Paris Gastronomique

Ah Paris. What an amazing city.  It was my first time visiting this gorgeous place and it couldn’t have come at a better time, my schooling at Le Cordon Bleu is just a week away from ending and my internship at a modern French Boston restaurant (Menton) is just about to begin.  The stars aligned for this one.

Throughout my life, I have formed opinions of how the French people are, most of my influence came from movies, books, and stereotypes. Even cartoons such as Pepe Le Pew when I was a child conjured ideas in my head about the snotty and rude French.  However, I must say, after spending seven days in this country I did not encounter one rude, maladjusted, or condescending person. I asked for directions, ordered meals, and participated in everyday language both in English and my horrible French without any problems at all.  Perhaps it was my boyfriend’s ability to speak French so eloquently that enabled us to fit in seamlessly, but, then again he’s English and that’s a whole other story. (Why the French hate the British).

We arrived in France on a rainy and cold afternoon, after finding our way out of the Luxembourg station in the 6th arrondissement, near St. Germaine De Pres we were steps from our rented Parisian apartment (Thanks Airbnb!). Although I was too excited by all the smells, sights, cafes, and well-to-do-frenchies, we decided it would be best to nap off our jet lag a bit.  I awoke to wine, brie, and a warm and crusty baguette…right! I’m in France! Yes I have the best boyfriend ever. I shook off my foggy head and got down to business with wine and travel guides.

After stuffing myself full of cheese, bread and wine, we went to hit the town around midnight. Although the French often eat later in the evening and restaurants’ usually stay open until 2am, this was not so much on a rainy Monday night.  We found ourselves just a block away at a covered outdoor café that faced the Luxembourg gates.  It wasn’t anything special, but my surroundings and company were, so we had a fantastic time.  The elderly owner was still fluttering about serving us and the few remaining Parisians that still imbibed sipping wine and smoking.  We enjoyed a wonderful bottle of Bordeaux until our teeth looked like wood and Dan splurged on a plate of frites while I took in all the sights and smells of the world around us. Our waiter/owner did not rush us albeit approaching two in the morning, he let us sit and sip and relax until we were the last people in the restaurant.

After three bottles of wine and ten hours of sleep we awoke without one trace of a hangover.  How can this be we thought! A spot of coffee and a few croissants later.. ok and a pain au chocolate.. ok AND a bit of baguette with jam we made moves.  Pastry overloaded and quite happy we decided to plop our carbed out bodies on a tour of the city by way of the Big Bus Tour.  Two and a half hours later we had seen all the major sights and scoped out our adventure areas for the week.

On Wednesday we woke up to torrential rain, it was not what we had planned for, however we were in PARIS and it didn’t matter.  After a few train rides on the metro, we ended up in the largest and oldest covered market in Paris. Tiny books stores, craft shops, wine boutiques, tiny restaurants, artisans, and the occasional empty space filled over 4 city blocks of undercover market places. It felt like true old world Paris.  I could feel the tinkers, butchers, and cheese mongers who formerly occupied this space. It was very special.

While most of the lunch spots were bustling with customers, we were starving and a bit defeated when we stumbled upon a rather fancy but empty looking spot; Passage 53, located at the 53rd address of covered arcade.  We entered a modern minimalist dining room adorned with simple art, and colorful place settings. The maitre’d greeted us in a smart-looking, sleek black suit, with a black skinny tie. He was very French looking minus the thin upper lip mustache, and with a bright smile he welcomed us. He sat us and quickly explained that there was no menu, only pre fixe gastronomique tasting menu; the lunch version, or if we wanted to go bigger, the dinner tasting menu.  But before we were to choose he needed to check with the chef to see if he could accommodate two more for lunch. He further explained that they run solely on reservations.  I started to get nervous. I felt under dressed; I was wearing a simple sun dress soaked in rain, and Dan in his t- shirt and shorts. I was convinced he was checking with the chef to figure out a way to tell us to leave. We were under dressed but that didn’t seem to phase the wait staff, the Maitre’d came back with excellent news that they had room for two more. To our delight, we began to discuss the menu options. Without question Dan and I went for the whole shebang, plus the extra course with caviar. We’re on vacation, bring it! My nerves were instantly calm, we had been accepted.  As guests started to arrive, we noticed their anticipation and energy flooding the room and we quickly began to realize that we were somewhere unique.

