Lamb, akudjura, olive, eucalyptus veil
So, when I got ready to make this dish, I was all, "ppssshhhffttt, I could do this blindfolded, with both hands tied behind my back, and it's going to be really boring, and...... wait....... maybe not boring, because I get to use my IMMERSION CIRCULATOR!!! WHOOOT!!!!" And then I imaginarily did 647 vodka shots because ONLY Sandra Lee whoots out loud like that, and we all know girlfriend is knockin' 'em back on her show.
[And now I have to go stab myself and dump the contents of a taco seasoning packet into the wounds because the words Sandra and Lee have appeared on the same page as the word Alinea, and I think I just felt the earth crack open, ready to swallow me whole.]
Alright, where were we?
Ah yes, the immersion circulator. That I got from some hack. HA! I AM KIDDING. I did not get my immersion circulator from some hack. Far from it, actually. I got my immersion circulator from someone I greatly admire, and who put it to good use, but was ready to get rid of it since his new restaurant venture leaned more in the direction of burgers over an open flame than it did cooking them sous vide.
Any idea who I'm talking about?
Will this clue help?
Yep, it's Chef Richard Blais, most notably from Top Chef (season 4, and more recently helping that buttsocket, Hosea, win this past season -- which we all know wouldn't have happened without Blais' help, so I prefer to think of Blais as last season's winner).
But, again, I digress.
So yeah, Blais was getting rid of some equipment and I was more than happy to take the immersion circulator off his hands. I'd already experimented with sous vide cooking in French Laundry at Home with the roulade of duck and just figured for the sous vide stuff for the Alinea cookbook, I'd do the same thing -- tightly wrap the meat and regulate the temperature of water in a big stockpot. It's not hard.
But the immersion circulator? Made this dish really easy. And, who doesn't love playing with fun, sciencey kitchen equipment?
But before we get to the meat (ha!) of this post, let's start off with something I actually love to eat, and love to prep, but hate to cook: fava beans.
I love to eat them because they're damn good. I love to prep them because it involves not just opening each pod and plucking out the beans encased inside, but also using a paring knife to remove each bean's outer fibrous layer. I find it soothing and relaxing to do this. There is probably something in the DSM-IV related to my enjoyment of this process, but I don't care. I love doing it.
What I don't love about favas is that they smell like feet as they cook. Really stinky, sweaty, homeless person feet. That part I could do without.
I needed 250g of favas for this dish -- and that's favas that are already shelled and peeled, so I estimated that 3 lbs. of beans (still in their pods) would yield the 250g (8.8 oz.) I'd need. Was I right?
I AM RAIN MAN!
[I am sort of scaring myself with this odd ability to guess and measure things WITH MY MIND and be eerily accurate quite a bit of the time.]
I brought water and salt to a boil and cooked those little guys for about 4 minutes, until they were tender. I also gagged and gorked and blarked and flearghed the whole time, because of the stinkyhomelessfeetandalsomaybefarts smell.
I cooled them in a bowl of ice water....
... which removed the staaaannnnk, and then put them in the food processor with a little salt and olive oil and puréed them until they were smooth:
I strained the purée through my chinois into a bowl, then into a squeeze bottle, which went into the fridge until it was time to plate.
The next thing I did was make the akudjura powder for the panade. I had lunch with Judy Shertzer, the head of Terra Spice (btw, they're supplying the specialty ingredients of this kind for Top Chef Masters), when I was in Chicago in May, and she was kind enough to bring me a bag of these lovely little dried Australian bush tomatoes.
I ground a little over 50g of them in my coffe bean/spice grinder until they were as close to powder as they were going to get:
I suppose I could've sifted them through a sifter or wire mesh strainer to get a really fine powder, but since I was going to use gluten-free bread instead of brioche to make the panade, I thought I'd keep the powder the way it was -- I figured, the more substance and heft to the panade, the better, since I didn't know what impact the gluten-free bread might have on the outcome of the finished product. (not to be all foreshadowy, but it was the right decision)
Here's the bread (crusts removed) just prior to going into the food processor:
I used gluten-free sandwich bread from Whole Foods (their Gluten-Free Bakehouse products have, so far, been acceptable substitutes for my being able to make breadcrumbs -- the bread on its own, even as toast, is not enjoyable in the least).
I put those slices into the food processor along with some butter, salt, and the akudjura powder and whacked it around until it was fully incorporated:
I poured the mixture onto a piece of parchment, which I topped with another piece of parchment, then used a rolling pin to gently roll it to a quarter-inch thickness:
I put it in the freezer to harden (which took all of 30 minutes) and moved onto the lamb:
I removed the bone from the lamb, trimmed away all the fat and silverskin, separated the tenderloin from the loin (cooked that separately, which you'll see later, and now that I think about it, it's one of the last special treats Jakey had from my kitchen. :( That, and some orange American cheese -- his favorite food in the whole world. :) )
I don't have a Cryovac machine or commercial pressure sealer, because I would rather spend that $10,000 on a vacation than a giant metal box that would take up half my kitchen. And, I know from my brief time listening to Thomas Keller talk about sous vide cooking when he launched Under Pressure, that FoodSavers are not the way to go (they suck out moisture as well as air), so I decided to kick it old school and just put the lamb and olive oil in a ziploc bag and did my dingdangdiddliest to get all the air out by hand. In retrospect, I should've laid this on plastic wrap and done the twisty-twirly-spinny-in-the-air technique (which, I'm sure, is what all the professionals say when describing this method. Except not.) to seal it tight. But this way worked pretty well.
