Ballotine of Anjou Pigeon, Black Pudding, Pickling Brine, Spiced Roasting Juices
Specialty Equipment: water bath, vacuum machine, pressure cooker, thermomix, thermometer
Specialty Ingredients: transglutaminase, sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium caseinate, soy lecithin, pig’s blood
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
I’ve made starters, sort of side dishes and deserts. This time around I felt I should make a main course, especially since I didn’t cook a dish last week. What better than the main event of the Fat Duck tasting menu?
To get it out of the way at the start I must say I didn’t purchase sodium caseinate or sodium tripolyphosphate. The first one is, among other things, used as a foam stabilizer, which is important in a restaurant, but not essential to replicating the dish. It is more of an extra insurance policy. The latter is used for I don’t know what. What I do know is you have to use 0,2g for 10 pigeons. I looked at the website of Brenntag, a large chemical supplier (the one who sells CP Kelco’s gellan in my area), where I got maltodextrin, powdered gelatine, pectin and gellan from, but I didn’t want to ask them for more samples. Buying on the other hand was not an option, because they sell it in 25kg packages, which means I would have to go through 1,125,000 pigeons (!) to use up the sodium tripolyphosphate. I’m all for hunting down ingredients, but these two did not even show up on online stores, just large chemical suppliers. I made this dish and can say without these two ingredients it all works out ok.
Pigeons. Here in Amsterdam the exception to the rule when driving a bike or car is not running these birds over. They are everywhere. For most this is the association to pigeons: dirty, lowdown scavengers. In stark contrast is their appearance on the menu’s of high end restaurants. It seems that in almost every respectable establishment pigeon is the poultry of choice. The two most priced are the ones from Anjou and Bresse. I’ve cooked woodpigeon a number of times, but never bought any of the ‘fancier ones’. For this dish it was time for a change, so I purchased a couple of Anjou pigeons. I must say they look extremely appetizing, with a light yellow skin and lots of meat in contrast to woodpigeons (I have to watch out I don’t go overboard with praising the esthetics of a pigeon). I bought them at my local wholesaler for about 16€ per kg, which meant paying 16€, because they weighed 1kg in total.
They were plucked, but the guts and everything else (head and that sort of thing) were all still present. I never did it before making this dish, but removing the innards is not too difficult. I cut off the fatty tail end and grabbed hold of whatever was in the birds and pulled it out. They then have to be hanged in the fridge for three days, probably to enhance the flavor.
The heart, liver, stomach and intestines.
The following step was the first time I felt my cooking skills sucked. I had to skin a duck (for the stock) and didn’t get it off as clean as I would have liked. The skin came off in a couple of pieces with pieces of meat still attached and I hacked into the meat of the duck. Dexter would not be proud.
To remove the meat from the legs it is easiest to remove the bones instead of cutting the meat of the bones. Also, when you cook a dish with chicken, duck or whatever kind of legs removing the bone from the thigh area is handy. That way you can stuff it or it will make for a better presentation.
Before skinning the pigeons I removed the legs and wing tips. Instead of jumping to your cleaver a quick cut through the joint with a small knife removes the tips. I cut some more skin than usual from the breast so you can see when removing the legs you have to cut along the breast downwards to separate the two.
The skin of the pigeons comes away without any hassle. Just cut it loose from the back and work a few centimetres towards the legs and you can just pull the skin from the pigeon.
The pigeons are brined under vacuum for two hours and then soaked in water for 30 minutes. Still tucked away nicely against the bones is the main element of this dish, the breasts of the bird, soon to be turned into a play on words: a ballotine of pigeon. Removing the breasts is a bit like filleting a fish. Stay close to the bone. The two things to watch out for are the wishbones and keeping the wing bones attached.
Normally I remove the meat without the bone, but the book wants you to keep it on. If you have never done it before, just follow the top arrow in the photo and you are ok.
Transglutaminase is used in the same way as the mackerel dish (I followed the same steps as in that dish), to create the ballotine. I already cleaned up the wing bones (in the recipe it is done after cooking), because when possible I wanted to limit last minute actions. Also, in the future I would remove the fillet from the breasts to make the gluing easier.
After all these preparations the pigeon is still not ready to retire, it has to give flavor to the sauce. The bones are roasted with duck bones and mixed with fried duck meat, cooked vegetables and water. Almost all the stocks in the book are made with a pressure cooker, and this is no exception, bit I still don’t own one. I was hoping someone would have one for me, because it was collecting dust on a store cupboard, but no one I know and asked for it had one. I did something quite strange: I looked in stores instead of the internet. I found out Tefal dominates the pressure cooker market and a pan is quite expensive (up to 160€). I safely took my place behind the computer and checked out some cookers on the internet and found cheaper ones. I made this stock according to standard procedures, but will use a pressure cooker the next time.
Finishing the sauce by reducing it and adding sherry and port. The pressure cooker makes a darker stock, so mine was a bit lighter than it is supposed to be.
