Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mused Here

I'm not going to make any promises, but I think that this dish will mark the end of my little seafood run for specials. It's not that I have run out of ideas, I just like to offer a more diverse spectrum of proteins from week to week. The funny thing about it is that this is the idea that I came up with first, inspiring the string of dishes, but I had to wait on a new shipment of long plates in order to give it the proper presentation.

The inspiration came when I was sorting through a box of old pastry equipment; metal ring cutters, non-stick baking pads and this silicone mold that I used to bake mini cheesecakes in. It had been a long time since I had made anything with the mold, so it was like a new muse in my hands. Immediately the size reminded me not of the little cheesecakes and other tasty treats that it had formed for me in a dessert capacity, but that of perfectly cooked, medium-sized sea scallops, and from there the idea just snowballed.

The irony of the final product is that I initially wanted to use the mold to create little avocado mousses alongside pan-seared scallops for a natural pairing of shellfish with the subtle fattiness of avocado since it is subtle without overpowering the delicate flavors of the meat, but alas, I couldn't manipulate the avocado in the way that I wanted without it turning brown, so I went with a tried-and-true alternate combo with some of the great corn that is in an abundance right now. Drawing from one of my favorite specials last year I baked tiny flans by first shaving off the kernels from corn cobs and simmering both into a broth that I intensified by then pureeing the kernels and adding back into the liquid, giving me a rich base that was creamy without the addition of cream. To keep it light I only used whole eggs, along with a some moderate seasoning of salt and pepper to keep the flavors true. I slowly baked the custard in the mini-molds and firmed them up in the freezer just enough to remove.

As a contrast in both color and flavor I used an old favorite: black sticky rice from Thailand. It has a high starch content so I like to cook it similar to risotto - in this case with a vegetable stock fortified with ginger, cilantro and a hint of jalapeno and fermented black beans - giving it both texture and creaminess, but the final product is never completely black; just a very dark shade of purple.

Finally, in an exercise of both color and flavor, I created a simple sauce by blending freshly juiced carrots and whole green cardamom pods with a touch of champagne vinegar to offset the natural sweetness of the carrot. By just warming and not cooking the sauce I am able to retain the freshness of the juice and the floral characteristics of the spice.

The final presentation is just as stunning as I had pictured in my mind, with the flavors just as my tongue had expected!!

As a chef I enjoy going on many tangents with cooking because my experience has allowed me to do so, but as a budding mixologist I realize that I need to focus my thoughts in order to create a solid foundation, just the way I did in my earlier days of cooking. That being said, I feel I need to concentrate my cocktail inspirations into the classical theme with a twist even while my dinner specials run rampant. It's the only way that I can master the style.

So, over the next several weeks I plan to really focus on the variations of more common cocktails, starting with one very close to my heart....

Bourbon is big where I come from, and the general consensus is that if it ain't broke don't fix it, but bourbon has a lot of characteristic, giving opportunity to some great cocktails like the Manhattan, but I wanted to play into that notion and add a little spark by way of an elderflower liqueur called St. Germain that is very floral with some citrus notes, elevating a classic drink into something new while still staying refined.

With Love,