Atelier Crenn: Kir Breton

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A Kir Breton is a simple cocktail made from apple cider with creme de cassis. Another “Kir” that is popular is the Kir Royal wich uses Champagne instead of apple cider. The Kir Breton as the name suggests is a specialty of Brittany, the French region famous for great seafood, salted butter and apples.

That’s where chef Dominique Crenn comes from. She is a proud Breton and chooses to serve all her diners this one bite “cocktail” as soon as they settle for dinner at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. The recipe is from her book, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste and like dinner at her restaurant it is the first recipe in the book.

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I chose it as part of a three course dinner I prepared for Diana and I. It’s neat looking, delicious and really not terribly difficult.  The orbs are filled with liquid hard apple cider, encased in a thin shell of cocoa butter and topped with a gel of creme de cassis (black currant liqueur). Sounds daunting? It does, but really it is not difficult to make and requires mostly time in the freezer.

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First step is to prepare frozen spheres of the base liquid – the apple cider in this case. I cooked the hard cider down a bit to remove some of the alcohol or it will never freeze. I froze them in half-sphere molds. When totally solid I removed them and “glued” them together by gently melting the flat sides and attaching them to each other. Now I had frozen apple cider orbs. For the cassis part, I blended creme de cassis with Ultratex-3. This very quickly gives us a thick gel that is not heated at all so it retains the delicious taste and all the alcohol.

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A few hours before service, I made the shell mixture. This is mostly comprised of melted cocoa butter and very little white chocolate. The cocoa butter is relatively tasteless and not sweet. It also hardens very fast if anything cold touches it. So, I used a toothpick to pick up the frozen cider spheres and dip them in the melted cocoa butter. This instantly created a shell around them. With some practice I got some nice smooth ones. I let those rest in the fridge until service. This allows the cider to melt creating the liquid in the shell. To serve it I put the cider filled spheres on spoons and piped a good dollop of the cassis gel on top.

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Cod, Green Bouillabaisse and Aïoli

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It’s very much a stretch calling this mixture of spring vegetables a Bouillabaisse, but it gives you an idea at least about the flavor profile. In Happy in the Kitchen chef Michel Richard serves this “Bouillabaisse” with nothing more than the Aïoli and croutons (like a real Bouillabaisse). I’ve always loved the idea of this vegetable stew that is emblematic of spring but also wanted to make it more substantial. So, why not add a seafood element? While we are at it, a few pieces of ultra crispy roast potatoes a la Heston Blumenthal (really the best roast potatoes ever!) stand in for the crouton and are a natural with the garlicky aïoli.

Green Bouillabaisse

It’s really a more labor heavy project to make a good vegetable dish than what people might assume. There is a lot of washing, trimming, peeling, drying, chopping, slicing and dicing…far more than searing a piece of meat and serving it with rice. Making vegetarian food -good vegetarian food- with nuance, balance and variety is an admirable task. Here I trimmed and quartered large globe artichokes first and let them sit in a mixture of water and lemon juice.

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Other vegetables that went in here in a specific order so that they will cook perfectly include fennel, leeks, onions, tomatoes (pureed), minced garlic, zucchini, squash and leafy greens. The mixture, just like a traditional Bouillabaisse, is flavored with white wine, saffron and an anise flavored spirit; Pernod in this case.

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I wanted a mild light fish to go with the vegetable Bouillabaisse. Fresh halibut or turbot would have been great, but no luck this time. What they had at the fish counter are some good thick cod fillets. I bagged the fish with olive oil and cooked them sous vide. Cod has very little connective tissue, even for a white fish, that’s why it is great in fish and chips. Cooked sous vide though, we really have to be very careful to move the fish gently so as not to break apart.

Bouillabaisse is often served with a garlicky olive oil emulsion called rouille. This sauce does not contain eggs and relies on the gradual addition of oil to garlic and bread crumbs to maintain some stability. For this dish though, I went with a garlic aïoli. Homemade mayonnaise is ridiculously easy to make with a hand (stick) blender and a tall narrow container. It’s a trick I first saw Spanish chef Jose Andres do by dumping all the ingredients in the container, the oil floats to the top and the egg sinks. The blender goes all the way to the bottom and as it is whirring away you slowly start lifting it up as the mixture emulsifies into a perfect mayonnaise. Here is a video showing this method (go to about minute 3:00). This time I added extra lemon juice and a few cloves of minced garlic. It is awesome with the fish, the vegetable stew and the crispy potatoes.

