Thursday, 8 November 2007

From comfort food to fine dining

The last weekend in October is always a depressing time of the year. I think this year, the clocks shouldn't have gone back. They should have stayed right where they were. After all, the changing clock announces the end of British Summer Time, and this year the British Summer never bothered to show up. It jilted us. No message, no apology. What a rude, ill-mannered season. It wouldn't have happened in the '50s, when seasons were well brought up and knew their place. But these are modern, anti-social times where manners hold little sway. I blame violent video games and rap music.

The cold, dark nights have coincided with a number of evening events for the Chief Taster, so for several nights over the past couple of weeks I've been cooking for one. Whilst I'm still sticking to my plan of cooking something new every night, I've reverted to comfort food to ease myself into autumn. Chicken, Leek and Tarragon Pie, Toad in the Hole, Lamb Tagine, Iranian Potato Cakes stuffed with Spiced Lamb, and Confit de Canard. Although all these dishes have all been delicious, I have to say that cooking for one is far less fun than cooking for others.

By Monday I was itching to spend some serious time in the kitchen and so I decided to ditch comfort food for a few days and go a bit gastro. I'm now beginning to experiment a bit more with the holy trinity of flavour, texture and colour which is something that every trip to Bacchus reinforces in my brain. I put together a challenging menu drawn from a variety of sources:

eared scallops with cauliflower puree, cumin veloute, and ras el hanout caramel

Pigeon with parsnip puree, roasted shallots, and chocolate sauce

Apple crumble

There were a number of techniques and flavour combinations within these dishes that I wanted to try for the first time. In the scallop dish it was making thin, spiced caramel shards and understanding the marriage of this with bitter raw cauliflower and sweet scallops. For the pigeon dish, I've always wanted to try the combination of meat and chocolate. Finally, because I'm not really a pudding person, I must confess that I've never made a humble crumble or a fresh custard before.

The recipe for the scallop dish comes from Le Champignon Sauvage, a two michelin starred restaurant in Cheltenham and it calls for an usual ingredient - Lecithin. I've never heard of Lecithin before but you can get it from health food stores and it acts as an emulsifier to bind aqueous and fat based solutions together. The result? A foam stays foamy for longer. Unfortunately I couldn't find any in time, so the bubbles on the cumin veloute didn't last for long. Next time I will definitely add a couple of grams of Lecithin to stabilise the foam. The ras el hanout caramel was a revelation and I made it 3 times to get the balance between sweetness and spice just right. It adds a fantastic textural dimension to the dish, providing a delicate crunch as the tender scallop meat yields with each bite. I stupidly forgot to add the garnish of apple matchsticks and this would have added a burst of colour to the plate, but nonetheless it tasted fantastic and will definitely feature on my menu again.

Tomorrow I'll post about the pigeon dish, and just why chocolate and meat is the ideal combination.


Silverbrow said...

Have you been to Bacchus since they introduced their new November menu? I haven't but it looks great.

Pete said...

Hi Silverbrow,

I haven't been in November but just checked out the menu and as usual it fills me with excitement. They are doing 6 courses for a bargain £25 between 6 and 7 so I may be able to afford another visit after all!

Steven said...

Pete, your culinary talent and blog are shining very brightly indeed - loving the scallops, celeriac and caramel ensemble..., It's my turn to buy you lunch - are you about next week?