Noma: Pig Belly and Potato Skins, Cep Oil and Wood Chips

Cooking with woodchips and hay (yeah, hay) might seem way weird at first glance. My 8-year old was beyond shocked when I told him that I am buying hay at the pet store (all natural packaged and never used hay that is) to use in cooking  at home. He kept asking and double checking that I am not messing with him. He finally believed me when I covered a baking dish filled with small potatoes with hay and stuck it in the oven. If we really pause and think about this though, it makes sense. Usually stuff like hay or, more commonly, wood chips (oak, charred oak) are used as flavorings in many products. The wood barrels, charred or not, are exactly how products like Bourbon, Scotch and wine are aged and get their distinctive look and taste. Brewers add charred wood chips to stouts and porters all the time for their unique flavor. So why not use some wood chips to flavor a sauce that will be served with a rich piece of pork belly? Hay has been used to cook ham in it for a few centuries as well. I believe this is a classic British preparation where ham is fully covered in hay and baked/boiled. Ryan at “Nose to Tail at Home” prepared a version of that from Fergus Henderson’s book. The process gently steams the meat and flavors it with its unique aroma. All these flavors match perfectly with pork, mushrooms and potatoes to create a lovely and comforting dish.

The chef at Noma in Copenhagen uses all kinds of interesting ingredients in his flavor profiles including oak chips, spruce, hay and ash (as in burnt and powdered vegetable matter). His cooking is fiercely local and when your locale is cold northern Denmark you really do not have access to so many of the ingredients we take for granted these days like tomatoes, olive oil, chocolate…Still Chef Redzepi manages to coax flavor from products, both wild and cultivated. He obviously knows what he is doing because he produces beautiful thoughtful food and Noma is named the “Best Restaurant in The World” for the second year in a row. In this dish he combines braised de-boned pork tails with hay-steamed small potatoes and a sauce made from stock, cep mushrooms (porcinis) and flavored with applewood chips.

I did not have any pig tails for this, but I did just make some smoked bacon (two versions this time: maple and brown sugar) and I had a few pieces of thin pork belly that did not get cured. Speaking of bacon, here are a couple of nice shots of said cured bellies. You can also see some of the Canadian bacon I smoked along with the regular bacon

I bagged the pork -I pretty much buy all my pork from Yonder Way Farm these days, it really is great stuff- with some home-brewed stout, thyme, butter-sauteed vegetables and stock then cooked them sous vide for a few hours. The cooking liquid is then strained and reduced to a glaze to finish the pork.

Redzepi uses two kinds of small potatoes, a purple one and a yellow one. These are baked gently under a few handfuls of hay. When done, I cut each in half and scooped most of the flesh out. Right before serving the potatoes are heated up in a water and butter emulsion and plated. The water had some toasted wood chips soaked in it to flavor it before whisking in the butter. The sauce for the dish is a clear mushroom bouillon made by simmering sautéed mushrooms and vegetables in chicken stock. The resulting stock is then clarified using the traditional method for making consomme (i:e using egg whites). The clear liquid is then reduced to about a cup. To further flavor the already very tasty bouillon, a few applewood chips are toasted and then soaked in it for 10 minutes. Lastly, birch wine is supposed to be added in as well. I had none and could not find any at local stores. So, I decided to just go by my own taste and seasoned the bouillon with my homemade maple vinegar. It worked very nicely.

Another two items emphasize the cep flavor, an oil and powdered ceps. Redzepi uses fresh porcini trimmings to make the oil. These are very hard to find and expensive. The dried version though is available everywhere and makes a great substitute in an application like this one. The oil is just heated up and the dried mushrooms are steeped in it. The cep powder is just dried mushrooms pulverized in my spice grinder. That would be the dust-like substance all over the plate. All in all this was a delicious dish to welcome Autumn. It’s rich, full of roasted umami tastes, mushrooms and rustic flavors. The wood chips do add a nice mild flavor. The hay…not too sure honestly. I think that might be more noticeable if the dish they are cooked in includes a lot of liquid, like the ham in hay dish I linked to above. As a cooking medium for the potatoes, I do not think they contributed much.

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Noma: Vegetable Garden

This was a first attempt to cook a recipe from Noma as closely as possible to how it’s written in the book. I made a sort-of Noma recipe before and loved the focus on the vegetables. They are cooked perfectly and presented simply. This particular recipe caught my attention from the first time I flipped through the book. It’s little more than a selection of vegetables and a base of mashed potatoes (and soil). Nothing too weird or difficult, except the final dish looks like a small vegetable garden complete with soil and all. I would love to serve this dish with small rabbit chops along side the vegetables…bunnies in the garden.

