I realize this isn’t the best way to start things, but I have a little confession to make.
The dish I posted last week, well, you know, I didn’t actually make it last week! Shocker, I know. But I needed to jump start myself into this little cooking project of mine, and so I needed to share something, quick. Being that making this blog was not a new idea for me, I had already created a little stash of pictures from completed dishes I did throughout the year, in the event (hopes) that I would actually sit down and do this thing. Good thinking, right? Well that’s what was going through my head, at least until the second after I hit the “publish” button.
Then came the mild panic attack.
I’ve looked through the Alinea cookbook. I’ve looked through Ad Hoc, and even made a few things from there. But I just committed to blogging about it. Which means that you all are going to know if I’m being lazy, so I can’t just push off learning to do these new dishes. And did I mention that these recipes are waaaaaay out of my comfort zone? Don’t believe me? Stop me if you’ve heard of a single one of these ingredients: Ayu, salsify, agar agar, Methocel F-50, yuzu, mastic, transglutaminase… anybody? Didn’t think so. So you and I are in the same boat then, and you should have stopped me somewhere in the comment section of my first post. Thanks.
So I figure, that once I’m committed, I’m gonna dive right in and see if I can learn to swim. Here goes.
This dish is, to my understanding, is a reconstruction of… actually, I have no idea what world cuisine influences this dish. My only clue is the word “Thai” in the title. I know, I’m very cultured. But the truth is, although the flavors here were very unfamiliar to me, they were mighty delicious, and I’ll be thinking about ways that we can use them in the future.
I started by making the brine for the duck. A brine, for those who may be familiar, is a saltwater solution, which can have additional flavors in the mix. The idea is that the salt helps draw the liquid into the food, while also helping break down cell walls, thereby increasing tenderness. This brine was a mixture of water, cinnamon, brown sugar, lemongrass, soy sauce, salt, pineapple juice, jalapeno pepper and ginger.
I brought the whole thing to a boil, then removed from the heat and let it steep for two hours.
That right there is my hacked-to-pieces duck carcass. For a second try, I think I did ok.
After the brine was done steeping and had cooled down, I strained it through a chinois, and left the duck breasts to marinate for three hours.
Meanwhile, I tossed some halved and seeded butternut squash in a 350 degree oven with some vegan butter for an hour. Here’s the result.
After those cooled, I scooped out 500g of the flesh and brought it to a simmer with non-dairy creamer, sugar and salt, then tossed it all in my blender on high, or as my blender awesomely calls it–liquefy.
Yes, I know that the “Puree” button is actually lit in that picture, but that’s only because I was starting the blender off slow. Didn’t want him to throw out his pitching arm or anything.
Sometimes, though, I feel like tossing anything in there and seeing just how literally that liquefy button is meant to be taken. I mean, don’t make claims that you can’t fulfill, OK, KitchenAid?
That whole mix got strained through a chinois as well, which you will see in the final plating.
On to the banana pudding and banana froth. Two severely punctured bananas went into the oven at 350….
….and came out like this.
You can’t see how mushy they became inside, but if you already can’t stand mushy bananas like me, it wasn’t too appetizing. Luckily, in the end, they didn’t taste anything like they looked. Otherwise this dish would have the word phlegm in the title.
Out came 250g of
snot roasted banana, and went into a saucepan with banana chips, creamer, soy milk, sugar and salt.Once that was brought to a boil, I added 10g of agar agar, and whisked for a minute and a half.
Agar agar, by the way, is a natural substitute for gelatin, derived from seaweed. Like gelatin, it is liquid when hot, and sets when it cools. So into the freezer went my banana pudding mixture, because I didn’t plan ahead and have the “overnight in the refrigerator” as the book instructs. This is it as after it set.
I know. We went from snot to something much worse. But the next step was a jaunt on liquefy!! Plus, straining through a chinois. After all was said and done, it really had the same smooth, creamy consistency of pudding, and I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures of it before the final plating.
Next came the banana froth. More roasted banana, banana chips, creamer, sugar salt and 2g of citric acid, into a saucepan. Don’t know what that is? Here’s some help.
Ordered it from Amazon. Yes, I know it says to induce vomiting if ingested, but don’t worry, that’s only if you get confused and use this instead of sugar, not when you’re dealing with less than %.05 of the total dish.
I brought that mix to a boil, took it off the flame and let it steep. Technically, I was supposed to let it steep for two days, but I totally dropped the ball on that part. Before plating, I brought the strained mixture to 180 degrees
added 3g of soy lecithin, removed from the heat and blended it up with a hand blender. Then I transferred it to a tall canister and waited to froth it up until right before plating.
I then went to work on all the garnishes. I heat up some oil to 400 degrees, (which, by the way, you’re apparently not supposed to do on high. As the oil was heating way too quickly, I stepped out of the room for a second, and heard a very, very loud pop. I came back into the kitchen to find hot oil splattered EVERYWHERE! Thank G-d I don’t have a picture of my splotchy, third degree-burned face to share with you guys.) I dropped in a couple of handfuls of pumpkin seeds, and kept them there for about 45 seconds, until the were puffed up and golden brown. I drained those over a paper towel, and then tossed them with two parts kosher salt, one part mild curry powder and one part hot curry powder.
I prepped the rest of the garnishes; cilantro, ginger, lime zest, Thai chili, scallion and lemongrass. Now on to the plate.
Beautiful, isn’t it? On the bottom is the squash soup, topped with slices of just medium-rare duck breast. You can probably figure out the rest yourselves, besides for the white on top, which is the banana froth.
After I was done plating, I stepped back for a second, and literally just stared, kind of amazed that I actually put this together. Oh, and I decided not to photoshop out that smudge of squash soup along the side of the bowl, just to make sure you believed me that this dish came out of my inexperienced kitchen.
But how did it taste?
Well, I mentioned before that these flavors together was a bit unfamiliar to me. That is true. Here you have the savory duck, the pungency of the curry, the rich and mildly sweet soup, a very big kick of the chili and the caramel-yness of the banana all come together in a very balanced, delicious way. I happen to love duck, by the way. It’s a shame that in our Kosher world, the only ones available are frozen, and they’re not very big at that. Plus, it’s on the expensive side.
So this dish would be very nice as a second course Yom Tov meal. But the amazing thing about cooking a dish with so many components is, that many of these are little mini-dishes in their own right. The soup, curried pumpkin seeds, banana pudding, and even the banana froth can all be used in many other applications. The soup, in particular, was delicious, and very nicely paired with the seeds. You could eat an entire bowl of it, if it weren’t so rich. So I would substitute a good measure of the cream for chicken stock, and there you have a beautiful soup with some added crunch and spice.
Another thing. If you’ve ever heard or read reviews of food, and the term “clean flavors” was mentioned, you may have been wondering to yourself what that meant. I’ll tell you. Each separate component here is so carefully developed, that you just get hit with all the beautiful essence of that flavor. Take the soup, again. There are no off flavors. The roasting, cooking, blending and straining all produce a smooth, delicious punch of butternut squash.
So, all in all, this dish was a hit with me. I’ll stress, again, that if you’re organized, there isn’t more than an hour and a half of work here. Do you have a free day this summer? Maybe do a little advance planning, spend some time in the kitchen, and amaze yourself with something new. Trust me, it’s worth it.