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Alinea: Pork Belly, Pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, Grits

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How does barbecue done in a three star restaurant look like? Like this dish that I made using the last third of pork belly I had. It’s a one bite of porky smoky spicy and pickle-y goodness! In more detailed terms we have a cube of cured and spiced pork belly, topped with pickled vegetables and encased in a crunchy glaze of barbecue flavor.

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The trickiest component of this entire dish is that crunchy glaze that coats each bite. It requires some practice and a light touch to get it thick enough to coat the meat and vegetables with a translucent film. Make it too thick and you’ll be fighting to bite through it and picking candy out of your teeth. If it is too thin it will slough off the pickled vegetables and not cover the whole bite. The glaze starts off with isomalt, a product that is not as sweet as sugar but behaves very much like sugar so it is very good for savory applications. I mixed the isomalt with fondant and brought up to about 325 F (NOT the 160 F the book specifies which I am sure they intended it to be 160 C).

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I poured it on a Silpat and allowed the mixture to harden. The isomalt-fondant mixture hardened into very clean and clear glass. I broke it into shards and pulverized it in a food processor with a smoked paprika and cayenne. This mixture is what gives the pork bites the “barbecue” smoke and spice flavor. but we are not there quiet yet…

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The Isomalt mixture is made into thin wafers or tuiles. To do that I sifted the powdered mixture into a Silpat using stencils to get even 2 inch squares that are about 1/8 inch thick.We need to work fast here because the powedered mixture sucks up the humidity very fast from the room and gets difficult to work with.  After a few minutes in a hot oven the powdered spiced sugar squares melted but kept their shape. When fully cooled they were nice thin crunchy squares. I stored them in a box with a pack of silica to wick away humidity and keep them crispy. These can easily last a week or more like that if needed.

Carrot Pickle

Like any good barbecue plate this one needs a tart crunchy element, like pickles and fresh veggies. The pickles here are tiny spheres of carrots made with a parisienne scoop, the tiniest melon baller you can imagine. Just like any other vinegar pickle the vegetables are soaked in a hot mixture of vinegar, water and sugar and allowed to cool and chill for a couple of days. The other vegetable topping are also tiny cucumber balls and small cubes of red bell pepper.

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Corn and barbecue is a delicious combo, maybe on the cob, creamed or corn bread. Here we have creamy rich grits that combines almost all three. Maybe a few charred corn kernels would have been nice too. Chef Achatz actually uses yellow polenta but I had some good South Carolina stone-ground grits. So I cooked those in water and stirred in butter and mascarpone.

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For the pork, I made a mixture of sugar, salt and a healthy dose of smoked paprika and chipotle powder. The paprika along with chipotle gives the meat a good smoky-spicy flavor. After several hours in the fridge I washed the meat off and then cooked it sous vide for 4 hours at 85C. To finish I cut the meat into even  2 inch squares and seared them gently . I topped them with 4 tiny balls of the vegetables and 2 squares of the bell pepper. Balancing a square of the tuile on top of the vegetables is a tricky thing but I managed to get most on there and under the broiler. The broiler quickly melts the squares of barbecue sugar and coats the meat and vegetable cubes.

Pork Belly

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To serve I put in a dollop on the grits and topped it with a cube of the glazed pork. A few leaves of fresh oregano and it is done. The flavor is rich, spicy and sweet with lots of crunch. the grits work great to tone down the sharp flavors and for that great creamy element. It is labor-intensive but it’s one hell of an impressive looking and tasting bite. It went perfectly with a home-brewed red rye ale. Cheers!

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Under Pressure: Glazed Breast of Pork with Swiss Chard, White-Wine-Poached Granny Smith Apples, and Green Mustard Vinaigrette

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A bit more complicated to make than those delicious pork buns is this dish from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure using the second chunk of the pork belly I had. Pork and apples is a classic combination that always works well. On top of that we have strong sweet-tart flavors and sharp mustard with chard to round up a very unctuous and rich dish. As usual with these dishes I split the prep over a few days and it worked very well even if the plating was not quiet as ideal as the book picture.

