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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Prawn Linguini: Modernist Pasta, Rich Shrimp Sauce

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Jamie Oliver is one of the first ever chef/celebrity who I’ve learned a lot from early on and still really enjoy using his books and cooking style as an inspiration. His recipes rarely disappoint and I think his passion is infectious. This is a dish that sounds so 80’s from his Jamie’s Comfort Food book. However, when properly prepared there is no doubt that it falls under the heading “classic”.

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The instigator to making this dish was my mom. I asked her what she wanted me to cook for dinner one day so she can take a break and she mentioned shrimp. After looking through a couple of my books she immediately decided on this one upon seeing the picture. After all it combines two of her favorite food groups, pasta and shrimp.

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Homemade pasta, a wonderful food, can be a simple flour+egg mixture and lots of times that’s what I do. The ratio of flour to egg, using whole egg as opposed to yolks or maybe a combination of yolks, whites and even oil and water. I’ve been messing with the Modernist Cuisine pasta dough for a while now and really like it. It has a nice al dente texture when cooked. Due to a the small percentage of Xanthan gum in there it is very easy to work with without sticking or requiring too much additional flour. It is not really “better” than the traditional pasta dough, just different. Actually, I much prefer a classic dough if making filled pasta like Agnolotti for example. This version works very well here when you want a sturdy, snappy noodle that is still tender and rich. It is another process and cooking technique that has its place in my kitchen.  

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I include the recipe for the pasta dough in the bottom of this post. It is not a direct lift from Modernist Cuisine, rather it is adapted from the Modernist Cuisine at Home book with a few changes including the incorporation of semolina in the mix. It works very well but I will probably change something next time I make it. That’s the nature of cooking, change, evolve, test and then do it again. There is almost always room for improvement or customization. An  idea could be to include different flours instead of semolina depending on the sauce, like buckwheat or rye or corn flour….

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The other half of this recipe is the sauce, a rich a deeply flavorful one based on shrimp shell stock. I peeled the shrimp and de-veined them. The shells get sautéed in olive oil with onions. These get cooked with saffron threads, wine, canned tomatoes and anchovies for an extra briny kick. The sauce gets pureed and very well strained. This beautiful shrimp sauce is now ready to go into the final dish.

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As the pasta is cooking away I sautéed some garlic and very thinly sliced fennel in olive oil. Earlier when I cleaned the prawns, I chopped most of them and some were left whole for a nice garnish. When the vegetables are soft, I added the prawns and a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes. Last, in goes the prawn sauce. To finish, I toss the al dente cooked pasta in the prawn sauce mixture, plate in warmed plates and garnish with fresh fennel fronds and the whole tail-on large shrimp. Truly a luxurious, delicious and comforting dish.

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Modernist Pasta Dough

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

  • 600 gr. All Purpose Flour
  • 30 gr. Semolina Flour
  • 210 gr. Eggs
  • 6.2 gr. Xanthan Gum
  • 120 gr. Water
  • 37.5 gr. Olive Oil
  • 24 gr. Vital Wheat Gluten
  • 6 gr. Salt

Mix in a stand mixer and allow to hydrate for an hour before rolling and cutting.

Striped Bass and Oyster on an Edible Beach

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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.

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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.

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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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