Sardine on Toast Sorbet, Ballottine of Mackerel ‘Invertebrate’
Specialty Equipment: vacuum machine, ice cream machine, pastry cutters, mandolin
Specialty Ingredients: transglutaminase, gellan F, maltodextrin, malic acid, sodium citrate, distilled water
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
Yep, looking at the photo and picturing a dish, a delicious for that matter, requires some serious imagination or pure good faith. Do you want to spend most of the day and a part of the next day working on something with sardine sorbet and glued raw mackerel? Well, after some time I could answer this question with ‘yes’. I must admit that from then on this dish was on the top of my list, just to see if Blumenthal is absolutely bonkers. I’m not easily put off and will try (almost) everything, but this is the one dish I approached with some hesitation. Was this justified?
The marinated daikon radish was the first victim to my kitchen. I blanched garlic three times, plunging it into iced water after every turn in the boiling water. This is then mixed with lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger. I used toasted sesame oil, which is much stronger, so watch out if using the toasted instead of regular sesame oil. The daikon is supposed to be marinated while under vacuum, but I made the dish on Saturday and I was just too late for a visit to the butcher to have this done for me. The second picture shows the slices of radish, sliced on a mandolin, after a day in the marinade ready to be cut into 1 x 5 cm rectangles.
After marinating the daikon you have to get rid of the oil. I put everything in a plastic candy bag and waited for the fluids to seperate, then cut the bottom of the plastic and cought the dark lower layer.
This stuff is made into a fluid gel. A fluid gel is a jelly made with the gelling agent gellan F, and after setting (sometimes during) is blitzed continiously to create a thick liquid. This has a number of advantages. The liquid is made without classic thickeners, like butter, flour or cornflour, which can mask the flavors. On top of that gellan gives, according to the material in the cookbook, a very potent flavor release. I can vouch for that, having made a onion fluid gel from another recipe, who’s flavor explode in your mouth. Good stuff.
What would be a guess of the final product if you showed this picture to a random person. Toast with sardines? Soup? A pasta sauce? A bad joke?… A sorbet? No way! Exactly, but sorbet it really is. The stuff is made from toasted bread, tinned sardines, gelatine, full milk, water, maltodextrin, salt, pepper and malic acid.
The milk is warmed to melt the maltodextrin and gelatine. In my case the matlodextrin decided to clump up, so make sure it is fully dissolved.
The recipe, according to the intro to the dish, used to contain pre-sliced white bread, but now gluten-free bread is used However, I used the pre-sliced white bread. It should be toasted until golden brown all over.
Blitz everything into a smooth liquid. I let it blitz for two minutes to make sure there were no lumps. Looks good?
The sorbet base should mature in the fridge for 8-24 hours, so I let it sit in the fridge for about a day. On Sunday I churned it with my Nemox Gelatissimo (damn, what a annoying little thing). The sorbet came out extremely smooth, (smoother than with other ice cream mixes) cause it probably was already quite thick.
The salmon roe magically hopped itself into a bowl straight on a weighing scale (I love it when that happens), so it was the logical next step. I rinsed the roe two times in cooking sake to clean them. They are them marinated in mirin, soy sauce and grated yuzu or sudachi. These citrus fruits are nearly impossible to obtain in my area, so I used some yuzu juice, which is not the same, but I saw no other way.
As predicted in the book, broken eggs float to the surface, which you can easily remove.
The book instructs to marinate the roe for at least two hours. After a couple of hours I checked them and the skin of a large portion of the eggs developed into an impenetrable fortress. I looked around on the internet for a possible cause and came across a very interesting post by someone who spend a few days in the kitchen of The Fat Duck. He says: ‘The eggs were marinated for exactly 20 seconds in an equal mix of soy sauce and mirin before being drained in a tea strainer. “Any more than that, and the skins of the eggs start to harden,” said Jon.’ What could explain this small, but interesting discrepancy?
The following was totally new to me, in that I never used it or seen someone apply it. It revolves around transglutaminase. It’s an enzyme with the ability to ‘glue’ flesh from fish, meat and poultry. It is nicknamed ‘meat glue’. In this recipe the fillets of a mackerel are glued together after filleting and curing to give the look of a cross-cut of a whole fish. I sounds far out there, but everyone has eaten plenty of this stuff in meat products and if you’re unlucky in surimi (fake crab). I’ve seen a program on surimi and compared to the production of it, this dish looks like something your grandma, a very modern one, would make for you.
After filleting you have to remove the pinbones in the middle of the fillet and cut some of the meat from the belly. The resulting flap is used the close the log of the two fillets.
Before the fillets are rolled together they are cured in salt, sugar, lime zest, lemon zest and coriander seeds for 1 hour.
After curing, washing and drying them with paper the fish is sprinkled with transglutaminase. The key is to remove the excess of powder to not overdue it on the glue which can toughen up the flesh. However, you must not remove too much or else the stuff wont stick that well. A little bit more white that on the third picture (where it dissolved a bit) is a good indication.
The fillets are laid nose to tail, the thickets part of one on the thinnest part of the other, and then rolled into a log and refrigerated for at least 4 hours.
For the final touches of the dish you have to make crunchy walnut bread and fried baby eels. The book states to cut the bread into 2mm slices using an electric slicer. I cut it with a bread knife, which worked fine. As you can see in the picture of The Fat Duck their bread slices are way thinner, so I wonder if 2mm if the right thickness.
The left row of slices are covered in a small amount of cheese and the other with generous sprinkling of grated cheese. In the end the left row produced better slices with a good mix of walnut flavour and cheese notes.
The last part required baby eels or anchovies and the frying of them. I remembered an episode of In Search of Perfection on Fish Pie, where the pie is topped with fried eels and panko (Japanese breadcrumbs). I fried some panko and sprinkled it with fish sauce (made from fermented anchovies) to give a similar result of frying eels/anchovies.
So, time to plate. First on are the marinated daikon slices, the kombu with the fried panko, a diagonal slice of mackerel and a smear of fluid gel of the marinade. In the pictures of this dish on the internet this is the only one I saw with the kombu/panko mix on the plate. All the others lacked these ingredients. The plate is finished with a rocher of sardine sorbet, al least that is what it is supposed to resemble, a slice of bread and the salmon eggs.
So what did this stuff taste like. Did a one way trip to the bathroom accurately describe the dish or was it culinary heaven? I thought something in between. Savoury ice-cream can be delicious, but a sardine sorbet (fish, man) is on the extreme end. The thing is it tasted fine, even good, but with the first few bites your brain opposes to the flavors, expecting something sweet and a familiar sorbet flavor. You need a good few bites to adjust yourself to what you’re eating and once you have the sorbet is gone. I had a few more helpings of sorbet which went down much better, with me and my family, than the initial scoop. So I can figure that in the restaurant itself there is too little time and sorbet to combat the initial reaction of your brain and enjoy what you are eating. If anyone has eaten this dish at the restaurant, do not hesitate to put your thoughts online.
As for the mackerel, it was amazing. It was extremely soft and clean tasting with a citrus kick. It also looked like an exact cross-cut, without the bones, leading to some wonderment at the table how this was possible. I loved the mackerel, liked the sorbet and do give this dish a go if you want to mess with people, while giving them an exiting course, when inviting them over for dinner. Remember, it will be an elaborate joke.