Alinea: BOAR, Shallot, Cider, Burning Oak Leaves

Fall is finally here -more or less I suppose- and changing the way I cook is natural. Even if I can find tomatoes and peppers well into November and December I still prefer to cook more “orange” and “brown” stuff. It makes me and Diana happy to pick up some winter squashes or sweet potatoes and start cooking with them. This dish has neither but it just smells and tastes like fall.

The biggest pain in the neck in this dish was finding a suitable oak twig. It’s supposed to be fall leaves, nice and orange-brown. Well in Houston you can typically only find green or dead brown. So I had to settle for somewhere in between. So I got a few twigs from one of the oaks that line a street close to work, the leaves are half brown half green, but overall not too bad. The recipe is pretty simple, a cube of meat (in the book he uses pheasant), a cube of apple cider gel and a piece of roasted shallot are skewered together on the sharpened oak twig. These are then dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried.

The cider gel is made with granny smith apples, some sugar and apple cider all cooked together with agar and pureed. It’s basically apple sauce until it is poured in a pan and allowed to cool. Then the agar turns it into a firm block. I cut it up into cubes and stored them in the fridge. The shallot confit is just shallots roasted with grape seed oil, salt and pepper. Then the shallots are peeled and cut into rough cubes. Last piece is the meat. I do not currently have pheasant, but I do have some wild boar still. So, I used a small loin. I cooked it sous vide bagged with butter and thyme. This was also cut up into cubes until serving time.

For the batter I deviated from the recipe and used the procedure from Modernist Cuisine. It’s the same process I used before to make Heston Blumenthal’s extra crispy fish and chips. The Blumenthal batter is a mixture of rice flour, all-purpose flour and vodka. You put that in an iSi whipping siphon and charge it with CO2. Right before using it to coat the meat, you dispense some batter into a small bowl and dip the meat in it. The batter will have so much air bubbles that it makes for an extra crispy-crunchy product. It’s important to point out here that frying the boar-cider-shallot skewer without dropping the whole twig in the hot oil is also tricky. I basically could only fry two at a time since I had to hold the oak twigs while the stuff on its tip fried. I wrapped the leaf end with aluminum foil to make them easier to handle while frying and to catch the splatter and this batter sure does splatter!

Last challenge in this “simple” recipe was plating. At Alinea they use a piece called the “octopus” to plate items like this one that has no base and need to stand upright. You can see it here in Allen’s Alinea book blog (he’s very dedicated and it sure shows). I was not going to buy or make anything like that. So, I made a thick sauce for the food thinking it will help it stay upright. It was a mixture of pickled mustard seeds, mayonnaise, mustard and maple vinegar. The sauce with the crunchy bite of food worked very well, but I cannot say that it made the plating that much easier.

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Wild Boar Loin, Puy Lentils and Apple-Port Sauce

 

It’s amazing how I manage to find more boar meat in my deep freezer overtime I look in there. I still have a couple of loins, some shoulders and maybe two hind (ham) legs. I see some boar sausage in my future, maybe Italian or Greek flavored…or some of each…we’ll see. Anyways, I took a package labeled boar loin from the freezer and what I thought was one whole loin was in fact more like a couple of pieces from two loins. Either way, the loins were too thin (think half the diameter of a pork TENDERloin) for what I wanted to do, so I knew I will be using some Activa, aka meat glue, to make a nice sized piece of meat.

I am currently in the middle of reading/studying the Modernist Cuisine collection of books and it is very much like drinking from a fire hose. There is so much information in there that deciding what to read and what to start with is a little intimidating. I figured I’ll look through the 70+ page index for pork and see if they have anything interesting I can use as an inspiration for the boar loins. The recipe for a leek-wrapped pork tenderloin fit the bill, but I did not follow it exactly since I did not have the time (Though I love the idea of using Activa to bind leeks that have been steamed with gelatin onto pork tenderloin). I just used the brine ratios from that recipe and added star anise to mine. Then I dusted the boar loins with Activa RM and wrapped them tightly into a cylinder shape along with thyme springs and garlic slivers. Using the Modernist Cuisine tables as a guide (those would be in volume 2 and in the Kitchen Manual as well), I cooked the meat sous vide and then seared it in grapeseed oil.

To serve it I boiled up some French Puy lentils and dressed them with sautéed leeks, a bit of cream and red wine vinegar. For the sauce, I cooked a cut up tart apple with port and beef stock. The stock is also a Modernist Cuisine recipe made in the pressure cooker and also includes port as a base flavor. When I got the exact flavor I wanted for the sauce, instead of reducing it to the proper consistency and risk it loosing its balance, I just thickened it with a very small amount of Xanthan gum. The gum has no taste and, if used correctly (less than 0.5% by weight of the sauce), makes a smooth perfectly thickened sauce and leaves no flavor of its own.

Wild Boar Loin with Onions and Raisins

It’s great to have what amounts to about three small wild hogs worth of meat in my freezer at this point. That includes several shoulders, a few hind legs (hams), 3 or 4 loins and some odds and ends. I am planning to use the meat in many recipes that call for good old pork. Wild boar is leaner and a little tougher than domesticated piggies but with some attention to cooking time and other details that should be no problem at all.

Paula Wolfert has several rustic recipes in her “Meditteranean Clay Pot Cooking” for pork and wild boar. That’s where this recipe comes from. It’s a pork loin, roasted on a bed of onions and raisins in a clay pot and flavored with vin de noix (homemade fortified green walnut wine), fennel and garlic. To marinate the meat I pounded together a mixture of garlic, fennel, sage and salt. I also added some lemon juice for acidity and flavor and marinated the wild boar loin for a longer period of time than the recipe specifies (about 8 hours as opposed to 1).

For the onion mixture, I sliced them thinly and mixed them with vin de noix, red wine vinegar and salt. These were then baked with raisins in a clay cazuela until translucent. I am not sure what the end result is supposed to look like, but the onions never really softened up and caramelized. Instead they were  more of pickled and a bit crisp and the whole mixture is sort if like an intense chutney. The marinated meat goes on top of the onion mixture and then back to the oven to roast until it reaches an internal temp of 145 F. I served the dish with potato cakes made with boiled mashed yukon gold potatoes, eggs, parsley and chives then pan fried till crispy. The meat turned out great, juicy and mild. It was perfect with the tangy onion-raisin relish and the soft and crispy potato cakes.