If I could eat tasting menus everyday of my life I would. They are such a thrill, a rollercoaster for your palate, and always an adventure of new flavors and products. What I am about to walk you through is an endless homage to traditional French cuisine but in the most simple flavors and modern techniques of our culinary culture to date.  It is and exquisite experience to eat such developed flavors and to understand their depths and difficulty.  Fourteen courses of pure amazingness; some simple, some complex, but all fabulously harmonious.

Amuse bouche #1-Grilled salsify, first poached in butter.

Amuse bouche #2- Veloute of fresh pea with a quenelle of pea ice cream

Course Un- Caviar alongside potato strings with chive and chive blossom

Course Deux- Crab, English cucumber, pea gratinee, horseradish cream, poured cucumber jus with verbena

Course Trois- Gentle poached langoustine with cauliflower cream with crisp cauliflower shavings

Course Quatre-White asparagus, Parmesan cream, crumbled egg yolk and parmesan crisp

Palate awakener- Veal Consomme with a 3 minute egg, sorrel mushroom, chives and asparagus

Course Cinq- Turbo with peas, lima bean, and butter poached wheat berries with wood sorrel

Course Six- Veal breast with fingerling potatoes, celery foam, fennel foam, cabbage, mustard micro green and mustard seed puree

Course Sept- Squab, pumpkin cardamom puree, a micro brunoise quenelle of carrots vichy

Course Huit- Crème Brulee with an isomalt crackle

Course Neuf- Lemon curd ice cream with a lime candy and a cold lime crème sauce

Course Dix- Burnt caramel ice cream with a shaved white chocolate crumble

Course Onze- Season cherries, cherry sorbet, grated white chocolate and cherry grantinee on top of a white cherry ice cream

Course Douze- Chocolate ganache tart with citrus honey

All in all; 14 courses with champagne to start and coffee to end.  Our bellies were full, our minds were swirling with excitement and my taste buds were dancing around in my mouth. It was one of the best meals of my life; simple, well executed, unexpected, and entirely memorable.

Paris Part Deux coming up soon!

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Technique: Sous Vide… What is it?

Sous Vide is magic.

It’s like a jacuzzi for meat.

What is sous vide [soo veed], really, you ask? Technically, according to www.epicurious.com it is “French for “under vacuum.”  Sous vide is a food-packaging technique pioneered in Europe whereby fresh ingredients are combined into various dishes, vacuum-packed in individual-portion pouches, cooked under a vacuum, then chilled. Sous vide  food is used most often by hotels, restaurants and caterers, though it’s expected to become increasingly available in supermarkets”

That is a boring definition. 

I would say that sous vide is the most exquisite way to cook a piece of meat. Picture this: You have 60 minutes left to live before the end of the world. Forget sex, calling your loved ones, or crossing off a bucket list item, you want to have your favorite last meal; perfectly cooked medium-rare, marinated steak on the grill. So succulent, juicy and flavorful, that you can die happy (am I projecting here?). Good thing, you miraculously have all the ingredients and equipment needed; a bad ass piece of beef, a really good marinade, a state of the art sous vide thermal immersion circulator, a vacuum sealer, and hot char-coaled grill.  We’re in business.

The sous vide method works like this: Steak, in a vacuum ready plastic bag. Marinade, poured in. Pouch, vacuumed. Sous vide in an immersion circulator, 125*F for 30 minutes.  Open bag, place on a high-heat hot grill, sear to perfection, 3 minutes. 7-10 minutes of rest.

Slice.

Eat.

Enlightenment.

59:59.

Death.

Ok, so it’s not really the end of the world, but forget 24 hours of marinating, or “overnight in the fridge for best results” With the help of one of these you can have a little end of the world, steak party for yourself.