Redzepi uses a selection of root and green vegetables for his dish including celery root, leeks, sunchokes, baby zucchini and parsley root. I did not stick to that listing verbatim, but picked what seemed nice and fresh at the store. My list consisted of:

  • Beets – Roasted with salt and butter in foil, then peeled and cut into small segments
  • Thin carrots (with tops) – Cooked sous vide with salt at 85 C for about 45 minutes, tops reserved for garnish
  • Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem Artichokes) – Cooked sous vide with butter at 85 C for about 1.5 hours. They retained a nice firm texture while fully cooked.
  • Leeks – Used the smaller inner portion and blanched in salted water
  • Asparagus – blanched in salted water
  • Cauliflower – Florets cooked sous vide with salt at 85 C for about 45 minutes

The soil component of the dish is made from ground hazelnuts, flour, beer, malt flour and butter. It is seasoned with salt and sugar. The soil is made in two “installments” over a period of two days. Ingredients are mixed in, dried in the oven for hours and crumbled. The next day another set of ingredients goes through the same treatment before the two get combined. The idea is that the end result should look like dark rich soil and have a nice crunchy texture to complement the soft vegetables and the mashed potatoes. My soil did have that nice texture and very deep and rich taste, but unlike the recipe picture in the book it is much lighter in color. It looks more like sand than soil I guess. That malt flour might be the reason why the color was off. I could not find it anywhere and resorted to using a mixture of flour and malt powder.

The last component is a straightforward potato puree flavored with horseradish and enriched with butter and cream. The quantity in the book for the potato puree is a bit too small so I just tripled it. To plate, the mashed potatoes go in first as a base. After heating the vegetables in a butter-water emulsion, they get “planted” in the potatoes and the soil covers the whole thing up. For a garnish, I used carrot-top leaves, garlic shoots and parsley leaves. This was a delicious, satisfying and beautiful plate of food.

Barley Miso Porridge, Soft Cheese, Vegetables

Aesthetically, this dish needs work, but I am extremely proud of how delicious it was. The flavors popped and worked brilliantly together. It was fresh, healthy and refined. Cooking from the NOMA cookbook is not an easy feat. NOMA in Copenhagen is the new “Best Restaurant in the World”. Rene Redzepi’s cuisine is fiercely local, and in Scandinavia local means sea buckthorn, spruce, dulse seaweed, bulrushes and whole bunch of other wild edibles. This recipe is by no means from that book, but it was inspired by a recipe from it. I already had the purple and yellow carrots on hand and was wondering how to best serve them in a vegetarian dish and while flipping through the Noma book, which focuses a lot on vegetables, I came across the recipe he calls “Vegetables from Lammefjorden, Sea Buckthorn and Gooseberries“. No sea buckthorn or gooseberries for me at this time. So, I stole the idea for the custardy fresh cheese combined with perfectly cooked vegetables (that are definitely not from Lammefjorden) and a brown butter-chicken glace sauce.

Here are the vegetables I used (Lots of washing, peeling and chopping…good vegetarian food is a lot of work):

Purple Carrots, peeled but left whole and bagged with butter, salt and a teaspoon or so of sugar. Cooked sous vide at 85C for about 1.5 hours.

Yellow Carrots, peeled but left whole and bagged with butter, salt and a couple of teaspoons of honey. Cooked sous vide at 85C for about 1.5 hours.

Leeks, cut into 2 inch rounds and oven-braised with butter, water and Oloroso sherry. Before serving they were seared over high heat.

Cabbage, cut into thin wedges and blanched in salty water then refreshed in an ice bath. Heated in beurre monte (butter/water emulsion) before serving.

Swiss chard, inner smaller leaves blanched in salty water then refreshed in an ice bath. Heated in beurre monte (butter/water emulsion) before serving.

The base for the dish is a porridge of sorts, but not a mushy gruel, rather its grains are distinct and the flavors are fresh and savory. This is based on Heston Blumenthal’s famous dish from the Fat Duck. He uses regular rolled oats and tosses them in a mixture of parsley butter. Auldo from “The Big Fat Undertaking” blog cooked and wrote about it here. I used barley because I love its texture and flavor. I also made my own parsley butter sauce that uses a good dose of umami-rich Miso to complement all the vegetables in the dish. The end result is fantastic and I will definitely be making this as a side dish or a starch for future meals. The recipe for it is posted at the end of this entry.

The fresh cheese is from the Noma recipe. It’s made from milk, cream, buttermilk and rennet. It’s allowed to set at a very low temperature until it resembles very soft tofu. To serve, it is just spooned on top of the porridge. The other component from the Noma recipe is the brown butter sauce. That’s made from reduced chicken stock, brown butter, balsamic vinegar, shallots and parsley.

 

Barley Porridge with Parsley-Miso Butter

Barley:

  • 1/2 Cup pearl barley
  • A 3 inch piece of leek, mostly from the greener part
  • Sprinkle of salt

Parlsey-Miso Butter:

  • About a half bunch chopped parlsey
  • 1/2 of a small shallot, chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Shiro Miso (white or more like blond Miso)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • About 1/4 cup hot water
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter

Put the barley in a pot with plenty of water and bring to a rolling boil. Drain the barley and put them back in the pot with the leek and salt and cover with about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and cover. cook on a gentle heat until tender, about 20-25 minutes. When done there should be very little or no water left. The barley should be tender but with a toothsome texture. If not, add a little more water and cook a bit longer.

Make the Parsley-Miso butter by pureeing everything together until as smooth as possible. Pass through a sieve if you want to but I did not.

Finish the porridge by mixing in the Parsley-Miso butter while the barley is very warm and serve it immediately. The barley can be made a day or two ahead of time. In that case heat it in the pot with a couple fo tablespoons of water before mixing in the parsley-Miso butter.