Historic Heston: The Meat Fruit Mandarin

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Historic Heston is chef Heston Blumenthal’s tome to historic British recipes. It is really a gorgeous book, hefty and lushly bound, illustrated and photographed. Chef has been fascinated by old recipes dating as far back as the 14th century that he finds in old British cookery (cookery, love that word for some reason!) books. He then extensively researches them, updates them and most end up on his menu at his restaurant Dinner in London.

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Meat Fruit is probably one of the most famous of such dishes. Curious about other recipes with fascinating names? How about Powdered Goose or Sambocade or Taffety Tart? Well, back to the Meat Fruit, a name that Diana hates even if she loved the actual dish. The idea here is to make mandarin that when sliced into appears to be not a fruit at all. It’s an orb of rich chicken liver mousse with a “skin” made of orange. This is the only such recipe that Blumenthal provides for Meat Fruit but he does mention other variations like a sausage mixture made to look like grapes or apples.

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It’s a relatively easy process to make the mandarins once the chicken liver parfait is prepared and piped into hemisphere molds. The molds are frozen solid and each two hemispheres are then combined to form a neat sphere. Each sphere is wrapped tight and put back in the freezer waiting for the next step.

Mandarin Puree

To make the “skin” of the mandarin I combined a mixture of mandarin puree, gelatin (a whole lot of gelatin sheets), glucose and a touch of paprika for color. I made my own mandarin puree by cooking several of the quartered fruit (peel and all) Sous Vide until they were soft. I blitzed them in the blender to make a smooth puree. I put the frozen parfait spheres on skewers and used that to dip them into the mandarin jelly two times.

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After every dip in the mix the spheres went into the fridge to set for a few minutes. I do think maybe my jelly was a bit thicker than Blumenthal intended. My mandarins’ skin came out a bit thicker than it should be. At this point the chicken liver mandarins need to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the parfait can thaw and soften for service. The final touch, right before serving is to put a small twig into each “fruit” to give it a nice realistic look.

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Twigs

The finished meat fruit look very convincing and just damn cool. These are not just gimmicks though. I’ve already talked about how delicious the chicken liver parfait is and now with the sharp citrusy mandarin skin it is a complete package. I toasted some good bread (sourdough and brioche), rubbed the slices with herb oil and cut into the Meat Fruit. I cannot think of too many appetizers as impressive as this. It’s a dish that has a rich history, it looks stunning, it’s whimsical and simply delicious.

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Under Pressure: Calf’s Heart Confit, Toasted Pecans, Cherries, Baby Beets

If we are going to kill and eat animals, we really should try to utilize as much of the carcass as possible. Only eating the “good parts” is very wasteful and disrespectful to the critter that died so we can eat. I do believe that, but I have to admit that offal cuts can be challenging. Most of these alternative cuts need some work to make them tasty or to render them tender enough to chew. Some cuts I absolutely love, like the sweetbreads, pig tails and liver if done properly and with care. Other pieces I am not crazy about but I still would eat them (kidneys?) and to this day I still have never prepared tripe at home due to the smell, but I really enjoy it when my grandmother prepares it. Heart falls somewhere in that middle category, I do not like it that much.

That’s a bit odd since one would think that since heart is one big muscle it should be less challenging. However, to me it tastes too minerally and has a strong “organ” taste. I suppose since all it does is pump blood 24/7 that should not be that surprising. That strong taste is also why heart goes so well with sharp flavors like a garlic lemon sauce for chicken or lamb heart or a tart vinegar sauce for beef or pork.

When I saw my local meat vendor has calf heart I figured I’ll order one and try this Thomas Keller recipe. It’s a very good and substantial salad of sorts. The heart is thoroughly cleaned, brined and cooked sous vide after being packaged with a generous dose of duck fat. It is then sliced thinly and reheated in some of the rendered fat right before serving. Keller uses baby turnips in the salad. I rarely see those at the market, but small yellow beets are usually available. These get cooked sous vide as well and then glazed in a little butter and chicken stock. The cherries are pitted and get marinated/pickled in a spiced red wine. The last garnish is the glazed pecans. These are blanched in boiling water, dried and then sautéed in butter and seasoned with smoked salt. To serve, the plate gets a drizzle of balsamic vinegar first, and the meat is arranged on top along with the rest of the garnishes. A lightly dressed arugula salad finishes it off.

