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October 01, 2009

Corn, (not)coconut, cayenne, mint

Here's where we veer a little off-course from the Alinea cookbook.  One, because if I eat coconut, I break out in hives all over my arms and that's no fun.  Two, because I really don't like the taste of coconut anyway, so even if I didn't have a weird systemic reaction to it, I would've done a substitute for this dish because I'm stubborn like that.  And three, I wanted to mix things up a bit and not do a recipe verbatim.  I really wanted to pair corn with tomato and tarragon, as a sort of farewell to summer because I was not AT ALL ready for summer to end.  Mid-August into mid-September is my favorite time of year.  The food, the weather, my state of mind... it's just the time of year when I'm happiest and love everybody.  Seriously y'all, I'm NICE, and I smile ALL THE TIME.  It's weird.  It's like it's not even me.  It's Bizarro Me. 

Corn, tomatoes, tarragon, scallops, grilled hanger steak, and coffee from Wawa at the beach... that says end-of-summer to me.  But corn?  I could write a thousand love songs about corn.  I can't get enough of the stuff, and it makes me sad every year when the season ends (which is why I blanch and freeze a ton of it in early September so I can treat myself during the winter).

Corn and tomatoes were still in abundance here in the DC area until the very end of September (we had a cold, rainy June, so everything got a late start), so I was happy to have beautiful, fresh ingredients to work with.  The challenge, for me, was figuring out the best way to make this dish work with the ingredients I wanted, while still honoring the intent of the original dish.  One of the things I love most about the Alinea cookbook is that each dish has a number of sub-recipes, and those sub-recipes can be used in so many different ways.  Now that my work schedule is starting to become a little more normal and I'm not on the road as much, I'll start doing some posts about how I incorporate some of the sub-recipes into my everyday cooking, or adapt them in ways that might complement other dishes.

But today, let's talk about corn and tomatoes, tarragon and mint, and remind ourselves what the end of summer tastes like as we slip on a sweater and welcome the crisp fall weather.

Instead of coconut sorbet as the first layer of the dish, I did a tomato sorbet.  I cored and seeded 5 large tomatoes and put them in the food processor, then strained it through a china cap into a large mixing bowl.  To that, I added a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, and stirred until everything was dissolved and incorporated.

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I poured the liquid into a 9x13" baking dish and put it into the freezer.

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While that was freezing, I made the corn sorbet.  I knew these sorbets would have a different texture, and I was okay with that.  I knew the tomato sorbet would be a little icier, a little more like a granita, while the corn sorbet would be smoother, and a little more like a sherbet.  Fine with me.  I just wanted to taste the two together and see how it'd turn out.

I bought a dozen ears of fresh, sweet, white corn from the farmers market, husked it, and cut off the kernels using an electric carving knife while holding the ear of corn in the center of the bundt cake pan you see below...

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Man, can't you just smell the corn-y deliciousness in that photo?  As I was cutting off the kernels, I was waxing rhapsodic in my head about Grant Achatz and how I loved him so for including a dish in this book that uses one of my most favorite foods ever.  I may have even begun to sing a little self-composed ditty about Grant, and corn, and summer, and love, and sunshine, and loveliness, and corn and bliss and again yay for the corn, and then it all went into a five-spiral crash when I had a bit of a cornsplosion as I began spooning all that corn into my juicer to make corn juice. 

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Corn was spilling everywhere, shooting back out of the top of the feeder tube; and, the front pulp and juice holders blew off just after that photo was taken (luckily, I caught them both against my abdomen and in the crook of my elbow before their contents spilled), and my love song about corn turned into a metal thrash involving vocabulary not fit for a PG-13 audience.  Or, an NC-17 audience, if I'm being honest.

I ended up with 745g of corn juice (the book calls for 750g --whoot!), which I poured into a saucepan.  I added glucose and salt, but skipped the stabilizer the book calls for.  I'd been having some difficulty getting my hands on it to begin with, and I wanted to see if I really needed it for this dish to taste good.  I know restaurants and commercial entities use stabilizers to maintain the product's structural integrity and reduce the formation of ice crystals (which come with temperature fluctuations in the freezer), but I've made enough ice cream and sorbet here at home (thanks to my lovely friend, David Lebovitz), that I wanted to see if I could make this without it.  I know that stabilizers also act as an emulsifier, but knowing there was butter in this recipe, I thought that might be enough of a lipid to make it work.

So, corn juice and salt:

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Adding the glucose:

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I brought it to a simmer over medium heat, whisking to incorporate the glucose, then transferred the liquid to my blender.  I put the blender on low speed, and added 50g of cold butter, one teeny little chunk at a time.

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It was perfectly seasoned -- no additional salt required -- and because I don't have a Pacojet, I chilled the corn liquid in the fridge for an hour or so, then put it in my ice cream maker for 40 minutes to begin to freeze.

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I took the now-frozen tomato sorbet-granita and scraped the top to get enough for a taste test, and yummmmmmmm..... it was so flavorful -- I couldn't wait to see how the two would do together.

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I poured the corn liquid onto the frozen tomato layer and put it back in the fridge for another hour or two, until it had frozen.

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Meantime, I made the mint puree... and added some tarragon to it.  I'm getting near the end of my tarragon in the garden, and while I know I'll make a nice big stash of tarragon butter to freeze and use over the next few months, I wanted to change this recipe a bit and make it a mint-tarragon puree rather than straight mint, since I'd already swapped out the coconut for the tomato.

