I developed this pasta analog last year for a client who was diagnosed with Celiac disease. It contains no gluten— only Parmesan, water, and methylcellulose. The recipe was featured in an article about Molecular Gastronomy written by Peter Barrett for Chronogram Magazine. You can find the recipe here.
Many foods are defined by their aroma and yuzu is no exception. In fact, the distinct aroma of yuzu has earned it its very own aroma compound, Yuzunone, as documented in this recent study.
In Japan, yuzu is most enjoyed in its ripe stage, when the albedo has softened and the skin turns a bright yellow-orange. When ripe, the terpenes mature into an intoxicating blend of musky-citrus-floral-pine notes. In its green stage— before the chlorophyll is destroyed and the carotenoids develop— the fruit displays sharp herbaceous-pine notes.
Yuzu kosho is a condiment from Kyushu Island in southern Japan that utilizes both stages of yuzu. Green yuzu kosho is made from unripe yuzu zest and green chilies. Red yuzu kosho uses yellow yuzu zest and red chilies. Though they use the same products, they are unique in taste and a good example of the vicissitude of flavor in developing fruit.
To make yuzu kosho, whether green or red, simply blend finely minced chili flesh (leave out the seeds and white membranes) with finely minced yuzu zest and salt to taste. Depending on the level of capsicum present in the chilies, and your tolerance to it, the proportions are typically 6:3:1 (chili:yuzu:salt). The mixture can also be pounded in a mortar with a pestle for a smoother paste.
In this dish, I liquified the yuzu kosho with dashi to mimic the smooth texture of the chawanmushi and to contrast with the firm, meaty texture of octopus.
Octopus and I have a long, complicated history. On the one hand, the presence of octopus on the tables of my childhood marked the joyous occasions and holidays when friends and family would gather together. On the other hand, it was a challenging flavor and texture for a child to deal with and certainly not something I looked forward to eating. Even the rice in the ubiquitous dish, Arroz de Polvo, cooked in the acerbic braising liquid, was hard to get down. I was, however, fascinated with the suckers. Noting how they resembled the plastic suction cups on the ends of toy darts, I entertained myself by attaching them to every available surface, including myself. It's possible that octopus suckers were the precursor to a lifelong fascination with the genius designs found in nature.
Fascinations aside, I avoided octopus for most of my life— until I was unwittingly served a grilled octopus salad that changed everything.
According to Harold McGee, in his opus On Food and Cooking, "[octopus} must be cooked either barely and briefly to prevent the muscle fibers from toughening, or for a long time to break down the collagen. Cooked quickly to 130-135F/55-57C, their flesh is moist and almost crisp."
I already knew this was true of squid and abalone but the memory of the long-cooked octopus was too deeply ingrained to put it together. And if I'm being truthful; even if I had, I wouldn't have bothered. Why waste time preparing something that I wouldn't enjoy?
And although I was served a plate of octopus salad that I hadn't ordered, I accepted it as a challenge to myself. One bite of the flash-grilled octopus not only exposed my prejudice, but proved it wrong. The pleasure that I found in the snappy texture and clean flavor reminded me of why it's important to play with food— it's only with an open mind and a willingness to explore that we discover things that please and delight us— whether it's source lies in the maturity of an exotic fruit or a creature from the deep sea.
Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a native shrub/small tree that can be found growing at the edge of forests and along riverbanks. In late summer and autumn, the drupes ripen to form clusters of velvety red berries that were sought after by Native Americans for their sourness. They used the dried and ground sumac as a seasoning and made a lemonade-like beverage with fresh berries. Indians also enjoyed smoking the dried berries in a pipe, a custom that they introduced to the Europeans— who, as a result, preferred it to the best Virginia tobacco.
In early spring, and then again in autumn, Woodland Indians left their communal villages to set up fishing camps along rivers. There they would erect portable wigwams and move about on canoes that were fashioned out of birchbark in the north and hollowed-out trees in the south. They fished in shallow waters with spears and built weirs to trap fish. At these seasonal camps, they also processed the fish by brining, drying, and smoking. Fish were dried by skewering on sticks and stuck into the ground around the cooler perimeters of a fire, or smoked on racks made of twigs that were propped above a smoldering fire. Fresh fish were roasted on aromatic planks of cedar, oak, alder, birch— or fried on hot rocks that were greased with bear fat.
At the time that the Europeans arrived, the rivers, lakes and streams of North America were said to be swarming with fish of countless species— some of which are lost to us now. In "The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell", Mark Kurlansky states " The rivers and streams had so many fish— striped bass, sturgeon, shad, drum fish, carp, perch, pike, and trout— that they could be yanked out of the water by hand."
