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August 14, 2009

Oyster Cream, lychee, horseradish, chervil

You know what's worse than having the flu?

Having the flu in the summer.  And, having a sinus and ear infection at the same time.

Criminy.

Nine days of grossness, exhaustion, and self-pity.  No appetite, no ability to focus on much of anything for more than ten seconds... and even after starting to feel better earlier this week, it's just been a struggle to get back on track.  Just when I take advantage of a new-found burst of energy, my body and my brain pull back on the reins with a whoa-there-nelly to keep me in check and not push too far or too hard too soon.

Days of unanswered work email, piles of things to edit, lists of things to write, too many voicemails to return... and all I really wanted to do was get back into the kitchen.  But a girl's got to pay the mortgage, so I had to spend a few more days than I would've liked getting back into the swing of things around these parts.

I made this dish right before I got sick, but the very idea of sitting upright, looking at photos of food, or trying to write anything coherent or cohesive just wasn't happening.  So, that's just my long-winded way of saying sorry to have left you hanging with that veal stock post for so long.

*  *  *  *  *

There are two dishes in the Alinea cookbook involving oysters.  You all know how I feel about oysters, so I'm not gonna go into yet another woe-is-me rant about how much I have to suffer when in their presence.  First-world problems, and all that.  I just decided after my first attempt with oysters, I wanted to get this second (and last) one done as quickly as possible.  Didn't want to drag it out and have it be a looming, dark, culinary cumulonimbus.  I just wanted to get it done, scrape my tongue immediately afterward, and cross it off the list.

It seemed like a relatively straightforward dish with ingredients that were easy to find.  I mean, every week, for years it seems, all my local grocery stores have carried horseradish root.  It's always there.  Chervil is hit or miss, but I knew I could sub out a combo of parsley and tarragon, and it would suffice.  So, as I made my grocery list, I knew I could get everything in one go.

Except I couldn't, because, go figure -- the one time I really need horseradish, no one had it.  After the third grocery store attempt, I whipped out the Yellow Pages (I keep one in the trunk of the car) and called down the list of grocery stores within a 20-mile radius of my house. 

Me: "Do you have fresh horseradish?" 

Them: "Yes, we do."

Me: "Wait, not the kind in the jars, the horseradish root in the produce section?"

Them: "Yes, ma'am, we carry that."

Me: "Would you mind having someone check and make sure you have some now?"

Them: [exasperated] "Ma'am, that's unnecessary, we have it.  We always have it."

Me: "Alright then.  Thanks."

And I'd get to one of those grocery stores where they "always have it, ma'am" and lo and behold, the horseradish basket was a) empty, or on two occasions b) had horseradish root covered in mold with mushy, rotten spots all over.

It took my stopping at nine grocery stores over two days to find fresh horseradish.

All for a dish I wasn't even remotely prepared to like. 

Aaaaanyway.....

The first step is to combine the oysters, their liquid, and some cream in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low-medium heat.  Then, once it had begun to simmer, I put the lid on the pot, turned off the flame, and let it stand for about 20 minutes.


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I strained the liquid through a chinois into another pan, and discarded the solids.  Let me repeat that: the book says you have to discard the solids.  Meaning the oysters.  Meaning, this was going to be a dish that carried the essence of oysters, without having to chew on those little suckers.

Glory be, things were beginning to look up!

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Peace out, oysters.  Nice knowin' ya...

I weighed 600g of the oyster liquid (which smelled fantastic), added agar agar to it, and blended it with my immersion blender.  I brought it to a simmer, used a bit of it to temper the egg yolk-sugar-cornstarch-salt mixture in a separate bowl, then poured all that back into the oyster liquid on the stovetop, and whisked until everything was incorporated and it began to bubble and take the shape of pudding.  If you have the book, you'll notice that the recipe instructions mention salt, but the ingredient list does not.  So, I just made my best guess at how much to use and threw 2g of kosher salt in there.

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I poured it into a bowl that had been nesting in a bowl of ice, and stirred it every 5-10 minutes until it had cooled to room temperature.  Then, I put the bowl of oyster pudding/cream into the refrigerator for an hour.

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After an hour of being in the fridge, it had set.  I scraped it out of the bowl and into my blender (which will soon be replaced!) and blended it until it was smooth and almost the consistency of mayonnaise.  I strained it through a chinois and into a squeeze bottle.


