perfectly tender. To finish the vegetables and plate them they get sauteed in some butter and sugar to glaze them (again the beets are glazed separately) and then they are warmed in a small pot of beurre monte, Keller’s ubiquitous butter-water emulsion. The last vegetable in the mix is the sweet garlic. These are garlic cloves blanched in several changes of boiling water and then slowly poached until very soft and then sauteed in butter to brown them and further flavor them. The garlic and the rest of the vegetables get tossed together at the last minute, right before serving. If I could change one thing about this recipe, it would be that last step of tossing in the beets. Even with all the care and even though the beet coins were mixed in at the last second, they still managed to slightly stain the turnips and garlic a shade of pink. Really I should’ve plated the beets without tossing with everything else.  

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To make the sauce for the dish, the braising liquid is reduced and flavored with chopped shallots and fresh parsley. At the last minute is is enriched with more of the beurre monte. For plating I put a spoonful of the sauce on the plate first and topped it with a corn cake. On top goes a round piece of crispy pork cheek and that gets topped with the glazed vegetables and the sweet garlic cloves. Is it good? Damn right it is. It is a delicious dish that combines comfort with Michelin – star cuisine. The flavors are deep and rich and the textures are amazing. Everyone loved it including the kiddos. It was a bit funny when my 9 year old asked for seconds and requested that the meat be cut into a circle again for plating and my 6 year old now routinely asks if we are cooking more food from “French Laundry”! That’s a lot of pressure. Next is dessert, another French Laundry classic…

Pork Cheek-Polenta-Glazed Vegetables

Wild Duck, Cabbage, Fried Hominy and Red Wine Beet Sauce

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I’m still working on my wild duck cooking skill and the best result I’ve gotten so far is through removing the breasts and legs and cooking them separately. I’ve made a “quick salad” for my kids and I recently and I basically sautéed everything for different times and then sliced and served on top of a tart green salad. That was very nice and I achieved the well cooked crispy legs I complained about missing in this post. I also managed to get the breasts to be medium with a crispy skin, but some parts were over-cooked a bit and overcooked wild duck is not a very good thing.

Baked Duck Legs

Wild Duck-Legs-Breast

For this dish I took it to the next logical level and did what experienced cooks and chefs always instruct us to do: cook the breasts and legs separately each to their optimum doneness. It’s that “optimum doneness” part that can be a bit tricky while shooting for a crisp skin on such lean small birds. The way I tackled it is to cook the breasts sous vide and the legs baked in a very hot oven. The legs were well-done and crisp and the breasts were a lovely medium rare and a nice rosy color, even after a quick sear in a hot pan to crisp the skin. Before cooking the meat I simply salted it and rubbed it with a bit of thyme the night before and the breasts were packaged in FoodSaver bags with a bit of butter in  there before going in the  water at 55C for about an hour.

To go with the duck I made red braised cabbage and fried hominy cakes. The cabbage is from Gordon Ramsey’s “*** Chef” that I posted about a while back. It’s a very simple recipe of cabbage, butter and vinegar. The end result is delicious and very flavorful, much more than the sum of its parts. The hominy cakes are another direct rip off from Hank Shaw where he also pairs it with duck, canvasback to be exact. I followed Hank’s recipe verbatim and it worked perfectly. The grits cakes held together and had a great crispy exterior and a lovely soft interior. The flavor was mild and it really offset all the other robust flavors in the dish from the duck, cabbage and sauce. The dish needed the texture and the cakes delivered it in strides. The bread crumbs I used were made from a loaf of bread I baked with poppy seeds and that’s why the cakes’ crust has all these little black specs in it. That looked pretty neat and worked well with the sort of Germanic theme of dish.

Hominy Grits Cakes

Hominy Grits Cakes2

The sauce here is based on the duck carcasses. After removing the breasts and legs, I cut up the remaining bones and trimmings and made a stock with them. I wanted the stock to be robust and full of flavor, so I first roasted the cut up oil-rubbed carcasses and sautéed a bunch of aromatics in the drippings in the pan. Then I deglazed the pan with Madeira and sherry vinegar. Everything went in the pressure cooker and cooked at 15 psi for about an hour and half. I ended up with a good 1.5 quarts of amazing duck stock. I used about a cup for the sauce and the rest is now frozen for other applications (possibly an oyster and duck gumbo to use up the last three birds I have in the near future). The sauce is prepared like a traditional red wine sauce made by simmering red wine and aromatics with the addition of chopped fresh beets. I added the beets for color and flavor, another item that to me sounds Germanic as well. After the wine is reduced I added in the duck stock and allowed that to reduce a bit as well before enriching with a bit of butter. The sauce had everything I was looking for a rich color and deep flavor.