In appalling contrast, Cormac McCarthy describes a post-apocalyptic North America in his novel "The Road", in which the earth is inexplicably scorched and unimaginably barren. The story deals with themes of survival and morality, addressing questions like Who are we when we have nothing left to lose?, or How long can we survive when the earth no longer provides food or water?In the very last paragraph he writes a provocative passage that seems wrought with Indian sensibility and wisdom:
"Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber currents where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."
In the last post, Larry P. left a comment describing Johnny Iuzzini's deep-fried chocolate ganache "doughnut". I assumed it was from his book Dessert Fourplay, which I own, but have only read cursorily. Sure enough, I found it on pages 170 & 171. I really need to get to know this book better.
As Larry pointed out, Johnny Iuzzini's doughnut features a creamy ganache blended with methylcellulose to hold it together while frying, and sodium alginate to allow it to be encapsulated in a calcium bath. The doughnut are then dipped in egg, coated with panko, and deep fried. Larry successfully executed the doughnuts in this post.
After succeeding at producing a cake with the frosting baked inside, my thoughts immediately turned to an old donut fantasy. One of my most gratifying achievements in baking was making a yeast donut that rivaled those found in donut shops. For awhile, I became a bit obsessed with the idea of making a filled ring donut. I abandoned the idea when I couldn't achieve the desired results.
Revisiting the idea with new hope and armed with a viable technique, I set out to encapsulate the filling and layer it between yeast dough. Then I reasoned that encapsulating might not be necessary as the dough itself would act as a capsule, and that adding methocel to the filling would stabilize it and help it keep it's shape.
The good news is that it worked.
The bad news is that the textures suffered in the process.
The filling-- popcorn-infused cream and fresh corn juice, reduced and enriched with butter-- lost it's fluid creaminess and became more of a custard. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I preferred the texture before heating. The yeast dough, which is very soft and wet and a challenge to work with, but produces the most ethereally light and fluffy donuts, turned out sodden and heavy. I suspect that the weight of the filling inhibited the final rise and that the moisture that escaped during cooking became trapped inside the dough.
As a control, I fried a round of dough (without the hole) and filled it with the cream (without the methocel) post-cooking by piping it in through a hole poked in the side. The textures were notably better: thin, crisp crust gives way to pillowy-soft dough; creamy filling spills out. This is the recipe that I am including here because, at least for now, I can't improve upon it.
"The golden tide, the essence of this fine fair month ran, then gushed from the spout below, to be crocked, skimmed of ferment, and bottled in clean ketchup shakers, then ranked in sparkling rows in cellar gloom.
The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered."
~Ray Bradbury "Dandelion Wine"
As far back as I can remember, I've had a major crush on books.
As a child, I would enter the local library with the awe and reverence reserved for cathedrals. It was there that I would worship the written word; a place to receive the sacrament of ink on paper at the altar of ideas, imagination, and information.
Then, as now, books were magic carpets that transported me to worlds where anything and everything was possible. And I could be home in time for dinner.
I was eight or nine when I read Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I have read it numerous times since to relive the wonder of childhood. It's a simple book; a semi-autographical collection of stories woven together into a strange and dreamy tale of an ordinary summer, filled with extraordinary moments, in a 12-year-old boy's life. It was an introduction to subtle and complex themes that revealed themselves like layers of an onion, with two in particular that keep me coming back:
The ecstatic awareness of being alive.
And the transubstantiating magic of dandelion wine.
In the book, dandelion wine is a metaphor for life itself; a prosaic weed transformed into a mystical elixir with the power to "change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in."
Having never tasted dandelion wine, I can only imagine its flavor will be sweet, slightly tart, mildly bitter. It may not turn out to be the most delicious of beverages, but I fully believe that on a cold wintry day, when I head down to the cellar and raise a glass to my lips, that the snow will melt, the sky will turn blue and--if only for a moment--it will be summer.
Every time that I eat osso bucco, I think of Billy Collins' eponymous poem:
"I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence.
And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed down
with cold, exhilarating wine."
charred artichoke lemon garlic
crisp artichoke blossoms
It's a shame that osso bucco isn't found on more fine dining menus-- what with its angel-soft meat and secret marrow. I suspect that the clumsy bone is part of the problem. Removing it makes for a more refined presentation and controlled portion.
As much as I love the cross-section of shank, I'll admit that my favorite cut of veal is the breast. The long-fibered brisket, when slooowly braised between layers of fat with the rib bones attached, is pure nirvana. The only thing missing is the marrow... until now [thank-you Activa].
