After three days of work, occasional stress, and a couple of failures (this molecular gastronomy thing is not an improv-friendly medium) the day arrived and I threw down another eleven course meal- although with a very different feel than last year. The number eleven was coincidental, though now it’s probably going to have to become a tradition. Lucky me.
The more casual and homey vibe was the direct result of my markedly lower level of preparedness for the meal; up until this morning a bunch of the dishes hadn’t taken shape in my mind, so I just busied myself with the components I knew I needed and let the rest work themselves out. The last couple of bursts of inspirado actually happened in the middle of last night; Milo woke me up, as he has been lately by coming into our bed, and during the tossing and turning portion of the program I seized upon the remaining details for a couple of dishes.
Here’s the play-by-play, in order. The wines overlapped courses, since there weren’t enough drinkers to put away a bottle with each course.
First, since the marshmallows I tried to make from the El Bulli cookbook didn’t quite work out, as an amuse-bouche we had home-cured salmon with a sudachi-caper emulsion and scallion cream. It was like bagels and lox without the bagel.
Next, a little charcuterie plate of the newly ready batch of duck prosciutto and the pâté we made the other day: pork with brandied figs and pistachios.
Then, salad: fennel and jicama tossed with a silky avocado cream (avo, lime, oil) passed through a tamis and then dressed with my version of everyone’s favorite takeout sushi place carrot-ginger dressing- an emulsion of carrot and ginger juice with sesame oil, ponzu, and our watermelon hot sauce. We changed over from the Champagne to a 1999 Kistler Vine Hill chardonnay.
Next came the soup: a strained purée of leek, yam, black radish, and celery root in chicken broth.
I bought some scallops yesterday and brined them in kimchi juice, since I had made a batch a couple of weeks ago to be ready for this dinner. Kimchi juice is a wonderful brine. I sliced them thin and garnished them with our homemade ponzu and minced jalapeños.
Here, we turned a corner and began the heartier, more wintry dishes. To go with the pork and beans (brined pork belly cooked sous-vide at 65˚ C for 8 hours and then seared, with scarlet runner beans pressure-cooked in dashi, served with kimchi and our barbecue sauce) I opened one of our dwindling supply of Pleiades XVI. It’s superb, and this is the kind of food it does best with.
Traditional Thanksgiving flavors appeared here in the form of duck confit atop a confit/gratin of sweet potato I made by baking rounds of spud in spiced cream on low heat for three hours. The purple wiggles were beet juice-cabernet noodles made by blending the juice with methylcellulose and then filling a syringe with the juice and injecting it into simmering water. Around this time I opened and decanted a 1999 Barolo “Marasco” by Franco Martinetti. And yes, that’s crispy duck skin on top.
For red meat, a little roulade of lamb neck; I saw the neck at the butcher’s and grabbed it, then trimmed, seasoned it with ras-el-hanout, rolled it up with activa, and vacuum-sealed it so it would hold its shape. Once set, I rubbed it with a sage-rosemary-garlic pesto and browned then braised it in wine for six hours until meltingly tender, and served it on slow-caramelized turnips with some of the jus. For the sauce, I simmered dried chanterelles and dried apricots until soft, then blended and strained them, adding cream, to finish. The inspiration for this combination came from Khymos, where this month’s “They Go Really Well Together” is chanterelle and apricot; they share a similar flavor compound and the idea lodged in my head until the lamb neck came along. They do go really well together, and with lamb neck. To complete the orgy of awesomeness, I puréed some of our raw mustard greens with garlic and oil, then strained it to make a bright green mustard oil.
As a bridge to the desserts, next up was seared foie gras with our grape jelly- disolved in wine, then reduced so that it jelled on contact with a cool plate- and peanut butter powder made by mixing fresh-ground peanut butter (unsalted) with tapioca maltodextrin. Everyone enjoyed the rich riff on PB&J.
Then, sweets. Christine made my Mom’s cheesecake again, but this time we made a spiced pumpkin purée with a little gelatin and spread it on top, then topped it with a cranberry-cabernet glaze once the pumpkin gelled. Dreamy.
And last, a barely-sweetened dark chocolate mousse I originally planned to make into ice cream but it was so damn good that I left it alone. A few cocoa-dusted coffee beans garnished this very adult conclusion to the meal.