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Striped Bass and Oyster on an Edible Beach

Striped Bass-Beach

This dish came about because of the edible stones from Mugaritz that I posted about recently. I did not want to spend a good bit of time making the potatoes to look like stones just to serve them as is, a bite or two of food. So, why not spend much more time and incorporate them into an actual dish? the potatoes reminded me most of beach or river stones so fish was the first to come to mind. Then of course I remembered Heston Blumenthal’s very famous “Sound of the Sea” dish at the Fat Duck. that dish has a variety of seafood, served on a “beach”  complete with sand, sea foam, weeds, shells and to gild the lily an iPod! The iPod plays gentle beach and wave sounds as the diner enjoys the dish. The idea is that all of our senses are related and that we are much likely to enjoy the dish if every sense was immersed in the experience. Another of Blumenthal’s findings regarding sound and food: potato chips seem much crunchier and fresher if you eat them while listening to crunchy sounds? Anyways, back to the dish.

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I made my beach scene based on the recipe from the Fat Duck but simplified it a good bit and went with what I had. The “sand” mixture from the Fat Duck includes powdered kelp, blue shimmer powder (no idea what that is), carbonized vegetable powder (I’m pretty sure this is burned vegetables), dried baby eels, fried Panko bread crumbs, tapioca maltodextrin, spices, salt,….I stuck with the bread crumbs, the powdered kelp, ground up hazelnuts, black pepper and the maltodextrin. Really the maltodextrin is the one that gives it a perfect sandy texture and make it just melt in the mouth when eaten. So, it is essential here.

Sand Mixture

Sand Mixture2

For the seafood, I wanted at least one fish and a shellfish or two. I intended to use clams and mussels for the shellfish but the couple of stores I went to did not have any decent ones. So, I settled on good quality shelled packaged oysters from Louisiana. For the fish I stopped by a favorite of mine, a large Asian grocery store that always has excellent whole fresh fish in addition to a few live ones. The striped bass looked the best so I picked one and asked the guy behind the counter to gut and scale it but leave it whole. When I got home I rinsed the fish well and filleted it. This gave me 4 nice bass portions. It also gave me some bones and the head to make stock that I need for the sea foam sauce. I made the fish stock sous vide for the first time per the instructions in the Modernist Cuisine at Home book. I packaged the bones and head with a lot of aromatics and some white wine and vermouth and cooked it at 80 C degrees for 1.5 hours. It made for a marvelous stock with clear color and a perfect flavor. Fish stock should not simmer much or boil at all so cooking sous vide makes perfect sense. It also eliminates evaporation which concentrates the flavor by not allowing any aroma to dissipate into the air with the steam. Another stock by the way that is amazing prepared sous vide is vegetable stock.

Striped Bass-horz

I cooked the fish sous vide and crisped the skin right before serving. For the oysters I also cooked them sous vide but included a good dose of garlic and parsley butter in the bag. With the seafood cooked, the “stones” and alioli good to go, the “sand” is ready and my fish stock is prepped, I focused on finishing the sauce which forms the beach   foam as well as preparing some “shells”. The shells are shallots that I separated out and poached till tender. Then I tossed them in some Ponzu sauce right before serving. For the sauce, I warmed the fish stock and mixed in the juice from the oysters then seasoned it with soy sauce, salt and pepper. To finish it and foam it a bit I added soy lecithin and blitzed it with the hand blender.

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To plate the dishes,  we (since I was preparing several plates Diana helped a lot with plating) put the “sand” down  on one side of the plate and then added a few dollops of the alioli on top for the “stones” to sit on. Then on the side of the sand went the fish and oyster followed by the foamy sauce on the edges of the sand. Then the garnishes went on including the  “shell” shallots and a few green leaves as a stand in for sea weed that I had not time to shop for. It all worked great and my in-laws who stopped by for dinner that evening enjoyed their whimsical meal very much. It’s always a relief when experimental dishes like this one work out when guests drop by and we don’t have to order pizza or something. The plate had a lot of flavors that worked perfectly and of course a lot of textures ranging from crunchy to soft to somewhere in between.

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Mugaritz: Edible Stones

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There are so many intriguing dishes with familiar and odd flavor combinations in Mugaritz, the book about the cuisine of Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz. There are interesting techniques and very cool and whimsical dishes. The ideas are bold and they focus on mostly minimalist presentation and straightforward flavors. I knew from the second I started flipping through the book months ago and reading the text and philosophy (there’s a lot of that and it feels a bit heavy-handed at times honestly) that the first recipe I would like to try is Aduriz’s famous “Edible Stones”.

