Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Touch of Sweetness

I love combining sweet and savory in a dish. For me, sweetness plays an essential part of balancing a dish by bringing together the five tastes, but a real treat is when I get the opportunity to incorporate pastry techniques as well.

I have more than my fair share of pastry experience, which I've flaunted in the past by making components like a roasted garlic whipped cream, a creme brule-style corn custard and a fresh tomato sorbet. I'm always inspired by the correlating techniques between the two culinary sides; the most obvious of my favorites are the slow braising of tough cuts of meat and the poaching of pears. Both transform the initial product into something different while imparting the flavors of my choice; if I didn't know better, I'd think it was magic...

 So for this week I wanted to focus on the pear poaching technique and save the slow braise for next week.

Ironically, the best pears for poaching are hard pears, and it's very difficult to get under ripe pears while they're in season. Since that's the case, the Bartlett pear is the most firm when ripe, so I peeled, halved and de-cored a selection of these and then slowly cooked them in water, brown sugar, star anise, fennel seeds, fresh ginger, and pickling spice, which contains coriander, cloves, bay leaves and a little dried chile. I cite the pickling spice ingredients because they end up lending the most interesting notes of flavor to the finished pears, especially with the savory application.

Pork is one of the best mediums for sweet and savory contrasts since it is relatively neutral in flavor and pairs well with fruit and other sweet preparations. Texture is always an important factor, so I went with thick cuts of pork tenderloin that I then slightly pounded with a meat mallot before breading with breadcrumbs made from the leftover sourdough loaves that we use for our famous French toast.

To tie it all together I made a bed for the pork by sauteing finely chopped napa cabbage with onions, garlic, parsley and sage,. Then, for the final touch, I reduced an already strong pork stock with freshly chopped ginger that I had slowly cooked in a little sesame oil. To create a unique sauce I used this stock to make a quick emulsion by whisking it into egg yolks with a hand/immersion blender (one of my favorite tools) to give me something that is frothy and light, yet rich with flavor. A little pinch of shallots pickled in 25 year old sherry vinegar rounds it out to help balance the richness.

After nearly 100 posts I have to be honest and say that I'm sometimes surprised that I haven't already offered an idea for a special where I think now would be a "no brainer". I guess my skill has matured, especially behind the bar...

Another great seasonal citrus that has a limited season is one of the first inspirations of my young, budding career. I can still vividly remember the first time that I bit into a ripe kumquat, and the idea of a citrus fruit that you can eat entirely without worrying about the bitter pith made my creative juices explode. Now, I have a new muse with this cocktail angle, and I failed to take advantage of the kumquat's season last year, though I don't plan to make the same mistake again...

This time I chopped up some kumquats to infuse in vodka while I used the remainder to make a simple syrup by simmering it in a mixture of equal parts of sugar and water. The cooking process of the simple syrup mutes the flavor in the same way that canned vegetables taste dull. Fortunately, the preservation property of the vodka retained the fresh flavor (hence the name).

We shake the two over ice and strain the mix into a martini glass that is garnished with a few rings of that mysterious fruit.

With Love,