Vegetarian Pot au Feu, Heart of Palm Marrowbone
Specialty Equipment: pressure cooker
Specialty Ingredients: National Starch Flojel 60, T55 flour, fresh hearts of palm
Dish as in The Fat Duck (can’t find any photos of the dish as served in The Fat Duck):
Freaking hearts of palm. I think the time spent trying to purchase some I could have cooked through another cookbook. I contacted local exotic food stores, local wholesalers, suppliers abroad and couldn’t get hold of them. I even scoured the freezer section of tons of stores in the hope they would have frozen hearts of palm, but in my experience it is either fresh or canned. At one time I thought I hit gold with a vegetable supplier of restaurants saying he could get them, but when I got them they turned out to be sugar canes instead of hearts of palm.
Canned. Blew. I hate I had to resort to the canned ones after failing to obtain the real, fresh deal. Fresh hearts of palm have never been on a plate before me, but I’m 100% sure the canned variety is very far removed from the former. The stalks are slim, already cooked and posses a generic canned taste. A bit like canned artichokes.
The thing is I didn’t really have an option to wait longer with this recipe. I’ve already made most of the lamb dish and had this dish in the freezer (made components a while ago when I thought I could get fresh hearts of palm), so the Big Fat Duck Cookbook is almost done. There was no time to wait for March or April, the months fresh hearts of palm are in season according to an importer here in Amsterdam. To summarize an elaborate introduction: I used canned hearts of palm.
In times with the prospect of fresh hearts of palm at my disposal I started with the vegetable consommé. It is made a bit like the one from the Gold, frankincense & Myhhr dish: vegetables cooked in beurre noisette, everything pressure-cooked and clarified. Two things about the stock. It uses A LOT of vegetables. Five kilos in total or 2½kg if cut in half. My pressure cooker has nothing to be ashamed of size wise, but it took some higher mathematics to fit all the vegetables in.
The other thing about the stock is the use of star anise. In the introduction Heston explains the use of star anise (as used in the stock of the Jelly of Quail recipe) to boost the meatiness of the consommé. In the list of ingredients and the described steps there is no mentioning of the use of spices. Use them or not? I did, hoping the absence of star anise is a small mistake in the book.
Pressure cooker filled with onions and carrots and there was still mountain of leeks ready to be chucked in.
Red wine is probably used to give the stock a red color.
You have to use 1½kg of butter (13 sticks of butter!) to infuse the soon to be consommé with the nutty flavor of beurre noisette. Luckily you can easily scoop the fat off when you let the stock sit in the fridge overnight.
Clarifying the stock with the traditional egg white method.
The consommé is finished with salt, vinegar, Marmite (again to boost meatiness) and black pepper.
Canned hearts of palm require a bit of a different treatment than fresh ones. They are already cooked, so a bit soft and delicate with a good chance of suffering from tears. The centre of the stalks is also easily pushed out, so no need to hollow them out yourself (as instructed in the recipe). I tried to enhance the flavor by marinating the hearts of palm in the braising liquid, which you have to make when you cook fresh hearts of palm. I must say it worked well, with the exception of the acid level. The braising liquid contains lemon juice and vinegar, which I added according to the instructions, but the canned vegetables are already a bit acidic, so I would leave out the vinegar if marinating the hearts of palm.
As accompaniments to the consommé the dish is served with a deep-fried gribiche sauce and a chervil and onion salad. The gribiche uses Flojel 60 to keep the sauce from splitting when fried. Together with milk it is also the emulsifying base, like hard-boiled egg yolk in the traditional preparation. By the way, I’d like to thank National Starch for providing me with a sample of Flojel 60 after some e-mail traffic. Thanks!
When the gribiche cools it sets, due to the Flojel, so you can cut it in pieces and coat them in panko, ready fro the fryer.
For the chervil salad you have to blanch shallots for 1 second. This step reminded me a lot of the onion rectangle from the Sole dish.
A verjus vinaigrette for the salad.
I deviated a bit with the baby vegetables, surrounding the heart of palm. Baby carrots, baby leeks, baby white asparagus and baby onions featured in my version.
When I prepared the vegetables it was clear I wasn’t getting fresh hearts of palm, so I blanched and froze them.
To finish I mixed the custard ingredients (egg, milk, horseradish, Marmite broth), filled the hearts of palm with this mix, fried the gribiche cubes, dressed the salad in the verjus vinaigrette, added the vegetables to the steamer to warm through and heated the consommé. The steaming basked from my pressure cooker worked wonderfully as a regular steamer (also doubling for a perforated tray for ice filtration). Filling the hearts of palm can be a bit difficult with canned ones, because when you remove the centre the stalk has no fighting chance to hold one to the custard base. I used a centre from a slightly larger stalk to close one side, a bit like a cork from a wine bottle. It is best, speaking from the experience of a custard covered counter, to place the hearts of palm in the steamer and then fill them to avoid the weight of the custard base from pushing out your delicately placed ‘cork’.
It may be clear from the introduction (understatement!), I was ready for the dish to suck. The absolute opposite was true. It looked and tasted stunning. The filled heart of palm, with a soft custard reminiscent of real bone marrow, is such a smart creation. Complemented by a very meaty broth and a crunchy gribiche sauce (often served with fatty pates and stuff), the plate doesn’t feel like a vegetarian dish at all. I was really, really impressed with this recipe. Definitely one the tastiest and most memorable dishes of the book. I freaking loved it.