Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Roses, Spain, is considered by food professionals to be the world’s greatest chef. He’s generally credited with developing something called “molecular gastronomy.” So the new trend is to “re-formulate” rather than build.
Occasionally, I notice that men and women food professionals approach recipe creation differently. Men build things, like the now-defunct architectural food that had waiters tip-toeing carefully from kitchen to dining room so these edible towers didn’t topple. Women chefs, on the other hand, seemed more involved preparing a beautifully formed, and hopefully edible, garnish.
Now, before I am accused of sexist culinary philosophy, remember that I started the first paragraph with the word “occasionally.” Let me provide you now with a few real-life examples.
Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Roses, Spain, is considered by food professionals to be the world’s greatest chef. He’s generally credited with developing something called “molecular gastronomy.” So the new trend is to “re-formulate” rather than build. To do this, he takes a raw food from its original form and resets its substance. For instance, his chicken curry is re-formulated into liquid chicken and solid sauce. He spins martinis into cotton candy form. And, most popular, he transforms ordinary ingredients, like celery, into “foams,” adding new dimension to a recipe. Chefs from around the world make pilgrimages to his restaurant to learn his techniques.
Here in the United States, Chef Michel Richard, noted as the world’s happiest chef (he even wrote a book called “Happy In The Kitchen”), serves up something called “a plate of eggs” at his D.C. restaurant, Citronelle. But, the “scrambled eggs” are actually creamed corn — the most ethereally delectable creamed corn ever. And all the other eggs on that plate are not what they appear to be. Always something else, but never, ever, eggs. (He also does chocolate-covered popcorn.)
Last week, a group of women in the food industry offered demonstrations of some seasonal sweets. (This just happened to be the theme of the program: Women in the kitchen don’t always produce sweets.) Lee Napoli of Chocolee Chocolates, who opens her new shop next month in Boston’s South End, demonstrated infusing molten chocolate with tea. The subtle flavoring left everyone nearly breathless.
Denise Baron, executive chef of Burton’s Grill, of many locations, but known for the great food at the eatery near Fenway Park in Boston, demonstrated homemade caramel sauce, infusing it with ginger (a procedure that required hours of prior experimentation to keep the ginger from turning bitter). She did a second infusion of clove and pumpkin. These made us wish she could bottle and sell them, but it left us looking forward to finding them on the menu in the future.
And now the exception to the hypothesis (remember that word “occasionally”): Kelly Delaney of Cakes for Occasions in Danvers, Mass. Kelly demonstrated something called pulled cupcakes. While attendees were imagining taffy, Kelly, like a guy chef, “built” a one-layer cake entirely of mini cupcakes, frosted and decorated only on top. The result was that each cupcake was visible and could be individually “pulled” out from the whole cake, entirely dispensing with the messy job of cutting and portioning for a crowd! Kelly does the cake in any theme and guys often order them with a golf theme.
As for those guys, listed above, Adria is closing El Bulli and turning the restaurant into a chefs’ academy — and I’ll bet the waiting list is already a year long. Richard just renovated and re-opened Citronelle — still beautiful expensive, wacky, and delicious — and he’s still the happiest chef I’ve ever met.
You may not have the equipment, staff or time to attain the try Adria’s or Richard’s, Napoli’s, Baron’s or Delaney’s ideas. So I’ve stuck to “infusions” using Asian soups. Lemongrass, ginger root or lime leaves are the traditional “infusing ingredients” giving these soups flavor.
In their most authentic state, those ingredients, although inedible, remain in the soup. The person eating it is familiar enough with the custom of “eating around them” and leaving them at the bottom of the bowl. However, a home cook is free to strain out the infusing ingredients before serving the soup.
In the case of lime leaves, which are sometimes difficult to find, I have substituted lime juice. No need to strain.
THAI-STYLE LEMON CHICKEN SOUP
Makes 4 servings
Fresh ginger, fish sauce, chili paste and hot chili oil are generally available in large supermarkets these days.
1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 stick fresh lemongrass
1-inch fresh ginger root, peeled
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 pound fresh plum tomatoes
2 ounces white button mushrooms
4 cups water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons chili paste
4 tablespoons lime juice
2 drops hot chili sauce
1. Slice the chicken into thin strips. Cut the lemongrass into 3 very large pieces. Slice the fresh ginger into thick rounds. (This makes both easy to remove after cooking.) Cut tomatoes into 1-inch pieces. Cut the mushrooms in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Set each ingredient aside separately.
2. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a heavy soup pot. Add lemongrass, ginger. Cook for 1 minute. Add fish sauce; cook for an additional minute. Add the chili paste.
3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the stock reaches a simmer. Add the mushrooms and cook for one minute longer.
4. Turn the heat up to high. Stir in the chicken strips and cook, stirring continually to keep each strip separate. This should take about 5 minutes until chicken is cooked through, but not overcooked and tough.
5. Turn off the heat. Remove lemongrass and ginger. Stir in the lime juice and the drops of hot chili oil. Stir. Turn off. Add chopped cilantro. Stir once to bring out their flavor and serve while very hot.
INDIAN-STYLE CURRIED MUSHROOM CREAM SOUP
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Red curry paste is available in jars in the ethnic section of major supermarkets.
While the recipe calls for cream, half-and-half or whole milk can be substituted. Fat-free half-and-half may work as well, but should be lightly heated before adding to the final mixture.
5 tablespoons butter or canola oil
3 cups chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 1/2 pounds white button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons red curry paste
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
1. Warm butter or oil over medium heat in a large, heavy saucepan. Add onion and thyme. Cook, 10 minutes, stirring from time to time until the onion is softened. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Raise the heat to high. Cook, stirring, about 10 minutes, until mushrooms begin to exude juices. Turn the heat down to medium low. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until the mixture starts to thicken, about 20 to 25 minutes.
2. Stir in the cider, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any of the mushroom mixture that stick to it. Add the curry paste; cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring and mashing and stirring as it cooks. Remove the pot from the heat.
3. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a blender or food processor. Puree, about 1 minute, until thick and smooth stopping to scrape down the sides once or twice.
4. Transfer the puree to a clean medium saucepan. Stir in the vegetable stock. Place over medium heat and bring up to a simmer, stirring so that the soup does not stick to the pot or burn. Very slowly whisk in the cream or milk until it reaches a simmer. Immediately take the pot off the hot. Serve hot.
North Shore Sunday writer Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com.