I thought I would document a dinner I did just recently for good friends. There were seven courses, and it had a light summer theme. It was meant to comprise interpretations on Italian, until a considerably more scholarly guest than I reminded me (tactfully) that gazpacho was Spanish. Oh dear.
Fortunately, I’m fallible; otherwise, I would be intolerable…
I have recorded the construction of each course in detail. So it does go on a bit I’m afraid. Click on the pics for a better view.
First course: Ices
The idea here was for a kind of edible aperitif – acidic and a little bitter. The green ice was juiced spinach, rocket and Cos lettuce leaves (2:1:1 ratio). The pink ice was red wine vinegar and a little salt. Both were frozen in trays and scraped with a fork to produce the fluffy ice. The vinegar provided the sharp element, and a slight bitterness came from the rocket.
The serving was smaller than it looks. A refreshing start.
Second course: Vegetable carpaccio
The main element was the watermelon ‘meat’. Thickly sliced seedless watermelon pieces were brined, vacuum-compressed, sliced more thinly (5mm), dehydrated, and vacuum compressed a second time with a splash of water. Accompanied by toasted pine nuts, hazelnuts, spring onion, Parmesan shavings, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
The process the watermelon went thorough changed its flavour (salty), texture (meaty) and colour (a deep red hue).
Third course: Shellfish
The Scampi were from the Exmouth region (NW Western Australia). Brined (5% solution; 10m) and cooked sous-vide (56C, 12m). The sauce was passion fruit juice (60%) and a mix of light soy, mirin and rice vinegar (1:1:1) (40%). The olive-oil powder was constructed from a specialized form of tapioca starch (N-Zorbit M tapioca maltodextrin) that absorbs oil very well and remains fluffy, but that dissolves on contact with water (in the mouth), thus releasing the oil.
The spaghetti was an agar and locust bean gum gel of tomato-water that was injected by syringe into clear tubing, allowed to set in an ice-bath, and then extruded under air pressure from a whipping siphon. It was intended to be a spaghetto (the singular), but the strands inevitably broke in a couple of places.
The combination of the acidity of the passion fruit and tomato, with the olive-oil powder, amounted to a vinaigrette in which the individual components were distributed across the plate in different forms (solid, liquid and powder).
Fourth course: Green gazpacho
The ingredients (honey dew melon, seedless green grapes, cucumber, green capsicum, spring onions, jalapeños, pistachios) were roughly chopped and then underwent two freeze-thaw cycles. The freezing causes water in the plant cells to expand on freezing and so break the cell walls, and on thawing juices escape. The mix then underwent two vacuum-compression cycles. Here, any remaining intact cells were burst as a result of the reduction in extra-cellular pressure, and on recompression the air pressure further forced juice out of the damaged cells.
The mix was then thoroughly processed in a food processor, and placed in swimming-pool skimmer socks (used to filter pool water and that allow the free passage of water while restricting the movement of fine solids). Ideal for the purpose – the juice was squeezed out. The juice was then vacuum packaged and frozen until needed.
Multiple layers of freshness with a little heat from the jalapeño.
Fifth course: Lemon chicken
A more elaborate course. The elements were:
i) Chicken roulade. A whole chicken skinned in one piece, the skin placed (skin side down and trimmed to be roughly rectangular) on plastic wrap, and dusted with transglutaminase (meat ‘glue’). The chicken breasts (tenderloins removed – they cook too quickly compared to the breast) were laid to form a compact rectangle on the skin and everything was evenly dusted with transglutaminase. The assembly was tightly rolled using the wrap to make a fat sausage shape. This was vacuum packed and left 24h for everything to bind. The chicken was now a seamless roulade of breast meat attached firmly to an outer skin.
It was cooked sous-vide (65C; a temperature probe was used to determine when the centre of the chicken had reached this temperature – about 90m), cooled in an ice bath and refrigerated until needed. About an hour before serving it was reheated in a 60C water bath. Just before serving it was dried and deep fried to crisp the skin, sliced and halved into semi-circular pieces and plated.
ii) Sauce. A brown chicken stock (made in a pressure cooker) was reduced to about one-twentieth of its starting volume. The flavour was adjusted with a small amount of sugar, and it was slightly thickened with Xanthan gum. It was served with salmon roe (which provided little bursts of saltiness) – a take on the chicken and the egg.
iii) Citrus Air. Lemon juice, lime juice and water (1:1:2). To this was added an emulsifier (lecithin; 0.4% by weight) and the mixture foamed with a hand blender. It was left for excess water to drain from the foam (while the chicken was deep-fried), and then served draped over the chicken roulade. Nothing other than lemon chicken.
iv) Parmesan fondue. Egg yolks cooked sous-vide (70C, 10m), giving them a kind of play-dough consistency. The yolks were combined with grated Parmesan cheese, and the consistency adjusted with crème fraîche. Plated as a rocher.
v) Tomato wafer. Edible ultra-thin ‘cellophane’ films (essentially a dehydrated thin gel – store bought) were alternately brushed with egg white and dusted with store-bought freeze-fried tomato powder. Three films were layered to form each wafer, which were then dehydrated.
vi) Miscellaneous. The thin red line in the picture is tomato powder. I wanted some edible flower petals for garnish, but none were available.
Sixth course: Fruit minestrone
The ‘dessert’ course. (i) Candied beans (not visible) – cannelloni beans soaked and cooked as usual, then further cooked sous-vide (70C; 12h) in a syrup of sugar and glucose. (ii) Store-bought vanilla gelato. (iii) Rhubarb and celery slices briefly marinated in sugar syrup. (iv) Compressed strawberries – compressed in their own juice. (v) Cucumber rolls – finely sliced on a mandolin and rolled into spirals. (vi) Blueberries. (vii) Berry juice – raspberry, strawberry and blackberry. The juice was extracted gently using the freeze-thaw technique followed by long draining (12h) in a fine sieve to retain clarity. The juice was sweetened with fructose (a fruit sugar) and adjusted with citric acid.
The berry-juice was the highlight.
Seventh (and final) course: Jelly shots
Gelatin-set ‘cocktails’. Two Italian-liqueur gels: Sambuca (diluted 1:1 with water) and Limon cello (combined with Crème de Cacao and water, 2:1:1). The water enabled the gelatin to set. Aniseed and blueberries share common flavour compounds. Likewise lemon and celery leaves. The gel-shots were garnished accordingly.
Served with a grappa, these gels were edible digestifs that concluded the meal.
Acknowledgements. Naturally, everything was either a recipe, or adapted from a recipe, and motivated by some amazing and inspiring chefs and cooks out there. The main sources were Grant Achatz (Alinea); the ChefSteps team (chefsteps.com); Antoni Aduriz (Mugaritz); Talbot and Kamozawa (Ideas in Food); Pascal Barbot (Astrance); Nathan Myhrvold (Modernist Cuisine); and Michelle Palm (Jelly-Shot Test Kitchen).