Under Pressure: Fried Pig Tail, Deviled Quail Egg, Beans and Sauce Ravigote

 

Making something delicious out of “scraps” is one of the pleasures of cooking. It’s simple to make a piece of steak or a chop appetizing, but transforming an admittedly ugly-looking piece of pig – a tail in this case- into a dish worthy of a classy fine dining restaurant needs technique and some creativity. So, when a friend of mine gave me a couple of tails from two fat farm raised pigs, I turned to Thomas Keller for guidance. The tails can be just boiled and fried and they will be good, but I knew no one else in my household would eat them. I needed to transform those tails to a very appetizing and fun dish. Keller’s recipe in Under Pressure does exactly that.

First I dealt with the tails. These were not just the tails, but also some meat and fat attached to them from the top of the pig’s back. So I knew I can have more than just two servings from the two tails by using some of that meat. Raw, the tails and their attached meat/skin/fat looked like small sting rays. The tails were bagged in FoodSaver bags with a mixture of chicken stock, herbs, white wine, onions and carrots. I cooked them at 85C (185 F) for about 10 hours. At the end of the cooking time, the tails were very tender (both meat and skin). The tails can be cooked in a pot with a larger amount of liquid of course. However, cooking the tails sous vide at a perfectly controlled temperature guarantees that while the meat and skin gets thoroughly cooked, the skin does not rip or crack. This is very important for the next step. Additionally you do  not get too much flavor loss to the surrounding liquid because in the bags the tails are surrounded by a relatively small amount of liquid and lots of aromatics.

While the pig tails are still very warm, they need to be deboned. It is much easier than it sounds and so worth it because, picking at tiny tail bones in a plated dish like this is not a fun experience. Besides, my little touch to the Keller dish, this way we can stuff the tails! I used a very sharp paring knife and slit the tails lengthwise. I then opened them like a book and removed the bones in one piece. It was very easy and the skin remained intact. The idea is to then season and reform the tails, now boneless, into neat rolls. The concentrated cooking liquid from the bags can be used to moisten them and, due to its high collagen content, set them into perfect cylinders. Before doing all that, I shredded the meat from the extra tail “attachments” and chopped some of the skin very finely. That meat is juicy and collagen rich already, but I also moistened it with a little cooking liquid from the bags. I used some of that mixture to stuff into the boneless tails before tightly wrapping them with plastic wrap into rolls. With the rest of the meat mixture I made faux-tails. I just formed three rough cylinders and then used plastic wrap to make a tight neat roll with each of them giving me a total of five “tails” for dinner. After thoroughly chilling those rolls they were completely solidified and ready to fry up. Frying the tails is pretty straight forward. They get the classic flour, egg wash, fine panko crumbs treatment. Twice. Then they are fried till golden and crispy.

The rest of the dish is simple. For the eggs I boiled the quail eggs and mixed the yolks with creme fraiche, paprika and salt. The filling was then supposed to be piped back into the whites using a small bag with a start tip. unfortunately, the star tip that I have is too big for the little quail eggs. So I sacrificed a bit of the aesthetic and used a small plastic ziplock bag with no decorating tip. The eggs were delicious and I had to save 4 of them for the plating before my 4-year old stole and ate them all. At one bite each, he could’ve finished off a whole dozen. Keller specifies the flat Romano beans for this dish. I can never find those. So I used regular green beans. I blanched them and sliced them very thinly on a bias. The beans get tossed with a shallot vinaigrette. I also needed a little frisee for plating but did not find any at my local store and did not have the time to go shopping for it. I used some spring greens instead. These were tossed with a simple vinaigrette as well.

Last but not least, I made a ravigote sauce. It’s made with Dijon mustard, olive oil, white wine vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper. Everyone loved this dish. Granted, the kids ate mostly the “faux tails” but my 7-year old, seemed to get a kick out of knowing that he was eating pig tails. It sure made me proud. It really worked out very well and looked great. The  delicious rich, unctuous and very porky meat went perfectly with the tart flavors of the sauce. The skin was very tender and contrasted great with the meat inside and the crispy panko crumb shell encasing it. The beans added more sharp tastes and a great vegetable crunch. The eggs acted more of a tasty garnish and I ate mine before the rest fo the components.