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I had enjoyed the smell of the oyster cream up until this point, but hadn't yet tasted it.  So, I grabbed a small spoon and squirted a bit of the cream onto the spoon before putting the bottle into the fridge.  Remember the olive oil pudding I was gonna marry a few months ago?  We're totally breaking up, because this oyster cream is even better.  I KNOW.  Who'dathunkit?  I put the bottle of oyster cream in the refrigerator until it was time to plate, smiling at the thought of actually, maybe, perhaps, could-it-be this dish might not suck?

The next step seemed straightforward at first, until I looked at the photo of this dish in the book.  The recipe is for chervil juice.  The photo shows a green, gelatinous cube.  I know horseradish gelée (coming soon!) isn't green, so I wondered: should I just gelatinize the chervil instead of making juice?  I mean, I know how to do that.  It's not difficult. 

I decided to move forward with doing the juice as it was in the book, but instead of chervil (which I couldn't get my hands on), I did a mixture of tarragon and parsley (which is the closest swap-out for chervil I know of).  I blanched the leaves and ice bathed them, then put the blanched leaves and 500g of ice water into a blender with some salt and simple syrup and blended it on high speed for two minutes:


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I strained it through a chinois into a bowl, saving it for the final plating.

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The next step was to make the horseradish gelée.  Even though it was a bitch to buy, I love horseradish.  Didn't always, but I do now.  I love the heat, and I love how it just sits in your nose and cracks open the palate but doesn't overtake a whole dish or a whole bite.  

I cut off a little nubbin of horseradish root (I needed 40g), and peeled and grated it:

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I put it in a saucepan with some sugar, salt, and white wine vinegar and brought it to a boil.  Side note: if you have the Alinea cookbook, you'll see the recipe also calls for 1/4 red Thai chili.  Yeah.  I totally forgot to buy them, and didn't realize it until the time I started making this part of the dish.  So, I just went without.  Whoops.

Anyhoo, I brought the combo to a boil, then turned off the flame, covered the pot, and let it steep for about a half an hour.

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I added some gelatin sheets, which I'd soaked in cold water for a few minutes, and gently stirred the mixture until the gelatin dissolved.

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I poured the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and put the bowl in the fridge to set -- which took about 40 minutes -- after which I chunked it into small nuggets.

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I don't have a photo of the last step before plating -- the slicing of the lychees.  I couldn't find any fresh lychees, so I had to settle for canned Roland lychees.  I cut small pieces -- each one the size of a nickel.

Time for plating:

First, two blobs of oyster cream.  Then, in between them went a small slice of lychee.  On top of the lychee went the horseradish gelee.  Then, two spoonfuls of the chervil juice around the perimeter.  Lastly, I topped the horseradish and lychee with osetra caviar.

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Okay, it's not Oysters and Pearls.... but, I loved it!  It was all I could do not to just devour the entire bottle of oyster cream on its own.  And the oyster cream with the salty *pop* of the caviar, the earthy, bright green slightly anise-y taste of the chervil juice, and the kick of the horseradish?  Oh, wow.  It opened up beautifully with each bite, and it was something that you could almost taste all the way up into your tear ducts.  Now, I will say that I thought the lychee was a distraction, both in taste and texture.  So, if I were to make this again (which I actually might), I'd skip the lychee altogether.  Everything else, together and on its own, was really, really good, and it made the Great Horseradish Trek of 2009 more than worth it.

Up Next: Kuroge Wagyu, cucumber, honeydew, lime sugar

Resources: Oysters and caviar from Blacksalt; Organic Valley heavy cream; agar agar from Terra Spice; Roland lychees from HMart; Smith Meadows Farm eggs; tarragon and parsley from my garden; horseradish from Whole Foods, Terra Midi white wine vinegar; gelatin sheets from L'Epicerie.

Music to Cook By: Kaiser Chiefs; Employment.  I took my neighbor's kids to see Green Day a few weeks ago (one of the best shows I've ever been to, by the way), and the Kaiser Chiefs were the opening act.  I'd heard of them before, but was not all that familiar with their music.  Or so I thought.  Turns out, I knew a lot of their music, I just didn't know certain songs were theirs. I really like their sound -- it feels like it's pulling the late 60s and early 70s (Kinks) into the early 80s (XTC) and giving it a more modern indie rock sensibility.  It's listenable punk with a few pop hooks, strong choruses, and lyrics that go beyond their original intent.  Their writing is strong, and I'm enjoying their other albums, as well.  Glad I got to see them.