I was 8 years old when I walked into a department store dressing room and watched in amazement as my reflection bounced back and forth recursively between two parallel mirrors. It was my first glimpse of infinity and though I didn't know it then, I was looking at a fractal.
In 1958, Benoit Mandelbrot, a brilliant young mathematician joined the research staff at IBM. As one of the first mathematicians to have access to high-speed computers, Mandelbrot conceived and developed a radical new geometry that was capable of mathematically describing the real world of Nature. In 1982, he published his ideas in "The Fractal Geometry of Nature" and rocked the world.
Before fractals (which also became known as Chaos Theory), Euclidian geometry was concerned with the abstract perfection that was nearly non- existent in Nature. It could only describe the imaginary world made up of zero (a single point), the first dimension (a single line that contains an infinite number of points), the second dimension (a plane that contains an infinite number of lines), and the third dimension (a solid that contains an infinite number of planes). None of these could describe the amorphous and irregular shape of a cloud, mountain, coastline or tree. Mandelbrot's fractals were capable of describing the real world of the fourth dimension (a hypercube that contains an infinite number of solids and their relationship to each other in a time-space continuum). The fourth dimension is the world in which we live.
The mathematics of fractals are relatively simple, considering that they describe the indiscernibly complex. Fractals are geometric figures that repeat themselves under different levels of magnification. They are self-similar and recursive. An example would be the irregular and jagged shape of a mountain when viewed from a distance. When a section is magnified, the same shape or pattern is repeated with greater complexity. The pattern repeats itself with increasing detail as it goes on to be magnified to a microscopic scale. Fractals reveal the hidden worlds within a world.
Fractals are found everywhere in nature: mountains, trees, ferns, snowflakes, seashells, bolts of lightning, and the clusters of galaxies. The very planet that we live on is one huge fractal. The human body contains many fractals from the network of veins and capillaries to the folds in our brains, the beat of our hearts, and even our DNA, which is 99.98% similar. Mandelbrot's theory of space-time continuum of Man and Nature in which there is constant change based on feedback is an open system in which everything is related to everything else. Some scientists believe that fractals are the very fabric of the universe. It should come as no surprise that this connectivity has spread beyond the world of math and science and into art, music, literature, architecture, economics, meteorology, trend-forecasting, and even consciousness.
But what about food and cooking?
Certainly, food, be it plant or animal, contain fractal patterns. A perfect example is the beautiful and alien-looking Romanesco cauliflower, whose spires swirl repeatedly in various scales over the pale green heads. An example of a fractal--in a prepared food--would be a turducken (a chicken stuffed in a duck, stuffed in a turkey). And isn't a salad just a vegetable recursion?
As for cooking, could the act of whipping, which is a repetitive motion that changes the volume and texture of a substance with a self-similar expansive network of air bubbles, be fractal? If so, then couldn't the same be true of a reduction? And what about the turns required to make puff pastry? Or the gluten matrix produced in bread by carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol?
And what about flavor...can flavor be fractal?
Would fractal flavor involve repeating a flavor in varying proportions/scales, such as a sandwich where each bite contains the same flavors and textures in slightly different proportions? Or a glass of wine that is a liquid composition of complex flavors and with each sip, we can discern, or magnify, a different element of its flavor? Would a dish composed of self-similar aroma compounds be a flavor fractal? Or one composed of the same flavor in varying textures?
My preoccupation with these questions can, in and of itself, be considered fractal as I zoom in for clarity and answers, I only find more detail and questions. Ultimately, I believe it is a search for connectivity... to myself, to others, to the physical world as well as the spiritual, and, of course, to food.
fresh soybeans: edamame cone
dried soybeans: soy milk foam (using inherent lecithin in soy)
There's something about the austerity of conifers that captures the Japanese aesthetic.
Or maybe that's just me.
The connection might be rooted in my fascination with bonsai and how an artfully sculpted tree can freeze time in a miniature landscape. (And I think that I might have told you about miniatures and me)
Or it could be that they remind me that I once wished that I could travel the world on a ferry. Such was the pleasure of gliding through the Strait of Georgia in the Pacific Northwest on a drizzly day, watching the mist rise up around the Gulf Islands, shrouding the jagged black silhouettes of ancient pines with the Zen atmosphere of a sumi-e landscape.
Or maybe it's that I recently read "Snow Falling on Cedars" and it evoked the poetry of that place.
I contemplated all these thoughts as I sat by the window this morning, drinking tea and watching the snow swirl over the pines in my backyard. They all loomed and murmured, but the salient voice was the matcha that spoke softly but urgently of balsam.
matcha balsam flan
480g soy milk
50g balsam needles
5g agave nectar
4 egg yolks
Heat soy milk until it just comes to a simmer. Add balsam, cover and infuse for 1 hour (or use a chamber vacuum for instant infusion). Whisk in matcha, agave nectar, and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks while drizzling in the infused soy milk. Pour into ramekins. Bake in a loosely covered bain marie in a preheated 325 F. oven for 15-20 minutes or until set.