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To start I soaked the pork belly in a spiced brine that has some cure #1 (Sodium Nitrite) overnight to give it a cured flavor and color (like bacon). I packaged the meat with chicken stock and some herbs then cooked it sous vide at 82 C until very tender, about 12 hours. Here the goal is to go for a very tender texture not something like a steak texture. When the meat was cooked I really should have figured out a way to lay it very flat and weigh it down to get a nice even flat block. Instead I just chilled it and kept it in the fridge until ready to serve.

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Thomas Keller’s recipe asks for a specific kind of mustard, green apple mustard. It is something you can find online. However, I figured why not make something on my own. It is most likely not the same thing but will be delicious never the less and is all mine! I’ve made mustard condiment before and I like a simple recipe from John Currence’s book Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey. So I used that recipe as a guideline and started by poaching Granny Smith apple slices in Apfelwein (homemade apple wine) until the apples were tender and most of the wine evaporated. More apple wine (Currence’s recipe uses Guinness; also an excellent version) and apple cider vinegar are also used to soak a bunch of mustard seeds overnight.

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The next day, I simmered a mixture of mustard powder, honey, turmeric, salt and pepper in more apple wine and apple cider vinegar. I added the soaked mustard seeds and allowed them to simmer for a few minutes. To finish it up, I pureed most of the seeds along with the cooked apples and left the remainder of the seeds whole to mix in and add some texture. I ended up with a delicious mustard that is great on anything from vinaigrettes to sandwiches.

Using a melon baller, I prepared several spheres from Granny Smith apples. I packaged those along with a poaching syrup (sugar, apple wine, water…) and cooked them sous vide at 85 C for 30 minutes until tender but keeping their shape. After cooling they went in the fridge as well.

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I was really hoping for three different chard colors but of course the one time I go to Whole Foods to buy some they only had red and green. So two colors it is. I separated the leaved from the stems and trimmed the stems. The leaves get coarsely chopped. I cooked the stems packaged with herbs and oil at 85 C for 1.5 hours. Then I trimmed them into 2 inch long batons. These get seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper and warmed up right before serving.

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The chard leaves get turned into an intense side for the pork. I cooked them with aromatics, butter, a chunk of bacon and vegetable stock. After the greens cook in the oven for about 30 minutes or so I cooled them a bit then finely chopped them.

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Last item to prepare is the green mustard vinaigrette. It’s just a mixture of the apple mustard, Dijon mustard, honey, olive  oil and a touch of vinegar. To serve, I reheated the pork in the pouch at 55 C, removed the meat from the bag and patted it dry. I crisped and browned the pork in a skillet but I did have a few issues keeping the pieces flat and even. Turning them frequently alleviated some of the issues. I used a mixture of the pork cooking juices from the bag along with butter, wine and some stock to make a quick pan sauce for the pork. I added the pork pieces to the pan with the sauce and got them nicely glazed.

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To serve, on a plate goes a few drizzles of the vinaigrette and the pork pan sauce. Top that with a piece of meat and line up three apple balls along the side. The marinated chard stems go on the apple and a neat Swiss chard oval goes next to the pork. It’s delicious, a refined dish with a lot of rustic flavors going on from France to the American South with all those earthy bacon-y greens.

 

Pork Belly Buns

Pork Belly-Cucumber-OnionsWhen Jason from Yonder Way Farm asked me if I want the pork belly pieces he had on hand as I was picking up some meat from him my instant response was “well, of course I do!” These are nice slabs of about 5 lbs each and around 2 inches thick. I only wish they came skin on. I cooked a few things with the first slab and the other one is still sitting in the freezer.

This first dish is the simplest and straight from Momofuku cookbook. I cured a piece of the pork in a mixture of salt and sugar overnight. Then I cooked sous vide at 75 C for about 12 hours. It got chilled and sat in the fridge until dinner time a couple of days later.

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I was thinking of making my own buns for this but timing just did not work out. Besides I was at the Asian grocery store that day and they had a good selection of these things in a couple of different sizes. So all I had to do was steam them and they were good to go. Last thing to prepare, while steaming the buns, is the instant “pickles”. These are really more like marinated cucumbers. Thin sliced cucumbers are tossed in some sugar and salt. They sit for 15 to 30 minutes are good to go.

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Get the pork sliced and crisped a bit and tuck into a soft steamed bun along with hoisin sauce, sriracha (or sliced jalapenos or both!), sliced green onions and some of those marinated cucumbers.