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It looks beautiful. I would totally dig this one. I love oysters. Like REALLY love oysters. Once I saw a Man Vs. Food episode where he was challenged to eat like 4 dozen oysters...Pfft. I would OWN that challenge.

ANYWAY, love the bright green faux-Chervil juice. Looks just gorgeous.

Glad you're feeling better!

I work in my coop's produce section. (Frederick, MD) I had a customer ask me a few weeks ago if we had fresh horseradish. Was it you?? heh. Really, we don't carry fresh due to it not being in high demand.

I've been following your blog for the past 6 or so months.. You do a great job with complicated dishes!

The "chervil" joos is such a gorgeous color. And I also love the little bottle with the green accents you used for the oyster cream.

Sorry you've been sick. I'm glad you're on the mend. Lots of good wishes heading your way.

I had glorious oysters at Pearl this week. They were like eating the sea, and I loved them. Whenever that happens, I have a little conversation with you in my head.

This does look beautiful. I'm so glad it was delicious!

Rock on.

Great post and beautiful presentation on this recipe. Though I love lychee by themselves, I have found them dificult to incorporate in other recipes.

Yes, I believe this is the best presentation yet! Beautiful. So glad it tasted great!

Sinus infections are brutal. I had to give up all kinds of things to make them go away - dairy, wheat and soy...sigh...but God, it's worth living pain free again.

This looks wonderful, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Do you think you'd bother with the Thai chili next time?

Hi Carol, have you ever tried Global Food in Woodbridge or Manassas for some of your hard to find ingredients? They are a large Asian/Hispanic grocery store and have a pretty amazing assortment of of food, particularly produce. The lychee comment made me think of it because I'm pretty sure you can get it fresh there, or any other more hard to find Asian or Hispanic ingredients. Love your blog!

I admire your willingness to hunt high and low for ingredients. This dish looks spot on.

I don't know if it would be worth the trouble for you, but I bet your readers could come up with most - if not all - of the ingredients you can't find. I would have overnighted you some lychee if I knew! Try asking us next time if you have a couple of days before you need a rare ingredient - I bet you'll get what you need.

This looks amazing - your blog really is so inspiring! I'll actually flying to Chicago and visiting Alinea in a couple of weeks and looking at your posts is getting me pumped up for the 20-course dinner that awaits!

Ok. This is one of those "I REALLY have to take your word for it" recipes.... it just does not sound appealing.... at all.

Awesome...I have enjoyed reading your blog for some time now. I am a chef who dabbles in progressive cuisine and I have thoroughly identified with your trials and tribulations.

My wife and I recently saw Julie & Julia, after which I told her about your blog... following which of course she asked whether or not you consider Grant Achatz your imaginary friend.

Sans an angel on your shoulder named Grant, I must say that you have become so much more adept at stepping around the various obstacles thrown in your way. Through illness, wonky recipes, and temperamental hydrocolloids you plow fearlessly forward and keep me entertained week after week.

Loving your work - keep it up!


Looks awesome! One note on the Lychee -- when it is fresh, it is less sweet & has a much more delicate flavor. Texture-wise, it is pretty gelatinous too - perhaps a better fit. But then again, it does sound weird in there and maybe not!

Yours has got to be among the top three food blogs in my book. What's so compelling is your combination of exposing the craft process, along with its trials, of trying to "bring home" what is otherwise consumed in the most rarified of circumstances, and of supplying your readers with ideal, and perfectly sequenced, photos of the process. Never mind Alinea's--this blog has all the best ingredients! A behind-the-scenes aside: How do you keep your kitchen so clean? I know you want it to be photo ready, but with all the cooking you do, curious minds want to know how long THIS is taking out of your schedule. I'm sure I'm not the first to wonder this....

In any case, keep up the terrific work!

I love your picture of the parsley and tarragon sitting in the sunlight, very pretty. I'm so glad the dish turned out so nicely for you! It definitely sounds tasty.

Your blog makes me smile. And oyster cream - who knew?

I'm glad you've made peace with another oyster dish. ;)

I had oysters in Galway two weeks ago that made me swoon.

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