Alinea: BOAR, Shallot, Cider, Burning Oak Leaves

Fall is finally here -more or less I suppose- and changing the way I cook is natural. Even if I can find tomatoes and peppers well into November and December I still prefer to cook more “orange” and “brown” stuff. It makes me and Diana happy to pick up some winter squashes or sweet potatoes and start cooking with them. This dish has neither but it just smells and tastes like fall.

The biggest pain in the neck in this dish was finding a suitable oak twig. It’s supposed to be fall leaves, nice and orange-brown. Well in Houston you can typically only find green or dead brown. So I had to settle for somewhere in between. So I got a few twigs from one of the oaks that line a street close to work, the leaves are half brown half green, but overall not too bad. The recipe is pretty simple, a cube of meat (in the book he uses pheasant), a cube of apple cider gel and a piece of roasted shallot are skewered together on the sharpened oak twig. These are then dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried.

The cider gel is made with granny smith apples, some sugar and apple cider all cooked together with agar and pureed. It’s basically apple sauce until it is poured in a pan and allowed to cool. Then the agar turns it into a firm block. I cut it up into cubes and stored them in the fridge. The shallot confit is just shallots roasted with grape seed oil, salt and pepper. Then the shallots are peeled and cut into rough cubes. Last piece is the meat. I do not currently have pheasant, but I do have some wild boar still. So, I used a small loin. I cooked it sous vide bagged with butter and thyme. This was also cut up into cubes until serving time.

For the batter I deviated from the recipe and used the procedure from Modernist Cuisine. It’s the same process I used before to make Heston Blumenthal’s extra crispy fish and chips. The Blumenthal batter is a mixture of rice flour, all-purpose flour and vodka. You put that in an iSi whipping siphon and charge it with CO2. Right before using it to coat the meat, you dispense some batter into a small bowl and dip the meat in it. The batter will have so much air bubbles that it makes for an extra crispy-crunchy product. It’s important to point out here that frying the boar-cider-shallot skewer without dropping the whole twig in the hot oil is also tricky. I basically could only fry two at a time since I had to hold the oak twigs while the stuff on its tip fried. I wrapped the leaf end with aluminum foil to make them easier to handle while frying and to catch the splatter and this batter sure does splatter!

Last challenge in this “simple” recipe was plating. At Alinea they use a piece called the “octopus” to plate items like this one that has no base and need to stand upright. You can see it here in Allen’s Alinea book blog (he’s very dedicated and it sure shows). I was not going to buy or make anything like that. So, I made a thick sauce for the food thinking it will help it stay upright. It was a mixture of pickled mustard seeds, mayonnaise, mustard and maple vinegar. The sauce with the crunchy bite of food worked very well, but I cannot say that it made the plating that much easier.

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