Thursday, June 28, 2012

Alien Ingredient #34: Dosakai

Dosakai to left of Mango
And here's another random fruit that I found surfing the produce section of the market, this one labelled "Dosaki" [sic]. Almost round, about as large as a small grapefruit, and bright yellow with a smooth skin, this fruit seemed to be a melon from the outset. So I picked one of the more yellow ones with yielding flesh just like I would have picked any other melon (and in retrospect, this may have been a mistake). It didn't have much scent, perhaps just a touch of honeydew. In the photo above, you can see it in comparison to a large Tommy Atkins mango.

Looks like a Melon or Cuke
Cutting open the fruit, it sure resembles a melon, so I scooped out the seeds and spooned out a bit of flesh. It was mealy in an overripe kind of way and sour like the rind of a watermelon, without a whole lot of flavor. I admit that I consigned my bite to the trashcan. Turning to the web, I found that this is a dosakai, a type of cucumber that comes from India where it is used in all manners of ways. Now knowing that, I wish that I had picked a less ripe one that I could have used in a pickle or a curry, like I would use a winter melon.

Vote: I'll pass. Persian cucumbers are better for eating. Winter melons seem better for cooking.

Alien Ingredient #33: Mamoncillo

Mamoncillo: What Exactly is the Point?
I was walking through the produce section of the market when these tiny, lime-looking fruits caught my eye. Yet another fruit I've never heard of, this one called mamoncillo (Melicoccus bijugatus). They are lime green to olive green in color with a skin that approximates that of a lime, albeit without any of that beautiful citrus fragrance in the rind. The skins are very thin and easy to peel off after cracking with your teeth, leaving a pulpy (in a very ripe mango kind of way) flesh that is a light orange in color. Biting into the flesh was a mistake. As you can see from the mamoncillo in cross section in the photo, it's all hat and no cowboy: there's just a tiny layer of flesh around a big, hard seed. Tony tried the seed and wished he hadn't: I've never seen somebody spit something out so fast in my life! He reports it is very bitter.

So, you're salivating wanting to know what the pulpy not quite slimy flesh tastes like, aren't you? It is sour in a tamarind kind of lemony citrus way. OK, not so wonderful. I read on the internet that people boil them to make a juice from which they make aguas frescas. Yeah, I'm going to leave that to them. It seems a whole lot more productive to make an agua fresca from tamarind or lemon or lime.

Vote: What exactly is the point?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Chef's Tasting

Here are photos from last night's Chef's Tasting. Appearing for the first time this year are cherries, summer squash, sockeye salmon, new potatoes, and red raspberries. This is likely the very last tasting of the year to feature strawberries and asparagus: only the weather knows for sure.

Deviled Egg
This dish is the happy coincidence of foie gras and duck eggs. You know, the late afternoon, between shifts conversation on the deck that goes like, "What happens if we mix foie gras into a deviled egg?" The result is so rich that it can only be eaten in tiny quantities. Notice the relative size of the cornichon fan to the egg-foie mousse. We kept adding more and more pickle brine to the mousse to balance the fat and the acid. The olive-looking critter in the center is a truffled pickled immature peach.

Sockeye Salmon
Over the years, I have done many takes on a dish of salmon and Thai curry and this is another. The sauce is a green Thai curry and the green dots are a curried avocado mousse. In the center of the plate are cubes of deep-fried salmon and avocado, topped with some tobiko for crunch and a little Thai basil.

Soft Shell Crab
Not much to say here except the salad is awesome. It's a mix of Beth's mesclun, bean sprouts, carrots, Thai basil, cilantro, and green onions tossed in a dressing of vinegar, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, chile paste, and garlic. Very Vietnamese and very cooling and refreshing.

June Salad
Gorgeous! The first new potatoes of the year down in a ring with grilled asparagus over and then topped with a sauté of peas, asparagus, and morels in a white wine and shallot butter sauce. A quail egg gilds the lily. These peas are so amazingly sweet that we probably ate more than half of what we shelled. They are addictive!

Squash and Goat Cheese
This is a quick taste of summer in an otherwise late spring menu. Because of our crazy spring, everything is running 2-3 weeks early, including these awesome pattypan squash that we sliced, grilled, and stacked with rounds of fried goat cheese. The goat cheese is an amazingly creamy product that was made locally on Wednesday (and served on Friday). We mixed it with roasted red pepper before forming it into rounds and breading it. A drizzle of pesto and some borage blossoms complete the garnishes.

Pork and Cherries
We love cherry season! Sorry this photo is so dark. All hell was breaking loose in the kitchen at the time: the dining room was full and our ticket rail was overflowing onto the counter. We were in hyperdrive, which lends itself not at all to decent photography. On the left there is a pork cheek, braised, chilled, sliced, and crisped in a steel pan, topped with a cherry-celery salsa. Cherries and celery, sweet and bitter, yin and yang, awesome! In the center on top of the grits is a piece of our pork belly topped with the remains of our dried cherry olivada, a tapenade-like relish. On the right is a salad of microgreens and pork confit threads. We cure the pork confit and age it under duck fat. For this dish, we shredded it and deep fried it, then mixed it with greens and tossed it in a cherry vinaigrette. All our pork is certified Berkshire.

