Monthly Archives: April 2013

Yolk Drops, asparagus, Meyer lemon, black pepper

I may have committed Alinea blasphemy with this plating. You see, the relationship between Grant Achatz and Charlie Trotter is shaky at best. Grant worked at Charlie Trotter’s for a few months before moving to California to work with Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. If you read the chapter regarding his time at Trotter’s in Life on the Line, you can tell that Grant was not a fan and ultimately quit. Trotter’s parting words to him were “[i]f you do not stay at this restaurant for a full year, you will simply not exist to me. Period. That means don’t ever call me. Don’t use me as a reference. Don’t put Charlie Trotter’s on your résumé.” Charlie Trotter has lived up to his word; Grant has stated recently that he has never visited Alinea and they haven’t spoken since.

So what does this all this have to do with my plating here? You see, the plate I used is from Charlie Trotter’s. After Charlie Trotter’s closed last year, everything in the restaurant was put up for auction. I ended up buying a set of 6 of these plates for under $20. Aaron and I were lucky enough to dine at Trotter’s about a year ago and I remembered eating off these plates back then. We were served Lobster with a beet infused spaetzle, fermented black garlic, and horseradish vinaigrette on them.

I thought the design was pretty cool. Basically, it’s an off-set large shallow bowl standing on a small pedestal. I’m hoping the design will work well in presenting some future Alinea dishes.

Anyway, onto the yolk drops. What we have here are yolk drops mixed with asparagus buds in a lemon vinaigrette with a lemon puree and asaparagus foam on the side.

I started with the lemon vinaigrette and puree. Please note that the recipe calls specifically for the sweeter and more cook-friendly meyer lemons. I couldn’t find any meyer lemons yesterday, so I decided to sweeten each of these elements with simple syrup, which cut down on the sour and bitterness excellently. The vinaigrette was exceptionally easy to prepare; I just mixed some lemon juice with grapeseed oil, salt, and simple syrup.

The lemon puree was a little more interesting. I literally quartered 3 lemons and threw them in a blender with simple syrup. I was worried that this would not turn into a puree, or that if it did, it would be disgusting. Thankfully, I was wrong. It took some time, but eventually those lemons turned into a liquid that was later strained through my chinois.

Next, I worked on the asparagus. I started by cutting the bud off from each stalk and then cutting the stalks into roughly one inch pieces. I then broke up the buds to make a nicer presentation. I blanched the stalks and buds separately and let them sit in ice water both to quickly end the cooking process and preserve the bright green color.

I juiced the asparagus stalk and added some soy lecithin so that it would foam up when I dipped my immersion blender into the juice.

Lastly, I worked on the eggs. Could we all take a moment to appreciate how I separated the yolk from the white of a dozen eggs without fucking up any of them? I’ve learned that the best method of separating egg whites and yolk is by cracking the eggs whole into a bowl and gently pulling out the yolks with your hands. Messy and gooey, but it gets the job done.

To turn the yolks into yolk drops, I first had to make some clarified butter. Once that was done, I whisked the yolks with some salt and funneled the mixture into a squeeze bottle. I then squeezed single drops of egg into the heated clarified butter and scooped them own when they began to float. For the record, this took way longer than I initially imagined and my first few attempts to make “drops” were more like blobs, but I improved. Before plating, I drained the butter off the eggs.

Finally, plating. I mixed the drained yolk drops with the asparagus buds, lemon vinaigrette, and black pepper. The recipe does not actually mention black pepper except in the title, but where else would it go? I then added some lemon puree to one side and asparagus foam on the other.

Turned out pretty well. The lemon vinaigrette got a little lost in the mix, but the puree made up for it. I would probably make this again, maybe for brunch.

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Bean, many garnishes

Making Bean was such a laborious process that I didn’t take too many photos. So instead of describing every step I took to make everything, I’ll just show you what the end result was and tell you what everything is. Plus, I need to share some lessons I’ve learned working through the book in general.

In the center is a white bean puree topped with crisp pancetta and Guinness bubbles. Clockwise from the top center is:

1. Apple sphere cooked in white wine with molasses
2. Lemon marshmellow with lemon zest
3. Vanilla and bay leaf cube
4. Fried almond and green bean salad with almond-lemon vinaigrette
5. Roasted garlic clove with pink peppercorn skins
6. Parsnip chip with parsley
7. Ball of tomato and mango leathers
8. Mung bean sprouts with sesame and “yuzu” vinaigrette

I have to confess, I just couldn’t be bothered to make the “pillow of nutmeg air” that this dish is supposed to rest upon. As much as I like to tell people that the recipes in the Alinea cookbook can be made at home, that’s true only to a certain extent. Don’t get me wrong, I could have bought some pillow cases, some plastic bags, a heat sealer and a Volcano vaporizer and put it all together (I wouldn’t have been the first person to do so), but I have to accept the limitations of my budget and the practicalities of owning a Volcano Vaporizer. I’ve been learning to cut corners when necessary. I’d rather just go ahead and make a dish than spend hours and tons of money seeking out a rare ingredient that isn’t even a highlighted in the dish.

Another example of cutting corners here is with the mung bean sprouts. In the book, I’m supposed to top them with “sea grapes.” Sea grapes are an ingredient that is found in one small region of Japan and for all I can tell, isn’t really for sale in the US. I also wasn’t prepared to spend a lot of money ordering yuzu juice online and decided to make my own. I used equal parts grapefruit juice, lime juice, and mandarin orange juice to approximate the flavor of yuzu juice.

I’ve also learned that I might need some help with these bigger dishes. Near the end, I became overwhelmed with the number of components in front of me, panicked, and began throwing stuff on the plate without any attention to detail. Because of that, the maple sauce I had made didn’t make it onto the plate. For some reason I thought that if I didn’t get everything on the plate right away, something would melt or the kitchen would catch fire. I forget sometimes that Alinea has a huge line of experienced cooks working on these dishes. Next time I make something this big, I’m going to make an event out of it and invite people over to help me.

And ultimately, I’m learning that not everything has to be perfect. An example here is the parsnip chip. In the recipe, the parsnip chips are lightly crumbed up and mixed with parsley dust. Because I couldn’t cut my parsnip chips to 1/16″of an inch, they wouldn’t dry up in the dehydrator to the point where they would crumble. And I don’t have the knife skills to turn a bunch of parsley into “dust.” I feel that despite these imperfections, a suitable substitute was achieved by just topping a dried out whole parsnip chip with a sprig of parsley. Plus, the curve of the chip made it look pretty cool without being crumbled up.

To end, here are some photos I got of the cooking process.

Tomato Leather

The veggies going into the bean puree

Mise-en-place for the Bean Puree (the bottom right cup holds an assortment of herbs)

Lemon Marshmellow gooey-ness

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