Yes, I am really taking Grant Achatz to Jamaica with me!
I better start packing, pronto! I’m so excited! I hope he catches all fish barehanded and prepares them in exotic and unusual ways while we lounge on the beach in total, uninterrupted (except for drinks on demand and some reggae), culinary bliss!
I burned the plantains and it was too late to go out and buy more, so I flew with it.
OK, maybe the title of this entry is a little misleading. Let me phrase it correctly..”I’m heading to Jamaica with a Grant Achatz dish..in a conceptual way.”
There, that’s better.
This month’s Daring Cooks challenge is an extremely unique fish dish created by one of the masters of Molecular Gastronomy, Grant Achatz, the founder and owner of one of Chicago’s most unique and heralded restaurants, Alinea. I’ve always wanted to visit Chi-Town, and when that time comes, one of the first things I’d love to do is dine at Alinea, Moto, Tru, etc..and just explore Chicago’s food scene in general.
When this challenge was first announced, I was on the fence about whether I was going to take part or not. The reasons were simple; for one aka Excuse #1, I don’t flip over skate, but then again I don’t think I’ve ever tasted it fresh (think ammonia) and/or prepared properly, and that was only twice in my life. Well, we could use any fish we wanted, so that eliminates Excuse #1.
Excuse #2 – I don’t have a food dehydrator. Well, my sister just so happened to have a food dehydrator, so there goes Excuse #2.
Excuse #3 – it seemed to be quite a bit of work, and I wasn’t sure who I would be serving it to, and whomever I did serve it to, would they get it and be willing to try it? My sister expressed interest in trying this dish, along with her husband, so goodbye Excuse #3.
You see, this dish is what you would call the lighter side of Molecular Gastronomy/Cuisine (whenever I say or type MO-LEC-U-LAR, I can’t help thinking of our former President, Dubya, pronouncing nuclear – NUKE-YOU-LAR) since it doesn’t require any special equipment outside of a food dehydrator, but you could also use the oven or microwave.
On a more positive note, I’ve always wanted to dabble in Molecular Gastronomy, but the the sodium alginate, liquid nitrogen, among all the other ‘toys’ that a lot of it requires, are a little on the pricey side. Not to mention, I truly believe it’s something you need to learn from someone who has a lot of experience with it (calling Grant Achatz, Sam Mason, Wylie Dufresne, Homaru Cantu, Jose Andres et al…), not something you try to wing yourself. Chemicals can do scary things to body parts.
I didn’t have one of these, but thanks to her wedding, my sister did.
What makes this dish time consuming is that every component requires its own preparation. Instead of just fish with sauce, you’re dehydrating ingredients and grinding them into powders, but not before you blanch or simmer in simple syrup, then dry completely, or add vitamin C to each and every one of them. If you’re using a food dehydrator, we’re talking another 12 hours right there. On the plus side, we could create any kind of flavored powders we wanted. The powders apparently provide an intense burst of flavor when you dip the fish into them, so this was definitely a new way of eating fish..or any protein for that matter.
Many might ask, including myself..”Wouldn’t this dish be too dry?”. The answer to that would be a resounding NO, since you’re poaching green beans and the fish in a Beurre Monte (an emulsion of butter and water, mostly butter, and a lot of it, as in 1 pound a lot), so that provides the moisture, and the fat that’s going to make your arteries swell. But hey, it’s not like most people eat like this on a regular basis, and you’re not consuming all the Beurre Monte, so one night of letting your arteries party won’t kill ’em.
Top row: Left to right – Toasted Coconut, Lemon-Lime, Blood Orange. Bottom Row: Left to right – Brown Butter-Sweet Plantain with Macadamia, Scallion-Thyme with Garlic and Chives, Scotch Bonnet-Allspice..look at how bright it is!
Naturally, I didn’t stick with the traditional powders in the title of the recipe. I decided to go tropical, as in the Caribbean..as in Jamaica, well, mostly Jamaica. I’ve been to Jamaica several times, and one pairing that’s quite popular there, and throughout the Caribbean, is fish with plantains, so I knew that was a route I’d likely take (I worship sweet plantains). I decided to dehydrate and powder some of the ingredients you find in jerk seasoning, such as scotch bonnet peppers, allspice, scallions, garlic, thyme, and lime. However, I added a twist here and there, like lemon and lime and toasted coconut.