Joking aside, using a sous vide method under vacuum pack eliminates most of the air, allowing whatever marinade or spices placed inside the bag to be absorbed by the meat and to lock in flavors normally lost when cooking.  Cooking in a water bath, or thermal immersion circulator, of constant temperature penetrates the protein from all angles and evenly cooks throughout. Overcooking is pretty much impossible considering the constant set temperature.

One disadvantage that can be easily fixed is the lack of a caramelized (maillard reaction) crust. Because the protein is being cooked so evenly and not over an extreme heat, there is no maillard reaction of the protein surface caramelizing.  One way to fix this is to sear  on a hot grill after sous vide cooking. This will give a juicy evenly cooked steak the crusty texture and char it deserves.

Lets not forget about vegetables! Using the sous vide method on vegetables also has its advantages.  This method will thoroughly cook  the veg while maintaining a firm to somewhat crisp texture, the cell walls do not get destroyed by high heat, and the gelantinization of starch in the vegetable can be achieved without over cooking!

There are a few food safety risks with using the sous vide method, in particular botulism. Duh duhn duhnnn. Don’t freak out! It’s not prevalent but like any other food safety and proper handling are important. To prevent this bacteria from happening always remember to pack food under vacuum pack below 38*F.  The means, don’t put a 45*F steak in the bag if its been on the counter for 8 hours thawing.  Time and Temperature safety- just like all other foods we handle. If you are cooking meat for a long duration, it must reach 135*F within 4 hours and be kept there in order to pasteurize the meat. For example, 48 hour short ribs.  Sound good huh.. tender delicious and botulism free if correctly heated!

Buying a sous vide machine will cost you a pretty penny ($400-$1000 +), but if you are an avid home cook and like exploring new cooking techniques this will not disappoint.  Also to learn more about this cooking technique, pick up a copy of Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure- you’ll be a pro in no time!

For accurate cooking times and temps here is a handy chart from TK; http://www.sousvidecooking.org/tag/thomas-keller/

Tomato Water Spheres with Basil Oil

The big ‘voila!’ moment when working with molecular technique, comes in 2 parts…

1. Wow, I pulled it off ! (Meaning, the science worked)

&

2.  It tastes good! 

Without both of these end results, molecular gastronomy techniques are useless.

Last night I decided to tackle spherification, again. The first time around I made balsamic caviar, not realizing that with the use of agar, (a tougher jelling agent) actually continued to solidify the longer it sat.  Agar did not give me the consistency of a fluid center like I had hoped, it rendered small jellied beads of balsamic vinegar.  After experimenting with agar, I now know that it could be better used to make noodles, fruit beads, or other solidified gels,  but necessarily the best product for liquid spherification.

To achieve fluid centers, there are 2 ways to do this, one that will hold as a liquid for a few hours before the calcium turns it into a complete gel and the other way, using reverse spherification, which will allow the spheres to hold fluid in the center for a longer period of time (up to a week). I will explain both.

Helpful tools to gather before starting: 

  • Blender or Vita Mix
  • Chinois
  • Cheese cloth
  • Small slotted spoon
  • Syringe
  • Calcium alginate
  • Calcium lactate
  • Gram scale

The Modernist Cuisine Recipe and Method:

Tomato Water: 250 grams

  • 1kg of Tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • Salt to taste
  1. Blend in a vita mix until tomatoes are pulverized.
  2. Strain through cheesecloth in a chinois, repeat if necessary, pulp-free tomato water should result.  Reserve to the side or refrigerate until use.

