I thought I would try a meal in multiple small courses, a classic way to eat in many cultures (especially Spanish-speaking). I settled on 15 courses. It took ~4hrs to get through. If I ever attempt anything as crazy as that again, I think it would work better as a long and rambling lunch than as an evening meal.
Below is a summary of the dishes. In each case there is link to my [recipe notes] for further details. When planning complex meals, I usually transpose my version of the recipe onto a single page in a standard format and keep these on a clipboard to consult during preparation and serving. They might be a bit cryptic in places, but generally they should work if followed.
1. Thai basil daiquiri
2. Nigiri: Salmon & egg; tuna & milk
3. Avocado tempura
4. Prawn in 3 textures
5. Crab in cucumber soup
6. Tomato tartare, ice croutons
7. Scallop chips, peas, oyster sauce
8. Sweet potato gnocchi, brown butter consommé
9. Vanilla lettuce
10. Burnt fillet of venison, 3 sauces
11. Frozen pond
12. Beef tartare, nasturtium, tarragon
13. Black olive Oreo
14. Ricotta sphere, agave nectar, thyme
15. Red berries, beetroot bubbles
Thai basil daiquiri
There is a post on this already. Essentially a classic daiquiri (white rum and lime juice) flavoured with Thai basil. The drink was refreshing in flavour and a bright start to the meal.
Nigiri: Salmon & egg; tuna & milk
This is a Ferran Adria recipe. Traditional Japanese nigiri is hand-formed rice topped with raw fish. The rice has been replaced with the egg and the milk. The combination of flavours was successful (as you would expect from Ferran). The egg yolk was cooked (it was runnier than I intended) and then spherified. The milk was heated, gelatin added and then whisked as it cooled and set, resulting in an aerated milk gel.
The tempura used glutinous rice flour (which confusingly is gluten free), mixed with wasabi powder, creating a warm tempura batter. A small piece of a rum and lime gel was added on serving. There is a post on this tempura here.
Prawn in 3 textures
The textures were soft, crunchy and fluid (Ferran again). The prawn tail was shelled and cooked sous vide. The head was separated from the legs and cooked sous vide at the same time as the tails. The heads were squeezed to release the coral and other flavours, which were then strained and served in a small spoon as an intense ‘soup’. The legs were dusted in glutinous rice flour, deep-fried until crunchy and served sprinkled with smoked paprika. The plating could have been improved.
Crab in cucumber soup
Cucumbers were juiced, salted and slightly thickened with xanthan gum (I overdid this step a bit and have now adjusted the recipe to correct). Otherwise it was just crab flesh, diced apple, fennel fronds and finely diced mild red chilli. (Adapted from Sean Brock).
Tomato tartare, ice croutons
Simple but effective (another Ferran inspiration). The tartare was served at room temperature and its soft texture contrasted nicely with the cold crunch of the ice. The ice ‘croutons’ were made using a mini ice-cube tray.
Coarsely crushed ice would be effective too, although it would probably melt faster and so lose its effectiveness.
Scallop chips, peas, oyster sauce
Adapted from Rene Redzepi. The scallops were lightly frozen, sliced thinly on a mandolin and dehydrated at 60C until crisp. By the time of serving they had softened – worth considering re-crisping just before service in a low oven. The oyster sauce (Massimo Bottura) was a blended emulsion of oysters (with their juice – freshly shucked) and grapeseed oil (used for its neutral flavour), thickened with xanthan as needed. The peas were bound with a spinach and mustard sauce, which also served as the green sauce in the venison dish to come later.
Sweet potato gnocchi, brown butter consommé
A flourless gnocchi from Ferran. Roasted sweet potato was pureed with butter and sugar and mixed with a calcium salt. The mixture was piped into an alginate bath through a large-diameter nozzle, in short lengths.
The consommé had a subtle butter flavour but was fat-free and shimmering clear (from ideasinfood.com). Butter was heated until the solids started to brown. Water and other flavours (lemon, soy, Tabasco) were added and the mixture simmered to extract butter flavour. The mixture was cooled and most of the fat removed. The liquid was clarified using the gel-freeze-thaw method that I recommend. The consommé was popular.
A refreshing interlude from Andoni Aduriz. Hearts of Cos lettuce were vacuum-infused with vanilla water (vanialla pods simmered in water – strained and cooled). A chamber vacuum machine is needed for this one, although I have not tried just soaking the lettuce in the liquid, which could be effective enough. However, the vacuum ruptures cell walls that then allows vanilla liquid to enter the cells when atmospheric pressure is restored (and also lightens lettuce texture). Smaller pieces of lettuce could be infused using a reverse process in a whipping siphon.
Burnt fillet of venison, 3 sauces
The venison was cooked sous vide. Served with:
Red sauce: Sour cherries, blended and thickened. Green sauce: Spinach and mustard emulsion. White sauce: Potato and milk emulsion.
(Recipe adapted from Massimo Bottura – Spin painted veal)
It’s mentioned at the end of the ice post. Bowls of water were placed in the freezer until the tops had just frozen over. Two small holes were made on opposite sides of the ice sheet, and the water drained out. The top can then be dusted with a flavour of choice. In this case I compromised by using an instant ginger tea. Something more refined would have been better. Still, it made an unusual interlude.
Beef tartare, nasturtium, tarragon
The tartare was made from a piece of fillet that was scraped along the grain with a sharp knife to create a very tender beef ‘puree’.
It was covered with a diced spring onion and horseradish mix, that in turn was sprinkled with crumbled Ryvita crispbread (another compromise – the original calls for rye breadcrumbs toasted in butter). It was all topped off with baby nasturtian leaves from my garden.
Served with powdered juniper berries and caraway seeds, and a tarragon emulsion.
(Recipe adapted from Rene Redzepi)
Black olive Oreo
Ricotta sphere, agave nectar, thyme
Ricotta, honey and thyme are a classic combination. Try it out by draining ricotta overnight – serve drizzled with honey and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.
In this presentation, the ricotta was blended with buttermilk and spherified in an alginate solution (the dairy already contains the calcium needed to form the outer gel). The honey was replaced by agave nectar (for no good reason).
Eaten in one mouthful (the sphere is liquid inside). The flavours are perceived serially – first a burst of creamy acidity as the spheres are ruptured, followed by the sweetness of the agave and then slowly a lingering herbal overtone.
Red berries, beetroot bubbles
Andoni Aduriz. Seasonal berries were served with small beetroot cubes that had been briefly simmered in sugar syrup. They were drizzled with a blackcurrent juice and olive oil emulsion.
To make the bubbles, beetroot juice was mixed with egg white powder (a surfactant). An aquarium bubbler (kept for this purpose) creates bubbles out of the juice, which collect on the top and are removed with a spoon as needed.
In retrospect, I’m sorry I didn’t reverse the order of this and the previous course. The ricotta sphere, as a surrogate cheese course, eaten in a single bite and with the subtle lingering herbal notes of the thyme, would have made a more definitive end to the meal.
We’ve reached the end of the menu. My recommendation? Don’t try this at home.