I blanched and ice bathed 40g of mint leaves and 30g of tarragon leaves:

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After their ice bath, I strained the leaves and put them in the blender along with some salt, sugar, ice water, and Ultra-Tex 3 (which sounds like a shapeware bra for someone with giant bazongas, doesn't it?), and blended it until it was smooth:

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Strained it and funneled it into a squeeze bottle:

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As I poured it into the squeeze bottle above, I noticed it was a little more runny than I expected, so rather than it being a lovely blob of puree atop the frozen sorbet square as it is in the book, I knew I'd have to use it as a sauce, of sorts, in the plating process.

I got out the cayenne, fleur de sel, zested a lime, and cut the now-frozen sorbet into little squares for plating.

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You can see the tomato layer is a different texture than the corn layer, and that it broke off while being cut.  No worries.  This kind of plating wasn't working for me visually or otherwise, so I decided to prepare bites on spoons instead.  First on the spoon went the mint-tarragon "sauce", topped with the tomato-corn sorbet, which was topped with a pinch of cayenne, pinch of lime zest, and a pinch of fleur de sel:

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I'm not sure everyone liked this as much as I did.  The kids didn't like the flavor combination.  The adults weren't jazzed about the frozen nature of it.  I, however, could've eaten the whole tray of it myself.  Is it better than a fresh, room temperature salad of tomatoes, corn, tarragon, mint, lime, salt, cayenne, brown butter, and red wine vinegar?  No.  But it's not a contest.  This was, for me, a lesson in adaptation and reconfiguration... a way to test what I thought I already knew, and how to make it better using ingredients I love.

The tomato sorbet was so fresh and bright and the corn sorbet was so smooth and creamy, and... corn-y.  It was odd eating them together in a popsicle/ice cream-texture, but not off-putting in the least.  I love how the lime, salt, and cayenne played off each other and brought out the flavors even more -- and I was thrilled that I got their balance right.  The tarragon-mint component brightened it without overpowering any of the flavors.  This was a dish that tasted like summer, and from a temperature and texture perspective may have been more enjoyable in July (from the frozen nature of it, but oddly, before those ingredients are truly in season).

Peace out, summer...I miss you already...


Up Next: Idiazabal (or, as I like to call 'em, "Alinea Cheetos")

Resources: Corn and tomatoes from Musachio Farm at the Takoma Park Farmers Market; Domaine des Vignes red wine vinegar; glucose from ShopBakersNook.com; David's kosher salt; 365 unsalted butter; mint and tarragon from my garden; Domino sugar; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice/Alinea; cayenne from Adriana's Caravan; lime from HMart; fleur de sel de Camargue.

Music to Cook By: Aterciopelados; La Pipa de la Paz.  I was in New York visiting friends a few years ago, and heard Aterciopelados' song Florecita Rockera in a bar and thought if I ever needed an alias or alter-ego name, that would have to be it... because "buttercup rocker"??? How awesome is that?  She's sweet and lovely like a buttercup but SHE ALSO COULD KICK YOUR ASS.  Discovering that song led me down the path of everything Aterciopelados has done, and I just love their sound.  I think I have every album.  Bolero Falaz is great, as is El Estuche.  I wish I was more fluent (or even conversational, heck) in Spanish, because these really are good windows-down, sun shining in, volume up, singalong songs, and I'm sure they way I'm butchering them phonetically has the potential to cause some sort of international incident.  I'm still shocked that the nation of India hasn't bombed us over my phonetic rendering of "Jai Ho."

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Awesome! Xanthan gum works well as a stabilizer. I went through the same thing with difficulty getting the commercial product, and a great local pastry chef, Dana Cree of Poppy suggested xanthan. Here's more info about how to use it in this application.

Very cool adaptation Carol. Your use of the word popsicle conjured yet another adaptation of this, maybe an actual popsicle with alternating layers of tomato and corn (or coconut and corn) with lime and cayenne sprinkled throughout.

BTW, I skip the stabilizers for the Alinea ice cream recipes as well with no ill effects. Like you said, their main purpose is to reduce ice crystal formation and I view them as completely optional.

Carol,

I am new to your blog, and I am very impressed at your ambition! I don't know where to start with the multitude of steps this recipe calls for. You go girl!

Christine

Now, I could've really locked horns with you about the coconut, but I was too busy dancing in my head, thinking about smiles and loveliness and summery stuffs; suffice it to say, you could've sold me on onions at that point...not to mention I appreciate how tomatoes can be transformed in so many ways, from pizza sauce, to salsa, to sliced & seasoned, and back again.

What I think is commendable here is your knack to swap out two things so different, pull it off nicely, and all the while keeping it in perspective. Its kinda like a cooks "seventh sense" somewhere in the matrix, where you transcend from cooking out of the book to cooking "outside the book." So, peace out to summer, and peace out to you till next time!

Is it wrong that I want you to pour me just a glass of corn juice? Damn. Yum~!

Sounds like a delicious cornmato version of a dreamsicle. Yum! I want to make this! I think I'd like it better than Corn & Coconut too.

I so admire the way you're able to improvise under duress. A lovely course, one which I wish I could have tried.

As I look on the images, I just felt that I'm craving for this one! I gotta have to try this one!

I think Grant would be especially proud of you striking out on your own. Congratulations!

Faaaaaabulous!!! And I'm so excited to read about your cooking with the "sub recipes"- I can't wait to see how you do it (and maybe take a little creative initiative of my own :)

Happy Fall!

Nice work. I've been slightly obsessed with corn juice since making Keller's duck with creamed corn and morels from the FL book. I still get excited how it thickens when you heat it. Sad, I know. Anyway, life would be easier if I had a juicer. My arm aches too much after trying to push puree through a sieve.

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