I also used some of the the leftover dried blood orange powder I had in the freezer, from the Daring Bakers cheesecake challenge, to give the dish a triple citrus punch, and dried sweet plantains in lieu of the dried banana chips in the brown butter powder that tops the fish. As mentioned above, I also subbed fried sweet plantains (I burned them, as you can see in the photos) for the bananas that lie beneath the butter saturated green beans, and damn, it’s goooood. In order, here are the powders I spent almost 24 hours concocting:
- Scotch Bonnet with a touch of Allspice
- Toasted Coconut
- Scallion-Thyme with a bit of garlic and chives
- Brown Butter-Sweet Plantain with ground Macadamia
When it came to the fish, I went with cod instead of skate because, well, as I mentioned above, I just haven’t had a great experience with skate yet; we have yet to develop chemistry. The fishmonger was extremely generous with the cod, giving me 4 HUGE filets, at least 9 oz each, without charging me extra. This resulted in some big piles of fish and beans (the smallest one is in my photos!), and since I was having 3 guests for dinner, plus me, I decided not to cut each filet smaller, and just let everyone pig out. On the negative side, the large filets of fish resulted in much less room on the plates, so I couldn’t pull off the powder hurricane design, instead just swirling what I could into whatever fit and looked decent. But it doesn’t look decent, just kind of sloppy.
So, in retrospect, instead of several clean, small plates of fish and beautifully plated and swirled powders, I ended up with 4 sloppy Hungry-Man dinners. This is the type of plate Grant Achatz would tell me to ditch and do over. It’s a good thing I don’t work for him, but only in this case.
Speaking of not so great experiences, I had a hell of a time opening the damn coconut. Now, I know how to open a coconut, I’ve done it before, but for some reason, this little sucker wouldn’t budge. I was literally bashing it with my quad cane at one point! I even channeled Tom Hanks in Castaway, and every contestant on Survivor, and started bashing the damn thing against my strip pole the pointy top of the wood banister my brother-in-law built for me to hold onto by the kitchen steps. At one point I was actually on the floor, slamming it against the floor.
By the way, no, I don’t have a stripper pole, I was just kidding, although I hear you can get a good workout on one.
In any event, I finally slammed a hammer hard enough into the eye via a screwdriver, and alas, coconut water all over my t-shirt and shorts. After that fiasco, the small amount of fresh coconut I needed for the powder almost wasn’t worth it, but I made coconut milk and chowed down on some of the meat. The rest I shredded and threw into the freezer for future uses.
Now, a few gems of wisdom regarding the scotch bonnet peppers. or habanero peppers for that matter. When serving this dish, you might not want to swirl the scotch bonnet-allspice powder in with the other powders because it’s one of the hottest peppers in the world, and umm..a lot of people don’t like pain when they eat. Keep it on the side and let them decide. If you decide to swirl it in, use as little as possible or ask your guest/diner prior to service how much heat they can handle. I swirled mine in for photographic purposes, but still tried to dip sparingly. I can handle some super, duper heat, but this was just over the top burn when dipped too much..
On another note, when you grind the dehydrated scotch bonnets, DO NOT, and I MEAN DO NOT, open that spice grinder immediately after grinding. I made the mistake of doing just that, and my god, that heat went up my nose, into my brain, and out of my eyes in running faucet tears. You’ve heard of brain freeze? Well, this is brain burn to the highest degree. I was soaking my face with ice cold water for 10 minutes, and it still burned like hell.
Finally, I overcooked the green beans and, as mentioned above, slightly burned the plantains. I need to use my walker in the kitchen, so in between hobbling back and forth between burners, then manipulating myself up my infamous kitchen stairs to answer the phone, I didn’t get back in time to save them. Regardless, I gotta say, it tasted great! The fish was perfection, and the scallion-thyme powder was out of this world with the fish (it was everyone’s favorite except for one, who loved the lemon lime). Even the green beans, although a little overcooked, were fantastic, but geesh, how can anything taste bad with all that butter? In the words of the late but immortal Julia Child, “Use more BUTTER!”
Now, on to the very long traditional recipe, but nothing wrong with being nontraditional! Take those powders off the beaten path, because you know Grant Achatz did just that when coming up with this gem of a recipe.
Skate, Traditional Flavors Powdered – with changes
•4 skate wings (I used Cod)
•* Beurre monte (butter plus water emulsion, see directions)
•* 300g (10 ounces) fresh green beans
•sea salt/kosher salt
•454g butter – 4 sticks
•5g citric acid/vitamin c tablet
•100g dried banana chips
•300g spray dried cream powder (or powdered milk)
•100g cup minced red onion
•200g capers (brined, not oil)
* For green beans, slice each bean into very thin rounds (2 mm)
* Beurre Monte – 454g butter (4 sticks = 1 pound) cubed and cold, 60g (1/3 cup) water. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, remove from heat and whisk in the butter 1 cube at a time. This should from an emulsion. Keep this heated, but under 195 degrees. The emulsion will not break – this is your poaching liquid.