Garlic Confit

At the restaurant, that is the first thing the diners get, a plate of apparently perfectly nice stones. The diners are not told anything at first and, unless they know, are left to wonder what the hell is going on. Then they are instructed to eat one plain. A nice soft small potato covered with a coating that make sit resemble uncannily a river rock! For the next bite, they are encouraged to dip it in a rich garlic alioli and enjoy the very familiar flavor of a boiled potato dipped in garlic mayonnaise. In a matter of moments the restaurant guests went from a “what the…?!” moment with river rocks to enjoying a perfectly classical and familiar bite of food. Now, that is very cool indeed.

Edible Stones

I made the garlic alioli first a couple of days before I cooked the potatoes and kept it in the fridge. I prepared the garlic confit by gently cooking whole garlic cloves in olive oil until very very soft. These then get pureed with an egg yolk using an immersion blender and olive oil is drizzled in while the blender is running. The sauce has a lot of garlic in it, but since it’s cooked gently it has no harsh edge or pungent flavor, just a sweet garlic flavor. The potatoes as first boiled in heavily salted water and then dipped in a mixture of Lactose, kaolin, water and black food dye. Kaolin is a type of clay used in a variety of applications including face cream, pill casings, upset stomach remedy… Allen Hemberger on his -awesome looking with pictures a 150 times better than mine- blog made these a while back and discusses in a bit more detail the many uses of kaolin, check it out here . As far as I can tell the Lactose is there to add a hint of sweetness to the casing of the stones and to help it harden in the oven. The potatoes, after receiving a nice coating of stone-colored kaolin mixture, go in a very low oven to dry up and for the coating to harden. Then they are ready to serve while still warm.

Edible Stones2

I served these as part of a larger dish (I will post about it soon), but we tasted a few as is, just like they serve them at Mugaritz to get an idea how they taste on their own. As expected the flavor is nothing weird. Potatoes, seasoned nicely and served with a garlicky mayonnaise. The coating has virtually no taste really and very little texture. It’s sole purpose is to create the “stone” illusion  and it works perfectly for that. Everyone, from my kids to my in-laws, got a kick out of these cute stones. Next time I’m having a few guests over for dinner I’m going to make sure they start their evening with a bowl of rocks and a side of alioli.

Fried Chicken with Red Potato and Green Bean Salad

The last few weeks at work have been (and continue to be) stressful and frustrating. I barely had time to cook proper meals, let alone take pictures and post about them. It seems like I am finally seeing a light at the end of this particular tunnel. What better dish to bring some normalcy back into the kitchen than fried chicken? Well, several actually (including a nice sirloin with chimichurri sauce that I cooked up recently) but for now it is fried chicken time.

While not exactly last minute, I had not really planned on making fried chicken. The chicken was pretty good but with more planning the dish would’ve been superb. Most likely I would have brined the chicken and given it a buttermilk soak. Another version I’ve been wanting to try is the smoked fried chicken from Aki and Alex at Ideas in Food. Just like it sounds, that recipe applies  some smoke time to the poultry before frying it. It really sounds awesome. In my impromptu fried chicken dinner I had a couple of pouches of chicken thighs and legs that were cooked sous vide with nothing more than a little butter and salt. I soaked them in a mixture of seasoned buttermilk before shaking them in seasoned flour. Since they are technically already cooked, I just needed to focus on getting that nice crispy crust. So, I fried them at a higher temperature for a shorter time (400F for about 3-4 minutes) than your typical fried chicken.

This was the first time I use my brand new propane burner outdoors right on the backyard grass. I bought it from Academy to use for brewing beer, frying and wok stir-frying. It’s fantastic to fry a bunch of chicken and some onion rings (for garnish) with no worries about oil splatters gunking the stove or the frying oil smell lingering in the kitchen and living room for hours. The chicken was good with a perfect crust but tasted a little bit flat. Brining and soaking the chicken raw in buttermilk would certainly have helped with juicyness and tenderness. Maybe next time.

Now, the potato salad was pretty spectacular and would almost make a nice meal on its own. It’s from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book. It contains boiled red potatoes and blanched green beans in addition to shredded Bib lettuce. The vegetables are tossed in creamy pepper dressing. That dressing is absolutely amazing and I’ve used the rest of it for days just to dip vegetables in and dress a chicken salad a couple of days ago. It’s a bit more involved than your typical dressing but not complicated. First, you make a sweet-sour reduction (a gastrique) from mixture of Banyuls vinegar, black pepper and honey. Once it is cooled it gets whisked with freshly made garlic aioli, creme fraiche, buttermilk and mustard. It’s got a wonderful combination of sharp, tart and sweet flavors and a lovely creamy texture.