Salmon Poached in a Liqourice Gel, Black Truffle, Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Manni Olive Oil
Specialty Equipment: water bath, thermometer, vacuum machine
Specialty Ingredients: gellan F, gellan LT100, pure licorice, black truffle
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
We, the Dutch, form a nation of liqourice lovers. It all starts with visits to your grandma, where a box full of liqourice candy is hidden in the cupboard and some of it handed to you like it is the most valuable product in the world. This engrains a deep love of all things liqourice from an early age. With some this leads not to a love affair with the candy, but an extreme aversion. I love the stuff, so I was happy to cook this dish, which is a combination of salmon and liqourice. I had some trouble figuring out what a ‘stick of concentrated liqourice’ was (as called for in the recipe) and where to get it, but thanks to a comment in a previous post I was pointed to another name for it, namely ‘pure licorice’. I also found out my parents and grandparents used to get this type of liqourice and make flavored water out of it by soaking some sticks in water.
I bought a box of ‘liquirizia pura’ from a company called Oronero at a local wholesaler, but you could probably also find some sticks in an old fashioned candy store. The stuff has the characteristic black color of liqourice, a deep bitter flavor and is quite hard. Together with low-calcium mineral water it forms the basis for the stock the salmon is ‘poached’ in. Gellan is the other main ingredient in the stock, responsible for it sticking and staying on the salmon, even when heated. Gellan is sensitive to salts, so by using a low-calcium water you avoid the stock setting before the fish is dipped into it. The water with the lowest concentration of calcium at my supermarket was from SPA, with 4,5mg Ca per liter. Other mineral waters had values ranging from 30mg to 80mg, so I figured the SPA one had the right level.
When blending the stock in a blender it foams up like crazy resulting in a sort of liqourice cappuccino.
I had some trouble with the stock and the gellans. I made the stock, but did not use it instantaneously and after a couple of minutes the stock started to set on the surface and fifteen minutes later the entire stock had a granular texture making it impossible to coat salmon in a smooth liqourice layer. I thought about it and the two causes I could come up with is that the stock cooled down too much, therefore setting the stock, or the mineral water still had too much calcium and is not suitable for this dish.
Anyway, before all this misery I got one piece of salmon through the stock and had one smooth coated piece. Wait, before I forget, I stuffed one piece with truffle. I didn’t feel the truffle would add anything to the dish (overkill?), so I only prepared one slice of salmon. You stuff it by opening it up horizontally, leaving the fish in one piece, coat it with some truffle and glue it back together with transglutaminase. Although I’m not sure about the addition of truffle, it is a fun little trick to hide some goodness in a piece of fish. Thanks to my vacuum machine I can vacuum pack the transglutaminase and truffles, so I just use it when needed, vacuum pack it again and put it back in the freezer. This benefits especially the transglutaminase, because it is extremely sensitive to exposure to air.
To dip the salmon in the stock I stabbed it with a wooden skewer all the way through and used forks to maneuver it in the hot stock. My hands are not heat resistant, especially against near-boiling liquid.
On the left is a piece of salmon coated in stock that already gelled. What is interesting is that with both pieces a quick dip in the black stock resulted in a see-through coating. For the piece on the right I dipped it a second time in the stock, and only then did it have a complete dark exterior with no salmon color breaking out from the liqourice wall.
The dish is accompanied by vanilla mayonnaise, asparagus, grapefruit, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I made the mayonnaise first. It is made from a (Chardonnay) vinegar reduction, vanilla seeds, Dijon mustard, eggs, table salt and arachide oil (I used grapeseed oil).
Next were the asparagus. They have to be peeled and cut in 8cm lengths. When shopping for this dish I came across purple asparagus and thought it would look good with the other components, so I used it instead of green asparagus. Contrary to the ‘purple passion’ story, the asparagus tasted just like green asparagus and after cooking even looked like them, so purple asparagus are actually not that different from their green cousins.
The last preparation (already the last one?) were the grapefruit cells. Here is some inside information on what the dissecting of grapefruits does to stagiaire’s at the Fat Duck kitchens. For a coupe of plates it not that bad of a job, but I can’t imagine having to do it day in day out for a fully booked restaurant. Removing the cells is simple, but time consuming, and if you’re going to do it you’ll soon figure out what works best for you.
Two garnishes are Manni olive oil and a balsamic reduction. The reduction is made by reducing a 15-year-old balsamic vinegar, but I didn’t follow this step. I think an excellent balsamic should not be heated and just be used like it comes in the bottle. I used a very tasty 12-year-old balsamic that delivers quite a punch without reducing it. As for the Manni olive oil, it is one of the most exclusive olive oils in the world. On their website you can read about the product, it’s production process, bottling and transportation. All this results in an olive oil that costs 44€ for 2 bottles of 100ml each (one box). The minimum order is five boxes, so 220€ for a few drops on the plate of this dish seemed a little steep. I don’t even know if this amount includes shipping costs. But I have the same feeling as with the balsamic, I would never integrate it in a dish with so many strong flavors. I would dip my bread in it and eat it with some salt. I feel it is used to give the name of the dish a nice ending, instead of it being a significant contribution to the recipe. Wow, this post becomes a bit serious.
Anyway, to complete the dish I vacuum packed the pieces of salmon and cooked them at 42˚C to the same temperature, which took about 45 minutes. The coating remained intact, although there was some brown colored water in the bags after cooking. I also cooked the asparagus (in oil) and plated the mayonnaise, grapefruit cells, balsamic and asparagus. Just like the strawberries dish, the salmon and asparagus are garnished by toasted, whole coriander seeds. Below a vertical cross-cut of the cooked, stuffed salmon.
I did not really enjoy this dish. It is not that the liquorice made me think of candy, but I just didn’t like the taste of it. It most definitely didn’t clash with the salmon, but I didn’t enjoy it’s presence. The funny thing is that the test subject that absolutely hated the leather essence in the olive purée, loved the liquorice in this dish. A complete reversal of our appreciation for a dish. The mayonnaise was ok, but not really my cup of tea, the asparagus, thanks to the cooking method, extremely tasty, and the olive oil and grapefruit were overshadowed by the salmon/liquorice combination. The bright point of this plate of food was the salmon: a mix of a raw and a cooked piece of salmon. It is not comparable with a medium-rare cooked salmon, it has a texture and flavor only achievable by cooking it at a low temperature in a water bath. If there is one thing I would recreate it would be the cooking of the salmon.