There are like five different spice blends for all the components of this dish, which I made all at once to avoid tearing the book apart after the endless instructions on toasting spices and grinding them. Cooking from this book asks for some planning to stop yourself from jumping out of the nearest window.
Ingredients for the pickling brine foam, including the ‘bubble agent’ lecithin. No crazy shit going on here.
Next up are the duck and pigeon crackers, made like prawn crackers you buy in the store. Water, stock (from the sauce), spices, sieved duck meat, tapioca starch and salt are mixed according to a set of instructions so you end up with a sticky dough. The dough can be crumbly, which only means the dough needs some more fluid. I you have the liquid content right you can kneed it into a shiny mass. Once shiny and ready to jump on a horse and save a princess you can roll it into a log using clingfilm and twisting the ends to shape it. It should be placed in a steamer, but I haven’t got one, so I used the more old fashioned steam basket. Steaming is probably done to cook out the starch, but as you can see in the photo my logs still had a white centre, so I guess it was not cooked enough. The ends were still usable.
Strips of soon-to-be-crackers, drying them shortly, frying them and draining them.
The cracker on the right is my attempt to make one look like the one from the book, with a twisted centre. The instructions state to store the crackers in an airtight container and I must say follow this instruction! If you don’t they will go soggy (the same goes for the crumble mixture).
What strikes me and has done so with almost every recipe is the measurements in the book. The crackers are about 10cm long and 1cm wide, which is in my view not at all the same as in the pictures I see on the internet. The same goes for the salmon, délice of chocolate, ravioli of oyster and daikon radish strips of previous dishes. It seems as if everything is scaled down in size in the recipes of the book.
The onions, for garnish, are cooked under vacuum in the microwave (!). Next up was hell, stagiaire’s hell to be exact. The book simply states to trim the stems of the mini-turnips (BTW, those bastards were not cheap) to 2,5cm (again, 2,5cm seems way more than the pictures of the dish show). However on the blog Chef Sandwich I read the procedures the prep kitchen (of the restaurant) follows. They scrape away the first layer of skin and, stupid as I am, I obliged to this torture. I scraped, scraped, scraped, scraped, scraped, scraped, scraped, and scraped till all were done. I (big-pot) blanched them and removed any dirt having survived the water. I froze the leftover turnips for future use.
The left turnip is done with a vegetable peeler and the one on the right is scraped with a knife. The peeler removes way too much, therefore sabotaging the shiny appearance.
The black pudding is made with cream, spices and pig’s blood. Pig’s blood is a bit hard to come by if you just walk into butcher shops and hope for the best. The will probably only sell it in large containers (10kg) or simply don’t order it for you. The trick is to find a butcher that makes blood sausages and ask when they make their next batch so you can scoop up a small quantity of blood, without being stuck to 9,8kg of blood. The thermomix is essential for the pudding, because it has to be cooked at 70˚C for 4 hours while constantly whisking. Luckily I have a thermomix so it all went smoothly, not taking the major error of making a mess of the proportions in account. I almost always scale down the quantities, but his time I scaled down the blood and not the cream, so I ended up with a ‘diet’ or ‘light’ black pudding.
So onto the assembly line. Charring the onions.
Frothing the brine. What I once learned is putting foam in a sieve so excess fluid can drip through the sieve and you end up with a more stable foam. You can easily make the foam 10 to 20 minutes before serving and keep it in a sieve. No need for any last minute hassle.
I cooked the pigeon to 54˚C in a 60˚C water bath and rested it for 10 minutes at 50˚C. The recipe asks for two water baths (ahum), but I just chucked some water in the sink and added cold water until the thermometer of the cooking controller lit up the numbers 5 and 0. After cooking they are rolled in the crumble mixture. I now see I completely forgot to take a picture of it, so I can only say it is made from the duck crackers, fried panko, spices and chives.
I warmed the sauce and turnips and plated everything: black pudding in the familiar Fat Duck fashion, onions, turnips, three slices of pigeon (I used up almost one ballotine for one plate instead of two plates), sauce, foam and a cracker.
I remember looking at pictures of this dish and thinking ‘looks nothing special’. I must say I was wrong. The pudding is sticky and in combination with the brine and pigeon extremely tasty. The brine looks like a harmless white cloud, but is packed with flavor from spices. The medium-rare sous vide pigeon is tender and, due to the cooking technique, looks underdone, but in fact isn’t. The sauce is very good with the roasting flavors coming through.
You know when you eat in a good restaurant and with the first bite you know you are eating restaurant food. The dishes have a certain flavor, not replicable in the home. Know what I mean? I think the secret is packing every component of a dish full of flavor. This dish is a good example. Although it may appear simple, it is not, and delivers quite a punch. With the first bite you know you have top restaurant food at home. The elusive restaurant flavors have arrived at your doorsteps.