This is a fun and light way to celebrate the end of strawberries and the beginning of raspberries. Their seasons only ever overlap for a week or two. I baked some oatmeal tuiles and layered them with a lemon meringue and fresh berries. Simple, light, and a fitting ending to a late spring menu.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Chef's Table

Each Thursday night we host up to 8 people at a communal table in our back bar for the Chef's Table. It's fun for us because unlike formal tastings where clients give us their likes and dislikes and we build a menu around that, for the Chef's Table we cook what we feel. More than that, we are experimenting with dishes, ingredients, and techniques. It's great way for us to start working on a concept for a new dish and get some immediate feedback. Some dishes work well, some need improvement, and well, some will never grace our table again.

Borage Granita, Sockeye Tartare, Cold Pea Soup with Riesling
What does one do with a surfeit of borage? Granita came to mind for us and we really liked its cucumber flavor as an amuse bouche.
Warm Rabbit "Terrine", Dijon Vichyssoise
Local purple potatoes and garlic chives on the bottom, local rabbit in a Dijon cream in the middle, local snow peas on top, warm cream of leek and potato soup flavored with a hint of Dijon mustard around. Pain in the rear to plate.
Duck, Duck, Goose
On the plate is a slab of sourdough bread French toast made with a goose egg custard and fried in foie gras fat. On top of this is what we call duck bacon, breast tenders that we cure in salt, sugar, and pink salt and then smoke. The next layer is scrambled goose egg with chives, done in the classic French preparation oeufs brouillés, whisked over a water bath until creamy and custardy. On top are threads of house-cured duck confit that we have shredded and deep fried. Maple syrup completes this delicious, over-the-top dish. The duck bacon was killer.
Sockeye Two Ways
Sockeye belly flaps (the really good stuff) confited in duck fat on a salad of tomatoes, Niçoise olives, fresh basil, and sliced caperberries; seared sockeye filet on lentils with bacon. Not much novel here; just letting the first sockeye of the year shine.
Île Flottante; Horchata Crème Anglaise
Playing games with chufa (aka tiger nuts) from Spain, we decided to make a classic horchata and convert that to a crème anglaise. What to do with crème anglaise? Float an almond meringue in it, old school style and top it with some fresh strawberries and a poppyseed tuile. The novelty for us here is that we cooked the meringue in the microwave, just to see if it could be done. Yep, easy enough.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Alien Ingredient #32: Fresh Lychee

About 30 years ago, I got turned off to lychees when I was served a plate of canned ones as a dessert at a really bad American Chinese restaurant. They tasted and smelled like bad perfume.

Flash forward to 2012. The local FoodMaxx had a huge display of fresh lychees at a very reasonable price, so I brought a big bag back to the restaurant, where we immediately set about them. You can see in the photo above that they have a thin red skin which peels off easily revealing a very juicy white fruit with the consistency of peeled grape. Some have a big pit like you see here; others have a very tiny pit and correspondingly more fruit.

Fresh, ripe lychee tastes like good Gewürztraminer, sweet with essences of rose petals and other floral characteristics and none of that old-lady-with-way-too-much-perfume character that turned me off to the canned variety decades ago. The fresh fruits have a bit of tannins that I was not expecting. This is not a bad thing: the tannins are quite refreshing.

Like most fresh fruit, we don't plan to do anything with them; just eat them out of hand. It's really hard to improve on something that is already good.

Vote: Delicious, affordable, love them!

Alien Ingredient #31: Longan

Here's a small fruit from southeast Asia that I have never encountered before. Longans are small quarter dollar-sized fruits whose flesh resembles a white peeled grape, surrounding a small chestnut-looking seed in the center. The brown husk is easy enough to peel off. The flavor is very mild and very sweet, at honeydew melon with a hint of pineapple.

Vote: Good fruit, but not even close to the top of my list. I won't go out of my way to get any more of these.

Alien Ingredient #30: Goose Eggs

Here at the restaurant, we use a lot of eggs as you might imagine. We are very fortunate to use duck eggs almost exclusively in our pastries and as a result, our pastries are killer rich and delicious. As an aside, all our recipes specify eggs by weight, so it is trivial for us to substitute an equivalent weight of duck eggs for chicken eggs. Doing things by weight, besides being how professional kitchens do things, has always been a necessity for us because we have never used standardized eggs. When our supplier's chickens were young, we would receive tiny pullet eggs and later on, as the Rhode Island Reds got to maturity, we'd get honking great eggs that were twice the size of pullet eggs and half again bigger than a store-bought extra large egg.

Goose, Extra Large Duck, Duck, Extra Large Chicken, Quail
We are super fortunate that our duck egg supplier has a goose or two that are laying eggs, so she brought us some goose eggs for grins. As you can see in the photo, goose eggs run about three times the size of an extra large egg. Besides being huge, the yolks are very different from chicken or duck eggs, almost custardy or pasty. When cooked, goose eggs are much more similar to duck eggs than chicken eggs in that they are intensely eggy and rich. We easily prefer duck or goose eggs to chicken eggs for scrambled eggs, and that is saying something because our fresh chicken eggs taste awesome.

Duck, Duck, Goose
Here you see one application of our goose eggs in a dish that we call Duck, Duck, Goose. On the plate is a slab of sourdough bread French toast made with a goose egg custard and fried in foie gras fat. On top of this is what we call duck bacon, breast tenders that we cure in salt, sugar, and pink salt and then smoke. The next layer is scrambled goose egg with chives, done in the classic French preparation oeufs brouillés, whisked over a water bath until creamy and custardy. On top are threads of duck confit that we have shredded and deep fried. Maple syrup completes this delicious and over the top decadent dish.

Vote: Goose eggs are awesome and we prefer them to chicken eggs. Duck eggs are equally awesome!