The New Yorker came today, and in it is a profile of Grant Achatz, molecular gastronomy wunderkind and chef at Alinea in Chicago, and his work and dramatic struggle with tongue cancer. Christine and her Mom go to the city tomorrow, so I wanted to make something a little fancy to send them off. And there were some nice new ingredients that she bought; when somebody else does the shopping there can often be unexpected inspirations since we all have our own habitual patterns, no matter how hard we try to stay open-minded. And there was an ostrich tenderloin in the freezer. I should probably mention that.
So taking taste- a central theme of the article- as the jumping-off point, and being aware that one of the signatures of the new new cooking is the combination of sweet-savory-spicy-sour-umami (plus strongly contrasting textures) on the same plate, I took a bunch of different ingredients and tried to rope them together in to a diverse yet unified plate of food that would be unique and delicious. We had an appetizer of the duck prosciutto with syrup from the pickled strawberries (see below) and a glass of 2007 “Les Rials” Côtes du Tarn which is a lovely white to begin a meal- it has a lot going on for the money (though I kind of hate the label.)
To begin, the ostrich, vacuum-sealed with salt, pepper, garam masala, and a little chilli powder went into the water bath at 54.4˚ C for about an hour and a half. I took some of the smoked chicken broth and reduced it with a splash of red wine, some champagne, and a bit of our BBQ sauce until it was quite thick and concentrated. I pickled strawberries in some leftover rooibos-chocolate-mint tea they had for breakfast, plus balsamic vinegar and agave syrup. I candied cashews in butter, togarashi, salt, and agave until they were nice and brown. I wilted broccoli and radish sprouts in garlic and olive oil. I made polenta. And I took some of the remaining ricotta-beet juice gnocchi and gave them a quick sautée in a little smoked duck fat, plus the rest of the garlic-oil mixture from the greens.
So all of these things, combined on a plate, did in fact wake the taste buds and combine to do many interesting things- asserting their own flavors while playing well with others. The meat really absorbed the spices, and the sweet-tangy strawberries played well with the meat, the smoky reduction, and the spicy nuts. Polenta and greens did what they were supposed to, and the cheese gnocchi, apart from being bright pink, contributed some fat to the mix since the meat was so lean. To further add to the mix, a bottle of 1999 La Poderina Brunello, which over time opened up into that tarry, licoricey gorgeousness that is Brunello- though still a bit restrained; a few more years will probably serve it well. I’m so happy that we have a few more socked away for future feasts.