Crab Biscuit, Roast Foie Gras, Crystallised Seaweed, Oyster Vinaigrette
Specialty Equipment: water bath, thermometer, vacuum machine
Specialty Ingredients: maltodextin DE19
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
A number of dishes in the book use foie gras. I love foie gras, but only in small quantities. It has such a strong taste and is almost pure fat, so I am amazed by people chomping their way through a thick slice. I was once one of those ‘amazing’ people. On a ski trip in France we went to dinner at a local restaurant where a middle aged woman ran the entire kitchen on her own (wow). The restaurant felt like an extended living room of her house. Anyway, I ordered a cappuccino of foie gras and, my god, foie I got. A rich velouté was served in a huge bowl with chunks, no, let me rephrase that, bricks of duck liver. I always finish my plate, and this was no exception, but the next plate was one bridge too far. It fell victim to a full stomach.
So foie gras is on the menu today, together with seaweed, rhubarb, oysters and crab. I started with the rhubarb by vacuum packing it with grenadine (pomegranate syrup) and Cointreau. I just got a vacuum machine so I could do this step at home, but anyone with the smallest heart and a vacuum machine will do this for you. I’ve not included a picture of burning off some of the alcohol of the Cointreau, because I forgot to burn of some of the alcohol from the Cointreau. Tasting the rhubarb I thought, hmm this has a nice kick, but then realized an alcohol kick was probably not supposed to be in this dish.
At the same time I poached the foie gras, because it has to be cooked at the same temperature: 60˚C. The book asks for cryogenically frozen foie gras, which means foie gras frozen by liquid nitrogen immediately after removing the liver from a duck. I did not feel like spending time looking for this particular foie gras (also because the book says it is pretty expensive) and happily opted for the one I had in my freezer (big mistake, more on that later). I cooked the large lobe of a foie gras, cut it in smaller pieces and let it mature for 48 hours. I should have vacuum packed the pieces, because as you can see some area’s oxidized. What is interesting is that the liver is not cleaned of blood spots or veins before cooking, only at the end of the recipe there’s a cleaning instruction: ‘Trim the concave edge of the foie gras to remove the central vein network if necessary.’
Next up was the oyster vinaigrette. It is made by blitzing fresh oysters, olive oil, grapeseed oil, lemon juice and oyster juice. Pretty straightforward.
This dish is garnished by a piece of crystallised Laitue de mer seaweed. A, I thought I would never find this stuff. B, I thought it would be extremely difficult, resulting in failure. Thankfully, neither A or B was the case. My local wholesaler carried the seaweed and the crystallising process was not that hard.
The seaweed is rinsed, soaked in a mix of egg white and maltodextrin, left for 1 hour and dried in a warm place. A restaurant kitchen is one of those places that is not shy of warm places, but at home it can be a lot harder to find a good spot. I draped the seaweed over a clothesline, put it in front of my oven, which I put on low heat, and let the door open to let the heat out. The seaweed was crystallized in no time, about 1 hour. It is a hassle to get single pieces of seaweed out of a package, but besides that this process is not too difficult.
Lastly, was the crab biscuit. The recipe lists ‘live Etrille crabs’. I looked for these crabs and asked for them, but came back with diddly squat. I contemplated getting frozen smaller crabs or large live ones and opted for the last. I bought quite a large Edible crab (is this really the word in English? Well, the Latin name is even worse) or Noordzeekrab, which I divided in pieces, because the size of my crab is probably not the same as the Etrille crabs (which go in whole).
I learned to cook crab at a restaurant, where I had the fortune to spend a few days. They chopped the entire crab in half with one swift blow. I took on my apprentice shoes, and, like the restaurant, chopped the crab in half with one hit. If you think about it is way more humane than throwing it in boiling water or poking it through the eyes.
You have to make a stock of the crab and reduce it to a glace.
Reducing. At this point the stock was extremely thick, so you have to watch it so it does not burn.
The glace is mixed with a biscuit batter (maple syrup, flour, butter, egg whites) and baked in the oven.
It’s best to mix the two (batter and glace) with some speed otherwise the glace cools and hardens, which makes it way more difficult to incorporate it into the batter.
I have gas oven and the heat predominantly comes from the lower part, so when baking cookies my batter always runs all across the baking tray and is black on the bottom before the top is finished cooking. This is exactly what happened with the first batch. What I then did was, I placed the cookies under the grill for a short period of time to sort of set them in their place and then bake them in a low oven, flipping them half way through. I got some nice cookies and this method may be helpful if the batter runs all across you baking tray at home.
The entire mise en place.
To finish the dish you have to cook the foie gras for a second time, this time in a 62˚C water bath to 60˚C and brown it with a blowtorch.
I had a minor, or actually a major failure, because my liver disintegrated. I thought about it and I think that freezing it in a domestic freezer it not the best idea. It freezes the liver so slowly ice crystals can form and damage the cell walls. With foie gras, almost pure fat, this becomes a major issue, damaging the entire structure. There is another dish in the book that cooks the foie gras the same way, so I can see if using fresh foie gras resolves the problem.
However, it was still edible, so I cut through all the layers with a knife and put all of the components in my mouth. Wow, an amazing flavor combination. The rhubarbs and the crab biscuit are the absolute stars of the dish. The rhubarb is sweet and tangy and not at all tart. The crab biscuit has a strong crab flavor in a surprising texture, a biscuit. I was not fond of the seaweed, because it dissolves in small pieces, sticks to the back of you throat and doesn’t let go. This minor setback aside, this is, in MasterChef terms, a very good plate of food. Especially the rhubarb. Hmm, rhubarb. Rhubarb!
I got an e-mail with some information on Etrille crabs: ‘Etrille is called velvet crab in English, but we don’t eat them ourselves. Since we send all the velvet crabs we catch to France, HB calls them etrille. The Dutch name (in a cookery dictionary) is fluwelen zwemkrab. The only crab we can buy easily in the shops is the (edible) crab you showed in the photo.’