Tomato Spheres with Basil Oil:

  • 250 g Tomato water
  • 2 g Sodium Alginate
  • 200 g Grapeseed oil
  • 100 g Basil
  • 500 g Water
  • 2.5 g Calcium lactate
  1. In a vitamix blend pour in 250g of tomato water and start power, slowly tap in 2 g of sodium alginate, mix well for about 4 minutes on med-high speed. Press through a chinois or fine sieve, and refrigerate.  After this process, bubbles will be present in the mixture, to remove these let this sit overnight in the fridge or if you have a commercial vacuum sealer, vacuum pack it to quickly remove air for immediate use.
  2. To make the Basil oil, blanch and shock the basil. Combine with 200g of grapeseed oil in a vitamix, blend until homogenized. Press through a sieve, decant basil oil, and reserve in a syringe.
  3. To make the calcium lactate water bath, combine 500g of water and 2.5g of calcium lactate.  Pour water into the vitamix, turn on, then sprinkle calcium lactate into the water a few pinches at a time, blend until completely homogenized.  **Sprinkling in the powders into the liquids will prevent clumping and gelling.
  4. Set up 4 water baths: fill one with calcium lactate solution and fill the three others with cold water.
  • Fill tablespoon with reserved tomato water solution.
  • Tip spoon into calcium lactate bath to gently release contents.
  • Set in bath until membrane has fully formed around tomato sphere, about 30 seconds.
  • Inject approx .1 oz of basil oil into the submerged sphere.
  • Remove sphere from bath with perforated spoon.
  • Repeat procedures with remaining tomato water solution and basil oil.
  • Rinse spheres in each of the three cold water baths.
  • Refrigerate.

Reverse Spherification:

Using reverse spherification will allow you to hold on to the spheres in the refrigerator for a longer period of time, usually up to a week, but no later.
Follow the above instructions but switch Sodium alginate for calcium lactate in instruction line #1,  reserve in the fridge overnight.  For the water bath mixture, sodium alginate will be used instead of calcium lactate. The two molecular altering products are switched.  This allows the same molecular interaction to be achieved, but their hold times are both different.  In the first method, the spheres, if left overnight would solidify completely.  Using the reverse method allows for the spheres to remain liquid up to a few days.

The science behind it:

Spherification relies on a simple gelling reaction between calcium and alginate, a gumlike substance extracted from brown seaweed. The calcium chloride ions cause the long-chain alginate polymers to become cross-linked, forming a gel. Because the sodium alginate/tomato water mixture enters the calcium lactate in the shape of a droplet, the gel forms a bead. The size of the bead can vary dramatically, making it possible to create jelly-shelled equivalents of everything from caviar to gnocchi and ravioli.

For a visual experience and better understanding of spherification, follow along with Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, and Mark Bittman in the following video:

Harvard to host Ferran Adrià and José Andrés again!

El Bulli proprietor Ferran Adrià in his kitchen. Photograph: Samuel Aranda/Getty Images

Until now, I never grew up really idolizing anyone.

Of all the types of cooking and cuisine in the world, the style of cooking that excites me most and sends shock waves of serotonin roller-coasting around in my brain is that of molecular gastronomy, or to some Modern Cuisine. It is magical, whimsical, exciting and mysterious. To me, there is the art of cooking, and the cooking of art.  Ferran Adria, pictured above, is a founding father of this culinary art form and he prefers to call himself a ‘deconstructivist‘.  In every sense of the word, that is, what he is.  A man of humble beginnings, Ferran is one of the most respected chef’s in the world.

As an 18-year-old trying to save up enough money to vacation with his friends on the island of Ibiza, Spain, he took a job as a dishwasher.  It was here where Ferran was introduced to and trained in French technique and cuisine.  In 1983 at the age of 22,  he applied for a stage at El Bulli in Roses, Catalonia, Spain.  18 months later he was the head chef.

In the later part of the 80’s Ferran began experimenting with new techniques.  In search for something unique and avant garde (afterall, it was the 80’s!), Ferran started playing around with foams, both sweet an savory foams.  Naturally when we think of foams, meringue, mousse, or whipped cream might come to mind.  Ferran took this a step further with natural flavors (such as fruit juices, infusions of aromatic herbs, etc) and mixed with them with neutrally-flavored gelling or stabilizing agent such as agar or lecithin.  Whipping with an  immersion blender or extruded through a whipped cream canister equipped with N2O cartridges, foams can be formed without significant substance, and thus allow cooks to integrate new flavors without changing the physical composition of a dish. Some famous food-foams are foamed espresso, foamed mushroom, foam foie gras, foamed beet and foamed coconut. A thermo whip is commonly used to make these foams through the making of a stock, creating a gel and extruding through the N2O canister.  Pretty cool. 