Powders – prepare ahead of time
‘brown butter’ powder
Once dried, all powders should be pulsed in a coffee grinder/spice mill/morter and pestle then passed through a chinois or fine mesh strainer.
1000g simple syrup
5g citric acid/vitamin c tablet
Zest 300g of lemons (10.6 oz), remove the pith from the zest and poach in the simple syrup three times. dry with paper towels and move to a dehydrating tray. 130 for 12 hours. pulse the zest in a coffee grinder, pass through chinois, and mix with citric acid/vitamin C powder.
If you do not have a dehydrator, place in microwave for 8 to 10 minutes at medium powder. Once dried, follow the other instructions.
blanch the parsley in boiling saltwater for 1 second, submerge the leaves in ice water for 3 minutes. Dry on paper towels and place on dehydrator tray. 130 for 12 hours. grind and pass through chinois.
If you do not have a dehydrator, place in microwave for 30seconds, turn over leaves and microwave for another thirty seconds. They should be dry by now, pulse in coffee grinder, pass through chinois and reserve.
100g cup minced red onions
dehydrator – 130 for 12 hours
microwave at medium power for 20 minutes.
Pulse in grinder, pass through chinois
200g capers (get the ones packed in brine/vinegar)
Run the capers under cold water for two minutes to remove some of the brine.dry on paper towels and dehydrate for 12hours at 130 degrees.
Microwave instructions are unclear. Dry them as much a possible with paper towels, the microwave on medium for 1 minute. Check the moisture content and stir them. repeat for 30 second intervals until they are dry. If you use this method, pleas post the time needed to dry the capers.
Once dry, pulse and sift the powder. Mix it with the onion powder.
Brown Butter powder
100g Dried banana chips (unsweetened if possible – many are coated in honey – the freeze dried ones would be brilliant)
300g spray dried cream powder
If you cannot find the cream powder, you can substitute Bob’s red mill non fat dry milk powder, or even carnation instant milk powder. The substitutions will alter the flavor a little, but you will still get the general idea.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, sift the cream powder into a fine layer on a silpat or on parchment. bake for 4 minutes, then remove for heat. If it bakes for too long, it will burn. Be very cautious with all powders in the oven. They all go from browned to burnt in a few seconds.
Grind the banana chips in a coffee grinder and mix with the toasted cream powder. Pass this through a chinois and reserve.
* For green beans, slice each beans into very thin rounds (2 mm)
* Beurre Monte – 454g butter (4 sticks, 1 pound) cubed and cold, 60g (1/4 cup) water. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, remove from heat and whisk in the butter 1 cube at a time. This should from an emulsion. Keep this heated, but under 195 degrees. The emulsion will not break – this is your poaching liquid. Bring 100g (1/2 cup) water, 100g (1/2 cup) beurre monte, and green bean rounds to a boil over high heat. Cook until the water has evaporated (about 3 minutes), when the pan is almost dry, remove it from heat and season with 3g salt
Prepare the skate – 50G v shaped cuts are recommended
Bring 300g water and 300g beurre monte to simmer over medium heat, add skate wings and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and flip the wing over and let rest in pan for two more minutes. Transfer to warming tray lined with parchment and season with 5 grams of fine sea salt.
Take the tip of a small spoon and make a small mound of the citrus powder, the onion-caper powder, and the cilantro parsley-powder. Swirl these around in a hurricane type pattern. I found that it is easier, and you get finer lines if you lightly shake the plate to flatten out the mounds, then swirl the spoon through it to get the pattern.
Peel the remaining banana into very think slices (3mm) fan three slices on the plate, place green beans on top and place skate wing portion on top. On the tall edge, sprinkle the brown butter powder.
The Skate can be replaced with flounder or cod.
If you can get skate that is not ‘prepared’ IE – Skinned- get the fish monger to prepare it for you.
The powdered cream can be omitted completely, just replace it with more banana powder, or pineapple powder. Possibly non dairy creamer, but I have NO idea what would happen if you tried to brown it.
The poaching liquid is pretty much butter – it could be replaced with other poaching methods. Water, wine, bay leaf, garlic clove, pepper, etc. Try to go easy on the salt in the liquid if you use a replacement.
As always, don’t forget to check out what the other Daring Cooks came up with! Just click on the links to their blogs at the (again) temporary Daring Bakers Blogroll.