And, because I know you'll ask...
The raviolo is made from thin slices of Portobello caps that are lightly sauteed and softened in olive oil. The filling is a concentrated mushroom jus seasoned with shoyu and kecap manis, molded in demi spheres and frozen. The frozen filling is encased between two slices of Portobello (using a smaller one for the bottom) and the margins glued together with tapioca maltodextrin, which bonds the oil in the mushroom, forming a sort of gasket around the filling. It can then be tempered at room temperature or gently heated to melt the filling.
matcha balsam flan
black sesame powder
candied white pine
Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) grows widely throughout the northeastern United States and Canada. Other trees that exhibit balsam aroma are Balsam poplar (Populus sect. Tacamahaca), Balsam of Mecca (Commiphora opobalsamum)- native to Southern Arabia, and Peru Balsam(Myroxylon)- native to South America, though only the Abies is a conifer.
Balsam is a derivative of the word balm and refers to the soothing aroma that makes it an effective scent in aromatherapy and a popular filling for sachets. In ancient times, as well as modern, balsam oil is mixed with olive oil as a chrism and used in the administration of sacraments in the Catholic church.
Incidentally, balsamic vinegar does not refer to the plant source or the aroma, but to the use of vinegar as a healing substance, or balm.
In my mind, mango and pine will always be tangled together. I have Luciano to thank for that.
Luciano was a dishwasher at the first restaurant that I worked in. He could rip through stacks of dirty dishes faster than any machine, work any station where he was needed, fix anything that was put in front of him. He also made the most delicate pasta that I've ever tasted. All this, he did with the demeanor of a pit bull, alternately growling and cursing like a sailor, then laughing and smiling like an impish boy. He held everyones respect with his consummate badassness.
He was a man of many talents and just as many peculiarities. For one, he had a habit of chewing on pine twigs, of which he kept a fresh supply in a freezer. When questioned, he explained that it kept his teeth clean and it was Nature's breath freshener. I had to agree as he did, indeed, have a dazzling-white smile and always smelled forest-fresh.
Luciano also introduced me to the mango. He brought one in for me one day when I expressed an interest in the fruit that he spoke of with an exaggerated fondness that made his eyes go soft. He showed me how to peel it with a paring knife, then cut away the flesh from the flat seed that he kept for himself, scraping it over and over between his teeth, because--as he put it--"It is the sweetest part...Nature's candy."
My first impression of the mango was favorable--a nice balance of sweet and tart, exotic aromas, buttery texture--yet there was an underlying flavor that intrigued me. When I identified it as pine and relayed this to Luciano, he burst out in a belly-laugh, explaining, "To me, everything tastes like pine"
It came as no surprise when, many years later, I confirmed that there is a concentration of the hydrocarbon, terpene, in the flavor profile of mangoes. Among these are limonene (citrus), pinene (pine), carvone (caraway, dill), myrcene (bay, verbena, myrtle), and ionone (violet, vetiver).
While playing with the flavor of pine (here, in the form of spruce) and mango, I found vanilla to be a nice bridge with both flavors, rounding out the sharp pitchyness of the pine and enhancing the floral aroma of mango. Pomelo, an enormous citrus that tastes like grapefruit without the bitterness, has a fragrant peel with tones of bergamot that played along well with these flavors.
Recently, in an email exchange with another chef, I mentioned this relationship between mango and pine. He was quick to reference a dish in The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Sure enough, Heston Blumenthal had uncovered this relationship and composed a beautiful dessert around it.
Although Luciano was in his fifties when I knew him, he was one of the fittest people I knew. He attributed this to a daily regimen of weight lifting and mango power shakes.
I think that he would approve of this mango lassi with a head of spruce foam, scented with a split vanilla bean.
Spruce (Picea) proliferates throughout Northern temperate zones. It is distinguished by its symmetrical conical growing habit, making it a prized landscape plant as well as a favorite Christmas tree. Spruce contains a good amount of vitamin C and its sap was used by Native Americans to make a gum, which later became the inspiration for the first commercially produced chewing gum.
