Saturday, July 9, 2011

Another Tasting

I found some photos today while housekeeping. These are from a tasting back in March, the last tasting I was able to photograph before my old Nikon died. For us, this tasting was a chance to play with technique and answer some of those nagging "How do we do this?" kinds of questions. There are a couple of things here worth remembering.

Four Citrus Scallop Seviche. This is a very straightforward scallop napoleon meets seviche dish. In this case, we pickled only the vegetables and then layered them with the seared scallop. The four citrus zests—yuzu, lemon, lime, and orange—combine with the cumin, garlic, cilantro, and ancho paste to yield a complex seviche.

Steelhead Trout. This is a play on an appetizer that we serve at the restaurant from time to time: crispy salmon nuggets in green Thai curry. We have scattered on the plate a green Thai curry sauce, Thai basil leaves, crispy steelhead nuggets, a steelhead skin crisp, gravlax of steelhead, and an excellent salmon roe caviar. I was not happy with this presentation—too sparse—but then we run that risk when we plate novel dishes all the time.

Crab Mango Cocktail. This is the offspring of a mango soup shooter with crab fritter amuse that I wanted to do crossed with the mango cocktail that Travis wanted to do. It ended up as an intermezzo. The mango cocktail comprises mango, coconut milk, lime juice, dark rum, and red Thai curry paste.

Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Duck Confit Threads. This dish was an effort to bring a salad to the menu and was more so an exercise to see what we could do with temperature contrast in the salad dressing. You see blanched brussels sprouts petals and threads of duck confit that we have deep fried to crispy goodness, all tossed in warm duck fat, then surrounded by a granita of watermelon vinegar, locally produced vinegar made from watermelon juice.

Refried Beans. I was looking for a foil for wild mushrooms and I think I found it in refried Sea Island Red Peas. We cooked the red peas with bacon and mirepoix, then puréed them and refried them in duck fat. Garnishes are chives, black trumpet mushrooms, pimentón sauce; and puffed wild rice.

Waldorf Salad. We were looking for a cool, refreshing intermezzo course and came up with this summer roll meets classic Waldorf salad. A thin sheet of cucumber is rolled around a salad of apple and celery julienne, crushed walnuts, and a walnut oil vinaigrette. Garnished with more vinaigrette and candied walnuts.

Lamb and Peppers. This was an exercise in using up lamb. We get frequent deliveries of lambs and are constantly finding ways to use the off cuts: the spareribs, necks, foreshanks, etc. One great way is to braise (red cook) them in Chinese fashion in soy, rice wine, brown sugar, green onions, star anise, cinnamon, garlic, and ginger for hours until the meat is tender. Then we pull the meat and reduce the defatted sauce, mixing them along with sesame seeds and green onions. This is a wonderful accompaniment to a fruity red such as our local Chambourcin or a Paso Robles Syrah.

"Smoked" Duck Noodle Soup. My favorite dish at Thai Winchester is the Roasted Duck Noodle Soup, a pan-Asian pho-like soup. This is my upscale homage to that dish. In the bottom of a soup plate, I put a smear of leek ash paste. Then you see a tradtional pho broth redolent of star anise, cinammon, ginger, and lemongrass in the bottom of the bowl. The broth is highly reduced to concentrate the flavors and then clarified. We rubbed a duck breast with leek ash to simulate its having been smoked, cooked it medium rare and put it over the broth. Then the traditional table salad follows: Thai basil, cilantro, green onions. And finally, we deep fried the rice noodles and placed them over for garnish. We were playing around with leek ash here and it was an OK result, but we would have been better off simply to cold smoke the duck breasts. Live and learn, but still a great dish.

Apple. We decided to play with apples in all their forms and see what ended up on the plate. There is a highly reduced apple cider syrup, apple sauce granita, dried apple, and a ring of apple in the center of which we baked a tiny crème brûlée. Garnishes are a white chocolate-cinnamon-pink salt bark and an appletini—mainly apple cider, Calvados, and bitters, rimmed with cinnamon sugar. I've got to say that baking those crème brûlées was tricky, tricky, tricky.

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