18 January 2011

Smoke, tobacco and blackberry

I've been rather enamoured of Grant Achatz' Alinea cookbook since it came out over a year ago.  His cooking is quite novel, and for someone like me who is interested in smoked food, he incorporates smoke in some pretty interesting ways. The most interesting dish in the book, in my humble opinion, is Smoke, tobacco and blackberry (perhaps not surprising for a smoked meat fiend):
1 ½ cups cream
½ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp kosher salt
5 g cigar (about ½ of a short cigar)
10 blackberries
5 gelatin sheets
1 tsp long thai peppercorns (as described here)
1 tsp smoked salt
mint leaves

This dish uses the flavour of a cigar in the dish. What can I say? It's a novel use of smoke in food...

Chop the cigar

Chop up the cigar.

Chopped cigar

We're going to steep the cigar in cream, milk, sugar and salt to get the flavour of it out.

Cream with cigar bits

Bring the mixture to a boil.

Steeping cigar leaves

When it comes to a boil, turn off the heat, and cover the mixture. Allow to steep for twenty minutes. Meanwhile, put the gelatin sheets into ice water to hydrate.

Gelatin sheets

I prefer gelatin sheets over powder simply because they go into solution more easily, and you're less likely to find a chunk of non-dissolved gelatin later.

After twenty minutes have elapsed, remove the gelatin from the ice water and squeeze out the excess water. Stir the gelatin into the steeped cigar mixture, then pour the whole thing through a sieve, to remove the cigar chunks.

Steeped cream

Line a half cookie sheet with cling wrap, and pour a thin layer of the gelatin mixture into the pan. Cover and reserve the rest of the mixture. And put a layer of cling wrap over the gelatin in the cookie sheet, being careful to keep it tight enough that it doesn't touch the cream.

First gelatin layer

Now, finding a perfectly level place in your fridge to solidify the gelatin can be challenging. Having failed at this on more than one occasion, I use the following technique: Put some ice cubes on one end of a large cookie sheet. Gently place the smaller cookie sheet in that pan, and pour some water over the ice, being careful not to get water into the smaller pan. Basically, you're creating a chilling space under the pan, so you can harden the gelatin on your level countertop.

While it is chilling, prepare the blackberries.

Surgically remove the base of the blackberries so that they are perfectly level. Gently set the blackberries onto a piece of paper towel, cut side down.

Surgically altered blackberries

After the gelatin has solidified, remove the small pan from your chilling apparatus, and uncover. Pour the remaining liquid gelatin over the solidified gelatin, and immediately place the blackberries cut side down into the gelatin.

Embedded blackberry

Cover, and place back in your chilling apparatus until the gelatin sets (after that, you can store in the fridge). Before serving, combine the smoked salt and thai peppercorns in a mortar, and grind into dust.

Smoked salt and thai peppercorns

Using a small round, cut out each blackberry, surrounded by cream. Gently place on a plate, sprinkle with the salt and pepper mixture, and set a mint leaf on it.

Blackberry, smoke and tobacco

Serve. What a unique flavour. Smoky and salty, with a bright blast from the blackberry. This is delicious, and much like Achatz' other dishes, best served one per person, as just a single bite.

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