El Bulli Margarita

A dish called 'Thaw 2005' includes frozen green pine cone powder, wild pine nut milk sorbet and toasted wild pine nut savory praline that has been frozen with liquid nitrogen.

Ferran Adria, is an innovator, a teacher, a perfectionist, and above all, seriously passionate about exploration in the deconstructivist ideal of food.  A chef with such finesse, flavor accuracy, and technique might keep the secrets to his success to himself, but in fact he is the exact opposite.  He wants to teach people and share his experiments.

Ferran’s techniques have been adopted by some of the most renowned chef’s currently in the business.  One of those, Jose Andres, formerly worked for Ferran at El Bulli, is a James Beard award winning chef, and is the owner and innovator of  the restaurants within the Think Food Group.    I have the pleasure to see both Ferran and Jose, in action, together, this Sunday night at the Harvard Science and Cooking Lecture series finale.  For the second year in a row these two will talk about food innovation, ‘deconstructivist’ technique and what is to become of El Bulli,  a new culinary think tank?     I could not be more excited for this event, this is my ringside seat to the culinary Emmy’s. I’ll be sure to share my experience next week!

View Last year’s lecture here: Science and Cooking: A Dialogue | Lecture 1 (2010)

Want to channel your inner Ferran? Try out this ‘on the easy side’ recipe  Slow Cooked Salmon with Roasted Garlic green oil & lemon “air”

Ingredients:

  • 4 salmon fillets (about 2 oz. each)
  • 4 oz. roasted garlic green oil
  • 4 tsp. lemon “air”
  • chives, finely chopped, for garnish.

Roasted Garlic Green Oil

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 oz. roasted garlic
  • 6 oz. spinach
  • Salt to taste

Blanch spinach in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then plunge into iced water, squeezing the water completely from the leaves.

In a blender, mix the vegetable oil, spinach and chopped roasted garlic. Puree until smooth. Strain the green oil through cheesecloth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

***If you’d like to take this one step further and introduce spherification into this dish,  puree 6oz of spinach, 1/4 cup of water, and 3 oz of roasted garlic.  Strain through cheese cloth and mix with .5 gram of agar agar power, bring to a quick boil and remove from heat.  Using a kitchen syringe, extract the green water mixture and droplet into a cold cup of olive oil. These little drops will solidify into tiny spheres. Rinse in water and garnish the dish.  For more information on spherification technique, click here

Lemon Air

  • 2 oz. lemon juice
  • 2 oz. water
  • 18 tsp. lecithin

Mix above ingredients in a mixing bowl, then blend with a hand blender until foam forms on the top. Scoop foam off with spoon.

Salmon
Place salmon on a baking sheet and cook in a 175-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until cooked through (the fish should look opaque, but not white). Do not over cook the salmon.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt.

Place the salmon in the middle of the plate. Drizzle roasted garlic green oil around the salmon and top with lemon air and chives. Serve immediately.

I hope you have fun making this dish!

Thanks for reading,

xo!- G

Biere-Gruyere soup with fall ale foam and sourdough toast

I’m on a soup kick and this Indian summer that’s been in Boston for the last 8 days is driving me crazy.  Hellooo Mother Nature,  I’ve put most of my summer duds away and the AC is out of the window, so could you please change the leaves, turn down the temps and make it fall already!   There is a rumor it’s coming. The ever-so-non-accurate Dylan Dreyer (our local Boston meteorologist who cares more about her Banana Republic outfit than accurate forecasting) is predicting fall like temps and rain this weekend so I hope she’s right.  Sunday sounds like it’s going to be rainy with a high of 61/ low of 47, so it will be a perfect day to try and replicate Sel de la Terre’s Biere-Gruyere soup with fall ale foam and sourdough toast. HOLY CRAP, this was pure taste bud ecstasy.  If you don’t like cheese,  stop reading.  If you don’t like beer, stop following me all together.

