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.
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.
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.
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.
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.