Chicken, Preserved Lemon and Freekeh

Dish 3 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features chicken and some delicious grains

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Jamie Oliver likes to call this “Lebanese Chicken” for some reason. I love his recipe for this dish but it certainly it does not come off as Lebanese to me, more North African maybe. Either way it is delicious. The chicken is tossed with flour heavily spiced with cumin along with a touch of cinnamon and allspice. It is then seared in olive oil and braised in a mixture of preserved lemon, garlic, onions and white wine.

That alone makes for a nice east-west kind of braise but take it one step further and it is more special. In addition to the aromatics, the chicken is cooked on top of Freekeh in the potThis is an ancient grain used in traditional middle-eastern and some European cuisines. It is really just wheat that has been harvested while green and set on fire to remove the skin or chafe. As a result it has a sweet smoky flavor to go along with a nice toothsome texture. In the Lebanese mountains (ah! that’s where Oliver’s Lebanese name for the recipe must come from) Freekeh was considered a staple of the pantry before the introduction of rice. Thanks to the newish interest in all kinds of ancient, artisan and heirloom grains Freekeh is enjoying more popularity among chefs and home cooks. That is a good thing because it is awesome.

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The plate needed some more green in it. So I prepared a quick honey-lemon dressing that I tossed some salad greens in. To gild the lily a bit more I also drizzled a sauce of yogurt, cilantro and lime on the chicken. This went very well with the assertive and rich flavors of this dish. It was still winter-fall food but had a nice sharp and refreshing flavor while at the same time remained light.

Mugaritz: Dried Tomato Salad, a Bunch of Garlic Cloves and Herbs

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Soaking a fruit or a vegetable in pickling lime or Calcium Hydroxide is a theme in the Mugaritz book. Soaking any vegetable in a mixture of water and pickling lime binds the cellulose and makes the fruit firm. The longer it is soaked the harder a shell it forms. The reason pickling lime is sold is -as the name suggest- keep those bread and butter pickles from getting mushy in the pickling liquid. Vegetables soaked in lime can withstand a good bit of cooking while remaining firm and never turning mushy. Chef Aduriz uses it in many recipes from making “calcified” branches of salsify to the traditional candied pumpkin cubes. The flavors here are very familiar. We have tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and herbs but the texture and look are certainly not what your typical tomato salad is like.

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I blanched the tomatoes and peeled them first. I then soaked them in a mixture of water and pickling lime for several hours. The lime has a tendency to settle, so I needed to stir it every so often. By the end of the soaking time you could feel how firm and rough the tomatoes are on the outside. Next step is to cook them in a mixture of sugar and water.

After the tomatoes are cooked they get hollowed out from and all the soft pulp is removed. It’s pretty cool to see how the inside is still all soft and pulpy but the entire outside is basically a tomato shell with the texture of a soft-ish apple. It really could be battered and fried at this point and it would not fall apart. We do not fry it though. Instead the tomato shells go in a very low oven to dry for several hours. By the end of the drying time the tomatoes are like giant hollow deep red raisins!

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While the tomatoes were dehydrating I worked on the filling and the garlic. The filling is made from large beefsteak tomatoes. The recipe had some slightly vague instructions to roast the tomatoes over fresh coals. I decided to broil them and roast them instead to get some char on them and also get them very soft. When fully cooked I got rid of the seeds and mixed the tomato pulp with olive oil, salt, minced garlic to form a good emulsion.

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To go with the tomato salad we have a whole boatload of slow roasted garlic cloves. This is just like it sounds. Gently roast garlic heads wrapped in foil in the oven until soft and deliciously sweet. I peeled them and tossed them with a good amount of olive oil.

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To plate, I stuffed the tomato shells with the tomato emulsion mixture and “closed” each one with a reserved tomato stem. a bunch of garlic cloves go on the side along with a few small herbs. I whipped the dressing from olive oil, cider vinegar, white miso and parsley and drizzled it all over the salad. It goes without saying that the flavors are excellent together. The texture was terrific and new. The tomatoes were not like sun-dried tomatoes but had a nice soft chew to them that was very nice. I was worried that the syrup the tomatoes are cooked in would make them too sweet but that was not the case. The flavors were perfectly balanced with mild sweetness, acidity, very deep tomato flavor (from all the roasting, drying and concentrating) and fragrant garlic and herbs.

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