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