Monday, 28 March 2011

High end and low end experiments

After the excitement of Saturday, yesterday was a bit of a double experiment.

First, after around three months, this was the day I'd chosen to see just whether my first attempt at duck confit was edible. I had been worrying that, even though the top of legs were covered completely and safely, somehow I'd have done something wrong and, when they came out, they'd pong to high heaven.

It took some doing, but eventually I was able to haul the pair of big legs out of the thick, creamy fat that has been protecting them for all that time. And protecting them it most certainly had. There was nothing to fret about. I brushed off as much of the liquid fat as possible and then roasted them for half an hour at 170˚C.

Good taste and certainly flaky. Okay, maybe not the best in the world, but darned good, nonetheless – and more so given that it was a first effort.

Served with courgettes and bread, it worked fine.

But in contrast to this wonderful peasant dish, the rest of my cooking day was somewhat more of a culinary challenge.

Taking a couple of ideas from David Everitt-Matthias's Dessert Recipes from Le Champignon Sauvage, I set about a really complicated dessert – in three parts!

The first part, which was my own, was a jelly, made from rhubarb and strawberries, initially cooked in a caster sugar and a little pink grapefruit juice, plus some fresh ginger, before being strained and then having softened gelatine leaves added to it, before it was decanted into a mould and popped in the fridge.

The second part of this dessert was a white chocolate mousse – I had white chocolate with cardamom – which was from the book. It started with cream whipped to ribbon stage (except that my cream was already thicker than that).

Caster sugar and egg yolks are beaten together and then whisked in a bowl over simmering water.

A little more cream is heated and gelatine added.

The white chocolate is melted carefully over more simmering water.

Once everything's been brought together, it goes into the fridge.

Now it's never easy cutting recipe amounts down for just two people, so that may not have helped.

But I found myself suddenly realising just why Raymond Blanc's recipes – and chef's notes – are so bloody good. In this book, there doesn't even seem to be a note about what egg sizes he uses. And it's all very well saying: 'X leaves of gelatine', but gelatine leaves come in different sizes, so one is still left wondering 'how much?'

There's a side of me – the cynical side – that thinks that, if you perhaps skate over such things in a book like this, you won't really be giving away any secrets. I'm sure it wasn't deliberate.

The book will still be of use – and the pictures are pure (so to speak) food porn.

But the point is, the resultant mousse may be far from what it should be. And perhaps that's why I didn't like it much.

At least the third part of the dessert was easy – well, sort of. Dark chocolate is melted gently over simmering water and then spread over a flat, smooth surface. Everitt-Matthias recommends a piece of acetate, but foil over a baking tray, smoothed carefully, does fine.

The theory after that is to cut the thin chocolate slice into geometric shapes to provide a sort of architecture when you assemble the final dessert.

Next lesson – don't try to cut such chocolate with a dry knife. Remember to use a hot, damp one. I didn't get any perfect shapes. Still, you can't go wrong with pieces of chocolate at any time.

It'd didn't look like I'd pictured in my mind's eye – there was so little jelly that that had to be halved rather than cut through horziontally, leaving a thin disc each – but it had a good, intense fruit taste.

The chocolate, as you can see, didn't quite provide the structure I'd hoped for. The drizzle on the plate is Balsamic – good idea, given the strawberry involvement, but it should have been thickened (agar agar or arrowroot?).

So hardly a raving success to the posh bit of the meal. Still, that's how one learns. Next time ...

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