Monday, December 15, 2008

All Kinds Of Crazy

I was in the city for the weekend, doing a bunch of errandy things, and having a nice dinner with Kris & Ken. They very kindly gave me the Alinea cookbook as a late birthday present, and I was overjoyed. Other weekend highlights included picking up a whole lot of wine- details to follow shortly- dropping off my La Pavoni to get fixed, and, best of all, finally getting the bug Milo had last week and doing a 3 AM impression of a Swedish TV host.

On my way out of town, I stopped at Mitsuwa and loaded up on goodies. It's a great place, and it was hard to keep myself from buying many, many more things than we needed. They've got sashimi-grade fish as well, so I grabbed mackerel, octopus, black cod, and a small piece of o-toro in addition to the noodles, miso, mirin, fresh yuzu(!) and several other treats. I wish it were a little closer to us, but in a way it's good that it isn't.

The combination of the Alinea book and all these ingredients got me all fired up with ideas, so dinner ended up being kind of special. I may well make the things in the book, but for now it just did what a great cookbook does and got me excited. I think Achatz's genius is above all for keeping the mad science perpetually in the service of flavor, texture, and presentation; it's never there for its own sake (I have not eaten there, but have talked to some of the lucky ones who have.) So, in my own haphazard way, I tried to combine things into dishes that would be highly tasty, pretty, and original. I used some of the fancy powders I bought for Thanksgiving, but tried to do so in a way where they wouldn't be too noticeable.

O-toro was easiest; it's such a gorgeous ingredient that it needs little tinkering. I served it Nobu-style with jalapeño and homemade ponzu (though he does this with yellowtail.) A perfect first course, it's decadent yet clean, and gets the mouth's attention.

Next up was the octopus. I'm not sure I've ever cooked it before, and I know it can be tough, so I tried poaching it, cut in pieces, in olive oil on very low heat for about an hour while I prepared the other components. I love the Spanish Pulpo a la Gallega, but I had Japan on the brain- so I tried to make a dish that split the difference. I caramelized sliced shiitake with garlic and deglazed with sherry (flamed) and then tosa soy sauce, and I baked halved blue potatoes in their skins, peeled them, and cut them into thick rounds. Then I made a sauce which I hoped would tie everything together. It was basically a vinaigrette of yuzu juice, olive oil, saffron, paprika, and shichimi with a little sake and mirin (alcohol burned off) plus a dribble of agave syrup. I emulsified it with a little lecithin, then thickened it to a mayonnaise-like consistency with Ultratex 8. An immersion blender in a wide-mouth mason jar is my device of choice for the small amounts of these sauces that I make.

Just before serving, I sizzled the potatoes in a little of the octopus poaching oil and then fried the end of the tentacle for a garnish. I have to say, this one was pretty good. The oil-poaching did exactly what I had hoped; the octopus was firm, yet tender, and not at all rubbery. The sauce was a winner, and the potatoes and mushrooms added some heft and umami respectively. The wife loved this one, and grabbed the crunchy tentacle tip from me after I took the picture. Then she ate all the rest of the octopus pieces out of the bowl by the stove.

Last up, the mackerel. I wanted to do it two ways- raw and cooked- and thought for a while about what kinds of things would go with each treatment. I've been wanting to make a duck prosciutto broth for a while, and figured it would match well with the oily, sweet raw mackerel. So I simmered some older, stiffer bits of our duck ham with a few slices of fresh lemongrass in water for about half an hour, then strained it and let it cool. I added a little salt, and gave it a blast with .1% xanthan to give it a little body. I grated a black radish from the garden (above freezing today!) and fried little lotus root chips cut from a fresh root from yesterday's splurge. The raw half was thin slices of fish, garnished with radish and topped with crisp little chips, in the prosciutto-lemongrass sauce.

Then, the cooked part. I had simmered some candied ginger to soften it for use in the last course; originally I had planned to finish this meal with black cod and miso- another Nobu specialty- but after course three we decided to let it marinate until tomorrow (since the marinade is mostly sake, it's not going to spoil.) I had saved the ginger water, though, and it came in handy for this. We had some baked butternut rounds left from the other night, and half a can of coconut milk, and I puréed them with the ginger water in which I had dissolved some agar. This mixture, strained into a pyrex baking dish, went in the fridge to set. The fish got cooked very simply: a gentle sizzle in some of the octopus oil, followed by a splash of mirin and then steaming under a lid until just cooked through. I put the cooked fish on a rectangle of coconut-squash gel, dressed it with a little of the pan juice, and garnished it with cacao nibs.

This one was really good. I had a feeling it was all going to work, but it exceeded my expectations. The raw one needs one more little kick- truffle oil in the radish, and a little soy in the sauce would do it- but the cooked part was amazingly good. Everything harmonized and played off the strong qualities of the fish in fascinating ways. A green element would be nice, though, and next time I'm going to add a dusting of spirulina to finish it. I almost opened a beer to go with this meal, but decided to give myself one more day to recover from the weekend. Pairing wines with these would be good fun. All in the name of science, of course.


Heather said...

You're not a huge fan of o-sake, do I remember correctly? Maybe now's the time to give it another chance. There's some really great pairing to be had.

All of your food is so geometric, like your paintings. Your dishes are more organic than the food sitting on them.

cook eat FRET said...

thank you and goodnight

really, that is beyond what i can fathom

the sad part is that i cooked dinner tonight and did some chinesey thing that i was all proud of because asian is so off my radar - to cook, not eat - and i was so proud of myself

now i just feel kinda silly. like i made the pb&j version of your dinner...

Brittany said...

Your patience and tlc in the kitchen always blows my mind. Any time I feel like I've made something artful and interesting, I need only to head over to cookblog to be put right in my fucking place. (totally, claudia. pb&j).

I do love a nicely poached octopussy. I then throw it on the grill for a sec to achieve some crispy char...Poached in olive oil is something I need to try asap.
And o-toro? jealous.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

You are getting pretty baroque, Peter. Lots of stuff going on in each plate...

On the octopus, I blanch them and then braise them in their own juices with some herbs for 4-6 hours on low heat -- concentrates and tenderizes the pulpo.

...on the chemical stuff, I just bought sodium alganate and some calcium chloride to make "pearls." have you done this yet?

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

What amazing photos and presentation. I actually "tasted" them in my mind.

peter said...

Blanche: I love sake, but I didn't buy any, which I now regret.

Claudia: PB&J tastes good.

Brittany: Grilling would have been perfect. Next time, for sure.

Hank: I'm partying like it's 1599.

For the pearls, the one thing to watch out for is the pH; if it's too acidic, they won't pearl properly. There are things you can add to fix it, but best to start with non-acidic liquids.

Jen: Glad you could join in.

Brooklynguy said...

hey peter - you're right, I DO know kris. I didn't realize that was who you are talking about. I don't really know him, but I did sit next to him at a Portuguese wine tasting at Grammercy Tavern about a year ago. He is a really nice guy. And Amy Louise Pommier, an older, maybe now defunct member of their group, runs one of my favorite wine shops here in Brooklyn called Prospect Wines. Oh, and that's some good lookin' fish you got going on there.

peter said...

Neil: He said to say hi, and that he hopes you can come next time. Any news on the family front?

Brooklynguy said...

none yet. i'll put something up when it comes. by the way, i have a great verification word - "disasie."