Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting Into Shape

The wonderful thing about produce is that not only is it a vast palate of flavors and textures to work with but it also has an amazing natural beauty; with all of the colors, shapes and sizes I find myself in awe at the turn of every season.

The main inspiration for this dish was the local availability of a bizarre vegetable called romanesco, a cousin to broccoli and cauliflower that has a series of fractal buds. In addition to being absolutely stunning it is very tasty, and since I love caramelizing cauliflower I started by carefully braking off perfect buds to use as garnish and trimmed down the remaining pieces into tiny florets that I browned in butter and olive oil to order and finished with chopped parsley, chives and chervil.

Since the romanesco had such a striking appearance I wanted the rest of the dish to reflect many different shapes as well, and that was when things really started to come together.

Another vegetable that has become available locally is some beautiful baby fennel that would not only give me another natural shape but some robust anise flavor. I trimmed them, reserving the tops, and roasted the whole bulbs in a high heat oven, filling my kitchen with its sweet aroma.

The meat portion actually started last Saturday when I cut beef chuck into 2" thick slices and seasoned them with freshly toasted and ground fennel seeds, coriander, mixed peppercorns, mustard seeds and salt that marinated until I got in Tuesday, allowing the flavors to fully penetrate the meat. I then braised the slices in a rich beef stock made from the end pieces of the chuck and a variety of herbs and vegetables.

Once tender I cooled the meat before portioning into squares and simmered the cooking liquid with the leftover fennel tops, further enhancing the flavors of the dry rub and bringing the two components together. I used the resulting broth to reheat the portions of beef and allowed it to reduce into a powerful glaze to finish each piece.

For the finishing touches I made a round croquette by shredding cooked potatoes mixed with cream, eggs, scallions and some of the same spice blend that I used for the beef that I then fried, yielding a crispy crust and creamy interior. Since the dish as a whole had a lot of Mediterranean influences that contain rich techniques I felt that a bold kalamata olive puree with garlic, shallots and olive oil would really add some contrast.

As we now get into colder weather you can expect to see more and more of those great citrus fruits on both sides of these specials, starting right now. Once I saw the first boxes of satsumas, a.k.a. Mandarin oranges, I immediately grabbed a couple of stacks and thought about what I was going to make with them later.

With their thin skins and sweet/tart flavor I decided to juice them by hand (like I've got nothing better to do...) and use the strained juice to make the base for a margarita along with a dash of triple sec and a healthy portion of tequila. But that wasn't enough for me, because I've really been into herbs lately (if you haven't noticed from my specials). So I thought that I would take it a little further and rim the glass with a sugar that I ground with fresh tarragon that actually goes quite well with the flavor of the Mandarin.

There's a lot of amazing things that you can come up with once you think outside of the box ;) !!

With Love,