This time the pressure was on.
I’ve cooked elaborate dinners for friends before. I’ve made a a ten-course meal for which I prepped for three days. I labored over a Weber Kettle barbecue for eight hours, slowly smoking a pork shoulder. I took two days to reproduce one of Pierre Herme’s most complicated cakes and I have wasted hundreds of egg whites trying to perfect macarons.
What I had never done before was to create my own recipes. This meal would be different, it would be my flavors.
I decided early on to structure every dish around a concept and use that as my guiding principle.
Reinvention — vanilla/mint marshmallow, liquid sea urchin
Ocean — oysters, dashi jelly, dashi bubbles, wakame
Hawaii — Lobster, passion fruit, mango, avocado, jicama
Comfort — Lobster consomee
Forest — short ribs, various mushrooms, junipers, eucalyptus, fennel
PB & J — Banana, peanuts, grapes
Chile — Chocolate, lavender, cream
And now with a bit more details:
The first time I cooked an elaborate dinner for friends, I made a recipe from Alinea’s cookbook. It consisted of sea urchin encased in a sweet and savory mint/vanilla gelee topped with a mint leaf, jalapeno slice and grain of salt. To this day, everyone remembers that dish; the waves of flavor, the unexpected combination, the sensuality of the sea urchin.
I thought it would be fun to start the meal with the same dish, but rework it so nobody could figure out what it was. I turned the gelee into a fluffy marshmallow and filled it with sea urchin pushed through a strainer, jalapeno and mint. How did it turn out? Don’t bother with my adaptation and stick with Alinea’s version. Whipping air into the thing diluted the flavors and the combo just didn’t work.
How could i make an oyster taste even more like the ocean? With kelp broth and wakame, which adds a smoky version of the ocean to the mouthful. To complete the illusion, I whipped dashi bubbles and hid the oyster underneath to make it seem like the whitewash of a wave.
Underneath the oyster I put a layer of konbu dashi gel set with agar, run through a blender, and seasoned with soy sauce and lemon juice. The bubbles are made with the same dashi, whipped with egg white powder and xantham gum.
Not all ingredients here are from hawaii, but I had something similar when I visited. This is one of those combinations of flavors that I just love.
The oyster is dressed in passion fruit dressing, topped with avocado, mango, cilantro and jicama.
This was a last minute addition to the menu but I thought it would be a waste not to use all the lobster shells. I intensified the broth with ground shrimp and served it simply with a squeeze of lemon. I forgot to take a picture of this one but it was just a bowl of orange broth.
The original broth was made with lobster shells and aromatics. I then cleared it with a draft made of shrimp, egg whites and more veggies.
This was the most complex of the dishes, requiring numerous steps. My absolute favorites were the juniper-pickled enoki and the eucalyptus potatoes. In fact, I may start looking into other ways of infusing potatoes because they almost outshone the meat as the star on the plate. Picture credit goes to Tom.
The potatoes were cooked with eucalyptus leaves and then browned in eucalyptus-infused butter. The short ribs were cooked sous-vide for 5 hours at 180F with beef stock and juniper berries. I reduced the same stock with more junipers, added molasses, sherry vinegar and butter to make a sauce. The fennel puree is fennel cooked with chicken stock and pushed through a strainer after the blender. The mushrooms are sauteed chanterelles, quickly-pickled enoki and dried morels. Half the morels were hydrated and half turned into powder which was dusted over the whole plate.
PB & J
I’ve tried to rework this combination before and I finally hit a version that works. The liquid banana is encased inside grape jelly and the grounds are made of a peanut butter cookie. Sorry I don’t have a better picture.
These flavors may not scream Chile, but last time I was there I visited a lovely tea house in the southern part of the country surrounded by lavender bushes and a gorgeous view of Lake Llanquihue. I brought with me some culinary lavender and I knew I wanted to use it. I made the pot de cremes with dark chocolate and almond milk so it wouldn’t be too heavy and infused the cream with lavender before whipping it.
The verdict? I am happy with the meal. It was much more challenging than whatever else I’ve made before, and some of the recipes still need tweaking. A great start though.