Macerated Strawberries, Black Olive and Leather Purée, Pistachio Scrambled Egg
Specialty Equipment: vacuum machine, ice cream machine, thermomix, dehydrator (optional)
Specialty Ingredients: leather essence, fructose
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
I originally planned to make this dish in the summer, using Dutch strawberries from Texel. It is the largest and most populated island of the West Frisian Islands. In essence it is one big meadow with some villages, lots of dunes, amazing strawberries and some very patriotic islanders (they conceive of Texel as their own little kingdom).
Anyway, I did not take this route, because the leather essence I have in my possession for some time now has been calling out to me, like The One Ring, and the simple human being that I am I could not resist the calling. It was also a sort of final test, after the sardine on toast sorbet, to determine once and for all if Blumenthal is absolutely bonkers or not. The leather may be the most strange ingredient of this dish, but there is a whole group of ingredients that come a close second: black olives, whole coriander seeds, Ossau Iraty ewes’ milk cheese and scrambled eggs. The strawberries may be the only main ingredient that is widely used in desserts.
This dish contains a number of different strawberry textures, beginning with strawberry juice. Instead of juicing the fruit it is heated au-bain marie, like a Hollandaise, with the difference that the top of the bowl is covered with clingfilm to retain the heat. The book says to keep it on the heat for 6 hours, so I happily obliged, but after 1 or 2 hours all the fluids were extracted, so you could easily keep them on for a shorter amount of time. After 6 hours you have to reduce the juice to a certain Brix level, but I figured this is to ensure the liquid is thick enough and does not makes it way all around the plate, so I made sure it was not too thin.
The next texture is a strawberry crisp, comparable to a croquant (thin caramel). It’s extremely straightforward: puree the fruit, mix with icing sugar, heat it, cool it and dehydrate it. The recipe said nothing of sieving to remove the seeds, so again Heston’s wish was my command. The one thing I did differently was spreading out the puree. Instead of a palette knife (did not work for me), I held the trays in an angle and let the puree spread by itself. It took about 15 hours for the stuff to completely dry out, and I may have even put it in too long, because you can see some dots on the tuile (if they are caused by too long drying).
The third strawberry component are macerated ones. This is classically done by sprinkling sugar on fruit to extract moisture, make them sweeter and softer. Here I had to sprinkle the fruit with fructose and put them through a vacuum machine. The side effect of a vacuum is that water boils at a much lower temperature, so when vacuuming strawberries at room temperature the slightly warm water comes to the boil and breaks down the cell walls. Whatever you say captain!
The next component is the olive and leather puree. The book calls for Kalamata olives, so I hunted some down at a local Turkish shop. The olives are sweet and have no aggressive flavor, so I can see why they were chosen. This does mean you have to removes the stones yourself. I have to say I was completely hung over the day I started with this recipe, so I moved a little slower than normal and it took some time to wade myself through all of the olives. If my cooking was aired you would probably have seen a screen with the text: ‘some time later’. To remove the seeds I made an incision along the olives to expose the central kernel.
The olives are then blanched 3 times (probably to reduce the salt content and flavor). I heated one large pot of water so I could do this quickly without having to reheat a new pot of water after every turn in the water. You then have to blend them coarsely and sieve them. If you don’t have a tamis or fine sieve don’t push too hard on the olives, because your puree will be grainy. If you have a gentler hand you don’t force larger pieces of olive through the sieve and end up with a smooth puree.
The mixture is finished with leather essence, fructose, extra virgin olive oil and leather essence.
Next up was the base for the vanilla ice cream. I scooped up quite a few beans from a wholesaler, which is much cheaper than buying one or two in a supermarket. I bought about 30 (one box) for 17€. eBay looks like a great source for some beans online, but due to my location I have to pay high shipping costs. The vanilla ice cream is made from full fat milk, vanilla, skimmed milk powder, coffee beans, egg yolks and fructose.
Next up were the toasted pistachios. The ingredients list calls for ‘fresh polished pistachios’. At first I though this meant untoasted/unsalted/not fried pistachios, but after looking on the internet I saw some info on these pistachios. The place I got the pistachios from didn’t know about fresh pistachios, so I think I didn’t get real fresh ones, but I did get unprocessed ones. As you can see on the photo you can peel the nuts until only a green exterior remains, but this is a pretty painstaking endeavour, and remember my head was still spinning, so I just removed most of the skins.
The pistachios are toasted and coated with caramel. First you toast them in non-stick pan and second sprinkle them with sugar until the sugar turns golden brown. Delicious.
For the scrambled eggs ingredients these words stand after pistachios: ‘ground to a paste’. I did not know if this was supposed to be a course paste or the type patissiers use. Making a smooth paste at home from just pistachios is next to impossible, so what I did was mix the nuts with the milk and sugar and blended this for a few minutes. Because of the extra liquid the blender is able to grind it pretty smooth, so you end up with a paste.
For the scrambled eggs you have to heat the paste (I already added the milk and sugar to the pistachios), with eggs, for 20 minutes at 80˚C in a thermomix. When the mixture just scrambles you have to remove it from the blender, cool it and blend it. I passed it through a sieve to make sure there were no lumps of egg.
The last part is the olive oil biscuit. It is made like a short crust pastry, but this mix has a bit more moisture. This makes rolling it out more difficult, but if you roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper you won’t get into too much trouble (I folded it between one large baking sheet). After coming out of the oven, while still warm, you can cut them in rectangular shapes.
The Ossau Iraty ewes’ milk cheese.
First part of the plating.
The complete dish.
First off, as for the ‘normal’ ingredients, the vanilla ice cream (not as smooth as I would have liked), tuile, macerated strawberries, strawberry juice and the biscuit, they were delicious. The leather? It did not suck! Al least according to some, including me. For others it was absolutely horrendous, people who not regularly chew on their wallet. Funny was that two people thought the puree had a smoky/burning coal flavour. In combination with the strawberries the puree is delicious, but you won’t see me tucking in a bowl of puree in front of the television. The real revelation were the coriander seeds, bursting in your mouth, without the overpowering flavour of some spices. It did work for me, the strawberries, leather, olives and coriander seeds, but how in the hell do you come up with the combination? That is the real mystery to me. The cheese was lost in the other flavors, so it was not adding anything or intruding in any way. What is important if you ever decide to make it is to add the leather essence to taste instead of weighing it out. I thought it featured too prominently in the puree, but still acceptable, and would like it even better if it was more of a background flavour. The scrambled eggs were ok, but I think I overheated the mix, because they tasted way ‘eggy’. I think the heating of the mix has to be done extremely careful to achieve a delicate balance between pistachio and egg flavour. The sugared pistachios are awesome.
It remains quite a divider this dish. If you make it for someone else they may hate it, slap you and never talk to you again. Or they like it and you’re in luck. As to the question if Blumenthal is absolutely bonkers. To me not, although coming up with this dish requires a different circuitry of ones brains.