This past Sunday, Dan picked me up from the airport and took me to a place he’d been wanting to try out, Sel de la Terre on the Wharf.   A bottle of wine, some apps… it was a perfect Sunday evening. We started with their Petit Gouters; (bread accompaniments)  Balsamic roasted shallots and garlic confit, french olives, and an Eggplant-goat cheese puree with toasted walnuts.  We were starving but not blown away; they were however, nice little nibbles to start with.   I like to ease into meals, I like to take my time, and I like to take in the flavors while enjoying my company.  I’m the slow eater, pain-in-the-ass servers do not like to wait on, but I’m polite and I also order bottles that I most often tip you on, so whatever.  Since I like to take my time and enjoy a night out to dinner, I’m often frowned upon by management as I do not provide them the burn and turn rate they’d like.  I’m also not often an entree orderer because I get full fast and then wind up being the jerk who’s taken two bites of her meal. I’ve parted ways with entrees for sometime now. I’m all about small plates, taste variety, and eating until I’m 80% full, so I can go out that night, duh!

Because I gravitate towards  small bites, apps and soups, I am a firm believer that if you have good soup, everything else on your menu will be good.  It’s hard to make a good soup.  It requires an enormous amount of time to carefully simmer a stock to the right taste and in a big enough batch. Soups, in some cases also require a lot of straining, which in large volumes isn’t easy! Having the right consistency, flavor profile and depth of flavor can also be tricky.   If you make a soup from scratch (not one poured out of a Cisco bag), you more often than not care about what you are cooking, take pride in your culinary skills, and have the chops to give me hope for the rest of your menu. This may be a biased opinion, but out of all the soup I have had in my life, I can think of one other that is memorable and a favorite: The Sherwood Inn’s French Onion.

Sel de la Terre’s  Biere-gruyere soup with fall ale foam and sourdough toast, described as ecstasy above. is. just. that.  It is a creamy, clean, perfectly seasoned puree of cheesy goodness with a pale ale finish.  After the first spoon full I had an instant vision of my feet up, in ski gear, next to a fire after a few beers, with this soup in hand.   It was amazing and for a moment it felt like real fall. I’ve been scouring the internet for a recipe remotely similar and after a few twitter convo’s back and forth with someone who updates the @SeldelaTerre feed we are now in negotiation for the real recipe. If I don’t get it, I think I am going to try a version of the following:

  • 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
  • 2 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 fl oz)
  • 1 (12-oz) bottle ale such Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada or Harpoon pale ale
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 lb grated Gruyère
  • 4 bacon slices (3 1/2 oz total), cooked and crumbled  (optional)

Wash leeks in a bowl of cold water, agitating water, then lift out leeks and drain in a colander. Get the dirt out!

Cook leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, and bay leaf in butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to moderately low and sprinkle flour over vegetables, then cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add milk, broth, and beer in a stream, whisking, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper.

Add cheese by handfuls, stirring constantly, and cook until cheese is melted, 3 to 4 minutes (do not boil). Discard bay leaf.

To make the beer foam you need:

  • 1 Cold pale ale beer
  • Immersion Blender
  • 1 gram of Lecithin

In a cup, combine 1/2 of the cold beer, sprinkle in the lecithin, and blend with the immersion blender.  The foam will begin to form and the lecithin acts as a stabilizer, keeping the foam intact.   Drink the rest of the beer.

Dollop the foam on top of the soup and serve with grilled sourdough points drizzled with truffle oil.

If you decided to try this out, I hope you like it.  I plan to give it a shot this weekend, so I cannot attest to the complete accuracy nor amazingness that this recipe may or may not offer.  It does however sound very close to the flavors I enjoyed. As a side note, I would strain the soup and serve it as a creamy, fluid, puree without the vegetable chunks.  Good luck!

Thanks for reading! xo-G