I'd already filled a restaurant food storage bin with water, hooked up the immersion circulator, turned it on, and set the thermostat to 57 degrees Celsius so that it'd be all nice and warm by the time I was done getting the lamb ready:
You guys, I never thought I'd be the kind of girl who would get all amped up over a thermal circulator, but here we are. I LOVE THIS THING! Now, I will say this: doing a whole blog on sous vide cooking? Snooze. At least for me. I can't imagine photo after photo of stuff being put into bags, then plunked into water, where nothing having to do with any of our senses happens. BORING. No change in smell, look, taste, touch, or hearing. Taste being a given, I love that I can tell when something's done, or nearly done, by the way it sounds in a pan, or smells in the oven, or looks like while being blanched, or by touch when it's still on the grill. It's something I'm so proud to have learned or cultivated in myself, I don't know that there are words to describe how big an accomplishment it is for me to let go, not rely on recipes for my everyday cooking and entertaining, and just trust in my senses to tell me when the food is ready.
So yeah. A whole blog of photo after photo of food in bags submerged in water? Not for me.
But, cooking that way at home every now and then? Absolutely. And in restaurants quite a bit of the time? Yes, please. Especially if the restaurant name rhymes with Schmer Se. Or Schmitty Zen. Or Schmalinea.
Alright.... back to the lamby-lamb doing its sous vide thang.....
You'll see the temperature dropped a few degrees when I put the cold bags of lamb into the water:
As you can see, there were a few air bubbles still in there (dangit!), which caused the lamb to float to the top every now and then, but I stood nearby to push it back down to make sure it was fully submerged for 20 minutes to cook.
After its 20 minutes were up, I put the lamb (as well as the separate bag of the tenderloin I was doing at the same time, which you might barely see on the far right of the above photo) into a bowl of ice water to stop the meat from cooking.
After 10 minutes of cooling, I took the lamb out of the bag and patted it dry:
Still looks kinda raw, huh? It's not. It's cooked to medium-rare (yummmmmmmmmm).
I cut the lamb into eight 15g cubes:
And, I snacked on the trimmings and tenderloin, sharing them with a certain weiner dog. Delicious.
Next up? Halving the already-pitted (thanks, Whole Foods!) niçoise olives:
I snacked on a few of those, too.
You may recall my efforts a few months ago to find magnolia, I MEAN EUCALYPTUS, for a previous dish for this blog. Having learned that important botany lesson, back in early May, I happened upon a little eucalyptus plant in the herb section at Behnke's, my local nursery. It was the last one remaining in the tray, so I snapped that sucker up and brought it home because I knew I'd need fresh eucalyptus for this dish, and I didn't want to create another Great Tree Misidentification Dust-up With My Mom.
So, I figured that little plant would have time and time and more time and even more time to grow and become big and huge in the two months before I neeed it for this dish.
So, that didn't happen.
Stupid plant. It stayed the same size. Maybe sprouted 4 or 5 new leaves. Dick.
Eucalyptus HATES ME.
Regardless, I took out my anger and frustrating by plucking a few leaves (a few days after which, the whole plant DIED, so I WIN) and placing them on the baking sheet with the olive oil-, salt-, and pepper-rubbed cubes of lamb -- each topped with a small square of the akudjura panade. I also dropped a few drops of eucalyptus oil onto each leaf, figuring the heat from the broiler might help release some sort of fragrance -- which was the whole point of the eucalyptus inclusion anyway -- hence the "eucalyptus veil" in the title of this dish.
I slid the tray into the oven, under the broiler, for 30-45 seconds. The panade had just begun to brown, and the lamb and eucalyptus smells had ripened (if that makes sense. flourished? blossomed? opened up? know what I mean?) when I pulled them out.
I topped each one with an olive half, put each bite onto a spoon (onto which I'd already squirted some of the fava bean purée -- which I bet you'd forgotten about, hadn't you. Shame!), and called the neighbors to come on over and taste these lovely vittles:
I wish you guys could've tasted this.
The tenderest of lamb. The toasty, slightly bitter creaminess of the akudjura panade. The smooth, almost cashmere-like feel and earthy, green, fresh taste of the fava purée. The *ping!* of the olive.
It made me wish I hadn't called my friends, because I could've eaten all eight of these suckers myself. But then I would've gotten a phone call from Linda or Holly, saying, "HEY! There's a post on your blog about something I DIDN'T GET TO EAT AND WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?"
I'd like to play around with creating a sort of entree-ish version of this, because it was really, really good and I think it'd be something people would like.
As I chewed, I summoned my very fond memories of brioche (oh, how I miss regular, gluten-filled bread) and wondered what the panade would've tasted like with that thick, eggy, amazing bread. Nevertheless, this version of it was damn good. Damn good, indeed. Wish you'd been here....
Up Next: Croquette, smoked steelhead roe, endive, radish
Resources: Lamb, niçoise olives, and gluten-free bread from Whole Foods; Monini olive oil; David's kosher salt; 365 butter; akudjura tomatoes from Terra Spice Company; fava beans from Glenville Hollow Farms at the Takoma Park Farmer's Market; eucalyptus from my garden (via Behnke's); eucalyptus oil from the TPSS Co-op.
Music to Cook By: While I peeled the favas: nothing but silence. The rest of the time: The Ting Tings; assorted. I'm sort of addicted to So You Think You Can Dance, and one of the audition callback routines was choreographed to a remix of The Ting Tings "Great DJ" so I'm getting to know The Ting Tings. And I like what I hear.
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