Lasagne of Langoustine, Pig’s Trotter, Truffle
Specialty Equipment: water bath, vacuum machine, pressure cooker, pasta machine, PacoJet, electric slicer
Specialty Ingredients: black truffle, truffle juice
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
Paining yourself cooking recipes from the book is of course fun, but what is of course way more fun is inflicting pain on others. I’ve been talking about doing a dish with two friends, who own The Big Fat Duckbook, for some time. Last Saturday it was time for action, not talk, and I was more than happy to subject others to mercy of the recipes. We even got another helping hand, a friend offering his services after hearing we were going to make a recipe from the book. This reinforcement prompted me to choose two dishes to cook in one day to compensate for the number of people in the kitchen (I couldn’t let them off too easily). So, let’s start with the first one, the Lasagne of Langoustine.
This lasagne is miles away from the classic Lasagne Bolognese, made from minced meat, tomatoes, milk and cheese. Lasagne ‘Fat Duck style’ means langoustines, pig’s trotters, salted pasta, broccoli and truffle. Oke. Like almost all the dishes it’s hard to picture the flavors together. The only way to find out if everything works together is eating at The Fat Duck or making the dishes yourself (with the end of the à la carte menu the latter is, for now, the only option). I started on Friday with the stuff that had a 24+ preparation time. For this dish the pasta dough was the only candidate, but since I just got my pressure cooker and it was the first time I had one in my kitchen, I also made the stock on Friday.
The stock is made from chicken (I used chicken necks), button mushrooms, fennel, onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, white wine and herbs. The process in short: blanching ¾ of the chicken to remove impurities, sweat vegetables, cook everything at full pressure for 1½ hours, cool, add ¼ of unblanched chicken (for fresh chicken element), cook for 30 minutes at full pressure, cool, add herbs and infuse for 30 minutes. There are endless, heated debates on making stocks and in particular the use of pressure cookers. They key is to cook the stock so no steam escapes from the pot, which results in a cloudy stock and the loss of flavor. It is difficult to regulate the temperature in such a way the stock does not blow steam all out of the pressure cooker. My cooker puffed away happily, so regulating the temperature could be better in the future.
Cooling the pan.
Next up was the pasta dough. It was one of the most annoying pieces of dough I ever worked with. The book says it will be dry and crumbly and they were not kidding. Every time I felt it was coming together, a large piece would break off and splinter. In the end I got there, but it took some time to calm down and resist the urge to chuck the pasta out of the window. An important note: the recipe uses a lot of salt in the mix. You find out why in a column of Blumenthal on The Guardian.
The next day the cavalry arrived! So far I had no help with any of the dishes, so three extra people in the kitchen was a bit strange. It was difficult to give away control of parts of the dish. However, everyone banged out all the components and it was fun to cook dishes together. My job was mainly starting up the kitchen appliances and grabbing the required tools. As you can see hygiene was not taken lightly.
After 24 hours the pasta could be rolled out. In the beginning it was a struggle to get it through the machine in one piece. Some well placed kneading and rolling actions and the dough eventually had to give up its resistance.
Cutting the dough in rectangles.
The meat element of the lasagna are pig’s trotters. They are cooked the same way as in the Radish Ravioli dish: deboning them, cook them in caramel until golden, add water, vegetables, spices and let it sit in the oven for 4-5 hours. My job was to ignite the oven. Not that hard. Or is it? Some time after they went in the oven someone checked on them and noticed the pot was not really warm. The oven was not on. Oops. The trotters could still cook a couple of hours, but the end result may just have been an hour shy of a fully tender skin.
On to the reduced sauce or as many chefs call it the backbone of a dish. It revolves around one thing: reducing. The word is used five times in the instructions. It’s made by reducing chicken stock, adding it to cooked leeks, adding truffle juice to it, blitz everything, sieving, again reducing, reduce Madeira and port to a syrup in a separate pan, mix to the content of the two pans and finish it with lots of butter. You end up with one hell of a powerhouse of a sauce.
Frying leeks (top left), reducing chicken stock (top right), reducing Madeira and port (bottom right) and frying langoustine shells (middle, more on that later).
The shells of the langoustines are turned into a langoustine flavored oil. Frying the shells, see a few pictures back, releases an amazing aroma. It may even be better than the fumes garlic releases when you fry it in oil. After frying the shells we put them in the thermomix at 70˚ for 10 minutes. You end up with an extremely flavorful and bright colored oil. I didn’t buy live langoustines, as specified in the recipe, because they sell for 40€/kg in contrast to 11€/kg for frozen ones. Funny how at the same wholesaler I can get live lobsters, from Canada, for 16-18€/kg. Langoustines fresh from our seas, one of the most plentiful shellfish in our waters, are 2-2,5 times more expensive than lobster from Canada. Strange world.
The bottom of the lasagne consists of a broccoli puree with mushrooms, carrots, cream, celeriac (left it out) and langoustine oil. The broccoli puree requires a PacoJet. You can puree stuff with the appliance by freezing it in PacoJet beakers and run it through the machine. It shaves frozen food by running super sharp knives through the beaker, while also pushing air through it. The problem of food processors and blenders is that they need a minimum level of fluid to keep everything in motion and not end up with food on the side of the mixer and blades circling through the machine without cutting anything. In the absence of the glorious PacoJet, we added some water and langoustine oil to the puree to help it along.
To assemble the dish we warmed the filling, heated the sauce, boiled the pasta, cooked the langoustine tails in a water bath at 60˚C (some were a bit blue from the content of the langoustine heads, but the flavor was not affected), cut the pig’s trotter in julienne (was no time to stack and cool them due to my turning-on-a-oven skills) and picked some chervil leaves. One omission was fresh truffle placed on top of the lasagna. The second dish we cooked also has truffle incorporated into it and there were a lot of strong flavors in this dish, so we left it out.
The picked chervil leaves in ice water (sort of). Looking back the picked leaves were a bit big and the lasagne would probably have looked a bit better with just the absolute top of the chervil stems.
Wow, this dish was heavy. Although it is a starter, it hits you quite hard. The sauce is very good, but also overpowering. The truffle flavor from the truffle juice did not come through, but this may be due to the brand of truffle juice. The langoustines, especially since they were poached, had a hard time standing up to the sauce. However the overall taste was good, with the trotters and pasta adding some bite. I can’t say any of us was blown away, not saying we didn’t like it. I just think it would be better if the sauce was toned down. Frying the langoustines would also make a difference, give it more meaty flavor, in line with the rest of the dish. What I do take from this dish is assembling your lasagne al the last minute if you want to make a fancy one. It really turns the classic dish up a notch.
The lasagna was just the starter. We also prepared a main course I will post it in a few days. It was the exact opposite of this recipe, a light, and bright plate of food. Luckily there was no oven involved.