Addendum: an interesting bit of information from a reader via email:
"...I lived on Kauai for four years where people with property have varied and excellent cultivars of all sorts of mango trees and one of my neighbors took me to his 'special' tree to harvest a basket load of perfectly luscious golden mangos. Then he showed me his personal quirk - mangos will bleed sap from the stem when they're picked and that was one of his favorite parts. I tried it and found it to be totally piney in flavor and from then on, I really taste the terpenes in the mango's I eat quite clearly. So fun. He believed it to be particularly healing too, though he didn't have any concrete thoughts about why specifically. I recommend looking near the stem end of the mangos you find in the market for a shiney, dried drip of sap somewhere on the skin. You can usually peel it off and chew it like gum. It will be totally piney and delicious. Thought you'd find this a fun bit to know..."
There were few foods that I disliked eating as a child. Salt cod was definitely one.
It is said that the Portuguese have 1,000 ways of preparing bacalhau. Much to my dismay, many of these preparations made their way onto my dinner plate. No matter how much I protested or pleaded, the only requisite to leaving the table was to eat my bacalhau, thus saving me from an empty, degenerate life, the direct result of a salt cod deficiency. The potatoes, a traditional accompaniment, always came to my rescue. Not only did they make the fish more palatable, they provided a cover under which to hide the bits that I couldn't get down.
After a long separation, I've developed a taste for salt cod. I had to come back to it on my own terms. The dense, fibrous texture, which I once found so offensive, is what draws me to it now.
I can't help but feel a little naughty as I revert back to hiding the bacalhau in this dish, although this time around the intent is to bury it as a treasure and give it the respect that it deserves.
apricot lime puree
crispy smashed yukon gold
juniper salt cod
juniper-gin tempura dome
In addition to playing off of the flavors and textures that are found in traditional Portuguese bacalhau dishes and the classic fish and chips, this dish explores the chemical relationship between the flavors of cod, juniper and apricot.
More profoundly than spice, salt has steered the course of history. Our fundamental need for it prompted an age of discovery, displaced populations, built empires, leveled economies, instigated wars, and saved humanity from starvation.
The history of cod is intrinsically entwined with salt. Dating back over 500 years, salt cod has sustained entire populations on both sides of the Atlantic. Its commerce linked the New World to the Old. Codfish were once so plentiful that it was jokingly said that one could cross the Atlantic on foot by using their backs as stepping stones. Now, they have been overfished to near extinction, warranting heavy restrictions to protect the remaining population of Atlantic cod and challenging consumers to seek other options. Sustainable alternatives are Pacific cod, Alaskan pollock, and hook-and-line caught Haddock.
To make juniper salt cod: Finely grind fresh juniper sprigs and berries. Mix 1 part juniper with 2 parts coarse sea salt. Lay fresh fish fillets on a bed of juniper salt and completely cover with a thick layer of additional salt. Cover, and refrigerate for 2 days, after which time, the fish can be hung and dried in the refrigerator for up to a month, then hydrated before cooking. I prefer the texture when it is hydrated directly after salting. To hydrate: Rinse salt off of fish and soak in fresh, cold water for 2 days under refrigeration, changing water 3-4 times during this period. Cook as desired.
To make juniper foam: In a blender, place 500ml tonic water and 30ml juniper sprigs. Blend until liquified. Strain. Season liquid with salt and a few drops of lime juice. Place 1/2 of liquid in a saucepan and add 3 sheets of gelatin that have been bloomed in cold water. Heat until gelatin dissolves, then blend in remaining liquid and allow to cool. Strain again into an iSi canister and charge with N2O. Chill thoroughly before discharging.
To make juniper gin: Lightly smash leaves and berries on sprigs of juniper with a mallet. Place in a bottle of gin and set aside at room temperature for at least 3 days. Remove sprigs when the juniper has a pronounced presence in the gin.
To make juniper gin tempura dome: In a bowl, combine 2 eggs, 5g agave syrup, 3g salt, 80g AP flour, 100g rice flour, 120ml tonic water, and 120ml juniper gin. Whisk together until smooth. Heat the back of a ladle in a deep-fryer of vegetable oil to 375F. for 2 minutes. Remove ladle and let excess oil drip back into deep-fryer. Invert ladle over a bowl and drizzle the tempura batter over the back in a lacy pattern. Lower ladle into hot oil and fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden and crispy. Carefully remove dome from the back of the ladle using the tip of a knife to help it dislodge.
Various species of Juniper (Juniperus) grow widely throughout the Northern hemisphere. The needles of most Junipers look like tiny, overlapping scales. The berries, which are actually cones, mature to a deep blue in the fall and remain on the branches throughout the winter. They provide the distinct flavor of gin and are used in Northern and Eastern European cuisines to flavor wild game and choucroute garnie.
George Mendes is a NYC chef who is currently working to open his own restaurant, Aldea, with modern food that reflects his Portuguese heritage. (no doubt, bacalhau will be on the menu). Follow along on his blog.